The University of Wisconsin men’s tennis team is slated for a decisive showdown against No. 33 Penn State Friday night, followed by yet another Big 10 battle against No. 5 Ohio State Sunday.
These will be some of the team’s final opportunities to build some momentum going into the postseason.
But for Jakhongir Jalalov and Alexander Kokorev, the two lone seniors on the UW men’s tennis team, this weekend marks their final opportunity to defend the home court as student athletes at Wisconsin.
Both believe they’ll have mixed emotions in their final moments at Nielsen Tennis Stadium, but Kokorev said he’ll definitely miss the team he’s spent the past four years with at Wisconsin.
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“I think that there will be a sense of acceptance for having almost completed my four years here,” Kokorev said. “But on the other side, I think I will regret it because it is such a fun time being around guys that fight for the same goal, and share the same passion and interests as you.”
While this weekend may seem like the end to a chapter in their collegiate careers, Jalalov and Kokorev instead see it as the beginning of a new one.
For Kokorev, he plans to continue to build on the positive life-long impacts that have come as a result of being on this team.
“I would say that this is where I spent maybe the most important four years of my life,” Kokorev said. “Those four years made me a man, and I want to keep building and improving myself.”
Even though their paths to UW were unmistakably different, their love for both tennis and the UW are movingly similar.
Jalalov’s hometown of Tashkent, Uzbekistan sits more than 6,000 miles away from Wisconsin’s campus. Shortly before coming to UW for the first time, Jalalov admitted he couldn’t even point out the Badger state on a map.
“I had no clue where Wisconsin was, what the Midwest was like or what the climate would be like,” Jalalov said with a smile. “But it ended up being a great choice.”
Kokorev, a native of Dilbeek, Belgium, embarked on his journey to UW after weighing more than 20 offers to play collegiate tennis across the United States.
He was confident coming into school, but quickly learned it was going to be a process before he regained the prominence he had in his pre-college career.
“I came with the idea that I was going to run this whole campus, and that I was going to be this big shot guy and break records,” Kokorev said. “But obviously I got a pretty quick reality check, and realized that you have to work for it.”
Kokorev used this humbling experience to learn an important life lesson, and as a result he built a more solid work ethic as an individual.
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“College tennis has really taught me how to work for the things that I really want to achieve,” Kokorev said. “I think it is going to mean a great deal not only graduating from Wisconsin, but having that pride to represent it whenever someone mentions Wisconsin amongst the top schools, whether academically or athletically.”
While both players improved on the court over their four years at UW, their biggest takeaways as seniors has been how they’ve grown off the court.
Jalalov doesn’t feel like he could have grown the way he did in the last four years anywhere else.
“I feel like tennis has given me a unique set of skills that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else,” Jalalov said. “It has taught me how to better embrace all sorts of challenges.”