Although this is Malaika Rapolu’s first year on the Forty Acres, she is used to making difficult decisions.
As one of the nation’s top tennis recruits in her cycle, Rapolu reclassified in high school to graduate a year early. She also chose to be homeschooled to make more time for tennis.
“One of the main reasons I switched (to homeschooling) was because I was traveling a lot more for tournaments, and it got really tough with regular school,” Rapolu said. “I thought if I went online, it would be good for both my tennis and academics because I’d be able to travel more and it would be a little more flexible for me.”
Rapolu’s journey has been different from other collegiate athletes because her father, Madhuker Rapolu, has been her main tennis coach for most of her life.
“Since we started when she was 7, I’ve been training her all along till she left for college,” Madhuker said. “I took her every day, but she’s the one who worked very hard. She’s a very committed person. She doesn’t let things go when she’s on the court. She plays her heart out and is very hardworking in general.”
Malaika said the parent-coach dynamic had more benefits than drawbacks.
“Sometimes it was tough having my dad as the coach because there’s rough times and good times,” Malaika said. “I loved it — it was great because he’s someone who just knows me really well. I think he definitely played a big role in how good I got because he just knew my game so well that he was able to help me in every aspect both mentally and physically.”
Malaika had a dream start to her collegiate career, going a perfect 3–0 in singles play at the TCU Invitational, but she was just glad to be back on the court.
“It’s been almost eight months since I played a tournament, so it’s just nice to be able to compete again,” Malaika said. “It was definitely a little stressful … , but I definitely enjoyed it. It was a really nice experience to play with the team.”
For the first time, Malaika’s father watched as a spectator and not a coach.
“All of my life, I was on the sideline watching her,” Madhuker said. “This was the first time I watched her play without me, honestly. It felt a little different, but I am definitely proud that she is playing for UT-Austin, and hopefully they’ll win an NCAA championship.”
Malaika has big aspirations for her time in Austin and hopes to leave trophies in her wake along the way. Her goals extend far beyond Big 12 and NCAA championships, and her ultimate goal is to tour the world one day as a professional tennis player.
Malaika’s father isn’t her main coach anymore, but he still tries to give her as much insight as possible.
“He’s not able to watch the practices, so I would say maybe he’s a little bit more laid-back,” Malaika said. “After the matches, he would call me and tell me what I did wrong or what I did well. He’s still definitely a very big part of my game.”