Introducing Karina Tyma
Ranked the 86th player in the world, Polish squash player Karina Tyma has taken the world by storm. On several occasions I’ve had the opportunity to see her play and each time I was captivated more and more. When I first saw Karina play at Drexel University’s Daskalakis Athletic Center, I had never even witnessed a game of squash. As athletes at Drexel we like to go to other teams’ sporting events in order to demonstrate support. One day, I was sitting there for the first time watching squash games with my teammates in the stands. As I sat there, I gazed around the room. Several games were being played on the different courts at once. Then one game in particular began. It caught nearly everyone's eye. Maybe it was the vigor and passion that was displayed through each of Karina’s movements. Through sheer passion alone, it’s safe to say that she piqued the interest of many spectators who were new to the sport. She pours her all into each swing of the racquet with abundant passion and willpower flowing from the racquet into the ball, mesmerizing spectators and competitors alike.
Karina’s Most Recent Accomplishments
Ranked #86 player in the world
Three-time Polish National Senior Champion (2017, 2019, 2020)
2019-2020 CSA All-American
Ranked top eight in U.S.
2019 European Junior Champion
2018 Belgian Junior Open u19 Champion
2018 French Junior Open u19 Champion
2017 Swiss Junior Open u19 Champion
2017 Dutch Junior Open u19 Champion
A Short Crash Course on Squash
Many might describe squash as a cousin to tennis. And this is a fair claim to make, as both sports involve racquets and rapid movements as well as precision. Despite these similarities, squash and tennis also each contain vast differences in numerous areas, including rules, equipment, and the game venue itself. Due to these distinctions, squash is actually the faster-paced of the two games. For a more in-depth description of this sport, US Squash defines the sport as: “A racquet sport played by two players (or four players for doubles) in a four-walled court with a small, hollow rubber ball. Once the ball is served against the front wall, above the service line and below the out line, players take turns hitting the ball also against the front wall. The ball may strike the side or back walls at any time, as long as it still hits below the out line and above the tin. The ball may only bounce once on the floor, and players may move anywhere around the court.”
Richmond: How’d you get into squash?
Karina: My brother. So my brother is eight years older than me, and I started when I was six, just hitting the ball
and going to sessions. He was 13 at the time, which is really late for squash since it's a pretty difficult sport. For me, I was always really active as a kid— I never played any other sports. I always played squash and it was never tennis or badminton or anything. It was always squash. Eventually we moved to England from Poland when I was six and I had so much to learn. Even now, I feel like there are still so many things to learn and build upon because there are so many components that go into squash.
Rising to the top.
Richmond: So how do you think you got to this point? Being able to play at such a high level?
I think the move to England was huge because the sport is still really young in Poland. There aren't too many clubs there. In the city that I am from there is only one club and two courts. That's it. There's nothing else. Obviously other cities in Poland have it, but there are so many coaches in the UK and the sport is just more developed there.
Richmond: Throughout the majority of your career you’ve played and practiced around guys. Has that played a role in your development as an athlete?
Karina: For sure. I think that has been huge just in general— the rallies are longer and the boys just are more physical. Because of that I think a big part of my game is just being physical. When I play someone who is more physical or who is fitter than me, the tactics and the way I have to think on court changes completely. Playing against girls sometimes, it's just two shot rallies or three shot rallies. When it’s like that, where do you really get to run and really test yourself? But to be honest, like every match that I played during the season at the #1 spot was tough. There were maybe two easy matches, but those were just two out of 17. So yeah, I think that's the biggest thing.
Richmond: So how do you handle the stress of being able to play on all these big stages? You’ve played for all these huge championships and you've won. From the European Junior Championships to the Polish National Championships. How do you do that? A lot of athletes tend to get really bad nerves, how do you deal with that?
Karina: Honestly, I don't. With Europeans, for instance, I won the European Junior Championship, and I literally was seeded 8th. I wasn't seeded to win, and I think that helped me. Right now, when I play PSA (Professional Squash Association), I don't put as much pressure on myself because I know I'm still at college. I have another thing going on. And that helps me, because when you’re the underdog, you can just go off— you know?
I think next season, if we get a season with college squash, I think it's gonna be a lot different. In your rookie year, it's really easy to get wins and then your second season, there's a lot more stuff that ends up happening. But, yeah, I think I think I'm generally just a very chill person.
Richmond: You don't think it gets to your head too much or anything?
Karina: I try to not think about it too much, because I think if someone says something to me, it'll probably psych me out. I try not to listen to people and just kind of see what happens. I think my approach to tournaments is different from my approach to college squash as well. With college squash, I put more pressure on myself. You're no longer just playing for yourself. You're playing for a team. I think that was a big thing that was a lot different for me. When playing for a team, every one of my losses hit me hard because that could have been a point for the team. Whereas, when it's just me, there's far less pressure because I’m just playing for myself.
Richmond: So what are you looking forward to from here?
Karina: I want to break top 50 in the world. I'm #86 right now. For the full time that Drexel is online, I'm going back to Egypt and I will be training and doing school. I'm very excited for that. I think it will help me. I think that's the best thing I could do for myself in this situation. So yeah, breaking top 50 is my target and I just want to keep being the #1 position on Drexel's team. The team is getting stronger. We're getting three really good girls next year— One girl from the UK, one girl from Ireland and one girl from India. Hopefully we'll get a national title at one point in my four years. I really think we could with this team.
“I have two passports. I have a Lithuaniun passport and I have a Polish passport. So yeah, I'm Lithuaniun as well, but I don't speak any Lithuanian.”
"My advice for future athletes is to work hard and enjoy it. If you get the opportunity to travel a lot and to see more, you should absolutely do it. From what I've seen, some players don't want to travel or they think that they can't do it. For me, traveling and seeing a bit of the world while playing squash has been the best thing. You learn so much about yourself and you see other things; meet other people; and have lots of neat experiences. That’s the best thing about squash to me. Even if you're not a great player yet, you can still meet other players and eventually you can go and see them in their countries. That's how friendships start and that's how you can get better as well."
Karina comes from a family of notable athletes. Her father won gold for the Polish national team at the European Masters in 2007 and a silver medal in the Polish national championships in 1987, and her older brother Konrad played squash at the University of West England.
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