U tennis player grows by leaps and bounds this summer

Anthony Maggio

The nature versus nurture debate has gone on for centuries, but the Minnesota men’s tennis team can make a strong case for the nurture side – at least when talking about Aleksey Zharinov, the team’s sophomore phenom.

Zharinov, the only Siberia native playing Division I tennis, is progressing rapidly and head coach David Gaetz couldn’t be happier.

“This guy is getting better and better,” Gaetz said. “The people that saw him play last year aren’t even going to recognize him when they see him play this year.”

Gaetz believes Zharinov’s improvements are largely due to a change of scenery. Zharinov first came to the United States in October of last year from his native Novosibirsk, Russia, and has made tremendous strides as a tennis player since.

“I’m playing with good players; I have good facilities, good everything,” Zharinov said. “I have everything I need to improve. I’m lifting weights and playing six or seven hours of tennis a day.”

Getting Zharinov to attend Minnesota was a stroke of luck for the program. Minnesota natives who spotted Zharinov in Russia thought about sponsoring him on the professional tour. They advised Gaetz to take a look at Zharinov.

Gaetz saw Zharinov’s raw talent and suggested he play a few years in college to hone his skills. Naturally, Gaetz advocated for Minnesota and furnished Zharinov an 11th hour admission to the University.

“Every once in awhile you get a lucky break,” Gaetz said. “This guy just fell into my lap – it was pure luck.”

Gaetz describes Zharinov as a great athlete with soft hands and a good feel for the game. What excites Gaetz most about Zharinov, however, is his rapid improvement.

Zharinov, who has added nearly 20 pounds since last season, posted an overall record of 12-9, tallying a 9-6 mark at the No. 4 spot. His record may not seem impressive, but it does not reflect the experience gained by playing up for injured teammates.

Gaetz believes that next season Zharinov could be the No. 1 position based on what he’s seen this summer.

“I just think he’s got opportunities all over to excel,” Gaetz said. “He’s a talented kid and a hardworking kid and he’s taking advantage of the opportunities he’s got.”

Zharinov’s hard work has also been noted by his teammates.

“He’s already there (at practice) when we get there and he’s always the last one to leave,” teammate Ed Marques said.

Zharinov has not only excelled on the tennis court but in the classroom as well. He earned a 4.0 GPA his freshman year, and his intelligence has helped Zharinov cut down the freshman mistakes he made last season.

For all his considerable potential, there are still aspects of Zharinov’s game in need of development. Gaetz wants his prodigy to harness a “first-strike mentality,” and a more formidable forehand.

Added Zharinov: “I want to improve my serve and volley game. I want to be a more universal player.”

Already committed to growing as a player, Zharinov is utilizing the numerous resources available to him. The potential result is a scary thought, even for his coach.

“I hope that he doesn’t do too much too fast or he’s not going to stay in school,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz was only half-joking.


Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected].