Women’s tennis rookie Jennifer Kung to represent U.S. at USTA/ITA tourney in Paris

First-year Jennifer Kung heads to France in two weeks as a member of the US team competing in the International University Challenge of Tennis, held December 4 to 7.

By Kate Fratar

In less than two weeks, first-year Jennifer Kung will catch a flight for her first visit to Europe. She’s going not as a tourist, or even as the rookie standout of the women’s tennis team, but as a representative of the U.S.

Kung is one of six athletes to make the trip to Poitiers, France, as part of the first U.S. team to compete in the International University Challenge of Tennis held December 4 to 7. Now organizing its third tournament, the BNP Paribas–sponsored event features eight teams of college and university players from around the world. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) paired up last summer to work on finding and bringing the nation’s top players to the international showdown.

“I think that Jen deserves to go,” head coach Marty Perry said. “She’s played really well and had a great year.”

The International University Challenge of Tennis wasn’t something that had been on Perry’s or Kung’s tennis radar as a goal for the Sunnyvale, California native until the ITA Small College Championship hosted in Mobile back in October. Even then it was a small blip.

“We found out that they were sending someone from the U.S. the day we arrived in Alabama, but they didn’t really tell us much about it,” Kung said.

From the brief description, Kung learned that outlasting her compatriots in the tournament would land her one of the three spots on the women’s team. The other two went to the highest American finishers in the ITA All-American Championships and in the 2008 ITA preseason D-I rankings.

Thoughts about making a U.S. team were quickly replaced with more pressing matters for Kung—mainly winning one match at a time en route to claiming a 3–0 mark and the singles title for the D-III competition. After a loss to the winner of the NAIA bracket of the tournament, Kung figured her chances at a place on the U.S. squad were over.

“It turned out that [the NAIA winner], the junior college winner, and the Division II winner were all international students, so they can’t represent the U.S.,” Kung explained. “Since I’m the American who made it the farthest, I get to represent.”

Official word that Kung would be joining fourth-year Amanda Fink from the University of Southern California and second-year Kelcy McKenna from Arizona State University came in an e-mail waiting for Perry when he got back to his office after the Mobile trip.

With the next six weeks to get ready for France, the first step was talking to athletic director Tom Weingartner and Kung’s professors to make sure she had the support she needed from the University. The next and ongoing task for Kung was keeping in match shape. This part she has to do alone.

NCAA rules for D-III limit the amount of time athletes can spend officially training with their teams, and Kung’s preparations for France fall during a break for the Maroons. Aside from meetings to discuss a schedule, there isn’t much Perry can do to oversee her workouts. He isn’t worried about Kung staying sharp, though.

“She’s the type of person who will hit every day if you let her,” Perry said. “I think [her training] will be adequate for her to go out there and play decently. I feel confident about that.”

The results of her work ethic are on clear display in Kung’s stats for her young collegiate career: 12–0 on the year, 9 straight-sets victories. The International University Challenge of Tennis could return Kung to the States as an even stronger player if teammate Fink is any indication of the level of competition.

A member of the 2008 USTA Summer Collegiate Team, Fink won her first professional title in July at the USTA Pro Circuit $10,000 in Atlanta. She started the season at the fifth spot in the ITA rankings.

The three women make up half of the U.S. team. Matches will be decided in a best-of-seven format consisting of two men’s and women’s singles contests, one men’s and women’s doubles match, and one mixed doubles.

The coaches won’t settle the lineup until after the team first practices together in France.

Kung is focusing on this unique opportunity to compete and the cultural experience that comes with it.

“I just want to do my best and try to represent the U.S. well,” Kung said.

Her first time in Europe may be more of a business trip for Kung, with tennis as the first priority. But between matches, she plans to work in some sightseeing.