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The pair that changed the program

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After becoming friends through the International Tennis Federation’s Junior Circuit, senior Venise Chan (left) and junior Denise Dy now share an apartment and have revitalized the UW women’s tennis program.

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Though their tennis games and personalities differ, Denise Dy (left) and Venise Chan have become best friends off the court. On the court, Dy is ranked No. 4 in the country while Chan is No. 16.

The first one comes easy. Seated on a purple couch inside the small lobby at the Nordstrom Tennis Center after Monday’s practice, Washington women’s tennis head coach Jill Hultquist raves about senior Venise Chan’s tennis game, then breaks out the animal analogy.

“She’s like a panther,” Hultquist said about her 16th-ranked All-American. “She’s quiet, fast and stealthy out there.”

But there is another All-American — Stanford and the UW are the only NCAA teams with two players ranked in the top 16 — who needs an animal comparison. Junior Denise Dy is ranked No. 4 in the country and is perhaps the best all-around player in UW history.

After 20 seconds of contemplation, it finally comes from the other side of the couch. The originator is assistant coach Damon Coupe, but this time, there is no animal.

“She’s like a pressure cooker,” Coupe said of Dy. “She loves pressure, thrives under pressure and has proven that over and over again. It’s funny — you talk to her in pressure situations and she says, ‘It’s a big point, so I’m going to apply the pressure.’”

So there you have it. A panther and a pressure cooker. A feline and kitchen appliance couldn’t be more different, and the same could be said for both Chan and Dy as players and people.

And it’s these two different women who have become great friends, roommates and — oh yeah — together changed the face of Washington tennis.

THE REVIVAL

It was a reunion of sorts at the HUB on a gloomy winter day in January of 2008.

Chan was already a freshman on campus and starting at No. 1 singles for the team. Dy, a San Jose, Calif., native who didn’t seriously consider going to college in the United States until midway through her senior year of high school, paid a visit to the UW during the first few weeks of winter quarter.

Chan and Dy were already friends, having met through the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) Junior Circuit in their teenage years. This time, though, the meeting grounds weren’t the courts; instead, they were a college campus.

“It was really weird,” Dy remembered of her visit. “We only saw each other in ITF tournaments and then we see each other in school [at the HUB] and go, ‘Hiiiiii.’ It was kind of awkward, but it was cool.”

Dy’s mother wanted her to stay home and play at Cal, but the Bears never seemed committed to luring the 5-foot-6 Dy, who was the No. 1 ranked Filipino player in 2007. Dy’s visit to Hawaii “almost convinced” her, but the UW’s academics were better, and she was excited to compete in the Pac-10 against several top players she knew from the junior circuits.

And so the UW it was. Suddenly, Hultquist and Coupe not only had one of the nation’s best in Chan, but a player of equal or better talent in Dy. Still, the coaches had only seen her play once and weren’t exactly sure what they were getting.

“Some girls can have high ITF rankings and come in, and you never know,” Hultquist said. “But when she came here and we saw her practice, we knew we had a pretty good thing going.”

Pretty good might be an understatement, especially when you look back at Hultquist’s first few years at the helm.

The former Florida standout and WTA doubles star took over the program during the 2005-06 season after serving as an assistant from 1997-2002. Immediately, Hultquist faced huge obstacles.

Several players on her already thin roster lacked a passion for the game, and commitment was a big issue. Times were rough, to say the least, as the Huskies limped to a miserable 3-17 record that first year.

“I didn’t have the depth that you would wish for coming into a Pac-10 school,” Hultquist said. “We fell out of the rankings after the first year, so it was difficult to try to tell [recruits] that we had a great program.”

Another year passed with barely any improvement, as the Huskies won just five matches. Then, somehow, some way, came Chan. The Hong Kong native also liked the UW’s academia and had heard good things about Hultquist.

“Getting Venise was the luckiest thing ever for me, in my third year of coaching,” Hultquist admitted.“That was just a godsend for us.”

Chan starred in No. 1 singles immediately and was in a class of her own on the UW roster. That is, until Dy stepped through the doors at Nordstrom and formed what would be one of the nation’s most dangerous 1-2 punches.

“I was glad she came,” Chan said of Dy. “First, our team needed someone to be better, and second, I could practice with someone who could keep my level up. I feel like for four years, if I’m doing the same thing every day, my level of play might go down.”

Immediately, Dy and Chan became practice partners during the team’s one-on-one sessions and, like they still do today, would play tough, competitive matches that almost always came down to the wire.

