May 14, 2007
She picked up her first All-Big Ten selection this year after completing a perfect 10-0 record during the Big Ten season. As a freshman she lead the team with 27 overall wins and currently sits in first place on Michigan's all-time singles winning percentage chart at .778 (56-16). The Parsippany, N.J., native helped lead Michigan to its sixth straight NCAA bid this year as the Wolverines No. 1 singles player.
With her sophomore season complete, Wolverine Chisako Sugiyama talks with the Big Ten about entering the season with a new head coach, her dynamic with No. 1 doubles partner Jenny Kuehn, the emotional rollercoaster of tennis and her mindset in the No. 1 singles spot.
After leading the team in overall wins (27) last year in an outstanding freshman campaign what were your expectations coming into the 2006-07 season?
Coming into the 2006-2007 season, I was just hoping to play as well as I did my freshman year. I knew that I won many matches, but that did not stop me from practicing and working out harder during the summer. When I started the new season, I tried not to think about the past season, because every year needs a fresh start. All I wanted was for our team to get better and better as time went on, and I wanted to help the team to be better.
What did you work on in the off-season to prepare you for this season?
During my off season, I worked on my fitness and techniques a lot. I have my basic shots, but for me to expand my game, I needed to add different shots like backhand slices. I also needed to work on my shot selection, and to use all of my shots instead of going to my "go to" shot. Also, I worked really hard on staying on top of my fitness, working out five times a week with a trainer at home. Fitness was probably my weakness last year, so I wanted to work hard on that.
What has first-year head coach Amanda Augustus brought to the Wolverine program? Can you describe the type of coach Augustus is?
I believe that Amanda is one of the best coaches in college tennis. She gives all of the players great advice, feedback and adds confidence to our game. She is a tough coach, and will make you fight yourself mentally, but only for us to get better. I believe we needed to be pushed to the max. I think our team became confident little by little, and we started to build that confidence through our practices, and then used that going into matches this year. Because she is an accomplished player herself at the college level and the professional level, she knows what it takes to be the best, and she does a great job in showing us that.
Describe your dynamic with doubles partner Jenny Kuehn. What makes your guys work so well together?
I think the reason why we work so well together is because we complement each other well. Usually, a team is made up with one player setting up and the other putting the ball away, but with Jenny and I, we both can set up and put the ball away. We are used to playing with each other now, and we pretty much know where we are going to be on the court. Communication is also another big part of doubles, and we are able to talk well on the court, which allows us to be effective on the courts.
How easy/difficult is it working with a new partner? When do you think you two hit your stride (felt comfortable with each other)?
I think playing with a new partner is a little bit difficult at the start, but as long if each player knows a little about doubles, then it should not take too long to play well. Jenny is such an experienced doubles player, and I learned from her daily. I try to pick up on little things she does on the court, which makes me a better doubles partner too. I think we started getting comfortable with each other after a few matches into the dual season. We did not start out the spring season together, but when we started, we picked up right where we ended off in the fall season.
What has been your most rewarding individual win so far this season? Why?
I think one of the most rewarding individual wins for me was against Vanderbilt (Taka Bertrand), followed by Northwestern (Samantha Murray). Headed into the Vanderbilt weekend, I knew that they were going to be a tough team, and I wanted to beat them because we lost to them last year. Our team played really well that day too, and we upset Vanderbilt, which was a great feeling. I won my singles match and contributed to the win, so that was a great. Another win that I remember is against Northwestern. Because we are rivals in the Big Ten, we always have a competitive match. I beat Murray in straight sets at 2, and it was a great personal win.
In a lot of sports, emotion is often told to be held in check. Why do you think tennis is different in that respect, and is such an emotional sport?
I think tennis is an emotional sport if you make it to be. Not all players are emotional, for example, Martina Hingis. She is a great calm player, and that can come to be an advantage also. You also have a player like Rafael Nadal who is always vocal and full of engery. I used to be more of a calm player, not showing too much emotion, but after the end of last year, I started feeling more and more enthusiastic point to point. From then on, I started showing my emotions by being vocal and jumping around after winning points. I feel that because tennis is such a mental sport that it puts your emotions on a roller coaster. But the key to success, I believe, is knowing how to control your emotions into something that is positive which helps you in the long run.
A lot of the time your No. 4, 5 and 6 players decide an outcome of a match. With a perfect 10-0 in Big Ten play, how do you stay motivated/focused when a match is already clinched?
The match is not other until all six singles and all three doubles matches are over - until the Big Ten Championships and the NCAAs - so the focus on my own game usually does not cross my mind. I play to win, and I want to win for the team, even though we may have won the match after hitting 4, my match will never be over. The team win does come first, but then I also need to prove that I can win too. I usually try to focus on myself more after the match is clinched, since the team already won, but just because the team wins does not make me less motivated to win.
You currently sit in first place on Michigan's all-time singles winning percentage chart at .778 (56-16). By the time you graduate, what more do you want to accomplish as a Michigan Wolverine?
It is a great accomplishment to be first on the all-time winning percentage, but I do not think about those feats. I love looking at statistics, but I do not look at how many matches I have won and lost. If I start thinking about that, then my focus would start shifting which I do not want. It is a great honor to play for a school like Michigan, and I want to do well for my school, so I would like to end my senior year at the top of that winning list.
Has there been a particular mantra or theme for this year's Wolverines team?
This year, we had a theme of believing in ourselves. We are a talented team in all positions, and we just need to believe in ourselves to achieve our goals. We need to support each other, and if we have the same goals and stay on the same path, we should be able to do anything that we put our minds to.