Gulliver Prep senior Olivia Thaler spends much of her time on a tennis court. Thaler plays competitive tennis, both for Gulliver and in USTA tournaments outside of school. At Gulliver she’s the number one seed. In Florida, she’s ranked fourth in her age group, 18 and under.
“On TennisRecruiting.com I’ve been as high as 25 in the nation,” she says.
Thaler has been playing in tennis tournaments since she was eight years old.
“On the weekends, there are usually tournaments; the weekends where there are no tournaments, I’ll usually play somewhere at least once,” she says.
Thaler played in several important tournaments this summer and while she didn’t win, she did come out on top in a few sets against the competition. She played in a hard-court tournament that carried a top prize of enabling the winner to play in the U.S. Open.
Thaler plays in many tournaments during the year, many lasting a week and forcing her to make up a lot of missed school work.
“My parents have always wanted me to put academics first,” she says. “I’ve made a big effort to be good at school and tennis. It’s pretty rare in sports.”
In fact, many of her competitors are home schooled so they can practice more. Still, Thaler gets in three hours of practice every day, as well as a full day of school a Gulliver. “My goal is to play for a scholarship,” she says. “I’m probably going to play some professional tournaments.
My goal has always been to use tennis to go to a good academic school.”
She doesn’t know which one just yet, but she hopes to have it all sorted out soon.
“Hopefully I’ll decide before Nov. 1,” she says.
She has been talking to colleges such as William and Mary, George Washington University and Boston College.
“I’m also talking to Rice, but I’m not sure if that one is going to work out,” she says. “I haven’t signed up for an official visit there.”
At this point, she is undecided about a major course of study.
Thayer agrees that for a time, Americans seemed to lose interest in tennis; but she says that trend seems to be reversing itself.
“I think they are starting to promote it more; I remember the commercials with Mrs. Obama,” she says. “You play tennis your whole life; you can’t play football your whole life.”
The lull in interest in tennis meant that there haven’t been as many Americans playing at the top levels of the game. However, Thaler says the good news is that at the U.S. Open there were a lot of good young Americans.
“The girls that are doing well at the U.S. Open, they are just a couple of years older than me,” she says. “I remember playing in the same tournaments with them. So it’s cool seeing them at the U.S. Open.”
Thaler says she started playing tennis because of her dad.
“I think I got my dad’s attention when I was waving a racket at him,” she says.
She became serious about the game when she was 13 years old and decided that she wanted to use tennis as a vehicle to pay for college.
“There was a point when I didn’t want to play anymore because it’s really a hectic lifestyle,” she says. “You’re always busy and it’s hard to balance everything. But it ended up being worth it.”
Look for Thaler’s name to be in the news often in the coming months. Last year, the Gulliver tennis team we won the state championship. This year, she says, the team should be even better.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld