As mentioned in my previous articles, sports is not just a hobby; it’s a passion that transforms lives. In this article, we bring you an exciting interview with Zádor Tamás, a young Hungarian former university tennis player who found his path in Chicago. Throughout our conversation, Tamás shares his experiences of adapting to American culture, discusses the challenges posed by the pandemic, and narrates how he made a mark in the history books as a standout member of the university tennis team.
Tell me a bit about where you were born and raised, and why tennis is what captivated you?
I was born in Budapest and grew up on the Buda side. I played quite a lot of sports growing up, but the two that captivated me the most were soccer and tennis. When I had to decide between the two sports, tennis ended up being my choice, along with my twin sister [Eszter Zádor, the writer of this article]. We went to the same schools and played at the same club; it was exciting that we both got to play the same sport. Being part of the tennis community at my club played a decisive role in choosing tennis, as this experience allowed me to form uniquely close bonds with my friends, coaches, and staff.
When and why did you decide to move to America?
I’m not sure of the exact age, but I know that going the college route in America was part of the plan very early on. Many players and coaches from my club studied in the US, and they all spoke of their experiences fondly. Pursuing a college degree while playing tennis seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience a new culture away from home. College tennis also presents the opportunity to test out on-court skills at a higher level and allows time to determine whether to pursue tennis post-college or to utilize studies and athletic experiences in the workplace.
Which university did you attend, and what field of study were you in?
I went to DePaul University in Chicago for both undergraduate and graduate school. During my first four years at DePaul, I double majored in Sports Communication and Film/Media Studies. At first, I wanted to work in the film and television industry, as America is the perfect place for this, but I changed paths after hearing about the new Sports Communication program. The program offered courses around business and marketing of sports, as well as various opportunities to learn about and get involved at the collegiate and professional levels.
Then after four years, I decided to pick a completely new challenge and get my master’s degree in business analytics, which was more focused on learning analytical skills. I thought going in a different route for graduate school would give me a more well-rounded skill set, and I think I made the right choice.
What was the biggest challenge for you during your years as a student-athlete?
The obvious answer here would be to say something about living abroad on my own or studying in English. However, I was lucky to have a great team, coaches, and advisors around me who made me feel at home from the start. I would say the biggest challenge for me was staying motivated during Covid. My senior year ended out of nowhere only a few matches into the season. At the time I was rehabbing my ankle, and I was scheduled to be back on court in a week or two. Missing the first part of my senior season due to injury and then entirely due to COVID-19 was not how I wanted my last year to go. Luckily, a couple of months after everything shut down, we learned that all spring sports would receive another year of eligibility at DePaul, and we were fortunate to be offered an extra year of scholarship. However, staying motivated during the next 7-8 months was not easy, as opportunities to play tennis and workout were very limited. Without tennis, I gained a sense of the amount of time available for other activities. This was initially a lot of fun, but luckily my team group chat and family were there to remind me that we still had work to do.
During your senior year, the team won the conference championship, making history for the university as the men’s tennis team finished in first place for the first time. How did it feel to make history with the team, especially in your senior year?
Although we had been close to winning the conference a couple of times and we had won the regular season, nothing came close to winning the conference tournament in my 5th year. During my senior year, we were one of the favorites to win our conference, but we were faced with the unexpected arrival of COVID-19. From not knowing if we would ever be able to compete again, to getting an extra year to play tennis, the crazy journey to Big East made winning it all even more special. Being the first team to ever do it at DePaul was the extra cherry on top.
Do you have one (or more) memory that stands out from your student-athlete career that you are proud of or that brings you a sense of accomplishment when you think about it?
Everything that happened during and after the final Big East Tournament was special. At the time, I was living with 5 of my teammates in Chicago, and when we got back, our girlfriends surprised us with a welcome-back celebration in our apartment with decorations and donuts. A week later we got a nice send-off from our fellow student-athletes, coaches, and staff before heading to Champaign to compete in the NCAA tournament. Even though we didn’t end up advancing in the tournament, it was an amazing experience to play in the best college tennis competition in front of family and friends. The matches were also streamed, so some of my family got to watch me compete for one last time.
After finishing university, why did you decide to stay in America? And where and what are you working on now?
Thanks to the work visa program, international students automatically qualify so I had the opportunity to stay and explore the job market. When I graduated from DePaul, I had already been living in Chicago for over 5 years, but I wanted to get a feel for what it’s like living in the US after college. The sports and entertainment industry here is even bigger than in Europe, which creates a lot more opportunities here.
How do you see/envision yourself five years from now?
That’s a tough question to answer and it depends on a lot of external factors I may not have full control over. I love college sports, but I’m also interested in eventually trying myself out in the professional sports world. When I was younger, I wanted to work in tennis, soccer, or for a national governing body. I’m still passionate about achieving those goals, but after experiencing the growth and fandom around sports like basketball, football, and baseball/softball on both the men’s and women’s sides, I’m open to working in a sport that offers the right opportunity to grow the sport while challenging myself. The sports technology and data space is also something I’m constantly reading about and keeping an eye out for as an area to utilize research and data analytics skills.
Do you have any advice for Hungarian students who would like to study and compete in sports in the United States?
Don’t take the experience for granted, the 4 years go by quicker than you think. Enjoy spending time with your team, practicing, and being in the library. Those are the memories you will look back fondly. Try to be open-minded, meet new people, and don’t be afraid of new experiences. Explore the city you live in and ask questions to people you come across with. Ultimately, try to live in the moment and get to know the people in your community.
Lastly, but not least, here are some rapid-fire questions:
Burger or Rakott krumpli? I probably crave a burger more often
Cheesecake or Somlói galuska? Somlói galuska
Peanut butter and jelly or Palacsinta? Palacsinta
Chicken fried steak or Paprikas csirke? Paprikas csirke
Mac and cheese or Túrós csusza? Túrós csusza, especially if it comes with harcspaprikas (catfish paprikash)
Lánchíd or Brooklyn Bridge? Lánchíd
Balatoni nyaralás or Florida tengerpart? After my most recent vacation in Florida, I have to go with the sandy Florida beaches
Foci or amerikai foci? I do watch both sports, but soccer is a huge passion of mine
The “My America” blog series introduces several successful Hungarian athletes in America, click here and get to know them too!