Made in Germany

For an 18-year-old freshman to be playing collegiate tennis with the best players in the country is quite a feat.

For many young tennis players, competing at the collegiate level is merely a dream. Playing in the Pacific 10 Conference is even more fantastical. But there are a select few that make it, and yes, some rising stars realize that they have the potential to play tennis competitively with any other player in the world.

Take Roland Kupka, for instance.

Kupka is one of four true freshmen on the Wildcat team who are from another country.

"Sometimes, it is easier to talk to them (the guys from Europe) because they are similar," Kupka said.

Kupka came to Arizona from Fritzlar, Germany. Surprisingly, he didn't begin playing tennis until he was nine years old soccer was his first love.

At the age of 16, Kupka was a member of the 1991 German National Team and a semifinalist in two International Tennis Federation tournaments (Pattaya and Winchester).

Kupka attended Konig-Heinrich-Schule High School, where there were no sports programs at all. None of Europe's high schools have sports programs, so anyone who wants to play a sport does so by becoming a member of a club team. During high school, Kupka was a member of a state-sponsored club team that won the state championship in the Junior Division.

"It is really difficult to have success there (in Germany). There are so many tournaments there and the level of play is so high there are a lot of good players," Kupka said.

Like most young college students today, Kupka is interested in getting his education first.

"When I was 17, I was practicing a lot, not improving anymore," he said. "I was injured and somehow I was in a crisis. It made me realize how dangerous it is to only focus on tennis.

"Now I can focus on my education and play tennis and enjoy it very much, I split my time and still work on my education."

Kupka was lured to Arizona by a friend of his, Mike Lee. Lee played tennis at Arizona and plays with Kupka in summer clubs in Germany. He also helped Kupka get into the UA and introduced him to tennis coach Bill Wright.

"When I first started to look around for schools, I looked in this region because the people were really nice, especially here. The administration and coach (were good), and the weather is outstanding," Kupka said. "I was really excited to play Pac-10 tennis. I talked to coach and he was excited. So everything worked out for me."

Kupka, impressive from the beginning, began seeing a successful career unfold at the UA. Kupka's hard work last fall paid off in the spring he is currently one of the team's top six players and is usually matched up with teammate Sten Sumberg in doubles.

Kupka played in his first collegiate match at the 1995 Pac-10 Indoors in Seattle. Playing in flight two, Kupka defeated UCLA's Heath Mongomery in three sets 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Montgomery, at the time, was 20th in the Region VIII Rolex Collegiate Tennis Rankings. In his second match he continued to dominate by defeating Ralph Scholten of University of Texas El Paso 6-2, 7-6.

"It is such great tennis here in the Pac-10, and when I won my first match it felt great because these guys are so good," Kupka said.

"But then I found out that I am as good as them and I can play with them and beat them."

After losing two seniors last year, the Wildcats are pleased to have a rising star who has proven that he can play tennis with anyone in the country.

"Roland is the new ingredient to the recipe, and time will tell," Wright said. "I'm very excited about the way he plays. Everyone who has seen him play has been impressed."

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