Small one: Jesus ‘Chucho’ Bandres plays on the big Davis Cup stage
One year removed from college, Jesus Bandres found himself across the tennis court from a man who has been ranked as high as No. 19 in the world.
The then-23-year-old first-year professional player was a deer in the headlights.
“It’s like, I don’t know, going at bat in the Cardinals just one time,” Bandres said of his nerves.
That was in 2014, when Bandres first played in the Davis Cup, also known as the World Cup of tennis. Now an assistant coach with the Washington University men’s tennis program, Bandres took part in his second Davis Cup this past weekend, representing Venezuela once again at the Doral Park Country Club in Doral, Florida.
Bandres, ranked No. 824 in the world at his peak, again faced a challenge in the current World No. 212 singles player, El Salvador’s Marcelo Arevalo.
“I worked, practiced hard and I was ready, and I had to play the No. 1 from El Salvador and he’s  in the world,” Bandres said. “I haven’t been playing with a lot of players like that, being  in the world. I was walking in the court, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be a tough match. Like, please, let’s focus Chucho.’”
In Venezuela, anyone named “Jesus” is called “Chucho,” meaning small one. Entering the match, Bandres used that as a small reminder to help ease his jitters.
This time with one Cup under his belt, the butterflies were gone, and Bandres could play more freely than before.
“I never thought I could win [in 2014],” Bandres said. “It was my first time; I was very nervous. This match—the one right now—I was totally loose.”
His earlier experience alone, however, wasn’t enough to get Bandres ready. Bandres needed a more unconventional approach to compose himself; so he had a team psychologist peek inside his mind.
“I had to get mentally prepared,” Bandres said. “He told me he was going to get me loose and get me ready to play this match, which he did, and I think it was very important, that psychologist in this time. Two different experiences. And this one I played very good.”
His teammates also helped Bandres settle down by lightening the mood and reminding him of what the Davis Cup is at its core: the chance to represent your country alongside your fellow countrymen.
“It might be your last match representing your country, so just have fun and enjoy it,” Bandres said. “In the changeover, we had the captain in the court and we didn’t even talk about tennis. He was just laughing; we were just laughing there having fun. So it was pretty nice.”
Bandres did improve greatly from 2014, when he lost in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 in his own country. Early on, it looked like it would be the same story three years later, as he dropped the first set 6-2. But Bandres rallied for an impressive 7-6 (7-4) tiebreaker victory in the second set, marking his shining moment as a pro.
“At one moment I thought I could win, during the match after I won the second set,” Bandres said. “That’s when I thought, ‘If my body can do it, I’m going to beat this guy.’”
Fighting to win the second set took its toll on Bandres, however. Though it gave him confidence that he could pull out the match, the physical impact was too much for Bandres to handle. He dropped the next two sets, 6-3, 6-2 to relinquish the match.
“I got tired after the second set, after playing two hours,” Bandres said. “My forearm was cramping; I was starting to cramp. I knew, you know, that’s the only thing I thought: Just give everything you have. And I did everything I could…It was tough.”
Still, the rest of the No. 2 seed Venezuela team picked up Bandres, winning the next two matches and the crucial fifth match to beat El Salvador, 3-2. That means Venezuela will take on No. 1 Barbados in September in the final round of the Americas Zone Group II. If Venezuela wins, they’ll be promoted back to Group I, where Bandres and Venezuela last competed in 2014.
For Bandres, that—representing his nation—is the most important thing.
“Representing your country, I think, is one of, for an athlete, it’s an honor,” Bandres said.
It’s been a long road for Bandres to be able to represent Venezuela. He grew up in Venezuela, spending his whole childhood in his home country except for fourth and fifth grades, when he moved to Princeton, New Jersey because his dad wanted him to learn English. Going into college, Bandres knew he needed to head to the United States to pursue a professional tennis career.
“Tennis is not a big sport [in Venezuela],” Bandres said. “That’s why there’s not a lot of support. The country right now is not very good. It’s sad. It’s going through crisis right now. The government, they’re not following the laws anymore. It’s sad. But that’s why I came on to the States to look for a better future for myself. Playing tennis, it’s tough. It’s not for everyone. You’re always by yourself, with your suitcase and your tennis bag, traveling all over the world. If you’re not used to that life, it’s tough.”
Ranked No. 1 in Venezuela and No. 69 in the world as a junior, he played at Wimbledon and was recruited by various colleges, including Texas Christian University. Ultimately, Bandres ended up choosing East Tennessee State University (ETSU), largely because of his father’s influence and because the ETSU coach was also Venezuelan.
“My dad told me that that’s the school I want you to go; you know, I’m going to support you that you’re going to that school,” Bandres said. “Because he was scared that I was his kid. I was his son and just going there to another country to live by myself, like a father I guess. Because he liked my coach. He had a good feeling about my coach.”
Bandres ended up having plenty of success as a Buccaneer. He was named team captain, was an Atlantic Sun all-conference selection five times and earned the 2012 Atlantic Sun Tournament Most Valuable Player.
“I don’t regret that decision,” Bandres said of his college destination. “I think I had a lot of fun. I played against the top, top players that are playing professional tennis.”
Now, Bandres has a chock-full slate of things going on in his life. He’s continuing to play tournaments when he can, while serving as an assistant coach Wash. U. He’ll pursue an MBA at Olin Business School starting this fall and, along with his fiancee who he met in college, is looking for investors in his upcoming launch of an almond milk beverage.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I know the MBA will set a platform for me, and decide what I want to do: if I want to stay in the tennis business or if I want to go to a corporate company,” Bandres said. “I don’t know, but I’ll see. That’s why I want to go to the Olin program, because I’ll really know what I want to go towards.”