LEAH BELLACK/Herald photo

When Marek Michalicka left his home in the Czech Republic to play tennis for the University of Wisconsin, he wasn’t expecting to be one of the best.

The 21-year-old native of the city of Ricany joined the Badgers in January 2008 for the spring season. He finished his freshman year 14-0, only being pushed to a third set three times during that span. He won eight of his last nine matches, finishing 8-2 in the Big Ten, yet finished with a season-high ranking of only 113.

Still, Michalicka was named 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, only the second Badger in school history to do so. This year, he is ranked No. 72 by the ITA in singles, but regardless of the relatively low ranking, UW head coach Greg Van Emburgh has high hopes for him.

“[The ranking] is not necessarily indicative of what he can accomplish here,” Van Emburgh said. “He has a lot of potential, unbelievable work ethic, is very professional at whatever he does and has been a pleasure to have as part of the team.”

Michalicka says the ranking doesn’t bother him much either.

“[Back in Ricany], I didn’t play as well,” he said. “I was never top 10 or top 100 in Czech; I was average. But here, I am doing a lot better.”

Michalicka says he came to UW because he had been in contact with Van Emburgh for about a year and a half beforehand. In the Czech Republic, he played for numerous different tennis clubs and organizations and reached the quarterfinals of the 2007 Electrolux Cup, but he says it was nothing like playing in college. He says his biggest challenge in coming to the United States was speaking English.

“I spoke English before,” Michalicka said. “I just didn’t expect that it would be so tough for me.”

Michalicka, along with teammate Moritz Baumann, a junior from Germany, is ranked No. 39 in doubles play.

Last year, Michalicka switched doubles partners six times, though the constant transitioning did not seem to faze him. Van Emburgh sees the pair as a staple, poised for the season to begin.

“If you’re looking for success, I think Moritz and Marek are going to be the guys to really lead their teammates in the right direction, and we’re looking to really build our program around these two,” Van Emburgh said. “It’s a new environment for Marek; he came in January, and we were really, really deep last year with a lot of players.”

Michalicka is very happy with the high doubles ranking and says his goals for the season are to finish even higher in both singles and doubles, hopefully in the top 20. Michalicka will debut in the Baylor Invitational in Waco, Texas, beginning Sept. 26.