A Role Reversal for Cal's Pac-10 Doubles Champions
May 12, 2003
Berkeley, Calif. - They say that opposites attract. While a worthwhile slogan for theorizing the nature of interpersonal relationships, Cal's Christina Fusano and Raquel Kops-Jones have taken the catchphrase to a whole new level ... or tennis court, that is.
As the Bears' top doubles tandem in 2003, Fusano and Kops-Jones have established themselves with the nation's collegiate tennis elite. But contrary to what common sense may dictate, they are polar opposites in terms of personality.
Off the tennis court, one might find Fusano performing some mischievous task or playing a practical joke on one of her teammates, while her doubles partner, Kops-Jones, is huddled in the corner perusing her favorite novel or textbook. Fusano is most definitely the team extrovert and Kops-Jones is obviously the team introvert. Fusano is the wide-eyed vocal leader while Kops-Jones is the soft-spoken quiet leader, and so on, and so on. In short, the two personalities are as different as could be. But when the two get together on the tennis court, they seem to swap roles in something straight out of an X-Files episode.
'We sort of switch roles when we play tennis,' said Fusano. 'On the court I am a little more composed and Raquel is a little more aggressive and vocal. That just goes back to how we play tennis and doesn't necessarily equate to our personalities off the court.'
The curious dichotomy seems to have worked.
Entering this weekend's NCAA Regional Championships, Fusano and Kops-Jones are not only the Bears' top doubles tandem with a 30-9 overall record, but the fourth best pair in the nation according to the latest ITA rankings. Watching the two play together is analogous to viewing a musical duet, equipped with its various highs and lows, but always with a nice tidy ending.
Both players readily acknowledge the shift in personalities from real life to the tennis court, but it's not necessarily a conscious phenomenon. Fusano admits that she was taught at an early age not to wear her emotions on her sleeve, but Kops-Jones just lets the flow of the game dictate her outward appearances.
'I never speak outside of the court, so when someone who knows me comes in and sees me screaming on the court, it shocks them,' said Kops-Jones with a wry smile. 'I don't consciously separate my life and tennis the way that Christina does; this is just a natural thing for me.'
So how do two such polar opposite personalities gel on the court and achieve so much success in a sport where communication is of the utmost importance? Head coach Jan Brogan offers up her own explanation.
'Christina and Raquel have a nice compliment of power, touch and ball control,' said the 25-year head coach of the Bears. 'Raquel supplies the power, Christina provides the touch and they both have superb ball control. Christina's leadership has been real important and having played together for an entire season now, they really have developed a strong team dynamic in terms of communication with one another.'
This communication is readily evident as the two 'huddle' to discuss strategy in between nearly every point. To those who know the two superstars, a glimpse of them in action may go against everything that they know about them off the court. But, the two insist that it is just a faï¿½ade. The usual 'team huddle' in between points may look like a serious conversation about game strategy, but a little dose of personality usually enters the equation.
'We talk about strategy in the huddles, but Christina keeps it loose by joking around,' said Kops-Jones. 'I can't really afford to get real upset, angry or down, because Christina finds a way to lighten things up.'
'Sure, we talk about the plays that we want to run,' states Fusano in a rare moment of seriousness. 'But, I like to keep things loose and just have fun. The important thing is that we don't really disagree that often, so if anything goes wrong on the court, it's not the end of the world because I feel like we have something else - a base friendship beyond tennis.'
This 'Jekyl and Hyde' approach has landed the Cal duo its second consecutive Pac-10 doubles title this April, while earning them a trip to the 2003 NCAA Doubles Championships. While the pair admittedly expected to win its second Pac-10 doubles title this year, they both agree that a doubles title at nationals is their next aim.
'In the fall, we started out not quite as confident as we are now,' said Kops-Jones. 'We've been pressuring ourselves with the knowledge of knowing how good we could be. The pressure is not as much anymore, as we have played through it. My expectations at this point are really, really high. I have confidence that Christina will come through under pressure and I think she has the same confidence in me.'
For Fusano, this is her last year playing for the Blue and Gold, so she would just as soon go out with a bang.
'I feel like it would be a disappointment if we did not win nationals,' she said without hesitation.
The senior sociology major plans on continuing her tennis career upon graduation, but admits that she might want to eventually work with kids in some capacity and put her Berkeley education to work. Kops-Jones has one year left of eligibility and plans on returning to the team next year.
'I am coming back for my senior year to finish school and get my degree,' said Kops-Jones. 'For sure, I want to play tennis professionally after I graduate, but my goals for next year are to keep playing tennis and improve my game.'
It's sure to be an entirely different experience without her partner in crime to keep her loose. But rest assured, Fusano's legacy will be on Kops-Jones' mind every time she takes to the doubles court next year.