Reddy evolves into soft-spoken, smooth leader for Minnesota

by Mike Mullen

Right in the middle of women’s tennis coach Tyler Thomson’s CD-ROM collection is a rather plain looking gray disc with no introduction or sound. On it lies a video of a recruit – a risk that Thomson took to fill out a roster spot in his first recruiting class.

As it turns out, the video didn’t lie.

Nischela Reddy, then ranked No. 211 in the International Tennis Federation, took light steps and kicked up specks of the light brown clay that covered the baseline. She carved out sweeping forehands against a backdrop of the skyline in Hyderabad, India, at dusk.

This film and series of e-mails exchanged between herself and Thomson brought Reddy to Minnesota, where she posted a 9-1 record playing No. 5 singles in her freshman season and helped the team to a Big Ten Title.

“She had a great freshman season for us,” Thomson said. “Her game was well-suited to that spot in the lineup, because she’s a backboard – she can hit the ball all day.”

At a recent practice, Reddy warmed up with a teammate for 20 minutes and did not hit a single ball long or into the net. Teammate Lindsay Risebrough described Reddy’s on-court style as “creative-smart,” saying, “She’s kind of an artist.”

These strokes were harvested on the clay courts that dominate the tennis scene in India. But the U.S. – and Thomson’s – game calls for a change of pace: faster play, shorter points and sharper footwork. Reddy said softly – she says everything softly – in her regal British accent that these changes are still an issue for her.

“(My footwork) is definitely something I have to put my mind to,” Reddy said. “I’m more used to passive footwork. I think Indian people are more passive overall. It’s just a less aggressive mentality.”

Risebrough said Reddy’s on-court demeanor is remarkably even-tempered.

“She’s so calm,” Risebrough said. “She kind of calms us all down. But there’s also a competitive side that comes out sometimes.”

Thompson said he wishes it would come out more.

“If she maintains her ball-striking, that’s okay,” Thompson said. “But if she’s playing at her highest level, then her footwork is more intense – you can see it. The degree to which she uses her feet to attack is different.

“For (Reddy) to play her best, it’s going to be important for her to come out of that shell.”

Reddy said what drew her to Thomson was his professional and straightforward attitude. He had been running a tight practice on Friday of last week before dumping a few drill balls into the net, at which point he grabbed his shaved head and yelped, “Yowza!”

Reddy, named this year’s team captain, has yet to make herself a dominant vocal presence, but her teammates are OK with that. Risebrough said that deep down, Reddy is “just a sweetheart,” and Thomson can imagine what kind of team leader she’ll be.

“I think she’ll be more of a den-mother kind of captain,” Thomson said. “She’ll be looking out for everyone’s well-being.

“It’s something she’s growing into.”