Pepperdine Waves women’s tennis player Lisa Zaar stepped away from the collegiate course during the fall tennis season. Instead, Zaar played in four professional tennis tournaments.
The senior took her racket to the professional level to improve her game and get an early look at what tennis will be like after she graduates from Pepperdine.
“It was tough every week,” Zaar said. “I had some good wins and played some good tennis. More importantly, I learned. It was all about learning what I need to improve on. What it means to stay on the tour. What is hard and challenging. What I am good at. Traveling alone is a different from having your teammates around you and your coaches with you coaching. You are alone for two and a half hours on the court.”
The 22-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden, played in professional tournaments for four consecutive weeks. She was determined to play at a high level throughout the weeklong competitions. Her best performance, Zaar said, was in the last week. She qualified for a $60,000 tournament in Macon, Georgia and faced off with an individual who had spent some time ranked as a top 100 player.
“I played for four weeks and its easy to be excited for the first two weeks and keep your body in shape, but how are you doing the fourth week — body-wise and mentally?” Zaar explained. “The main thing I learned is consistency and staying at a high level is important. I was ready to play more.”
The tennis player, who has earned a litany of awards during her Waves career, maintained her upper echelon of play in her return to college tennis this month.
Zaar defeated three nationally ranked opponents to win the top-flight singles title at the 20th Freeman Memorial Championship on the campus of UNLV in Las Vegas, Pepperdine’s first event of the spring season. Her triumph at the Jan. 13-15 spectacle led to her winning the West Coast Conference Singles Player of the Week on Jan. 17.
Zaar, who also won the honor in March 2021, said garnering the weekly award again is a great honor.
“Its good to be back in the college tournament, match settings,” said Zaar, an All-WCC first team singles and doubles player last season. “It is a great start to season not only for me, but the team.”
Zaar, additionally an ITA All-American last year, defeated Stanford’s Alexandra Yepifanova, ranked 38th, 6-1, 6-4 to win the title at the tournament. She downed 44th-ranked Alexis Blokhina of Stanford 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the championship match. Zaar began the tournament with a 6-4, 6-4 victory Oklahoma State’s Sofia Rojas, ranked 72nd.
Zaar is more focused on getting better at her sport than the results of her competitions.
“It is a long season,” she noted. “It is important to not stop working and be satisfied at the beginning. I’m trying to get better every day, and this tournament showed me things I need to get better at and things I have improved.”
Winning the tournament wasn’t easy, Zaar explained.
After she lost the first set to Blokhina, Zaar had a conversation with Waves head coach Per Nilsson. Nilsson reminded Zaar she could push through any difficulties she was having.
“I remember trying to get myself going in the second set,” Zaar said. “Screaming at myself in Swedish to keep on going, but somehow even though I didn’t play my best tennis, I found a way to win the next two sets.”
She said overcoming challenges on the court is enjoyable.
“I love being out there and having a fight,” Zaar said. “That reminds me why I love the game — the tension, the excitement, the will to win, and also the will to not lose.”
Zaar wasn’t the only Wave to leave the Freeman Memorial Championship as a champion.
Savannah Broadus, a sophomore, won her division’s championship. Additionally, Carolyn Campana, a graduate student, went undefeated in her division, but a title wasn’t awarded because she was set to go against her sister and teammate Anna Campana, also a graduate student, in the championship match. Instead, the matchups were rearranged so teammates would not compete against each other.
Broadus, ranked 21st, defeated Lucia Peyre of Oklahoma State 6-2, 6-3 in the first round; Ava Catanzarite of UCLA, ranked 46th, 6-2, 6-1 in the next round; and then beat Alicia Dudeney from Florida 6-0, 6-2 to claim the title.
Carolyn Campana downed Rojas of Oklahoma State 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the finale of her bracket. Before that, she downed UCLA’s Vanessa Ong 6-3, 6-2 and Oklahoma State’s Kristina Novak 7-5, 6-2.
Anna Campana defeated UNLV’s Salsa Aher in the quarterfinals 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 and then beat Emma Shelton of Florida 6-2, 6-7, 6-3. She was beat by Oklahoma State’s Novak 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the final round.
Junior Nikki Redelijk won two matches in the tournament also.
Only two rounds of doubles play happened due to inclement weather, so four Waves received co-champion status — Broadus and junior Janice Tjen and Zaar and graduate student Bunyawi Thamchaiwat. Both pairs won both of their matches.
Tjen and Broadus, the fourth-ranked doubles pair, were named the WCC Doubles Team of the Week for the third time.
Pepperdine’s match against California on Jan. 22 was rescheduled to Feb. 5 due to health and safety protocols. The Waves will host ITA Kick-Off Weekend matches. Pepperdine faces Clemson on Saturday at 10 a.m.
The Waves are the 10th-ranked squad in the nation and predicted to win the WCC again this spring. The squad has been the conference’s regular season champions for 10 straight years and has been the last team standing at the end of eight straight WCC tournaments. The Waves reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships in 2022.
Zaar said Pepperdine has high expectations for the season.
“I’m excited to see what this team can bring and what we can do this year,” she said. “We have great potential to do something special. I’m hoping we can all enjoy the ride and create some history for Pepperdine.”
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