Georgia women’s tennis player Anastasiia Lopata has experienced several changes over the past year, including moving across the globe and adjusting to the college game. The freshman from Kiev, Ukraine, was recently named to the SEC all-freshman team and is coming off the team’s 2023 SEC tournament win. Lopata describes the thrill of clinching a victory for her team, how her teammates have helped her transition to college, and her preparation for the NCAA tournament, which is set to begin for the Bulldogs in Athens this Friday.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: I know you’re a long way from home. What made you decide to attend UGA?
A: I think it’s a really good opportunity for me to play a lot of tennis, to practice for free, to study for free, because back home it’s very difficult to do and here there are a lot of good things that I cannot get at home.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to come to UGA or first learn about it?
A: I decided that I’m going to UGA like a year ago, like at exactly this time, somewhere in April 2022.
Q: How would you describe your team culture here at UGA, especially with only having three upperclassmen?
A: Well, I think our seniors are good because Lea (Ma) is very good in tennis, she’s a tennis leader. And Meg (Kowalski) is always positive, always bringing good energy. Ania (Hertel), personally for me, is a close person. She helped me a lot here.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory from winning the SEC tournament?
A: My favorite memory is when I clinched during the semifinal, and the whole team ran to me and they were jumping. It’s a very unique experience.
Q: How does the college tennis experience differ from your junior tennis career before coming here?
A: It’s difficult because in college tennis, it’s different rules. Like it’s no ads in singles, it’s very extraordinary because in pro you have ads in singles you can play, and here you have to focus on one point. Also warm up for one hour before matches and no warm up before singles after doubles, because in pro you have a five-minute warm up before every match. And also playing with the team with all this lineup, and clinch rule also, like not finishing matches. It’s very different.
Q: The first year of college in general is also a major life transition. Is there anyone who has really helped you with this time of change?
A: I think Ania helped me. Meg also keeps the group energy. I think also Drake (Bernstein), our coach, has helped me a lot. Especially because in the beginning he talked to me a lot and if something is wrong, he also talks. And I like how he’s talking, like the way he’s saying things.
Q: How do you keep your focus during competitive matches? Is there anything you tell yourself during a particularly stressful time?
A: If something happens like me losing, of course I’m very sad. I try to tell myself that you need to keep going, that in the future there will be more matches and you shouldn’t focus on the past, and you just should go practice and just prepare for the next match. Don’t focus on the last one.
Q: Is there anything you are working on specifically between now and the start of the NCAA tournament?
A: Yeah, I’m focused on improving my offense because sometimes I go too much in defense, and it really hurts because offense feels more confident. So I need to be more confident in my offense and also some mental sides.
Hayley Freeman is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.