Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Saturday, January 22, 2022

The All-American Dane: Johannes Ingildsen tackles change

<p>Junior Johannes Ingildsen is from Copenhage, Denmark, and he's developed into and All-American athlete for the Florida Gators. </p>

Junior Johannes Ingildsen is from Copenhage, Denmark, and he's developed into and All-American athlete for the Florida Gators. 

Johannes Ingildsen shows up to practice with sunscreen on his face not rubbed all the way in and his freshly bleached blonde hair poking through his Gators hat.

He jokes with his teammates that he needs a good picture taken because the team keeps using bad ones, but it could just be an excuse to show off his golden locks.

Ingildsen likes to have fun with his friends before practice.

When the ball is up, however, his jovial demeanor vanishes. At a practice a few weeks before the fall season begins, he works up a quick sweat while practicing singles and doubles. He stands out on the court for how quiet he is, quite literally – Ingildsen is 6-foot-4 – but his effort sets him apart as well.

Occasionally he lets out a grunt, as most players do, when he punishes the yellow-green ball with an aggressive backhand, but otherwise, he’s relatively quiet. He doesn’t celebrate when he beats out his teammates for a point. He silently berates himself when he makes a rare mistake — a complete 180 from his attitude before practice began.

His conservative demeanor doesn’t tell the whole story — or even half of it.

Change is nothing new for Ingildsen. He made the switch from soccer to tennis before he could sit in the front seat of his parent’s car. He up and left his country to pursue the sport he loves.

That story of change begins in Copenhagen, Denmark, far away from the muggy swamp of Gainesville, Florida, where Ingildsen has already written himself into the record books with a plethora of wins and All-American and All-SEC selections.

 

He was supposed to kick balls, not hit them. At two years old, Ingildsen began playing soccer under the watchful eye of his father, Alex. A budding talent from a young age, Ingildsen fell in love with the game.

It was his first love and is, to this day, one of his favorite sports. He follows his home club, FC Copenhagen, as well as FC Barcelona, and he still kicks the ball around when he has free time. Admittedly, he’s not the player he once was.

His love demanded more and more of his time as he grew older, however. His mother, Mette, decided to put him in tennis when he was seven years old to give him a break from the pitch.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

Ingildsen played tennis leisurely once a week, never entering competitions. Bo Thaysen, a renowned tennis coach in Denmark, saw potential in 10-year-old Ingildsen that compensated for his apparent lack of talent: the ability to learn.

Thaysen wanted to train the young Ingildsen and take him past the recreational level.

Ingildsen, however, wasn’t ready to give up soccer just yet. He was still attempting to play his favorite pastime while rising through the ranks in the tennis world.

“I was playing too much,” Ingildsen said. “Every day I was playing both soccer and tennis, so that was too much for me.”

Mette said that Thaysen, and later Mikkel Nørby, wanted to work seriously with Ingildsen. He was asked to fully commit to tennis.

Tennis won out in the end.

Johannes became as addicted to the craft as a teenager is to his/her phone.

His mother eventually had to ask him to tone down his newfound passion.

“He would spend hours playing the tennis ball against a wall in our living room,” Mette said. “We sometimes had to ask him to take a break so we could hear the news on TV.”

It took some time for Ingildsen’s father to get on board with tennis becoming his son’s life – Johannes’ talent on the pitch was already there, and it was unclear what he could do on the court. Alex had viewed tennis in the past as a hobby, not something his son would end up playing full time.

Nevertheless, the family took Thaysen’s word that Johannes had the potential to become a great tennis player and ran with it.

“From that point, it went fast,” Mette said.

 

Eight years later, a not-so-young Ingildsen was preparing for the next step in his tennis career.

“We knew that playing tennis in college in the U.S. was an option,” Mette said. “We did not have a clue about which schools or coaches were good.”

Messages on Facebook opened that door.

The social media platform was the primary method of communication Division I tennis coaches used to contact Ingildsen as he began to appear on their radar with a top-100 international ranking.

“You have to have something special to get our attention and to invest that much in traveling and risking a little bit,” Gators head coach Bryan Shelton said. “Joe certainly stood out, and we recognized that he was a guy that could come in here and make a big difference on this program.”

Former Gators assistant coach Mark Merclain traveled to Copenhagen to see Johannes play in person and joined the Ingildsen family for a dinner that sold them on UF.

“He told us about the school and the tennis team without overselling it,” Mette said. “Some of the other coaches were more pushy in their approach, according to Joe.”

