Created:Monday, April 26, 2010 12:07 a.m.CDT
Updated:Monday, April 26, 2010 9:55 a.m.CDT

VIEWS: Maksym Bartiuk getting a taste of life in the U.S.


Maksym Bartiuk walked into the room with a smile on his face, his mop of black hair hiding under a Northern Illinois baseball cap and a two bags of junk food swinging back and forth in each hand.

He still doesn't have the eating thing down here, but what can you expect from a college freshman from the Ukraine who came to DeKalb three months ago and immediately started school as the No. 1 tennis player at NIU?

"I don't think Maksym knew what chicken nuggets and french fries were before he came here," NIU coach Patrick Fisher said. "But after the first day of practice, you could tell that he was going to be a special player."

Bartiuk is really a normal college freshman, except for the ridiculous tennis skills. He can't wait to get out of the dorms and move into an apartment to get some personal space and he still is trying to get it all figured out.

His grasp of the English language – even before he came to the U.S. – was solid. The food has been the main hang-up.

"I think the biggest shock was the food here," Bartiuk said. "In the Ukraine, we have such good food. Cheeseburgers and hamburgers are the main, hard thing for me to take here. I'm still not used to it.

"I'm trying to eat salads or potatoes. But not those french fries, like baked potatoes and steaks like I ate in the Ukraine."

On the tennis court, he adjusted immediately. It's been his opponents adjusting to him that's been the problem.

He had won 10 straight singles matches before falling to Ball State's Eduardo Pavia on Saturday. His doubles record stands at 9-10, but he's 5-3 with current partner Maximilian Phillips.

Part of the advantage there for the 6-foot-1, 165-pound lefty is his big, unpredictable kick serve that makes opponents run off the court trying to get a racket on it.

"It takes you more than one return game to figure out what the serve's doing," Fisher said. "I think that's been a huge advantage because an eight-game pro-set is short and a guy might only serve 2-3 times.

"By that time, it's like trying to find out what a baseball pitcher is doing after the second or third time. Once you see him, you kind of get an idea, but they really don't get a chance to get comfortable."

The other shocks in his new environment have been a little easier for Bartiuk to take. The first time he heard a fan cheering for his team, he was more confused than anything.

In the Ukraine, collegiate sports aren't even close to the same and he never really has played on a team for an extended time before.

He also didn't have the freedom to practice before like he does now. And, with his self-motivation, that's helped Bartiuk improve his game – which features a huge forehand – even more.

Fisher says he doesn't have to work on motivation at all with Bartiuk. Anything Fisher wants him to work on, Bartiuk already is there.

"I have an opportunity to practice here," Bartiuk said. "In the Ukraine, I didn't have a court or balls to play. I had to find opportunities to play tennis."

Here, those opportunities came quick and often.

Fisher says it was an old friend who tipped him off to Bartiuk soon after Fisher came to NIU. Fisher recruited Bartiuk throughout the fall while the Huskies played with only two scholarship players after most of last year's team left following the departure of former coach Pawel Gajdzik to Purdue.

That included all the players from a recruiting class that was ranked tops in the nation amongst mid-majors by one publication.

With freshmen such as Bartiuk, Phillips, Mikhail Titov and sophomore Roman Turtygin leading the way, Fisher is excited about his team's future.

"From last year's dream team, they certainly had a lot more depth and considerably a lot more talent on paper," Fisher said. "But our team has certainly matched or exceeded the results they had last year in some cases. That might be just because of the new faces.

"I think we had some issues with character that I don't think we're dealing with this year."

Leading the way in that department is Bartiuk, who came in after mainly playing on clay courts before and has adjusted to everything here fluidly because of his intelligence and attitude.

He came to the U.S. on a Sunday, started school and tennis practice that next day and was playing in his match by that weekend.

Not bad for a guy just looking for a decent meal.

• Daily Chronicle sports editor Jon Styf can be reached at

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