Beyond Box Scores: Torres first to take advantage of ATP master's program
By Rob Daniels
In the context of competition, the “ATP Masters” brand name refers to a series of major Association of Tennis Professionals events designed to keep the world’s eye on the game year-round. Marcio Torres still dreams of such things. But after logging in from Internet cafes in about 20 countries, the former UNCG star has put his own backspin on the phrase.
In December, Torres received his master’s degree from the University of Phoenix under the auspices of the ATP’S continuing-education program. He’s the first player to take full advantage of the opportunity, using grants to achieve the advanced degree in business and global communications in two years.
“It was great for me that I got the MBA,” said Torres, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in exercise and sports science from UNCG after helping the Spartans to the Southern Conference championship in 2001. “Players are always saying we pay membership fees and they take out taxes and don’t do anything for us. But the lady in charge of player development for the ATP (Erika Kegler) is always looking for something to help the players after they play tennis. I was the first one to graduate in continuing education. It’s proof that they’re doing their job and players are getting something out of it.”
For Torres, a native of Brazil who turned 30 in January, the timing was right as well as challenging. Since receiving his undergraduate degree, he has been traveling the world in search of rankings status and a spot in the main draw of a Grand Slam event. He achieved that vision by making the French Open field last year in doubles, in which his world ranking has been as high as 132.
In singles, his best standing has been No. 732, a number that needs context. A 2007 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine estimated that 75 million people worldwide play the game regularly; that means Torres, if not one in a million, can at least be considered one in 102,459.
Torres doesn’t spend much time thinking about it, but his journey has been unconventional by many standards. The main diversion of his youth was motocross, a habit from which his parents eventually dissuaded him at age 15.
“Did motocross for 10 years. Never had one scratch,” he said. “My parents took the bike away because I was young and doing everything the big guys were doing. I wasn’t crazy, but I was fearless.”
A year later, the family moved from Brazil to Raleigh when Torres’ mother, a pediatrician, accepted a job in a consortium that included Duke, NC State and North Carolina. From then on, tennis won out, and the teenager learned to rein in some overly ambitious plans.
“I had a pretty good junior career,” he said. “I was always in the top five in Brazil. I wanted to try to play pro before college, but thankfully, my parents pretty much forced me to go to college. At the time, I was mad. Now, I’m thankful.”
He deferred the pro dream until after graduating from UNCG, and he has kept going through injuries that have been far more challenging than anything he faced in the rough-and-tumble world of motorcycle racing. In the early 2000s, he lost eight months in one stretch when tendinitis in a kneecap led to various other ailments.
Later, he played four tournaments while wearing a cast for a torn left wrist. (He’s right-handed. He’s not insane.)
In 2007, Torres played in more than a dozen countries on four continents, and he decided to take the ATP up on its offer of a master’s via the University of Phoenix, the online-learning pioneer that markets itself as North America’s largest private university.
“My time-management was the key because I didn’t have much time,” Torres said from Milan, Italy, where he was preparing for a series of tournaments he hopes to turn into a spot in Wimbledon. “Instead of hanging out at the hotel or relaxing, I would have to do homework. And sometimes, before big matches, my schoolwork had to suffer. Sometimes, I had to sleep in order to play the next day.”
It’s easy to presume a degree in an online environment is nothing more than a mail-order, zero-accountability transaction. Torres knows otherwise. He had to report four days a week to prove his engagement in the classwork.
“You had to participate,” he said. “You have to log on and do reading and comment on the work. At the end of every week, there’s a paper, group assignment or project on a company. There’s a lot of checking in.”
For the average U.S. resident based in the same, stable locale, this isn’t so challenging; a study in 2009 said one American in four is a high-speed Internet subscriber. Try getting online with a consistent, work-friendly connection in Puerto Rico, where one of every 34 citizens uses high-speed services, or Morocco, in which the rate is 1 in 68.
“Sometimes, you go to small towns with small hotels,” Torres said. “Then you have to search for Internet cafes or try to steal somebody’s WiFi.”
Torres checked in from, among other sites, Uzbekistan and the Azores, a group of nine volcanic islands 1,000 miles off the Portuguese coast.
The final exams were 100-question, three-hour marathons. In space, a 1979 movie proclaimed, no one can hear you scream. Online, there are no sympathetic, live teachers who cut you slack and let you keep writing if you’re late. Computers live by time stamps and hard deadlines.
Torres finished one of the tests with one minute to spare. His final grade-point average was 3.15, and the diploma arrived to his home in Orlando, Fla., several weeks ago.
Torres, who has part ownership in a Miami-based apparel company and has done management work for about 75 fellow pros, is probably going to be just fine. He said business law was his favorite class. He’s fluent in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.
“French? Yeah, I get by in French,” he said. “I won’t starve there.”
And he proved his smarts throughout the process. For the last of his exams, he took a special precaution with location.
“In Miami,” he said. “That was the easy one.”
- UNCG -