From The Daily: All Smiles

Jan. 24, 2010

By Mark Morgan
The UW Daily

Standing well below 6-feet tall and constantly wearing a smile, one would be hard-pressed to pick Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan out of a crowd in Red Square. However, this junior from Chennai, India, is the No. 1 singles player on the Washington men's tennis team and, as scary as it may sound, he is improving his game every day.

Like most tennis players, Nedunchezhiyan started at a young age.

'I first started playing tennis when I was 5 years old, maybe even 4, because people in my family used to play it a lot,' Nedunchezhiyan said. 'It's like tradition.'

The tennis standout is also left-handed, which was seen as an advantage when he first started playing the sport.

'I was the only lefty out of all my siblings, so I guess people said that it was going to be an advantage, and I got pretty good at it at a young age, and obviously you like doing something that you're good at,' Nedunchezhiyan said.

The Comparative History of Ideas major can remember his first venture to the United States to compete in the U.S. Open Juniors when he was 17. The tournament was teaming with college recruiters and coaches, one of them being Washington head coach Matt Anger.

'My mom came with me to see me play the tournament,' Nedunchezhiyan said.

'She met [Anger]. I didn't really want to come to Seattle, because I had just played a really long circuit, and I wanted to go back home as soon as my tournament was done. So, my mom came and visited the UW, and she said I'd like it, so I pretty much went with that. I knew it was a really good university, so I just went with what my mom said.'

For many college-bound high-school students, the biggest adjustment is being independent and no longer being able to entirely rely on your parents or guardians.

For Nedunchezhiyan, that transition was no different.

'So many adjustments,' Nedunchezhiyan said with a sigh. 'I think the biggest adjustment was me having to take care of everything myself, because when you're a [child], you always have someone to help you do everything. ... When you come to university, no one is going to push you to do the things you need to do; you have to be a little more independent.'

This independent attitude and superb coaching has helped Nedunchezhiyan both on and off the court at the UW as he became the seventh Husky named to the First Team All-Pac-10 last season and hoping to repeat the feat this year.

'The more independent you are, the better it is, because you learn to figure out problems on your own,' Nedunchezhiyan said. 'But obviously, having Matt [Anger] with me on the tennis court helps a lot, because he has a lot of good match experience. So everything he says, I treat it like gold on the tennis court, follow it faithfully, and it has gotten me a lot of rewards.'

Washington's practice often looks more like a United Nations meeting than a typical collegiate tennis practice. The Huskies boast players from seven different nations; Nedunchezhiyan says that the different backgrounds and cultures on the team have actually brought them closer together as a unit.

'When I came in, a lot of us came in, like [junior Tobi Obenaus] and [junior Martin Kildahl], from all over the world,' Nedunchezhiyan said. 'I think now, we really have good chemistry on the team, and that's really going to be one of the factors that's going to help us push through the close ties -- the fact that we all believe in each other a lot more now.'

In his free time, Nedunchezhiyan is like just about every other college student.

'I really like watching movies,' Nedunchezhiyan said with his trademark smile. 'I have a huge thing for watching movies, all kinds of movies: Indian movies and Hollywood films, TV shows. I'm addicted I guess; I love all my TV shows. I used to watch Boston Legal, but my favorite right now is 24. I also like playing PS3 games. I'm just a typical boy, I guess.'

Nedunchezhiyan, known for his flashy play on the court, is anything but off the court. The junior stays refreshingly grounded: Instead of looking to the future and dreaming of playing at Wimbledon, he insists that he will evaluate that when the time comes.

'I'm only at the halfway point in my UW career, so I'll see how I feel physically and mentally once I'm done playing for the university, and if I think I have a shot at going pro, I'll definitely try it,' Nedunchezhiyan said. 'But it's an expensive sport, so it's a difficult decision, but for now, I'm going to keep trying my best for the university.'

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