Life After Tennis

Training in Professional Sports Can Be an Overhead Smash and a Winning Resume for Students Competing for a World Class Future

Lucas Jakobsson | October 2007

enkova, a 2-time International Title winner, serves at a tournament in Japan (Photo: Maria Penkova)

When most people start job hunting, they know they need something to make them stand out – an intership, an impressive summer job….

How about an eight-year professional tennis career? Some day, figures, Webster student  Maria Penkova (23) of Bulgaria, this is going to be very useful.

"You do meet a lot of well connected people," Penkova confided to The Vienna Review. But that isn’t really the point. While connections are useful, the real issue is character.

"What I learned from my years in tennis is discipline," Penkova said, "to get up early in the morning, to follow a task through to the end. And not to go to parties if I need to be ready for a match."

And this was not just any tennis career. Penkova played on the Bulgarian national team and along the way, has won two International Tennis Federation titles, participated in six junior grand slams, and played against many of the current best players in the world today, like Svetlana Kuznetova, this years US Open finalist and former champion, among many others.

Professional sports demand a lifetime commitment. Maria Penkova first held a tennis racquet at the age of 6; she started training daily at the age of 8 and from 10 onwards was training three time  s a day.

She played her first international tournament at 12, her first senior, and professional tournament at 15, and in the following years traveled the world, playing throughout North and South America, the Middle East, Africa, China, India, Japan, and nearly all of Europe.

Often, Penkova was on the road for two months at a time, returning briefly to her native Bulgaria to repack and head off again.

"In this sport, you learn above all to adjust," she said, "to new people, new places, new cuisines, climates, cultures, new beds, and (very important) new courts."

Another important asset is the ability to work in a team – Penkova learned playing for Bulgaria in the Fed Cup women’s world championship for three consecutive years. She preferred to play for her country on the women’s tour, rather than for herself.

"Team matches are the most fun," she said. "You have more responsibility, and you feel more prestige. You are representing your country, which is an honor. The expectations are higher, and therefore you have to play your best."

Studying International Business and International Relations at Webster, Penkova would one day like to return to the Bulgarian Tennis Federation again, this time not as a player, but as a manager. And she knows the game.

Today, Penkova misses the travel most, and even though she can not play as much tennis as she wants during her studies in Vienna, she still practices and competes in team competition in both Austria and Italy on teams that are doing extremely well.

So when future employers look at Penkova’s CV, they will not only see the relevant work experience and education that she has.

They will also see something which may in the end be more important: determination, discipline, responsibility, adjustability and a championship attitude.

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    the vienna review October 2007