Nov. 6, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Watching an athlete grow is part of what makes college athletics so exciting.
As rewarding is seeing the athlete who is turning that proverbial corner, recognize that the growth process is occurring and thrive while living up to the potential that, for whatever reason, had been bottled-up.
On the Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis Team, Viet Ha Ngo, who goes by the name Christina, is one of those feel-good stories.
The Vietnam-born Ngo is in her junior year and is majoring in Economics and International Affairs. She speaks four languages — Russian, Spanish, English and Vietnamese — and was discovered by then-Assistant Coach Anca Dumitrescu, while playing in Spain.
She was shy and somewhat withdrawn when she arrived in Atlanta in 2008, which is understandable. Consider the culture shock that accompanies any freshman coming to college, then multiply it by someone trying to assimilate to a new country while playing top-level tennis for a school with the academic standards of Georgia Tech.
“It took me time to adapt but my friends and teammates and [Head] Coach [Bryan Shelton] and other people really helped me to adapt and feel more at home,” said Ngo, who carries a career .628 winning percentage in dual singles matches (27-16), a .590 success rate overall (36-25). Her doubles record is 14-14 in dual matches, 19-21 overall.
The culture shock has worn off, allowing her to do things in her third year on the The Flats that she probably never could have imagined — even if others could.
“Christina is growing in confidence and really seems to be grasping what it takes to be successful as a tennis player,” said Shelton. “Christina is a very good athlete. She can do some things physically that other girls aren’t equipped to do, especially with her movement. The area that I think she’s grown the most in is just on the mental aspect of things.
“I think she not only understands her own strengths, but she recognizes the strengths and weaknesses in others,” Shelton added. “She can play the game now on both sides of the court. She’s shown a lot of growth and maturity over the last two and a half years and because of it she’s starting to get the results that she’s been looking for.”
Like last weekend in Athens, when she bounced back from an opening-round loss of the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional Championship by going on a five-match tear to win the consolation bracket.
“Of course, winning is big and the Tournament was great,” said Ngo. “Although I lost the first round, Coach [Shelton] told me, ‘It doesn’t matter. That match is behind you. What you have to is look in front of you and recompose yourself.'”
She recomposed, loaded up and left a trail of victims in her wake.
Christina cruised through her first two matches, winning both in straight sets at love, but then faced her toughest test of the weekend, a quarterfinal matchup with Miami’s Kayla Rizzolo. They split the first two sets — the only set Ngo lost on the way to the title, then found her self down 4-2 and 40-15 in the decisive third set. But five points from elimination were as close as she would get, as she won the final set, 6-4.
After a straight-set win in the semis, the final proved another tough of mental toughness, as she found herself matched up against Yellow Jacket teammate, Caroline Lilley.
Both the quarterfinal and the final made an impression on her.
“I will definitely take the fighting spirit with me because that really helped me,” she said. “[Rizzolo] had the momentum, but I just refused to give up and my teammates were there and they were cheering for me and they just gave me a real boost to turn around the game and the situation. So I think what I’m going to get from there is just be there for your team.
“Playing a teammate is a very different experience,” she added. “Usually, it’s you together against the world and suddenly you have your teammate against you. It was very interesting, but I tried to just put aside all of that. In front of me was just another tennis player. Caroline played really great. Of course, she’s my teammate. But on the court, for me there is just a player and a will to win.”
Call it the will to win. Call it refusing to lose. Ngo calls it experience upon which to draw the next time she faces adversity.
It’s also experience that has helped her relax on the court and give herself some latitude in her game.
“I’m still trying to be perfect, hit perfect shots but I’m going out there enjoying the battle, instead of like going out there, ‘I have to be perfect,'” she said. “Now I just go out there and see what my opponent has and see how I can deal with that. It’s interesting to see what I can do.
“You don’t win with perfect shots. That’s what I’ve come to realize,” she added. “I can hit a shot that is not perfect but it’s still a point and if I win it then I win it. I remember there were matches that I was hitting so well, but my opponent ended up winning. So what’s the better result: Playing perfect and losing or just performing and see what I can do and see if I can win the match?'”