One cliché you’ll commonly hear around sports is that a person can learn more from their losses than they can from their wins.
While this may not always be the case, it certainly applies to Elana Zaretsky, a junior tennis player who has attended the Chris Lewit Tennis Academy’s summer camp in Londonderry, Vt.
At age eight, Zaretsky won the consolation at the “Little MO” Nationals in Austin, Tex. in the Girls 8s Division, a fantastic result, but one that she wanted to use as motivation for her future.
“I was disappointed with the consolation win when I was eight, but the trophy presenters, including Cindy Brinker, who is Little MO's (Maureen Connolly’s daughter), told me herself that when Andy Roddick was my age he received the same trophy that I did, and that when I was 10-years-old I should come back and be the champion like Andy was when he was 10-years-old,” Zaretsky recalls. “I never forgot this advice and it helped motivate me even more as a really young player during my practices and tournaments. I kept my focus on the trophy that I wanted, hoping to return to Texas again to play “Little MO” Nationals and become a National Champion.”
And last fall, she did just that. Zaretsky captured the Girls 10s title at the “Little MO” Nationals at the Austin Tennis Academy in Austin, Texas, living up to her billing as the tournament’s top-seed with a dominant run to the championship.
Zaretsky won all of her matches in straight sets, culminating in a 6-3, 6-2 win over the second-seed Rebecca Bukhman in the finals.
“I think it’s really amazing and mind blowing to have won the same ‘Little MO’ trophy that many famous players such as Coco Gauff, Andy Roddick, Sofia Kenin and many others have won,” she said. “The list of players I watch on television during Grand Slams that have gone through the ‘Little MO’ tournaments just shocks me. I feel more motivation to train hard because I want to live up to being a National Champion, and I want to continue to win more tournaments as I get older.”
That resiliency and desire to always get better is something that comes as no surprise to Lewit.
“Elana is a fighter—tough as nails, with a tremendous court spirit”.
That mature attitude is a key factor in her success early in her junior career. She entered that Little Mo championship determined to win, and embraced the fan fare that comes with playing in the finals of a prestigious national event.
“I got a huge thrill because a crowd watches the finals, they ‘cheer and boo’, you have a chair judge, and a loudspeaker calls out the names and scores,” she said. “That environment gave me so much energy; I didn’t care if the crowd booed or cheered for me, I was just so excited to play and hear ‘Zaretsky’ on the loud speaker in Austin. It was also an awesome experience to play the Little MO regional finals on the center court at Cary Leeds Center in the Bronx with the lights on.” Zaretsky won those regional finals 6-1, 6-2.
Fast-forward to this year, and Zaretsky was eager to continue competing in USTA tournaments throughout the country, but 2020 brought with it the cancellation of the bigger national tournaments, and halted the junior schedule for months. Zaretsky also wanted to return to Austin to defend her Little Mo national championship one more time. While this has been difficult, Zaretsky understands the strange times we find ourselves living in.
“I was really looking forward to being eleven and finally prepared to travel and play at the USTA National Clay Courts in Boca Raton, and also try to play in the Summer National Championships held in Georgia. However, both were canceled,” she said.
In September, Zaretsky was happy that she was able to play in an L4 for national points in Newington, C.T., and was the tournament champion. “It was so great to be back competing”!
“Tennis and playing tournaments are definitely my number one passion, but I also see my grandparents almost every day when I am home, and keeping them and the rest of my family safe is even more important to me. Therefore, I have to stay safe and accept whatever my parents and the USTA decide is safe enough. I hope there will be a vaccine soon.”
The inability to play tournaments for much of this year did not stop Zaretsky from continuing her training. She maintained her fitness by working out in her backyard, which included jumping rope and other fitness drills to ensure she stayed in shape despite the lack of match play, while also hitting with her father and taking private lessons. Zaretsky has typically enjoyed Lewit’s summer camp in Vermont past summers, but her parents decided not to let her attend this year because of the pandemic.
“Overall, I have managed to get physically stronger and I have also grown to be so much bigger. I feel like a giant at 5’5’’ and I am 125 lbs! My private lessons have helped me tremendously to stay in the game, but I am going to need many more hours on the court, and I miss the routine of being with the kids in my academy.”
But as the regional tournament circuit started back up again, Zaretsky was excited to be back and competing in tournaments again. She possesses an aggressive game, and she enjoys going for winners when she has the chance during her matches.
“It doesn’t always work and during matches when I play aggressive, I sometimes start to doubt myself, but I am working hard mentally to not back down against my opponent to try to make the game ‘safer’,” said Zaretsky.”I need to stick with my game, win or lose, and accept the outcome, which can be really hard to do. I feel I am past the age of trying to play safe and wait out my opponent. I can definitely be patient, but this is not how I want to win. I think I am making good progress committing to my aggressive game, but it is something I can improve a great deal and it will need years of work.”
That aggressive style of play has Zaretsky competing against girls older than her, and she holds rankings in the 14s, 16s and 18s. Her big hitting should allow her to compete with older and more powerful girls, and she embraces the challenges that will come with it. With big goals and a lot of confidence, Zaretsky wants to begin to compete more consistently against girls older than she is.
“Due to the pandemic, it has been a really long time since I have played in those ages. I want to soon play more advanced tournaments in the higher ages. I hope to begin playing in the 14s more seriously before I am 12-years-old.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org