Olympians Made Here:
The value of college tennis
Arthur Kapetanakis | October 13, 2020
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s “Olympians Made Here” and “Paralympians Made Here” campaigns are designed to strengthen Olympic and Paralympic sport programming at the collegiate level. The USTA continues to support college tennis across the country, highlighted by its hosting of the 2019 NCAA Division I Championships at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida. The Campus will also host the 2021 Division I Championships, as well as 2022 Division III Championships.
In the two Grand Slams since the post-pandemic restart, three American former collegians made deep runs in women’s singles and doubles, showcasing the value of college sports as a pathway to the pros.
Former UCLA Bruin Jennifer Brady returned with a bang, winning her first WTA title, in Lexington, Kentucky, in the WTA’s first event back. ADVERTISEMENT She followed it up with a run to the 2020 US Open semifinals, where she went toe-to-toe with eventual champion Naomi Osaka in a three-set thriller.
Danielle Collins, a former Virginia standout and a two-time NCAA singles champ, then reached the Roland Garros quarterfinals, while Desirae Krawczyk, a former Arizona State Sun Devil, reached the women’s doubles final with American-born Chilean Alexa Guarachi, herself a one-time standout at Alabama.
While these three women have yet to represent Team USA at the Olympics, their recent results put them in contention for Tokyo 2021, with the American contingent to be selected based on the WTA and ATP rankings on June 7, 2021. Up to six American men and six American women can represent Team USA in tennis, including as many as four singles players in each competition. Stay tuned to USTA.com for more on the 2021 qualification race in the coming months.
On the men’s side, Steve Johnson (Rio 2016 doubles bronze medalist with Jack Sock) and former Georgia Bulldog John Isner (London 2012 Olympian) have successfully made the leap from college star to Olympian. In fact, Johnson enjoyed his experience at USC so much that he reunited with his college coach, Peter Smith, last October.
“Hopefully we can make some magic again,” said the two-time NCAA singles champ.
At the Paralympic Games, former Georgia State University star Karin Korb represented Team USA in 2000 and 2004, while the University of Arizona's Dana Mathewson donned the Red, White and Blue in 2016.
Read on to hear from Brady, Collins and Korb as they explain how college tennis helped them grow as a person and player.
Jennifer Brady at the 2020 US Open
On the changes college tennis brought to her day-to-day life:
“I think each college experience is different for everyone. For me specifically, I think college benefited me. Just getting me out of what I was doing before. I was just doing the same thing, you know, every day, same schedule, just practicing, training, things like that. So I think getting me out of my comfort zone, getting me away from my family, parents, helping me grow and mature off the court, as well… I think college definitely was a key factor in my success.”
On being a student-athlete:
“When I first went to L.A., honestly, it was different for me. The whole thing, the student-athlete part, you know, where the student came before the athlete. That was totally new to me. I had done online school since fifth grade so I never really had sat in a classroom and taken a note. So that was totally new for me and getting used to that. And then also balancing it with the athletics, I think it was what helped me mature and grow as a person.”
On maturing in college:
“For me, college was a big learning experience on and off the court, just growing as a person, becoming more mature. Also having [coaches] Stella [Sampras-Webster] and Rance [Brown], they made me fall in love with the game a little bit more. I’m really happy with my decision to go to UCLA.”
On her decision to go to college before turning pro:
“I wasn't ready when I went to college. I wasn't ready to play on the big stage. I definitely wasn't ready to perform or compete with any of these other players… I definitely wasn't mature enough. I wasn't physically capable, mentally capable enough to turn pro. And I didn't really have the results in the juniors to sway that decision to turn pro.”
Danielle Collins at 2020 Roland Garros
On the importance of stability and consistency in her coaching team:
“Yeah, I do think it's something that I have lacked [in my professional career]. It was something that I was so fortunate while I was in college, I had a consistent coach for three years… To have a day-to-day person that you build trust in and you're working together with for your goals, I think that's the biggest thing. That's the nice thing about when you play on a team and playing on a college team is you have that consistency, especially not just with coaches but with teammates.”
On taking advantage of the support staff available to college athletes:
“When I was in college I was very grateful to be able to utilize a sports psychologist pretty much whenever I needed, as we had one that was working with the team, and he was great. I worked with him for three years and I really felt like he had a strong impact on my game, because I think tennis is mostly mental, just as much as it is physical. So I had a great experience working with a sports psychologist then and I still work with a sports psychologist now.”
Collins to CNBC in a 2019 interview
On her decision to go to college:
“I really wanted to prove to myself that I could get a degree from one of the best schools in the country. I also realize injuries happen and we have short-lived careers as athletes, so it is important to have a career backup plan.”
On maturing in college:
“Going to college also gave me a little more time to mature and grow into the person I needed to be in order to have a successful career after my tennis journey.”
Karin Korb in a May interview with USTA.com
On college athletics as a learning experience:
“As someone who broke their back while I was a junior in high school, I didn’t have the experience of a collegiate athletic career until my time at Georgia State University. There were so many things I learned. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to create balance in one’s life while being a student-athlete.”
On the value of good coaching:
“Training was also my favorite part. There was nothing like a Coach [Charles] McCuen workout. It was body, mind and spirit… and so much of who I am today is because of him. I think really good coaches impart that kind of wisdom on you, way more than hitting the little yellow ball.”
On the wide-ranging support of the university:
“Being embraced by the university was really solid, too. It was such a privilege to be in the academic environment and all the relationships that I was able to create, both personally and professionally.”