Serving up success

Oct. 7, 2004, midnight | By Kristina Yang | 16 years, 3 months ago

Junior tennis star takes her game face to the court

Until age 12, junior Stephanie Paul had never taken tennis particularly seriously. Though she enjoyed the casual games she played with her father and older sister, she was just as interested in playing recreational league basketball and softball, and had little desire to focus her energies on tennis.

It was not until Paul entered her first Maryland State and Mid-Atlantic Regional Tennis Tournaments in sixth grade and experienced the high-impact games of the local tennis scene for the first time that she realized how much she wanted to play competitive tennis. Though devoting herself to tennis meant dropping all of her other athletic activities and subscribing to a strenuous schedule of tournaments and training sessions, Paul was willing to make those sacrifices in order to play at the competitive level.

Two years later, her hard work paid off: By the time she entered high school, Paul was ranked as one of the Mid-Atlantic Region's top 100 female tennis players by the United States Tennis Association's and easily became the top singles player for the Blair girls' tennis team. Now ranked 66th in the Mid-Atlantic region, Paul represented the Blazers in both the County and State Girls' Tennis Championships last year, and has also placed in the top ten at several regional tournaments this year alone, including the Baltimore Junior Open in July and the Sept. 11 McDonough Junior Open.

"[Paul] is the best player I know," says teammate junior Jahnavi Bhaskar. "She always helps out other team members, and she cares a lot about the team."

Blair tennis coach David Ngbea agrees with Bhaskar, adding that Paul's real strength lies not only in her strong backhand approach shots but also in her positive attitude toward other players. "She could be a college player, but she's not one to say, ‘I'm better than you,'" Ngbea says. "I can put her with my lowest-playing player, and she'll be a good teacher—very patient."

While Paul sometimes helps Ngbea work with younger players during Blair's tennis practices, she is also constantly training to improve her own form. Paul has trained on-and-off with a private instructor at the Bullis School for four years and is a regular participant in what she jokingly calls "tennis boot camp" at the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary. "[Camp] is tennis all day for two weeks," Paul explains. "It's hard, but I really had so much improvement in everything."

Ultimately, Paul hopes to improve enough to continue playing competitive tennis well beyond her high school years. Though she's unsure of the possibility of going pro, Paul explains that she is "hoping to find a college with good academics and a decent tennis team. After that, I can play until I'm really old," she says, laughing. "I want to play for fun with my grandkids."

Until then, however, Paul's most pressing goal is to play her best and help keep the Blazers in the highest division of Montgomery County girls' tennis. "I hope we can stay in Division I," she says with determination. "I'm pretty competitive, and I want to have fun and win!"

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Kristina Yang. Kristina Yang is 1/10 of the Blair girls' volleyball team. When not on the court, she most likely to be running away from Magnet math homework, trying to pay off her three speeding/redlight tickets, or feeding her bubble tea addiction. She would also like to … More »

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