Band of Barrettos: How Paul Barretto’s family influence shaped his attitude

A tennis player holds a racket and poses over the net.
Amanda Ramirez/Senior Staff

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Y
ou might not be a true sibling if you haven’t made your brother cry at least once. That’s one thing Cal men’s tennis junior Dominic “Nic” Barretto can cross off his list after he played his younger brother Paul Barretto in a tournament more than eight years ago.

The last time Paul and Nic played a full match against each other was when they were in sixth and seventh grade, respectively, and were playing in a small local tournament. They had each reached the finals and were set to have what Paul would describe as the biggest “bang-battle” of his life.

“A bang-battle — it’s like, you go out there, and you’re playing a three-hour match, and the team wins 4-3. How do you describe that one? It’s just a bang-battle. Like, you’re out there fighting for every point, and you’re basically gearing up for war,” Paul said.

The match lived up to the hype, as the two reached a third set and then eventually, a tiebreaker to decide the match. At this point, instead of playing out the match, as normal competitors would, the brothers decided they wanted to have some fun, as middle schoolers tend to do.

They came to an agreement that the winner of the match would be determined by spinning a racket so that afterward, they would be free to run up the score as high as possible before giving the game-winning point to the brother who correctly guessed which side the racket would land on.

Paul won the spin, so it was decided that he would win. At least, that was the plan.

“So, I won the toss, but Nic ended up having a match point in the tiebreaker at 21-20, and it was sort of on accident, but then I was like, ‘OK, so give me this point,’ ” Paul said. “Then, I remember, he hit a serve, and I hit a return, and then he hit a backhand — one of his famous backhand winner lines with a force of a thousand waterfalls — and it just whizzed by me, and he won that match.”

The fallout from this was massive, as eldest brother Marco Barretto witnessed in the aftermath.

“It became a pretty big scene for Paul — he started crying and everything after the match because Nic was the one that ended up winning this big, Wimbledon-sized trophy. So that kind of started the drama between them playing,” Marco said, “I wasn’t there, but I definitely heard about it for weeks.”

An athlete holds a tennis racket on the court.

F
or the Barretto brothers, however, nothing could keep them apart. Paul and Nic are as close as ever on the men’s tennis team at Cal.

“It’s amazing. It’s exactly what we wanted — him and I are extremely close. He’s like my best friend. We live together, and it always keeps it interesting and really fun,” Paul said.

“I think it makes everyone else on the team a little bit closer as well. Just because Pauly and I are so close. … It just makes the rest of the team seem like family also,” Nic said.

Even before Paul’s time in Berkeley, all three brothers started their tennis journeys together. Once they were old enough, the Barrettos planned to pick one sport and focus on it, and they all sat down and decided on tennis.

“It was easy because my brothers and I all started at the same time, so we all started playing tournaments together,” Paul said. “My dad was a tennis player — he played in college and a little bit on the circuit — but he was also playing when we were growing up, and that kind of put our foot in the door and made us want to be like him.”

Although their dad, Eddie Barretto, played for the University of San Francisco and eventually went on to compete on the pro tour, the Barretto brothers made the decision to pick tennis because of their own love for the game.

“He never pushed us to play the sport. He never told us we had to play tennis,” Marco said. “It became a group effort in us choosing.”

For Paul, as the youngest of the group, his brothers’ influence was basically everything.

“It was easy because we all had each other, and we were all really competitive,” Paul said. “We all forced each other to improve because working hard through middle and high school, we all improved off each other.”

When Paul was a sophomore in high school, Marco graduated and went off to play at USF like their father. This left Paul and Nic to play together for two years with a rivalry that only brothers could have.

“We used to get in so many fights in practice — it was really brutal,” Nic said.

When it was time for Nic to go to college, he decided on Cal, while Paul would head to Florida to play at IMG Academy for a year before deciding where he would go to college. But for someone so competitive academically and athletically, Cal was an obvious choice.

Men’s tennis director Peter Wright claims he had no intention of influencing Paul when he recruited Nic, but he does acknowledge the history of sibling athletes at Cal.

“We have a history of brothers coming through our program. A lot of families have come through; we’ve had a brother-sister combo come through,” Wright said. “I had a good idea that when Nic came to us that Paul was a year behind him.”

Paul himself attributes the decision at least partially to his brother.

“The time had come for me to decide where I wanted to go, and Nic and I always planned to go to the same school, so it was sort of a collective decision between him and I,” Paul said. “We always just looked up to the program and Peter (Wright) and (Cal associate head coach Tyler Browne).”

A close up of a tennis player holding a tennis racket.

O
nce at Cal, Paul’s growth has been nearly unlimited. He started his freshman year playing mostly fourth- or fifth-court singles, but by his sophomore year, he started the spring season ranked No. 98 nationally and started the first four matches at first-court singles.

Wright describes Paul based on two core characteristics: his creativity and his ability to grow.

“He’s always had a style about him; he hits the ball a little differently than other people do,” Wright said. “His creativity is really off the charts in terms of how he approaches his game.”

Even in interviews, he uses unique terms and vivid descriptions to describe his game and his teammates’ performances. Apart from “bang-battle,” part of Barretto’s commonly used slang is the word “crack-amosing.”

“It’s a combination of the word ‘vamanos’ and cracking huge forehands at the speed of light. As it comes off your racket, you hear a sonic boom, and you basically just slap huge winners,” Paul said.

Paul doesn’t focus on any of the rankings, results or expectations. He focuses only on himself and how he can improve day by day.

“To be honest, it’s more about a feeling that you get when you know that you’re improving. When you can go home at the end of the day and say, ‘Oh, I actually got better today,’ that’s honestly a proud moment because basically, it is just your hard work paying off,” Paul said.

The coaching staff has also noticed this attitude in Paul, and it has helped propel him to become a leader among his teammates.

“He doesn’t allow losses to emotionally affect him and say, ‘I’ve lost my confidence.’ He comes right back out and battles every day,” Wright said. “There’s a lot of different things that come from Paul Barretto, but I think the one thing that his teammates love, and we all love, is that he comes out with a fire and a sense of competitiveness, and he’s one of the engines that drives this team.”

Trilok Reddy covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Dominic Barretto is a sophomore. In fact, he is a junior.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Paul Barretto is older than his brother, Dominic Barretto. In fact, Dominic Barretto is older.