Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Texas women’s tennis senior Malaika Rapolu combines experience, ferocity to blossom in final season

Skyler Sharp
Senior Malaika Rapolu lunges to hit the ball during singles against Oklahoma on March 3, 2024. Rapolu defeated Ava Catanzarite 6-2, 6-2, to help the Longhorns defeat the Sooners.

As her senior season comes to a close, senior Texas women’s tennis player Malaika Rapolu has worked her way to the top of the stat sheet.

From Cedar Park, Texas, Rapolu holds a 32-5 record in singles and is 11-6 in doubles with her current partner, graduate student Tanya Sasnouskaya. Rapolu said this year, she finally put all the puzzle pieces together.

“I’ve been working for it for a long, long time now,” Rapolu said. “It feels amazing to be able to go out on court and just win matches for the best team.” 

Rapolu graduated early from high school at 17 and, over the four years she’s spent at Texas, she’s grown up both as a person and a tennis player. She embraces her role as a team leader, while also playing and trusting herself on the court.

“Tennis is such a mental sport,” Rapolu said. “At the end of the day, it really comes down to the mental — who can be tougher, who can grind longer, who can outlast their opponent.” 

Rapolu often found herself in the sixth or seventh spot her sophomore year. The sixth plays, and the seventh sits. 

Head coach Howard Joffe said he saw how much it hurt Rapolu to not be able to help her team. She took that and worked throughout the next summer to earn a spot off the bench. Rapolu trained harder and toughened up mentally. Her junior year went better, and now she’s found her senior year groove. 

Joffe said that Rapolu’s interpersonal growth is the key that unlocked Rapolu’s success this season. She went from a sensitive freshman to an empowered player who knows what she is capable of. 

“Hearing from (the) coach that you’re good enough may be soothing or nice to a player,” Joffe said. “But, at the end of the day, … the real power is when a player knows that they’re good enough and knows they can do it.”

Over the past four years, Rapolu and fellow senior Charlotte Chavatipon found creative ways to lead their team. Chavatipon said Rapolu’s quiet nature lets her hard work do the talking. 

“She’s very consistent,” Chavatipon said. “And being alongside her, that’s pretty inspiring to always see how hard someone works, and always be willing to show up.”

With two regular season matches and the Big 12 Championship looming, Rapolu is working to add more wins and more memories to bookend her senior year. Joffe added that while her strong baseline play and high stamina that clinch points are helpful, it’s Rapolu’s mental toughness that sets her apart this year.  

“Her soft manner, and her good manners, belies the fact that she’s a killer. She’s tough. She’s vicious. She’s ferocious, she trusts herself,” Joffe said. “And she’s prepared to do the shadowy stuff that’s needed to win in a fight.”

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