| By Elizabeth Kobak
Photo credit: Steven Murray

Winning nationals–that’s challenging to do for anyone. At 25 years old, practicing and competing in fewer tournaments than in one’s junior tennis prime, let alone on tennis’ naturally quirky surface it is that much more of a daunting task. Recently, I was able to accomplish that feat and am very proud of it.

Although I last played singles on grass at the 2004 Junior Wimbledon Tennis Championships, it was nine years later before I won on that surface again. This summer, I won the 2013 USTA National Grass Court Women’s Open Singles Championships in Newport, R.I. and earned my second Gold Singles Ball. As with any national championship, the journey was far from easy.

Newport, R.I. offers more than beautiful tennis courts, which added excitement and a holiday-like feel to this tournament. Before my first round match, while wearing a bathing suit and Daisy Dukes, I visited a national historic site and America’s oldest temple, Touro Synagogue. During match changeovers, I couldn’t help but think about how our first President George Washington visited this synagogue and guaranteed Jewish people religious freedom. That history inspired me to play mightily and without fear, winning my first match, 6-3, 6-1.

Light rain halted outdoor play during our quarterfinal match. Three games were played indoors until the outdoor courts completely dried. While my opponent regularly played on grass and had won club championships, I prevailed in straight sets, 6-2,6-3. As a reward, delicious home-cooked Italian food awaited. Mamma Luisa Ristorante on Thames Street served a mouthwatering tagliatelle alla bolognese (flat noodles with meat sauce).

The International Tennis Hall of Fame’s best kept tennis courts are referred to as "Stadium Courts," and I got to play on one in my semifinal match versus last year’s champion. These two singles courts without alleys run parallel to the dark wooden structure, home to the Hall of Fame’s museum and rich tennis history. I played some of my best grass court tennis during that match, winning nine consecutive games before my opponent retired.

Next up was the singles finals and some mixed-doubles action. My mixed-doubles partner, Matt Seeberger, and I wound up reaching the finals of mixed-doubles together. On our path to the finals, we defeated a team that Danny Riggs (grandson of Grand Slam Champion Bobby Riggs) was part of. It was particularly interesting that we played Danny given his grandfather’s match vs. Billy Jean King was on display in the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s U.S. Open exhibit in the National Tennis Center’s Chase Center.

The singles finals was my toughest match yet. Baylor’s Rachael Reed, a hard-hitting Texan who hit corner to corner, was on the net’s opposite side. She was beating me throughout the first set until I finally got ahead and won it 7-5. Up 3-1 in the second and playing smart tennis, Reed opted to retire. The championship was mine. I’d like to dedicate my win to my beautiful grandmother, Milly Czuchman, who survived the Holocaust and passed away in July at 98 years old. She was my greatest fan and loved watching me compete in tennis tournaments near her Miami home.

Liz Kobak

<p>Liz Kobak won the Girls 16s National Hard Court Championships and was ranked number one nationally in the Girls 16s Division, number one in the Eastern Girls 18s Division and Women&rsquo;s Open Division. She achieved career-high WTA rankings of 570th in singles and 660th in doubles. She earned her undergraduate degree from Columbia University and a master&rsquo;s in journalism from Northwestern University&rsquo;s Medill School. She may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:lizkobak@gmail.com">lizkobak@gmail.com</a>.</p>