Jessica Minkov used to tag along with her father to the tennis courts when she was younger, but not to swing a racquet.
She had other interests when she was younger.
“I was usually reading a book or playing a game,” the Leyden freshman said. “One day I decided to try it and I fell in love with the game and I’ve continued with it ever since. I decided to dedicate myself to tennis and the game.”
Minkov was hooked in a big way. She took lessons at the Lincolnshire Tennis Academy and currently trains at the Deer Creek Tennis Courts in Highland Park.
Minkov then made the day last year for Leyden tennis coach Bob Smith.
“I saw her practicing at the East tennis courts,” Smith said. “It was during our first couple days of practice. She looked like an upperclassman hitting even as an eighth grader. I asked her if she was a student at Leyden and she said she was going there next year. I was like, ‘Wow!’ ”
Smith had a good idea even back when Minkov was in eighth grade that she would have an immediate impact on his program. In fact, she’s having an historic impact.
Minkov is the first freshman in Smith’s 16 years as Leyden coach to play at No. 1 singles.
“Playing No. 1 is really amazing,” Minkov said. “Varsity is a different experience than I’m used to, but my teammates and coaches have all been so helpful and supportive.”
One teammate who has helped Minkov transition to high school is senior captain Krist Monroy, who plays No. 2 singles.
“I help her out pretty much with surviving high school,” Monroy said. “Since it’s her first year, I tell her what it’s like getting homework done and I try to help her any way I can.
“She’s just an amazing player and is so friendly. Her coming in just makes us so confident because she’s such a good player. She makes the team a lot better and I’m just glad she’s on the team.”
Smith said Minkov’s emergence strengthens his lineup from top to bottom. Monroy, a Northlake resident, played No. 2 singles last season and likely would’ve moved up to No. 1 if not for Minkov’s arrival.
“It gives us a lot of stability,” Smith said. “It pushes everybody on the team down at least one spot. Krist is a really good No. 2 player and she’s comfortable playing there. Everyone is more in a comfort level.
“Having a [talented] freshman, and the girls watching how she hits and practices, has picked up the entire program, all the way from the frosh-soph team to varsity. We are a much stronger team because of her work ethic bleeding around to the rest of the team. Having a good role model as a freshman has made a difference.”
Minkov (14-4), who lives in Schiller Park, is not letting her age lessen her expectations this season.
“I really hope to qualify for state,” Minkov said. “I’m going to take everything I’ve learned from my coaches and improve any aspect of my game that I can. You have to have skills to do well, but I believe mental strength is the most important part of tennis. You have to beat your opponent both mentally and physically.”