TENNIS / DANA HADDAD : Tu Handled Pressure With a Little Speech
Meilen Tu has been all over Europe playing high-pressure international tournaments as a member of the U.S. national junior tennis team.
But “pressure” took on an even greater meaning when she got home last week.
Two off-court projects awaited her:
First, Tu, a sophomore, still had to finish her spring semester course work at Granada Hills High after missing nine weeks of classes during the school year.
Second--but probably No. 1 on her list of anxieties--Tu had to fly to Tucson, Ariz., to give a speech to approximately 130 people. They were mostly little people--top 12-and-under players from the western United States and their parents. But that did not lessen the challenge.
“I was really nervous--more nervous than I am before a big match,” she said.
Meilen Tu, 15, keynote speaker, knew how to diffuse the anxiety, however. She employed a strategy she often uses on the court. She followed her instincts.
“I told them I was nervous,” she said, recounting how she faced the throng of juniors players in Tucson for a USTA zonal team tournament. “And then I set aside my notes. We laughed a little bit and it went well.
“I told them that at this age it’s very important to develop their game and not worry too much about winning. I’ve taken some losses, but you learn most from losses.”
Tu also preached patience, a virtue she’s recently had to employ for herself.
A back injury likely cost her a championship in France two weeks ago. And now, in the midst of the crunch to make up final exams and assignments she missed last semester, she finds some faculty trying to give her the overhead smash.
“Some of the people don’t want to work with me--like my Spanish teacher,” Tu said. “Some of them don’t understand why I’m playing tennis. But that’s OK.”
While her teachers were using calculators to total her days absent from school, Tu was out piling up enough points to be selected for the junior national squad which, in turn, led to an invitation to play some satellite pro tournaments this summer.
But strained ligaments in her lower right back and a sprained right ankle will force her out of the first satellite event for which she was scheduled--the St. Simons Island (Georgia) tournament next week.
Tu said the injury, suffered at the Cadets Master international junior event in France two weeks ago, was the likely result of constant sliding on clay surfaces. She can’t remember who she lost to or the final score. All she remembers is the pain.
“When you’re in Europe, you don’t want to withdraw,” she said. “I think if I didn’t have the injury I would have won the tournament.
“My back is finally healed, but last Friday I rolled on my ankle doing sprints. It’s so difficult because I can’t stop playing. I have (USTA 18-and-under) nationals coming up. I have another four tournaments in front of me.”
The speech in Tucson, however, provided a refreshing break for Tu. Watching the younger players reminded her of why she started playing tennis at age 5.
“I watched them play, I played some points with them and they were just out there having fun, which was refreshing compared to the cutthroat competition I’m used to seeing,” Tu said.
“The biggest thing is I gave back (to the USTA), because I’ve received a lot from playing on the national team.”
Growing up in Texas: Her physical presence, her sometimes spectacular shot-making and the fact that she was the Southern California Tennis Assn.'s No. 2 women’s open player last year have made Ania Bleszynski perhaps the biggest name in junior girls’ tennis in this region.
Bleszynski, 16, stands over six feet, but she’s suffering growing pains.
She learned something about stamina and discipline this week at the U.S. Olympic Festival in San Antonio, where she was one of two Southern California girls selected for a draw of 16 in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Bleszynski brought two bronze medals in doubles home to Thousand Oaks Thursday, but she said the tournament that lasted eight days--her longest ever--took its toll in her disappointing fourth-place finish in singles.
She said she didn’t eat well, didn’t sleep well and, ultimately, couldn’t concentrate in important matches.
And she confessed that, going in, she had never heard of the Olympic Festival.
“It sounded pretty important,” she said. “There were ceremonies every night. The attendance was enormous. There were like 65,000 people at the Alamodome for opening ceremonies. It was definitely an experience, but I wish I had done better.”
Bleszynski lost to Katie Schlukebir of Kalamazoo, Mich., 6-3, 6-3, in the semifinals Tuesday, then dropped her bronze-medal match against Pam Trump of Arcadia, 6-4, 6-3, on Wednesday, blaming fatigue and lack of concentration for both defeats.
“I was cranky and mad at myself because I couldn’t force myself to concentrate,” she said. “I guess that’s what all tennis tournaments are going to be like (in the future) and I’ll have to learn to deal with it.”
Bleszynski was also dealing with more conventional growing pains. She switched to size 9 1/2 men’s shoes last month and is barely squeezing into them now.
“Now I think I need a 10,” she said. “I guess that means I’m still growing.”