The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) is littered with players from all over the world. So, it makes sense that the Penn State men’s tennis team would recruit international players to come to State College to continue their tennis careers.
The team currently consists of six players from the United States and six players from foreign countries: Tomas Hanzlik (Czech Republic), Roman Trkulja (Canada), Guanhua Chen (China), Ramy Labna (Qatar) and David Kohan and Chris Young (Australia).
Assistant coach Chris Cagle said that a player’s nationality is not too important to him, though. Cagle said that when he is recruiting players there are a few other qualities that he looks for in players first.
“Are they a good fit for our team, character wise and academically? Do they have a track record of winning in the past and do they have an aggressive style?” are the three main questions Cagle said he asks himself when evaluating a player to decide if he wants to pursue him.
Trkulja, a freshman from Toronto, met those requirements and packed his bags for State College last fall. Trkulja, a two-time Canadian national champion at the juniors level, said he decided he wanted to play in the United States when he was a junior in high school.
“A lot of the older guys that I used to train with came to the States, and they all said they really loved it here,” Trkulja said.
Trkulja also said that many of his friends and teammates in Canada also came to the United States to play collegiate tennis at several Big Ten schools, which made the decision even easier. Fortunately for Trkulja, his home is only about a five-hour drive from Penn State, so his family can still come visit him every once in a while.
Tomas Hanzlik does not have that luxury.
The sophomore from Prague had to travel a great deal farther to get here. Hanzlik was ranked as the No. 83 junior player in the world before coming to Penn State in the fall of 2011.
“I visited here and I loved the campus and atmosphere,” Hanzlik said. “Right after my visit, I knew I was coming here.”
Hanzlik had to adjust to a different culture when he first got here. He had traveled a little bit when he was playing in Europe, so he was used to new places. However, he was not used to permanently living in a foreign country.
“It took me a few months to get used to some of the slang,” Hanzlik said. “But all the older players and coaches embraced me and were there any time I needed anything.”
International players are not only becoming more and more popular in NCAA Division 1 tennis, but they are having great success, too. Head coach Jeff Zinn said he knows why they may be having more success when they get here.
“If you’re talking about elite international players, they might have better results than some of the American players because they’ve played so many big-time tournaments before college,” Zinn said.