Willem Knoester is inspired by tennis on and off the court


Willem Knoester (left) and Senior Noah Kriekard (right) after a match.

Not all heroes wear capes, and neither does sophomore Willem Knoester’s hero. Instead, he carries a tennis racket. From upperclassmen to world-class tennis players, Willem’s adoration for his sport is forged by the many people who have inspired him.

“There’s this [tennis] player named Ben Shelton,” Willem said. “I got to watch him play in Kalamazoo. When he was only around twenty years old, he won the NCAA tournament, which is crazy. This year, just recently in the Australian Open, he made it to the quarter-finals, and that was his first international tournament, so I definitely look up to him. He’s a huge inspiration.”

What most people don’t understand is that tennis is actually a lot more emotional than most sports. Our tennis team specifically, we actually get in trouble a lot for yelling because we’re so excited.

— Willem Knoester

Getting to see one of your major idols play and perform in person is the dream of many athletes and fans in general, but world-class athletes aren’t the only people who have inspired Willem throughout his time playing tennis. 

All the credit for Willem starting the sport in the first place belongs to his dad who played tennis, among other sports, in college. His dad won a singles tournament for Calvin College when he was a student there and always had aspirations for his son to follow in his footsteps. 

Although Willem has been playing tennis on some level for the majority of his life, it was a while before he began to fully appreciate his love for the sport. 

“My dad always thought I would be a tennis player,” Willem said, “but I haven’t been playing super seriously for very long. In about seventh grade, I realized how much I love playing, so I decided to keep going into high school.”

His passion for tennis only continues to grow as time goes on, and he expects that, as his dad thought, he will keep playing for much of his life.

Joining a sport in high school is a lot of pressure for anyone to handle. Constant worrying about how good you are, having the rest of the team relying on you, and trying your best to up your rank and join the varsity team are only a part of it. The stress can quickly become overwhelming, but having teammates and coaches to look up to can alleviate much of that stress. 

“There was this senior when I was a freshman,” Willem said. “He was the most intense, almost brash, tennis player I’ve ever met, but it made the environment of the team so fun. When we played teams like [Forest Hills] Northern, he would yell so much. I remember cheering him on at states when he would play really good teams. He made the whole team super fun.”

Some might even say he caused a racket on the court. Upperclassmen like this are a slightly extreme example of one of Willem’s favorite things about tennis. Willem’s love for tennis began to grow once he started having fun going to practices and playing in tournaments, and he felt more of a connection to his teammates as well.

What most people don’t understand is that tennis is actually a lot more emotional than most sports,” Willem said. “Our tennis team specifically, we actually get in trouble a lot for yelling because we’re so excited. Tennis really brings out you. Who you are in the moment when you’re playing.”

Unfortunately, no matter how much passion you hold for anything in your life, you’re guaranteed to have off days. Days where you would rather be doing anything else when it seems like nothing is going your way. Even Willem, who plans to play tennis throughout his life, has days he wishes he wasn’t playing. 

“Somedays, I just don’t want to be playing [tennis] anymore,” Willem said. “Last year, we played in a conference and it was like everything was going wrong. Me and my doubles partner weren’t getting along, and it was one of those moments where you just hate playing the sport.”

Despite these occurrences, Willem couldn’t imagine his life without tennis. He plays baseball as well, mostly in the tennis off-season, but he said without hesitation that he would always rather play tennis than baseball.

From falling in love with tennis in seventh grade to making plans to play in college, much of Willem’s world revolves around the sport. The work he puts in day after day, no matter how much he wants or doesn’t want to, is paying off in the best way possible. He keeps improving while still being able to find joy in playing the sport. 

“[Tennis] is such a community,” Willem said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t get into tennis because it’s such a hard sport. So there aren’t very many people who play, and we all know each other. I could go up to the kids from Midland and Detroit and we all know each other, and it’s super fun to be able to see them at other tournaments and have relationships with people who I wouldn’t [know] without tennis.”