| By Brian Coleman

Right around her fifth birthday, Vitalina Golod’s father began playing tennis and brought his daughter along with him.

“He wanted to play for fun and decided that I should try it as well,” recalls Golod. “I can’t say that I had a natural talent for tennis. My progress has taken a lot of work, patience and a lot of time.”

Golod has come a long way since she began playing a decade ago in the Ukraine. Now 15-years-old, she has become one of the top players at the Ross School Tennis Academy (RSTA) and perfectly symbolizes the international component of the Academy.

She began attending the summer camp at RSTA when she was 11-years-old and traveled from the Ukraine to East Hampton for four straight summers to attend.

Because she enjoyed her time there so much, Golod decided to become a full-time student last year and now lives in one of the School’s 26 houses it rents out for full-time boarding students. At first, the transition was tough, as dealing with a new language and culture can be overwhelming for anyone, not to mention a teenager.

“I had a pretty tough time with a lot of things when I first moved here. My English wasn’t weak, but I still had a rough time adjusting between the Ukrainian culture and that of the United States,” said Golod. “It was like a completely different world. There were times when I just couldn’t deal with it. I was like, ‘Please, can I just leave?’ Things have become much better. I was confident in myself that I was ready to live on my own, and it’s going really well. I’m very happy.”

As her English continued to improve, so did adapting to life in the U.S. and East Hampton, which she says is far different than Kiev, the Ukrainian city she grew up in. Her social skills have grown and her English has improved, along with her grades in school.

“I started living here last year as a full-time boarder, but it has also helped me change a lot of things about myself in a good way,” said Golod. “I can feel it and my parents can tell.”

While she misses her family, who still live in the Ukraine, she feels right at home at Ross, especially on the tennis court. In the program, the players play approximately two to three hours a day, plus one hour of fitness. She has seen great strides in her game.

“My shots have become stronger as I have become stronger,” Golod said. “The fitness program here is really good, we do a lot of running, and it has helped my game tremendously.”

One of the specific aspects of her game that has helped her grow as a player is a simple one: Her serve. Golod says her serve, even just a couple of years ago, was a detriment to her success. Her first serve was effective, but her second serve was significantly weaker and she gave away points with double-faults.

“It was such a problem,” she recalls. “I would go crazy. But now, my serve has improved a great deal and I’m so happy about it.”

The Ross School provides an all-around tennis training program which includes fitness, nutrition and training for the mental side of the game.

“It’s the best food I’ve ever eaten,” Golod said of the Ross School Café and the nutrition program. “It’s all organic, all these healthy options. They focus on more than just tennis; the all-around aspects of a person.”

Tennis is a sport that requires more than just physical tools, something that the program has instilled and improved in Golod.

“When I was 11- or 12-years-old, the mental side of my game was an issue,” Golod recalls. “I would cry on the second shot I missed. The tears would just pour out. There were moments when I would want to quit. It was such a stress for me, my parents and my coaches. Even in practices, I would cry and crack my rackets. I’ve improved a great deal with that aspect. I’m not crying anymore, but I still need some techniques to keep in mind whenever I lose a game or a match. I still need to work on those things.”

Being able to talk to the sports psychologist that Ross provides has helped Golod ease the tension and pressure she feels during matches, and has allowed her game to flourish. She has moved up to play in the Girls 16s Divisions at tournaments, and has even played in Girls 18s tournaments. A powerful forehand and a serve that has progressed, combined with more on-court composure has made her a top junior player.

She will be entering her junior year in the fall and has hopes of playing college tennis.

“I really want to go to college, but I honestly don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life,” said a candid Golod, who added she also enjoys shopping, drawing and occasionally singing. “A lot of people ask me what I would like to do, what subjects I like, etc. I don’t really know. I do know for certain that I want to go to college and play tennis, and would love to play Division I tennis. My mother really wants me to go to an Ivy League school like most of the parents in the United States. I don’t know if it’s for me, but it’s something I’ve thought about.”

Golod still has plenty of time to decide, and will continue working on her game and academics on the eastern end of Long Island. Her next step is to develop her game further on hard courts, as she does not have a lot of experience on that surface, while also sharpening her backhand and volleys at the net to give her a more rounded game.

“Vitalina has always had an excellent work ethic, which makes her very coachable,” said Vinicius Carmo, Director of the Ross School Tennis Academy. “She’s tough physically and mentally, and I am really happy with how she is playing right now.”

It has been a long journey for Vitalina Golod, from Eastern Europe to Eastern Long Island, and one that continues. Her maturity level and tennis level is far superior than what it was when she arrived at Ross School just four years ago. And despite her not knowing exactly what she wants to do with her life in the future, if she stays on her current path she will be successful no matter what she decides to do.

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com