Systems Engineering Sophomore, Daniel Gutierrez, Plays for Costa Rica in Davis Cup
August 10, 2015
The crowds at the Honda Tennis Center in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, were not exactly polite.
Armed with horns, drums and words not fit for a family website, they cheered for their countrymen in a Group II Davis Cup tie against Costa Rica on July 18-19.
"It was amazing," Costa Rican doubles player Daniel Gutierrez said, "even during the points they were screaming and yelling and singing. They would scream at you whatever they wanted."
For Gutierrez, a rising sophomore at George Mason University and part of last season's No. 2 doubles team, the scene was a demonstration of national pride that reinforced how playing for one's country, for him, was "a dream come true."
But the match also was a lesson in managing emotions and elevating one's play, all of which will work in Gutierrez's favor next season.
It is a notch for George Mason, too, as a place that nurtures world-class athletes.
"It's a validation he has arrived as a player," said Gary Quam, who is retiring after 26 years as Mason's men's tennis coach. "I can see him taking that experience and really building on it."
Gutierrez, a systems engineering major from the small town of Guachipelin, has played tennis since age 11, when a knee injury forced him to give up soccer. Introduced to the sport by his father, Manrique, who played competitively in Costa Rica, Gutierrez last season was 19-11 in doubles for Mason and also played No. 6 singles.
His strengths are his serve and volley, his shortcoming impatience—forcing shots to win points rather than working for the right opening. That, Quam said, is a matter of experience.
"We worked with him on that," Quam said. "We told him, ‘You've got the game, don't rush it.' "
You could understand if the Davis Cup seemed a pressurized whirlwind for Gutierrez. Though it was a Group II match (two groups below the World Group that plays for the trophy), victories are the only way to move up, and Costa Rica has never won a Davis Cup tie.
Alas, Costa Rica lost 5-0 to Puerto Rico with Gutierrez and Julian Saborio falling 6-7 (4-7), 3-6, 1-6 to Eric Diaz and Alex Llompart. No shame in that as Diaz plays for the powerful University of Georgia team, and Llompart, a pro, has been ranked as high as 232nd in the world in doubles.
"Anyone who wants to get to that level has to play more people on that level," said Gutierrez, whose intention is to play as a pro for "a couple of months after college, so when I grow older and I look back I know I did the best I could."
For now, though, "my goal is to graduate," Gutierrez said, "studying, getting my major and competing over the summers to improve my tennis as much as I can."
And awaiting his next Davis Cup challenge.