Tennis

Syracuse’s international players find solace in showing game emotions in native languages

Codie Yan | Staff Photographer

Anna Shkudun very frequently talks to herself in both Russian and Ukrainian on the tennis court.

A steady din carries through Drumlins Tennis Center on game days. The faint hum from dozens of fluorescent lights, the chatter of fans and coaches and the steady rhythm of “thwacks” coming from each court as a rally ensues all contribute to the noise.

When a rally subsides and a point is won, it’s often punctuated by the hollers and screams of a Syracuse player, especially when they speak multiple languages.

“Half the people on the team have a specific thing they always say,” said Gabriela Knutson, a Czech Republic native.

Six different players for Syracuse (7-12, 4-8 Atlantic Coast) are fluent in at least one language other than English. That offers players a unique avenue to express emotions and vent aggression without fans, opponents, and most importantly, officials, catching on to what they are saying. Three players — Knutson, Anna Shkudun and Masha Tritou — admitted that they use the mask of other dialects to let the occasional, or frequent, curse word fly.

“It just feels great you know,” Greece native Tritou said. “I’m taking it out of my system and I just feel more relaxed after that, and I’m like, ‘OK, now, play.’”

Of all the multilingual players, Shkudun is the most vocal. The Ukrainian native alternates between English, Russian, and Ukrainian. It gives her a chance to vent her frustrations of missing a shot long or planting a return in the net without letting the whole venue know quite what she’s saying.

But she knows it’s not entirely a secret.

“It’s cool that no one really understands,” Shkudun said, “but at the same time, some people can guess.”

While Shkudun, Tritou and Knutson all admitted to cursing, none divulged what they say.

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Codie Yan | Staff Photographer

What they all did convey is even though they can say almost whatever they please, it is almost never directed at their opponent. Cursing is reserved for themselves. Tritou does it often, Knutson and Shkudun each a little bit here and there. Libi Mesh, who grew up in Israel, said she tries not to, and checks herself carefully when she feels emotions are reaching a boiling point.

“I try not to say bad stuff on the court,” Mesh said. “… I could, but I try to avoid it.”

Knutson is far less worried about controlling her language, and she knows that there are many things said in Czech that would otherwise have her holding her tongue in English.

“I think it comes naturally at that point,” Knutson said.

Besides the obvious ability to curse, players often bellow far more tame, words and phrases.

Of all the things players shout, Shkudun’s “v kort,” which is roughly Russian for “play inside the court,” is probably the most specific.

One phrase that bridges all speech patterns and cultures on the team is the classic, “come on!” Shkudun and Tritou can be heard yelling it in Russian as “davai” while Mesh opts between Russian and the Hebrew alternative of “kadima.” Tritou — who speaks Dutch, Greek, Russian and English — will occasionally blurt it out in Dutch as “kom op.”

Knutson often shouts “legs” in Czech to herself, accompanied by an open palm to her thigh. Her mother, Ilona, used to urge her on as a child, encouraging use of her lower body. Knutson’s Czech iteration of legs, “nohy,” is closely related to Shkudun’s Russian rendition of “nogi.” Mesh’s Hebrew version, “raglaim,” stands out.

“Whatever happens,” Mesh said, “whatever language comes out, it’s what comes out.”

SU head coach Younes Limam stresses body language with his team, and their actual language plays a role in that. Limam want his players to mask any nerves or discomfort by getting fired up and giving an occasional yell or shout. Similarly, if a player wins a big point, he wants them to celebrate it and own the moment.

As for the swearing, Limam doesn’t get involved.

“I try not to know,” Limam said.

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