Jayhawk Insider: Rychagova’s triumphant professional debut

By Luke Engle

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Anastasia Rychagova committed to The University of Kansas with the intention not only to play tennis collegiately, but also compete in professional tournaments while still an amateur. After speaking with Kansas head coach Todd Chapman and assistant coach Caroline Lilley, the decision was made and the destination of Mexico City, Mexico was chosen.
“Nas accomplished a lot of her collegiate individual goals last season in becoming an All-American and reaching the No. 1 collegiate singles ranking,” said Chapman. “She talked to Caroline and me about wanting to play in a few professional events this collegiate season. The tournament in Mexico City provided her the first opportunity to receive entry into a professional event this fall, so we jumped at the opportunity.” 
Rychagova went undefeated in the singles and doubles brackets of the ITF Internacional Irlandes 2018 beginning with qualifying on Oct. 27 and the singles and doubles finals Nov. 3-4. On her path to the singles title, Rychagova made her way through qualifiers and went on to win five matches to claim the championship. In doubles, Rychagova and her partner were victorious in four matches including defeating the No. 2 overall doubles tandem before later claiming the doubles championship.
Since her arrival at Kansas in 2015 from her home country of Russia, Rychagova has been recognized as one of the best women’s collegiate tennis players in the country as she has held the No. 1 ranking during the 2017-18 season. After a successful junior year where she was named ITA All-American, All-Big 12 Singles First Team and All-Big 12 Doubles Second Team, Rychagova, with the help of Lilley, took flight to Mexico City for the ITF Internacional Irlandes 2018.

“I had a really good season last year and I was rated high in the rankings,” said Rychagova. “I wanted to try and play in some professional tournaments; to go out and be professional. I talked to my coach (Caroline Lilley) and she said I should try and play (in) some professional tournaments. She found this tournament in Mexico and said it would be a good opportunity to play in this tournament.”
The tournament was not possible without the help of Lilley, who assisted Rychagova on a day-to-day basis, helping her learn what it takes to become a professional.
“Coach Caroline did everything; she would warm me up, bought my food and gave me game plans on my opponents,” said Rychagova. “She did everything down to the finest detail. I would not have been able to get the results I did in Mexico City without her with me.”
Chapman noticed a special bond between Rychagova and Lilley from their first moments as Jayhawks. Their shared love for the game of tennis allows for Lilley to push Rychagova to excellence.
“Caroline and Nas have connected in the coach/player relationship from day one,” said Chapman. “Caroline pushes Nas to be her absolute best every day and Nas has been willing to be pushed outside her comfort zone. I think both of their passion for the game of tennis is a connecting point and one that has allowed the development of Nas’ game the last three and a half years.”
No professional debuts come without adversity. In the case of the ITF Internacional Irlandes 2018, the obstacles came from aspects out of Rychagova’s control.
“The change in altitude was my largest obstacle, the ball would fly often and travel everywhere,” said Rychagova. “The pollution was bad so when I would breathe the air would go into my lungs making it difficult to play long points.”
Rychagova’s second challenge in competing in her first professional tournament was stepping onto the court physically after being sidelined for part of the spring and fall 2018 seasons.
“I have not played for a long time due to my injury,” said Rychagova. “Simply going to each match and playing was a challenge.”
Competing in a new environment is tough. Being out of your regular element, while also injured, further escalates the situation. Going through the tribulations of her first professional tournament added yet another challenge. Overcoming these obstacles helped Rychagova gain knowledge of what it takes to be a professional during her week in Mexico.
“Professional tournaments are extremely hard and everything comes down to the finest detail,” said Rychagova. “If you did not recover enough, eat the right food, or do not stretch, it affects your game, so every small detail is important. How you practice, how you prepare for tournaments, is on a larger scale. Being a professional is more than just practicing; it is a privilege, there are details you have to follow in order to play professionally.”
Gaining the experience of what it takes to play in a professional tournament has set Rychagova up to finish her senior year at Kansas on the strongest note possible.
“In a professional tournament, every player is playing for every point,” said Rychagova. “Players cannot relax at any point of the match. I know I can be more concentrated and I have to start preparing for matches (now) the same way I would prepare for a professional tournament. (That) Is what would help me in my college career.”
The trip to Mexico City proved to be a game changer for Rychagova in her first professional tournament. Learning a new angle on how to approach each match with thorough attention to detail set up Rychagova for success.
Through adversity and the help of Kansas assistant coach Caroline Lilley, Anastasia Rychagova was able to dig into the fine details it takes to compete at a high level in a professional tournament. Learning what it takes to become a professional tennis player, while actually competing at that level, Rychagova was able to gain experience day-by-day on her way to winning both her singles and doubles titles in Mexico City this fall.


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