Former tennis player Samantha Budai eyeing her dream to go pro

Iowa State junior Samantha Budai hits the ball at the Kansas match on April 10 at the Forker Tennis Courts.

Nash Vanbibber

Sami Budai has been in love with the sport of tennis since she was five years old. Her dream has always been to play professionally and with her determination, she plans to make it a reality. 

Budai, 22, is a recent graduate from Iowa State where she obtained a scholarship to play Division 1 tennis.  

During Budai’s time at Iowa State, Budai was consistently a key player. Budai began playing the No. 2 position in singles her freshman year followed by the No. 1 position for the remainder of her career, while playing at the top doubles spot throughout as well. 

Budai was introduced to tennis by her parents when they took her to lessons in a summer camp. Her parents noticed early on that she picked up the sport very quickly. Budai had to later be switched to a group of older and more advanced kids.

“It’s hard to say when the exact moment was that I fell in love with the sport, but I always loved the competitiveness of it and the fact that it was different than the other sports I played,” Budai said. “I love that it was just me on the court and I had control over what happens, something you don’t get in a team sport.

“In a team sport you could play your heart out, play exceptionally well and still lose because there are other players influencing you.”

Budai did not end up at Iowa State by choice. She had been looking at other schools and whenever she applied to a Division I school they would tell her they had picked someone else. This took a heavy toll on Budai and she contemplated if she should even keep applying herself to the sport she loves.

“I felt like giving up because it was so late in my senior year that I was a couple weeks away from graduating and I still wasn’t signed,” Budai said. “I saw on a recruiting website that Iowa State had a couple spots open so I gave it one last shot. Iowa State contacted me back right away and offered me the scholarship. It was an opportunity I had to take even though I knew nothing about the school.

“I am forever grateful they took a chance on me and offered me a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Traveling and playing tennis was a drastic change for Budai since she had never been a part of a team before. Budai never had the luxury of traveling around the world playing the sport she loves.

“My favorite memory about ISU and tennis would have to be the traveling and playing tennis as both an individual and team which is something you are not used to in juniors,” Budai said. “I had the privilege to travel the country doing what I love, train, have access to a great strength coach for training, all for free which is truly a blessing.”

Budai has had a tough road to get where she is today, such as not being financially stable in parts of her life, as well as being told she was not good enough to play for a certain program. The thing that kept her going was knowing how much effort, time and money her parents put into tennis for her.

“I worked too hard and struggled too much to not have something positive come out of it,” Budai said.

Budai’s dream has always been alive burning inside of her. She sees herself at Wimbledon waving to her fans and family, lifting the trophy above her head and loving every second of it. 

“Everything I’ve accomplished I did shorthanded and self-motivation,” Budai said. “I know I’m not even close to reaching my peak and all I need is an opportunity and I can do great things.”

Since tennis is such an international sport and there are not many opportunities in Canada where Budai is from, she is hoping to train in Europe or in the United States as there are tournaments close, which would limit the cost of travel. Budai will always represent Canada, as you must represent the country in which you hold citizenship. 

“My heart and loyalty will always be to whoever takes a chance on me and provides me with an opportunity and that is what matters the most to me,” Budai said. “People who believe in me and show endless support even when times are tough, not just when things are going well.”

Armando Espinosa, who has been the Iowa State’s women’s tennis coach since 2008, also recruited Budai after seeing an online video of her serve and other practice drills. 

“After seeing her online drills, she had a very powerful serve and a fast-pace style to her game,” Espinosa said. “I knew after watching the video I wanted to coach her and bring her to Iowa State.”

At the very beginning it was quite the challenge for Budai, changing up her techniques along with learning an all new set of rules for college tennis. 

“Toward the beginning of her career here at Iowa State, she had little experience in how to go into a match and have the right mind set,” Espinosa said. “Toward the end of her career she started going into the matches more strategically and taking it more slow instead of going in the match aggressively.”

Espinosa has plenty of good memories with Budai throughout her career in the cardinal and gold, but there’s one specific memory that sticks in his brain. 

Iowa State was playing West Virginia and had the opportunity to win the conference meet. Budai was the last one to play and she won her match giving the Cyclones the lead and later the conference meet over the Mountaineers. 

Espinosa knew he could depend on her for leadership and her skill to earn points for Iowa State in every match the Cyclones played throughout the season. 

“Budai is a hard worker and puts in everything she does for the sport of tennis,” Espinosa said. “Nothing has been given to Budai, she’s had to fight for what she wants.”