Rock Steady

In three years, Jana Juricova has become Cal's most decorated tennis player. Through the stardom, she has remained humble.

Eugene W. Lau/Staff
Jana Juricova became Cal's first two-time NCAA champion when she captured the singles title in May.

Jana Juricova had so much more to talk about.

Just last month, Cal’s tennis star traveled to Rhode Island’s International Tennis Hall of Fame to receive her National College Player of the Year award.
The first singles player in program history to receive the honor, Juricova stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Andre Agassi and her childhood idol, former world No. 1 Steffi Graf.

Juricova still has one season remaining in a decorated collegiate career, yet her list of accomplishments is already striking.
She could have discussed her freshman year, when she won the NCAA Doubles title and took collegiate tennis by storm. Or how about this past May, when Juricova — the nation’s top-ranked player — dropped just one set in the NCAA Singles tournament en route to winning the title and becoming the program’s first two-time NCAA champion?

Instead, Juricova talked about her non-profit work last summer at the Global Fund for Women — how she compiled reports about underprivileged women in Asia and how she has matured from that experience.

Juricova is even considering a career in non-profits instead of playing professionally.

“After just playing tennis, I got to do something so fun,” she says. “I realized then how little impact tennis has compared to something that help change someone’s life.”

A tennis fixture since the age of six, Juricova has garnered honors and trophies across Europe and the United States. But off the court, Juricova is not an attention-seeker: she’s a giver, an idealist who wants to help people and change lives.
For people close to Juricova, she is selfless and humble almost to a fault.

“I’m not surprised that she didn’t mention the award ceremony,” Bears coach Amanda Augustus says. “That’s who she is: she would rather talk about the internship, about helping others, than about herself.

“But sometimes she forgets that by doing what she is doing on the court, she is inspiring young people — hopefully girls — to take up tennis and do well in school to be like her one day.”

On the court, there is little trace of reserved Juricova.

She almost morphs into another person once the ball is in play. Her shyness and modesty are overshadowed by powerful forehand strokes and an aggressive style reminiscent of Graf herself.  Still, Juricova remains calm and collected — cold-blooded even — whether she is winning or losing her match.
Seeing  her play, it’s a wonder that she has not gone pro in a sport filled with teenage phenoms.

Four summers ago, Juricova was selected to represent her native Slovakia in the 2007 Fed Cup, the women’s tennis version of the World Cup. Juricova competed alongside former top-10  player Daniela Hantuchova, who chose to defer her admission to a top Slovakian university in order to pursue a professional tennis career.

Juricova could have followed the Hantuchova route. But the education she set aside throughout her teenage years due to tennis was too important to let go of. She finally decided to put her own education ahead and attend a university in America.

Propelled by blind hope and assurance from a coach she hardly knew, Juricova decided to enroll at Cal — even when her playing eligibility was in limbo. Over the span of three frantic days in August of 2008, Juricova packed up her bags and flew alone to the United States for the first time.

“Everything started to hit me when I landed in San Francisco because I was always rushed before and never thought things through,” Juricova says.

Although she had experience living in different countries from her travels around Europe, nothing has prepared Juricova for the American lifestyle and the responsibilities of a student-athlete. Living by herself in a land far away from home, Juricova struggled over the first few months with homesickness and the language barrier.

But those obstacles vanished within a couple of months. Looking back, she believes Berkeley has forced her to grow up quickly. Juricova enjoys the responsibility of being a student-athlete at Cal, learning to represent an entity larger than herself. As her senior season looms ever closer, Juricova is still hungry for more trophies — but she is continually thinking beyond individual success.

“If I can choose any titles to win in my senior year, I would definitely choose the (NCAA) Team Championships,” Juricova says. “Every year, I set my mind on winning it. But every year, we have come short of the championships.”

The coaches have already started talking about Juricova’s legacy — where does she rank amongst the great Cal tennis players? How many titles can she win this upcoming season?

Despite her competiveness, Juricova does not obsess about her place in program history — which should be at the very top by the time she finishes. Her personal philosophy, whether applied to life or to tennis, remains a humble one — take things day by day and keep things in check.

“One of the key things I learned in Cal is just to enjoy the present moment and make the best of what you have,” Juricova said. “It comes back to tennis again: it doesn’t matter whether you have your best stuff that day because you can still win.”

During her last summer here in Berkeley, Juricova has been helping out at a team-hosted tennis camp for children.

She has taught serves and strokes to young kids, some carrying rackets nearly as tall as themselves. The summer camp has provided Juricova the best of both worlds — helping people and hopefully changing young lives while staying close to home at the tennis courts.

She understands that her playing days at Cal will be winding down, and that she will have to make her career decision soon. But she is not worried one bit.

“I might participate in some tennis tournaments after graduation while looking for a job,” Juricova says. “After the amazing experience at the Global Fund for Women, non-profits are definitely what I want to do too. I just want to make sure that I am 100 percent confident before making my decision.”

In the immediate future, Juricova is focused on bringing home Cal’s first-ever national title. Whether it be on the tennis courts in her last season with the Bears or in mapping out her future career, path Juricova will face her obstacles like she does any match:

Take things day by day. Win them point by point.