Joe Dodson, Staff Writer
Growing up in Timișoara, Romania, freshman tennis player Alessia Ciuca was inspired by the Grand Slam tournament athletes she watched on television.
“I’d stand right in front of the TV,” Ciuca said. “I was trying to hit like them.”
Ciuca has made an instant impact with the Rams, earning three Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors for the weeks of Feb. 16, Feb. 23 and March 31. Ciuca said the awards are proof that her hard work is paying off.
“It means a lot because I know that I’m a hard worker, and every time I try to give my best on the court,” Ciuca said. “When you know you are doing something and then a result is coming, you are so happy.”
Ciuca started the season with four consecutive singles losses before earning her first collegiate singles win against East Tennessee State. Ciuca won her first singles set 6-3 and her second one 7-6 on Feb. 13.
Ciuca has gone 10-7 in doubles with three different partners throughout the season; sophomores Gabriela Davidescu, Luminita Tutunaru and junior Shivani Manjanna.
Graduate assistant Stefana Andrei described Ciuca as a winner.
“She’s very determined, she works hard everyday and she likes to win,” Andrei said
Before joining VCU, Ciuca played at the highest amateur level in Europe. In 2019, Ciuca, along with Oana Corneanu, was selected to represent Romania in the 2019 European Junior Championships in Switzerland.
“I wanted to give everything on the court because I wanted to represent Romania in a good way,” Ciuca said.
Ciuca, along with Romanian tennis player Ilinca Amarie, won $15,000 after winning the 2019 International Tennis Federation’s W15 doubles tournament in Heraklion, Greece. The win earned her the 216 spot in the ITF’s junior rankings.
Ciuca said that when she was recruited by VCU, having two fellow Romanians on the team was a plus. Ciuca said that along with Davidescu and Tutunaru, Richmond’s similar architecture and weather helps her feel more at home.
“I really like it here because it looks so familiar to Romania,” Ciuca said. “That helped me because it’s so far.”
The hard court surface of American collegiate tennis courts were new to Ciuca. In Romania, she played primarily on clay, so improving her footwork and speed have been areas of emphasis in practice.
“Here it’s much faster and you need to move well,” Ciuca said. “We have been working on this a lot — I think I’ve improved.”
When Ciuca first arrived in Richmond in August, she not only had to get used to a new country and new courts, but also the idea of being on a team.
“For everyone that comes to college from Europe, it’s a big difference,” Andrei said. “In Europe, we don’t have high school sports, so they’re used to playing individually and only for themselves.”
Ciuca said she’s gotten to know the team better through team dinners and practices. Her teammates and coaches described her personality off the court as energetic.
“She’s really funny and she has a lot of energy,” Davidescu said. “She’s a great teammate.”
Ciuca described her style of play as aggressive and ambitious, shown through frustration or discouragement after a mistake is made on the court. She said it’s something that she’s working on with her coaches to improve her game.
“Sometimes I have big emotions on the court but everytime the coach is there for me — she says to calm down and try and focus on the process,” Ciuca said.
Andrei said that Ciuca’s consistency on the court has been an area of improvement. Since starting the season 0-4 in singles, Ciuca has improved to 6-4 and has won four matches straight.
“We’ve been working with her on consistency because she has a very aggressive game,” Andrei said. “We thought that adding a little bit of consistency would make a big difference.”
Ciuca still has more collegiate tennis experience ahead of her as she enters the final stretch of her freshman season, but her early success has been crucial to the team’s 10-7 record. Head coach Vivian Segnini said the sky’s the limit for Ciuca’s success moving forward if she maintains her hard-working attitude.
“She can achieve a lot if she continues with the same attitude that she has now,” Segnini said.
Ciuca and the Rams will be back in action on April 7 when they travel to Lynchburg, Virginia to play Liberty at 2 p.m.