Serving aces with Iuliia Bryzgalova

The freshman tennis player has been awarded Ivy League Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors.

Iuliia Bryzgalova poses with her racket on the tennis courts at Penn Park.

The Ivy League has presented its 2018-19 Women’s Tennis Player of the Year award to Penn’s Iuliia Bryzgalova—a freshman. A native of Moscow, Russia, Bryzgalova was chosen unanimously, and also selected Ivy League Rookie of the Year and First-Team All-Ivy. She is only the fifth player in conference history to earn Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season. Moreover, she was named Second-Team All-Ivy in doubles competition with teammate OJ Singh.

Bryzgalova, an undeclared major in the College of Arts & Sciences, has a 28-3 record this season, including a 15-1 mark in dual matches and an undefeated 5-0 record in conference play. All of her dual-match wins came in straight sets and she did not lose a single set in Ivy League play all year. 

Beginning May 20, she will represent Penn at the NCAA Singles Championship in Orlando, Florida.

Bryzgalova has been playing tennis since she was 8 years old. She says her father, a former soccer player and the only athlete in her family, convinced her to try it out. She met her first coach, started practicing, and came to enjoy the sport.

“Tennis is a beautiful and interesting game,” she says. “You have to be really physically ready and also mentally ready. Your brain needs to work during the game so it’s interesting.”

Penn Today caught up with Bryzgalova at the Hamlin Tennis Center at Penn Park to chat about her tennis idols growing up, her training, her stellar season, and her plans for the summer.

Iuliia Bryzgalova prepares to hit a ball as it comes toward her at Penn Park.
(Photo: Penn Athletics)


Why were you interested in coming to Penn?

Honestly, two years ago, I didn’t know about the existence of Ivy League schools. I met a girl on the tournament and we accidentally decided to play doubles together, and we won the tournament. Then she told me that she went to Columbia University. That’s how I started to actually consider the Ivy League schools because I didn’t plan to go to play college tennis. I ended up at Penn because of my friend [Dmitry Shatalin] who’s a senior on the men’s team. He told me that Penn is the best place to be. I came here and I met [Women’s Tennis Head Coach Sanela Kunovac] and after three minutes, I decided that I wanted to go to Penn and nowhere else. 

Why weren’t you originally going to play tennis in college?

I just decided that if I have a chance to enter a university, it’s going to a better opportunity for life in general because nobody knows in professional tennis what’s going to happen tomorrow. To have a good degree, you are just safe.

Were there tennis players that you looked up to in your youth?

Roger Federer. Maria Sharapova. And I love Svetlana Kuznetsova. She’s a Russian player. I like her style. I also like Rafael Nadal. I like how he’s a hard worker and no matter what, still fights on the court.

Iuliia Bryzgalova prepares to receive a serve during a match.
(Photo: Penn Athletics)


What’s your training schedule?

During the year, we have practice from 2 to 5 p.m. every day. We have either two-and-a-half hours of tennis and one hour of fitness, or just two-and-a-half hours of tennis. Right now, I’m practicing twice a day. I just started to practice twice a day like two weeks ago since we found out we’re allowed to practice for NCAAs. I practice alone with Sanela and [Assistant Coach Mike Fenwick], and sometimes I hit with the guys.

You mentioned the physical and mental aspects of tennis. How to do prepare for the mental aspects of the game?

There is no way to be prepared for the mental, honestly. I just try not to think about it. I just do my best and whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. 

Congrats on your Ivy Player of the Year award. It must be very gratifying to win the award, especially as a freshman.

I’m so happy. I’m following in my coach’s footsteps. [Editor’s note: Kunovac, a Penn alumna and former tennis player, was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in 2001.]

Iuliia Bryzgalova prepares to return a serve as the ball approaches her.
(Photo: Penn Athletics)


What are your plans for the summer?

I honestly haven’t decided yet. I’ll probably go back to Russia for like two-and-a-half weeks to renew my visa and I’ll come back to the U.S. I’ll practice here and I also want to bring my sister here to spend some time with her to show her how everything works since I want her to come to study in the U.S., too. 

How long is the flight from Moscow?

It’s like nine-and-a-half hours to New York.

Iuliia Bryzgalova poses on a bench with her racket at the tennis courts at Penn Park.