Added strength, experience propel Sitaram's triumphant start
March 13, 2012
Liz Mannis, Texas Media Relations
Sudanwa Sitaram traveled more than 8,000 miles from his hometown Tamil Nadu, India to play tennis at the University of Texas, but his biggest journey to date may be developing from a part-time starter in 2011 to a competitive force at the No. 3 singles spot this season.
As a freshman in 2011, Sitaram posted an 8-6 dual-match singles season record. He has already shattered that record with a 12-2 start to the 2012 season, with one loss being a tight match against the nation's top-ranked player, Virginia's Mitchell Frank. In the loss, Sitaram forced a third-set match tiebreaker.
The sophomore's progress can be attributed to many things, from adjusting to life as a college student in the United States, to adding some muscle to his 5-foot-9 frame.
"Last year when I first got here I wasn't really sure what to expect about what the level of competition was going to be," Sitaram said. "I've gotten a lot fitter and stronger. I've been playing better on the tennis court. Last year's hard work has been helping."
But Texas Men's Tennis head coach Michael Center credits Sitaram's hard work on and off the court as the main reason he has been victorious this season.
"Sudanwa is a classic example of what hard work will do for a tennis player. He's trained very hard, and his confidence has risen," Center said. "He's had a really terrific start to the season. He's put the time in, not only with us, but during the offseason as well."
Most college students pack their bags and immediately head home after their last December final, eager for their five-week break. But instead of traveling back to India to see his family, Sitaram decided to stay in Austin to train during the last two Christmas breaks, a decision mature beyond his years.
During these breaks, Sitaram sought out local tennis pros, including Indian player Somdev Devvarman, who has been ranked as high as No. 62 in the world. Sitaram found he benefited from more than just the additional play against elite players.
"It was really helpful because they had been through what I'm going through right now. And they gave me a lot of tips," Sitaram said. "Somdev's been through everything, and was one of the best college players of all time. So playing with him obviously gave me a lot of confidence, and he supported me a lot."
Center says he started to see a rise in the confidence of Sitaram during the fall season. Sitaram won his flight in November's Southwest Shootout, defeating teammate teammate Alex Hilliard in the finals.
In addition to the extra practice time out on the courts, Sitaram has clocked hours and hours in the weight room to add strength to his style of play. Sitaram's increased strength has been visible on the court, as he's transitioned toward a more attacking style of play.
The sophomore attributes some of his progress to the strength training routine he has taken on, and says the rest of the team has seen results from it as well.
"As a team we work really hard in the weight room, which obviously helps the whole team improve. I really think our team is one of the fittest teams in the nation right now," Sitaram said. "We work as hard, if not harder, than any team out there."
Sitaram cites the team environment as one of the biggest transitions he's experienced since playing on the ITF Junior's Circuit, in which he was ranked as high as No. 46 in the world. The sophomore, who has had a number of matches come down to final points, says one of his favorite things about collegiate tennis is having the team supporting him on the court.
"I'm really enjoying playing for team," Sitaram said. "That's the best feeling. I really enjoy the situation when there's a lot on the line, I have to win the match, there's a lot of pressure on me, and all my teammates are cheering me on. I just love that feeling. That really makes me want to push myself to the limit."
Center praised not only Sitaram's work ethic, but also his personality, which he says has helped create a positive training environment for the rest of the team. Center's 11th-ranked team has no seniors, with freshman making up nearly half of the roster.
"I think the guys really look at him as a steady guy. Someone they can count on. He comes out to practice every day. He works hard every day. He's got a positive attitude. He's just a pleasant person to be around," Center said. "We have a lot of guys like that on the team, so it creates a really good environment for the training. But he's been a big reason why we've gotten off to a good start this year."