Building Confidence and a Positive Community Through Tennis
Women’s History Month is an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate women who are blazing trails, impacting their communities and inspiring future generations to pursue their dreams. This month, USTA Mid-Atlantic honors women in the section who are making their mark in their own unique ways both on and off the court.
Alexandria, Va., native, Neely Zervakis, is the Associate Director of McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center and Director of ACEing Autism Williamsburg. Zervakis was introduced to tennis at five years old by her grandparents. She fondly recalls a time when her grandparents would take her to the neighborhood tennis courts to play, “afterwards we would watch Wimbledon and eat strawberries and cream.”
Zervakis played NCAA Division I tennis at Radford University and now lives in Seaford, Va. She is currently a PTR and USPTA Elite teaching pro and plays locally in the Hampton Roads area.
We caught up with Zervakis to get her thoughts on Women's History Month and how tennis builds life skills for all.
How has tennis become an important aspect in your life?
I will be forever grateful to my grandparents for teaching me the best sport ever. Tennis has turned into a career that I am passionate about, which allows me endless outlets to be creative, bring people together, and positively impact the lives of others beyond tennis.
Was there a player/role model you specifically looked up to who helped guide you to where you are today?
My Grandfather was my biggest role model. Also, I am thankful to Mike Caboy (Director, McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center) for providing opportunities for growth and development. Finally, my mentors, Shirley Williams and Emma Doyle, who have helped me tremendously.
What is it about tennis specifically that differentiates it from other activities that you do?
I love tennis because all the skills you build [playing the sport] help you in life. Problem-solving, resilience and as Andre Agassi said, “Tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love - the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence because every match is a life in miniature.”
Why is it important for women to play tennis?
I believe tennis helps women build confidence, be part of a positive community, and maintains health both mentally and physically.
What would you tell another woman or girl interested in playing tennis?
We can play tennis for our whole lives. It will keep you healthy and active while being part of an amazing community of people.
Why is Women’s History Month important to you?
It is a time to reflect on the courage of past generations of women and to honor how their efforts and bravery gives women the opportunities and freedoms we have today.
How would you like to see Women in sports grow?
I would like to see an increase in female sports participation, female tennis coaches and female industry leaders.
What does it mean to be a leader in the community?
I have made it my mission to inspire excellence, create opportunities, connect the community and foster a positive lifelong impact through tennis.
What advice would you like to give to the next generation of women leaders?
Never stop learning and growing, lead from a place of love, trust your gut and shine on.
USTA Mid-Atlantic is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Learn about our impact in the Section and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being.