UT senior Zsofia Zubor
Feb. 16, 2010
By Amber Harding
Most collegiate athletes can say they grew up playing their sport. But for senior University of Tennessee women's tennis player Zsófia Zubor, tennis is in her blood.
"I was born into it," she said.
Zubor's grandfather built the first tennis courts in her hometown of Nyiregyhaza, Hungary. Since then, the game of tennis has been passed down the generations in Zubor's family. Her mother, Katalin Pazmandy, coached Zubor and her older sister Ildiko during their junior careers.
Ildiko, in fact, served as Zubor's inspiration to travel to the United States, as she played collegiate tennis at the University of South Florida from 1998-2001. She came to the States on scholarship and obtained a degree in business administration.
"I always looked up to her," Zubor said. "And I knew when I was little that I wanted to do the same thing. That's why I practiced hard and worked hard in school."
Zubor's first journey to the United States took her to Hilton Head, S.C. There, she trained at Van Der Meer Tennis Academy for four months. The Van Der Meer staff helped to connect Zubor with the coaches at Tennessee. She became the first Hungarian, in any sport, to play for the Lady Vols.
Although she now feels comfortable living in the States, Zubor said the transition was a tough one.
"They are two completely different cultures," she said. "The values are different here than in Europe. And, of course, it was a different language."
Zubor said one of the most difficult adjustments was getting used to American food.
"The food is way different here than at home," she said. "But now I have a teacher, so I can cook on my own. So I'm making Hungarian dishes almost every night."
Despite the difficult cultural transition, Zubor has made a name for herself at Tennessee. On January 30, 2010, she even won the deciding singles match that sent the Lady Vols to their first ITA National Indoor Team Championships since 2004. She defeated Vanderbilt sophomore Heather Steinbauer, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1, to give UT the victory over the Commodores in the ITA Kickoff Weekend tournament.
Zubor said when she stepped out on the court, she wasn't sure that her match would be the deciding one. As the matches went on, she came to the realization, however, that she had to win to send her team to the Championships.
"I started to get nervous a little bit. I lost my focus and lost the second set," Zubor said. "But then I told myself to focus on what I have to do and not the outcome. And being able to do that for my team was a great feeling."
As one of only two seniors on the Lady Vols' tennis squad, Zubor sees herself as a leader on the team. But don't expect her to take any credit - her primary focus is the success of the team.
"I feel like I am one of the leaders, but everyone is a leader in their own way," she said. "This team has a lot of diversity in it."
While she is proud of her win during ITA Kickoff Weekend, Zubor believes her biggest tennis accomplishment so far came three years ago. In 2007, Zubor and doubles partner Caitlin Whoriskey won the ITA National Doubles Championship in California.
But she still has another significant goal to accomplish. Zubor wants to see the Lady Vol squad qualify for the NCAA Sweet 16 in Athens, Ga.
"I've been there as an individual, but I would really like to go as a team," she said. "It's a lot of fun, and I believe we're definitely good enough to accomplish that."
Zubor believes that her college career has helped her to "learn a lot about life." She finds the most pride, however, in her success off the court. Zubor said her biggest accomplishment is learning English as a second language.
"I can go anywhere in the world, and I'm not going to be lost," she said. "And I'm studying and getting my degree in English, so I think that's a wonderful thing."
Zubor is majoring in business enterprise management at UT. She plans to graduate in December. Next semester, Zubor hopes to obtain an Optional Practical Training (OPT) Visa. The OPT Visa would allow her to work in the States for one year without a green card. Using this Visa, she would finish earning her degree as well as spend some time working at a tennis club.
She plans to return to Hungary in a couple years where she hopes to teach and coach junior players. And maybe someday, she'll coach her own children - just as her grandfather and mother did.
Until then, Zubor plans to continue making the most of her collegiate experience. And she says she will cherish her memories as a Lady Vol.
"I just really appreciate everything I have here. I'm really fortunate," Zubor said. "I'm really proud of this Lady Vol team. I truly love them, and I'm proud of them."