Player Features

Svajda’s Non-Traditional Path To The Pros

The 20-year-old is competing this week at the Cary Challenger
September 14, 2023
Zachary Svajda is seeded eighth at this week's Atlantic Tire Championships.
Grant Thompson/ATP Tour
Zachary Svajda is seeded eighth at this week's Atlantic Tire Championships. By Grant Thompson

Zachary Svajda was two years old when he first started playing tennis. He would volley a balloon back and forth in the living room with his father Tom to make an early start on developing hand-eye coordination skills. The California native soon transitioned to a court, where he enjoyed riding the ball mower to pick up the court full of balls he had just hit.

As Svajda grew older, his family decided to set him on a unique junior path. From ages 10 to nearly 15, he did not play any tournaments. Instead, the goal was to finetune his game as much as possible.

“We were just thinking about it as I got to be nine, 10 years old, we just didn't really see a point of playing these junior tournaments every week,” Svajda told “We just tried to focus on getting better. I know it's different because tournament play is always different from practice.

“We also couldn't afford to travel around the world playing ITFs or anything. We were like, ‘Let's just take a different route and let's just try to get better every day and hopefully by 15, 16 I'd be a good player and get those matches from there.’”

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The 20-year-old Svajda has always been surrounded by a strong support crew, including his mother Anita and father Tom, who works as a teaching pro at Pacific Beach Tennis Club in San Diego.

Many coaches might stress the importance of point play and competing in pressure moments at a young age to gain experience. The Svajda family had a solution for that too. Former University of San Diego star Uros Petronijevic lived with the Svajdas for two years. Petronijevic, an ITA All-American who graduated college in 2016, and Svajda would often play practice matches.

“Obviously it's a little different than practice, but I would say that's how I got my point play every day. We were doing a lot of practice matches,” Svajda said.

Taking his own path has paid off for Svajda, who twice won the USTA Boys’ 18s National Championships in Kalamazoo (2019, 2021). The American has since been climbing the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and is in position to crack the Top 200 for the first time Monday.

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Svajda’s younger brother Trevor, three years his junior, took the same approach by not playing junior tournaments for several years and has since found early success. In August, the 17-year-old was a finalist in Kalamazoo and competed in US Open qualifying, which Zach advanced through to make the main draw in New York.

“I [tell him], ‘Don’t think about me, you have your own route. Whatever that is, don't stress about anything,’” Svajda said. “In Kalamazoo, he was kind of nervous and he was like, ‘I feel like I should win it because you did twice.’ I told him, ‘Dude, it doesn't matter if you lose the first or second round, I still love you the same, doesn't matter. Try to go out there with no pressure at all.’ Sure enough he made the final, which was great.”

Watch the clean-hitting Svajda play and you will find the 5’9” star does not show emotion on court. If you did not know the score of the match, it would be hard to tell by watching Svajda’s body language.

“Every match, if I'm winning or losing or if it's a really good day or bad day, I'll always just have that same demeanour where I don't get frustrated at all really,” Svajda said. “I think just as a kid I was always quiet on and off the court, almost in a shy way. I guess it kind of translated over to the tennis side.

“I don’t yell, ‘Come on!’ or don’t do much of that. I'm trying to work on showing a little bit more positive energy but it will take some time because I'm not fully used to it. I just like to stay calm and present, move on to the next point… I’m from San Diego so I’m kind of chill, laid back. Nothing really stresses me out. I always just try to stay calm. I can't remember the last time I raised my voice.”

Seeded eighth at this week’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Cary, North Carolina, Svajda earned his maiden title at that level last October in his home state of California, where he beat Ben Shelton in the final. Svajda has continued to grow since that triumph.

“I definitely have had ups and downs after the win in Tiburon last year but I think now I'm stronger. I've also played many more matches this year,” Svajda said. “I qualified for a few ATP Tour events now, so I see improvements for sure. I would say I’m stronger and more match tough.”

Svajda will next be in action Thursday when he faces Great Britain’s Toby Samuel in the Atlantic Tire Championships quarter-finals.

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