In his first collegiate event, Florida freshman men’s tennis player Jonah Braswell won eight matches in a row and ran into the No. 7 ranked player in the country.
He lost to Virginia junior Chris Rodesch 6-4, 6-1 in the second round of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association main draw after winning his way through the pre-qualifying and qualifying rounds. If he had won two more matches, he would have faced his brother, Micah Braswell, in his first ever collegiate tournament, but the match didn’t come to fruition.
“We definitely have a chance to play each other in the next couple of years,” Jonah said. “So let's see what happens.”
Micah is a junior at Texas and ranked No. 30 in the country, according to the ITA Division I end of Fall singles rankings. Jonah sits at No. 93 in the same ranking.
At the time, Jonah was too early into his college career to have a ranking. But he was on an unprecedented streak — he would have gone into the match without a loss at the collegiate level — and the possibility was being monitored by the whole family.
The brothers’ father, Ty Braswell, said Micah was proud of Jonah, but the pressure would have been on Micah as the older brother.
“If I was Micah, I would not have wanted to play Jonah in that tournament because Jonah was on such a roll,” Ty said.
Jonah has never beaten Micah, even in practice.
All parties thought this could have been Jonah’s time to finally beat his older brother. The two have played hundreds of sets and matches over the years, Jonah said, and he’s still yet to take Micah down.
Both Braswells have played tennis for most of their lives, and Jonah has always been right behind Micah, Ty said.
“That has been really good for Micah to have Jonah right there behind him,” he said. “That's made him better.”
Despite their records against each other, Jonah has narrowed the gap in recent years, Ty said. The first tournament Jonah played in, around age 7, he played his older brother and didn’t win a single game.
“He wasn't nice enough to just give me one,” Jonah joked.
It’s this competitive spirit that has helped the brother develop their games, the family agreed. They both hate losing, Micah said, and they’ve pushed each other to become the players they are today.
“It's kind of just in the nature of how we were raised,” Micah said.
Jonah crept up on Micah when the older brother suffered a back injury when he was 13 and Jonah was 11, Ty said. At this point, Jonah’s game had begun to blossom, while Micah was out of the game for about a year-and-a-half.
Ty was concerned for Micah because his younger brother had caught up to him, and they weren’t sure how Micah would handle it after being reinserted back into tennis life. Micah wasn’t playing like his former self and seemed to lack confidence, Ty said.
“If he decided, ‘you know what, I'm just gonna go on and do something else,’ we were okay with that,” Ty said.
However, Micah bounced back and took on the challenge with open arms, something his brother recognized and used when they later faced injuries. Jonah was out of tennis for about a year from 2018 to 2019 because of hamstring and hip injuries, and the youngest brother, Jeremiah Braswell, dealt with the same injury as Micah.
“They saw how challenging that was for Micah,” Ty said, “for him to push through that and come out on the other side and see what he's been able to accomplish.”
Jonah and Jeremiah learned a lot from Micah when it came to dealing with their injuries, as Ty didn’t deal with many in his playing days. Ty played at Florida State when in college from 1996 to 1999 and transitioned into a coaching role with the team for four years after taking a one-year break from the school.
He’s now the tennis director at Laurel Oak Country Club and has been able to dedicate his time to training his kids and other players. When Ty was young, his father didn't know much about tennis, but after attending a two-week summer program when he was 10, he was hooked.
Now, he encourages the whole family to play sports but has a soft spot for tennis. His three sons play tennis, and his 14-year-old adopted daughter, Rebecca, even trains about once a week, but her main focus is taekwondo.
The only member of the family who doesn’t come from a sports background is Jonah and Micah’s mother and Ty’s wife, Anna Braswell, Ty said. She’s learned a lot about tennis over the years, and Ty said her competitive spirit helps guide the boys through the mental tribulations of being an athlete.
Anna homeschooled the brothers, drove them to tournaments and made sure their diets were appropriate, Micah said. She also supports them through all the ups and downs tennis brings.
“I couldn't even put all of it into words what she's done for us,” Micah said.
Anna has been a big source of support for the Braswell family, but the brothers have also helped each other through life and tennis-related experiences. With Micah being two years ahead of Jonah, the former can help the latter as he kicks off his time at Florida.
Micah experienced his collegiate commitment, college life and tennis at the next level before Jonah encountered these obstacles. Micah wanted Jonah to join him at Texas, and Jonah said he heavily considered being a Longhorn. However, he chose to be a Gator mainly because of his connection with Florida head coach Bryan Shelton and Ben Shelton, who turned pro Aug. 23.
Micah helped Jonah prepare for the challenges he would face in college, Jonah said, and advised him on how to respond in different situations on the court. With Jeremiah being a high school freshman, he’ll start going through the process of deciding where he wants to play in college. This time, it may be Jonah’s turn to advise his younger brother.
For now, Jonah is faced with finishing his first season at Florida and getting ready for the Spring semester, where his first opponent is a familiar school: Texas.
The Gators’ season resumes Jan. 15 against the Longhorns. While lineups aren’t officially organized, Jonah and Micah could end up on the same court.
“I like to think I'm gonna win that one,” Micah said. “He'll say the opposite, that's for sure.”
With Jonah having another chance to play his brother, he looks forward to the opportunity. He knows the level of mutual respect they have for one another, Jonah said, and it would be a lot of fun to play at the collegiate level.
“It'd be pretty awesome to get my first one over him in a real college match,” Jonah said.
Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major with a specialization in sports and media. He is the Gators men's tennis beat reporter for The Alligator. When off the clock, he watches too many movies and writes too many Letterboxd reviews.