Author: Nikhita Girdhar (2018)
Christina Ngo, MBA Class of 2019, WTA Singles Rank Holder
Nikhita Giridhar (NG): How did your tennis journey begin?
Christina Ngo (CN): When I was 2, my parents moved from Vietnam to Russia. I used to be a sickly child with a constant cough and cold and my mother decided to enroll me in sport so I could develop better immunity. By 9, I was much better in health and also in tennis and started training under Preobrazenskaya’s former student (who also trained Anna Kournikova). I won several junior tournaments in Russia and finally moved to Barcelona so I could train at the Top Team Academy run by former French Open Champion Bruguera. I guess that was the start of the journey.
NG: What are some of your best memories from your time as a tennis athlete?
CN: In Barcelona, I trained with Johanna Konta who became No. 4 in the world. My peers also included Joao Sousa and Garbine Muguruza, who are doing remarkably well today. It was great to see Garbine go on to win Wimbledon this year. I also got to travel - I’ve played in Egypt, all over Europe, India and the rest of Asia. I’ve been to over 15 countries and 60 cities while playing tennis.
NG: When did you decide to move to the United States?
CN: At the SEA Games in Thailand in 2007, I met the former Clemson men’s head coach Chuck Kriese. He advised me to go to Georgia Tech. Back then I did not think it was a good idea because I wanted to go pro. However, in early 2008, while in Egypt and Mexico I played practice matches against two Georgia Tech alums and I was absolutely amazed by their performance. They thrashed me! I contacted Georgia Tech and the assistant coach flew to Barcelona to watch me play. She told me I could go if I cleared the SATs. I took the last available test that year on standby. I remember I was playing somewhere in Spain and I ran into the player’s lounge, sweating after a game and looking for a computer to check my SAT results (we didn’t have phones with internet!). My scores were in, I had made it and a month later I was at Georgia Tech.
NG: How did the move to the U.S. help your tennis and your career?
CN: My coach at Georgia Tech was one of the best I’ve had. He really walked the talk. He set the highest standard for us on and off the court and encouraged us to pursue our strengths. Towards my senior year, I realized that I wanted to explore the world outside of sport. I decided to join IBM and eventually moved on to consulting. Tennis is such a mind-game. There is so much physics, probability and strategy that I felt I could apply all of it to the business world. As an athlete, you have to force yourself to go the extra mile and you have to learn how to deal with failure. In that sense, tennis made me who I am today.
NG: Why Booth?
CN: Georgia Tech was all about tennis. I was with my tennis team from 6am to 11pm, every day. I wanted to dig deeper into school and academics and get to know my classmates. So now, I’m at Booth to get the whole experience. I do play tennis at Booth, but without all the pressure – it’s a great social game, a great way to make new connections and stay mentally and physically fit.