Isabel Zhou of Andover High was struck by a strange emotion as she stepped onto the tennis court with the Golden Warriors this spring, for the first time in nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This feeling, however, did not last long.
“Quite honestly, it was very surreal and a little weird at first,” she said. “Especially wearing masks, not being able to shake hands, etc. But it was good – rejuvenating – more than anything. My schedule is empty and incomplete without tennis so I’m really thankful and excited every time I go to practice or get ready for a game.
Finally back in a Golden Warrior uniform, the senior once again flaunted the dominant abilities that made her the 2019 Eagle-Tribune Female Tennis Player of the Year.
In fact, opponents struggled to score a single point against Andover’s No.1 singles player.
Zhou entered Wednesday with a stunning 8-1, 8-0 record against competition from the Merrimack Valley Conference.
Five of his wins have been 6-0, 6-0 shutouts – including four of his first five games. His closest victory was a 6-2, 6-3 win over a tough opponent at Haverhill. For the season, Zhou outscored his opponents by a combined 96-7 margin in his wins. .
With Zhou in the lead, Andover, the eternal state title favorite, hit a 9-0 record on Wednesday, with eight 5-0 shutouts and a 4-1 victory.
“I am incredibly excited for this season,” she said. “For those who know me, tennis is my favorite part of the school year. I keep talking about it. I love being on the courts in the sun, spending time with my teammates and competing. It’s kind of like a home away from home, so I’m grateful that I was able to end my senior year on such a high note.
Dominating the competition is nothing new for Zhou, who won the Merrimack Valley Conference Player of the Year with Eagle-Tribune MVP in 2019.
After playing No. 2 in doubles in first year, Zhou won first place in singles for Andover in second year and set an overall record of 13-4, 10-0 against opponents MVC. That gives him a 17-0 career singles record against league opponents.
“She’s a great kid and a very strong leader,” Andover coach Alan Hibino said. “No matter what your role, it’s all about the team.”
Growing up, Zhou played a variety of sports, from skating to swimming and gymnastics before falling in love with tennis. She believes her success on the pitch has been a combination of body and mind.
“Physically I like my backhands, my approach shots down the line and I have more and more confidence at the net,” she said. “But, the most important is the mental aspect of my game. There is a quote from Venus Williams that says, ‘Tennis is mostly mental. You win or lose the game before you even go. I totally agree, and it’s something I try to remember every time I go out on the pitch.
“Over the past four years, I’ve come to really appreciate my patience and persistence as a player – the drive to hit every ball, to come back, no matter how depressed I am. There is also the concept of strategy – determining your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, their patterns and visualizing your next moves. It is also extremely important to be confident in your abilities and to be respectful of others.
During the shutdown of COVID-19, which wiped out his junior tennis season, Zhou kept his tennis skills up to date with plenty of practice.
“I have played indoors at my club (Willows Racquet Club & Fitness) as well as at Manchester Athletic Club,” she said. “During the summer, I was out on the Andover High tennis courts almost every day with my friends. (Recently) my coach and I even faced off in regular mixed doubles matches. He hasn’t won yet.
Zhou is now focused on ending his high school tennis career on a high note.
“I would like to remain undefeated in the MVC,” said Zhou, an accomplished singer. “I also aspire to advance as much as possible as a team in the state tournament with the state title in mind. Right now, as Bino (Coach Hibino) often reminds us, we’re focusing on one game at a time, one game at a time and one point at a time.
Andover tennis star Isabel Zhou is also a member of the National Honor Society. She took courses in biology, French, language and composition and arithmetic. She also participated in capella and musical studies.
Zhou will attend Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to study premedical neuroscience.