St. John’s standout freshman Jessica Livianu was born with tennis in her blood as the daughter of a former professional player, but her passion for tennis was not an overnight occurrence.
“The funny part is that we always make jokes that I was literally born with a racket in my hand,” said Livianu, a Brooklyn native. “But when I was little, I actually didn’t really like tennis. I did a lot of ballet, gymnastics and figure skating. But I was always really competitive, and I think that is what drove me the most into tennis. My dad used to take me to all these tournaments, and I would keep losing and that made me furious and aggravated.”
It was that competitive nature that got Livianu to become more passionate about tennis, as she realized the only way she could get better was to practice more. The more she played, the more enthusiastic she became and it showed in her results, quickly becoming one of the country’s top junior players and getting tabbed as a blue chip recruit.
With her success, she became one of the most coveted recruits in the country as 2016 began, and she had her pick of colleges as to where she would continue her tennis career.
“There were so many aspects I was looking at, and I was extremely picky when it came to picking a school. I wanted this, this and this, and wasn’t going to stop until I got that,” recalls Livianu. “There are so many great schools across the country, but my mom was my coach, and I wanted to stay close to home. I also wanted to make sure I had a great relationship with my college coach, and was able to trust them. I knew St. John’s Head Coach Lauren Leo since I was a little girl playing in the USTA Eastern Section, and when I came for my visit and we spoke, it was like nothing had changed.”
Livianu, the only American on the current St. John’s roster, also embraced the international feel of the team:
“I absolutely love it. We’re all so different and come from different cultures, yet are so similar,” she said. “It’s really great to know that we are all together as a team no matter where we come from.”
Another factor in her decision to attend St. John's was her relationship with the Red Storm Head Coach Lauren Leo. The two have known each other and have worked together since Livianu was a junior player in the USTA Eastern Section.
"I have known Jessica from her time as a junior player. I have always enjoyed seeing the dedication and determination that Jessica displays when playing tennis. Jessica is very professional in her approach to her development, and, as a coach, one is always searching for that player who wants to be the best they can be," said Leo. "In addition, Jessica is a great person who demonstrates leadership, compassion and a commitment to the team. I believe that she will make a positive contribution to the St. John’s women’s tennis team."
Just before her freshman year was set to begin, Livianu was at the U.S. Open with a friend who was playing in the junior tournament. The day after Lucas Pouille defeated Rafael Nadal to reach the quarterfinals, the Frenchman needed a hitting partner on his day off.
“It was a turning point for me,” said Livianu. “His coach approached me and said he needed someone to hit with Lucas. I asked, ‘Are you serious?’ So I went out and hit with him, and I thought ‘I can be just like him; I can work just as hard’. That really drove me to work 10 times as hard and put in those extra hours to accomplish my goals.”
With that confidence, Livianu posted a remarkable fall campaign to begin her collegiate career. She became the first player in the program’s history to reach the final of the ITA Northeast Regional Championships, as well as compete in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in November. Most recently, Livianu captured both the singles and doubles titles at the USTA National Women’s Open Indoor Championships at the end of December.
As Livianu begins the second half of her freshman year and embarks on the spring season, she wants to continue her growth not only as a player, but also as a person.
“I’ve grown so much in the last three months I don’t even recognize myself at times. When I look back to who I was in August and where I am now, I feel like I am a completely different person,” said Livianu. “I have so many views on the world, and being at St. John’s hasn’t just helped me grow athletically and academically, but also as a person. Our goal as a team is to win the Big East. We really want to work together as a team to build each other up and become one of the better teams in the nation.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org