By Sally Milano, USTA.com
Nathan Pasha is in his final year at the University of Georgia, where the 22-year-old senior has achieved great things both on the court and in the classroom. Among his many on-court accomplishments, Pasha earned All-America honors last season after reaching the round of 16 at the NCAA singles championships. Off the court, he was elected co-president of the UGA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), was one of 11 UGA student-athletes inducted into the UGA Student-Athlete Leadership Academy (L.E.A.D.) and was named to the Athletic Director's Honor Roll and the SEC Spring Academic Honor Roll.
Pasha, who is ranked 17th in the ITA Men's Preseason Singles Rankings, was recently named one of six collegians to represent the United States at the Master'U BNP Paribas, an international collegiate team competition that will be held Dec. 4-7 in Rennes, France. He shares his thoughts on competing in France, talks about what it was like to spend time with Georgia legend and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker at the BB&T Atlanta Open last summer, and discusses what has meant most to him during his time at UGA in the latest College Spotlight.
USTA.com: You're now in your final season at Georgia. Looking back over your time in college, what do you consider to be the highlights of your career as a Bulldog?
Nathan Pasha: To be honest, my biggest highlights aren't tennis-related. The highlights that I cherish most are all school/personal-related. I have received academic honors my sophomore and junior years. I have been voted co-president for our student-athlete organization committee. I was the only student-athlete chosen to speak at our athletic donor banquet to share my story on what college means to me in front of hundreds. I have been inducted into the L.E.A.D (a leadership academy) and I received the male leadership of the year award last spring.
These are the highlights I cherish most. My family and living at the USTA [Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., as a junior] has laid a good foundation of values and character in me. UGA has helped me enhance those qualities about myself and grow as a person.
USTA.com: Congratulations on being named to the Master'U team that will be competing in France in a few weeks. What are you most looking forward to about that trip?
Nathan Pasha: I'm looking forward to three things: 1) Being a foreigner. I'm so used to the norms of American culture that it will be very weird for me to adjust to something else that's considered the norm for French people. I think it will be really cool to experience that adjustment. 2) I look forward to the food. Hopefully I will try something new that I like. And 3) I’m looking forward to going with [University of Virginia standout] Thai Kwiatkowski. He has been one of my best friends since I was 12, so experiencing something new together will be cool.
USTA.com: Over the summer, you competed in your first ATP event as a wild card at the BB&T Atlanta Open. That night was also College Night at the tournament, and Georgia legend Herschel Walker attended and flipped the coin prior to your match. What was that experience like?
Nathan Pasha: I felt really lucky to spend time with Herschel because a lot of people don't get the chance to actually meet and talk to someone as successful and as famous as he is. During my time with him, I picked his brain and asked him about fundamental rules he had for himself that made him successful. He gave me his insight and his phone number, which was really cool.
As far as the match, I had bittersweet feelings about it. On one hand, it felt good to challenge a guy (Lukas Lacko of Slovakia) who is ranked 86 in the world and play in front of home fans in the main draw of an ATP event. On the other hand, I literally gave the match away by double faulting four times while serving up 5-3 for the second set. The experience was amazing, but I also felt like I could have won.
USTA.com: What are you majoring in at Georgia? Has it been a challenge to balance your academics with your athletics?
Nathan Pasha: My major is communication studies. I chose the major simply because it fits with my personality. Academics alone has been my biggest challenge of anything else at UGA. However, balancing academics and tennis is extremely tough, too. I eventually learned how to utilize every single pocket of time I had throughout the day to do something productive.
USTA.com: What do you enjoy most about college tennis?
Nathan Pasha: I actually enjoy how rowdy the atmosphere is. I know that tennis is supposed to be a classy, gentleman’s sport, but all of that kind of goes out the window when you play college tennis. The referees try to keep it classy, but they don’t always succeed. Sometimes I will have people talking to me during points, between points, or calling me names. Other times the atmosphere is quiet. However, I love it when it’s rowdy because of the energy everyone pours into the duel match. Rather than the atmosphere feeling like a tennis match, it starts to feel like a basketball or football game. I think learning how to play tennis in a rowdy atmosphere gives you a mental edge once you hit the tour.
USTA.com: What are your goals for yourself and for your team this season?
Nathan Pasha: We have been a pretty successful team so far. We have won SECs and the SEC Tournament almost every year since I have been in college. We have not won National Indoors or NCAAs yet. Winning those tournaments are the goals for this year. We are a deep enough team to do it. As far as goals for myself, my goal is to finish Top 10 in the college rankings and win NCAAs in singles. The competition is very tough this year, but it is also more wide open than it has been in a while.
USTA.com: What is next for you after you graduate? Will you try your hand on the pro tour?
Nathan Pasha: After I graduate, I plan on playing a full-time schedule on the tour. If I succeed, then I will be living my dream. If I don’t succeed, I would look for a job inside or outside of tennis, or I will go back to UGA and further my education in grad school.
USTA.com: What advice would you give to junior players who want to play in college?
Nathan Pasha: First of all, I would advise all juniors to play college tennis. There is no doubt that some players are good enough talent-wise to make an impact on the tour immediately. However, most, if not all, 17- and 18-year-olds need time to mature mentally. College gives you time to grow up as a person. The pro tour is a tough journey, and it takes a mature person to endure that grind to be a professional.
However, as far as my advice to juniors who want to play college tennis, I would tell them to just love every bit of playing the game of tennis. Rather than worry about results, love the game, remember why you love the game, be a fan of the game and be a student of the game. And, most importantly, remember that tennis is a game. All of the really successful people that I know don’t stress about results. They just simply love doing stuff, and that love will eventually somehow lead to success. So love the sport of tennis.