Sophomore Joseph Di Guilio finds
solace in tennis

By Korbin Placet

Feb. 11, 2015 3:14 a.m.

Practice was winding down. The UCLA men’s tennis team was finishing stretching and packing up. Players were talking about where they were going to eat, while others were talking about what midterms they had to study for that week.

All except sophomore Joseph Di Giulio.

Di Giulio asked assistant coach Adrien Puget if he could stay and hit some more balls with him.

“All right, what do you want to work on?” Puget said.

Di Giulio grabbed some tennis balls out of a basket and walked toward the baseline.

“I want to play some pressure situations. So let’s play a tiebreaker and if I win, you have to do pushups,” Di Giulio said. “And if I lose, then I have to do extra shuttle runs.”

Puget laughed and agreed to play the tiebreaker, but said that he wasn’t going to do pushups. They started the tiebreaker while the rest of the team was headed into the locker room to wash up.

Ten minutes later, Di Giulio lost the tiebreaker 5-7 after hitting a crosscourt forehand into the net. He shrugged, laughed, put his racquet on the court and started to set up the shuttle run.

Feeling the pressure in matches is one of the aspects of tennis he loves, Di Guilio said. The only thing he is thinking about at that moment is the point. He said he does not think about school, what he is going to do after or what is troubling him in his life.

“Tennis is my time to get away from everything,” Di Giulio said. “It is kind of an escape from whatever I am feeling emotionally.”


Di Giulio had somewhat of a complicated relationship with tennis when he was growing up. He loved the sport, but there were times that the sport would conflict with something he loved more – his family.

“It pushed us apart, distance wise,” Di Giulio said.

Growing up he was one of the top tennis juniors in the country traveling all over the world participating in tournaments.

“He was very coordinated at a lot of sports, but tennis seemed to be his forte,” said his mother April Di Giulio. “He for some reason was very interested in individual sports where he had to take on all the pressure by himself.”

His father, Paul Di Giulio said that his son won his first tournament when he was seven, beating 10-year-olds. Joesph Di Giulio said he craved the competition and pressure.

At the age of 14 he was the No. 1 player for boys 14 and under which earned him an invite to live and train at the prestigious USTA Training Center in Boca Rotan, Fla. He accepted the invitation and moved away from his family to learn from some of the best coaches in the world.

“They worked me pretty hard. Every day we had like four to five hours of tennis, like an hour and half to two hours of fitness, and then school with no free time,” Di Giulio said. “That was a tough two years.”

He said he missed his family, but due to the rules of the academy he wasn’t able to go home that often. Di Giulio would escape his homesickness through tennis.

His parents said they were lucky if they saw their son once every four months.

“It was hard. If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t have done it because we missed him a lot,” Paul Di Giulio said.

After his second year, Joesph Di Giulio was tired, injured and missed home.

He decided it was time to leave the tennis academy and go back home to Newport, Calif. to live with his family.

“I was pretty young to be away from home all the time. Once I hit 16 I just wanted to come back,” Di Giulio said.


After coming back from the USTA Training Center, Di Giulio said that tennis made his family closer. It was no longer keeping him away.

Di Giulio didn’t know it at the time but tennis would once again be an getaway for him. It would become his rock as he experienced one of the most difficult times for his family.

In September, while moving boxes for the family’s move, April Di Giulio fell down the stairs and hit her head. She was sore and dizzy getting up, but said she didn’t feel any need to go to the hospital.

“Few days later she started having seizures,” Joesph Di Giulio said. “We had no idea what was going on and we just rushed her to the hospital, to the emergency room. That is when we found out that she had bleeding in her brain.”

April Di Giulio underwent two brain surgeries to stop the brain hemorrhage.

While recovering from the surgeries, the medication she was on caused her to go into a coma.

What started out as what was just considered a simple accident turned into one of the scariest and longest three months of their lives.

The doctors told the family that they should probably start making arrangements for her; it would be unlikely that she would ever wake up.

“(Joseph) was at the hospital every day. My husband would tell me how Joseph would come in to see me and sit by my bed and just hold my hand while I was in the coma,” April Di Giulio said.

Joesph Di Giulio said that his mom was constantly on his mind, and that he would need to go the tennis courts to forget about it. Tennis is his escape.

“You just never know,” Joseph Di Giulio said. “One thing could happen and just change your entire life.”

Three weeks after the entering the coma, April Di Giulio woke up.

It took another couple of months of recovery, but normalcy has returned to the Di Giulio family.

April and Paul Di Giulio, and their other two sons can be seen coming out to UCLA home matches regularly. Last weekend they watched their son win his doubles and singles against the Saint Mary’s Gaels.

“Back when it happened I never thought she would be able to come to my matches,” Joesph Di Giulio said. “I just wanted her to survive. For her to be here, it is just a blessing.”

With his mother being well enough to come to matches, Di Giulio said he has little to worry about now besides the stresses of school. He is thankful that tennis was, and still is, an avenue of escape for him.