ALYSSA AHN AND THE MENTALITY OF A CHAMPIONUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
JULY 7, 2023 | CAMILLE HANSON
ALYSSA AHN AND THE MENTALITY OF A CHAMPIONUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
JULY 7, 2023
San Diego’s Alyssa Ahn competes at Barnes Tennis Center.
(Photo – Lexie Wanninger/USTA SoCal)
SHARE THIS STORY
San Diego native Alyssa Ahn may be soft-spoken when first meeting her, however, it doesn’t take long to recognize how immense the depth of her character is on court. She not only exhibits excellence in how she plays, but also demonstrates exceptional sportsmanship toward her opponents.
Ahn already has several standout achievements in her burgeoning tennis career, including the Girls’ 16s singles title at the 2022 USTA Billie Jean King Girls’ 16s & 18s National Championships last August. This victory earned her a wild card entry into the 2022 US Open Junior Championships main draw. Nominated for the National Girls’ High School Tennis Player of the Year Award, Ahn was among the 24 blue chip athletes recognized for the 2022 USA Today High School Sports Awards.
“I started playing when I was seven and started tournaments at the age of nine. My dad played in college at the Air Force Academy and was a huge part in motivating me to play tournaments, train, and get better,” said Ahn. “I really enjoyed the competitive aspect, that’s what kept me in it. Ever since then, I’ve just been trying to improve and play as many tournaments as possible. I also plan on playing college tennis, so I’m excited for that.”
Ahn currently trains with the Steve Adamson Academy at Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego. Steve Adamson began working with Ahn when she was 11 years old. “It was around 2018 when I was working with a group of the best juniors in San Diego,” said Adamson. “She didn’t say much when we were working together at the beginning. I’d tell her what to do and she’d just do it and wouldn’t stop. She works super hard and is a very friendly girl, all the players like her. Even today, I don’t know if her lungs and heart are bionic, but she doesn’t get tired. She’s an extremely hard worker.”
This summer, Ahn is competing in several SoCal Pro Series events. The ITF/USTA Pro Circuit $15,000 tournaments in Southern California highlight the exceptional up-and-coming players in the region. The SoCal Pro Series attracts a diverse group, including talented juniors, outstanding college players, and others. This series provides a special chance for participants to accumulate crucial ATP and WTA ranking points while honing their skills for the professional circuit. Moreover, they have the advantage of experiencing all of this without having to travel abroad, as the events take place in their local area. With Ahn’s hometown of Torrey Pines being a 15 minute drive from venues like Barnes Tennis Center, these events promise an accessible and unique experience for Southern California natives and Southern California collegiate players.
Ahn has played in four of the six SoCal Pro Series events this summer. The second leg took place at the University of San Diego, where Ahn qualified before winning her first round of main draw singles and doubles. Ahn fell to UCLA’s Kimmi Hance in the first round of the third event at Barnes Tennis Center, but made it to the second round at the Los Angeles and Irvine events.
“Those are super fun because it’s a pro tournament so you get a different experience than you would in the Juniors,” said Ahn. “It’s more professional and a great opportunity that we have in SoCal. I want to try to play all the SoCal Pro Series this summer.”
Of Ahn’s playing style, Adamson described one of her strengths as being her fitness: “She can go all day and definitely creates pace when she needs to. She’s a baseliner and a counter puncher who can stay out there and battle. One of her biggest assets is her mental strength.”
“She’s a fierce competitor, looks can be deceiving,” noted Adamson. “She really wants to win and she fights really hard for every point. She doesn’t talk much on court, she’s very polite. She very rarely says things like ‘come on,’ but underneath she has a lot of fire under her.”
Mental endurance is as integral as physical conditioning when it comes to the high-pressure, high-stakes environments bred by competition. It can be difficult to control emotions when faced with a tough opponent, especially one who is not exhibiting the code of ethics that Friend at Court encourages players to follow.
“To me, sportsmanship is a commitment to playing fair while also giving respect to your opponent, everyone involved in the tournament, and the sport itself,” said Ahn. “That involves line calls, showing a good attitude on the court. I always give them the benefit of the doubt and think that they’re trying to be fair. I value sportsmanship because it makes the sport more fun and enjoyable on both sides of the court when you know you have a fair match to play. It also teaches important lessons like honesty, respect, and self control.”
Always courteous to her opponents, Adamson explained how Ahn will clap her racquet when a player hits a good shot, “and then the next point she’s ready to fight. She treats everyone so well and I think that’s why she’s so well-liked. She’s very fair.”
According to Ahn, sportsmanship is especially relevant in matches against friends. Two players who stand out to Ahn are San Diego’s Emily Deming and NorCal resident Sophie Hernandez. Their positive attitudes and regard for one another on court allow them to build meaningful friendships outside of the competitive environment.
Players like Ahn and Huntington Beach’s Mika Ikemori, who recently received the 2023 Evelyn Houseman Lifetime Junior Sportsmanship Award, set the standard when it comes to grace under pressure.
When asked about the guidance she would offer in challenging circumstances to either herself or a friend, Ahn emphasized the importance of maintaining control and composure: “No matter how difficult the circumstances are or how close the match is, if your opponent is being really unfair, I think you should be the bigger person,” said Ahn. “It’s hard to do in the middle of a tough match, but it’s important to be the bigger person and move on. Get a referee or whatever you feel is right, but don’t be disrespectful back to them.”
Though several years of high school tennis and SAT prep are left to complete, Ahn already has plans to follow in the footsteps of her dad by playing college tennis. “Later this year [in August], I’m looking forward to playing the 18s hardcourts at my home club, Barnes Tennis Center,” said Ahn. “I’m excited and hope to do decent in that. Beyond that, I’m looking to just improve my game overall. Recruiting for college tennis is starting soon. It seems really fun, seeing it on social media and on TV. There’s a team aspect of college tennis that I’m excited for.”
Reflecting on her success in the past few years, Adamson recalled a particularly formative moment in the first round of last year’s US Open Junior Championships. On Court 10, Ahn faced a top-seeded Australian opponent who had much more professional match experience under her belt. As the underdog, Ahn had some nerves going into the match.
“She lost the first 7 games and was down a set in the first 20 minutes,” said Adamson. “But she found a way to come back and win the 2nd set. She fought back and won the 2nd with sheer will and then did well in the 3rd.” Though ultimately falling to the seasoned Australian, Adamson described her comeback as “a testament to her mental strength. It’s a great achievement to get to the U.S. Open and be competitive. She’s a fantastic girl with an amazing family and is a pleasure to have at the Academy.”