Freshman Carissa Park knows her biggest weakness on the tennis court. “Sometimes I’m too aggressive. I want the point to be over fast when I could hit one more ball in and win it easily.” That’s not the worst problem to have in tennis, especially when, more often than not, those aggressive strokes bound down the line for winners. 14 years old and already 5 ft 8, the South Pasadena girls’ tennis number one has taken advantage of her power thus far this season to win matches playing predominantly from the baseline, approaching the net only when necessary.
Although the Tigers have struggled to begin league, Park has accumulated a 7-5 record—and she thinks it should be better, saying, “I should have won at least half of the matches I lost.”
After nearly escaping the preseason with a clean record, losing a tight match against Alhambra in its final game, South Pas has dropped its first two league matches, against La Canada and San Marino. It’s too early to look forward to next season—however, with Park and a strong junior class that includes Shannon Huang, Deanna Als and Rachel Park, each match this Fall provides a chance for the Tigers to develop their talent. Carissa has the highest ceiling.
One of Park’s many advantages over most of her high school competition is her early start in tennis. “I began playing as a kid,” she said, before pausing and correcting herself with a grin. “Or a baby.”
She played for fun most of her childhood and did not begin competing seriously until her mom entered her in a junior tournament as a 10-year-old. She won that first tournament to begin a very successful junior career. At one point, Park was ranked 23rd in Southern California. Her mom’s decision to enter her in older age brackets pushed her to face tougher competition.
“She kept entering me in the 12-year-olds’ age bracket when I could still play in the 10s,” said Park, with a wry smile. “When she put me in the 10s I won immediately.”
Her tennis genes come from her mom Linda, who was a Division I tennis player at Cal Berkeley. After substituting in South Pasadena Unified for years, Linda became a fulltime 5th grade teacher this Fall at Marengo Elementary.
Does she want Carissa to pursue tennis? To play in college? Mrs. Park doesn’t project those expectations on her daughter and even keeps a distance from her when it comes to tennis technique. “I started taking lessons at 11 or 12, not from my mom, because I think it’s better to have a coach who’s not in your family,” said the freshman, adding, “It’s easier to take criticism.”
Park has a truly relaxed approach to the sport (she says that off the court she never thinks about tennis) for being so competitive inside the lines.
What will really determine where she goes in her tennis career at SPHS is her own desire to play.
Despite her talent on the court, tennis isn’t even Park’s favorite sport. In the spring, she will try out for the softball team, going out for third base.