Vito Tonejc demonstrates leadership during recent success


Vito Tonejc returns a backhand. Steve Woltmann/DePaul Athletics

Vito Tonejc was four-years-old when he was introduced to tennis thanks to his dad — who is a tennis coach.

As he got older, he was playing at a tournament in Croatia and the previous women’s tennis coach was recruiting some women when he saw Vito play. He knew his older brother was at DePaul and he insisted head coach Matt Brothers check him out. Brothers then flew to Croatia to watch him play.

The men’s tennis team has had some success with numerous players going deep in the International Tennis Association Midwest Regionals on Oct. 21-24.

Even though Tonejc lost, as one of the main leaders of the team, the junior has taken the definition of success to new heights, an avenue that has been embedded in his life since he was a child.

Since his DePaul arrival, he has excelled in his growth as a player. He became a part of the 2021 All-Big East team, as well as the 2021 Big East Player of the Year.

Tonejc discussed his work ethic and the keys that contributed to his recent success.

“Work ethic for me is showing up everyday and doing the best I can even on my bad days because I have them,” Tonejc said. “Even if you feel bad that day and you don’t feel like playing you should give 100 percent for your teammates. If you are dragging the practice down then all the other guys might see and their level might fall.”

As great as Tonejc is, he would not be in this position of success without the difficult trials he experienced.

After his freshman year, Tonejc was sick for three months and he didn’t play. He admitted that he didn’t want to watch tennis for the first two months due to not playing. Once he got back into it, the pandemic hit, not allowing him to play for another 2-3 months. Yet, through all the chaos, Tonejc managed to overcome those challenges by focusing on improvement.

“In the summer of 2020, I just took it day-by-day focusing on my goals,” Tonejc said. “That helped me a lot.”

In correlation with his work ethic, Tonejc is coachable and always willing to learn, according to  head coach Matt Brothers.

“Coaching Vito is an anomaly in a great way,” Brothers said. “He’s very professional in his preparation. He is serious. Because he is so coachable, he can make changes very quickly and improvements to his game extremely fast. He just digests it and he is a fun guy to coach everyday. He is just a joy to be around. I just try to enjoy every moment with him. He’s a great guy.”

Brothers also praised Tonejc for his willingness to learn, especially when he’s been put in positions competing with the best of the best.

“He’s always seen as the best player on every team we’ve played,” Brothers said. “This year, I tried to get him into the higher level events so he can really challenge himself against the best competition in the country. I think he has realized through those competitions some of the things we’ve been trying to get him to see for a year and so now. Some changes that need to be made to his game that against some opponents he can get away with and other/better opponents he can’t. It’s not about wins and losses but about how we can improve everyday.”

Graduate student Tripp Tuff has been at DePaul for six years now. As one of Tonejc’s teammates, they have experienced a new change in the culture this season compared to the established culture over the past few years. Prior to this season, the team had a core of four or five players. This season there are five new players due to the transfer portal.

Tripp complimented Tonejc’s efforts to being a leader in establishing a new culture and elaborated on learning what it meant to be a professional in preparation no matter the situation.

“I learned from Vito how to take every day as it comes and be present,” Tuff said. “I think what Vito does a good job at it, being extremely prepared for practice and also being super relaxed. He understands that practice is part of a process and that we are working toward a bigger goal and there is no pressure at every single moment.”

Tonejc’s love for the game shows in his commitment to be the best he can be on the court.

“You always have to be on top of your game,” Tonejc said. “The energy reflects on the court.”