Quiet success is the best kind for women’s tennis player

by Mark Heller

While sitting in the main floor lounge of the Bierman Athletic Building, one notices a distinct quietness and solitude — an almost ideal place for studying and relaxing.
During much of fall, winter and spring, Kim Simonsen spends a lot of time in the lounge doing just that. When she’s not studying, she’s probably hitting forehands and backhands until her opponent can’t return them.
Simonsen, a sophomore, is the No. 3 singles player on the Gophers women’s tennis team, and a major contributor to the team’s victory over Ohio State last weekend. Her efforts in both singles and doubles helped improve the Gophers to 7-4 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten.
But don’t let her success fool you — she doesn’t win for attention.
“If nobody knows who I am, that’s fine by me. That’s how I like it,” Simonsen said in a quiet yet matter-of-fact tone. “Every spot is very important to win at. If I play at No. 3 I want to do my best, if I play at No. 6 I want to do my best, if I don’t play at all I want to cheer for my teammates. I just want to win for the team.”
Winning is what Simonsen has done since she arrived. Last year as a freshman she went 17-9 playing mostly at No. 3. She teamed up with Alice Rangsithienchai and went 5-4 in doubles, and paired up with Helen Wang to produce an identical 5-4 record.
“It’s easier to keep yourself up in doubles because you have a partner, you get psyched up together, you win points together,” Simonsen said. “When you’re on singles it’s all on your own and it’s easier to lose track of your focus. Sometimes I miss that person to talk to.”
Success has followed her at every competitive level. A four-time MVP at Central Bucks West High School in Pennsylvania, she was actively recruited by Gophers tennis coach Martin Novak.
“I first saw her when she was non-recruitable,” Novak said. “In big tournaments, she was playing older people whom I was recruiting back then, so she caught my eye early.”
Simonsen liked what she heard from her father about Minnesota and the big city. She met Novak at a tournament in Indiana, and it became a good fit. Novak said he likes what Simonsen has brought to the court and what she can bring in the future.
“There weren’t any real hitches in her, so her potential was absolutely fabulous. I knew it was a matter of time for her to mature and get stronger, and she has done that,” Novak said.
Simonsen suffered through a painful shoulder injury this fall, but a difficult rehab has brought her back to full strength for the spring season. Her first win since the injury came in impressive fashion against Ohio State, and gave a pretty good indication than she’s close to a full recovery and ready to pick up where she left off.
Novak noted that some players, including Simonsen, have a certain competitiveness and demeanor that attracts people to watch them.
“You think they’re good, and you realize you can’t take your eyes off them because they are good,” Novak said.
Just as noticeable as her play is her personality — quiet yet straight-forward, competitive yet optimistic and full of energy. She earns respect and attention rather than forcing it. Playing competitive tennis has helped mold her personality.
“I’m much more driven to school work,” Simonsen said. “I’m more social, straight-forward, independent and confident. Ninety percent of the game is mental. If you don’t have any confidence, you won’t be able to do anything.”
Novak, for one, said he thinks Simonsen has the ability to do more than just “anything.”
“I have no hesitation in what Kim is capable of,” Novak said. “There’s no limit as to what she can do. The question is, How badly do you want (a Big Ten title)?’ and, How much does this mean to you?’ and all indications are that she does want it.”