March 29, 2012
Freshman Riko Shimizu has called several vastly different locations home, the latest one being the University of Washington for the next several years. Born in Tokyo, Shimizu moved to the U.S. at the age of six and began a promising junior tennis career a few years later, which led to interest from several top tennis programs for the five-star recruit. Shimizu spent the past several years training at the Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, California, and taking online classes through the Laurel Springs school. She joined the Huskies at the start of winter quarter and jumped right into the starting lineup. Shimizu has gone 3-1 in singles matches so far in Pac-12 play, and talked to GoHuskies.com prior to the team's road trip to Arizona last weekend.
GoHuskies.com: How are you feeling coming off a couple big wins for yourself against Stanford and Cal?
Riko Shimizu: It was a whole new experience for me; it was really hard when I got here in January. Playing the top-10 teams, I wasn't really that intimidated. With those teams we know their lineup and we felt like we had nothing to lose. I just went out there and played my game, I was really relaxed and that helped me a lot.
GH: How was your first quarter of classes?
RS: It went pretty well. I was struggling with school a little bit, just because it is completely different. I actually didn't go to an actual high school, so that was a completely new experience for me. I think the girls really helped me a lot. When I got here I was a little nervous about meeting them, but they were really helpful and friendly. I think that really helped me get comfortable with everything here, regarding tennis and school.
GH: Other team members have said the chemistry is really good this year.
RS: It is definitely strong. The girls really helped me out with everything. We spent a lot of time obviously on and off the court, so the chemistry is definitely very good.
GH: You arrived in January and immediately went into classes and practice and matches soon after that. Were the first few days overwhelming?
RS: It was a little overwhelming more with school and the campus because it is so big, it was difficult to find where everything is. It was a little overwhelming for a couple of days, but I think I do well adjusting to new places since I have lived in four places now.
GH: At what ages did you move?
RS: I moved out of Tokyo when I was 6, I moved out of Chicago when I was 12, and moved out of California when I was 17. The hardest transition was definitely from Tokyo. I didn't know any English when I came, everything was new; the food, the culture, everything. After that I was not too overwhelmed with moving to new places.
GH: What classes did you take this first quarter?
RS: I took English 131, Psych 101, and Fisheries 101. Overall it was a good experience. I came in wanting to major in communications and it still looks like that.
GH: When did you first get in contact with the coaches?
RS: I feel like the University of Washington is an amazing school, it has great academics and great tennis team. I feel like it is not as well known, so when I got the letter on the first day that coaches are allowed to send emails, I didn't really think that I would end up here. I emailed Jill back saying, thank you for the email, and I looked into UW a lot and found that they had great academics and a great tennis team. I decided to schedule an unofficial visit here as well as Pepperdine, Cal, and Northwestern; I took all unofficials there. Washington was the last school that I went to. I went through campus and I just got this gut feeling that everyone talks about. I could see myself going here for four years and I really love it here.
GH: Have you had much time to explore Seattle?
RS: I went to the Space Needle and the shopping center there, but the thing that I really want to do is go see the Mariners play because of Ichiro. He is big in Japan, and my old tennis coach is a huge fan, I would really like to see the mariners play.
GH: Why did your family first move from Tokyo to Chicago?
RS: It was because of my dad's job. It was only supposed to be for five years, but for some reason we ended up staying for longer. My family was still back there when I moved to California and went to a tennis academy there and lived with the coach.
GH: When did you first start playing tennis?
RS: I started playing when I was nine years old. I wanted to hang out with my best friend more who also played tennis. For some reason at the time I wanted to learn Spanish, so I asked my mom to play tennis and take Spanish class. She told me that I could only pick one, I ended up playing tennis. I just ended up playing more and more and here I am.
GH: How long was it until you started getting some wins and some good rankings?
RS: I started getting good rankings when I was 11. In the 12s I think I was top 50 in the nation, I really jumped up when I went to the academy, in the 14s I ended up in the top-10 in the nation, that was a big jump for me.
GH: Were you the first one in your family to play tennis?
RS: I actually have an older brother who plays tennis, he was actually pretty good but his grades were pretty bad and he didn't plan on playing going forward. His teachers said that he should put his studies first; he quit tennis right before he went to college, and he is at the University of Indiana and studying business.
GH: You had a lot of junior success in doubles and have some good doubles wins so far this year. What makes you a good doubles player?
RS: I feel like because I grew up in a large family and that I like socializing, I feel like in singles I am a little too harsh on myself, but in doubles I can really support my doubles partner and they support me back. I think that everyone has more fun instead of putting pressure on yourself. In the US we play more doubles than girls from Europe so that might be a factor as well.
GH: How long did it take to feel comfortable at practice each day as the new face on the team?
RS: I would say that I was not really overwhelmed, because of the years in the academy where I would play six hours of tennis everyday with two hours of fitness. I feel like I was really fit coming here. I feel like I don't practice as much, but I feel like I am more focused. Conditioning, since we are in season is not as hard as the fall. I feel like there is a really good balance here, I feel like I am not wearing myself out with the workouts.
GH: Watching you play, it seems like you have a pretty good idea and plan for how you want to win each point. Do you think you're a good strategist out there?
RS: That is actually kind of funny because before I came here I was really confused with my game and losing a lot of matches. I didn't really have a lot of confidence. But Jill and Luke brought a lot of different perspectives and said that I really have a good net game, and I was surprised. They said I don't really have to overhit the ball and rush through to win the point. I have to be patient and look for more opportunities to go into the net. I would say that I really found my game here. When I am out on the court I don't really think about what I am doing, it just comes naturally because I practice it.
GH: What kinds of things do you like to do away from the courts and your studies?
RS: I haven't had much free time, but when I was in Ojai I would do something relaxing like hiking or fishing because there was a lot of nature there. Here I would most likely hang out with the girls and watch a movie or something.