Kayla Klazmer can’t be more excited about the New Year. She was given the opportunity to captain the ball kids at the Racquet Club during the Memphis Tennis Open in February, and later this year she begins college. It’s a year filled of excitement and anticipation for her – and sure to be one of those watershed years in her young life. With her enthusiasm, determination, smarts and perseverance, it should be a memorable one.
During the two-week Memphis Tennis Open at the Racquet Club, surrounded by the best tennis players in the world, she watched the matches from the sidelines while working her sixth year for the local event. It’s not the most difficult work, she admits but communicating with foreign players and dodging 100-mph-plus serves can be tricky. Thankfully, she hasn’t been on the receiving end of either of those two, but she has friends who have been. It’s a job that can be dull at times or exciting. But either way you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball.
“Anybody can be a ball kid. You have to try out, you have to be fast and you must be aware,” she said.
Three months later, after graduating from the Goldie Margolin-Yeshiva of the South (GMYOS), she’ll be on her way to the University of Tampa where she’ll sport a double scholarship in both athletics and academics. In athletics and life in general, she’s discovered that finding ones inner confidence is an asset. She’s noticed it in the professional players who visit Memphis each February, and it’s something she hopes to learn and cultivate into her own game. It comes as no surprise that two of her favorite players on the tour – Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova – don’t seem to lack that drive and confidence.
But, it’s also something that a player has to constantly work at. She credits the team sports of basketball and soccer with instilling confidence early on into her game. In playing tennis she’s had to find it on her own.
“I’ve got to stay positive and tell myself to take the game one step at a time and take it slow,” she said. “As a junior I would win tournaments all the time, but as you get older your opponents get stronger and taller. When I entered the 16-and 18-age-groups, the competition really got stronger. I didn’t always win. So, I’ve been centering a lot more on my confidence. I know I’m better than some of these players and there’s really no reason why I should lose.”
As a product of both Memphis Jewish day schools, and as the first graduate of the GMYOS to earn a tennis scholarship, an achievement that’s very special to her and her parents alike – a special bond has developed over time between the Klazmers and the school. She’s thankful that the yeshiva was supportive and flexible during those days she needed to leave school early for tennis practice. Her ACT score earned her an educational scholarship as well.
So with those details worked out she can settle back and enjoy college life and team play without worry. Being ranked seventh in her age group in Tennessee gives her respectable credentials as she delves into college play. It’s a division II, private school in downtown Tampa with an enrollment of 8,300 but with a fairly sizable Jewish population, which was important for her.
The road to Tampa started for her a couple years ago when the Spartan coaching staff saw her play at a private camp. After considering two other campuses she opted for Tampa over Florida Atlantic and George Mason.
But until those exciting and challenging college days get here, there’s still work to be done and tournaments to attend – a challenge that’s been made more difficult because she attends the tournaments alone. The yeshiva doesn’t field a team. She works out at the Racquet Club and a few other tennis centers around the city. Going it alone as a player makes it more difficult to be seen and later recruited, she admits.
“We can sign up for tournaments in Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, and we’ve been out-of-town frequently over the last four to five years. “It’s been quite a rat race,” her father said.
Part of her more recent schedule included a trip to Kentucky in December when she entered a 64-person tournament. Many of the same girls play in the same region as Klazmer so that breeds a familiarity with everyone’s game. So even though she’s ranked fourth in the large field, the competition is still very stiff.
When 18 year olds have been playing since they were 7, competition levels can be close.