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Playing the Field: Lauren Chypyha

The Wisconsin tennis player on learning how to not be defined by wins and losses

Oct. 20, 2015
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Photos courtesy David Stluka/UW Athletics
In Playing the Field, we profile women who are making an impact in the world of sports, either in competition or behind the scenes. For this installment, we spoke with University of Wisconsin tennis player Lauren Chypyha.

Wisconsin senior tennis player Lauren Chypyha is trying to figure out how to relax.

It’s a foreign concept for the Toronto native, who has spent her life working toward the goal of becoming a professional tennis player. She picked up a racket at four, started competing internationally at 13 and missed countless childhood rites of passage while playing in tournaments around the Americas.

In eight months, she’ll either get the necessary sponsorships to be able to turn pro or she’ll start working and studying for the LSAT in preparation for law school. It takes the looming specter of college graduation and “the real world” every college senior feels and amplifies it 10-fold.

When she was four, Chypyha’s dad Rodney started her in both tennis and golf. He’s a former hockey player and her mom Joan swam and did track. Not only were tennis and golf sports that the family could do together, for a lifetime, but they were sports that had established, prominent professional opportunities for women. Thinking ahead, they were sports his girls could find careers in, if they so chose.

“He thought that tennis and golf were both sports that give female athletes a lot of opportunity, both on the professional level and the collegiate level,” Chypyha said.

A two-time All-Big Ten Team award winner, Lauren’s life has often been measured in good grades received and tennis matches won. She describes herself as competitive and admits that she’s existed in a “tennis bubble” for a long time. Suddenly she’s on the cusp of her final season and how that goes, along with a few other factors, will determine which of the two very different life paths she will take. Coming to terms with the possible end of a tennis career that his literally defined her life until this point hasn’t been easy.

“(It’s) kind of scary knowing that I’m going to be graduating this year and may or may not continue playing because it seems like so much a part of me—basically my identity thus far,” she said. “Lately I’ve been trying to look at life as more than just tennis. Trying to think about my matches as just a game and that winning and losing is not really part of who I am and I actually think it’s been helping me to play better, to be honest ... I always felt pressure for results and now I feel like the later years I’ve been in college I’ve been enjoying it as a game and setting goals for myself that aren’t directly linked to my self-worth and I think that’s actually helped me because I’ve always put the most pressure on myself.”

There are still a few on-court goals Chypyha wants to achieve, the most prominent being that she wants to be named an All-American. That usually requires an ITA ranking in the top 20’s or making it into the final 16 of the NCAA tournament. An ITA ranking was also on her to-do list, but she broke those ranks in the ITA’s preseason rankings last month, checking in at No. 125.

Though she can work hard, practice, lift weights and train, in the end there’s not a lot Chypyha can control about the situation. That’s been a difficult realization, but one that may have actually helped her to improve her game.

“I think that takes the pressure off,” she says. “I’m able to just appreciate the game more now and my attitude towards this year is just ‘no regrets.’ I want to do everything I can—all the extra work I need to put in to make sure that I do the best I can possibly can this year and if it lines up then I will have the chance to play pro tennis. But if it doesn’t, at least I know I did everything I could ... rather than thinking that winning is all that matters. I’m realizing there’s a lot more to life than that and the wins just come with the hard work. I’m learning to enjoy the process a bit more, I think.”

The process includes focusing more on the team. That means understanding the symbiotic relationship between individual players and the group as a whole.

“We have a lot bigger team this year than we’ve had in the past years. I’m confident that in my last year the team can move up the rankings as well. Really (the goal is just) getting the team together and not just focusing only on myself because I’m realizing that if the team does well, I do well, so if I can bring them up, then I will be able to move up as well,” said Chypyha.

There’s also a focus on getting more fans to attend their matches. Both the ITA and NCAA have implemented rules and scoring changes to make the games go faster and improve their watchability. And Chypyha points out that collegiate tennis is a far different game than the staid, “country club” atmosphere of a Grand Slam.

“It’s actually pretty rowdy,” she said. :You’re allowed to heckle. You’re allowed to scream, which makes it really fun. I feel like if tennis fans knew more about that, they’d be willing to come out more.”

As she prepares for her final season, a lot of things have to align for Chypyha. Results beget attention and advanced rankings and those things will hopefully entice a sponsorship and maybe a chance to represent Canada in tournaments like the Fed Cup.

Not achieving those goals might have been devastating to Chypyha a few years ago. Now, she’s got two plans so that come April, she’s got a definite path forward, regardless of the results on the court. The Zen-like take on her final season is definitely something new and scary for the hyper-focused athlete, but it’s also refreshing and healthy.

“I’m just trying to focus on the moment,” she said. “Sometimes it does cross my mind—this time next year, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing. But I’m trying to embrace that and say ‘OK, I’m lucky to be having this kind of dilemma. People would love to have this kind of decision to make.’ I’m just trying to think about it that way and be positive about the whole thing. Because this is the situation I’m in and I can’t do anything about it. I just have to do the best with what I have right now.”

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