Mario An?i?, a third-year student at Columbia Law School, is getting ready to graduate in May, and to start an investment banking job at Credit Suisse in June. Before he entered the world of law degrees and banking, he was a professional tennis player, ranked as high as seventh in the world. An?i? spoke over the phone with The Eye about how his tennis career has influenced his law school experience.
Going back three years, when you left tennis, why did you decide you wanted to become a lawyer?
I would say, having been an athlete, it's an amazing career. I look back, and I see so many great things that I was involved with ... When I got injured and when I had to retire, there was also this bigger question I had to answer and the question every athlete has to answer at some point: “What do you do, and which path do you take?” I was blessed enough to still be really young—in my mid-20s—I was able to switch career and go into something that I really thought I would find challenging and fight for.
… Law school gives amazing training. It's not only the subject that you take, but it's a way you think. It teaches you attention to details. It's very rigorous academics. I saw the challenge of being in law school. Also being involved in many projects, and being a voice in your community, and dealing with issues outside of the tennis court—I was very interested in business, and I had felt being in law school would give me a great platform to understand a lot of issues that are happening in the corporate world.
How did you learn to deal with the pressure of traveling, and playing, and sometimes losing?
It's a learning curve. It's not that you really need to grow up with that. I'm sure there's people who are more inclined to do that or not, but I felt dealing with all of this was a process. Sometimes I felt, and that's the great thing about sports, whatever you do, you try to make a better decision in your current situation, and sometimes you did and sometimes you realize you didn't and you learn from that. You move on, you grow from that, you overcome that, and that's the whole point.
Obviously, there were sleepless nights, and I would lose, and I would beat my head and think how can I do those things, but, at the end of the day, what helped me was that I felt I was there for the game, there to defend, and I was giving my best.
And sometimes, obviously, the result was not as much as I wanted it to be, but I think people who follow me and people who were looking at me and who admire my game, they always knew that I was very passionate, very temperamental on the court and giving my 100 percent, and I think that one of the things that dealing with the pressure is something that I enjoyed in a way. I enjoy being challenged. I enjoy competing with the top tennis players in the world. It was something that I saw as a positive and motivating factor in my life.
You talked about tennis being really rigorous, and, of course, law school is very rigorous, and I was wondering if there were any sort of skills that you learned learning athletics that you applied to law school?
Being an athlete, you have to dedicate yourself 100 percent to what you do, which means sometimes a lot of sacrifices, and it's not strange to wake up at three in the morning and train all day, and go to sleep, and do it over again...
The program at law school can be very, very difficult at times and very, very challenging, and you put in tons of hours—sleepless nights, or you sleep very few hours, but I would say being an athlete helps me to deal with that in my own ways, and also I think another way being an athlete helped me was dealing with everyday pressure that I had to deal with when I was playing. Also making quick decisions on the court that you have to live with. Sports in general, and tennis as well, I feel like it's a great platform for life. You have to work hard, you have to make quick decisions, you have to trust in those decisions. Sometimes, you make them right–so many times you make them wrong, and you learn that you lose. You lose every day, every week, but, at some point, it’s more how do you cope with that—how does that contribute to make you a better individual, and how can you learn from that to overcome any obstacles?
Being in tennis, when you play almost any week—and I was one of the best in my generation—but, still, you don't win every week, and I think that was a very valuable lesson. Also, learning how to deal with constant pressure—playing tens of thousands of people. Every match is important, every day is under scrutiny, and I think that pushing yourself and pushing your physical and mental space, because I think that, at the end of the day, it becomes very ... that's what differentiates winners. It's a very close line between winning and losing, and I think I definitely feel—many people will agree or disagree with me—but having played for 15 years, tennis and sports played a huge part of how I look at the world.