After 13 years of experience, North Texas sophomore slated for second-year success

After 13 years of experience, North Texas sophomore slated for second-year success

After 13 years of experience, North Texas sophomore slated for second-year success
November 06
21:06 2018

Knees bent and intently watching as the small yellow ball bounces over the net, sophomore Nidhi Surapaneni stands ready to swing her racket. Hailing from Hyderabad, India, Surapaneni is no stranger to the game of tennis. She was introduced by her brother, who played the sport recreationally.

“I used to follow my brother when he went to go play tennis and eventually started playing recreationally,” Nidhi said. “I actually got serious about tennis at 6 years old. I wanted to play in tournaments and finally started playing competitively at age 8.”

Sports and physical education in India are considered to be playground activities a child engages in to pass the time in between extracurriculars and studying, but Nidhi’s parents had a different philosophy.

“My parents would always tell me, ‘Do what makes you happy,’” Surapaneni said. “They never pushed me to study or put any kind of academic pressure on me. When I was 10 years old, I moved to a different tennis academy to train with a different coach. After the switch, I would train every day from about 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. I didn’t go to school at that point. I would just study on my own, go to tutoring and take my final exams. In India this is is rare, but my parents believed in my desire to play tennis, and it’s the trust they have in me that allows me to push myself in school and on the court without the external stress.”

Surapaneni’s journey to Denton began at 12 years old when she started traveling alone to play in both international and domestic tournaments. She was ranked No. 2 in the country for the 16 and under age category, won the Indian Woman’s National Tournament the following year and earned a Top 200 Juniors ranking from the International Tennis Federation.

After her final year playing in junior’s, Nidhi did not aspire to play tennis at the collegiate level  — despite being pursued by various colleges.

Sophomore Nidhi Surapaneni has been playing competitive tennis for the past 12 years and has been ranked No. 2 in India within her age group. Tania Damle

“At that time I was not really interested in college, but my dad advised me to think about it and give it a try, so I replied to [North Texas associate coach] Jeff Hammond’s message on Facebook,” Surapaneni said.

Surapaneni chose North Texas after traveling to Denton and meeting her future teammates and coaches.

“I visited other universities as well, but when I visited [North Texas], I liked the team a lot,” Surapaneni said. “I felt a connection with the coaches and my other teammates. Their attitudes and selflessness really set them apart. I have friends at other universities who have had problems with their teammates being selfish and excluding them. When I spoke to all the girls during my visit, I only received positive vibes from them.”

Senior Maria Kononova, one of Surapaneni’s teammates, describes her as kind, friendly and happy person and a growing tennis player.

“She’s younger than everyone else on the team by, I think, two years, so you can see the naivete sometimes, but whenever you’re around her, you can feel the flow of happiness,” Kononova said. “I think Nidhi’s a great player. She has a great background in competitive tennis with her Top 200 Juniors ranking. Every time she steps on the court, I have a high expectations.”

Being an older and more experienced player, Kononova can see where Surapaneni needs to grow and how she can do it.

“I think she was struggling a bit last year because she was trying to figure everything out,” Kononova said. “This season, she’s played solid matches against some tough opponents, so I’m really excited to she how she plays in the spring. I don’t think she’s playing at her full potential yet. It will take her some time to learn what she has to do to get there. She already plays great doubles and has improved her singles game a lot, but once she reaches her full potential, there’s no stopping her.”

Surapaneni came into the recruitment game a little late, but her talent, results and resume made it an easy fit with North Texas tennis, head coach Sujay Lama said.

“The best thing I can tell you about Nidhi is that she is a high character kid,” Lama said. “She’s already a fantastic all-round, all-court player, so now we’re trying to make her faster and more explosive in the way she hits the ball. You can see how she’s maturing and growing on and off the court already. Nidhi’s the kind of player who will progressively get better with every match and every practice, so we expect a lot out of her in the next few years.”

Surapaneni ended the 2017-18 season with an overall 5-15 record but said this semester has been one of her best fall seasons yet, highlighted by her 3-0 victory at the Rice Invite Flight Seven Singles Championship.

“Last year, I wasn’t as confident in myself and let match losses get me down, so I struggled,” Surapaneni said. “But this year I’ve changed my mindset and find happiness in whatever I’m doing. The ultimate goal is for the team to do well, but for that to happen, all of the individual players on the team have to do well. Everyone has to invest in themselves, and I’m ready to give 100 percent — no matter what.”

Featured Image: Sophomore Nidhi Surapaneni stands and raises her racket at practice. Tania Damle

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Tania Damle

Tania Damle

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