Peter Ayers has played tennis since he was eight years old. He competed on the rigorous junior tennis circuit from age 10 on through high school. Like all top tennis players, Ayers has devoted a large portion of his life to excelling in the sport.
Unlike a lot of other top players, the 6-2 sophomore men's tennis player from Charlotte has always played tennis because he enjoyed it, not because he was forced into it.
"It's kind of weird," Ayers said. "I don't know how I got into tennis. Neither one of my parents played, and my older sister just dabbled in it a bit. It's just something I picked up and it came naturally to me."
A youth spent playing tennis on the junior circuit can sometimes put a lot of pressure on a player. But tennis has never been much of a burden for Ayers.
"I had to make some sacrifices, but there was never any rigid pressure from home for me to play," Ayers said. "I chose to play tennis. I love to do it. I wouldn't have it any other way. You spend a lot of your summers traveling, you miss some holidays here and there, but it's all worth it -- to get to this level, to be here. Tennis has opened a lot of doors for me."
Ayers has already achieved a tremendous amount of success on the collegiate level. Last year as a freshman, he played as high as No. 3 singles for the team. This fall, he advanced to the finals of the Rolex Regional Indoor Qualifier Tournament, the qualifying tournament for the third leg of the collegiate grand slam. Head coach Jay Lapidus attributes Ayers' success in the fall to his style of play and the fact that he kept his game relaxed.
"Peter has a game that's very conducive to fast-court play," Lapidus said. "I think the key to Peter's game is just getting him to relax and not worry about results. Peter knows that if he just lets himself go, letting his athleticism take over, and doesn't think too much about whether he's going to win or lose, he does much, much better. That's what he did at the Rolex Regionals and that's what made the key difference."
Although Ayers has gained confidence from his performance in individual tournaments, he is anxious to start spring play. In collegiate tennis, most players compete in several tournaments in the fall as individuals and team matches start in the spring.
"I'm very eager to get the team stuff going -- that's the most fun part of the year," Ayers said. "Our expectations are high. We're ranked fourth in the nation preseason and we want to win it all. Even though we will have everybody back next year, we don't want to wait until next year. So I guess the big goal is to put ourselves in a position where we have the opportunity to win it all."
As a competitor on the junior circuit, Ayers played a few times at Duke in tournaments and was heavily recruited by Lapidus. A longtime fan of Duke basketball, Ayers was searching for a school where he could develop his game yet at the same time also get a good education. Lapidus and Duke provided the right combination for him.
"I had always heard Peter was a big Duke basketball fan," Lapidus said. "I knew that he was very well-thought of in terms of having a good character and he was one of the top couple recruits coming out [in 1992]. He's turned out to be a tremendous recruit. He's able to rise to the occasion -- you can't necessarily teach that. He was a winner in juniors, he's a winner in college -- he's just a winner. I don't know how you coach that. We're lucky to have a guy like that on the team. He's definitely a team player."
Ayers didn't have an easy time deciding where to go to school, but Lapidus helped to pull him to Duke.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
"When I was visiting schools it was hard, [because] there were a lot of good schools -- I didn't visit a school that I didn't like," Ayers said. "I think Jay had so much to do with it. I honestly believe that he's one of the best coaches, if not the best, in the country. We have a lot of faith in him. The total package appealed -- unbelievable academics, I can get a great education and also become as good a player as I can be in my college years. Jay was definitely a big factor [in my college choice]."
Another highly influential person in Ayers' life is teammate and roommate Rob Chess. The two sophomores are almost always together, and they help to complement each other both on the court and off.
"Rob and Peter have a great friendship and it's a situation where they push each other," Lapidus said. "They're both hard workers. When one doesn't feel like coming [to practice] the other one pushes him to come out. It's the type of thing where they've worked really well with each other -- it's been sort of an ideal situation. If you see two guys out on the courts early, it's going to be them almost every time."
Even though he is only a sophomore, Ayers provides leadership for the team. When Lapidus came to Duke four years ago, the men's tennis program was not very strong and unranked in national polls. Under the leadership of Lapidus and players such as Ayers, the team has grown to be a national powerhouse.
"Peter leads by example with his work ethic," Lapidus said. "He's the hardest worker on the team, and I think that helps filter down to everybody. He has the best work ethic of anybody by far that I've coached while I've been here. I have a lot of confidence in him."
Although Ayers is playing remarkably well and is currently ranked third in the region and 45th in the country, he still feels there is room for improvement in his game.
"We've worked really hard to get me more solid from the baseline and on the return of serve," Ayers said. "I've always had a good serve and been able to move well around the net. We're trying to fill in the holes and make me a better player. I hesitate to say that [my game] is as good as it's going to get, but it's getting there."
"Peter is a real competitor," Lapidus said. "He likes to compete. He's a streetfighter. If I had to compare him with someone that all the students would know, he's sort of like Bobby Hurley, probably. He's the type of guy who makes good things happen. He's really gritty. You just get the feeling he loves to compete out there."