Joulia Likhanskaia ’17 started her Bowdoin tennis career at number three in singles, but moved to number one at the end of her first year when she earned All-American status. She has held that spot this season and is unlikely to relinquish it. 

In an April 4 match against MIT, Likhanskaia and partner Tiffany Cheng ’16 won their doubles match 8-3.  Likhanskaia also defeated MIT’s number one singles player 6-0, 6-2 to give the team an additional point on the way to an 8-1 victory over the No. 13 ranked team in the country.

Likhanskaia is likely to remain with Cheng for the rest of the season—Cheng’s speed, strong groundstrokes and movement along the baseline complement Likhanskaia’s capability at the net.

Likhanskaia played her way to the top of Bowdoin’s singles roster with a game reminiscent of many of collegiate women’s tennis’ best players. She is consistent, rarely missing easy shots, with a diverse shot repertoire and the fitness to cover the court.

“Girls who play the number one spot are not just going to miss,” said captain Emma Chow ’15. “You have to structure the point. If she wants to, she could never hit the same shot twice.”

Of her skills, Likhanskaia prefers her serve because it can be a source of easy points, and her drop shot because some women’s tennis players struggle to cover the court in front. Many are trained to move quickly laterally, since women’s tennis is often a baseline game.

“A lot of girls are used to moving side to side,” she said. “When they have to move forward, it’s a bit harder for them, so the drop shot helps.”

Likhanskaia is comfortable all over the court, which makes her a versatile “all-court” player, according to Chow.

“She does have the ability to come to the net,” said Chow. “Versatility means shot-making. She can hit loopy balls or, if a girl doesn’t like coming to the net, she can hit drop shots. But the ability to come the net is definitely an advantage.”

Head Coach Hobie Holbach acknowledged that one of the biggest improvements Likhanskaia has made from last season has been physical.

“She’s competing better and she’s really fit,” he said. “Those are two things that stand out. She and the other girls put in a lot of effort in the gym in the offseason.”

By “competing better,” Holbach means that Likhanskaia is handling the flow of matches, staying focused and confident if she loses a point, and finishing opponents off if she wins a few in a row. He also noted the impact physical improvements—real or perceived—can have on confidence and ability.

“Playing the top spots, what’s tough is even if you’re not playing a good team, whoever’s playing one or two is still pretty good,” Holbach said. “You don’t get to take matches off.”

He also said that women playing near the top do not feel like the team needs to depend on them. This is because tennis matches are scored out of nine and the winners of the six matches and three doubles each earn a point for their teams.

Likhanskaia said she has noticed the difference between this system and the junior tennis circuit, which is almost entirely individually focused. 

She thinks she prefers the focus on teamwork, and she has fit well within Coach Holbach’s collaborative culture. She does admit that she glances over to see how her teammates are doing when she is in between points, and she also says that she can turn her teammates’ performances into motivation regardless of how they are doing.

“Here, you’re not playing for yourself; you’re playing for your team” she said. “You fight for every point. And if I see that everyone else is doing well, it gives me more energy.”

The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.

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