July 15, 2019 | 73° F

Junior shares path to choosing tennis over career in swimming

Photo by Daphne Alva |

Junior Gina Li found success over the weekend at the Brown Invitational, going 3-1 in her doubles competition with partner Mariam Zein. Li chose to play tennis over swimming when she was 11 years old after succeeding in several events.

Before becoming a standout Rutgers tennis player, junior Gina Li had an affinity for another sport.

She believes if it were not for having a racquet in her hand, swimming would be her physical activity of choice.

“If I weren’t playing tennis, I may have been a swimmer,” Li said. “When I was younger I was also on the swim team and had a lot of fun in the water.”

Swimming was a hobby Li enjoyed because of her love for the water, but tennis was an activity she learned to love at an age where most children do not start school.

It was her mom and dad, both of who were just learning the sport, who helped cultivate Li’s passion for tennis.

“I first picked up a racquet when I was four years old,” Li said. “My parents were starting to play tennis as well, so I just watched them play and wanted to play, too. It turned into a family thing as my dad was my coach through my entire junior career.”

While having some success as both a swimmer and a tennis athlete, she ultimately had to make a decision as to which she should focus on more.

Li’s choice was the right one.

“I was about 11 years old and had already stopped swimming in the summer season, so I was only swimming in the winter,” Li said. “At that time I had begun playing in some national tennis tournaments and found some success, so that’s when I decided to solely focus on tennis.”

The Hillsborough, New Jersey native’s mindset has led her to play Division I tennis for the past two years.

Li has grown into one of Rutgers’ more under-the-radar players, but her presence and play has not gone unnoticed and is still integral to the team’s success.

This past weekend at the Brown Invitational, Li and doubles partner Mariam Zein finished 3-1 in their matches and played well as a whole.

Li’s emergence into a formidable college tennis player was no fluke, according to head coach Ben Bucca, who cited her willingness to get stronger and her desire to improve her physical fitness as keys to her success. 

“Her level of energy and commitment has improved since joining the team,” Bucca said. “As a result, she has realized herself to be a quality college tennis player.”

In addition to commitment, Li has discovered a heightened love of competition through her college career, which has also fueled her play.

Enjoying a sport is one end of the spectrum, but exuding a need to compete is the end of the spectrum in which Li finds herself.

“I love the game and the competition,” Li said. “ I like how mentally strong you need to be to play tennis and how the momentum can shift in an instant.”

When playing a sport, even the most accomplished and talented athletes have a favorite player whom they try to emulate.

“My favorite tennis player is the Chinese player Li Na,” Li said. “She’s got a strong baseline game and a solid backhand, which I also implement in my own style of play.”

Not bad for someone whose initial goal was to be a known swimmer.

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Marquel Ingram

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