As the spread of the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the spring sports season, there was one SMU women’s tennis player who wasn’t surprised about the rapidly evolving situation.
Isabella Tcherkes Zade, a freshman from Parma, Italy, has lived in the United States for just seven months. Her hometown is in the northern part of the nation, where COVID-19 has hit the hardest. The nation has been ravaged and was seeing the strongest effects of the virus more than a week before the United States.
“I’m not really surprised and I took precautions ahead of time,” Tcherkes Zade said. “I was telling all my teammates and everyone, ‘Just be careful, don’t underestimate this thing. Because really, it can be a real problem.’”
She knew, of course, because her hometown was already quarantined. Her family was already forced to stay at home. And life in her hometown had shifted drastically as the nation’s sick started rapidly growing.
Tcherkes Zade left Dallas after the season was canceled and moved in with her sister in Florida. Meanwhile, their parents remain in Italy under strict quarantine. Friends of her family have come down with the virus, and at least one is currently intubated.
The freshman was putting together a solid opening season. She was 9-5 in singles matches, including 6-1 in No. 3 singles. She was on the No. 1 doubles team, and had a 10-3 record in those matches. Now, the season is over, and she’s left trying to figure out a way home — even though there is none right now.
“If I would see it with my own eyes, I would probably get emotional,” Tcherkes Zade said. “Because Italy is known to be one of the most beautiful places, countries in the world. And it has decayed in that because people cannot live their own life right now over there. It’s just like the whole country’s shut [down]. And I don’t really miss home right now because I’m telling myself not to. Because otherwise I start thinking too much and everything.
“But I [would] totally, 100 percent for sure be shut in the house with my parents rather than be here.”
She speculated that it would be several months before she’s able to return home, as Italy has struggled to cope with containing the virus.
Parma, with a population of about 450,000 people, had been under quarantine since early March. While exact numbers are changing and hard to know with certainty, the BBC reported that nearly 3,000 Italians had died as of Monday.
“A lot of my friends who are playing in college tennis, too, they cannot go home because they canceled all the flights over there,” Tcherkes Zade said. “My parents cannot even go out of their houses, just for their safety reasons. They cannot even go to work. … It’s pretty risky over there. Every day they have 4,000 new cases.”
In Florida, Tcherkes Zade can escape for a bit as she practices playing tennis. She has her sister by her side, and that helps too. But she’s constantly communicating with her parents.
And while she said she was disappointed the season ended, and had been looking forward to conference play and the NCAA Tournament, she knows there are bigger things at play here.
“You know, this a bigger thing than us, than just tennis,” Tcherkes Zade said. “I think the best choice is it take care of ourselves for now and take care of our family. And just wait for the best.”