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Holding serve: How an international tennis freshman has adapted on and off the court

Holding serve: How an international tennis freshman has adapted on and off the court

Holding serve: How an international tennis freshman has adapted on and off the court
April 09
13:20 2021

After an up-and-down start to the season, the tennis team’s lone freshman has found her footing this spring.

Dealing with the challenges of leaving her home country and adjusting to college both on and off the court, all during a global pandemic, Saki Oyama has made her mark of late. With five wins in the team’s last four matches, Oyama now has nine wins this spring (as of March 30) after dropping her first six matches of the semester. Five of those wins came in doubles matches, her preferred style of play.

“I like to play doubles,” Oyama said. “Doubles, I can hit hard. In singles, we do rally, rally, rally and I cannot hit hard. Also, I like to play with someone. I like to move on the court and with doubles, there is sort of an already decided style. I know how to move on the court in doubles, so I like it.”

Head coach Sujay Lama said Oyama’s love for doubles is rare in college tennis players and helped separate her as a recruit.

“[During the recruiting process,] I liked the fact that she could play singles and doubles, she was versatile,” Lama said. “Very, very few girls come to college tennis with her ability to play doubles. You can do all the drills in the world, but a good doubles player has an instinct. They know the movement, they know when to make the move. Saki has that. She just has a beautiful way of playing doubles.”

Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Oyama began playing tennis when she was three years old. While learning the game, she developed a unique technique with her forehand — rather than hitting a typical one-handed forehand, Oyama plays hers with two hands on the racket.

“At first, I could not hold the racket with one hand because I was a child and the racket was [too] heavy,” Oyama said. “I started playing two-hand and my parents told the coach to teach me about one-hand, but nobody taught me about one-hand so I’m still playing two-hand [now]. I don’t know how to play one-hand because no one taught me.”

As a junior player in Japan, Oyama achieved career-highs as the No. 1 junior doubles player and No. 4 junior singles player in the country. Since Oyama joined the team, senior teammate Nidhi Surapaneni said she has been impressed with her skill set and how she has adapted to the college game.

“Obviously, she’s a freshman and she was learning, so she got used to the staff around here and [how] college tennis [works], she took some time,” Surapaneni said. “My first impression of Saki is she was a really good player and an amazing doubles player. After she took time to adapt and everything, she’s just been really good. Especially in her game, in the beginning, she was telling me that she was nervous, but later on she opened up [and] started being more aggressive, that’s really good for her.”

In coming to the U.S. to play college tennis, Oyama said learning English has been one of her biggest challenges.

“It’s very tough because most Japanese people cannot speak English, it’s very different [in] composition,” Oyama said. “I lived in California for three years, but […] my roommates were Japanese people and I practiced with Japanese people, so my English is not going good, it’s really tough. Everyone is very kind and all the time they help with my English, also assignments and practice, with everything.”

In the fall, the pairing of Surapaneni and Oyama won a doubles match at the fall regional tournament over a duo from the University of Central Arkansas. Surapaneni said she witnessed Oyama’s love for doubles firsthand during the match.

“She’s a really smart doubles player,” Surapaneni said. “I played doubles with her once at regionals last semester [and] she was a different Saki. She was energized, she even told me that she enjoys playing doubles. I think if she can enjoy playing her singles as much as she enjoys when she’s playing doubles, that will help her.”

Featured Image: Freshman Saki Oyama swings at the ball during tennis practice on Feb. 21, 2021. Image by Zach Del Bello

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John Fields

John Fields

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