Udvardy Panna celebrated her 25th birthday just a few weeks ago, yet she has already established herself as one of the most outstanding figures in the Hungarian tennis world for years. Born and raised in Balatonboglár, Panna made the pivotal move to Budapest during her teenage years, providing her with the extra push needed to embark on a professional career. Even as a junior player, she was recognized as a significant talent, representing Hungary on multiple occasions and regularly achieving noteworthy successes in international competitions.
Last September, Panna achieved her best-ever individual world ranking, reaching the 76th position. In doubles, her highest ranking to date is 65th, a milestone she accomplished in October last year.
Beyond her tennis accomplishments, what makes Panna’s story intriguing is her decision from a few years back to make America her central residence. Our conversation revolved around the themes of American life and sports.
When did you move to the United States, and why did you choose Florida?
I relocated to Jupiter, Florida, five years ago. My partner secured a job with the New York Mets baseball team, so I decided to join him. I had always considered America as the land of opportunities, and my experience validated that belief. Shortly after my arrival, I found a tennis academy in Florida where I received a scholarship and could train without incurring expenses. This was a tremendous help, especially considering that, as the 300th-ranked player in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), affording a coach and travel was a significant challenge.
A few years later, I decided that to further advance on the world rankings, I would need a traveling coach and a more extensive support team. I reached out to several tennis-loving celebrities, and Redfoo (singer/DJ) readily offered his support. With his sponsorship, I was able to hire a personal coach, and within a year, I improved my ranking from 350th to 90th.
What captivated you in America?
Primarily, it’s the mindset. Everyone is eager to help, and there’s a lack of malice. As an athlete, you’re highly appreciated. America is the land of opportunities. If someone wants to chase their dreams and works diligently, I believe everything is achievable here. For example, during the Covid period in Florida, at the Saddlebrook Tennis Academy, I had the chance to play showcase matches for 16 weeks. Over those 16 weeks, I played more than 100 matches, which helped me improve significantly and build new relationships. I can undoubtedly say that my most substantial growth in tennis happened here, and I made lifelong friends in the process.
In addition to being a professional athlete, you’re pursuing your education. Which university do you attend, and how do you manage to balance your studies with your continuous travel and competitions?
Yes, I’m currently in my second year at Indiana East University, majoring in psychology. It’s an area of interest for me because mental preparedness and fitness are essential in tennis. Fortunately, all my classes are online, and I can choose how many credit hours to take in a semester, allowing me to align my studies with my training schedule.
How do you stay motivated and mentally focused during challenging matches or periods in your career?
I always try to set small goals for myself, which helps me stay motivated and keep improving. It’s important to me not to focus solely on winning the match or my ranking but rather on the type of tennis I want to play, which shots to concentrate on, and areas I want to develop. This helps me stay focused on the next shot, point, or practice because that’s what I can control.
Could you share some memorable moments or outstanding events from your career thus far?
I’ve experienced many beautiful and bittersweet moments during my career, which have contributed to my growth as both a tennis player and an individual. This year, I had what may be the most remarkable moment in my career when I played on center court at Wimbledon against Sabalenka, who is currently the world’s top-ranked player. It was an immense experience to play on one of the world’s largest center courts and fulfill a dream of mine.
What advice would you give to young, up-and-coming tennis players who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
I would advise aspiring tennis players to work hard and enjoy the journey. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but during those times, it’s crucial to remind ourselves why we started and how fortunate we are to do what we love every day. Tennis can teach us a lot, both on and off the court, and with dedication and a positive attitude, we can reach great heights.
Last but not least, a few “Rapid fire questions”:
- Burger or rakott krumpli? Burger
- Cheesecake or somlói galuska? Cheesecake
- Peanut butter & jelly or palacsinta? Palacsinta
- Chicken fried steak or chicken paprikash? Chicken paprikash
- Mac and cheese or túrós csusza? Mac and cheese
The “My America” blog series introduces several successful Hungarian athletes in America, click here and get to know them too!
Panna is currently competing in an ITF tournament, and she sent us a video showcasing how her matchday unfolds. You can watch it by clicking on the following link.