With both parents making a living as tennis instructors, Kseniya Zonova was practically born with a racquet in her hand. And though she didn’t get serious about the sport until about four years ago, the native of Ukraine has built an impressive resume on the court and seeks to play for a Division I college program.
Zonova came to live with a relative in Hewlett last winter and connected with coach Abby Samlin, who said she knew right away the Lady Bulldogs were getting a special player. “I was excited when Kseniya mentioned she played tennis,” Samlin said. “Once the season started, I saw the level she was at and knew she was capable of big things. She’s such a powerful, well-rounded player.”
On Nov. 1, Zonova capped a remarkable season by defeating Sydney Kaplan of Suffern, 6-3, 6-2, to capture the New York State singles title in Latham. Two weeks earlier, Zonova brought home the Nassau County championship with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Merri Kelly Hannity of Cold Spring Harbor at Eisenhower Park.
“She was seeded first for the state tournament, but she was fortunate to be seeded at all for counties because she had no USTA [United States Tennis Association] ranking,” Samlin said. “Our division was very strong in singles, so that helped her get seeded at counties.”
Zonova, who helped Hewlett to a conference title and made many friends along the way, won two matches on each day of the county tournament. “Waiting around was the toughest part,” Samlin said. “It was a very cold weekend, so keeping her warm and ready was a challenge.”
Despite the weather conditions, Zonova (23-1 overall) barely broke a sweat on the first day. In the semifinals the next morning, she beat No. 1 seed Alex Koniaev from Locust Valley. In the finals, she faced a talented eighth-grader who had the crowd behind her. “Everyone was rooting for her,” Zonova said of Hannity. “It was fine. I’m used to it. She’s younger and smaller than I am.”
At the state tournament, the 16-year-old Zonova overcame a back injury as well as the only the third set she dropped in 2015 — in the round of 16. She became Hewlett’s first state champion since Bea Bielik in 1997.
Bielik, who starred at Wake Forest and won the NCAA women’s singles title in 2002 and played professionally, is now General Manager of Sportime in Lynbrook and helped Zonova prepare for the state tournament. “Getting Kseniya that indoor experience was a big help,” Samlin said. “We’re grateful to Bea and Sportime.”
Though Zonova enjoyed her time in Hewlett, especially the local pizzerias and bus trips with her teammates to and from matches, she is headed back to Ukraine before the month is up. She’ll graduate high school there in the spring and plans to return to the United States to study business and play tennis at the collegiate level.
“Some college will be lucky to have her,” Samlin said.