For Mississippi State University tennis player Meredith Roberts, Mississippi and tennis have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.
Meredith is the MSU women’s tennis team’s first in-state player since the 2015 season, and the only American currently on the squad.
Stan Roberts, Meredith’s father and the tennis team’s volunteer assistant coach, said not many high-quality tennis players come out of Mississippi, so to do so is quite an accomplishment.
“What’s special is when you can come out of Mississippi with success,” Stan said. “We’re not only one of the poorest states in the union, but we’re one of the poorest tennis states in the union as well.”
Meredith said she was excited to play college tennis in Mississippi because it was such a unique challenge to achieve such a high level of play growing up in the state.
“It’s kind of fun playing for Mississippi because not a lot of people come out of it," Meredith said. "It was really hard when I was younger though because there weren’t a lot of people to play with."
Her father said the lack of quality tennis players coming from Mississippi was apparent at many of the tournaments Meredith played in growing up.
“All these players, they’re from California and Florida and etc., and then ‘Jackson, Mississippi,’ just doesn’t sound like maybe you’re in the right place possibly, so there’s a lot of pride coming out of Mississippi and doing well,” Stan said.
Born to two parents who met each other playing tennis in college, Meredith started playing tennis at the early age of 4 years old.
“My whole life revolved around tennis when I was younger," Meredith said. "I played my first tournament when I was 7... I’ve loved it since such a young age."
She began taking lessons with her sister, and then started playing more once she discovered she liked it. Meredith came out very strong in the 12s and 14s age groups, earning the bronze ball in 14s hard courts in the Peachtree City Junior Championships.
After that, while she would have competed in the under 16 age group, Meredith hit a bit of a lull in her playing. She changed coaches and went to Randy Pate Tennis Academy in North Carolina.
“Randy reenergized her and got her back going again," her father said. "We jumped right into 18s. She had a lot of success in 18s and got back on track."
In high school at Jackson Academy, where her mom was the head tennis coach, Meredith had great success and won four state tennis championships.
From there, she signed with Texas Christian University as a 5-star player and the no. 1 recruit out of Mississippi. After her freshman year at TCU, Meredith transferred to her home state of Mississippi to play for the MSU’s women’s team.
Head coach Daryl Greenan said he was excited to have a player from Mississippi join their team.
“It’s pretty cool that she ended up here,” Greenan said. "We were very excited that we have a Mississippi girl."
Of greater importance than where she is from, Greenan said Meredith is a very strong player with lots of heart.
“She’s just a gamer,” Greenan said. "She’s a tricky player, and she brings that in doubles and singles. She’s a little bit unorthodox, she’ll mix in high balls as good as anybody, which is effective. She makes you beat her."
Meredith said her personal philosophy has always been about giving 100 percent.
“Never walk away from a match thinking I could’ve done more, could’ve put more effort in, because that’s just the worst feeling to have,” Meredith said.
This philosophy comes in part from her dad, who coached her growing up, to always work harder than everybody else.
“His philosophy was that you’ve got to outwork them. Honestly, it was like a military academy," Meredith said. "It was very strict, and as far as your character too, if you let up at all… if you had a bad attitude or missed something… or did not try, he would just say, ‘Alright, hit the track and run until I tell you to stop.' He just tried to outwork everyone.”
Meredith adds a lot to the team dynamic, supporting her teammates with a smile on her face no matter whether she is playing or not, her father said.
Not only is Meredith the only player from Mississippi on the team, she’s the only player from the U.S. on the team.
Other players come from five different countries, making team communication challenging at times. However, Meredith sees this not as a challenge, but as an opportunity.
“Being the only American is kind of fun. I’m special because no one ever gets the opportunity to just hang out with girls from five different countries,” Meredith said. “You really get to see all the different perspectives and outlooks from each of the girls.”
Greenan said Meredith fits right in with the family feel of the team, a dynamic unique to MSU.
“We have a great culture, and I think she brings a lot to that. She’s fun and she has a great personality. She seems to love and add to the team feel, the family feeling we bring here,” Greenan said. “That’s what we have here at MSU that is different from a lot of places. Everybody notices it and I hear it all the time. It’s been 10 years, and we’ve been building a culture in my time here where we have that now, and she really adds a lot to that, especially being actually from Mississippi.”
Meredith is aiming to have a winning record this season and, like the rest of the team, hopes to make it to the sweet 16, something the team has never done before.
Meredith said her favorite thing about tennis is that it is individual—all the responsibility is on one's shoulders for an excellent performance. However, she loves the team aspect of playing tennis in college, something she says is unique in the world.
“I like how it’s individual, it’s all on you. You don’t have anyone else to blame. Everything is going to be on you,” Meredith said. “But then I like how in college it’s a team aspect, too. Your match is on you, but it’s also the team atmosphere that I like a lot. That’s why all these girls from these other countries come and play, because it’s just that much fun and there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”