Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

December 4, 2002:

Talking tennis with a, well, wannabe
What it's like not to play but to captain

This week, we have another installment in my Q&A series. Our guest? Junior varsity men's tennis captain Dana Pasternak '03, a history major from New Canaan, Connecticut. Although he's captain of the squad, he's only played in one match this year, and has yet to defeat a single teammate during practice. In other words, he is a perfect fit for the P-Nut Gallery.


P-Nut: Give me a brief overview of your Princeton tennis career.

Dana: After high school I was pretty down on tennis, so I didn't bother trying out for the varsity team or even playing JV tennis freshman year. I decided to come back and give it a shot during my sophomore spring, after not picking up a racquet for a couple years. Coach [Claude] Frazer was nice enough to let me try out, even though the JV tennis year really starts in the fall.

I actually played pretty well even after all the time off, mostly at 4 and 5 singles sophomore year. Bu then my game just went downhill. Last year I was reduced to a reserve role, and this year I'm pretty much a cheerleader/spiritual leader. I'm still hoping to turn things around for the spring, though. I guess you could say I'm looking for one last hurrah.

P-Nut: What's that hurrah? Playing two matches?

Dana: I'd settle for a couple forehand winners and maybe an ace.

P-Nut: That's some way to cap a career. Were your high school days a little more glamorous?

Dana: Yeah, I had a pretty solid high school career. My first couple of years I played behind a few guys who went on to play college tennis, and then senior year I played #1 singles. I made the all-county team twice, but my best accomplishments were team victories — we won states three out of four years, including my senior year when I played #1.

P-Nut: What's it like being JV? Are there guys who could be playing at the varsity level? I remember your T-shirts from last year said "For the chicks and the drugs." Do you get no respect?

Dana: Basically, the JV tennis lifestyle is a glamorous one — it's hard to stay out of the spotlight on campus. Actually, that's not true. Most people don't really know I even play JV tennis, much less that I'm captain. They always look kind of surprised when I tell them.

P-Nut: Kind of surprised like, "Hey, this short European guy is captain of a JV team?" Or kind of surprised like, "There's a JV tennis team?"

Dana: (Laughs) I'd say both. I have deceptive athleticism. It definitely takes people by surprise. The reaction is generally one of shock.

P-Nut: So the only objective for a JV tennis player is to... get off the team? Is everyone trying to make the step up to varsity?

Dana: No, most of the guys just enjoy the opportunity to play competitively again, even if it's only 10 or 12 matches a year. Usually there are only three or four guys who are really training hard and hoping to make the varsity team next year.

P-Nut: And of those three or four, how many make the cut?

Dana: Often none of them make it, but sometimes one guy will make it through tryouts. A lot of it just depends on whether the varsity team needs anybody else — some years it seems like more of a formality.

P-Nut: Was there one athlete who you tried to model yourself after? Vlade Divac has similar heritage, but I can't see you idolizing him. He also plays a different sport, I guess. Anyway, who was your hero?

Dana: For the record, Nate, I'm a quarter Ukrainian, not Serbian. Growing up, I was always a huge Jim Courier fan. Courier played with a lot of passion, which is the way I like to play. I also modeled my game after him, what with the big western inside-out forehand and the rather ineffective backhand.

P-Nut: Divac's Yugoslavian, anyways.

Dana: Serbian.

P-Nut: He played on the Yugoslavian team at the World Championships this summer! Hold on, aren't they the same thing? I'm an English major.

Dana: Serbia was part of Yugoslavia. "Yugoslavian" is a not an ethnic background, for the record.

P-Nut: That big guy can sure pass out of the post, though. Anyway, as captain what are some of your favorite ways of cheering the team on?

Dana: Basically I like to be loud and to incorporate some humor into my cheering. If I'm not going to be playing, I might as well try to spice up the match however I can. I like to think I'm the seventh man out there.

P-Nut: Aren't there only two guys on the court in tennis?

Dana: Yes, but there are six guys in a team's lineup.

P-Nut: Ah.

Dana: Unless you have different players playing singles and doubles, but that's another story.

P-Nut: Right. According to the rankings, though, you're actually like the team's 13th man, right?

Dana: Ouch, that's a low blow Nate. (Laughs) Judging by this fall, I'm probably 13 on a good day.

P-Nut: Is it true you once flexed at a referee and asked, "Do you guys allow guns on the court, cause I'm packing heat?"

Dana: I'll neither confirm nor deny. In juniors, though, my two patented shots were the scissor-kick forehand and the "tweener," which is a shot you hit between your legs with your back to the net.

P-Nut: I've heard your trash talk is fearsome too.

Dana: Nah, I'd have to say that's more of a basketball thing. Tennis is more of a gentleman's sport, so it's hard to really toss any good smack around. I only reserve that for the kids I really, really dislike.

P-Nut: Do you plan on continuing your tennis career once you leave Princeton?

Dana: As much as I'd love to play a couple tournaments on the satellite circuit, I'm pretty sure the only league that's going to want me is the Fairfield County Men's Club "B" League back home.

P-Nut: You think those manicured lawns have a 13th spot waiting for you?

Dana: Good Lord, I would hope I could play a little higher than #13 in the "B" League. Most of those guys have had multiple bypass surgeries. Oops, maybe I shouldn't say that — half of them are Princeton alums.

P-Nut: Those are the half that'll be reading this.


You can reach Nate at nsellyn@Princeton.EDU