EDUCATION

Two of a Kind: Best friends from the Czech Republic play doubles for the Ole Miss Women’s Tennis Team

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From left, Vrbenska and Suk competing together against Arkansas. Photo by Alexa Bortles.

Alexa Bortles
Oxford Stories

It’s fair to say that University of Mississippi students Natalie Suk and Anna Vrbenska are two of a kind. Both are from the Czech Republic. Both are best friends who met when they were both 12 years old. And both now play doubles for the Ole Miss Women’s Tennis Team.

Natalie Suk, 20, is a University of Mississippi junior from Prague in the Czech Republic who grew up in Bradenton, Florida. Her family moved to Florida because of her father was a professional tennis player, and Suk picked up her first tennis racket at age 8.

At 13, she began training at the world famous IMG Bolletieri Academy. According to the academy’s website, The IMG Academy Bollettieri tennis program pioneered the concept of a residency program nearly 40 years ago and still sets the standard by which all tennis academies around the world are measured.

Suk has been surrounded by elite athletes from all over the world most of her life. Growing up, she played junior tournaments in the Czech Republic and particularly enjoyed playing doubles with her longtime best friend Anna Vrbenska.

Along with tremendous success on the court, the two friends shared many memorable moments. Throughout their junior years, Suk and Vrbenska trained together at the same club in Prague.

“Anna and I met when we were 12 and started playing doubles at 13,” said Suk, who has accumulated numerous junior titles and professional doubles wins over the years with her best friend. The two have had success in juniors and throughout college.

Suk’s international success opened many doors for her regarding college. “By the time I was 17 years old, I had already received nine college offers from Division 1 schools,” Suk said.

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Natalie Suk in action.

Deciding between all of the amazing schools was not an easy choice for Suk, who followed the typical recruiting process as a tennis player and took all five official visits at the University of Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Wisconsin, and lastly Ole Miss.

Suk said she loved each school for different reasons, but: “Nothing compared to the way I felt while I was on campus at the University of Mississippi.”

Suk fell in love with the UM campus. “Oxford was so unique and very different from the other schools I visited,” she said.

Suk said she wanted to go to an SEC school because she has been surrounded by sports her entire life. Three years into her college career, Suk is pursuing print journalism and specializing in public relations at UM’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She hopes to work with athletes as a public relations specialist for a company such as IMG.

“I would love to stay in sports, which is why I chose public relations to help me take that path,” she said.

Anna Vrbenska, who is from Podebrady in the Czech Republic also competed at an elite level starting at age 7 all throughout Europe and had much success. At 18, she was ranked #2 in all of the Czech Republic.

Unlike her best friend, Suk, Anna was not exposed to the United States or SEC college tennis. “I only visited Ole Miss because Natalie told me so many great things about the school and life in Oxford,” Vrbenska said.

Vrbenska loved the school when she visited. Suk was her host and showed her everything Oxford has to offer.

College in America was not something Vrbenska grew up thinking about like most Americans. She would have never known about the opportunity if it wasn’t for Suk.

“Spending a lot of time in both countries allowed me to see things from an outside perspective, and I knew Ole Miss would be a great place for my best friend, Anna,” Suk said.

Leaving home to attend college in a foreign country wasn’t an easy decision for Anna to make. “The thought of leaving home was very scary because, not only is English my second language, but Nat is the only person I know in Mississippi,” Vrbenska said.

Since coming to college, Vrbenska and Suk have become even closer. Suk has been a great support for the freshman.

“I am very lucky to have a friend like Nat,” said Vrbenska. She is always there for me, helping me when I need something or don’t understand something.”

Adjusting to college life and the tennis atmosphere of the SEC was unlike anything Vrbenska imagined. “Being a part of a team is so different from when I played juniors,” she said. “You are playing for something bigger than yourself.”

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Ole Miss Women’s Tennis Team. Photo by Alexa Bortles.

Suk and Vrbenska are now playing doubles together at Ole Miss. They have already had success in the fall season. They will go to the regional finals by beating a team ranked top 20 in the nation.

“It feels so special to play beside my best friend, especially since we have played together since we were 12,” Vrbenska said. “It feels like nothing has changed.”

Suk also enjoys playing doubles with her friend. “Every time we step on court together, we smile, because its crazy thinking how we ended up at the same school playing college tennis,” she said.

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