The popularity of tennis has grown tremendously in recent years — the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Physical Activity Council have reported 2.96 million new players in the US picking up their racket in 2020. It’s been growing in Canada, too — in fact, Canadians in professional tennis have been making waves recently. From Leylah Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu to Felix Auger-Alliasime and Milos Raonic, Canada has produced some massive stars in the cosmos of tennis.

I’ve had the opportunity of knowing Niki Karol, an athlete for the Varsity Blues women’s tennis team, for a little over two years now. From our time collaborating on assignments and sharing courses and labs, I’ve seen how dedicated she is to school here at U of T. However, recently I’ve been getting to know Niki the dedicated athlete, rather than Niki the hard-working student. In an email to The Varsity, Niki discussed her thoughts on returning to tennis for the Blues, life as a student athlete, and more.

The Varsity: How do you feel about returning to playing tennis for the Varsity Blues in the upcoming season?

Niki Karol: I’m super excited to be back after a missed season last year. I think it’ll be a great fresh start for our team with all the new athletes who have joined. From being a newcomer before the pandemic to now being among the older athletes on the team, it’s now my turn to guide the incoming first-year team members.  

TV: How did you prepare and train for a return to tennis during the pandemic?

NK: Throughout the pandemic, access to tennis courts was mostly limited to the summertime which I was so thankful for since I not only was able to keep up with my training, but since tennis has always been a great way for me to relax and clear my mind, especially during this time. The winter months were the most difficult for me, as there was no place to train other than practicing against the wall in my basement and doing conditioning training in the gym. I did my best to use the resources available to me at the time.

TV: What are your goals for the upcoming season/academic year?

NK: My personal goals for this year are to give my best when I go out to play for my team, but also to make the most of my time on the team, since it really does fly by. As a team, we are working hard to win our regional matches in order to secure a spot in the Ontario University Athletics championships again, and hopefully make our way to the nationals next year.

TV: How do you plan on balancing school, extracurricular activities, and competition, all at the same time?

NK: Balancing academics, extracurriculars, and tennis can be tough at times, but it’s all about time management. I try to join as many study groups as I can so I have a scheduled time where I can complete my work and interact with other students! Additionally, I get some work done before I head to matches so I am not overwhelmed afterwards. Lastly, I carry around flashcards for my classes on my phone, so whenever I am going to and from the courts, I can study!

TV: Is there anything you would like to say to other Varsity Blues athletes who may be feeling nervous about returning to sports after stepping away due to the pandemic?

NK: As someone who has been nervous herself, I would tell other Varsity athletes that they are not alone! It can be saddening knowing we all have lost a season of competing and cannot train as much with the public health restrictions in place. This has taught me to cherish the time we do have to enjoy the sport we love with our teams!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.