Four years and several continents separate Kata Szekely from the person she was before college tennis became a part of her life. In those four years, much more has taken place in her life than just a change of location and age.
The senior Lady Volunteer has been a part of UT's tennis program during all of her time at UT and in the U.S. The impact she has had on the team and vise versa could not be more extreme.
"I'm a completely different player than I was my freshman year," Szekely said. "Everything has improved. My ground stroke, my overall game, I'm more disciplined than I used to be. I'm way more physical and I'm in much better shape than I used to be."
The decision to move from her home and family in Hungary wasn't easy, and at times was very challenging. Szekely said spending her freshman year away from her family was one of the most difficult seasons she has been through.
"My freshman year was really tough," she said. "Especially my first semester. Just being away from my family for that long for the very first time, but it wasn't that much different from home, it's just a long way from Hungary."
That said, as Szekely comes to the end of her collegiate career and looks back at her years on the team, she has no regrets. She said she fell in love with college tennis during her first season on the team and the rest of her career has been smooth sailing.
"I would say this was one of my best decisions in my life," she said.
Fellow teammate and current sophomore Caitlyn Williams said Szekely's decision to come to UT has affected the entire team. Williams said Szekely's leadership on and off the court challenges her as she looks towards her next few years as an upperclassman.
"She's been a heck of a leader this year on and off the court," Williams said. "She works incredibly hard and gives her all in everything that we do as a team...
"For me, being a bit younger than she is, that's just really motivating. I can only hope to do that my senior year and lay the foundation for the younger kids whenever I'm a senior."
For now, Szekely said she's just working on improving for each and every match, regardless of her quickly approaching season end. She said she likes to stay in the moment and not think about what might take place with each coming week.
"I've been working on my overall game with the coaches," she said. "Working on my ground strokes, my volleys, my serves throughout the whole year and that's really hard work, but it's paying off right now."
Now, with Senior Day quickly approaching, Szekely said she's becoming more and more aware of the season's end and her impending graduation.
"I think this weekend will be the first time that it will actually hit me that it will be over soon," she said. "That will definitely be very emotional for me."
While the hotel, restaurant and tourism management major doesn't plan to continue her tennis career professionally, she hopes to coach sometime in the near future. Until then, there's always grad school.
"My plan is to go to graduate school somewhere in the states and apply for a graduate assistantship," she said.
Her studies at UT have always been outstanding, awarding her more than one academic honor.
"I was always a good student. My parents focused on academics and the reason I came to the states wasn't only to play tennis, they wanted me to get a good education," she said. "It's still one of my main focuses to do well in school."
As she looks to SEC matches against Arkansas and LSU, including Sunday's Senior Day match, Szekely said just wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge her fans and their support over the years.
"I just want to thank everyone, all the tennis fans here at UT for all their support over these last four years."