The Smith’s: Jeff, Birgitt, Zachary, Gavriella
A New Orleans Tennis Family
In May of this year’s Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) State Tennis Championships, the Division III individual champions were seventh-grader Gavriella Smith and ninth-grader Zachary Smith–the daughter and son of Jeffrey and Birgitt Smith of New Orleans.
Brother and sister both winning Individual championships, leading Lusher High School’s teams to runner-up, and at such a young age. Surprising? Not really!
Dad introduced tennis to them at an early age–Zac when he was two-ish and Gav when she was three.
Zac remembers his dad Jeff attaching a balloon to an air vent and getting him to hit it. Jeff played college tennis at Tulane, and would take both kids out to the courts. Sometimes they would hit balls, other times play hockey–anything with a ball to keep them interested.
At home, both Zac and Gav agreed that their mom played a big part in their lives. Zak enjoys art; Gav plays the violin: Both are “A” students, and both hope to play tennis at a highly rated academic college. Their mom is their encourager, teaching them responsibility and the importance of preparation.
As they grew older both Gav and Zak became very active playing Junior Tennis, traveling throughout Louisiana, the southern states, and the United States playing junior tournaments, and more often than not both “playing up” against opponents in the older age divisions. Asked why, Zac said, “One is the competition level, and also gaining experience playing older players. When I lose, it inspires me and to work harder and get to the next level.” Being prepared for a match, he added, is 90% while playing the match is 10%–it’s really all about what you have learned in practice. Playing well, feeling the ball off the racquet, Zac calls, a great feeling, but just as important for a junior is getting over those hard spots, maintaining mental stability, and always to keep trying. Putting it all together, Zac concludes, is a great feeling.
Gav likewise talks about being resilient through the whole match. “If I lose the first set,” she says, “I tell myself just stay in there and do better in the second and third sets.”
However, the two do not just play local tournaments. In 2015 both joined members of the Israeli Junior National Team playing in Tel Aviv.
Also last year Gav and Jeff won the backdraw at the Senior-Daughter National Grass Courts at the Longwood Cricket Club near Boston.
Zak and Gav are now coached by Loic Didavi and Kevin Chaoriat, and train with a small group of top junior players from around New Orleans at the Xavier Tennis Center.