Stanford University's Connie Ma takes on her first NCAA Tennis Championships
Stanford University’s Connie Ma had been in Norman, Okla. for less than 48 hours, with about another 48 before she and her tennis team competed against the University of Oklahoma at this year’s NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Championships. Stanford’s team was seeded 15th; Oklahoma, second. As the day came to a close, Ma battled the elements after another intense practice.
“It’s definitely more windy, and hotter, than California,” the freshman laughed during a phone interview with USTA.com.
At just 19 years old, Ma is one of the best tennis players on the college circuit.
She was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and Doubles Team of the Year, the latter alongside partner Angelica Blake.
“Going into this year really told me there was this chance that I could be playing [No.] 1 [in the lineup], and I wanted to assume that position as best as I could,” Ma said. “I know I’ve had a couple rough moments during the season, for sure, but ultimately, it’s a pleasure and an honor to get that achievement. I just hope I can keep working harder for my team.”
According to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) most recent standings, Ma is the 26th-highest ranked singles player in any U.S.-based school, and 19th in doubles. To give a sense of how that translates to the pro tour, Ma’s career-high WTA singles ranking is No. 633. She also helped Team USA win the Junior Billie Jean King Cup in 2018 and 2019.
Partially, that kind of talent derives from starting the sport at a young age. Ma was born in Pleasanton, Calif., and moved to China to live with her grandparents when she was 2 years old. She returned stateside in time for kindergarten, and cycled through ice skating, basketball and other sports.
But tennis proved most appealing; Ma started playing at around 7 years old.
“A lot of it was up to me,” Ma said, explaining that nobody in her family had tennis experience – or played much of any sport.
“My parents would be there hitting with me. I remember hitting by the parks by our house, like 8 p.m., after dinner, kind of making it like a family thing.”
Even as a child, Ma recognized the importance of discipline – a word that comes up often in our interview. It’s a skill her parents, who were both born in China and immigrated to the United States as adults, taught her.
“[My parents] definitely raised me to be pretty disciplined, and always have – not a strict schedule – but have a routine,” she said. “When tennis got to be more of a serious sport, something that I really wanted to pursue, then we kind of took a different route. We worked on ways to be more structured and stuff like that to move forward with my game.”
While May sees the NCAA Division I Championships, it also marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI Month) – a celebration of approximately 23 million U.S. citizens and their ancestors who trace their lineage to the world’s most populous continent.
“It's nice to bring awareness,” Ma said. “It makes me feel more connected to everyone that's in my culture, just like my family in general.”
Ma said the structure and discipline that fueled her success are big aspects of the Chinese lifestyle.
“Growing up as a Chinese American with decently traditional Chinese parents, they also put an emphasis on academics and stuff like that – being efficient, focused.”
She added her parents taught her to always do the best she could, and that mindset enabled her to excel during freshman year. “It was definitely tough at times to manage school and academics. But I think my parents helped me a lot with the discipline early on in life to manage between tennis and school.”
On Friday, Oklahoma’s Sooners defeated the Stanford Cardinal, 4-1. Both of Ma’s singles and doubles matches were left unfinished due to the competition’s “clinch” format. The tournament continues with the quarterfinals on Saturday, May 20, and concludes on the 22nd.
“It’s always tough to play a team at their home site,” Ma later said. “They played really well … We have a really young [team], so we definitely have a lot to learn from that match.”
Now, Ma sets her sights on the singles and doubles competitions which begins on May 23. The freshman is trying to dismiss any expectations, given that it’s her first time playing in the NCAA individual championships.
“I just want to enjoy my time there and gain some experience for the future,” Ma said. “I know what my abilities are, but college tennis is unlike anything in juniors, so I’m excited to be on this journey.”
All photos courtesy of Stanford Athletics.
The 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Championships includes 64 singles players and 32 doubles teams. Competition begins Monday, May 23 at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, Illinois. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will host.