All year, Julio and Ignacio Pulido had been hoping for this matchup.
Would it be more nerve-wracking than their typical tennis game? Probably. A bit harder for Mom and Dad to watch? You bet. In some ways, they were used to it – growing up in Caceres, Spain, the Pulido brothers had competed with each other in nearly everything they did. But going head-to-head in the Division II national championship tournament was a first.
Julio, a senior at the New York Institute of Technology, texted Ignacio, a freshman at Bluefield State College, when he heard the news: Julio and his doubles partner would be facing Ignacio and his partner in the NCAA tournament – held in, of all places, Surprise, Arizona.
“I was so happy,” Julio said.
“Finally, we had what we wanted,” Ignacio added.
Befitting of brothers, the two exchanged playful jabs leading up to the meeting. Yet both were filled with extra jitters, a testament to the respect they have for each other on the tennis court.
“I have been watching Julio play tennis since I was 4 years old,” Ignacio said. “I always loved the way he plays the matches. He is so smart when he is on the court.”
Julio was the first to come to the United States for college. Starting at Oklahoma Christian University, he went in search of another opportunity when the tennis program was discontinued after his second season. Eventually, he settled at the New York Institute of Technology.
Ignacio followed his older brother’s lead in coming to the U.S. but sought his own college experience and landed far from bustling New York City in the quiet mountains of West Virginia.
This spring marked Ignacio’s first season of college tennis, but Julio knew anything could happen at the NCAA championship. “He knows how to play me,” the older Pulido said. “He has beaten me before, so he could do it.”
History, insider knowledge and emotion between the brothers inevitably yielded an exciting doubles match in May. As if a sibling rivalry wasn’t exciting enough, a tiebreaker decided the finish. Julio and Tomas Lieb ultimately defeated Ignacio and partner Platon Gud, 9-8 (7-3).
Afterward, Julio and Ignacio approached the net from their respective sides, tennis rackets still in hand. They reached over the net, then embraced.