March 8, 2011
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By ADAM MEIER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Three years ago Nikita Zotov was playing tennis on the other side of the world in Russia’s capital city of Moscow. Now `Nick’ is playing the game he loves more than 5,000 miles from home at the University of Iowa.
Since arriving at Iowa in January of 2008, Zotov has faced obstacles most will never encounter.
“When I first came here, my language wasn’t that good,” the senior said. “I would go to class and take my notes in Russian, then I would have to go home and translate it all back to English. If I had to read something I had to translate it back to Russian then read it again, so basically I had to read everything twice. Now my English is better and I’m much more comfortable.”
Evidence of Zotov becoming more and more comfortable with himself was displayed Sunday afternoon when he downed his opponent from Illinois in straight sets on the tennis court. Zotov battled his way through the first set, winning it 6-4. He then took care of business by winning the second set 6-2 over Roy Kalmanovich.
Despite Zotov’s tremendous effort, the men’s tennis team fell just short to the fourth-ranked Fighting Illini, 4-3, leaving Iowa with a record of 4-4 overall.
“It was definitely the biggest win of my career here at Iowa,” Zotov said. “I had a lot of emotions going through me. There was a thunderstorm going on inside of me. I just did my best to try and stay calm. I’m obviously really happy with my performance, but we win as a team and we lose as a team.”
“When I first came here, my language wasn’t that good. I would go to class and take my notes in Russian, then I would have to go home and translate it all back to English. If I had to read something I had to translate it back to Russian then read it again, so basically I had to read everything twice. Now my English is better and I’m much more comfortable.”
UI senior Nikita Zotov
Over the past three years Zotov has been working hard to polish his tennis game, but things did not start out as well as he would have liked.
“I didn’t get to play the first year because I redshirted,” Zotov said. “It was kind of tough because I came here playing in a lot of ITF (International Tennis Federation) tournaments, then I came here and had one year off.
“My first year playing was really tough. I couldn’t get my game going and I couldn’t get my mental focus going. It was an up and down year. Last year I got better. I didn’t win as many matches but I came close against a lot of good players. This year I’m trying to take the next step and leave here as a successful player.”
Zotov has established himself as a player with a versatile skill set that has benefitted from good coaching and supportive teammates.
“I try to go for my shots. If I’m down and need to grind, I can grind,” he said. “But my strength is to go for shots. Serving, volleying, and big forehands are the biggest part of my game.”
The transition Zotov has endured has not been an easy one, but the process has been made more enjoyable by the genuine people he spends his time around.
“I miss my family and I miss my friends. I miss my girlfriend back at home, but I love our team,” Zotov said. “I like all 13 of the guys on the team and we’re all friends. All of them practice really hard for the matches. That’s what I like about these guys. They’re all really dedicated people and we don’t have this many dedicated tennis players in Russia.”
The people at the University of Iowa — especially the people involved in the tennis program, have served as a family away from home of Zotov. With his senior season winding down, Zotov would like nothing more than to help the people who have helped him in reaching their ultimate goal.
“I’m a senior and I really have a team goal. I want our team to do well,” said Zotov. “I want our team to make it to the NCAA’s because that’s been our goal for three years. My individual goals are kind of tied with that. I want to win as many matches as I can to help the guys achieve that goal.”
Iowa City has found a place in Zotov’s heart during the three years he’s been here. He will soon be graduating and isn’t quite sure what the future will hold, but one thing is for sure — the time he has spent in the state of Iowa has been memorable.
“Every time I go back home, I miss Iowa and every time I’m here, I miss home,” he says.
Zotov is 4-4 in singles this season (4-3 at No. 2) and 2-3 in doubles (2-1 at No. 3).
The Hawkeyes travel to Florida to face Central Florida on March 13 and South Florida on March 14.