Super-competitive Texan details her tennis career

TH: So last week, you got the chance to interview me. Did you enjoy doing my job?

LN: It was hard! Then again, I’m not a very creative person.

TH: According to your official Yale Athletics bio, an interesting fact about you is that you had open-heart surgery.

LN: Yeah, there was something wrong with my heart valves, and they discovered it when I was four. A lot of people have it and live with it. People just get more tired easily because of the blood-flow problems. If I didn’t have the surgery, I probably wouldn’t be able to compete at the level that I am now.

TH: Did you consider any other schools before deciding on Yale?

LN: I briefly looked at William & Mary, Wake Forest and Stanford, but those teams would have taken me as a walk-on, so I mainly looked at Ivies. I really liked my visit here. Yale seemed a lot like my high school, in that there was a focus on academics but people here were laid back. The girls on the team were fun. The coach who recruited me was awesome, and I really liked the atmosphere here. It’s funny, because they took me onto Old Campus at night and I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever. I was excited about living here … then I ended up in TD.

TH: Has it been a huge change playing collegiate tennis?

LN: I was definitely surprised about the level of college play. I felt like I did pretty well in junior [competitions in high school], and when I entered, the Ivy League wasn’t that good. The level of collegiate tennis has been so high this year and gotten a lot better since I’ve been here. Juniors mean nothing now. Girls who did really well in juniors can do really badly in collegiate tennis and vice versa.

TH: What has been different from high school to college?

LN: In terms of results, I did better in juniors, but college tennis has been just so much more rewarding. Playing on a team and having your team succeed — it’s so much better than doing it by yourself. When your team has some of your best friends, nothing beats that feeling.

TH: So you’re from Texas, and you’re a fan of all music but country. Explain yourself.

LN: First of all, I’m from Austin, which is so different from the rest of Texas. I can’t stand country. I can’t listen to it and take it seriously.

TH: Coming from Texas, was there a culture shock when you got to Yale?

LN: Not at first. I’ve realized the difference the more I’ve been here. The weather here was a huge shock. It’s definitely different. I’m from Austin, which is so easy going and sort of hippy and down to earth.

TH: Alright, we’re going to move onto the tougher questions. Do you feel that female athletes get enough respect?

LN: It’s getting better. To be honest, here at Yale I feel like we get a lot of respect. The men’s tennis team has been great. We practice on the same courts and have the same schedule. They come out to our matches and support us.

TH: Obviously, there’s that inter-team relationship, but why do you think people go out to men’s games but don’t go to the women’s games? Just this past season, 2,296 people went to the Harvard-Yale men’s basketball game while only 462 saw the women play against Harvard.

LN: With our sport, there’s less of a perceived discrepancy. People watch men’s tennis on TV, but they also follow the women. I feel like women’s tennis suffers less than the other sports. For the more prominent sports, female athletes don’t get as much respect. It’s unfair. If you pay attention to the attendance at games, you’d see the big difference. I think, unfortunately, men play at a higher level, and people like to see that. There’s not a stigma, but many people think, “Why should I go to a women’s game when I can see a men’s game because it’s better?”

TH: Do you think the lack of attention here has been disappointing or affected you in any way?

LN: I’m sure that I don’t have the same college experience as someone at a state school. I have friends at the [University of Texas] and Texas A&M, and they get thousands of people coming to their games. I don’t think that it affects me, but it’s just nice to have people there to show support. Tennis has gotten better since freshman year. I could count on my hand the number of people that came.

TH: One thing that most people don’t realize is that tennis has both a fall and spring season. Does that affect your experience at Yale?

LN: There are a lot of classes at Yale that I’ll never be able to take because of tennis. It’s hard to take certain classes because practice is in the afternoon. Obviously, if it’s a class that’s required for your major, then you can work something out [with the coach]. I went to a tennis academy, so I played the entire year. If you played competitive tennis, you had competitions and training year-round. Most people don’t know that and are like, “So what season do you play?”

TH: Playing for so much of the year, is it easy for people to burn out by the end?

LN: I think people can get burnt out. We compete in the fall, and then in the winter season we don’t compete. We’re training hard, but we’re not competing, so we get a bit of a break. People always look forward to the spring. In the fall, it’s tournaments and more individuals; in the spring, it’s dual matches. The spring is more fun. It’s funny, because senior [athletes] who play in the fall are done now. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to play a one-season sport and then be done.

TH: What was your most embarrassing tennis moment?

LN: I feel like I’ve had a lot. I’ve definitely whiffed the ball. One time at a doubles match, the girl served and I swung and missed the ball and fell down. My partner kept playing because she didn’t know what was going on. Over spring break, we were doing a drill and the coach fed me the ball and I completely whiffed. My teammates like to make fun of me for that. When I was younger, I was playing mixed doubles, and my partner served the ball and hit me right in the butt. I was 12, so I thought it was really embarrassing … I feel like I get hit a lot.

TH: Got any weird things about you?

LN: I’m absurdly competitive and also in silly things. I get competitive when the team plays Taboo. I get really competitive with my friends who aren’t on the team, and it sometimes gets in the way of doing things. I also really like lifting. I’m a lot stronger than people think. I’m obsessed with lifting and getting stronger and being strong.

TH: What’s your favorite lift?

LN: That’s a tough one. Either pull-ups or clap push-ups. I like maxing out, but we never get to do that.

TH: You’ve got an Asian last name that looks ridiculously hard to pronounce. It’s pronounced … ?

LN: Like “win.”

TH: What have been the worst mispronunciations you’ve gotten?

LN: I get “Nuh-guy-yan” and “Nu-gen.” Sometimes I get things where people say letters that aren’t even in my last name. It’s an extremely common last name for Vietnamese people, but I’ve definitely had some horrible mispronunciations. Some of my teammates don’t even know how to spell it.

TH: Yeah, I’ve gotten “Heish” or “H-C.”

LN: A lot of people misspell my first name. They’re like, “Did you get that e-mail?” And I’m like, “Nope.”

TH: Do you feel like you’ve grown as an athlete and person during your career at Yale?

LN: The coach we have currently, she’s really taught me a lot. She’s really big on respect. Respect is shown in so many ways — like being on time. If you’re late, you’re disrespecting someone else’s time. If one person messes up, then the whole team is punished for it. There’s so many things about motivation, hard work and mental toughness that I’ve learned from her. Being the captain this year, I’ve had to step up more. I’m usually a shy and quiet person. My teammates might not have noticed it, but I’ve tried to be more vocal. As an upperclassman, you want to help other people grow — not just in tennis, but in all aspects, too. I’ve just really loved my experience here.

TH: Famous last words?

LN: Our last home match is next Friday against Harvard. People should mark it on their calendars.

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