Above the bank of the Danube River, tourists and locals flock to a park called Public Garden in Braila, Romania, which overlooks the port and the Macin Mountains.
Sebastian Ionescu left all of it behind for one reason: to play tennis at Arizona.
Ionescu is no rookie to the world of tennis. Standing 5-foot-6 and weighing 125 pounds, the freshman has been on the courts for the past 12 years, playing for a Romanian club team called Venus.
“I remember my first national tournament as if it were yesterday,” Ionescu said. “I was 9 years old and I won the first match six love, six love, but I lost the second one and just started crying.”
With the support of his mother, Ionescu took the loss and channeled his athletic talent into his first national championship win in Romania at 10 years old in singles play. He added four additional singles play championship wins to his record at ages 12, 14, 16 and 18.
“Winning these championships was my biggest accomplishment because it was the largest tournament in the country,” said Ionescu, who added the he also enjoys playing handball and won back-to-back MVP titles in Braila for the sport in 2010 and 2011.
The combination of determination and his love for playing doubles earned him four national championship titles, including three mixed doubles national championships.
Other titles Ionescu has won include best player in his age group in Romania from 2002-2010 and MVP in other Romanian tournaments. He was also named an honorable mention 2010-2011 and a member of the official Romanian team by the Romanian Tennis Federation.
After countless offers from universities including Oklahoma, San Diego, St. John’s, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Buffalo, Ionsecu knew Arizona was the best choice.
“One of my good friends knows (head coach Tad Berkowitz) and how the tennis program is here,” Ionescu said. “He said the program and coaches were good and the university has a good reputation.”
Ionescu has only been playing at Arizona for a week, but he has already demonstrated that he “has wonderful work ethic and is very eager to play and learn,” assistant coach Tom Lloyd said. “This work ethic and attitude is what we are excited for as an addition to our young team.”
Outside of athletics, Ionescu said he enjoys watching movies and listening to hip-hop and rap, and that two of his favorite artists are Eminem and Dr. Dre. He has not declared his major yet, but said he looks forward to enjoying his time as a Wildcat.
“When I was recruiting Sebastian I heard nothing but good things about his game and personality,” Berkowitz said. “He is a good competitor and comes to court with discipline and focus. He also has a genuine appreciation of everything in his life.”