Greenwich Academy student Lexi Milunovich excels at tennis nationals in San Diego
Lexi Milunovich wasn't exactly fond of tennis during her first year on the court.
"I started playing when I was about nine, and initially I hated it," Milunovich said. "I took a break from it, then I started playing again."
Once she took the court again less than a year later, her outlook changed. In fact, she focused on playing tennis over soccer and basketball.
"I saw my brother playing tennis all the time, so I decided to give it another try and I started to have a lot of fun."
It wasn't long before Milunovich was competing in tournaments, and for the past six years, the rising Greenwich Academy junior has been making a name for herself on the junior circuit. A New Canaan resident, Milunovich excelled at her most recent tournament, advancing to the semifinal round of the United States Tennis Association Girls 16s 2014 National Hard Court Championships at Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, Calif., two weeks ago.
Seeded 17th in the National Hard Court Championships, Milunovich eliminated a pair of formidable players to reach the semifinals. She upset top-seeded Ryan Peus of Palos Verdes, Calif., 6-0, 6-4 in the round of 16, then topped third-seeded Riley McQuaid from Tustin, Calif., in a hard-fought quarterfinal match, 5-7, 6-0, 7-6 (1).
"At the beginning of the tournament, I was just really relaxed," Milunovich said. "I didn't expect to do as well as I did and no one expected me to win those matches. I just went for every point, pulled out some close matches and was lucky to get through to the final four. I had never even made it to the final eight in that tournament before, so it was exciting to advance so far."
For defeating the No. 1-seeded player in the Round of 16, Milunovich was awarded the Adidas Player of the Day. She lost to eventual Nationals 16s champion Kylie McKenzie (ninth-seeded, Anthem, Ariz.) in the semifinals, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2. Milunovich was the only player in the tournament to take a set from McKenzie.
"She is a really good player and it was a really close match," Milunovich said of McKenzie. "I thought I played really well. I just wish I could have won that third set. In the quarterfinals, the girl I played was good, too, and a lot of people were watching, which made me nervous. It was a great experience though."
Milunovich, who went 5-1 in the tournament, won her first two matches in straight sets, beating Samantha Smith (Henderson, Nev.) 6-3, 6-3 in the opening round and Danielle Quevedo (Tyler, Texas) 6-3, 6-4 in the second round. She posted a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 win against Nadia Gizdova (Columbia, Md.) in the third round before upending Peus in the Round of 16 and McQuaid in the quarterfinals.
The recipient of the Sportsmanship Award at Nationals, Milunovich is currently ranked No. 1 in the USTA Girls 16-year-old division in New England and is third among 18-year-olds. She's also ranked 23rd nationally in singles play and 20th in doubles competition. The Greenwich Academy student was also part of a group of seven players representing the New England 18s National Team that competed in a team tournament in Claremont, Calf., a week before the National Hard Court Championships.
"One of my favorite things about tennis is meeting kids from other parts of the country," said Milunovich, who spends a lot of time sharpening her skills at Tennis Club of Trumbull.
Milunovich said she would like to play tennis at Greenwich Academy, but the Gators' varsity team's spring season cuts into her busy junior tournament schedule.
"I love Greenwich Academy," she said. "I have a lot of good friends there and I'm receiving a great education. GA is also very helpful when it comes to working with me to go to my tournaments."
Indeed, Milunovich is excited about the prospect of playing tennis at the collegiate level.
"I want to go to a college that offers great academics and preferably, a Division I tennis program," she said. "I'm looking forward to being part of a team."