Waves Insider: Star tennis player cares only about improvement

Since starting tennis at the age of 10, Pepperdine Waves women’s tennis player Luisa Stefani has been all about getting better.

As a young player, Stefani only initially participated in tennis as a leisure sport, taking lessons once a week on Saturday mornings. But she soon started ramping up her practice time and competing in local tournaments. She eventually got to the point where she started traveling around South America to compete.

Her progression landed her at a tennis academy called Saddleback Prep School in Chapel, Florida, where she moved with her family when she was 14. But because she wasn’t yet an American citizen, Stefani had to travel back and forth to South America to compete in junior circuit International Tennis Federation tournaments in order to improve her game and ranking.

Stefani got so good that two years ago, she started competing at the Junior Grand Slams, which consists of Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian opens.

Stefani generally performed better in doubles play during those competitions, according to results on the ITF website.

After seeing all that improvement over the years, it’s no surprise that Stefani, after deciding to attend Pepperdine University, would have designs to develop her tennis game even further.

“I feel like I came to college just to improve my tennis in order to go professional later on, which is what I want to do,” Stefani said in an interview last month with the Malibu Surfside News. “So being ranked high or doing well this season, it’s really cool to see how much I’ve improved, see some differences in my game and see how much the [coaching staff] at Pepperdine helped me get to the highest level in the national collegiate rankings.”

Stefani recently finished a stellar freshman season for the Waves, competing in the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championships and earning All-America status from the International Tennis Association. Throughout the season, she stayed among the top 15 players nationally, ranking as high as No. 2 and finishing at No. 6.

Stefani said she feels she accomplished the goal she set at the start of her freshman year.

“I think I improved a lot,” Stefani said. “I think I learned a lot about myself on the court.”

Stefani’s overall development came gradually. Moving to the United States was an adjustment for Stefani, particularly for her tennis game. In South America, clay courts are more common, and players tend to stay at the baseline when hitting the ball. But in America, the surface of choice is hard court.

Stefani said playing on hard courts forced her to learn to be more aggressive, get to the ball faster and go to the net more often than she was accustomed.

Even though she’s competed at a high level for the past two years with all her Grand Slam experience, her only focus is to be best player she can be. And although Stefani suffered a disappointing loss in the NCAA tournament, Stefani is already looking ahead to becoming sharper on the court, she said.

“My goal is just to get better and do well in the NCAA tournament,” Stefani said. “If I keep improving, I think that’s whats going to happen. So that’s the goal again.”

Waves Insider is a monthly column offering an in-depth look at Pepperdine sports. Assistant Editor Alex Vejar covers high school sports, education and anything in between for the Malibu Surfside News. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexVReporting.