Nearly 13,000 kilometers separate Cherrybrook, Australia, and Spokane.
Upwards of 24 hours of travel by plane and a 17-hour time difference isolate the two cities a hemisphere apart.
The bridge, however, for men’s tennis senior captain Ruadhan O’Sullivan was a racket and more than a few fluorescent yellow balls.
After first picking up a racket at the ripe age of 4 and spending much of his free time as a child hitting tennis balls against a wall, O’Sullivan knew he had found his sport.
“Ever since I was young it’s been the only thing I could picture myself doing,” O’Sullivan said.
“Just being able to go out there and compete against other people felt natural to me.”
In tennis, O’Sullivan found the mano a mano clash he needed to display the individual competitiveness that drives him.
Growing up on the Australian tennis circuit, O’Sullivan was consistently tested by top-tier athletes who weren’t going to go down without a fight. Experience which has only served to fan O’Sullivan’s competitive flame.
“I grew up around a lot of guys who have become very successful,” O’Sullivan said. “Because the Australian tennis community is so small, I’ve had the opportunity to train around such great players and they gave me the confidence that I could compete at the level.”
The amateur spent years on the ITA Junior Tour in Australia competing in Junior Championships and posting a winning singles record, before deciding to take his talents state side.
The Aussie native had long desired to attend college in the U.S. and after a friend, Jordan Smith, committed to GU to play tennis, O’Sullivan, who hoped to attend college with someone else from Australia, researched the school.
Smith connected O’Sullivan with GU’s coaching staff and mutual interest bloomed. Following a Skype tour of the tennis facility, O’Sullivan committed to GU.
The transition to America wasn’t all peachy. After their freshman season, Smith transferred from GU and O’Sullivan was left feeling alone on a campus of thousands.
“It was tough, just because I didn’t feel like I had that many people to relate to from back home,” he said. “But I’ve had a great team the whole time and they’ve been really supportive and they make me feel like I am at home here.”
At GU, the once unabashed individualist on the court has seen tennis manifest into a team sport.
Head coach Jonas Piibor has seen O’Sullivan turn his fierce nature into a charging force for the rest of his team.
“He leads more by example,” Piibor said. “He’s not the most verbal guy, but he definitely goes about his business very professionally in practice and he’s been really determined to have an awesome year as a senior and I think the guys feed off especially his competitiveness.”
In addition to leading the team, O’Sullivan has also entered a unique on-court relationship. While still dominating the singles rank as GU’s No. 1 singles player, O’Sullivan also joined a successful doubles duet with junior Sam Feit, GU’s No. 2 singles player, to form men’s tennis’ top doubles team.
“I think we just complement each other’s games really well,” O’Sullivan said. “We definitely don’t play a traditional style of doubles. I think originally we were both more singles players than doubles, so I think we kind of just got thrown in together in hopes that we could do something.”
In 2019, the pair rattled of a team-high 21 wins compared to just 10 losses, earning First Team All-West Coast Conference honors as a doubles tandem and at one point earning a spot in the ITA national rankings.
Feit’s ability to match O’Sullivan’s competitiveness has been fundamental to their success. When facing off in practice the duo doesn’t shy away from intensity, often going back and forth in drills, each fueling the others drive to improve.
“Ru always tries to bring a lot of energy to practice,” Feit said. “He takes every drill seriously. He hates losing, so if we are playing a point or something you know it’s going to be a tough one.”
Still, Feit finds way to break O’Sullivan from his stoic aggression with inside jokes.
“He may come off as a bit intense sometimes, especially on the court, but underneath that there’s a little bit of a soft side to him,” Feit said. “I’ll throw these little comments at him during a match to get him to smile here or there.”
When the duo breaks to the singles court, O’Sullivan and Feit don’t stray far from each other; for years now, they’ve been on adjacent courts not five feet apart. During their own singles matches, they maintain an eye on the other’s game, doing what they can to provide support.
“We’re both pretty good at picking each other up during these matches because we are side-by-side,” Feit said.
One of O’Sullivan’s regular calls of support, “Back yourself, mate,” featuring his distinct Australian accent and meaning believe in yourself, has become a rallying cry for the entire team.
Four years removed from making the frightening jump across the Pacific Ocean, O’Sullivan called it a privilege to train, compete and make memories with teammates that have now become like family.
“I’ve loved every part of it, the facilities, coaching, everything over the past few years,” he said.