No place like home

Emmett Egger left public school after fourth grade in order to play tennis all over the world. The UW freshman has already won two tournaments in his young Husky career. Photo by Sang Cho

When freshman Emmett Egger stepped into his first college class in September, he was taken by the usual mix of excitement and nerves college freshmen experience. But for Egger, the experience of being in a college lecture hall was especially novel, because he hadn’t even been in a classroom of any sort since he was 10 years old.


A look at the countries Emmett Egger has traveled to for tennis.

“It was interesting, that first day of class. I hadn’t been in a classroom in such a long time,” the 6-foot-1 freshman phenom said. “It was difficult at first, but I feel like after a couple weeks, I got used to it real fast.”

College life is just another thing Egger has had to adjust to quickly. After quitting public school following fourth grade, the Issaquah, Wash., native was constantly on the move as he traveled the world playing tennis. Now, after trips to exotic places such as Australia, the Czech Republic, and Southeast Asia, the hometown kid is back in Washington for the long haul as the UW’s No. 2 singles player and one half of the No. 1 doubles tandem in his first season of collegiate tennis.

But if not for a casual invitation from his parents when he was 7 years old, Egger may not even be playing tennis today. He was once a basketball player — and a baseball player, too — but after finding almost-instant success in tennis, Egger left the hardwood and the diamond to commit to a court of a different nature.

“It snuck up on us,” Emmett’s father, Phil, said. “He just fell into tennis.”

And he made a big splash with that fall, too. By age 10 — just three years after starting tennis — Egger surprised his parents by taking down the nation’s top prospects from tennis hotbeds like California, Texas, and Florida in prestigious national tournaments. By then, there was no turning back: Egger was made for tennis.

“It just sort of worked out that way,” Egger said of his choice to pursue tennis. “With doing well, and liking the sport, I sort of developed a strong passion for it and a desire to see what I could do in it and that sort of led me to explore tennis.”

To open up his schedule for exploring both tennis and the globe, Egger turned to home-schooling. Throughout high school, he relied on a combination of both online courses and the occasional tutor in a path he considers “definitely unconventional.”

His dad was quick to point out that Egger’s grandmother wasn’t thrilled with the home-school decision, though.

“She didn’t understand this home-school stuff,” he said. “She said ‘What are you doing to my grandson? This kid needs to go to school!’”

But nonetheless, that was Egger’s decision. In the grand scheme of his tennis dreams, public school was too much of a burden; he would have had to deal with the structure of classes every day that didn’t bend to the demanding travel schedule of a tennis prodigy. As wild as life on the road is though, he said it definitely came with its perks.

“I’ve made some great friends, met some exceptional people, got to experience the world, and run into a lot of different cultures and experienced things that you don’t just get to experience when you’re in Issaquah, Washington,” Egger said of his traveling experiences. “Things change around the world.”

After traveling the globe and seeing almost everything there is to see in tennis, Egger experienced something brand new in his first college season: playing on a team. Throughout the juniors’ circuit, Egger played both singles and doubles, but never on a team like at the UW. But he, as always, was a fast learner.

“He’s very energetic, always talking with his teammates,” UW head coach Matt Anger said. “When you go from an online school, there’s definitely an adjustment, but he’s done very well so far.”

Despite having spent the better part of his last nine years completely enveloped in tennis and the immense success that accompanies someone with talents like Egger, he considers himself “pretty laid back” and, outside of tennis, like anyone other college freshman.

Phil describes his son as “very humble w ith the success he’s had in sports” and “dedicated.”

Egger’s mom, Nadine, contends that he also has a “really good sense of humor.” But don’t let the unassuming blue eyes and coy smile fool you — when it’s game time, Egger is a force to be reckoned with.

“On the court, he’s an assassin,” Phil said. “He’s very focused and extremely competitive.”

That competitive fire — something Egger’s parents claim he got from them — has led the freshman to a 5-2 record in dual play as well as two fall tournament titles this year. That’s exactly what led him to become one of the top recruits in recent men’s tennis history at the UW, as he was ranked in the top five for his recruiting class in the last two years, and that’s exactly what made him give up basketball, baseball, and — for long periods of time — his own bed in favor of his very unique path around the world and back to the Pacific Northwest.

“There are definitely things that I missed [not going to public school],” Egger said. “If I could have done them all, I would have, but if you look at the things I’ve gotten to do and things that I didn’t get to do because of the path that I chose, I’m definitely happy with the decision I made.”

Reach reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen at sports@dailyuw.com or on Twitter @thucnhi21.

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