The long journey from Sweden to Arizona
University of Arizona men's tennis players Filip Malbasic and Jonas Ziverts both hail from Sweden, growing up a mere short drive away from each other. They met at the Good to Great Tennis Academy in Stockholm as young teenagers where they first got to know each other.
“I moved up to Stockholm when I was 14,” Malbasic said. “That’s where I got to know [Ziverts], and since then we’ve been best friends."
Malbasic is one year older than Ziverts but that didn’t stop them from traveling together, practicing together and playing in the same tournaments growing up. Fast forward several years later and they still find themselves playing tennis together, this time in college where they are now teammates at the UA.
They were both recruited by Clancy Shields, the Wildcats men’s tennis head coach, who initially made his way out to Sweden to meet Malbasic.
“I first came across [Malbasic],” Shields said. “I met him in Stockholm, went out to visit with him. We met a restaurant for about three or four hours, and we found that there was a good connection and kind of talking from there, we figured it was the right fit for both of us.”
After gaining a year of experience living in Tucson and playing under coach Shields, Malbasic went on to talk to Ziverts about coming to play college tennis with him in Arizona.
“I went to college one year before him, and I thought it was a very good option," Malbasic said. “ [Ziverts] was injured and considered going that same way and because [Shields] and [Maciek Sykut] and Alexander Free were great coaches, I told him to look at the option of coming here because I thought Clancy had a good vision of the program and there were great guys. He liked it on his visit, and he came.”
Ziverts attributed his friendship with Malbasic as a major reason why he chose to come play for the Wildcats.
“[Malbasic] and I were great friends before back in Sweden,” Ziverts said. “I mean I trusted him about what he was saying about the program, about the great vision [Shields] had and how great the team was.”
It didn’t take long for the Swedish duo to make a huge impact on the Wildcats program, which included an appearance in the NCAA Tournament during the 2018-19 season for the first time since 2010. Ziverts became the first Wildcat to play at the NCAA singles Championships since All-American Roger Matalonga in 2016. He was also named the ITA Southwest Rookie of the Year and defeated the No. 12 singles player in the country at the Pac-12 Championships. Malbasic won five doubles matches with Ziverts at the No. 1 spot in the lineup, which included crucial wins against California, Washington and Utah.
Shields noted that the program continues to land more players by somewhat of a referral as players like Malbasic and Ziverts come to the program and tell their friends about the experiences they have had here at Arizona.
“With all of these guys, we have built relationships with them before they come,” Shields said. “It’s like a referral. If you do a good job, kids are referring their coaches and their programs and university. I think we got a good referral from [Malbasic] and we were able to land [Ziverts], and through landing [Ziverts] we are landing other players. So, it is kind of like a pipeline.”
Shields went on to talk about how this isn’t the first time he has taught Swedish players during his coaching career.
“I’ve coached maybe five or six Swedish players,” Shields said. “I like them a lot for college tennis. They speak very good English so there is no real transition. Academically they are very good and they have played on team sports before, so they understand that dynamic and it is kind of a natural fit for us.”
Malbasic and Ziverts, coming to Arizona from Sweden, both mentioned the difficult transition they had moving away from home.
“The transition for me was pretty hard,” Malbasic said. “I came in January right in the middle of the season. I didn’t know any of the guys on the team and just moving from another country without your family was a pretty tough transition, but you get used to it.”
Ziverts had a pretty similar transition, also joining the team in January during the middle of the season.
“I mean moving hundreds of miles far from home was tough, you know not seeing the family for almost half a year,” Ziverts said. “The culture and everything was different, so it was tough, but the group of guys that are on the team made it easier because they are all great guys.”
Malbasic and Ziverts are two of Arizona’s best tennis players and have made a drastic impact on the program since coming to Tucson.
“Both of them play our top-two spots, Shields said. "They’re both nationally ranked and they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament, so they’ve really put our program on the map."
He also noted how great of guys they were, not only as players but as people.
“The thing I like most about them is that they are not only good players, but they are awesome people," Shields said. "I mean you couldn’t find two more humble people who are as good as they are. You know most times when players are nationally ranked like they are, there’s some baggage and maybe some cockiness, but those guys are as humble as they come. They’re great team players and a joy to coach.”
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