From the French Riviera to the American Dream
“Give me a J! Give me an A! Give me an E! Give me a G! Give me another E! Aaand… Give me a R!”
Estella Jaeger’s name isn’t that complicated to write (we’re looking at you, Natalia Vikhlyantseva), but she better get used to hearing it being spelled out.
In a few months, Estella Jaeger, a 17-year-old pro team player at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, will take off for the United States to enroll at USC (University of Southern California). During the next four years, USC will grant her a full scholarship in order to have her represent the school in the NCAA division 1, the main one in college tennis. And she has every reason to consider it as a form of personal achievement.
"I started playing tennis when I was 8 and a half, 9 years old — that’s quite late for someone,”, she said. "But I still made it… Kind of." (laughs)
Estella was born in Germany, but she’s always been on the move — almost since coming into the world.
"Three weeks after I was born, I moved to Brazil. My parents were actually living in Brazil while my Mum was pregnant, and then my Mum went back to Germany for hospital care and everything. And we just moved back to Brazil afterwards.”
If her journey led her to travel extensively (and speak a perfect English, it must be noted), it’s also because the German education system didn’t allow her to commit to tennis as much as she wished.
“It was always my dream to do school and tennis at the same time, and it’s really hard to combine both in Germany. So when I started, I was like, eventually, someday, I’ll just move away from home and do tennis and school at the same time."
Estella’s words were matched by actions, and she flew to Miami, Florida to pursue her tennis ambitions. That’s where the thought of joining the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy first ran through her mind.
“The year before I went here, I was living in Miami, and I was training at the Academy there. But I was quite young, and I was quite far away from home, and there was time difference, so I was looking at something in Europe. Then I got to the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, and I was extremely amazed by all the facilities, the courts, the coaches and physios who were great… I came here for a week and tried out, I talked to the school and they seemed really cooperative, so in the end, even coming back from the US, which is like the "tennis nation," I would say this Academy is by far the best I’ve ever been to.”
It was love at first sight for Estella when she settled in at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, in August 2016. However, the story proved to be much stronger than just a summer love.
“I developed a lot at the Academy,” she reflected. "When I came here, obviously I had things to work on — on and off the court — but I guess on both parts, I got way more mature. This Academy taught me so many things about developing yourself and becoming the person you want to be. Also going into tough times: It’s really tough to be a student athlete and trying to go on the pro tour, starting to play some tournaments here, traveling a lot, keeping up with your school work... It definitely taught me to be more accurate with my goals, to be more realistic, because sometimes you set your goals so high and you want to achieve them, but then you don’t have the time to do it. I developed a lot in fitness as well, tried to stay as injured-free as possible… Also mentally I just got much much better on court, tried to play smarter, and to have my mindset there when I walk on the court.”
“Having the mindset there” is an aspect of the game Estella has always been interested in, and this is something she will have the opportunity to gain knowledge on at USC.
"Something I’ve always been fascinated by is psychology: How deep you can go into someone’s behavior, why they act a certain way... I think it always helps you to know what’s going on in some people’s minds. Also on court obviously, it helps you understand how to calm yourself down. So, eventually, I was thinking about majoring in psychology, and probably minoring in economics," she explained.
Although she aims to “have the security of a college diploma," Estella will leave no stone unturned in trying to turn professional after her college experience.
"USC has a really good program, where you can play some professional tournaments during the year. They pay for all your expenses, and help you travel to some pro tournaments like the 25, 60 and 80K’s. So after I’m done with university in four years, I’ll try to go on the tour.”
If she actually ends up making it to the WTA tour, in four years or a little more, she might still get a chance to cross paths with her role model — the 28-year-old, two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka.
"I’ve always been a big fan of Victoria Azarenka. I think she’s a big fighter. That’s something I really admire about her: No matter what the situation is, she just doesn’t give up. I think she has a lot of compassion in the game too — she respects everyone.”
On the men’s side, the player Estella looks up to is Rafael Nadal — another big fighter, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, she might want to take a page out of Kevin Anderson’s book. Currently ranked at #9 in the world, the 2017 U.S. Open finalist played three seasons of college tennis in the United States at the University of Illinois before going professional. His late career breakthrough — he’s 31 — shows that the college road can lead to the highest summits. At the Australian Open 2017, no less than 46 players (singles and doubles, and men and women combined) had played college tennis, 3 of them coming from USC — the third most represented school. (Credit: smarthlete.com)
To get admitted to USC, Estella was able to rely on the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy know-how in terms of scholarships.
"The Academy has a really good program led by Fanny (Fracassi), who’s helping everyone who wants to get in contact with colleges in the US, or even in the UK if they want to. So I sat down with her and asked her, “What are my options, what can I do here?," and she made me fill out a lot of forms about myself, and then she started contacting a few colleges. She helped me a lot with the process of getting in touch with the colleges. I started talking to the colleges a lot myself, I always gave her information about what was going on, then we even organized a trip to the US to visit a few colleges, and after that we’d always sit down and she’d give me a lot of advice about the coaches, the team, the history, because obviously I didn’t really know much about the universities before I went there… Even though at the end it was my decision where to go, she guided me through all the admission stuff, and that was really helpful for me because I really didn’t know what I had to do." (laughs). "She’s really professional and knows what she has to do.”
Estella knows what she has to do next, too.
“August 20th is when school starts and I have to be there. There’s going to be a couple of days before with an integration for all the student athletes, to show them the campus basically. I’ll probably try to get there a couple of weeks earlier to set up everything, to set up my dorm… That would be at the beginning of August. Before that, I’ll hopefully keep training here at the Academy for a couple more weeks." (laughs)
It’s not time for a valedictory speech yet. But Estella has a clear idea of who she’s thankful for at the Academy.
"Everyone I’ve worked with over the last couple of years: the teachers, Caroline (Hainault) who’s the Headmaster of the school, my coach Rod (Fabre), my fitness coach Gerald (Cordemy)… Everyone that’s been involved in developing me as a player and as a person. That’s the biggest thank you I would ever say. I would never know how to give back to them because they’ve been influencing me so much over the last two years.”
From the French Riviera to the American Dream, trust Estella Jaeger to just keep it real.
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