By Meredith Foster Ristic
On the day of a match he will wake up early enough to make his bed wrinkle-free. He’ll carry the rackets that he strung and perfected the night before. He will not argue with anyone and he will not drive to a competition. Only then will he feel ready.
It seems as if the Type A classification was created for people like Daniel Kripak, a sophomore from Ashdod, Israel. “I admit I am a perfectionist. I like for everything to be proper,” Kripak said.
His need for perfection has allowed Kripak to make the transition from UNC Asheville’s number three singles player to number one.
“My first thought of playing position one, I was afraid for people sitting on my court,” he said. “I kind of like being by myself, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to focus. But, I didn’t have a choice as position one; people like to watch that court.”
While he likes for everything to be in order, his transition as a player included him accepting the factors that are out of his control.
“Now, I like the feeling of having people coming to watch me. I don’t mind people around my court,” Kripak said. “Tom (Hand, head men's coach) and Lise (Gregory, head women's coach) are educating me that it’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing the best that you can.”
Kripak’s attention to detail and desire for perfection come from his father’s influence on his early training.
“From when I was 10 years old, my dad used to force me to wake up at 5:50 a.m. and run for 40 minutes,” commented Kripak. “It didn’t matter if it was summer or winter, I would get up and go by myself.”
When he was younger, he was less enthused about exercising early in the morning.
“Sometimes I would go and sit for 35 minutes, and then go to the hose and put water on myself so that he could see that I ran,” Kripak said.
After exercising, he would go to school until 2 p.m. and go home until it was time to catch the bus for practice at 2:45 p.m.
“I would take the bus for about an hour, sometimes two if there is traffic, to practice in Tel Aviv,” Kripak said. “My dad worked there, so he would pick me up from the bus and take me to practice.”
His father would sit for two hours and 40 minutes, five days a week and watch him practice.
“He would call me over to him so that he could tell me what I should be doing,” he laughed.” He didn’t care about the coach.”
After practice his father would drive them home to Ashdod.
“If he would leave during practice, to eat or go do something, he would want me to describe every minute of practice to him,” Kripak said, rolling his eyes. “Sometimes he would ask me what we did and I would say, ‘we played tennis,’ and he would get so mad.”
From the time he was 10 years old, Daniel was always in the top five in Israel. At 13, he stopped practicing so rigorously. He practiced three times a week in his own town and swam twice a week.
“It was too much pressure; I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “I took a year off and started swimming.”
At 14 he started practicing again in his own city with his coach three times a week, for an hour a day. When he was 16 he was ranked first in Israel and at 17 was invited to practice in Germany.
“I went to Germany to play for three months,” Kripak said. “They let me come for like half the price because the coach liked me, but it was still too much money for my family.”
A lot of the other players would travel to play across Europe every other weekend, and he was playing once a year for about three weeks, commented Kripak. When he graduated from high school, he was Israel's number one under-18 player.
“I took a year off to work, and my mentor at the time was playing really well at Winthrop,” he said. “He knew Lise, and encouraged me to talk to her and send video, and she offered me right away.”
He showed their conversations to his parents, and his mom told him that he should go for it.
“My mom and I both had a good feeling that if I come to UNC Asheville that everything would be fine there,” he said. “We knew that they would look out for me.”
Kripak arrived at the Ashville airport in the fall of 2012.
“When I first arrived, there was no one there, and my first thought was, ‘did they trick me?’ commented Kripak. “Then this huge man in all blue came up to me, and I realized it was Tom.”
His first impression of Asheville was that it was very different from what he was used to at home, he said.
“It was weird. Everyone was walking so fast, and it felt like the same day was happening over and over again,” Kripak said. “I started off well, but I was working so hard because I knew I had to give my best. It’s just how I am.”
His coaches noticed this about him even before he got here.
“Daniel was a very mature freshman,” said Hand. “He was easy to deal with in the application process. He’s always been very organized and on top of things.”
As a freshman, Daniel played the number three position in singles for the Bulldogs.
“He was a solid three for us last year, and this year he’s making the transition to play one,” Hand said. “He’s learning to make a few changes the hard way, but the biggest thing is that he is willing to learn.”
In the 2012-2013 season, senior Adrian Langeard played position one for the Bulldogs.
“When we lost Adrian, I knew I had some really big shoes to fill,” Kripak said. “It was like, if we won our doubles match, we could say we were up 2-0 because we knew Adrian was going to win.”
Langeard graduated in 2013 as one of the best to ever play tennis for Asheville, receiving all-Big South Conference honors in singles in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
“I know that if he plays just like he did last year as number three, he’ll do great at number one,” said Langeard. “No matter what position you are playing, you always need to play your match.”
Being successful is all about practicing hard and working to get better, Langeard said.
“I used to play him in practice and I would crush him,” he said. “But, I noticed that he was practicing hard and getting better every time. If he keeps this up, in two or three years he’ll be way better than I was.”
Kripak’s inspiration to work hard comes from his teammates.
“I really respect all of my teammates,” he commented. “There are eight hard-working, hungry guys who support each other in every match. I honestly don’t feel like we get enough support from the students.”
Kripak’s teammates have mutual respect for him and his new role on the team.
“He is a good number one, and he can hang with any number one in the conference,” said fellow sophomore Thomas-Orestis Panoulas. “All he needs to do is trust his game.”
This season, the toughest competitor Kripak will face is himself.
“Daniel is a really smart guy, but that’s not always an advantage for him. He can over-analyze things sometimes,” Hand said. “He’s prepared to play the number one position, but we have to get him out of his own head a little.”
Looking back, Kripak believes that it’s the way he was brought up that has led him to success.
“When I think about it, I really appreciate everything that my parents did for me,” he said. “I think that because they went through so many hardships, they wanted me to have more.”
Even his father’s careful attention to his training is something that Kripak is grateful for.
“Now I would thank my father for everything he did for me. At least he cared enough to come to practice with me every day,” he said. “If I wasn’t so driven to put my best into everything like they taught me, then I wouldn’t be here today.”