'Big Easy' big part of Broncos' rise in men's tennis

Senior Nathan Sereke brings low-key approach to No. 24 Boise State.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comApril 18, 2014 

Senior Andy Bettles laughs thinking about times when he and fellow senior Nathan Sereke have walked around Boise, bumping into someone from another country.

"He'll just start up a conversation with them, talk to them in Arabic, whatever, while I'm standing there with no idea what they're talking about," Bettles said.

Those sorts of moments are Sereke in a nutshell — the 6-foot-7 Swede, son of east African immigrants — able to relate to just about anyone, aided by a multicultural background. He speaks three languages fluently, along with a conversational understanding of others such as Arabic, Serbian, Croatian and Spanish.

His fitting nickname, given by coach Greg Patton is "The Big Easy."

"I didn't like it at first, but now I introduce myself that way — it's who I am," Sereke said. "It makes sense, big guy, easy-going. I'm very adaptable."

Sereke, who has won 76 singles and 71 doubles matches at Boise State, will play in his final home matches Saturday against Air Force (11 a.m.) and San Francisco (6 p.m.). The Broncos are ranked 24th in the nation.

A junior national champion in Sweden, Sereke was brought to Patton's attention by one of the best Swedes to play tennis — Hailey resident Mats Wilander, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion.

"Probably the best Swedish connection you can get," Patton said.

His father was a tennis player in Eritrea, north of Ethiopia on the Red Sea. After trying his hand at soccer, the rangy Sereke proved himself a quick study in his father's sport. Once in Boise, as he often does, Sereke integrated well with the Broncos.

"He'd thrive on any team sport, but I don't think tennis provided that for him much until he came here," Patton said. "I'd love to have him as like our team ambassador. He's just a big, tall drink of happy water."

Patton joked "he's never met a couch he doesn't like," but that's not saying the senior takes it easy.

After taking second-team All-WAC honors in doubles as a freshman, he was All-Mountain West in doubles as a sophomore and All-MW in singles and doubles as a junior.

"He's got a fire — it's not a forest fire, but something more warming. He's a light," Patton said.

Bettles said he is the sort that will pump up the team, while Sereke provides "a perfect balance" as the sort that keeps the team relaxed. Sereke has won some key matches for the Broncos, including the winning ones the past two seasons in the Blue Gray Tennis Classic in Alabama.

"In tight matches, that fire comes out," Sereke said.


In addition to Sereke, the Broncos will honor Bettles and junior Aidan Reid on Saturday. Bettles has 105 singles wins for Boise State, and has been carrying the team at the No. 1 spot the past two seasons.

"It's such a great way to finish my college career," Bettles said of the Broncos' 23-4 record in duals.

Reed, who Patton calls "The Doctor" and is 6-2 in doubles and 2-0 in singles, will move on after this season as he pursues medical school.

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