Next year, Zach Lieb will take his tennis talents up to Connecticut to play for the Wesleyan University Men’s Tennis team.
“It’s a great academic school, which is what I was looking for along with a strong tennis program,” said Lieb. “The team camaraderie was something that I really enjoyed and coaches Mike Fried and Ben Shapiro are really great coaches and people as well.”
Lieb began playing tennis at an early age because, like many athletes, his father and two older brothers were tennis players.
“I started hitting the ball for fun when I was around five or six years old mainly because they would be on the court, and I would join in for a couple minutes for fun,” recalls Lieb. “I wasn’t that great when I was in the 10s and 12s, but I really enjoyed it so I kept going. I continued playing and developed into the player I am today.”
That persistence has allowed the New York City native to take his game to a new level over the last few years. Lieb trains at the Gotham Tennis Academy at Stadium Tennis Center in the Bronx where he has been for a decade.
“I’ve been there since I was a kid. My family used to play at the old Stadium so we went back when the new one opened,” he said. “I’ve just enjoyed the freedom I’ve had there in really being able to have great practices and not be boxed into a large group of kids all doing the same boring drills and games every day.”
That freedom comes from the program’s director, Eric Faro, who has been coaching Lieb for the bulk of his tenure at the academy. The two have a great coach-player relationship that has allowed Lieb to flourish both on and off the court.
“I have been working with Zach since he was eight-years-old. He’s been the pillar for our program at Gotham for the last seven years,” said Faro. “Our relationship goes way beyond the lines on the tennis court. He is a special person to coach because, most importantly, he is just an outstanding kid. He treats everyone at the club the same no matter what. He has worked extremely hard on his game, and deserves all the success he has achieved.”
A product of that relationship and the close, intimate groups in which he has trained has helped Lieb develop a sense of purpose on the court, something that he says is one of his biggest strengths as a player.
“I would say that my variety, tactics and smarts on the court are my strengths,” said Lieb. “When I was younger, my technique wasn’t good at all, especially compared to the kids I was playing against. So I had to find other ways to win.
Finding the right balance between defense and offense is something that I’m always working on. The main thing for me now is to keep getting mentally and physically stronger. I’m looking forward to being able to get in the gym a lot more in college to really get stronger.”
Despite his technique not being as sharp in the early part of his junior career, Lieb has improved it significantly which has opened the door to his rapid growth as a player. He and Faro have worked to make him a more aggressive player on court which, combined with his tennis intellect, have created a consistent balance to his game.
That improvement will continue as he transitions into his college career, and looks to make an impact in the Wesleyan lineup. His adaptability to play both singles and doubles makes him a huge asset on a college team; something that Faro knows will go a long way in Lieb’s next four years.
“I believe he’ll keep improving and have a tremendous college career,” said Faro. “He has become so much more aggressive on the court in recent years, and his serve and forehand have become huge. Zach has incredible hands and I believe he will be an outstanding doubles player in college. He’s such a smart student and athlete, and I always have confidence that he can figure things out when he’s out on the court.”
Making the transition from junior tennis to college is a difficult one, for many reasons, but Lieb is eager to be a part of a team, and can’t wait to make his contribution for the Wesleyan team next year.
“I’m really looking forward to being part of a team,” said Lieb as he looks ahead to the fall. “Throughout my time in the juniors, tennis has been a solitary sport, so finally being able to be on a team, support and receive support from others, and have practice partners always there to play with is something I’m looking forward to.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org