By Michael Haag | Sports Writer
Baylor women’s tennis freshman Alina Shcherbinina has already represented the program on a national stage after less than two months of being on campus. Shcherbinina participated in the U.S. Open Junior Tennis Championships, getting to the second round before falling to Hungary’s Natalia Szabanin 6-4, and 7-6. Shcherbinina, from Moscow, Russia, played against some stout competition, as she said there were no easy rounds in the Open.
“It was the top 16 juniors in the world. They’re there to win and they were preparing themselves for this tournament,” Shcherbinina said. “Each round is tough. This one, you have to play from the very first round, that’s why it was a tough tournament.”
Playing in the tournament was a big deal, but Shcherbinina has been in situations like that before. She anticipated the moment, saying that she did not want to overthink it and put pressure on herself. The experience was amazing for her and she enjoyed getting to participate.
“It wasn’t my first grand slam. That is kind of why I knew how I was going to look like, and I watched the TV so I knew the area a little bit from outside,” Shcherbinina said. “It wasn’t my first tournament, so I just talked [to] myself like this was going to be an extra tournament so I didn’t really overthink [it]. But the experience itself was amazing; there was a lot of people so it was like [I was] one of those pro athletes. It was amazing.”
Baylor women’s tennis head coach Joey Scrivano said that the experience Shcherbinina gained from playing in the Open is great. He also said that he was proud of the way she handled herself in such a major atmosphere.
“It was a great experience for her. She did a great job of just staying in the moment and not getting too distracted,” Scrivano said. “That’s obviously a big stage and she was able to stay on focus and stay on task. She showed a lot of maturity in that tournament. In that first round, she had her back completely against the wall and came back and won, so I was really proud of her ability to persevere. That was awesome for her.”
Shcherbinina began playing tennis when she was five, and also enjoyed other activities growing up in Russia. There were other sports she attempted to play, but none of them won her heart the way tennis did.
“I started playing tennis when I was five and I also did some other activities like singing, piano; I was swimming and [doing] theatre,” Shcherbinina said. “My mom tried to put me in some other sports. She brought me to basketball because she played basketball. As soon as I came into training, it was so loud, the balls were bouncing all the time and I was like, ‘No I don’t like this.’ So, [I] just tried everywhere. I was very active at home; that’s why my mom wanted me to actually go and get tired. And then, at the age of eight, I moved to Europe from Russia. That is when I kind of cut off my singing and instrument playing and I just did swimming and tennis. It was going quite well, but I don’t know why I stopped swimming. It wasn’t my favorite, and tennis was going quite well so I continued that.”
For Shcherbinina, moving around so much and being from so far away has been more of a benefit to her in her adjustment to Baylor. Shcherbinina said that because of her upbringing, the feeling of loneliness that comes with being in a new environment has never been a factor.
“I didn’t really feel that [moving to Baylor took a] big of a hit on me because I was prepared for that before I came here,” Shcherbinina said. “Plus, before, I would travel all around anyway for some time. There was this period when I didn’t see my parents for a year. I was with my sister, or I wouldn’t see my sister and I’d be with my parents, or I would go somewhere on my own. I would always be running around the world basically. Coming here wasn’t that like, ‘woah,’ like, ‘I’m alone’ or something like that. Yeah, it was nice, [the] team was nice so I’m kind of welcome. It was cool.”
Scrivano thinks that one of Shcherbinina’s best qualities is her sense of humor, as he thinks tennis should not always be so stern and serious. He is also happy to have her here and with the team, as he thinks her future is bright.
“Her sense of humor is pretty amazing. She’s pretty dry and she’s a character. She’s hard to read, but really having a sense of humor is a big deal,” Scrivano said. “These young people can take tennis a little too seriously and she does a really great job of just understanding that this isn’t who she is, this is what she does and not put too much pressure on herself. Also, her family is amazing, super supportive and they’re just encouraging. We’re really happy she’s here and we think she will leave a legacy here, a really good one.”
Scrivano was a coach that stood out to Shcherbinina amongst others, as he was the main reason why she chose to play at Baylor. She said that him making efforts and showing that he cared about her as a person helped bring her into the program.
“I was recruited by other colleges as well, but Joey was one of the first coaches that reached out to me, and he was one of the few that I’ve seen in person because he went to Moscow to look and recruit,” Shcherbinina said. “He saw me and I felt that Joey was the most ‘understands me’ compared to all the other coaches. That’s a big deal since I’m going to be here for four years with him.”
Scrivano said he knew how good of a recruit she was and wanted her here. The more important thing to him is her future. He thinks that if she can maintain the pace that she is currently at, then everything will work itself out.
“[Shcherbinina is] obviously a great recruit, the resume speaks for itself. She’s done some incredible things in her junior career,” Scrivano said. “For her, and for any new player, it’s about the next chapter. It’s about how can she adapt to a higher level of tennis and being on a team and having new coaches and having a different perspective on how she can keep elevating her game and who she is as a person. That’s really our goal is [to] not make the expectation about the results because she’s plenty competitive. It’s about making the expectation about just her mindset, having a good attitude and putting in the work and then the rest will take care of itself.”
With Shcherbinina being so young, the experiences are still waiting for her. Scrivano thinks that with her being so young, she still has so much more to deal with in her future, and that it will help build her up to be a great tennis player.
“She’s a really young player, she’s a teenager. Her room for growth is just massive,” Scrivano said. “Right now, she’s seeing the game in a very narrow lens, but the longer that she’s here, the more experiences that she goes through, the more she’s going to tap into her curiosity and really grow as a person and as a player. We’re excited for that. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do — provide an environment where she and her teammates can reach their full potential.”
With the season underway, Shcherbinina said that although she is nervous, she is ready to get to work in order to be better.
“I’m a bit nervous, because I haven’t played any college matches so far because I have been playing [in the] U.S Open,” Shcherbinina said. “I have to work harder because the results I had weren’t the best. I’m really excited to train harder and perform better.”
Scrivano said there are things that Shcherbinina can work on in order to make her an even better tennis player. However, he said he does think that her potential is sky high and he is excited to see what is to come out of the next four years.
“Tennis is such a skill game. It’s so physical and mental, but pretty much everything, you have to improve on everything, and [Shcherbinina] knows that,” Scrivano said. “She’s a way bigger critic of herself than I am. I try to focus more on her mental game right now, just getting her where she is good to herself on the court, she’s not being super negative and critical. If we can get her mental game in a really good place where she is just mindful, positive and encouraging, I mean the sky is the limit for her.”