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Throwback Thursday: Catching up with Thai-Son Kwiatkowski

Reaching new career peaks just before the pandemic hit...

Tennis: Rogers Cup Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

In this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’re speaking with someone who has had more NCAA championships than any Virginia Tech player (we’re not bothering to fact check that). We’ve got three-time NCAA Men’s Tennis team champion and the 2017 NCAA Men’s Tennis Single’s champion — Thai-Son Kwiatkowski!

Since graduating UVA in 2017, Kwiatkowski turned pro and has been on the ATP Tour ever since. Shortly before the pandemic hit, he was playing some of the best tennis of his life, including winning his first ATP Challenger Tour Title at the end of January, taking six matches in six days. With the win, he jumped a whopping 89 spots to a career-high 181 in the ATP rankings.

He joined us this week and let us know what his training looks like these days and what he’s doing to keep himself entertained. Spoiler alert: he’s getting in touch with his artistic side!

As always, he answers a few of our questions, and one question asked from our previous spotlight, Meghan O’Leary, on new UVA logo hot takes. He’s passed along a new question for next week’s athlete, so stay tuned!

Streaking the Lawn: What are some of the highlights of what you’ve done since UVA, and what are you doing now?

Thai-Son Kwiatkowski: The biggest highlight as far as my career goes would probably be winning my first Challenger level tournament in January this year in Newport Beach. Outside of that, last year in October, I went with my mom to Vietnam—her birth country—to do a couple tennis exhibitions and clinics with some young kids in Ho Chi Minh City. It was an awesome experience to go try and grow the game there and then also see the country with my mom.

STL: What are you doing during this quarantine period to keep yourself busy and/or entertained?

TK: Honestly, not a whole lot. The tennis world came to a halt in March and for about a month, I really just chilled at home on the couch. Since I think it’s going to be awhile before tennis comes back, I’m trying to learn how to do a couple fun things. For example, I just bought some rollerblades! I’m also going to start a painting by numbers piece. If you know me you know I have ZERO artistic ability so the final product will be interesting for sure. Eventually though, I’ll probably have to think about getting a job if tennis is cancelled for the year. Hit me up for tennis lessons!

STL: Have you been able to keep up with any of your training?

TK: Sadly when we stopped I felt like I was playing the best tennis of my life and was getting closer to breaking through to the next level. Being such a global sport, tennis will likely be one of the last sports to start up again, and I say that with pessimism. When tennis finally does open back up, its entire landscape will change dramatically, as a lot of the core stakeholders that make it work are simply losing a lot of money during this time, similar to so many other industries.

As far as training goes, I started working out again last week. Luckily, my coach has a pretty cool home gym that I can use while sports clubs are closed. I’m mostly focused on lifting and getting in better overall physical shape more so than hitting tennis balls right now.

STL: If you could have been an athlete in another sport at Virginia, which would you choose, and would you be a starter?

TK: Tough question because my favorite sport to watch as a UVA fan is the men’s basketball team. But I can’t play ball at all. I played baseball until I was 14, so I think maybe that would be the most realistic possibility. Still, I doubt I’d ever be good enough to start on our team.

STL: What is your favorite UVA sports memory, either as a fan or a player?

TK: I was lucky enough to be in Minneapolis last year for the Final Four, so obviously that was totally insane. As a player, winning the NCAA championship in 2015 felt the best of the three national championships I was a part of because it was the only one where we were an underdog. (Ed. Note: Heck of a humble brag there, Thai.)

STL: Which coach or teacher had the greatest impact on you while at UVA?

TK: I’m incredibly fortunate to have had many teachers, coaches and mentors with a positive impact on me during my four years. Academically, Professor Ryan Nelson really made my experience awesome over my last two years. Since I’m living in Charlottesville, I’ve been able to stay in close touch with him.

Coach Boland completely changed my life, I genuinely do not know where I would be today without him. With the stuff I did my first two years, he’s probably one of the few coaches in the country that would not have kicked me off the team. (Ed. Note: Hello, we would like some details on this please!)

STL: Do you have any career advice for current students or recent alumni?

TK: Obviously, right now, every industry and therefore nearly every career path has been impacted by this pandemic. It is certainly a stressful time for everyone and I can empathize with anyone who’s feeling lethargic and unmotivated. I would say if you do have downtime right now, try taking a free online course or something else that’s positive. It could help reduce stress doing something that makes you smarter and it could help further your career. I’m trying to use this time to get in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life so that if tennis comes back I won’t be trying to catch back up. Much easier said than done though.

STL: What do you see that current UVA student-athletes have on Grounds that you wish you had? (facilities, resources, coach)

TK: Maybe my memory is foggy but I really felt like we had access to anything we needed on the tennis team. The new tennis facility being built is looking sweet so I guess I am jealous to not be able to play in the new stadium being built.

STL: What is your favorite Charlottesville restaurant?

TK: Impossible question. A few favorites, though, are: Lampo, Mas, Continental Divide, Ten, and The Local. Like I mentioned earlier, I moved back to C’ville in July last year so I am lucky to be able to go to all of these still.

STL: Here’s a bonus question from last week’s spotlight, Meghan O’Leary: What are your thoughts on the new UVA Athletics logos?

TK: I want to give everything a chance but my whole life has been the old ones, so I’m partial to those. I wonder if the Nike people that created them have ever even been to Charlottesville. It just feels like they are trying to do too much...and the Cav Man one? It’s hard to even distinguish what it is. Also having some Carolina blue is hard to see—I hate the Tar Heels. It almost looks like an XFL logo, sadly. But, as with most things, change is hard at first and maybe in the end it could be a good thing.