Published on April 4th, 2017 | by Zachary Smith0
Sasha Nionova Reaches New Heights on the Tennis Court
Women’s tennis player Sasha Nionova has stepped up her game in her second season at Florida Southern College and become a menacing force on the tennis court for opponents.
Nionova started the season with a 7-1 record in singles for the Moccasins, and she lost a mere three sets during her great run. All of her victories in singles this season have come when she is playing in the No. 1 position.
Nionova said that there is always pressure when playing the best of the best each match, but she has not allowed that pressure to consume her.
“Of course there is pressure, but I am responsible for my position. There is pressure when you are playing a deciding match or when you have to finish a set,” Nionova said. “I just know that I have to win, and that is it.”
Her performances this season have moved her into No. 32 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.
Among those wins was a standout match against Zuza Maciejewska of No. 3 Barry University. Maciejewska entered the match against Nionova as the seventh-ranked tennis player in the ITA rankings, and this matchup wasn’t the first time the pair of players met on the court.
Nionova and Maciejewska met at the junior level in Europe in Nionova’s first ever competitive tournament at the U-16 level. Maciejewska took advantage of Nionova’s inexperience in their first meeting and walked away victorious.
However, Nionova didn’t allow for lightning to strike twice. She took down Maciejewska in straight sets, 6-0, 6-4 for FSC’s lone win against Barry on March 26.
Head coach Trish Riddell said Nionova has improved several aspects of her game, which have led to Nionova’s increased success.
“She is as fierce of a competitor as you’ll find, which has helped her in every situation, and she is very energetic. She has been better on the mental side to be more focused,” Riddell said. “In matches she can dominate, she has dominated, and she has not allowed her opponents to get into the matches as she would have in the past.”
Early Success and Overcoming Loss
Nionova’s recent successes at FSC cannot be ignored, but those successes are the product of a challenging past.
Nionova grew up in Riga, Latvia, and her father introduced her to the game of tennis at the age of six. Nionova said she started playing tennis solely for fun, but it soon became clear to her that tennis would become more than just a hobby.
Her youth tennis career was an extremely successful one. Nionova took third place in singles at the Latvian U-18 Championships, and she won a Latvian National Championship in doubles in 2008. She was also ranked as high as No. 3 in the U-14 and U-16 Latvian national rankings.
However, her tennis career took a hit when her father passed away in 2012.
Nionova said her father was her biggest fan and did everything in his power to help her reach her goals in the sport. Nionova said he took her to all her competitions, paid for all her tennis expenses in full and showed her unparalleled support, which made the loss all the more difficult.
Despite her loss, Nionova said she wanted to continue to play tennis, better her game and rise to new heights in the sport to honor her father.
Crossing the Pond
Upon deciding to make the transition to play at the collegiate level in the United States, Nionova had FSC on her radar as one of her top choices. However, FSC’s women’s tennis head coach Trish Riddell watched Nionova leave her grasp when Nionova opted to play Division I tennis at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Nionova said she made the move from Latvia to Detroit because of family connections she had in the city. Nionova’s brother-in-law was the head coach of the women’s tennis team, and Nionova’s childhood friend played on the team. In turn, Nionova said it made sense for her to be with familiar faces while in a new country.
In her first season at Detroit, Nionova excelled on the court. She tallied 11 singles wins and five doubles wins, and she was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year and a First-Team All-Horizon League selection.
However, after the conclusion of her freshman year, Nionova saw her childhood friend graduate from Detroit and her brother-in-law leave his head coach position. It was at that point that Nionova realized she needed to make a change and pursue FSC, and Riddell said she could not turn down the opportunity to bring Nionova to Florida Southern.
Since her arrival, Nionova has struggled with a back injury that kept her sidelined multiple times throughout her first season at Florida Southern. However, she still was able to post a 5-2 record in the top singles spot for the Mocs. This season, she has continued to improve her game.
However, regardless of how she performs on the court, Nionova said is overjoyed that she has the opportunity to compete in the sport she loves. She is also hopeful that she has made her father proud.
“I love tennis, I love the game, and I love to compete,” said Nionova. “Now, I can be here and play for this team, and it’s great. My father really wanted me to keep playing, and right now, I think he would be really proud of me.”
Nionova is not the only player on the women’s tennis team to be making strides in the right direction this season. The team as a whole has improved on its performances from previous seasons.
The team currently sits at 11-5 with three matches remaining before the start of the Sunshine State Conference Championships.
Nionova and her teammates will be back in action against Embry Riddle University on April 6 at 3:30 p.m. in Daytona Beach. The team will then return home to the Wynee Warden Tennis Center to face off against Palm Beach Atlantic University at 1 p.m.