Countdown: Alice Li to Johns Hopkins
by Keith Kropp, 8 April 2014
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Approximately two-and-a-half years ago, Alice Li took the court on a weekday afternoon to play Alexandrea Meier, a friend and fellow player from the same tennis academy, in the Girls 16s championship match of the 22nd annual Calabasas (Calif.) Junior Open Tournament.
To that point Li had played brilliantly in the USTA event, winning her first four matches without losing a set. The next match, however, would challenge Li's mental strength as well as her physical skills.
Li, a 3-star recruit who has committed to play collegiately at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., this coming fall, crafted an impressive performance that day in defeating Meier 6-3, 6-1. Of greater significance to Li was that the title marked the first time she had won an open junior tournament in the United States.
"I really wanted to win the match," said Li, who felt her confidence begin to grow following that victory. "It meant a lot to me."
Li's road to winning that tournament took several years and covered thousands of miles. Li began playing tennis in Tianjin, China, at age 8, but she eventually discovered she was expected to put all her efforts into either school or tennis. Doing both was discouraged.
Having to make that choice presented a serious dilemma.
Alan Ma, Li's coach in China at that time, came up with an idea. He recommended Li look seriously coming to the United States to play tennis while continuing her education at the same time. Ma suggested the Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, Calif., would enable her to do that.
Li came to Weil Tennis Academy in January of 2011 and joined many other aspiring tennis players who shared the same dreams.
"I like it here," Li said. "It is a great program, and they have helped me a lot with my tennis and education. They also helped throughout the process of finding the right college for me."
One of the coaches who began to influence Li was Ognyan Katsarov, a former Fed Cup coach for Bulgaria who also coached several top 20 WTA players before coming to the Weil Tennis Academy.
"Before Alice came to Weil Academy she had very little competitive experience, no variety in her game, not much stability in her strokes and little understanding of tactics," Katsarov said. "But Alice was willing to work really hard to improve every day, be focused for the entire practice, and listen to me closely - making every practice count."