Alejandro Reguant will never forget the day he received the worst news of his life. His great-grandmother had passed away, just days before her 100th birthday.
Claudia Domenech was the center, the heart of his family. When the UA tennis player and his family visited Northern Spain, hers was the home they returned to. Reguant and the women he called abuela Skyped; she would ask him if he was being treated well, and about his friends. Tennis, his passion and the reason why he was in Tucson, was rarely mentioned.
Reguant’s abuela was an angel, Reguant said. He had never known anyone else like her. Overcome by sadness, he retreated to the Wildcats’ locker room. There, he wept for hours.
“My family wanted me to call me, but I couldn’t talk to anyone,” said Reguant. “They were sad, but expected it. They knew two days before when she went into the hospital, but didn’t tell me she wouldn’t survive.
“I was destroyed.”
UA coach Clancy Shields saw Reguant, his sophomore standout. The coach gave him a hug and shared something that helped push him past the tears.
“I told him she was special and that her legacy lives on in him,” Shields said. “This is the second grandparent we’ve lost this year (senior Shoti Meparidze’s grandpa passed away). I told them the greatest way to honor their legacy is to play tennis and make them proud.”
That’s exactly what Reguant did. And in the next few days at last month’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regionals in Malibu, California, he put together one of the best runs in UA tennis history.
On Day 1, Reguant and doubles partner Jonas Maier knocked off the No. 3 seeded team from Pepperdine. After that match and his first singles match, a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Pepperdine sophomore Dane Esses, he made the sign of the cross and pointed to the sky — a way to remember his grandma, and something he would continue to do the entire tournament.
“It was fun to be with him. He was really clear in his head, fully present, alert and very mindful,” Shields said. “Part of him was wanting to do something special, yet he was being smart about it. Not trying too hard, but in the back of his mind, really wanting to honor her. We said, ‘she would be really happy seeing this.’ He was competing free and with all the joy in his heart.”
Said Reguant: “I was thinking about her all the time, but that extra energy and motivation, the extra strength to keep driving and fighting got me through. I wasn’t sad; I gave it everything I had.”
Day 2 of the tournament, Oct. 20, would have been Domenech’s 100th birthday. Instead, thousands of miles away, Domenech’s family held her funeral.
Reguant wanted to join them. Since he couldn’t, “I honored her here on the court.”
Reguant won two matches that day and picked up one more the next day to earn a spot in the semifinals. His opponent: Arizona State freshman Benjamin Hannestad.
Hannestead won 6-4, 6-3, but Reguant played his best match of the tournament, Shields said.
“A few points didn’t go his way, and that’s what it takes to win or lose a match,” Shields said. “He got to the semis by playing with heart and passion. He played outside of what he normally does. It was inspiring.
“At the start of the semis he played well, but was down 3-0 and I think he was shell-shocked. He was a bit like, I played my best tennis and still lost. But he got back in that first set by winning four of the next five games. In tennis, it’s easy to pack it in after you are down. He kept fighting and it’s admirable.”
Reguant became the first Wildcat to reach the ITA semifinals.
“He was so dialed in and focused on every point,” Maier said. “She was a big part of his life and he is making her proud. I am super proud of my teammate, my brother. It’s such an inspirational story, how he did it and handled all that pressure.”
Reguant called his family after every match during his run. For 30 and 40 minutes at a time, they talked — about home, about memories and, yes, a little about tennis.
“We talked about everything, yet didn’t spend much time about how the match was going,” Reguant said. “The funeral was going on and I was asking them how the family was doing. And I was feeling safe when talking to my abuela at night. So they said if this helps, I should continue as she is listening to me.
“Now, every night I go out on my balcony and talk to her about how I play, how I feel. I imagine she is listening to me.”