When Rex Cuajunco was in college, his fraternity brothers gave him a piece of advice.
“They’re like, ‘Look, Rex. You’re going to get to a point where you need to start meeting people,’” he remembers. “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.”
He’d heard the cliché and understood its meaning. Still, “I was like, I’ll open my own doors,” he said.
“But it’s funny. The older I got, the more I realized, especially in tennis, it’s absolutely a people-based business.”
It didn’t take long to come to that realization. A few years later he was recent grad grasping at doors. Someone opened one for him.
His name was Jack Sheehy, a long-time USPTA member in Arlington, Texas, where Cuajunco went to college. Sheehy knew Cuajunco from his days coaching him in juniors, so he offered him a job.
Cuajunco, a USPTA Elite Professional, stayed in Arlington for a year, happy to spend time doing “something that I enjoyed. I certainly didn’t think it would turn into a full-time job, much less a career.”
Then, out of the blue, Cuajunco’s phone rang. And another door opened.
The call came from Steve Franklin, another long-time USPTA member that Cuajunco had helped run tournaments for while he was in college.
“I must’ve left an impression on him enough so that he wanted to bring me on as a full-time pro.”
Cuajunco started out as an assistant tennis professional, mostly working with juniors, and climbed to director of tennis by the time he was 32. He stayed at Village Tennis Center in Dallas for over 20 years.
In 2018, Cuajunco was running his own tennis program – RexCo Tennis – at facilities around Dallas. SMU had just hired Grant Chen, a promising assistant coach from UCLA, so Cuajunco, who was the former president of the Dallas Professional Tennis Association and had coached Chen’s wife at Village, thought it a good idea to reach out and offer to introduce Chen to coaches around the city.
“One thing led to another and all of the sudden he’s offering me a job,” said Cuajunco, who’s now the Director of Operations for SMU’s tennis program. “I was just being nice, just being cordial. There were no expectations there. It was kind of nice how things happen for a reason.”
After decades in a career he hardly could’ve imagined, Cuajunco appreciates how much others have given him. He still talks to Sheehy and Franklin and says he looks up to them as professionals. He’s taken it upon himself to hire younger, less experienced staff that he can develop.
And if he doesn’t hire them himself, “I’ve tried to pay it forward to young pros that I’ve met along the way and try to connect them for other opportunities, just as others did for me.”
Last year, Cuajunco got involved with the USPTA mentorship program.
“I could tell that he was a young kid, pretty unexperienced,” Cuajunco said. “Some of the questions he would ask would be more technical, about on-court stuff. Sometimes it had to do with the business end of things.”
Cuajunco offers the same advice he was given long ago.
“You never know when your next great client is going to be on the other end of the phone or walking through that front door of the pro shop,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten that.”
He hasn’t forgotten all those helping hands, either. They’re why Cuajunco gives his all to make them “independent of me.”
“That’s the end goal,” he said. “My end goal is for them to outgrow me so they can move on and really show improvement. Whether that means they figured it out on their own or they find another coach that helps them get to the next level then I’ll be happy for them because even with the staff I’ve had over the years, I’ve told staff, whether you’re going to be with me for six months or six years, I hope you learn and improve and grow during the time that we get to be together. If and when that time comes where you move on to a better opportunity, if I need to put the recommendation in for you, I will.”