Disciplined Hrdinova leads U tennis

by Mark Heller

Imagine the difficulty of coming to the United States from a foreign country — speaking the language, learning your way around, understanding which symbols mean what, meeting new people.
Now imagine coming to this country alone.
Gophers women’s tennis player Jana Hrdinova has done it. The junior came to Wisconsin from the Czech Republic before her senior year in high school.
It was there that she met Gophers women’s tennis coach Martin Novak. He learned about her through a friend, and soon came to appreciate the skills she had honed at an early age in the Czech Republic.
“My mom was a figure skater, and that was my lifelong dream,” Hrdinova said. “But the ice rink was two hours away, so they put me in tennis at age nine, saying that all figure skaters play tennis. I didn’t like it because I couldn’t compete.”
Hrdinova couldn’t compete because in the Czech Republic tennis players have to be 10 years old. But practicing under her dad’s coaching soon led her to win matches consistently.
Even more impressive was her ability to win club matches at a young age in Europe, where in some cases losing a match can have a far more dire consequence than it does in the Big Ten.
“In Europe, (coaches) can yell at me, (they) can scream at me,” Hrdinova said. “My dad never hit me, he’d never do anything like that, but I know friends who got beat up because they lost a match or they played bad in practice.”
She made the move overseas look easy. On her second day in the United States, she beat her high school coach in Wisconsin 6-0, 6-0. As a senior, Hrdinova was a perfect 25-0 — impressive, considering she had never played on a hard court in Europe.
Her performance quickly drew the interest of Novak.
“It’s always a challenge for international students,” said Novak, who came to the United States from Sweden to attend college. “There are so many things you have to overcome. At that time we had no hesitation, and we still don’t, about her being here.”
As a freshman with the Gophers, Hrdinova was named the team’s Most Improved Athlete. The combination of hard work, discipline, and methodical approach to the game has given her the tools needed to take the next step.
“I’ve become more consistent in my game, and I’m trying to become more aggressive and coming to the net,” Hrdinova said. “It’s been hard for me because I’m a baseline player.”
Her development has coincided with a revival of the Gophers’ women’s tennis program. Novak said that along with fellow juniors Tarah Elkins and Alice Rangsithienchai, Hrdinova is responsible for helping turn the team into a Big Ten contender.
“She has a lot to do with the chemistry on the team, and is showing enjoyment more,” Novak said. “She is very reliable, and has added variety to her game. She has all the tools.”
Hrdinova said she likes this team’s approach better than past teams because this year’s team is more focused on its team goals than individual goals.
But the game has given her more satisfaction and disappointment than just winning and losing can provide.
“It has made me more self-confident and strong-willed,” Hrdinova said. “It has made me reach goals and show what I can do.
“Tennis has also closed my relationship with my father because he was my first coach, and it was very hard on me. I didn’t have many friends because I had to go to school, go to tennis and then study.”
Perhaps some of the lessons she has learned on the court will help her when she graduates. Hrdinova is majoring in international relations, but she’s not sure if she wants to go back to the Czech Republic or stay here after her playing career is over.
Hrdinova said she would like to work for the Czech government or the United Nations, and Novak sees in her an approach that would suit her well in those capacities.
“She has tremendous discipline,” Novak said. “She has adopted, Discipline is what you do when no one is watching.’ She does her stuff whether any authority is there or not. She’s just solid all around.”