Longhorn Hall of Honor: Steve Bryan
Nov. 16, 2009
Caitlin Mangum, Texas Media Relations
All of Steve Bryan’s success can be traced back to a simple answer to a simple question.
“My dad asked me one time if I wanted to take a tennis lesson,” Bryan recalls. “And I said, ‘Sure.’
“That was it.”
Bryan was about 10 at the time, and learned the game by running around barefoot on his neighborhood tennis courts. He finally caught what he was chasing on June 3, 1990. Then, under the hot desert sun in Indian Wells, Calif., Bryan won the NCAA singles championship as a Texas sophomore.
No one from The University has earned the title since, and it stands as a memorable career highlight for the two-time All-American, who also competed on the ATP Tour for nearly a decade.
Unlike many of his peers, at the end of a decorated junior career, Bryan elected to attend college instead of pursuing a professional career as a teenager. Bryan was recruited by Texas and after a visit to the Forty Acres, he chose to become a Longhorn.
Bryan credits his later success to this very decision.
“There is no way that I could have had success on the pro tour without my years at Texas. There’s no way,” Bryan said. “I grew up a lot during my years at UT.”
More than just grow up, Bryan enjoyed his time as a member of the UT community. Although he was not raised as a diehard Longhorn fan, he “absolutely loved” UT when he visited and felt an instant connection with his coaches and teammates.
“It was a very exciting place to be a student-athlete,” Bryan said. “It was a very easy place to get better. It was just a great college experience all the way around -- athletically, academically, socially. It was a fantastic time.”
After he enrolled in 1988, Bryan immediately found success on the court. Under head coach Dave Snyder, the Katy, Texas native was virtually unbeatable. With a career record of 88-19, Bryan holds the highest winning percentage in the history of Texas Men’s Tennis (.822).
All of Bryan’s success culminated at the end of his sophomore year, when he earned a No. 3 national collegiate ranking and a NCAA Individual Championship berth. Bryan triumphed through to the NCAA Championship finals.
In just less than one hour and 20 minutes, Bryan swiftly overtook UCLA junior Jason Netter 6-3, 6-4, becoming the first sophomore to win the crown since 1983. A Sports Illustrated article from that year describes Bryan’s play during the match as “a blazing demonstration of cunning and consistency.”
By doing so, Bryan became only the fourth Longhorn to win the title, joining the company of Wilmer Allison (1927), Berkeley Bell (1929), and Kevin Curren (1979). Additionally, Bryan was named the 1990 ITA National Player of the Year.
“I was never the biggest guy or the strongest guy, but I was pretty fast and had a good head on my shoulders,” Bryan said. “That’s what helped me to succeed.”
After the tournament, however, Bryan was faced with a difficult decision -- whether to return to UT and resume life as a 20-year old college student or whether to enter the professional tennis world.
“It was a very, very, very tough decision,” Bryan said.
In the end, Bryan elected to start the next chapter of his life, joining the pro tennis circuit. He enjoyed a successful eight-year career and peaked at No. 80 on the ATP world rankings.
Bryan retired in 1997 and started the King Daddy Sports Tennis Academy in Houston. The academy has grown from 20 kids at its inception to 150 currently. Bryan relishes in the opportunity to impart his knowledge.
“It’s fun. It’s a fun thing to do to be around the youth of the sport and to try to teach them and train them to be successful,” Bryan said. “Our goal is basically to give these kids the best opportunity to go play college tennis.”
That opportunity has proven fruitful -- the academy has graduated more than 100 players who have gone on to play collegiate tennis. Like many of the players that he coaches, Bryan has been immersed in tennis since he was young, and through the years, the sport has taught Bryan important life lessons, which he draws on as a mentor.
“One of the things that I think is great about tennis is that it teaches you accountability,” Bryan said. “There is no one to point a finger at when things are not going well. You have to solve problems, you have to prepare yourself, and you have to learn how to deal with both failure and success. It is on you so to speak.”
Nonetheless, it is not all business to the two-time All-American. For Bryan, it is clear that tennis is not just his profession, but still his passion.
“I think that tennis is an incredible sport for teaching life lessons. I love it,” he said. “There are not too many sports where it is one-against-one, and you have to find out the strengths and weaknesses of each other. I just love it."