From the food to the big buildings, several things are different between the Netherlands and the United States, even in tennis. Compared to the quiet scene on the Dutch courts, college tennis players scream whenever given a chance. Learning quickly that “Here, every point is a fight,” freshman Florentine Dekkers is adjusting to everything on and off the court as a Kansas State tennis player.
Before her season in Manhattan, Dekkers had already started making a name for herself as a tennis player. Playing since the age of five, she has gone on to win two International Tennis Federation tournaments and ranked as high as No. 254 on the ITF junior rankings. Dekkers has been focusing on her tennis career for some time, putting in extra work for her goals.
“I was still in high school, but I was [going to] a special school for student-athletes, similar to here,” Dekkers said. “I was trying to focus on myself and I practiced every day doing strength training, private training and group training.”
Making a mark already, Dekkers had options outside of collegiate play in the U.S. Through the process of making a decision, she was given a better viewpoint from the help of her older sister, Utah State senior Gabrielle Dekkers.
“There are a lot of factors for why I chose to go to the United States, but one of the biggest factors was [that] my sister is playing college [tennis],” Dekkers said. “I could see how it’s going, her experiences, her stories. We have a very good relationship, so because of her stories, I decided to go [to the United States].”
At K-State — over 4,500 miles away from her home — Dekkers has had to adjust to a new place to live with different people. Right away, her Wildcat teammates helped her adapt to life in the U.S., as the whole team has been in her shoes.
“We all went through the same process. We are all international, so if you struggle with something, that is typical,” Dekkers said. “We know what we are going through, so we can help each other and support each other.”
Once Dekkers found her spot in Manhattan, it was time to begin her collegiate tennis career. Dekkers quickly found that life on the court also changes from playing in the Netherlands.
Dekkers now has teammates cheering her on and playing alongside her. Plus, she is playing in a point system that stops all matches once one team reaches four points.
“I played for myself and I was an individual, but now I play not only for myself, but also for a team,” Dekkers said. “I think that’s a really big difference, but I definitely really like to play for the team.”
Figuring out all the changes is only part of the journey for Dekkers. Finding herself accommodated to a new way of playing tennis, Dekkers makes sure to keep her focus on the court.
“There are so many things that can distract you from tennis. [I tell myself to] just focus on yourself,” Dekkers said. “Of course, having fun is really important, but for me, it’s really important to help my motivation and play for myself.”
Dekkers is motivated to continue bettering herself as a tennis player and improving her game. Staying focused on that goal, she makes sure that the right people are around her. Dekkers wants her experience to be a positive one.
“[I make sure] to surround [myself] with good people, and that’s why I am really happy to be here. I feel like this whole team has the same goal,” Dekkers said. “They want to play at the highest level, they want to win every match, but they also want to have fun. It helps a lot when you have seven girls with the same goal around you. All the seven girls are amazing players and amazing girls.”
Dekkers has been working with the team through the winter to get better. From fall to spring, she has improved not only in her play, but in her mentality as well.
“Compared to the fall and spring, I improved a lot thanks to the players and the coaches,” Dekkers said. “I think I became more consistent on the court. I make less mistakes and I know what to do more.”
Learning to hear screaming and to scream on the court herself is just a small part of playing tennis, but it does contribute to the mental aspect. At any given match, spectators can hear loud grunts and yells from the athletes.
“The screaming part, the energy is new,” Dekkers said. “I think that fires me up and pushes me even more now. I never thought I would scream this much before I came here. I was kind of nervous about it because I am a quiet person, not off the court but on the court. When I came here, I felt so much energy and motivation, especially to play for the other girls.”
Dekkers is a baseline player who uses her height and power to attack her opponents, specializing in her forehand. As a player who enjoys a fast-paced match, Dekkers has found herself against opponents with more experience and a different style of play.
“When I play against someone who just brings the ball back, I can do my own thing and try to play my own game,” Dekkers said. “A few matches ago, I played against girls that sliced and played a higher ball. That’s sometimes tough for me, so I think I need to adjust a lot.”
Dekkers is grateful she continued her tennis career past high school, even if she had doubts at first.
“My biggest takeaway [from this year] is to go and convince a lot of people to go play college tennis,” Dekkers said. “I was not sure of doing it when I graduated from high school. I would really regret it if I didn’t go for college. Also, to enjoy every moment on the court. You are in the United States as an international student, you’re not used to everything. In four years, I am going to be in the Netherlands again, so I think I should enjoy every moment on the court and also off the court and have fun with the team and friends and enjoy.”