Gandawidjaja finds role with Illini tennis as walk on


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Senior Madeleine Gandawidjaja returns the ball during a match.

By Danielle Rhody, Staff Writer

Senior Madeleine Gandawidjaja’s time on the tennis team has been cut short. However, her story on joining the team is still worth telling. She was not recruited onto the team, instead, she walked on during her junior year.

Gandawidjaja played with her family for fun but started learning how to play when she was eight years old and entered into tournaments one year later. The reason she started playing stems from her dad’s side of the family. Her dad, grandfather, second cousin and all of the kids on her father’s side played college tennis.

Along with tennis, Gandawidjaja also played the piano and performed ballet.

During her sophomore year of high school, she injured her shoulder from overuse. The injury was always going to be an issue for her, as it was figured the shoulder would never fully heal, so she decided to stop playing tournaments. She did continue to play her junior and senior years at high school, however.

“After getting injured, it was kind of hard for me, because I felt like all the hard work I had put in and my dad and the rest of my family had put into me playing in tournaments that nothing really came out of that,” Gandawidjaja said. “Even though we weren’t necessarily looking to have me play on scholarship, it just felt like there was nothing to show for it.”

She did not go through any of the recruitment processes, so when she chose the University of Illinois, it was for its academics.

Gandawidjaja played club tennis during her first two years at Illinois. She was not sure how much she could play, but she wanted to continue her tennis career.

“It was a different experience playing coed and being able to play mixed doubles and play with a team with men and women, but I have to say I missed playing at a level that continuously challenged me,” Gandawidjaja said.

 One day during her sophomore year, she decided to watch the Northwestern tennis match.

“I was really excited about getting to watch that level of tennis. Seeing that again reminded me of what I really enjoyed before in juniors,” Gandawidjaja said. “That is where I got the idea to reach out to the coach.”

When she reached out to the coaches, they scheduled a time to watch her play. It ended up as an individual practice with one of the players because it was difficult to arrange a time for her to attend a full practice.

After they watched her play, the coaches allowed her to join the team. Gandawidjaja had to go through the NCAA with eligibility and compliance. After the formalities, she officially became part of the team. She made her collegiate debut on April 19, 2019, against Northern Iowa.

In juniors, Gandawidjaja mostly trained either on her own or with several other players regularly. Being on the team allowed her to practice and condition with a group, which she really enjoyed.

Gandawidjaja has also been able to learn from her teammates, even though she was the oldest.

“I learned so much from them, even the freshmen. They have incredible experience and, especially when it comes to sports, they can be very intelligent players,” Gandawidjaja said. “There’s always something to learn from your teammates.”

Her favorite moments were with the team during the one-week training trip to Florida.

 “There’s a lot of team bonding that week and building of chemistry and memories made. That’s a lot of fun,” Gandawidjaja said. “But at the same time, you get to spend hours on the court training then have a lot of fun of the court the rest of the day. It’s a really great experience that we’ve been able to do and that I really enjoyed these past two years.”

A big part of her experience at Illinois has been through tennis, even though it was for a short time.

“Everyone that is part of the women’s tennis team, not only the players but the coaches and trainers, they’ve all really been great influences on me and have formed a lot of my experience at Illinois,” Gandawidjaja said.