At 5 years old, he picked up his first racket. At 10, he ran out of competition his own age.
At 15, he was the most feared high school tennis player in the county. At 20, he was setting records on the collegiate courts.
Next week, Andre Dome’s decade-plus of Central Coast tennis dominance will be over. He came to that realization before anyone else started thinking about it, and that’s what helped him close it out playing better than ever.
The fifth-year senior will play his final college tournament in the NCAA men’s singles championships beginning today in Urbana, Ill., when he meets Georgia Tech’s Juan Spir in the first round.
After the NCAA tourney, he’ll be on his own as he tries to work his way up through the minor leagues of professional tennis. The thought troubled him before the season even started.
“I was worrying a lot more about the future than the past,” Dome said. “What am I going to be doing after this? That scared me a lot.”
Dome said the stress bothered him through the first four dual matches of the spring as he slogged to a 2-2 record for the Mustangs.
After that second defeat, a 6-2, 6-2 loss to USC’s Emilio Gomez in January, Dome spoke with Trojans coach Peter Smith, who had guided USC to four straight team titles before this season and heavily recruited Dome out of high school.
Smith advised Dome to live for the moment, not yesterday or tomorrow. It was just what Dome needed to hear.
“The team needed me,” Dome said. “I took that to heart and remotivated myself. I don’t want to go out having a mediocre season.”
Since them, Dome has won 19 straight singles matches, including a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Princeton’s Matija Pecotic, who was ranked fourth in the country at the time and comes in at No. 15 in the latest ITA collegiate poll.
Dome put together the finest season in Cal Poly Division I program history, landed himself atop nearly every men’s tennis school records list and heads into the individual national championships ranked No. 30.
The stats definitely mark him as the best Cal Poly men’s tennis player since the program moved to Division I in 1994-95.
Playing No. 1 singles from his first day on campus, Dome owns the top three dual records on the books, finishing 16-4 in both his sophomore and junior seasons and going 21-2 this season.
His career 58-17 dual singles record stands as the top winning percentage (.773) at Cal Poly. His 17-4 doubles record this year is the top single-season Mustangs mark.
He is the only Cal Poly player to twice be named Big West Conference Player of the Year, taking the honors the past two seasons, and he is the only four-time Mustangs singles player to make the all-Big West first team.
Second-year Cal Poly head coach Nick Carless praised Dome’s natural anticipation and explosive quickness. His vertical leap at 6-feet tall is a key element to another weapon.
“He’s got a world-class serve, which is the most important shot in tennis,” Carless said. “It allows him to be able to dictate off his serve. Not only does he hit upwards of 130 miles an hour, but he’s always had a heavy serve that bounces up high and feels like a weight when it hits your racket.”
Dome’s record numbers, of course, do not include the Mustangs’ Division II days, which produced two inductees of the university’s athletics hall of fame.
Dan Lambert was a four-time All-American for Cal Poly in the early 1970s, advancing to the Division II singles championship final three times and leading the Mustangs to four top-six team finishes, including a runner-up finish in 1973.
In his senior season in 1974, Lambert was 18-1 in singles and finished with a career record of 108-16 (.871).
Coincidentally, Lambert is also an Arroyo Grande High alumnus. And Cal Poly’s other tennis hall-of-famer, Bob Zoller, went to win a Division II national doubles title for the Mustangs coming out of San Luis Obispo High in the early 1980s.
Before Dome moved north, the Arroyo Grande star lost just one set to local competition in his prep career.
Dome inspired spirit-crushing anxiety worthy of his reputation as the Darth Vader of the PAC 5/7. He’d been considered unbeatable by his peers since he started winning in the 12-year-old division of regional youth tournaments when he was just 10.
Father-son matchups with dad John, who wrapped up his collegiate tennis career at Cal State Northridge, were so heated that the two had to quit playing each other when Dome was just 7 to avoid household arguments that lasted for days.
From that point on, father and son spent every day practicing tennis drills, even when Dome’s mind wandered, wondering what it might be like to focus on basketball or another team sport.
“I don’t even know how my dad did that,” Dome said. “Looking back, I don’t even think I can do that because it’s just so much patience and time. I hope to be as good a dad as he was to me. That’s something that I’ll try to work towards.”
Soon, Dome was looking to practice against kids twice his age.
But a Dome-led team was never able to beat rival San Luis Obispo High, and Dome had trouble translating his individual prowess into CIF-Southern Section playoff success.
His crowning individual achievement came after his junior season.
Dome won the high school division of the 2007 Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament, an event now 113 years old.
His favorite moment on a tennis court, however, came last season on one he wasn’t even playing — watching teammate Sebastian Bell clinch the program’s first-ever Big West Tournament team title.
As a follow-up, Dome bowed out early in the individual NCAA championships, losing a tough first-round draw against Kentucky’s Eric Quigley, who advanced to the title. Quigley also teamed to knock Dome and teammate Matt Fawcett out in the second round of the doubles tournament.
Dome would like to become Cal Poly’s first Division I All-American, and to do that, he would have to win at least his first two rounds this week in Illinois.
After that, it’s time to think about the future, something that isn’t so daunting with the proper perspective.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Dome said about an attempt to turn pro. “Why not try it? I’ve been playing tennis for this long. I could play for a couple more years and hopefully longer than that.”