Brothers Zack and Josh Papes learned to play tennis at a young age from their father, Mike Papes. With the help of their father’s coaching, Zack and Josh Papes found success as four-year starters at McCluer North High School and as players for Webster University’s men’s tennis team. Now an assistant coach at his alma mater, Zack Papes is following his father’s lead.
Freshman Josh Papes is in his first season playing tennis at Webster. Zack Papes graduated in 2011 after a four-year career on Webster’s team. Being an assistant coach on the 2011-2012 team has allowed Zack Papes to interact with his younger brother on the same tennis team, as they did growing up.
“It’s weird because I can’t call him coach,” Josh Papes said. “I see it as him trying to help me out, but sometimes I just don’t want to listen because it’s just that brother attitude I have.”
Zack and Josh Papes have a relationship many brothers have. They weren’t the best of friends when they were younger, but they said their relationship has improved as they have gotten older.
“As kids, we were a little bit more at each other’s throats,” Zack Papes said. “As we’ve gotten older, we’ve kind of learned to live with each other a little bit more. I think we’re a lot better friends now that we’re older.”
While they have learned to live with each other off the tennis court, there is still a competitive nature between the two on the court.
“It was more cutthroat when we were kids, but otherwise it’s still cutthroat right now,” Josh Papes said. “We still have that competition with each other, even though we’re a little more mature about it. But it’s a healthy competition.”
Zack Papes took on a leadership role during his junior and senior years at Webster.
“He was a really talented player,” coach Michael Siener said. “He was always trying to help kids when he was out there on the court. I relied on Zack to be kind of our captain his last two years.”
Zack Papes doesn’t think his younger brother will feel pressure to emulate his success.
“I think he’s his own person,” Zack Papes said. “It used to be different when he was younger. It was kind of one of those things where he was competing. As he’s gotten older, he’s developed into his own person. He’s perfectly content with being himself. I would say he has a competitive nature about him. It’s more him competing against himself and not against me anymore.”
Zack and Josh Papes have a similar style of play from years of coaching from their father. But Josh Papes is different from his brother because he is an ambidextrous player.
“Josh is very similar to Zack; skill-set wise,” Siener said. “Josh is different because he serves and overhands left-handed, but he’ll hit his groundstrokes right-handed. You don’t see that very often. I don’t know where or how he developed that, but I assume it’s something he’s been doing since he was a young boy.”
Josh Papes’ style of play can confuse his opponent, but also himself.
“It can sometimes throw an opponent off, but it can also create havoc with myself,” Josh Papes said. “Sometimes I don’t even know what’s going on.”
Josh Papes’ ambidextrous style can work to his advantage, but Zack Papes thinks their style differences make it more difficult for him to coach his brother.
“It definitely helps him,” Zack Papes said. “I think it’s the tale of two swords or the double-sided blade. It’s really hard to teach him and give him advice on how to do things because he does do things different. At the same time, it’s also definitely a weapon and works out to his advantage.”
Siener invited Zack Papes to be an assistant coach because of the leadership skills he showed as a player. Zack Papes accepted the position in hopes of helping the men’s tennis team accomplish something he wasn’t able to in his four years — winning a St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
“I still have a lot of friends on the team,” Zack Papes said. “I still really enjoy tennis. I guess I still had the bug in some ways. I really would like to help the men’s tennis team win their first conference title in any way I can.”
Josh Papes shares this goal. He wants to outdo his brother and help Webster win the SLIAC championship before he graduates.
“I’m only striving to do better,” Josh Papes said.
Zack Papes’ presence may motivate Josh Papes to do better, but they’ll have to deal with their cutthroat type of relationship to make that happen.
“I haven’t seen anything yet — any bickering or anything like that,” Siener said. “There’s probably some sibling rivalry there as far as competing against each other and Josh following in Zack’s footsteps, trying to play or get to his level.
“Their dad likes to coach them. They probably chirp at their dad and probably chirp at each other a little bit. I don’t anticipate them getting into a fist fight or anything on the court, although it would kind of be entertaining.”