Having another uber-talented star in Dy that could test Chan was somewhat of a relief for the coaches. Not only was Dy making Chan better, but it ended up helping the entire team.

“It took a lot of pressure off me because I was sort of the one who was pushing Venise,” Coupe said. “Denise came in and could push her. When the rest of the team saw that another girl could push Venise, they were like, ‘OK, it is possible.’ Everybody started stepping up a little more to where all the girls could push Venise.”

Senior Aleksandra Krsljanin knows all about that. Krsljanin is best friends with both Dy and Chan and can attest to how much of an impact they’ve had on their fellow teammates.

“If you look at them, you feel like you need to work harder,” Krsljanin said. “I know I can’t be as good as them, but I can try to push myself to be.”

From the first time Dy and Chan practiced together, it was a perfect match. Every practice session seems to be a lengthy back-and-forth affair between two very different styles of play: the athletic Dy using her exceptional all-around game to combat Chan’s punishing, unpredictable groundstrokes.

Perhaps more impressive was that there was never any bad blood or envy between Dy and Chan. The respect both have for each other seemed natural from the beginning.

“What I noticed during Dy’s first year is that — and she still does — she had a lot of respect for Venise; she almost did not want to beat Venise,” Hultquist said. “I think she was sort of afraid; [she] didn’t want to step on Venise’s toes in the first year. Denise had a lot of respect, and I think Venise made Denise earn it. Now, Venise is at a point where she respects Denise. There’s a lot of mutual respect for each other.”

The results were immediate as the regular season kicked off in spring of 2009. Chan went a team best 28-7 that year in one of the best seasons in school history, while Dy was equally impressive in her debut season, posting a 24-12 overall record.

As a team, the UW advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 and cracked the top 30 by year’s end, just two years after completely dropping out of the rankings.

It only got better last season. Chan ended the year ranked No. 15, Dy at No. 13 and both earned All-American honors to become the first two UW All-Americans since 2004. The Huskies advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual runner-up Florida.

And this season, both Dy, ranked No. 4, and Chan, ranked No. 16, went an unbelievable 20-1 in dual-match play, as well as qualifying for the NCAA tournament as a doubles team.

Every time the Huskies took the court, Chan and Dy were essentially automatic wins in singles — a coach’s dream.

“That’s amazing for us to be able to go, ‘OK, we’ve got two points on the board, and if we win the doubles point, then we need one more [point],” Hultquist said. “That’s how we won a lot of our matches. They have been rocks for our team.”

Together, Dy and Chan have made history and revived the program. As both would help each other become better on the tennis courts, the bond off of it was strengthening, too.

THE BOND

Venise just wanted Denise to answer the question. The two were making a weekend trip to Vancouver, B.C., last fall and had a little trouble at the border.

The customs officer asked if them if they had any food. Dy, driving Chan’s car, said no.

“Then she goes, ‘You have no food, no food at all?’” Dy said. “I’m like, ‘Yes, I have soup.’ I was being sarcastic. They told us to pull over and were going to check our car.”

The pair was questioned and searched for nearly an hour. Chan couldn’t believe it. “It’s your fault!” she told Dy. “Why can’t you just answer honestly!?”

They break out in laughter while telling the story inside their cozy two-bedroom apartment just down the road from the Nordstrom Tennis Center. It’s a perfect example of their different personalities, and a reminder of their unique bond.

With her racket, Chan is a quiet, unpredictable and elusive player who’s hard to read. Dy, on the other hand, is flamboyant, loud, athletic and plays a “man’s game,” as Coupe says.

While Chan opens up with her close friends — see YouTube videos of her dancing and playing the drums — the on-court personalities are the same off the court, to some extent: Chan the quiet and sneaky, Dy loud and emotional.

“She’s complicated, very unpredictable,” Dy said of Chan. “That’s how she plays tennis, too, which is annoying. You never know what she’s going to do.”

For Chan, her junior roommate is someone who she can simply just trust.

“I like to talk to her, just because when we talk, you know it won’t be spread around,” Chan said. “It’s cool.”

And it’s not just discussing boys or stressing about school where that trust is big: The coaches see it on the courts, as well.

“I feel like Denise is the only person on our team, that if Venise is sort of not here mentally, Denise can call her out,” Coupe said. “I think she’s the only person that Venise will listen to on that.”

Whether it’s food — they first bonded over meals three years ago and grabbing grub “brings us together,” Dy said — boys, school or tennis strategy, the panther and the pressure cooker have cemented both a lifetime friendship, and their names in UW tennis history.

Reach Managing Editor Taylor Soper at sports@dailyuw.com.

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