Reported by: Annelise Eaton – March 25, 2009 – The first time Coach Martin Lezak saw Nicole Frenkel, then seven, play tennis, he was amazed not only by her physical abilities but by her “energy and enthusiasm” for the sport.
Three years later, Frenkel is a home-schooled third grader who resides in Winchester yet spends much of her day at the Manchester Athletic Club, where she participates in the MAC Tennis Academy program and private training throughout the day.
Although much of her life is devoted to her athletic career, according to Frenkel, burnout is not a possibility. “I like everything [about tennis],” she said. “I like the competition. I like to be vicious.” This “viciousness” has served her well, making her the No.1 10-year-old tennis player in the state, region, and country. She has also found success in the 12-under age group, in which she is currently ranked No. 2 in New England and No. 13 in the nation, earning her a sponsorship from Wilson. Her national 12-under ranking went from 697 to 13 in just a few months, according to her mother, Leah Frenkel.
Nicole’s exceptional abilities and quick rise to the top has not gone without notice on the national tennis scene. Nick Bollettieri, who runs the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida and who has coached players including Maria Sharapova and Pete Sampras, invited Nicole to his academy in 2008.
Her six-month stay at the academy included two 5:30 a.m. lessons with Bollettieri each week, match play with many of the world’s best young tennis players and hours of on-court drilling and fitness training daily. When Nicole left the academy, Bollettieri handed her a letter of recommendation for future use. “He was surprised we didn’t stay,” her mother said. “He said ‘wait a second, I’m going to write a letter saying that with her talent, her work ethic, and her impeccable focus she can reach big, big results.'”
Although she is just 10, Nicole’s tennis ambitions have forced her to mature at a young age and deal with the good and bad aspects of success. She said that Nicole deals with these difficulties and sacrifices, including her family’s decision to home-school, by looking toward the future. According to both Nicole and Leah, sacrifices extend far beyond the classroom, which is now a set of books, weekend classes with her father, and tests graded by a school in California.
Leah Frenkel’s 65-student business as a piano teacher now consists of about 15 students at her home in Winchester and a newly-added office and piano inside the Manchester Athletic Club where she spends the better part of each day supervising her daughter. Although the financial sacrifices are numerous and Leah laughs at the idea of a vacation, her biggest sacrifice has been giving up some of her parental control over her daughter.
“As parents we completely gave Nicole to the MAC people,” she said. “Now my opinion is left at home. I voluntarily gave up my daughter because I know she’s ready to follow what they say and accomplish what they believe she can accomplish.” If she stays healthy and maintains her energy for the sport, her coach sees no bounds to her future possibilities.
“She can already do pretty much anything I ask her to do in practice or in matches,” Lezak said. With help from her coaches and parents, Nicole crafts short- and long-term goals to provide motivation for improvement. “I want to become the No. 1 tennis player in the world,” she said. “But for now I want to stay aggressive and not lose control.”
Despite Nicole’s readiness to think towards the future and her dedication to the sport, she still enjoys engaging in typical 10-year-old activities. “I like to play with my cats,” she said, “and I like to read and play other sports with my dad.” Nicole also finds time for socialization during her training each day with the other kids who train at the MAC Tennis Academy.
“She is personally attached to the kids here because she has really recognized herself as a personality at this club,” Leah said.
According to Leah, this personality can be best described as a “firework.”
“She’s very loud and spontaneous, but at the same time, on the court she’s very calculative,” she said. “She doesn’t show emotions, is very mature, and she sometimes looks cold to her opponents.” Her mental mastery is the likely cause of her two greatest tournament successes this year. In the past few months, she has won two national opens, one in Queens, NY on Dec. 1 and another on Labor Day weekend. Nicole regards the Dec. 1 tournament as the best of her career. “I was just really excited to play and I was ready for the challenge,” she said. “I didn’t know the kids and when I don’t know the kids I try the very best.”
For Nicole, the most amazing part of the tournament was winning despite the absence of her lucky black skirt, which she had forgotten at home. “Now we’ve decided that luck is all in her head,” Leah Frenkel said. Todd Carpenter, Director of Tennis at the Manchester Athletic Club, said it has been “amazing to see how Nicole had responded to the training she receives at the MAC Tennis Academy.”
“She is positioning herself as one of the best 14 and under players in New England and she is still only 10 years old. We look forward to see what’s coming next,” he said.
For more information regarding this story, please visit: www.manchesterathleticclub.com (attn: Jay Herson, Asst. General Manager)