Abbotsford tennis ace lands scholarship from NCAA's New Mexico Lobos
After years of honing his tennis skills in relative isolation, Riaan du Toit is looking forward to a more collaborative approach when he attends the University of New Mexico this fall.
To accommodate his practice schedule and the frequent travel that his tennis career demands, the 18-year-old Abbotsford resident completed his high school studies by homeschooling through Fraser Valley Distance Education.
When he arrives in Albuquerque in September, du Toit knows he’ll be in for quite a transition in terms of both tennis and school. His schedule will be more regimented on both fronts, and he’ll be working alongside other people to a greater degree in class and with the Lobos tennis team.
But it’s a transition that du Toit is thrilled about.
“Up here, it’s not always easy getting the right training and the right environment (for tennis),” he noted. “It’s tough with the facilities, and the other players all have their own thing going.
“In university, there’s going to be a set schedule for my tennis, and I’ll know for a fact that I’m playing for this many hours, going to the gym for this many hours, going to a tournament this weekend. I think just because of that, I’ll end up playing a lot more than I have before. I definitely think it’s going to improve my game.”
Du Toit has racked up plenty of frequent flyer miles over the past 12 months, traveling to International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior tournaments around the globe.
Last August, he won both the singles and doubles titles at an ITF event in Burlington, Ont. Then it was off to Florida for the renowned Junior Orange Bowl and Eddie Herr international tournaments, where his solid performances piqued interest from several NCAA programs – Penn State, Wake Forest and Tennessee, in addition to New Mexico.
He also traveled to ITF tourneys in Tunisia and South Africa, and made it to the singles final in Tunisia. Along the way, he boosted his ITF junior ranking as high as 251st in the world.
Du Toit settled on New Mexico as his NCAA program of choice after visiting the campus in January.
“They had some Canadians that had gone there previously, and it’s such a friendly environment,” he explained. “It was definitely a welcoming experience.”
Riaan comes by his talent honestly. His father Andre is a tennis coach who used to run an academy in his native South Africa, and older siblings Charles and Trudie had highly decorated junior careers.
Trudie also earned an NCAA scholarship – she recently completed her senior year at the University of Oregon.
“She just enjoyed it so much, and she said I won’t have any trouble transitioning,” Riaan said. “I think I’ll fit right in. Socially, it’ll be a great experience.”
Du Toit’s goal is to play pro tennis one day, and if all goes well, he’d love to embark on that journey after two or three years at New Mexico.
He models his game after Novak Djokovic, the five-time Grand Slam champ from Serbia who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world.
“He’s got an attitude, but I try to look past that,” du Toit said with a chuckle. “I just like his game. He’s kind of in between (Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal – between the power and the spin. I think that’s the perfect medium. What more could you want?”