When he first arrived to the United States and the University of Minnesota, sophomore Vlad Lobak was expecting to immediately step into a high spot in the men's tennis lineup.
Unfortunately for the Ukrainian, he did not. But the disappointment lit a fire underneath him.
“Coming from Europe, I thought I was going to be a great player from the start,” Lobak said. “When I came here, I realized how good the level of players are in the United States.”
Although this confidence might seem unusual for a first-year player, senior Josip Krstanovic, from Croatia, said this is a common mindset for many of the international tennis players coming from Europe.
“When you’re from Europe, you play against every type of tennis player, which makes you think you have an edge against others,” Krstanovic said. “However, there are great players from everywhere.”
Lobak only appeared in nine duals his freshman campaign. He said it was a reality check, and it motivated him to compete for a larger role on the team in year two. He said the mental aspect of the game took the most priority in the offseason.
“I was working mostly on being more aggressive and focusing on my game regardless of winning or losing,” Lobak said about this past offseason. “[I was] just trying to get a step onto the court and try to get better, which [was] and is my main focus of the offseason.”
So far, Lobak has accomplished his goal of getting in the lineup regularly. He has improved his freshman singles record of 4-5 to 14-5 at the No. 6 singles spot this season and has become a vital part of the singles lineup for the Gophers.
Head coach Geoff Young said that the main reason for Lobak’s improvement was his growth in the mental side of the game.
“[Lobak] has become more comfortable playing under pressure, going for his shots and being able to focus on his game instead of the result,” Young said.
Lobak agreed with Young, and said he’s been battling his own mind.
“Sometimes I get too nervous and I get dictated by the other player instead of being the dictator,” Lobak said. “Now, I’ve been trying to go for my shots and try to go bigger, and I’ve been getting success out of it.”
Although might be surprised by Lobak's turnaround, Krstanovic and Young both agreed that his elevated play has been evident at practice.
“He’s dominant in practice, and I think for him its just getting focused and not letting the result bother him,” Krstanovic said. “Once he gets that settled, he’ll be really dangerous.”
Besides his mental growth, Young said Lobak's athletic ability truly makes his play stand out.
“He’s got a really big serve, he’s got a big forehand, he’s athletic, moves forward well and is very fast too,” Young said.
Although he has made his way into the lineup, Lobak has his sights set beyond the No. 6 spot.
“When I got here I thought I’d be playing three or four [in the lineup], but then I realized there are other guys, and that still motivates me to work harder and get better,” Lobak said.