A passion for tennis: Heated clashes were part of growing up for tennis prodigy Alec Olivier

Marquette Senior High School senior Alec Olivier hits a ball during a practice session on Aug. 3 at the newly resurfaced high school courts. (Photo courtesy Wayne Olivier)

MARQUETTE — The key to being a successful athlete is to bring out your best.

That’s adage certainly applies to Wayne and Alec Olivier. The father-son tennis duo had many occasions where they were unable to finish a practice session due to a disagreement over one thing or another.

“There used to be a really competitive spirit to the point where sometimes we weren’t able to always finish,” father Wayne Olivier said. “That has since passed with him (Alec) far exceeding my ability. It’s easier to lose to your son than your father, I think.”

Although the days of heated disagreements on the court are pretty much behind them, those unfinished practices didn’t end up being meaningless.

Wayne and Alec simply have a passion for the game and an urge to help each other improve on the court every single day.

Alec, left, and Wayne Olivier pose with the men's doubles championship trophy from the Casa A/B tournament held in Marquette in 2012. (Photo courtesy Wayne Olivier)

The Oliviers are a tennis family. Alec is a senior at Marquette Senior High School, where he is unbeaten in three seasons playing No. 1 singles for the Redmen. That includes three Upper Peninsula Division 1 titles at that top position on the team.

Wayne also played for MSHS in the early 1980s, while his wife Julie and their four other children play as well.

Wayne has been playing tennis for 46 years, starting at the age of 7. He got into it because of his father.

Naturally, Alec gained a love of tennis from his father, and understandably early in his life.

“When he (Alec) was in a walker, I had a ball hanging from our ceiling,” Wayne said. “I’m not sure if that counts, but it was probably 2 or 3 years old when he started hitting balls in the driveway.”

Wayne Olivier hits a ball over the net in a 1983 photo taken when he was 18 years old. (Photo courtesy Wayne Olivier)

Alec’s passion for tennis wasn’t forced upon him, however. It was a sport he wanted to get into and the one sport that he stuck with.

“It was something I wanted to do,” he said. “I played hockey for eight years, but now I just play tennis.”

Wayne and Alec also travel together, going to six or seven tournaments a year.

“He does big trips in Indiana, Traverse City in June and then we try to get three or four other trips a year,” Wayne said.

Most recently, the duo traveled to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, about two weeks ago for the Fondy Hardcourt Championships, with Alec advancing to the second round before withdrawing in the finals due to injury.

The one time the duo played together, they came out with a trophy.

In 2012, Wayne and Alec took the crown in men’s doubles during the Casa A/B tournament in Marquette. Alec was 11 years old.

“That was one of my biggest tennis thrills,” Wayne said. “Playing with him and he played great.”

Fast forward six years, and Alec is a high school standout.

For every high school opponent who’s stepped up on the court with him, Alec has prevailed.

Without going into too much detail, Alec said his secret to winning is simply playing and practicing daily.

“I’m happy that I’ve been able to go three years undefeated,” he said. “I figured I’d win a lot more than I lose by playing a lot.”

The unbeaten streak hasn’t come without a little pressure, though.

“When I was a freshman I went three sets twice,” he added about being pushed to the limit in best-of-three high school matches. “But that’s been it.”

Dominating the court for the past two years, Alec said head coach Charlie Drury and his MSHS teammates benefit him greatly.

“Charlie has been a really big help,” he said. “He’s been a really good coach for me.”

On top of his high school success, Alec is also a member of the Wilson Select Team and an “Adiplayer” for Adidas, two programs that reward the best junior tennis players in the world.

Collegiate offers? Not yet. However Alec and his family will make a visit to Ferris State University in the fall. The Ferris team finished 21-3 last season and were ranked 17th in the nation in NCAA Division II.

Asking both father and son where they imagine each will be 10 years from now, Wayne said he hopes to keep the sport running throughout the family.

“Hopefully I’m sitting here with you with my youngest child,” he said. “We have five kids who all play tennis and Alec is the oldest. He’s kind of the role model and a tremendous help for me and his mom with the kids.

“Some of them are showing some real promise, so I still hope to be doing with them what I’ve done with Alec.”

As for their eldest, Alec hopes to someday make it to the semi-pro or professional level.

When asked about the best moments of their careers, both Oliviers agreed on the doubles championship in 2012 and a special bond over both winning No. 1 singles titles.

“He (Alec) won the U.P.’s as a freshman going 17-0,” Wayne said. “In 1983, I won the U.P. singles at No. 1 as a senior going 16-0. So I had tears of relief that he finished it and then of course absolute pride.”

Their worst tennis moment? All of those shortened practice sessions.

“We were unable to complete them due to father-son competitive disagreements,” Wayne said. “It wasn’t to the point where it affected our overall relationship, but there were days that I’m sure he wasn’t real happy and I wasn’t happy.”

At the end of the day, it is all about passion and making each other better.

Wayne credited his son with the ability to compete under pressure and hopes to see him have even more success in the future.

“I’m unbelievably proud,” he said. “His willingness to fight through really tough situations — when you’re a freshman playing No. 1, you’re really kind of a kid playing young, athletic men. Guys with more high school experience and for him to fight through that was amazing.

“I’m really proud of the way he’s handled himself on the court, because there have been times where there’s been a lot of pressure, and he’s always been a very good sport. That makes his mom and I proud.”

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.