GAINESVILLE — When he arrived in Gainesville from Paris four years ago, Alexandre Lacroix was a gifted international player, but he wasn't necessarily expected to be a dominant doubles player for the Gators.
Because tennis is played on clay in France, many players are at a developmental disadvantage in doubles when they begin to play in the United States.
Lacroix had success as a freshman at No. 3 doubles, but he wanted more. He worked tirelessly to improve his game with UF assistant Jeremy Bayon, a fellow Frenchman.
The extra effort paid off. Last month Lacroix set the Florida record with his 94th doubles victory.
"It's a reward of how much work I put into the doubles," Lacroix said of holding the UF record. "I'm really proud of it."
"Here's a guy who came in and basically has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to try to figure out how to play doubles," UF coach Andy Jackson said. "Relative to what he knows now, he was a beginner the first year. … The difference is now he knows exactly what he's doing and he's played the last two years against the best teams in the country and he's a doubles All-American. It's something we're really proud of."
Lacroix is only the seventh Gator to reach 100 singles victories, and his current 105 singles wins ranks him No. 5 all-time at Florida. He begins play in the SEC Men's Tennis tournament today with 98 doubles victories and at No. 2 with 203 combined wins, just five shy Justin O'Neal's UF record of 208.
The accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider this: for the past three seasons, Lacroix has been the Gators' No. 1 or No. 2 singles player. For the past two seasons, he's played at No. 1 in both singles and doubles in every dual match the Gators have participated in. And that, Jackson said, is why the record says so much about Lacroix, who is also on schedule to graduate with a business management degree.
"It is a very large load that can really take its toll on you," Jackson said. "We need his point, he knows we need his point, and he also knows that everybody is looking at him because basically we've got one guy with a lot of experience and seven other guys getting experience as we go along. It counts as just one point but the player you're playing is way better, everybody's watching you, everybody's geared up for you more. He's handled it unbelievable."
It hasn't been easy, particularly this season. As the lone senior, it has been an up and down season for the No. 17 Gators. Florida (14-8, 7-4 SEC) is 4-6 in 10 matches decided by a 4-3 outcome — each came down to a decision-making match.
Lacroix's teammates credit him for keeping the team together.
"He's someone who competes really hard and he's the leader of this team," said his doubles partner Sekou Bangoura Jr. "Playing with him and being around him, you learn from his positive attitude and his confidence in himself. He's very mature. He's in his fourth year here so he's seen a lot of things and he's very good about telling the young guys what to expect and what's going on. He's somebody we really look up to. He has a lot of heart."
Florida will host the SEC tennis championships for the first time since 1999, but the Gators will have to play on opening day as the No. 5 seed — unfamiliar territory for a team that has reached the final two of the past three seasons.
For Lacroix, part of a long list of highly successful players Jackson has recruited from France, this is a final stretch on a quest to win a championship. Whatever happens, he said, he'll leave Gainesville with no regrets.
"From when I arrived here to who I am now, I grew up a lot," Lacroix said. "It was the best four years of my life. I learned from other people. I've discovered a new culture and new people. In terms of tennis I learned a lot, especially in my doubles. And hopefully I can play good in my future life as a tennis player. I wouldn't change anything."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.