Christo Alex’s mom, Kathy, doesn’t want her son driving just yet. She thinks boys at young ages can be reckless on the road. So Christo — soon to be 15 — will have to wait until he’s older to earn his learner’s permit.
Until then, he’ll have to settle for varsity tennis.
Last season Alex and Bjorn Swenson — then seventh-graders — provided victories for the Mounds View boys’ team in its victory over Edina in the state tournament. They’re back on varsity this season as eighth-graders — Swenson at No. 2 singles, Alex at No. 3.
“It’s just being so competitive that we don’t want to lose,” Alex said.” I don’t care how many people are watching when it comes down to [it], I want to win for myself, I want to win for my team.”
Alex, who was born in Greece, relies on a fiery passion when he plays the sport. Swenson, a Minnesota native, is more composed and relaxed. They go their separate ways over the summer to compete with other players.
“They both take it seriously, but I think Bjorn does more stuff off the court to be physically prepared than Christo does,” Mounds View coach Scott Sundstrom said. “But they’re both leaders in their own way.”
Bjorn started taking the sport seriously at a young age. His father, Peter, said he used to catch his son watching tennis at about age 7, unprompted by anyone. The basement wall in the Swensons’ house was splattered with tennis ball marks until Peter recently repainted it. He tells his kids not to hit tennis balls up against the garage door, but he finds the occasional mark there, too.
Bjorn and younger brothers Birk, Anders and Soren all play tennis together in the driveway of their North Oaks home. It’s Bjorn’s goal to have all of his siblings on varsity at the same time.
For now, it’s just Bjorn on the team. He ranks 70th nationally and first among Minnesota boys’ tennis players in his grade, according to the website tennisrecruiting.net.
“I’ve always liked the sport. It’s motivated me to get better and always have fun,” Bjorn said.
Christo also comes from a tennis family. One of his older brothers, Abraham, coaches the Mahtomedi boys’ tennis team. Another older brother, Petro, is a junior who plays No. 1 singles on the Mounds View boys’ tennis team.
Christo said he and Petro fire up each other by trash-talking one another. “We don’t get along that much, but in the end, we’re brothers,” Christo said. “He’s always there for me and tries to be there for me.”
Christo’s parents moved from Los Angeles to Greece while his parents did missionary work. That’s where Christo was born and his passion for tennis was ignited. The family lived on the Greek island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. Their house was surrounded by olive trees and a field filled with sheep and goats. They felt it was hard, Christo said, because the economy in Greece was not great and the kids in the family were getting older.
The family then moved to Minnesota, where Christo, who was in elementary school at the time, met his future tennis teammates, including Bjorn.
“He was one of my first friends,” Christo said. “I met him at a local tournament. … It was a fun experience meeting somebody who was good at tennis. We could be friends out of school and in tennis.”
Despite their youth, they are mentors of sorts this season. Another player, Hank Trondson, is on varsity as a seventh-grader this season. Bjorn said he and Christo give Trondson advice, considering they’ve been in the same situation.
“He’s kind of similar to us, he’s at a similar level,” Bjorn said.
Jack White is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.