“Tennis has kind of always been in my family, both of my parents played more recreationally. My uncle was a pretty good tennis player. They put me in the sport pretty early, and it just kind of stuck.” These are the words of Fifteen-year-old Olivia Center, casually describing her introduction to tennis at age six. The South Pasadena native has the world in front of her, and like a lot of young players, has found herself here simply through a love for tennis. Center had no lack of role models in tennis around her with so many family members in the sport, and she has also found inspiration from the likes of Naomi Osaka. “I really like Osaka! I like her demeanor on the court,” said Center. “And I remember her breakout tournament at Indian Wells. I was there to watch her and support her”.
Despite her age, Center is focused on growing as a player and building a path in tennis. Center has an analytical mindset about tennis and the appeal of the sport. “I like the aspect of problem solving,” she explained. “And how you’re out there on your own and you just have to figure out your way through the match. I find the competition really fun.” Center had a glint in her eyes when describing this aspect of tennis, with the reflection of the many problems she solves on the court reflected in her face. In contrast to the solitude of tennis on the court, Center also appreciates the community aspect of tennis in its own right.
“I’ve traveled a lot to tournaments around the country,” reminisced Center. “I’ve gone with a good group of friends. Outside of the competition, we go to dinners, and we can just hang out together. The events just become fun when you have your friends around you.” It was clear that her experiences off court and the relationships that she has built have been just as important to her as those on the court. When asked if she had a favorite tournament, Center was quick to give her answer. “I went to Orange Bowl, and we always stay at the same hotels, and we have dinners together. Having support around me from my friends is really nice. So yeah, that event was really fun,” she said.
Like most young tennis players, Center has to balance school and her pursuit of a competitive career in tennis. Center certainly doesn’t have to go through this journey alone however, being thankful for the strong community of friends that she has built. “I do have school friends, but I have a stronger connection with my tennis friends, because we all go through the same stuff,” she explained. Center hopes to use her abilities and success in tennis to further her education and is clearly influenced both by the competition of Collegiate Athletics, as well as the community.
“My biggest aspiration is to play D1 tennis. I feel like having a team would be fun. And I want to just keep improving, past my junior years,” said Center. With an eye on the future, Center has every ambition to find another team and another community in tennis, no doubt because of her positive experience with Team SoCal as a Junior. Center spoke of the environment in Southern California with high regard, saying “I like the environment of Southern California tennis, because I feel like it’s a tight knit group, and everybody knows each other. We’ve all been playing each other since we were young. So when we go to tournaments, it’s just like, I’m seeing my family around.”
Center also has a sense of exploration about her, having had the chance to play in tournaments outside of California, she speaks with excitement about the challenges faced. Center clearly relishes the opportunity to play different levels of competitive tennis, an attribute that will take her far as she progresses in her career. “When I travel outside of the state, it’s also really cool because you get to see, like, different types of players. It’s a little less familiar and like, I feel like just the energy’s more intense,” she said.
Despite her clear ambitions of playing tennis at College and keeping the sport close to her as she looks to the next stage of her life, Center is careful to not get carried away. When asked about tennis as a professional career, the teenager clearly has a part of her that would jump at the chance, but she also has a steady focus that kept her grounded. “Right now, I’m not looking at making tennis like a pro career. I want it I want to use it to further my education and get into good College… But yeah, you never know.”
That line seems to hold promise and determination from Center, who already having accomplished a lot and filed out a place for herself in the world of tennis, has the skills, the support and the drive to do anything else she wants.