Love of Tennis Aids UA Newcomers

Sumeet Shinde and Sebastian Ionescu are adjusting to thier first year at the UA.
Jan. 30, 2012
Tad Berkowitz
Tad Berkowitz

More than 2,000 international students are enrolled at the University of Arizona. For most, the transition is a monumental one, trying to learn a new language, establishing new friendships and adapting to new surroundings.

But for two foreign students, the move to the U.S. may not be as intimidating as it is for most. Why? The answer is simple: tennis.

Sumeet Shinde and Sebastian Ionescu are both freshman newcomers to this year's UA men's tennis team. With Shinde being a native of Pune, India and Ionescu being from Braila, Romania, tennis has proved to be one of the few things the two have been able to relate to.

"There's no language barrier when it comes to tennis," said Shinde. "It's very comforting."

Flourishing on the tennis court is nothing new for these two, as the Romanian Tennis Federation named Ionescu a member of the Official Romanian Team last year. For Shinde, the accolades have been similar, as he was at one point ranked 70th in the world at the junior level.

"Back home is great, but I came to Arizona because of the great competition," said Ionescu. "It's all been great so far, the players are nice, the coaches are nice, and the campus is absolutely beautiful."

For a young team with only one upper classman on the roster, learning how to win together figures to be something this squad will have to accomplish together. But for the two newcomers, what happens on the court may be the easiest thing to control.

"When these guys (Sumeet and Sebastian) first got here they had nothing," said UA head men's tennis coach Tad Berkowitz. "They had to buy a new bed, alarm clocks, school supplies, new everything. I can't fit everything into two bags on an airplane when I travel, imagine having to move your whole life half way across the world."

While both say they're loving their experience so far at Arizona, both have admitted that without tennis, things might be a little overwhelming.

"The first day of school was definitely stressful," said Ionescu with a smile. "I was running around everywhere trying to find my classes. I think going to practice was the only normal part of that day. But things are getting better, I made it on time to all my classes the other day."

For Ionescu, this is his first time in the U.S., but he plans to make the most of it by setting high standards for himself on and off the tennis court.

"Tennis is great, but I want to do well in school, I want to get a job, I want to take advantage of this whole opportunity," Ionescu said. "I think it's important for me to know that I'm here to make my whole life better, not just become better at tennis."

But while Ionescu is focusing on the academic side of things, Shinde realizes he needs to focus on matters equally important – food.

"I'll never forget it," said Berkowitz. "After the first day of practice (Shinde) comes up to me: ‘Coach where can I get a schnitzel around here?' I told him that I had no idea what that was, let alone where he could get one, but it just shows how much different it really is."

For all the non-cooks out there, a schnitzel is a breaded meet dish that is very popular in India. It can be compared to the 99-cent Big Mac here in the U.S. For a growing athlete like Shinde, a sandwich from a fast food restaurant just wasn't going to cut it. But not to worry, he found a very suitable replacement.

"Italian food," said a smiling Shinde. "Oh my goodness, that stuff is so good. It seriously may be some of my favorite food now. If I'm not in class you'll probably find me at (Three Cheeses and a Noodle)."

Both newcomers say that while the transition from home to college life hasn't always been an easy one, they have loved every second of their experience so far. Both Ionescu and Shinde figure to be huge factors on a young 2012 team that will try to improve on their early season ranking that puts them at No. 55 in the county, according to

"There are no personal goals for me really," said Ionescu. "I just want to win, and I know we can with this group. If we continue to work hard we can be ranked in the top 30, maybe even 20 by the end of the season."