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Second time's the charm: Sylvain Malroux builds a winner with Nevada men's tennis

Sylvain Malroux
Sylvain Malroux was named the Mountain West men's tennis coach of the year. (Nevada athletics)

Born and raised in southern France, Sylvain Malroux was always intrigued by the United States.

A young tennis player, Malroux trained at French Federation Sports-Etudes, the No. 1 school in the country for elite athletes, before having a go at a pro career. When that stalled, he took a trip to the United States in spring 1999 to learn more about the country's tennis system. He visited a number of schools, Clemson among them.

But given his age — 25 years at the time — he wasn't eligible to play at the Division I level given his age. Malroux did, however, meet Clemson women's head coach Nancy Harris, helping her recruit some players he knew in France.

"From there, she said, 'Well, if you want to be my assistant a year from now, the job can be yours,'" Malroux recalled.

In the interim, Malroux enrolled at Anderson College, a small Division II school a 20-minute drive from Clemson. He starred there for two seasons, leading the team to back-to-back regional titles and Sweet 16 berths while earning MVP of the Conference Carolinas. And when his eligibility was exhausted, he joined Clemson's staff in 2001, reaching two Final Fours with the team. That eventually paved the way to Nevada, which gave him his first head-coaching job in 2005.

During his first stint at Nevada, Malroux coached the Wolf Pack women's tennis team from 2005-11.

"I could see the potential," Malroux said. "I saw all the construction happening on campus and I said, 'Well, it's going to be wonderful.' At the time, our AD (Cary Groth) was a former tennis coach as well. I figured, 'Good things are going to happen.' Unfortunately, what happened in 2006 with the recession, our (on-campus) tennis courts were put on hold, and I have to say that was very, very challenging."

Making things more difficult for Malroux was the fact he also coached the Nevada men's tennis team his final two seasons in Reno, at first being told it'd only be for one semester before the gig was extended. That coupled with the lack of an on-campus tennis center and the fact Malroux's wife, a pharmacist, had a job opportunity in the Bay Area caused him to leave the Wolf Pack for the women's tennis job at San Jose State in 2011. There, he inherited a bottom-run program. By 2013, his team had won a conference championship, reaching the first NCAA Tournament in program history.

In 2015, he was pitched on a return to Nevada. This time from then-Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth, who, like Groth, was a college tennis player. The sales pitch from the Wolf Pack this time included him running the school's men's program.

"One of the criteria for me to come back was to make sure we had some tennis courts," Malroux said.

Nevada made the promise of on-campus tennis courts, and the six-court McArthur Tennis Center opened in September 2016, one year after Malroux returned to Reno. It took years of building, but Malroux coached Nevada to unprecedented heights this season as the Wolf Pack won its first men's tennis conference championship in 40 years this regular season. It followed that with another championship, this time in the conference tournament, to earn the school's first NCAA Tournament berth, the second time he's done that for a program in the last decade. Malroux also was named MW coach of the year after a worst-to-first turnaround from the season prior.

What's the thing he'll remember most about this season?

"The smile on their faces," Malroux said of his players. "They've been wonderful on this journey. The journey started a year-and-a-half ago, and the COVID was very challenging. We didn't have a full season (in 2020-21). We couldn't practice. Our players were not allowed to practice during the fall. So they studied online. And not having an indoor place, our first week of practice a year-and-a-half ago was shoveling the snow off the tennis courts for a week. And 10 days later, there we are competing with five new guys. So everything that happened from that point all the way to this year, accomplishing this, that's a memory where we started from and where we ended up going and seeing the hard work that put a smile on their face when they won that trophy. That was absolutely outstanding."

Nevada was ousted by USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans ranking 13th in the nation and having won an NCAA-record 21 championships in men's tennis. The Wolf Pack nearly scored the doubles point in the match, splitting the first two matches before the decisive match three went to a tiebreaker, USC winning that 8-6.

"I think we surprised a lot of people," Malroux said. "And I think USC at some point was panicking a little bit because after upsetting a nationally ranked (doubles) team at No. 2, we are 6-6 in the tiebreak and nobody was expecting us to be there. But what it also does for the future is show our players we can compete against a wonderful team. There's no limit if you believe in yourself and you try hard and you compete the same way. Good things can happen. So, I think it's exciting because it shows everyone that it's not just a fluke. It's not just one match. We've been doing this all season long, and I feel like we're going to be even more competitive next year."

Nevada's roster this season was all international students, including players from five countries, five hailing from France, Malroux's home country. Getting the right mix of international students can be tricky, but Nevada's top-six players are eligible to return next season, with Malroux excited about his program's future. Malroux joked that some people in Reno didn't even know Nevada had a men's tennis team before the last couple of weeks, the popularity of his program rising since then.

"It is very nice because there's a lot more awareness in the community," Malroux said. "People start recognizing what they've done, and I think that's going to be very important for the next few months to make sure that we do connect with the community and we get the community engaged with the team because then we can get more support."

You can watch Sylvain Malroux's full NSN Daily interview below.

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