By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
The meat of the season is fast approaching, and although Ida Jarlskog has not yet found American food to her liking, Georgia Tech’s freshman tennis standout from Sweden appears to have found her sweet spot.
She’s built records of 10-4 in singles and 10-4 in doubles as the No. 7-ranked Yellow Jackets prepare to play host to Oregon on Sunday before heading to the ITA National Team Indoors Championships, then a match against No. 4 Georgia before taking on the ACC.
Jarlskog has moved into the swing of things, and that’s no small thing as tennis is a lot different in a team format. She took a while to adjust last fall.
“It’s hard to make an individual sport a team sport,” she explained. “I felt like it was so hard coming here in the beginning because everyone was like, ‘You have to share on the court, and say, Go Tech, and whatever.
“I really didn’t understand the importance of that. But I kind of grew into it, and I feel really comfortable on the team and everyone is cheering for each other, and I’m trying to be a better teammate.”
That Jarlskog is at Tech, playing college tennis, is something of an upset.
Long a top junior player out of Lund, Sweden, she aimed for the longest time to become a professional as soon as possible while sharing the idea of becoming a research doctor as well.
Her family had something to say about that.
Jarlskog’s parents are computer programmers and her grandmother, Cecilia Jarlskog, owns a PhD and is one of the world’s most noted experts on elementary particle physics. She served previously on the committee that nominates Nobel Prize award winners for physics.
So, there is that. Ida comes by her academic love honestly, and really loves being an athlete.
Yet when you add the fact that Lund University in her hometown in south Sweden has stellar programs in the sciences, Jarlskog found herself conflicted.
Few European universities offer athletics, and if she were to continue pursuing tennis, attending her hometown university would not allow her to keep alive at the same time her athletic aspirations. So, she began to consider college in the United States.
“The thing is in Sweden, if you go to college [in Europe], you don’t want to go pro,” she said. “Me and my dad were talking about it, and he said, ‘No, you’re not going to get worse. The level [of talent] is really good,’ [in the U.S.].
“But I never actually believed it until I got here and played some girls. I was like, ‘This is just as good as the pro tournaments.’ “
Jarlskog has fit in quickly on the court.
She won her first two singles matches in the dual format last weekend, playing at No. 3 singles as the Jackets topped South Florida and Denver to win their ITA Indoors regional, and paired with senior Johnnise Renaud to win in doubles on Saturday before their Sunday match was suspended once Tech clinched.
“She’s very, very steady . . . very steady from the baseline, can come forward, defends extremely well, extremely well. Runs down every single ball, fights for every point, and will give you blood, sweat and tears on the court before she’ll lose a match,” said head coach Rodney Harmon.
“If she loses a match, she’s fought like a dog. She fights so hard. That’s the greatest thing about her. She’s such a great fighter, and she wants to improve her game.”
For a time, Jarlskog figured to improve her game as a professional.
But between her father prompting her to consider playing collegiately in the United States, and with Tech assistant coach Christy Lynch and others reaching out to her, she looked into college options.
Her first real exposure to the Tech program came near her participation in the U.S. Open junior tournament in the fall of 2016.
Lynch hit the first shot, reaching out to Jarlskog via direct media.
Harmon scouted her at the U.S. Open.
“Christy was communicating with some highly-ranked worldwide players, and [Jarlskog] expressed interest that she wanted to go to a school that had a good tennis program and was good in math/science,” he said. “I didn’t even know her background at the time, her grandmother having a PhD in physics.
“I watched her during the U.S. Open Juniors, talked to her, she came on campus. She visited us and South Carolina. She really liked it and made the decision to come here, and so she’s done a great job for us.”
Jarlskog was a fairly easy sell once she learned more about Georgia Tech.
“I didn’t really know how good the schools were here. Then, Christy wrote to me, and I met her at [a tournament] in London, and she told me about the education here, and how good the chemistry was,” she said.
“I’m real interested in chemistry and biology, and it’s apparently like one of the best in the world here. That kind of caught my interest. And then I visited the school after I played junior U.S. Open and loved it. I liked the facilities, and the school and the girls seemed really nice and everything, so in the end I was like . . . this is the place for me and I committed.”
Currently a chemistry major, Jarlskog said Tuesday that she plans to change her major to biochemistry with the goal of returning to Sweden – possibly after a professional tennis career – to attend medical school and become a doctor.
She seems happy with her decision, even if the food in America doesn’t make her happy. Jarlskog misses Swedish grub, and she likes Georgia Tech.
“I would say meatballs. They have meatballs at Ikea, but it’s not like the best meatballs. They are so good, and the lingonberry jam,” she said of a store near campus. “I don’t really like the food here, to be honest . . . The players are really good here, and it’s a top 10 team.
“That’s one of the reasons I also wanted to come here; to get a chance to develop and play practice matches against good girls, and practice with good girls. And the coach, Rodney, he’s really, really good . . . I miss mom and dad’s cooking, and my bed. But I like it here very much.”