Return game: Tennis standout prepares for upcoming season
In 2011, Jamestown’s Dan Hansen was considered by some to be the best high school tennis player in the entire state. Now he is continuing his winning ways with the Division-I program at Drexel University.
Hansen, who is home for the summer and teaching tennis at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, is studying mechanical engineering at Drexel. But he has also found a little spare time to devote to his tennis game.
During his freshman year, he tried out for the college’s varsity tennis team and made the squad. He will again take the court as a Dragon when he heads back to Philadelphia early next month for the preseason.
Hansen, 18, was the best tennis player in Rhode Island during his varsity years at North Kingstown, according to the team’s head coach, Jacques Faulise. While a Skipper, Hansen was a three-time team MVP, a three-time First Team All-State selection, and a state fi- nalist in singles in 2010 and 2011.
While he was one of the state’s top players, Hansen wasn’t recruited for a college team. Before the team tryouts, he talked to the Drexel coach and decided to give it a shot. He played eight matches – six singles and two doubles. While he made the cut, he is modest about the accomplishment.
“Division-I tennis isn’t like football,” he said. According to Hansen, while standouts on top collegiate football and basketball programs go on to pro careers, not too many tennis champions can bank on a professional stint after college. College tennis still produces some pro doubles players, but singles players typically skip college and go right to the circuit.
When he was younger, Hansen liked to dream about becoming a tennis champ. “It was kind of a cool dream to have, but it would be tough to go pro after college. A couple of people have done it. I’m not good enough.”
But he might someday want to compete in a professional tournament as a doubles player. College players, he said, sometimes focus on becoming “doubles specialists.” Although Hansen was mainly a singles player in high school, he actually prefers doubles. “I’m pretty good at volleys and I understand the game.”
According to Hansen, there is a lot of strategy in the doubles game. Players may be excellent at singles, but still not know to approach the doubles game. He says that he has been matched with a good doubles partner at Drexel, who also excels at strategy.
“I’ve been able to rely on my partner,” he said.
Hansen started playing tennis at age 6 mainly because his parents played. The Hansens – Rita and Peter – were “leisurely tennis players,” and basically just went out and hit a few balls around. Hansen and the other children tagged along.
“We would run around and attempt to play,” he said. Eventually, his parents signed the children up for lessons, but Hansen was the only one in the family who stuck with it after middle school. He went to the Melrose and Lawn avenue schools, and then on to North Kingstown High.
He polished off his tennis career at North Kingstown by beating an unexpected opponent – cancer.
“I’m all better now,” he said. “It was too bad it happened senior year, but it was OK. I went to practices and I tried to help out the team.”
Hansen was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Despite two surgeries, he stayed on the high school tennis team. He missed about half the season, but still managed to play for the state singles title. He lost to Smithfield’s Matt Kuhar in the championship match.
While recovering last summer, he began working at the Tennis Hall of Fame. He ran the string desk, repairing and restringing rackets from players. During the professional tournament that the Hall of Fame hosts annually, Hansen said business was brisk. “I talked to every pro in the tournament.”
This year, he’s mostly giving tennis lessons. His students range in age from 8 to 80. “It’s really a great job,” he said. “I’m literally getting paid to play tennis.”
In his first college tournament, Hansen was one of four Dragons who made it to the semifinals. The St. Joseph’s Invitational was probably one of his best efforts, he said. “We beat a team we had lost to earlier, and it came down to one match. We just barely beat them.”
Hansen said the tennis team plays year-round, but the fall season is abbreviated and ends around Halloween. The team starts the fall season on the outdoor courts but they go indoors when the weather turns cold. The spring season, which starts in January, is the main tennis season. They play indoors until about the middle of March.
Drexel is one of the northernmost teams in the Colonial Athletic Association Conference, and for most of the schedule, the team travels south to play schools in Virginia and Georgia.