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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Zafiros leaves it all on the court

Gordon Bates/ Arizona Daily Wildcat
Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

There’s an intense point being fought over on the second singles court at LaNelle Robson Tennis Center. After going back and forth, the Arizona player hits a strong shot down the edge of the court. As he makes contact, a classic tennis-grunt is emitted that sounds like someone is giving  a long, drawn-out and stressed “”Hey.”” The shot zips right past his opponent, giving UA sophomore Jason Zafiros the point.

He lets out a celebratory yell that can be heard all around the tennis center.

“”Let’s go Arizona!”” comes out afterward.

He then jogs back, begins his next serve and does it all over again.

The fans laugh and applaud his enthusiasm.

“”Even if I don’t win the match, I win the battle of screaming,”” Zafiros said.

Currently ranked as the No. 113 singles player in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Zafiros has played an important role for the Wildcats since his arrival last year.

“”He’s developed a reputation around the conference, and around the country for that matter, for just being a guy that plays with a lot of emotion,”” said head coach Tad Berkowitz.

Last spring season, Zafiros compiled an 18-1 singles record, and last fall he beat one of the top-30 players in the nation. This season, he is 3-1 with his only loss coming against the No. 62-ranked player in the country.

But it’s taken a while for him to get there.

Oddly enough, Zafiros never picked up a tennis racket until he was nine years old. Zafiros began playing while on vacation in Cape Cod when his dad handed him a racket and ball. At the time, and for years afterward, tennis still wasn’t his main sport. Zafiros’ favorite was basketball, in which he was equally competitive and motivated by his father’s career.

His father, Manny Zafiros, was part of the Wichita State University men’s basketball team in 1965, when the team made its only trip to the NCAA Final Four in the school’s history. They lost to eventual national champion UCLA.

Tennis, though, didn’t even become the 19-year-old’s main focus until he was about 12, when he realized his own potential after being ranked as the No. 1 player in Georgia.

A year later, his entire family moved to Florida so he could play at the IMG Bollettieri Academy, one of the most prestigious tennis academies in the world.  There, he was coached for “”five or six years”” under the direction of current IMG Bollettieri Academy head coach and director of college placement, Scott Treibly.

“”He’s an absolute overachiever; very, very smart on the tennis court and (a) fantastic competitor,”” Treibly said. “”When I was talking with Tad (Berkowitz), I told him, ‘This kid is going to give you four great years, and I think he’s going to win 100 college tennis matches.'””

Zafiros signed his letter of intent with Arizona after Treibly helped guide him toward the program.

“”College tennis, I just find it so fun that when I’m loud everyone else feeds off of that,”” Zafiros said. “”And I can’t think of anyone who is louder than me. It’s definitely helped me win matches. People think it’s about talent and having the skills but it really is whoever wants it more.””

That competitiveness has helped Zafiros move up from the fifth and sixth singles courts onto the first and second. Even with his individual success, however, he is one of the most team-oriented players around, something Berkowitz has been stressing all year: Be there to support your team.

“”I want a good individual (result), but I’m playing for Arizona,”” Zafiros said. “”When I put my uniform on, I’m there to represent the school as best I can and that’s why I win a lot of matches. When you’re in college, you’re playing for something other than yourself, which is what excites me the most.””

Some people have asked Zafiros to tone it down.

“”Last year I had at least five guys who wanted to kill me,”” he said. “”But I just don’t even listen to what they say. I’ve even had refs tell me to relax. But there’s nothing wrong with being loud as long as you’re not obnoxious to your opponent.””

Treibly agrees.

“”I think that’s what college tennis is all about, it’s about emotion,”” Treibly said. “”It’s really refreshing because these guys are on scholarship money but it’s just about being on a team. I think that’s really a good environment for Jason (Zafiros) because not only can he pick himself up, but also the team up.””

   

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