Before every match, Natasha Subhash, women’s tennis player and second-year Commerce student, spends 10 minutes listening to music alone.
“I don’t really have a specific song I use,” Subhash said. “But it helps me focus.”
Maybe for another player you could call it the calm before the storm, but that doesn't really fit the way the Fairfax, Va. native plays. It’s much more the calm before the clinical dismantling of whoever dares stand across the net from her.
Subhash’s tennis game is founded upon control and organization, as those around her tell it. When asked about her on-court presence, Coach Sara O’Leary describes her style of play as all-court and focused.
“She can play aggressive and come to the net, she can play defense, she can mix it up using slice and heavy high balls, and she can easily change her court positioning,” O’Leary said. “Natasha is one of the best problem-solvers on court I would say in collegiate tennis. She has the ability to adjust her game to a certain style based on what her opponent doesn’t like. She also has the ability to do this in extremely stressful and pressure-filled moments.”
Sofia Munera, Subhash’s longtime doubles partner and third-year College student, agrees.
“Natasha is very organized and very solid,” Munera said. “She’s very aggressive at the net, and you don’t expect her to miss often.”
When Subhash was four years old, her father, a first-generation immigrant from India, noticed his daughter had unnaturally good hand-eye coordination. He had her pick up a tennis racket, and she hasn’t put it down since, from playing in tournaments from the time she was six years old to traveling the world to play by high school.
Subhash grew up idolizing the always-in-control Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters, who remains Subhash’s favorite player to this day, and cool-as-a-cucumber Roger Federer. Modeling her game after both of these legends — who have combined for an astonishing 26 Grand Slam titles — has brought Subhash to project cool confidence on the court in any situation.
That accounts for only part of her game, though. When she needs to, Subhash can draw intensity from players like Spanish lefty Rafael Nadal and the late hooper Kobe Bryant. Both athletes are famous for how locked-in they appear to be at all times and how much fight they have in any game situation. Subhash has shown that fight multiple times this season, clawing her way back to victory from first set losses three times and only losing in straight sets once in singles on her way to a 14-3-1 record (11-2 in ACC play).
Subhash’s on-court mentality isn’t the only thing reminiscent of star pro athletes. Every person reached for comment lauded her work ethic as otherworldly.
“Natasha is by far one of the hardest workers on our team,” O’Leary said. “She comes in for extra individuals [practices] multiple times per week and is always searching for ways to get better. I think the experience Natasha has from playing so many matches growing up along with her outstanding work ethic allow her to go out and play her matches with such peace and belief in herself. She knows she has been in just about any situation that could come up, and she knows she has put in the consistent work. I never see Natasha panicking out on court because she is able to stay clearheaded and problem-solve.”
This combination of steely mentality and incredible work rate has led to wild early-career success for Subhash. Even before she entered NCAA competition, she participated in a Junior Grand Slam — a group of tournaments that includes the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — and amassed over $18,000 in prize money.
Subhash has arguably been even more successful since joining the Cavalier team. As a freshman, she quickly ascended to the team’s top seed and gained enough recognition to be named the ITA’s National and Atlantic Regional Rookie of the Year. She is just the second Virginia woman to win the national award. When asked for comment about Subhash winning this honor, Munera stated that no one was more deserving and repeated that Subhash spent more time in individual practices than anyone else on the team by far.
“It’s something to expect for [Natasha] to get that level of recognition,” Munera said.
On a tennis court, Subhash is ruthless and cold-blooded. However, once she leaves the 78-by-27-foot rectangle, she becomes quite the opposite.
“Natasha is one of the nicest, most respectful young women I have ever had the opportunity to coach,” O’Leary said. “She is kind to all of her teammates and everyone she comes across, humble, hard-working.”
Munera agreed, saying that Subhash was, “a very sweet girl,” and “very fun to hang out with.”
One of Subhash’s great joys in life is good food. She enjoys trying different restaurants around the Charlottesville area and especially on the road.
“She’s a foodie,” Munera said. “She really loves trying new things, and I really think she loves food.”
One of her favorite places to go is Iron Paffles, the downtown Charlottesville eatery famous for their paffles — puff pastries cooked on a waffle iron and filled with just about anything you can think of.
When she isn’t beating up on ACC competition, studying or trying new pastries, Subhash does her best to give back to the community, where she helps tutor younger students in math and reading comprehension through Madison House.
On Friday, No. 11 Virginia will open its ACC Tournament as the fourth seed in Rome, Ga. The Cavaliers have a double-bye and will face either Boston College, Louisville or Duke in the tournament quarterfinals. The team has successfully dispatched all three opponents in ACC play, and Subhash beat her individual opponents from all but the latter. After the ACC Tournament, the national bracket begins in early May.
Natasha is optimistic about Virginia’s chance to advance through the ACC Tournament and towards the national finals.
“We’ve had too many 4-3 losses recently,” Subhash said. “But I feel like once we get into the postseason training and atmosphere, those will start to turn around.”
She’s absolutely right. The Cavaliers lost three of their final four regular season affairs by a single match, only managing to beat Wake Forest in the month of April. The team is due for some positive regression to the mean, and the postseason would be a great time for those unlucky bounces to go Virginia’s way.
Along with Subhash, the Virginia team features the country’s current top freshman — and overall player — Emma Navarro (16-1), as well as solid contributors like Munera (7-5-1) and Rosie Johanson (16-2, No. 88 nationally) who are more than capable of besting any woman across the net from them.
Unlike the team as a whole, Subhash, ranked ninth in the country, enters the postseason on a hot streak. She won each of her last four singles matches and has come out on top in nine of her last 10 contests dating back nearly two months. When asked if she could make a run to the NCAA Tournament as an individual, Subhash was non-committal.
“I don’t really know what to expect from singles,” Subhash said.
Her freshman tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, making predictions difficult. However, if she’s able to keep up her momentum, that quote could end up looking very modest.
In doubles, Subhash and Munera look promising.
“I think [Munera] and I have a really good chance,” Subhash said.
The pair have been playing together for the better part of two seasons now, and their chemistry is rock solid. Both women talked about how good their relationship off the court is and how in sync they can be together in battle.
“Teamwork is very important for doubles,” Subhash said. “You can put two great singles players on the court together, but if they don’t have chemistry then they won’t beat a great team.”
The pair is currently ranked 27th in the country in doubles, 14 spots higher than the team’s other pairing of Navarro-Johanson.
As focused as she is on Virginia’s upcoming tournaments, Subhash is still finding time to look to the future. Once she finishes school, Subhash plans on joining the women’s pro tour. She has already participated in several professional events and has even played a former top-50 player in the world.
It may not be easy, however. Being on the tour full time is, well, a full-time job, Subash acknowledged.
“It’s always been my goal to go pro,” she said. “But it’s grueling, a non-stop grind.”
It’s undeniable that Subhash is more than talented enough to go professional after she finishes her degree, and she seems more than willing to put in the work that could put her in the upper crust of international women’s tennis.
Those around Subhash feel like she is well set up for life after tennis, too. She was recently admitted to the McIntire School of Commerce, where she will begin taking classes in the fall semester. O’Leary refers to her as hardworking and an amazing student.
Fans can watch Subhash and Virginia women’s tennis play in the ACC quarterfinals Friday on ACC Network Extra. Later down the road, it’s more than likely that they'll one day be watching the Virginia stalwart play in Grand Slams on ESPN.