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Athlete Spotlight: Sriram Sugumaran ’21

Sriram Sugumaran ’21 is making an immediate impact on the tennis court. Photo by Reina Shahi.
Sriram Sugumaran ’21 is making an immediate impact on the tennis court. Photo by Reina Shahi.

When Sriram Sugumaran ’21 reached his senior year of high school, he faced a decision that few student-athletes face in their career: to go Division 1 school or not. Academically, Grinnell felt like the best path to becoming a doctor, but athletically, life without competitive tennis seemed inconceivable. Although it wasn’t an easy decision, Sugumaran decided to try his best at balancing out the two.

“It was a sacrifice. I really wanted to play D1 because it validates all the hard work I’ve done all these years. But in terms of my future and my career, Grinnell offers me the best of both worlds,” Sugumaran said.

Now, nearly halfway through his second semester and only one month into his first collegiate season, he is making a major impact on the tennis court. Two weeks ago, after the Pioneers’ impressive 9-0 sweep at Macalester, Sugumaran was named Midwest Conference (MWC) Men’s Tennis Performer of the Week. To win such an award this early in his career was, to him, a validation for not just his individual performance but also the team’s hard work.

“I think I played well and it was nice to get the honor. It puts the spotlight on our team and puts Grinnell on the map in our conference,”  he said.

Originally from Bettendorf, Iowa, he has played tennis as long as he can remember. He grew up playing basketball and swimming, but tennis has always been his focus. He eventually quit everything else altogether to focus on tennis when he reached high school, and saw a big improvement between his freshman and sophomore year.

Sugumaran’s abilities were no secret in high school. He went 80-3 in his career in singles, won the doubles state championships his junior year and his team made it to the state semifinals for the first time in 14 years during his senior year. He still holds six different school records, both in singles and doubles.

Like many first-year student-athletes, Sugumaran noticed the competitiveness of college sports immediately. Realizing that he could not take any opponents lightly at this level became apparent quickly. The intensity he discovered that he had to bring into every match is what has surprised him the most.

“There are some matches in high school I could get away with not having to give my best. But in college, in every single [match] I know I’m gonna play someone who’s gonna push me very hard. … I have to try 100 percent every single match and I know that no matches are gonna be easy for me,” he said.

Now that the tennis season is slowly transitioning to the outdoor season, Sugumaran — who plays a traditional serve-and-volley type of game — admits that there are even more variables that come into play in a single match. Especially outdoors, no two matches are the same. Players can be affected by the wind, the heat, the light or the mental aspects of the game.

“I generally like indoor more than outdoor just because there are no conditions. … But outdoor, I’ve learnt to cope with a lot of conditions in terms of angle and how I hit my shot. Mentally, I know how to play outside a lot better,” Sugumaran said.

Tennis also runs in Sugumaran’s family. He has an 8-year-old brother who plays tennis, but he was the first one in the family that took tennis at a collegiate level so seriously. Balancing one’s first year of college with the pressures of being the number one player on a successful tennis team can take its toll. When possible, Sugumaran likes to create some free time that he can fill with free reading or chess.

In terms of choosing Grinnell, Sugumaran became familiar with the College through Director of Athletics Andy Hamilton at a tennis showcase in California. Hamilton had been watching him play for a few years, and encouraged him to pursue his tennis and academic goals at Grinnell.

When he reflects on his college decision, Sugumaran has no regrets.

“I love it here. Everything I expected is where it lies right now. In the long run, when I look down the road 20 years from now, I can say I think I made the best decision for my career.”

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