A summer spent with his grandfather opened up a world of opportunity for Gophers freshman standout Matic Spec.
It came through a tennis racquet and ball.
Spec, a freshman from Maribor, Slovenia, first played the sport with his grandfather when he was young.
“At the age of 4, my grandpa just took me to the [tennis] courts,” Spec said. “During the summer, we would go there and play for a while.”
Spec played tennis with his grandfather for three years before he signed up to be a part of a club team.
“In order to take tennis seriously, I had to join the club [teams],” Spec said. “[I joined] ZTK Maribor, and I started to train there at the age of 7.”
By the time he was 9 years old, Spec was competing in tournaments with players in his age group.
At 12, he was the fifth-ranked player in Slovenia, he said.
“I wasn’t exactly the best, but I certainly wanted to be,” Spec said. “I would say under-12 was my first real experience with great competitive tennis.”
During his tenure with ZTK Maribor, Spec won four international singles tournaments and six Slovenian singles titles.
He was also a four-time national champion in doubles competition.
“I showed myself that I can play with the guys on the international level,” Spec said.
Choosing a college
Spec said he didn’t think about attending a university before age 16.
“[College] wasn’t really big at the time,” Spec said. “Neither my parents [nor] I tried to think so far ahead.”
But with his international recognition as one of the top tennis players in Slovenia, schools started reaching out.
“I think I had 20 [or so] messages from coaches,” Spec said. “But I took four [official] visits.”
The four visits were to Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Mississippi State and Minnesota.
Gophers head coach Geoff Young said he recalled Spec doing well at some junior tournaments, so he decided to reach out to him.
After the visit, Young said he knew Spec would be a good addition to the team.
“From the first day of getting to know him, he had a way about him that told me that he would be a good fit here,” Young said.
For Spec, Minnesota was the right fit, too.
“I really liked it here. You can see a lot through the visits — how the team behaves and how are the guys,” Spec said. “Then, of course, I looked at the academics to see how good the schools are.”
Spec also mentioned that scholarships played a big factor.
“In comparing to Notre Dame, a private school, Minnesota already [had] an advantage,” Spec said. “Even if they [offered] me the same percentage of scholarship, I would still have to pay a lot more at Notre Dame because they are private.”
A fast start
Spec completed his fall season with a 9-3 singles record and a 5-3 doubles record.
He also reached the championship match for both the singles and doubles Big Ten indoor championships.
Junior Ruben Weber, who played doubles alongside Spec during the fall season, said he has been a big part of Minnesota’s success.
“He’s a great guy, and the whole team likes him,” Weber said. “[He’s] setting a foundation for himself to work hard. He’s on the track to be a really, really good singles and doubles player in college.”
After going from Maribor to Minnesota, Spec has lofty goals to accomplish.
“I want to be as good as possible,” Spec said. “Maybe win the Big Ten tournament or the NCAAs.”