COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge junior tennis player Ford Zitsch has been at No. 1 singles for the Bruins' boys team since his freshman year. But before high school he was continually beaten by a player he now calls a teammate.
When Zitsch was 11 he began competing in United States Tennis Association events, where he first competed against current teammate, senior Jimmy Hunter, the Bruins' No. 2 singles player throughout the regular season.
“When I first started in USTA, Jimmy would kick my butt,” Zitsch said, laughing. “I wasn’t even close to being the best.”
Now, Zitsch looks at home on the court, whether sliding across the court to backhand a return or tapping the ball barely over the net to leave his opponent's head hanging. Zitsch is confident, as he proved earlier in the week by winning both his matches in team the Class 2, District 9, team tournament.
In the individual district tournament competition Saturday, Rock Bridge advanced at all four levels. Zitch won at No. 1 singles and Jack Fay prevailed at No. 2 singles. Hunter and Joe LaRose won at No. 1 doubles, while Daniel Liu and Alex R. Jones advanced at No. 2 doubles.
Zitsch has become an important cog in a successful program.
“I didn’t start taking tennis seriously until I was about 11 years old,” Zitsch said. “I had my mind on other sports before that. But I wanted to work to get better, and that meant practicing every day. So I had to give up everything else."
Now, Zitsch regularly practices with Hunter and Liu throughout the year.
"If you really want to win you’ll put the extra effort into getting better," Zitsch said. “It all boils down to you. How hard you work is how much you get out of it."
Hunter has seen Zitsch's progress first hand, and said he is proud of what Zitsch has accomplished.
“He used to be pretty impatient and tried to go for a lot of bad shots, but now he is able to control that, and he has really improved,” Hunter said. “But he takes his position very seriously and he always gives his all on the court.”
Zitsch said his passion for tennis stems from the self-reliance needed to succeed in the sport. But his passion has rubbed off on those around him.
“Playing with him makes me better and elevates my game,” Liu, Zitsch’s doubles partner, said. “He has always encouraged me and helped me improve.”
Zitsch said he welcomes the leadership role he has assumed for the Bruins.
“I am very thankful to be on this team,” Zitsch said. “We are a very deep team, I would hate to just be a good player on a bad team.”