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‘Selfless’ sophomore is a light for Mean Green Tennis

‘Selfless’ sophomore is a light for Mean Green Tennis

‘Selfless’ sophomore is a light for Mean Green Tennis
March 22
10:30 2019

Nidhi Surapaneni stands alone on the North Texas Tennis roster as the team’s only sophomore player. At one point, she was unlikely to be on the Mean Green tennis team at all.

“A Texas A&M coach had talked about her to me,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “They were full on scholarships. [He] said, “hey, there’s this one Indian kid that is interested in us, but right now we don’t have anything.”

That coach gave Surapaneni’s contact information to Lama and he soon realized that his associate head coach, Jeff Hammond, had already met Surapaneni while recruiting for the team. The only issue was finding a spot for Surapaneni on the roster.

“At that time, we kind of got to know her we really didn’t have an opening,” Lama said. “I thought, let her come and we’ll see what happens. She comes and she has a great visit and we really liked her deposition. The team liked her and she fell in love with what we had here.”

 When a sophomore player transferred after they felt they were lacking playing time, a spot opened up on the team just when it looked like none would be available. This allowed Surapaneni to join the team in fall 2017, following successful play in her home country of India dating back to before she was 10 years old.

“Since I was eight  I was playing state tournaments,” Surapaneni said. “At 10 I started playing in All-India ranking tournaments. When I was twelve, I was ranked No. 2 in India under 14.”

Surapaneni started playing tennis when she was six years old. She followed in the footsteps of her brother and eventually improved to the point where she focused on the sport over her academics.

“I would not go to school once I got serious with tennis,” Surapaneni said. “I was lucky because my school gave me permission. Whenever I would go to school the new kids would be like ‘who’s this new student?’ but I’d been there forever.”

That experience kept Surapaneni away from her friends during her junior career. It was a difficult thing to do and she credits having her family as support as a way of dealing with the isolation.

“I was spending time only with myself,” Surapaneni said. “Even on the court it was only me and my coach so I didn’t have any other friends [in tennis].”

Surapaneni didn’t really have college in the U.S. on her mind even as she became a better and more well-known player. It was her father that pushed her to reply to the emails she was getting from coaches in the states.

“Eventually I was just interested because I got to know that there would be a team,” Surapaneni said. “When I was in [high school] I didn’t really have anyone else with me so that really attracted me. Also since I was young I grew up with boys around me. So being around other girls and on top of that them being my teammates sounded very interesting.”

Surapaneni visited four schools before she finalized her choice of North Texas. She said the atmosphere around the team and coaches is what attracted her to the Mean Green the most.

“A few colleges I didn’t like the coaches,” Surapaneni said. “Here I got the instant connection with the team. I thought everyone on the team was pretty similar to my personality which attracted me even more and then the coaches too.”

Surapaneni joined the team as their youngest player, a title she still holds today. Being the person that stood out was not a new thing for Surapaneni, she also experienced that due to her gender growing up.

“I was being treated specially back then too because I was the only girl,” Surapaneni said. “Then here because I am the youngest. It makes me feel good because I’m used to it.”

Coming to play college tennis was a transition, but change was no stranger for Surapaneni. She had hoped she not longer felt alone and had more areas of support around her.

“My mom was the only one who traveled with me [when I was young],” Surapaneni said. “If my mom was not traveling then my coach was traveling. So I only had one supporter all the time. Then when I came here all of a sudden there were so many people cheering and rooting for me.”

Surapaneni had support on and off the court with her new teammates. Her and then junior Tamuna Kutubidze quickly developed a close bond. Surapaneni says she will miss the ranked player who will soon be graduating from the program.

“When she came as a freshman I was really struggling mentally,” Kutubidze. “Every time I would come to the courts she was like the light of my life at that time. Always fun and always laughing. I would just try to stick with her cause even though she didn’t know what I was going through it was like I was getting so much positivity and warmth from her. It was amazing.”

Surapaneni went 6-0 at the Rice Invite during her freshman year, going 3-0 in singles and 3-0 in doubles with then-junior Minying Liang. At the same even going this year she won the Flight Seven singles championship after once again going 3-0. She hopes to add to these achievements as her career continues even going past the collegiate level.

“I hope I play much better in the next two years,” Surapaneni said. “If I do really well I would try pro circuit for a couple of years and then I’ll see what happens.”

Surapaneni is also ready and excited to become a leader for the team as they prepare to lose three players to graduation. Lama sees qualities in her that will allow her to succeed in that area.

“Selfless,” Lama said. “I think she’s one of the most selfless people that I’ve ever coached in all my years and that’s a lot of people. She’s like the person that when she enters the room she lights the room up. Everybody wants to be around her because she has that aura.”

Featured Image: After a set winning hit, sophomore Nidhi Surapaneni looks at her doubles partner and shouts in celebration at the match against Kansas State on Feb. 15, 2019. Image by: Kara Dry.

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Caleb Akpan

Caleb Akpan

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