After taking a break from the tour to resume her studies at Harvard, Lena Litvak won her sixth pro doubles title last summer.
© Mark J. McArdle
By McCarton Ackerman, USTA.com
Attending Harvard University would require most people’s undivided attention. But Lena Litvak is balancing studies at one of the best schools in the world with competing on the USTA Pro Circuit.
After one year on the women’s tennis team at Harvard, 2006-07, Litvak turned pro and spent the next five years competing primarily on the USTA Pro Circuit, winning one singles title and five doubles titles. But just as she was beginning to play some of her best tennis, she contracted Lyme disease and soon found it difficult to muster the energy to even practice. She went back to Harvard at the beginning of 2013, unsure whether she would ever play again professionally.
“It knocked me out for six months,” she said. “There was also muscle damage to my shoulder and forearm. I decided to go back to Harvard before I was even diagnosed because it was so hard to play both mentally and physically.”
Once she was diagnosed and began receiving proper treatment, she began fully immersing herself in college life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the then-24-year-old was a radically different person than the one who had left Harvard to turn pro five years earlier.
“Being on tour helped me in that I had a lot more confidence when I came back to Harvard. I wasn’t scared of making friends with professors and having real conversations with them,” said Litvak. “Not being on an actual team also allowed me to meet a bunch of other athletes. You know them when you’re on a team, but not a personal level because you’re mainly with your own.”
Eventually, Litvak began helping out with the women’s tennis team at Harvard. The site of competitive matches began fueling her own desire to play again and she returned to the tour last summer, winning her sixth doubles title. She’s since been juggling her academics with life on the road, competing on the USTA Pro Circuit whenever her schedule permits. She played this week at a $50,000 event in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., and will head to Raleigh, N.C., next week for a $25,000 tournament.
“There’s more pressure in some ways because I only play a few tournaments each year and you want to make the most of them,” she admitted. “But on the other hand, I’ve become more relaxed internally and learned to not let my emotions get the best of me. I’ve realized that not everything is in your control all the time.”
Litvak is planning to compete on the USTA Pro Circuit this summer but will also juggle tennis with an internship at Weinstein Carnegie Philanthropic Group, working primarily with the James Blake Foundation. She’s expecting to see other college players at these tournaments throughout the summer and said she hopes they make the most of their time on the road.
“A lot of college players might play a few events and not do well and get frustrated. They just have to know it takes time,” she said. “If it doesn’t happen this summer, it could come together next summer. Just like in school, the whole goal is to learn and grow from the experience.”