Israeli Air Force athlete turned UA tennis Champ

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Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics | The Daily Wildcat Arizona Wildcats women's tennis vs. Japan 1/30/20 in Tucson, Ariz. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

The process of becoming a Division 1 collegiate athlete means practices starting from when you are 5 years old, a family or support system that is there to push you and a drive to go beyond where most people quit. For Talya Zandberg, however, it is all that and more.

Zandberg is from Tiberias, Israel. She used to sit and watch her four older brothers practice and play, and after repeatedly going to one of her brother’s practices, she finally got what she wanted.

“My mom signed me up so we could play together,” Zandberg said.

From there, Zandberg was hooked on tennis. She practiced with her brother beginning at 5 years old and never let go of it. She competed in dance as well, but when it was time to be serious and pick one, the answer was simple: tennis. 

Zandberg competed at a high level in Israel. She won first place at the Israeli Championship Junior U18, first place doubles at Future Ako, first place in both doubles and singles at the ITF Juniors Beer Sheva and first place in doubles at Romania G3, all before coming to the University of Arizona. 

Prior to coming to Arizona, Zandberg did something that most D1 athletes cannot add to their list of achievements, and that is serving in the Israeli army for two years.

“Everyone has to go to the army in Israel, so it’s normal for us and it’s definitely a good experience,” Zandberg said.

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Zandberg was also an athlete for the Israeli Air Force, so her long days managing both service duties and tennis are key to what prepared her for being a successful, full-time student-athlete. 

“My base was further from home, so I would stay in base. Sometimes you would get shifts to guard the base or have kitchen duties, but normally I’d wake up, go to practice, go to the base and go back to practice for those two years,” Zandberg said about her busy schedule.

After serving for those two years, Zandberg was then ready for her next step in life: collegiate tennis. Former Arizona head coach Vicky Maes flew out to Israel to watch her play, and after discovering how Arizona supports their athletes and how nice the weather is for an outdoorsy person like herself, Zandberg knew that being a Wildcat was the destined choice for her.

Zandberg is now a junior here at the UA and killing the game. She said she misses the warmth and community-like feeling Israel gives her compared to America’s “do your own thing” mentality, but getting to play on a team rather than for herself is definitely a perk. Plus, it’s a bonus that her family will be coming to the matches at the end of the month and she gets to visit home in the winter and summer. 

Zandberg is a proud Arizona Wildcat, and her roots from Israel and experience from serving in the Israeli Air Force while maintaining practices showed Arizona what success she could bring in her four years.


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