Ania Hertel, a senior from Warsaw, Poland, has battled a back injury this season. She has 10 singles victories this year after a junior season in which she went 23-5 and was named to the SEC’s all-tournament team. Hertel managed to play three doubles matches and one singles match in April. The third-ranked Bulldogs will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament this Saturday and Sunday.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: Last season you were 23-5 in singles and 16-13 in doubles. This season has looked a little bit different for you. What have been the biggest challenges this season?
A: At the beginning I had a great start with NCAA indoors in February. And then from there I got an injury in our final, so that had been the biggest challenge for me, because I was out for over a month. So getting back and not being able to play was tough on me, but I like watching my teammates doing great. It had me feel a little bit better. Obviously, it’s been different and something I had to adapt to, but again, seeing my team doing great things has supported me the most.
Q: What was the injury?
A: I had back problems. Two years ago, I had a big back injury. So, I think it was just too much. Especially with indoors, because we reached finals and I played singles and doubles. So I think it was just a lot on my body. And the final, I wanted to push through, which was kind of stupid of me, but it was a final, so I wanted to, and that’s where I kind of went way too over the board. So it’s OK, I’m getting back. I think I should be soon 100%.
Q: What do you think that the team needs to focus on ahead of regionals?
A: I think the No. 1 thing is keeping our body together. That might sound very cliché, but at the end of the season, I think that’s very important because the whole season has such an impact on our body that I think just taking care of ourselves and then just sticking together and doing everything we did for the past few months. And I think it should go great.
Q: What do you think are the biggest components that led Georgia to its success this season? And obviously, the SEC tournament victory?
A: I think No. 1 is, the coaches’ emphasis on being a team. I think we play for each other, and I think what makes us better than other teams is that we are good as a team, not like individual players. We have good individual players, but for us, it’s more to be together all the time. With other teams, sometimes it feels like they have good players, but they really don’t play together because, at the end of the day, you have to get four points for the team. So, the one point you get doesn’t really count towards the victory. I think just all of us sticking together throughout the whole match every day.
Q: How do you balance your personal losses in a singles or doubles match while also trying to appreciate the team’s success?
A: I think for sure, that was also something at the beginning, especially as a freshman that I had to learn because obviously I’m also very emotional. I take tennis very seriously, and I care about it a lot. So, every loss I take very, very personally, and I care about it. So, at the beginning it was very tough. But at the end of the day, I just, I kind of gave myself this rule that no matter how I finish the match, I go straight to the other court and start supporting my teammates that haven’t finished yet. And then worry about the match after. I still worry about the match and still, like analyze it after, but until the match was done, I’m not getting into it.
Q: Are there any pre-match rituals for the team?
A: Well, Panera is on the top of the list. It’s also an inside team joke. We always eat at Panera, just to be safe. And then other things are just like gripping rackets. Me personally, I like to listen to music. Sometimes we do this as a team. But it’s more of connecting with each other. So, we don’t really listen to our separate music, but someone puts music on speaker and we just listen to one song. But other than that, I think just staying together and just uniting before the match.
Q: Why did you decide to come to UGA?
A: I was actually planning to go pro from the very beginning, and I didn’t think of college at all. Plus, college is not really a huge thing in Europe. I just traveled to junior tournaments. And one of the coaches just texted me. And I don’t know, I just loved the energy from the beginning and got the great vibes that they want to help people and develop players. I just thought it could be a good journey for me.
Q: What are differences in the way people play here versus where you’ve played previously?
A: I think the main thing for me is just that here it is a team sport because tennis in general is not a team sport. That was for sure the biggest change for me and for sure something I had to adapt to throughout the, for sure, first two years. That was a shock for me. But other than that, the level is really high. And I’ll say like, it’s very similar to how people play all over the world.
Q: So adapting to this different style of play, what are some of the things you did or who are some of the people on the team that helped you adapt to team play versus singles?
A: I think everyone. It was just many talks and many conversations. And coaches also emphasize it a lot that here it’s all about the team. And I think kind of switching my mind that I play for something bigger than just myself was something huge that I had to understand with months of playing here, but for sure, that’s the biggest thing. Just playing for something bigger than yourself, for the ‘G.’
Q: Who on the team do you really look up to? Or who do you think that you’re a mentor to on the team?
A: I think what is great about this team is that I don’t have one person. I think we all do a great job of giving something to the team. So, there are certain things that I go to one person, and there are some sort of other things I would go to another. I had a very good friend that I played doubles with. Her name was Morgan Coppoc. She graduated last year. So I think I had a great connection with her, but we just got along really well. And we lived together in the house, so I think that was also like outside of the team. But right now, I’m close with everyone, so I can’t really pick one person.
Q: What are your plans after the season ends?
A: So, I’m going to go back home to play pro. That’s my No. 1 goal, to go pro after college. I graduate in December, so for sure in the summer, I will play some tournaments, then come back, finish my school here and then pursue a pro career.
Sarah Dickerson is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.