Sports

Portrait

Jacob Dunbar leans forward, his shock of red hair illuminated by the sun, puzzled.

He repeats the question back: “What’s the most interesting thing about me?”

He pauses another moment, staring at the floor.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m kind of boring.”

By early April, Dunbar, a senior on Richmond’s men’s tennis team, was 28-5. He and his double’s partner, Alexandre Felisa, ranked 49th in the world in the ITA collegiate tennis rankings in early March. Dunbar, an Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team player in his first three seasons, has dominated since high school, when he compiled a 95-3 record and was named Ohio state champion. In April, he became the first Spider to win more than 100 games in his collegiate athletic career.

How’s that for boring?

Dunbar has been playing tennis since he was 4 years old, thanks to his parents. His mother, Vicki Nelson-Dunbar, is a former professional tennis player who won the 1986 Brazilian Open. His father, Keith Dunbar, is a former professional tennis coach.

“Starting early definitely gave me an advantage, and it’s great to have someone there 24 hours a day who can talk to you about tennis,” he said. “But it also took a lot of hours on the court.”

And after years of preparation and those countless hours, he is now one of best college tennis players in the country. But you wouldn’t know that from talking to Dunbar, who seems reluctant to talk about his successes. Instead, he puts his tennis career into perspective, balancing his athletic involvement with his academics.

“You can’t put tennis ahead of school and you can’t put school ahead of tennis,” Dunbar said. “But I’ve made intelligent decisions about where to put my time. The toughest part is having a social life.”

You have to realize the goal isn't to win a match; it's to get better.

Jacob DunbarFelisa, his doubles partner, said that Dunbar keeps to himself. “He eats and sleeps tennis. That’s what he lives for.”

As Dunbar prepared this spring for a match against the University of Virginia, one of the best teams in the country, he admitted to being nervous, but he exhibited no outward signs of anxiety.

“You need to make sure that when you walk out there, there’s nothing else on your mind,” Dunbar said. “You have to bring yourself back to earth and realize the goal isn’t to win a match; it’s to get better.”

Felisa said that Dunbar’s style on the court matches his personality.

“He’s the type of guy who doesn’t look impressive on the court, who looks like he’s going to get his [butt] kicked, and then he kicks other guys’ [butts],” Felisa said.

After graduation, Dunbar will begin his professional career. Though he is excited for that next step, he already says he will miss his time at Richmond.

“I’m kind of sad, honestly,” Dunbar said. “I’ll miss our freshmen. I’ll miss the whole team atmosphere. It’s kind of hard to realize it’s over and done.”

This summer, he plans to play several tournaments in the U.S. before heading to the Middle East. If he pulls off victories, he’ll win prize money to finance his participation in more matches. If he loses, his hopes of a successful professional career will dwindle. As always, he remains calm.

“Whether you succeed or fail, it doesn’t mean all that much in the end,” Dunbar said. “You still have to be a good person. You still have to do the right thing.”