Ida Jarlskog and the Florida women’s tennis team’s practice had ended. Coaches began claiming stray tennis balls, while players gathered their belongings and refueled by the Gatorade coolers.
The 5-foot-7-inch Swedish sophomore stayed on the court. “One more time,” she yelled to a Florida assistant. Rep after rep, volley after volley, Jarlskog executed every swing identical to the last. “Last one,” the assistant yelled back after Jarlskog hammered a volley near the coach.
One tiny hop from the first-year Gator and the sound of a tennis ball and the racket colliding rang around the Ring Tennis Complex. Three more authoritative steps forward and Jarlskog emphatically spiked the ball over the net. This drill conditioned almost every aspect of Jarlskog’s game: forehands, backhands and volleys. It wasn’t the “last one” that day, either.
Jarlskog was the last Gator to leave the court that morning, exemplifying the extra work and effort she’s committed to bringing herself from Sweden to Atlanta to the No. 15 ranked player in the country at Florida.
From Sweden to Georgia Tech
Growing up in Lund, Sweden, Jarlskog learned to play tennis at an early age. She never knew the sport could take her far, but her admiration for the simplicity of a racket and a ball, combined with her brother’s participation drew her in.
“I was five years old and my brother was playing tennis,” Jarlskog said. “I just joined him… he was always an inspiration to me so I wanted to do what he was doing.”
Jarlskog continued playing past her early ages until the Swedish-product was skilled enough to begin competing across the country. She participated in the ITF Junior Circuit traveling all across the globe competing in numerous Junior and International Championships. She’s almost gone the distance in multiple junior tournaments, falling in the quarterfinals at the 2016 European Junior Championships and losing in the semifinals at the 2016 Belgian International Junior Championships.
Ranked as high as No. 59 in the Junior ITF rankings, Jarlskog had seen an array of competition on the courts across all of Europe. When the time to decide whether to turn her attention to the United States and attend college or stay on the junior circuit to eventually turn pro came, her decision wasn’t an easy one to make.
“I really didn’t even consider college because in Sweden its a thing if you go to college you don’t want to become pro,” Jarlskog said. “But my dad, he was kinda the one dragging me into, I guess, getting these thoughts about college and considering it.”
Jarlskog made the decision that she was ready for a new chapter in her life and took her talents to Atlanta, Georgia, where she committed to play tennis for Georgia Tech.
From Yellow Jacket to Gator
Jarlskog wasn’t heavily recruited originally out of Sweden. With schools like Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech and South Carolina vying for her skills, it took just one visit to Atlanta to make Jarlskog a Yellow Jacket.
“When I went there for my visit, the facilities were so nice,” Jarlskog said. “The tennis team was obviously good… it was just a better fit for me at Georgia Tech.”
On paper, Jarlskog’s year couldn’t have been much better.
The freshman posted a 20-4 dual play singles record in her first collegiate campaign, finishing her season on a 13-match win streak, including a match-clinching victory over UCLA in the NCAA Championships quarterfinals. She ranked as high as No. 58 on the ITA rankings, along with ranking in the top 70 in doubles play with partner Victoria Flores. The issue for Jarlskog, though, was that it wasn’t challenging enough.
“I played fourth singles,” she said. “The girls, they are obviously good if you are playing a good team, but, I mean, the goals I have with my tennis, it’s above fourth singles. So even though I had a really good record, I’m not happy enough with that.”
Jarlskog dominated her competition on the fourth court with a 12-2 record and finished the year on the 2018 All-ACC Academic Women’s tennis team. Even with all the success, she saw in her first year, she felt like she was failing to fulfill her purpose of coming to the United States in the first place: to improve her game.
“It was all the tennis. I felt like I didn’t get better at Georgia Tech,” she said. “I want to have a record where I’m winning a lot of matches obviously, but I want to be more challenged. (I want to) feel like I have to push my boundaries like I have to practice more in order to win.”
Enter coach Roland Thornqvist and the Florida Gators.
Thornqvist and the Gators had an extra roster spot open after finishing it’s 2018 campaign in a shocking defeat to Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We flew her in, she met the team and she saw us practice, and I think she really wants practices to be demanding, and she really takes great ownership of her own game,” Thornqvist said. “I think she liked what she saw here and after a few weeks, she decided she wanted to be a Gator.”
From the moment Jarlskog put the Florida “F” on her chest, her impact was felt on the court and inside the locker room for a young Gators team.
Leader on and off the court
The Gators entered the 2019 spring campaign with an interesting mix of players. Made up of two transfers, three freshmen, four returning sophomores and no seniors, Florida’s opening day lineup against the University of California consisted of five players who had never played for the Gators prior to the Fall. Because of this, the team struggled early on as it attempted to find its footing.
“We didn’t know each other so the beginning was a bit, I’d say not weird, but more like challenging,” roommate and teammate of Jarlskog, Tsveta Dimitrova said. “We know each other much better now, and we play for each other.”
Florida had its worst start since 1984, entering conference play with a sub-.500 record for the first time ever. Despite the slow start, Florida impressed in SEC play with multiple wins over teams ranked in the top 25, including dominant play from its sophomore-transfer on Court 1. Jarlskog led the Gators with a team-high 13 singles wins, including two wins over opponents ranked in the top 10 and maintaining a top 20 ranking throughout the entire season.
🐊 Team-best 13 singles wins
🐊 Two top 10 wins
🐊 Top 20 ITA ranking all season long
🐊 Played all but two matches at No. 1
— Gators Women's Tennis (@GatorsWTN) April 24, 2019
This comes of no surprise to Jarlskog, though. She knows she’s meant to be here.
“I just have really high expectations,” Jarlskog said regarding her play on Court 1. “It’s really cool to be playing one, obviously, after playing four last year, but I’m just really comparing myself to pro players… I don’t see it like, ‘oh, they are so good.’ I see it more like this is the environment I want to be in.”
Her “worker-bee” mentality and top-class work ethic had her appointed a member of the leadership council, along with sophomores McCartney Kessler and Victoria Emma. Jarlskog continues to develop her game through practices and matches, while simultaneously setting the bar for this young Florida team moving forward.
“What I’m trying to do is be a good example,” she said. “I’m not one of these people that are going to go to someone and say, ‘you need to work harder’ or ‘you need to push yourself’. I just want to be there trying to improve my own tennis, and if other people can get inspired I’m really happy.”