The Wisconsin men’s tennis team is full of young and energetic players from all corners of the globe. One Badger’s energy, however, stands apart from the rest and has had a positive effect on the play of his teammates throughout the course of the regular season.
His name is Jakhongir Jalalov, or “Johnnie” as his teammates call him, and he is a freshman who hails from Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. Johnnie has made certain his smile and team-first mentality did not get left behind on the 13.5-hour flight.
“It’s really fun [playing with Johnnie],” fellow freshman Oskar Wikberg said, “because he is always vocal and always pumps everybody up. He brings a lot of motivation to the team and the players so that is really good.”
Regardless of the score of the match, as soon as Johnnie is finished playing on his court he immediately runs to the nearest court to cheer on his teammates and give them the emotional support needed to win a tough Division I tennis match.
“I think it is really important to give moral support to your guys,” Jalalov said. “We all know, and I know from my past experience, that it is important to do so no matter what the result is. We all know to be very proud of each other, regardless of what the result will be.”
The moral support he gives his teammates does not go unnoticed with head coach Greg Van Emburgh. “He brings a great team morale to the table,” Van Emburgh said. “When he comes out there and is really playing with a lot of intensity, and becoming a vocal leader, it adds a lot to the team and that is an area that we have really been trying to work on.”
While being a great teammate and motivator is important, it does not yield results and that is where Jalalov’s play on the court comes into the equation. Heading into the Big Ten tournament, Johnnie is 17-14 (6-3 in the fall) in singles play and 16-10 (3-2 in the fall) in doubles. At the number three court for doubles, Jalalov sports an 11-6 record where he is 10-5 with Wikberg as his partner.
His success on the court was the main reason coach Van Emburgh was attracted to the 20-year-old. “He is a really competitive person,” Van Emburgh said. “He had a good junior career internationally and [has so far gotten us] a bunch of singles and doubles points. You know he is a really nice guy and he has started to work harder and harder, so it’s just been a really good fit [here at Wisconsin].”
“I feel like he’s only going to continue to get better,” Van Emburgh continued, “and we are looking for him to continually step up in the years to come.”
What attracted Jalalov to the Wisconsin was the good academics, coupled with a good tennis program.
“It is a good mix here,” Jalalov said, “and that is exactly what I was looking for [in a school].”
As one of five international players on the team, Jalalov has found his niche here in Wisconsin. “We feel really comfortable as a team,” Jalalov said as assistant coach Joe Bates spanked him jokingly with a tennis racquet. “By the end of the season we really feel like we are together as a team.”
Part of that bonding experience has come away from the tennis court, where Jalalov and Wikberg are roommates.
“He’s just a really good guy,” Wikberg said. “He is really fun and just an all-around good roommate and teammate.”
Still, no matter how close teammates are, there is a difference between playing in Madison and playing overseas. “The main difference is now I play for my teammates, and to represent my program, and my university,” Jalalov said. “Now I am in a team environment, which is completely different than [back home] when I played for myself.”
The new environment that Jalalov finds himself in seems one he was made for, and he’s thriving in it.
“I think he’s adjusted great, both on and off the court, and he’s just been excited since day one to be a Badger and to wear that ‘motion W’ across his chest,” Van Emburgh said.
At the end of the day, this smiling, energetic and full-of-life character from Uzbekistan is just like any other teenage boy here on campus. And if you ask Wikberg, he’s your average roommate who has his fair share of quirks.
“Um, he is really flexible,” Wikberg said of Jalalov. “Like, he’s really flexible and can do things with his body that actually scare me.”
The Badgers travel to Ohio Wednesday for the start of the Big Ten Tournament where they will face Purdue in the first round. Wednesday also holds another date of significance for this Badgers’ squad: it’s Jalalov’s 20th birthday.