The 2021 recruiting class for the Nebraska men’s tennis team is filled with international flair, featuring three international players. 

Of those three international players, freshmen Lars Johann and Calvin Mueller come from Germany, joining sophomore Nic Wiedenhorn to give the Huskers three Germans on their 2021 roster. 

Both Johann and Mueller grew up surrounded by the game of tennis in Germany, both picking up the game at a young age from their families.They’ve known each other for a while, having faced off in tournaments since they were ten years old. 

“We knew each other pretty good,“ Muller said. “A few weeks before we came to Nebraska, Lars was sleeping at my home because he was playing a tournament next to my city.” 

In Germany, tennis is viewed much more as an individual sport than as a team sport, leaving little domestic options for younger players who are not quite ready to play professionally or want to play while earning a degree. 

Because of this, the area has become a popular place for American college teams to recruit, with many college coaches attending tournaments and getting into contact with the players. This is how Johann first got connected with the University of Nebraska. 

“A lot of college coaches come to the German Championships, so it’s not that hard to get noticed,” Johann said. “With a German player already on the team, I was able to get connected to [head tennis coach] Sean Maymi easily and he reached out to me about joining the team.” 

One major factor in both Johann’s and Mueller’s decision to come to Nebraska was the university’s tennis facilities. The Sid and Hazel Dillon Tennis Center opened up in 2015, and is regarded as one of the nation’s top tennis facilities. 

The center features both indoor and outdoor courts with a pro-style DecoTurf playing surface, the ability to hold over 1,400 spectators, a brand new locker room and sports medicine area. 

“It’s gorgeous,” Johann said, recalling his first impression of the tennis center. “What I had back in Germany was nice, but it was nothing like this”

Both Johann and Mueller had to wait to see the facilities in-person, with travel being restricted due to COVID-19. 

Besides not getting to see the facilities, the pandemic had a great impact on Mueller’s tennis game, with him not able to compete in a tournament since December 2019 before arriving at Nebraska. Mueller was still able to practice, but not participating in tournaments while maintaining his eligibility put him at a disadvantage when he first arrived at Nebraska. That being said, it's something both him and the team are working on according to Mueller.

“The best thing they do is get me to as many tournaments as possible because that’s what I need,” Mueller said. “I can do as much endurance as I want, but at the end I need match fitness and the only way to get that is by playing matches.”

At the Oklahoma State Invitational in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the opening match of the season, the difference between the German style of individual tennis and the American style of team tennis became very clear for Mueller. 

“For me, as a German, it is very difficult to play here because the environment and everything is just so different,” Mueller said. “I’ve always tried to be a calm person on the court and here they want me to be a bit more loud. I know I just need to get used to it, but until now it’s been a challenge for me.”

Mueller had to adapt to other problems as well since he’s moved to the United States. He hasn’t had to focus on other matches and teammates before, and since collegiate tennis relies on the entire team winning points in singles and doubles matches, he’s adopted a new focus during a tournament, where he isn’t just focused on himself and his next match. 

Getting adjusted to a team style, and being a team leader after not playing in a tournament for over a year, has its growing pains, but Mueller is confident that he will be able to get used to it as the season goes on. 

One thing that has made Mueller’s adjustment easier is the presence of other Germans on the team such as Johann and Wiedenhorn. For Mueller and Johann, adjusting to a new tennis culture while being surrounded by familiarity has immense benefits.

“We have four German speaking players and five Americans on the team so it’s almost the same which is pretty funny,” Mueller said. “That’s a really cool part of this team, and it has been good for me for sure.” 


This article was updated on September 25 at 6:25 p.m. to correct the spelling of Nic Wiedenhorn's name.