Watching Tennessee doubles duo Jennifer Meredith and Kata Szekely, few would guess that the two grew up thousands of miles apart. With play styles and personalities as different as the number of miles lining the distance between Georgia and Hungary, the two have found success over the year.
Hailing from Székesfehérvár, Hungary, Szekely has come a long way from home to play for the Lady Vols.
"I always wanted to come to the U.S., since I was 12 years old," the sophomore said. "That was my goal with tennis. We had a Hungarian girl on the team who graduated in December. She was the one who introduced me to coaches Mike (Patrick) and Sonia (Hahn-Patrick). After that everything went perfectly."
Szekely and her senior partner started playing together this year when teammate Maria Sorbello fell sick. The two had played only two matches together the year prior, losing both of them handily. This year, the duo has dominated the court with a doubles record of 20-1.
The two work well together because of their different play styles, which function well when combined. Meredith plays aggressively, setting up at the net, using her quick reflexes to counter incoming shots and throw the opposition out of a rhythm. Szekely plays from the baseline in a defensive position, allowing her to support Meredith on the long shots.
"We're both very different people," Meredith, a Marietta, Ga., native, said. "She's the more the calm and collected type of person, and I'm like the loud energetic type of person. We balance each other out out there. I think we are just two polar opposites that have been balancing out really well."
Meredith grew up looking up to her older brother, wanting to do whatever he did. When her brother started playing tennis, Meredith naturally followed his lead. It soon became apparent that she possessed a superior talent for the sport, and her brother soon quit upon this realization.
"I first picked up a racket when I was 5," Meredith said. "When I started playing, my parents realized I was pretty good at this. They thought I might have a chance and got me into junior tournaments. I'm just a really competitive person, and it worked out well being out there and playing matches."
Having devoted so much of her life to the sport, Meredith wants to make tennis her professional occupation. With a coaching job lined up in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., for the summer, she knows wants to coach, but she is not sure where yet. Both competitive college tennis and the country club tennis appeal to her.
"Maybe later in life, I'll go into college tennis just because of the competitive aspect," Meredith said.
While Meredith found herself playing tennis because of her older brother, Szekely began playing when her family vacationed to Canada for the summer.
"When I was 7 years old, I started," Szekely said. "Actually, I started in Canada. We were on a summer vacation there for a month, I don't know why but I really liked that shiny colorful racket. I was begging my parents to buy me that racket, and they bought it for me."
A hotel, restaurant and tourism major, ideally Szekely wants to run her own small hotel back home in Europe, where she can be closer to her family and closer to European food.
"It's tough to be so far from home," she said. "My dream is to have my own hotel. I might start off as a tennis coach somewhere to save some money and then get into the hotel industry."
Upon her arrival in the U.S., Szekely was surprised at how encouraging and positive people from Tennessee are. She noticed that whenever she was struggling with her tennis game, her coaches always gave her positive criticism.
"Because of my country's history, we tend to be more negative," Szekely said. "Here everyone is so positive in how they support a community. We never do that at home, and I think it is something we should probably learn."