Oklahoma, San Diego and Kentucky all made recruiting pitches as well. But a big factor for Ingildsen was the weather, which helped him narrow his destination to schools in either Florida or California.

“I’m from Denmark where it’s super, super cold like eight months a year, and I wanted some sun in my life,” Ingildsen said.

Florida’s risky investment paid off. Ingildsen returned the favor with an official visit to the school in 2015.

It was the first and only time he came to the United States before committing to Florida.

“I really liked the coaches here, the players here were super nice and everything was just really, really cool,” Ingildsen said. “So it was not in doubt that I should be here at all.”

Another change in the books.

 

Just like the switch from soccer to tennis, Ingildsen’s transition from Denmark to the United States was not seamless.

“In the beginning the culture was kind of shocking,” Ingildsen said. “Just the way people are. Then I had to make new friends in the beginning, everything was new, I had to learn everything in English, which I was not used to.”

He learned English at his high school in Copenhagen, but adjusting to writing and thinking in English proved challenging.

Those difficulties resulted in academic shortcomings his freshman year.

Ingildsen originally planned to study business. But his classes proved too demanding with his status as a student-athlete. He practiced close to 20 hours every week, so he switched his major to sports management with a minor in business administration.

Another change in the books.

“I’ve always been kind of a lazy guy,” Ingildsen said. “My first priority was always tennis when I was younger, so I was not very good in school because I didn’t take the time.”

He eventually conquered those academic issues after what Shelton called “a kick in the butt” from the coaching staff and a push from his father back home. The rest was on Ingildsen.

“I’ve managed my time better since I came here,” Ingildsen said. “Coaches really teach us how to manage our time and right now I’m just in a good rhythm.”

Ingildsen traveled back to Denmark for winter break in his first year to be with his parents and his three younger sisters: Selma, Lucca and Dicte. His return in the spring was a turning point.

“After maybe my first semester I felt like this was my home here in Florida, and I belonged here,” Ingildsen said.

It sure looked that way on the court.

He won 29 singles matches as a freshman, including a team-high eight SEC matches, and 14 doubles matches. His resume earned him a spot on the All-SEC Freshman team as well as All-American Doubles honors.

That would seem like a successful season to most. But not to Ingildsen.

“I did not think that I played that well my freshman year,” he said. “Even though I didn’t feel I was playing that well, I still won a lot of matches my freshman year.”

Corrine Simpson, a sports information director at UF, reminded him of his place in Gators tennis lore.

“Joe, did you know you were the fourth ever true freshman to ever be an All-American in Florida history?”

“No I did not. That’s pretty cool.”

“You were the first one since 2005.”

“Really? That’s pretty cool.”

Pretty cool.

 

***

A professional career for a player of Ingildsen’s caliber has been on the table for quite some time. But it’s not as simple as a yes or no decision for him.

“It’s so tough to be a professional athlete,” Ingildsen said. “Especially in tennis because every week, there’s tournaments. We have to take a flight every week, live pretty much in your own luggage. But if I still have that fire and I’m playing well, I will probably go professionally.”

Shelton said that Ingildsen keeps his plans for the future to himself. When he asks what Ingildsen wants to accomplish, his answer tends to be something like improving his serve or working on his stamina rather than the big picture.

“I think that you come into contact with different people throughout your life, and you see the ones that just find a way to continue to improve and get better and be successful, and I think Joe is one of those guys,” Shelton said. “He comes from a family that has instilled those qualities in him, and I know that if he chooses to play professionally that he can be successful out there.”

Ingildsen has plenty of options in front of him after graduation. He can return to Denmark to continue his education and pursue a master’s degree in economics. He can join the professional tennis circuit in the United States.

But right now, he is focusing on winning an SEC title and potentially an NCAA title. Two goals he believes are well in reach for this year’s team.

“I feel like this year is our biggest chance Florida will ever have to win a national championship,” Ingildsen said, “so the main goal is to win titles this year.”

Ingildsen has dealt with great changes in his life, but whatever he tackles next will likely be easy in comparison to what he has already done and how far he has come – literally and figuratively.

“To be able to go outside of your comfort zone, outside of your country, go across the Atlantic Ocean and go to school in a place and to have transitioned as well as he has,” Shelton said, “that speaks volumes to the type of depth, to the type of person that he is and type of athlete that he is.”

Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood or contact him at kwood@alligator.org.

Junior Johannes Ingildsen is from Copenhage, Denmark, and he's developed into and All-American athlete for the Florida Gators. 

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2022 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.