Coronavirus Sports Tennis

Houston tennis overcoming time zone challenges to stay connected during pandemic

Graduate student Phonexay Chitdara went 10-2 in singles play during the 2020 season | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

Graduate student Phonexay Chitdara went 10-2 in singles play during the 2020 season for Houston tennis. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began and everyone was forced to socially distance from each other, the student athletes at Houston have had to do most of their communication through video calls.

The UH football and men’s basketball teams have utilized Zoom to hold meetings, bring in guest speakers and check up on the players.

The swimming and diving athletes have used it to share slides on Disney characters, and the soccer team has used it to come together and report on ongoing NWSL, MLS and other league games.

For the Houston tennis team, however, that has not been the case.

“It’s been challenging, especially with us, since most of our team is international,” head coach Helena Besovic said during Thursday’s Coaches Caravan. “Most of my girls are overseas, but we try to stay in touch. It’s hard sometimes because we are in different time zones, but we find ways to do it.”

A team comprised of athletes from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Serbia, Spain and Colombia, just to list a few, agreeing on a time for a Zoom meeting is harder than finding a tie on Kelvin Sampson in the second half of a basketball game.

“It’s really hard because we have to find who’s going to be awake early and who’s going to be staying late. It’s really tough,” said graduate student Phonexay Chitdara, who was on the call from Belgium. It was 12:46 a.m. there.

Despite the difficulty in coordinating a large team meeting, that has not stopped Besovic from gauging her athletes’ mindset.

“I know our team is excited to come back, especially because our season was cut short,” Besovic said. “I can tell how much everyone misses being together. They keep asking me every week when we’re going to be back and what next year is going to look like.”

The Cougars were 9-6 before the season ended due to the coronavirus, and while there is still much uncertainty about college sports in the United States, the student athletes on the tennis team have remained focused on staying in shape for when the ball can be served again.

Chitdara has had access to a track in her hometown where she runs and has utilized it to stay active.

Some of her teammates, like ones in Australia, already have the opportunity to go out and compete against other people according to the head coach. 

Australia reported only 279 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday.

Regardless of the difficulty, the tennis coaching staff continues to monitor their student athletes and make sure they are OK.

“The most important thing is for them to feel psychologically well and not too worried,” Besovic said. “That’s what we try to do, just encourage them to stay positive and look forward to being together again.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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