By Janee Law
Lea Ma, of Dix Hills, is one of five girls in America currently competing in three prestigious International Tennis Federation tournaments in Paraguay and Brazil from Feb. 29-March 20.
Ma, 15, who traveled down south with coaches from the United States Tennis Association, earned the spot by placing highly in the Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships, which was held last December in Plantation, Florida.
“I am really happy to have made it and I think the trip will be really beneficial,” said Ma, who competes nationally and internationally in both singles and doubles in the age group of 16-18.
Ma’s coach for the last year, Erik Kortland, said the ITF tournaments draw the best 13- to 18-year-old girls tennis players in the world.
Ma is currently competing in the Asuncion Bowl in Paraguay, the first of three tournaments. Following that, she’ll travel to Brazil to compete in the Banana Bowl from March 7-March 13, and then the Campeonato Internacional Juvenil de Tenis de Porto Alegre from March 14-March 20.
“The tournaments have 32, 48, or 64 people in them. There's six different international levels, GA being the highest and G5 being the lowest and the amount of matches depends on how many people are in the draw,” Ma explained. She is playing at the G1 level in Paraguay, and will play at a G1 and a GA level respectively in the two tournaments in Brazil.
At deadline Monday, Ma has won the first three of her matches in Paraguay, qualifying for main draw, and was scheduled to play against Emily Appleton from Great Britain on Tuesday.
“My goal is to try and play my best tennis and keep a good attitude and the results will come if I am able to do that,” Ma said. She practices six days a week with four hours of tennis and two hours of fitness.
Other goals for Ma include being a top-10 tennis player in the world, she said. And she’s already on her way.
Ma said the USTA has ranked her No. 1 in its eastern section twice, once in 2014 and once in 2015. Ma was also ranked No. 7 in the country in the girls 12s division; was ranked No. 4 in the country in the girls 14s division; and is now ranked No. 20 in the group for girls ages 16 and under.
Coach Kortland said Ma “plays with lots of feel and is very instinctual. She is young and is improving, but still has a long way to go to mature and be a pro.”
He added, “To be the best in the U.S. isn't enough because it's a big ocean and there are many great players even just in South America, not excluding the world.”
He’s hoping that trips, such as her current trip to South America, “will help her maturity and see that tennis is a worldwide sport.”
Off the court, Ma is enrolled as a freshman in the Laurel Springs School Accredited Private Online School. She said she opted to take online classes as a sixth grader
Ma said that she hasn’t thought about college just set, setting her plans on becoming a professional tennis player.
“I love the competition on the court,” Ma said. “I love the fight.”