SMC tennis players Nazdracheva and Jovic: A "deadly duo"

It’s not very often that you stumble across a great pairing. I mean, you’ve got socks, chopsticks and tennis shoes-- but what good is one without the other, right? Izabel Nazdracheva and Mayra Jovic had neither seen nor heard of one another before the winter of 2014.

Though they both lived the majority of their lives in the Greater Los Angeles area, both ladies come from drastically different ethnic backgrounds-- as Jovic proudly expresses her Argentinian roots, while Nazdracheva, or Naz, as the women's tennis team has come to know her by, holds true to her Soviet upbringing.

As Jovic embodies the confidence, finesse and athletic swagger that emanates from Buenos Aires, Nazdracheva fully embraces the idea of being a classic Russian powerhouse; character traits that makeup the genome of a terrifying women’s doubles duo.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that these two girls were brought together as they have wreaked competitive havoc in the Western State Conference this season.

Both girls' resumes are impressive.

Jovic won her first tournament by the age of eight, and since then has been addicted to the game.

By fifteen, she was training on clay courts at Club Athletic de Mar De Plata, a tennis academy in Argentina, and by nineteen she was ranked the number one (all-conference) women’s singles player in the Western State Conference.

When she and her family first arrived to the country, her father declared that she and her sister must be involved in sports and Jovic and her father found tennis.

“I was having a blast. I was running around hitting the balls and I was with my dad, you know, so for me it was really, really fun,” she said.

As she alluded to tennis being a behavior ingrained in her psyche-- almost an addiction, Jovic noted that her father remains the prime source of her competitive edge.

“[He] still, to this day, feeds me the balls. We’ve been doing the same drills for almost fifteen years," said Jovic.

Naz, who is in her second season at SMC, was ranked fifth in the conference last year. She picked up a racket reasonably late at the age of 10, however has not yet slowed down as she continues to refine her powerful yet energetic play.

Nadracheva, whose stature, rich accent, and ruthless playing style have the power to easily intimidate her opponent, shared telltale signs of warmth and a motherly compassion as she draws inspiration from her entire family.

At age eleven, just a year after being handed a racket, and before she could properly serve a ball, her mother signed her up for tournaments. Naz explained that she was drawn to the game by its beauty and by its competition. “It was a stress reliever. I loved [it.]," she said.

This year with Jovic by her side, Nazdracheva has bumped up to the number two women’s singles spot and along with her teammate is ranked number one for women’s doubles in the conference.

The two are preparing for the California Community College Athletic Association Regional/ State Finals at the 115th Ojai Tennis Tournament.

The topic of conversation then digressed. However, we spoke briefly of pre-game superstitions-- where Izabel explained that in order for her to perform well she must have her hair braided one time in a particular fashion; and Mayra, well Mayra must step on the court every time with her right foot forward, similar to her Argentinean forefathers.

Both girls confessed that most of the pressure they experience throughout the season comes from within themselves. Mayra was the exception however, adding that she faces substantial pressure stemming from the high expectations of her father, Papa Jovic.

But as Naz struggles to escape from her own analytical abilities-- constantly criticizing herself throughout game play, and Jovic is weighed down by heavy expectations, both girls play a role in balancing each other out as teammates.

“We’re in sync. We have been training for this moment since winter, since we met each other,” Jovic said.

“[Since] day one. Ojai. Give me Ojai. Which is fitting, and may explain how the young women have remained goal oriented this far into the postseason," Nazdracheva added.

Despite their support for each other, which manifests itself through in-match prep talks, intense training sessions with the men’s football coach, and out-of-game friendship, the women made clear that they placed the utmost importance on providing support for their teammates, as they too look to make the transition from good to great.

But aside from being groundbreaking athletes, the ladies are still human.

They love their mothers, they sometimes struggle with confidence and before a game, they sometimes won’t eat.

At the end of the conversation they gave a shoutout to special people in their lives. F

Mayra gave her thanks to Richard Goldenson, Santa Monica’s women’s tennis coach, her father, who is also her coach, and also Kobe Bryant-- claiming that she and the basketball star shared lots in common.

And as the girls’ short time at SMC may be coming to an end this season, they, along with six of their other teammates have a chance to leave a footprint, or two, on SMC's long lived athletic history.