When Land O’ Lakes High School junior Kavya Avancha lost an individual tennis match against Wiregrass Ranch, she was disappointed.
She dropped the best-of-three match in three sets, and admits she didn’t play her best tennis. It was her first — and ended up her only — loss in individual competition all season. And she was hoping for a rematch.
Avancha got that rematch, but the stakes were much higher: The district finals, with a spot in the state tournament on the line. Avancha had a chance to not only avenge her only loss this season, but also make up for a district finals loss the previous season.
This time the outcome went in her favor: A straight-set victory to make up for the previous loss, her first trip to state competition as an individual player, and Land O’ Lakes’ first ever state finals berth for an individual player in girls tennis.
“It feels great. I’ve been working really hard. I really wanted to make it to state this year, so I’m really happy about that,” Avancha said.
She qualified for state last year in doubles competition, and to reach that level this year on her own — while dispatching the only player to beat her this year — was particularly satisfying.
Avancha wasn’t the only one invested in the outcome. For Coach Karen Turman, who has taught tennis for 17 years and is a U.S. Professional Tennis Association-certified pro, it was a matchup that got her own competitive juices flowing.
“I wanted to play that match as much as Kavya,” Turman said. “I got up out of my chair and had to take a walk. I went up to the umpire and I said to him, ‘It’s hard to watch because I’d rather be on the court.’ You want to be out there in the competition yourself.”
Turman’s talents with a racket weren’t needed, and she was proud of Avancha and excited to see the school send an individual player to state for the first time.
Getting to this level of success takes a lot of work, Avancha said. She practices a couple hours after school on most evenings, and that’s often after the school’s own tennis practice. She even works with her father, Srinivas, who coaches her.
Spending that much time on her game allows Avancha to not think about form or technique during an actual match. Her body already knows where to position itself and how to hit the ball, so her mind can focus on strategy during the competition, finding her opponent’s weak points and exploiting them with her own strengths.
And her 11-1 record during the regular season shows that her method works on the court.
But according to Turman, Avancha’s real strength lies in how she approaches the game and conducts herself during matches.
“Nothing frustrates her. You cannot tell if she’s winning or losing by just her demeanor on the court, and that’s what a true champion does,” Turman said. “They don’t really show their emotion. They just have the guts to pull it out.”
Avancha’s focus is apparent off the court as well. As a member of Land O’ Lakes High’s International Baccalaureate program, she spends a lot of time on her rigorous course load and hours of homework almost every night. But the same determination that serves her well with a tennis racket gives her confidence in the classroom.
And Avancha admits that confidence isn’t something she always had. But competing and succeeding in tennis has helped her overcome those issues.
“Before tennis, as a kid, I was actually very nervous and not very confident,” she said. “But I’ve grown in my confidence. I can say what’s on my mind and that’s grown with the sport.”
Avancha knows the players will be better and tougher to defeat in state competition, which will take place later this month. But she said that facing a higher caliber of player makes the game fun for her, and she’s looking forward to seeing how she fares against the best in the state.
Before that happens, however, she’ll go back to the regimen of hard work and practice that has helped get to this point.
“I’m probably going to put in a little bit more hours these next two weeks than I usually do so I get more practice,” Avancha said. “But I’ll probably do the same drills and work on some other things I need to improve.”
Published April 9, ,2014