To celebrate International Education Week, WRUF is publishing profiles of UF student-athletes all week.
Poland has had its share of talented tennis stars over the years. Agnieszka Radwańska, Hubert Hurkacz, Łukasz Kubot, and Iga Swiatek are a few household names for tennis lovers, but the next big name in Polish tennis might just be in Gainesville.
Malwina Rowinksa, or Malwa as she is more commonly known, was ranked as high as 51st globally among juniors. Now 18 years old, she is plying her trade for the University of Florida women’s tennis team.
Rowinska began playing tennis when she was only 4 years old in her native Warsaw. Her mother supported her decision at a young age to pursue the sport by entering her into a tournament. She told her daughter to see how the sport was and if she liked it, to continue playing.
Ultimately, Rowinska discovered she had quite a knack for the sport.
“I won the tournament after one month of playing,” she said. “So, I was like, let me go continue, practice, go for more tournaments and events and I’m still playing  years later!”
During those years, tennis has taken Rowinska to different countries and continents.
“I spent one year in Italy practicing there. I also was a little bit in Spain, and now I’m here [in Gainesville],” she explained.
Despite experiencing tennis in different places, nowhere has she found the game to be more unique than on the U.S. collegiate circuit.
“You start with doubles, and it’s only one set,” she said.
Tennis is normally played with a minimum of three sets, so the change from multiple sets to one can take time to adapt to.
“You have to be more focused,” she said. “For example, if you play once up to six games, it can be 4–0 in like five minutes and then it’s difficult to come back. So we have to be so focused from the very beginning.”
Rowinska likes to approach matches with a clear mind, focusing more on herself than on the opponent standing before her.
“If you know what you’re going to do, you trust the process, you trust yourself, then you won’t overthink it,” she said. “Expect the unexpected — that’s my favorite saying.”
While she prepares for matches by clearing her mind, she has an alternate approach to preparing for academics.
“If there is an exam, [I just need] everything out just to study,” she said as she gestured all non-academic thoughts leaving her head.
“I have two different personalities,” she said. “When I go on the court, I try to be a beast but off-court, I just like to be funny; I’m a joker!”
When she was in high school, she had a full schedule, from sunrise to sunset. She went to school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then drove for an hour to get to her club. Once there, she trained for about three hours before getting home around 8 p.m. But her day was not over.
“I’d have to shower, eat, and then study and do homework,” she said. “Then it would be 10 p.m. and I’d be so exhausted.”
Her schedule has not gotten any easier since moving to Gainesville. Training and school still take up most of her time. Yet she finds time to incorporate two of her favorite pastimes.
“I love singing and listening to the beats,” explained Rowinska. “I [also] used to dance when I was younger for like four years and then I had to choose whether I wanted to dance or practice tennis more.”
Because of her rigorous schedule of tennis, school, and singing, she has not had much time to experience all the unique activities and places Gainesville and Central Florida have to offer. Thankfully, she knows other people whose schedules align with hers.
Rowinska’s teammates have taken her in immediately and have assisted greatly with her transition into life in the U.S. “We all support each other and are uplifting on and off [the court],” she said.
She named two senior members of the tennis teams as people she admires. Carly Briggs, a graduate student from Georgia, and Sara Dahlstrom, a senior from Sweden are both athletes Rowinska finds herself looking up to and wanting to emulate.
She notes that Dahlstrom, a fellow international athlete, is someone who leads by example and lets her behavior inspire those around her whereas Briggs uses words of encouragement to rally the team. Both women have played a big role in Rowinska’s transition onto the Gators.
“She came to the team a little later than everyone else, so I feel for her,” Dahlstrom said of Rowinska. “Obviously it’s tough coming into eight people who know each other,” Dahlstrom said of Rowinska. “I have just been trying to be positive toward her, have a good attitude, and then just kind of teach her the ways with what we do and how we do it.”
As a testament to her mentality and confidence, when asked what her plan was for the future she immediately answered, “I want to go pro.”
Rowinska will compete in Gainesville in January 2024.