Gavriella Smith admits she felt a little pressure Wednesday in the USTA state singles title match in the 12-year-old age group.
Just a few courts over, her big brother Zachary had just won the state singles title in the 14s.
Now it was her turn to try to win and give the Smiths a family sweep. She had already dropped her first set but tied it up with a second-set win, then went on to win the third set 7-6 to complete the double and make it a family affair for the siblings who have tennis running through their veins.
Their father Jeffrey Smith played tennis at Tulane.
“We were born playing tennis,” said Gavriella, 12. “I love playing tennis because it’s sort of a like a life lesson. Never give up in a match because you can always come up with a win. Or if you get a bad call, don’t get over dramatic. Just calm down and relax.”
The championships perhaps seemed like a piece of cake for the Smiths. Last summer, they traveled to Tel Aviv and played tennis with members of the Israeli Junior National team.
Gavriella was on the court playing a match when it happened.
“All of a sudden I heard a bomb go off and the sirens went off,” said Gavriella, calmly describing the scene. “We had to go off the court and go into a bomb shelter for about 10 minutes. When it was all clear, we went and finished the match. I was scared a little.”
Her big brother was watching.
“It kind of freaked me out at first,” Zachary said. “Over the course of the five weeks we were there, it probably happened about 25 times, so we got used to it.”
It’s just one of many stories the Smiths have experienced in their tennis travels across the country and over the world. They will travel to the Maccabi Games in Chile in December.
Their next trip though is this week. With Wednesday’s wins, Zachary and Gavriella advance to the Southern Championships that begin Friday. The girls tournament will be played in Cary, North Carolina, and the boys in Macon, Georgia.
The sibling aren’t like many of the competitors when they travel to various tournaments across the country. The Smiths don’t attend prestigious tennis academies. And for them, it’s not tennis 24/7.
“I try to keep their lives as normal as possible,” said Jeffrey Smith, an attorney. “We look like the Beverly Hillbillies when we travel places. You look on top of the car and you may see a canoe, fishing rods, bicycles or skateboards. The minute their matches are over, they may be out fishing or doing something else.”
Zachary, 14, is also an artist, and Gavrielle, 12, plays the violin. But tennis is still their heart though. They’ve played the sport since they were old enough to hold a racket.
Their father helped them fine tune their skills at an early age.
They went to a boxing gym, which helped them with bouncing and staying on their toes. They threw toy tomahawks to help them with the motion of a serve. They also hit balloons back and forth over air conditioner ducts.
“Anything to help with hand eye coordination,” Jeffrey Smith said.
They also train about five hours a day with Loic Didavi, who played at Xavier and Kevin Chaouat from France.
But that doesn’t stop them from their other extracurricular activities as well as maintaining their grades.
Both are A students. And both are super competitive,.
Gavriella has yet to beat Zachary, coming as close as 6-3 a few months ago.
Their games differ.
Gavriella models her game after Roger Federer.
“I just like his sportsmanship game,” Gavriella said. “He is always nice to everyone, win or lose. … I’m good at running to balls and hitting them at angles.”
Zachary said he is just the opposite.
“I am really aggressive,” he said. “I like hitting powerful shots and coming to the net and finishing.”
Off the court, they are different. Gavriella is more talkative. Zachary is more introverted.
“When they are playing, he wears his emotions on his sleeve and looks for perfection,” Jeffrey Smith said. “She is more just going to win by hook or by crook. He is more of a perfectionist.”
Both have aspirations of playing in college.
“We definitely want to do that,” she said. “We want to play in college and go to a good academic school. After that, we will see what level we are and go from there.”