Jan. 18, 2012
This is the ninth in a 10-part series looking at each member of the Vols' 2012 roster leading up to the start of the season Jan. 20 with a home double header against Memphis and Eastern Kentucky beginning at 1 p.m.
BY JOSH PATE
Meet Peter Nagovnak.
He flies gliders. You know, the skinny planes with a small shell covering the pilot. Nagovnak knows how to navigate those.
He fences. Not in an East Tennessee way of marking territory for land. You know, the Olympic sport where athletes suit up in white protective gear and facemask to jab with a foil, sabre or epee. Nagovnak fences.
He plays the piano. He plays the saxophone. At one point, he played American football, ice hockey, soccer and table tennis.
He plays tennis also, and he plays it quite well.
"He is a Renaissance man in that way," said Tennessee tennis head coach Sam Winterbotham of his freshman from Kraubath, Austria. "He likes do a lot of different things; he's not just the stereotypical tennis jock. He's got a lot of interest. That in itself just brings a tremendous addition to the program. What a guy to be around."
Nagovnak said he just has a knack for learning new interests quickly.
"I have to thank my parents for that gift where I can pick anything up and do it," Nagovnak said. "I'm very dedicated when I start things. I want to be the best in everything I do. Sometimes it's frustrating because you can't do it. You can't be the best in everything. As long as you stay realistic and try to be the best you can be, I think you can be pretty good in everything."
That type of effort is why Nagovnak is successful, said Winterbotham.
"The reason he's so good at everything he does is because he works so hard," Winterbotham said. "He's a great student of whatever his interest is at that time. He's going to study it. He's going to work hard at it. He absolutely has an incredible work ethic on the court. It's been absolutely a pleasure to coach him. He's a sponge out there."
He also is good in school despite moving from Kraubath, Austria, where the primary language is German.
"I'm doing pretty well in school, although I thought it would be pretty hard for me to get used to everything in English," Nagovnak said. "It didn't take me too long to get used to that."
Nagovnak has always had tennis. He was one of Austria's top players as a youngster, training at the national academy until a wrist injury sidelined him from the sport. In fact, he walked away from tennis altogether for a year.
But prior to training at the national academy at age 15, he was very much content hitting with his father and dropping in on tournaments.
"The thing about tennis was I had a special connection with my father because I played with him more. But it was always more just playing for fun and getting better for fun and not so much because I wanted to reach a goal in a tournament," Nagovnak said. "I pretty much practiced with my father until I was 15 so he was basically my only coach. We just practiced and somebody told us about some tournaments and I just played them without any expectations.
"It's kind of different from what most players do. They practice to compete and get better, and I just from time to time played in some tournaments. That was a big plus in some of the tournaments because I didn't care; I just played."
Sometimes it showed. There were times, Nagovnak said, when he collected numerous double-faults with his serve. The reason was because when he and his father, also named Peter, played on their own, they never served. It simply wasn't fun.
Most of the time, however, the lack of formal training didn't matter. After walking away from the sport for a year, Nagovnak slowly began hitting and then playing others. He moved away from home and rented a flat to attend high school at Borg Monsberger Graz. The school formed a team of young and inexperienced players, and Nagovnak began helping out and later earned the country's second-highest certified level of coaching. On a whim he entered the Austrian Under-18 Indoor Championships in December 2010 and won it.
Nagovnak is now getting accustomed to college and team tennis.
"He's gotten so much better, even since he's been here," Winterbotham said. "The fact that he was injured and walked away from the game just for a little bit, he had some things to catch up on and he's done that."
The biggest adjustment, Nagovnak said, has been learning to be on a team.
"I'm not so much used to being on a team or having a team around me all the time," Nagovnak said. "But what really amazed me and what was a great experience from the first tournament on, I was really proud to be out there and play not only for me but for the team and the university in a larger perspective. I just like to fight for it. It's just fun to do."
So is college. Nagovnak wanted to get used to the environment before deciding on what to study, but he's leaning toward policy, politics and society.
"I think that's more important than ever because of looking at the headlines we've had the last months and years, pretty much since 2008," he said. "It's exciting to follow, but also you kind of get scared about the future because you don't know what will happen. Nobody gets it because somebody would do something about it. But apparently nobody gets it. Maybe it will be me. I'll try to."
If Nagovnak tries like everything else, he'll succeed.