From the world to the Big Blue Nation’s tennis courts


Team captain Enzo Wallart leads the players in a chant before they take the court. Saturday, January 19, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Natalie Parks | Staff

Hailey Peters

For many students at UK, moving a few cities or states away from home becomes one of the biggest adjustments of their lives. Making college a true “home away from home” takes a lot of effort, resilience and time. For the Kentucky’s men’s and women’s tennis teams, this challenge is especially true.

The majority of tennis players at UK are international students– hailing from 10 different countries across four different continents, the tennis players bring extreme diversity and variation to their teams’ rosters. Although combining a bunch of young adults from polar opposite corners of the world together could be seen as risky to the unity necessary for a team to succeed, members of the UK tennis believes that their international outreach has had the complete opposite effect.

“I think we were all nervous to come to Kentucky and play with people that may not even speak the same language as you,” said Cesar Bourgois, a junior from Paris, France. “But we all brought our unique selves and it worked in our favor.”

Bourgois’s teammate, Ryo Matsumura, comes from Fukui, Japan, and is the second highest-ranked recruit in the history of UK men’s tennis.

“[Matsumura] is incredible,” said head coach Cedric Kauffmann, who himself is from Montsoult, France. “I’m glad he’s with us. He brings the perfect edge for our team. The fact that he’s from Japan did not stop our communication at all. Rather, I think it makes him more eager to learn and cooperate with his team.”

The women’s tennis team shares the views about increased camaraderie within their lineup. The women agree that knowing they would have friends already set in place for them by the time they arrived in Kentucky helped ease their nerves for the move.

“I think, for us, it’s nice to have a team that is very international,” said Justina Mikulskyte, a senior from Siauliai, Lithuania. “We make friends from everywhere around the world, so it’s nice to have those connections, even in the future when we are done with college.”

Part of the mission statement of UK is to have a global impact and international perspective, and that mission is reflected in the values of each of its tennis players.

“The diversity is great, because we also get the opportunity to learn about different cultures,” said Lesedi Jacobs, a junior from Windhoek, Namibia. “It’s so nice learning from others how they do things… that experience, for us, we come to college to learn, and the fact that we can actually learn from our teammates is very nice.”

Players on both teams are excited to continue their seasons with their international teammates and look forward to the days after college when they can go visit each other in the countries that they never would have had an excuse to visit otherwise.

The respect and friendship that has grown out of the teams only helps increase the dynamic of teamwork and support for each other in matches. Women’s coach Carlos Drada, who is a native of Cali, Colombia, thinks the women on the team function extremely well being so diverse.

“They have a lot of respect for each other, being from different parts of the world,” Drada said. “I think that it helps them be a real team. They’re not just a team on paper, they really love and support each other as a family.”

“Family” is the key term for all of the UK tennis players. It helps remind them that their team is strongest whenever they work together and support each other, no matter how different their teammates are or where they come from. In a world that can appear so large and divided, playing tennis for UK alongside their international family has helped the student athletes make living long plane rides away feel like home.