By Jimmy Tran, Daily Cal Contributing Writer
This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Saturday, November 6, 2007. Click here for original version.
Reprinted by permission.
Some athletes were destined to be great from the first few days they set foot in this world. That's not to say a father doesn't have any influence, though.
Like Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods before her, Cal women's tennis player Susie Babos has a father who immediately began the training process when she arrived on this earth.
"As soon as I was born they took me home from the hospital, and there's this picture of me as a tiny baby lying on a big tennis racket," says Babos. "I grew up right next to the tennis courts, so there weren't too many options. Either I go swimming, because that was the other neighboring facility, or I play tennis."
With a collegiate career that to date includes an NCAA singles title, two All-American Individuals titles, and numerous other accolades, it's easy to say that Babos made the right decision in choosing tennis.
Coached by her father, Babos developed an array of shots and great vision as well as an unrivaled work ethic.
"Growing up with a coach who is also your Dad is an ambivalent thing," says Babos. "Even though we tried to keep tennis away from home, it often came home with us after practice. He would always say `100 percent is not enough. 110 percent is the minimum, and even if you do 110 percent, I won't say good job yet!'"
Harnessing this passion to go alongside her technical strengths, Babos has secured her spot as one of the best, if not the best female tennis player in Bears' history. She is the only player in the program's history to have won an NCAA singles title.
"She understands where to put the ball in the court, the angles to use and the combinations and patterns," says coach Amanda Augustus. "There are some players who tend to just have one base shot. I think Susie is (well-rounded), not only in all her shots but also her court usage."
Playing outdoors during summer and indoors during the winter with her father, the brash senior has refined her game since she was a toddler and constantly searches for improvements. This year, Babos hopes to improve her footwork so that it becomes a weapon in her arsenal. But even more important than improving her game is the opportunity to improve on the team's NCAA Final Four appearance last year.
"I have won a lot of collegiate events, and this is the one I'm missing," says Babos. "This is probably the biggest challenge, because it doesn't depend solely on me. It depends on others, too, and I have to learn how to play for a team and others."
Babos developed her passion for winning through her father. Raised in an environment where her father and younger sister both played tennis, Babos' attitude towards the game is inherently intense.
"My father always told me to just play my game and the rankings will be the consequence of that," says Babos. "But at the same time there was a lot of pressure because flying out to a tournament cost a lot of money, so if you didn't do well it'd be like a waste of money."
By capitalizing on these opportunities, she has risen to the status of one of the top amateur players out there. But her journey to the top, like all others, has a beginning. For Babos, it began in Sopron, Hungary, 22 years ago.
Born to Csaba Babos, who was considered one of the top Hungarian players in his prime, Susie Babos fine-tuned her game in a country where tennis' popularity has dwindled since the time her father played.
Despite her mother's desire for her to go to the nearby University of Vienna to pursue a degree in psychology, Babos decided to go with her father's suggestion to move to America. The thought of a nine-hour time difference would not stop Babos from playing tennis.
"My dad said in America, I could get a great degree, be on my own away from home, and do the thing I love most--play tennis," says Babos.
After narrowing down her choices to Cal, the eager foreigner arrived in Berkeley with high hopes and showed no fear in the face of a task that called for complete independence from her parents.
"When I came in as a freshman, I thought I knew everything," says Babos. "I thought I had experience and training before and so I was not open to anything, whereas right now if I don't get coaching or feedback, I'm really upset and can't function. So I think I've opened up now and it's helped my game."
In choosing to attend school, Babos passed up the opportunity to play in the pros alongside the people she competed against as a junior player.
Babos has played against pros such as Maria Sharapova, and has even beaten Jelena Jankovic on two occasions, but the thought of leaving home and her parents to pursue sponsors was too bold for the then-17 year old.
"I think I made the smart move in going to school," says Babos. "Even though I could make it to the pros and make big bucks, what if I got injured? Nothing is guaranteed whereas you come to college and get a good degree--it's something that'll always be there for you."
Babos is currently majoring in mass communications and minoring in social economy. Although she has some goals in mind, she is very open-minded towards her future.
"I'm looking at grad schools," says Babos. "I think I want to stay in America a few more years. If I do well in the spring season, and agents looking for college players are around, then that will be an option as well."
No matter what she pursues, Babos will always have memories of her time here at Cal. Perhaps the most pressing memory is one from a year and a half ago, when Babos reached the pinnacle of her career at the 2006 NCAA Individuals Tournament.
"Going there, I didn't expect anything, because I was injured the entire season and played horribly in the spring," says Babos. "But for some reason, I went right through the first-round opponent and just kept playing better and better. By the day of the final, I said I can't lose here because I gained all my confidence back."
With her parents watching the broadcast live back home in Hungary, Babos won the match over Lindsay Nelson of USC 6-4, 6-1, and made history.
"Right after I finished my dad called me," says Babos. "My dad was my coach, and he was the one who worked on my game with me. We have a really tight relationship so it had to have been him to give me the first call."
He called, speaking without a sense of shock despite his daughter having defeated six of the best players in the country. After all, it was just another title in a sport she was born to play.