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Renewed love: Decatur foreign exchange student shines on court

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, May 15, 2019
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Back at it

BACK AT IT – Decatur foreign exchange student Lenka Okasova is 31-3 this year and will compete at the state tournament later this week at Texas A&M. The Slovakian native has played tennis since she was 5. Messenger photo by Reece Waddell

Sitting in a P.E. class at Decatur High School last fall, Lenka Okasova approached coach Tony Roth with a desire to join the tennis team.

The foreign exchange student from Bratislava, Slovakia, had not picked up a racket in two years. Though she had played the sport since she was 5, Okasova told Roth she was a novice at best.

“I stopped playing tennis when I was 15, and I kind of didn’t want to have anything to do with tennis anymore,” Okasova said. “I told [Roth] that I can play tennis – that I’m not bad. I told him I was average.”

Roth immediately realized Okasova was selling herself short.

After watching her hit, Roth informed Decatur tennis coach Brian Blair of Okasova. It did not take long for them to recognize she was in a class of her own.

“I was filling out some exchange paperwork and Coach Roth had seen her hit. He said, ‘Man, I think she’s pretty good,'” Blair said. “She was out here hitting and I could hear it. It sounds completely different when she hits the ball. I had never heard anything like that. I haven’t had a player of her level before.”

The 18-year-old junior was nationally ranked in Slovakia before she quit to focus on her education. Because athletics are not part of the Slovakian education system, Okasova was spending two hours per day outside of school to train.

Return service

RETURN SERVICE – Decatur’s Lenka Okasova returns a serve during practice Monday. The Slovakian native will compete at the state tournament later this week at Texas A&M. Messenger photo by Reece Waddell

“It was too much,” Okasova said. “Every weekend I was at a tournament. I had to have a ranking just to get to the tournament. Financially, it was really hard on my parents. We just decided school and my education would be the first thing in my life.”

When Okasova arrived at Decatur through her foreign exchange program, her passion for tennis was quickly rekindled.

“I’m very competitive,” Okasova said. “When I was younger and 14, I wanted to go pro. I wanted to be a tennis player in the future, but then I reconsidered.

“It’s way more fun here because I’m mostly winning. It helps me to enjoy it.”

Okasova is 31-3 this season and claimed the 4A Region I title four weeks ago. She won all of her matches at the region tournament in straight sets, losing only six games.

Her UTR – universal tennis ranking – is a 7 on the 16.5 point scale. The number measures a player’s skill, with the top players in the world, like Novak Djokavic and Rafael Nadal, checking in with a 16.23 and 16.17.

Blair said the biggest challenge for him has been getting Okasova matches with players of her caliber. She has competed at several 5A and 6A tournaments this year as the only member from Decatur.

“[Tennis] is way harder in Slovakia,” Okasova explained. “Tennis is one of the most popular sports there. Kids want to play it and parents want them to be good.”

Added Blair: “It’s kind of unique because she’s just so much better than any of her teammates. Finding someone that can hit with her and handle her is challenging.”

Another challenge for Okasova has been managing her Type 1 diabetes. During matches, Okasova has to drink the occasional juice box to keep her blood sugar up.

Blair said it has become his responsibility to monitor Okasova and keep her hydrated with water and juice.

“It’s been fun and she’s been easy to coach,” Blair said. “I just have to make sure she has enough water and is on the court at the right time. She really takes care of it.”

Okasova will return to Slovakia this summer. She has one year of school remaining until she graduates.

Her plans after graduation are to attend college, either in the United States or England, and study genetics or neuroscience.

As for tennis, Okasova will compete at the state tournament starting Thursday in College Station at Texas A&M’s George P. Mitchell Tennis Center and the Omar Smith Intramural Tennis Center. She is three wins from a championship and will square off with Spring Hill’s Emmaline Nichols in the quarterfinals at 9 a.m.

Okasova is unsure if this will be the final time she picks up a racket. If it is, she said she is focused on savoring the moment.

“I’m just trying to enjoy it,” Okasova said. “I’m going with the flow and giving everything I’ve got. Winning state would be like winning a national championship in my country. I didn’t even want to play tennis. I never thought I could win a state championship.”

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