In sports, records and statistics are often used to tell stories about a player’s journey.
For Penn men’s tennis player Nicolas Podesta, his 4-0 record in singles this year certainly tells one story, but it leaves out the incredible journey that brought him to this stage.
Two years ago, Podesta was right where he is now. Playing as the team’s No. 1 singles player, Podesta was a star freshman with superstar potential. Heading into Ivy League play, Podesta still remained undefeated and his team was not far behind with a 14-3 record. Everything was going Podesta’s way.
But then, a bump in the road.
Despite all the non-conference success, Podesta and the Red and Blue were defeated in the first two Ivy matches of the year against Princeton and Yale.
And then, even move quickly than he had ascended to college tennis stardom, Podesta was gone. In the middle of the season, without any warning or explanation, he suddenly stopped competing with the team.
After several days of mystery and speculation, coach David Geatz confirmed that Podesta had left the team to play professionally.
“He thinks his options are better to train with his private coaches. He wants to get out on the pro circuit, and he has some unbelievable opportunities to train with guys like Novak Djokovic and John McEnroe,” Geatz said at the time.
While Podesta’s departure proved to be detrimental for the team, as Penn failed to win a single Ivy match that season, the decision seemed to pay off for Podesta.
Within his first year of going pro, Podesta had not only already earned some money, but he had also defeated a top 250 player in the world. Podesta’s future was looking very bright.
But then, another bump in the road. Podesta was diagnosed with a serious case of mononucleosis.
“I thought I was in good general health, but then 4 or 5 months later, I couldn’t leave bed,” Podesta said.
The illness was so severe that Podesta wasn’t able to play tennis for the better part of a year. That’s when Geatz stepped in.
“I reached out to Nicolas’ father and I just said, ‘Hey, I just wanted to see how Nicolas is doing and if he wants to sign up for the mentor program or hit a few balls with the team,’” Geatz said.
At first, Geatz didn’t hear anything. Podesta’s father told his son of the call though, and Podesta decided to call Geatz back.
“Come October or November of last year , I heard that coach had spoke to my dad, and I really missed playing so I ended up coming out, and then it kind of just spiraled to me coming back onto the team and me competing now and everything,” Podesta said.
As much as Podesta wanted to start playing with the team again immediately, he still had to clear his eligibility with the NCAA. Podesta had not won enough money to violate his amateur status, but he still had to document all his winnings and convince the NCAA that he wasn’t playing professionally anymore.
And despite only beginning to consider coming back to Penn at the end of 2016, Podesta made his first appearance in Penn’s February 26th doubleheader against Old Dominion and Navy. The match completed Podesta’s rollercoaster of a journey to playing again for Penn and the team was more than happy to have him back.
“He’s a great player. He’s always been a great player. He hasn’t changed since his freshman year really,” Geatz said. “We’re a better team with Nicolas on the team.”
Podesta also has high hopes for what his return can help the team accomplish this season.
“I can’t really speak for how the other teams are playing right now, but we have a really, really good team,” Podesta said. “I can’t say we expect to win, but it’s definitely a possibility.”
As for what’s next for Podesta, his ultimate goal is still to play professionally, but for now, he’s focused on making the most of his time at Penn.
“I want to finish my degree and finish the last couple of years that I have eligible here,” Podesta said.
Two years ago, few would have ever predicted that Podesta would be a Quaker again, but now here he is. And despite all that Podesta’s been through, his story’s just beginning.
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