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Jersey Proud: Teenage tennis phenom has what it takes to go pro

New Jersey is not known for its tennis players. Only a few have made it to the pros in the last couple of decades. But there is a teenage tennis player from Bergen County who might be the next one.

News 12 Staff

Jul 18, 2022, 11:43 PM

Updated 705 days ago

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New Jersey is not known for its tennis players. Only a few have made it to the pros in the last couple of decades. But there is a teenage tennis player from Bergen County who might be the next one.
“I really love the sport. I know there’s a lot of kids who play just to play. Or play with one goal like to go to college or to go pro. I really like the sport. I feel like I can make a great career out of it,” says Steffi Yakoff.
She says that intensity and repetition matter at the high levels of play.
“It’s the intensity that matters. The repetition of course, but it’s the amount of work that you put into those reps,” she says.
"Her level is very high, but to achieve the ultimate goal of being successful on the tour, you have to keep adding,” says Coach Brian Helm, of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy.
Yakoff may be born for going pro. Named for legendary tennis player Steffi Graf, Yakoff has been earning trophies from a young age. She started playing tennis at the age of 4. By 10 she was shattering expectations.
Now at 16, Yakoff is the No. 1-ranked player in the country. But her path is different. She is not living at a 24/7 tennis academy in Florida. She plays for Fort Lee High School.
“In Florida schools, they train around eight hours a day. I’m not like one of those players. I maybe need two or three [hours]. I like being able to go to school and have normal classes,” Yakoff says. “Honestly, my favorite part probably is like the bus ride there and from the away matches, talking with everyone and having fun.”
Yakoff is a normal, but undefeated teenager. She has never lost a high school match. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the 2020 season, Yakoff would be going for four straight state championships this fall. She says she is happy with three.
“I would really love to win it. I’m definitely looking forward to playing more high school tennis this fall,” she says. “I feel like it meshes will with the team environment I’m going to have in college.”
Yakoff will be heading to Harvard a year from now. She will study sports medicine as a Plan B. Plan A is to go pro.
"Dedication's going to be key in off seasons when she might be pulled to do internships…that's where we need her to be traveling and playing to start building her ranking,” says Helm.
Yakoff says she is up to the task.
"There's a lot of players, a lot of people who have the ability, but they don't have hunger, self-drive or motivation to go far,” she says.
Yakoff is playing in two tournaments over the next month. If she wins either one, she'll qualify for the Junior U.S. Open Tournament in late August.


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