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Ten Questions with Les Petits As Champion Stefan Leustian
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Fourteen-year-old Stefan Leustian reached the third round of the Junior Orange Bowl in December, one of the few times he had competed against international players. In the six weeks that followed, the Northern California resident began to post increasingly impressive results, both in the United States and in Europe. He started 2016 by reaching the finals of the 14s USTA Winter Nationals in Tucson, then advanced to the quarterfinals of the prestigious Nike Junior International 14s event in Bolton, England.

Leustian's next stop was Tarbes, France, where he received the No. 8 seed at Les Petits As, the preeminent 14-and-under tournament in Europe. With its multitude of sponsors, live streaming, chair umpires and spectators numbering in the thousands, the atmosphere can be overwhelming to a young player accustomed to the family and friends typically constituting a junior tennis audience in the United States.

But Leustian flourished in the spotlight, particularly in the semifinals, when he was down a set to the French favorite and Bolton champion Harold Mayot before claiming a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory. In the final against No. 4 seed Borna Devald of Croatia, Leustian dropped his first service game at love, but immediately broke back, then cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory.

The title made Leustian something of a celebrity in Romania, where his parents are from, and also earned him an invitation to the 14-and-under exhibition held in conjunction with the ATP World Tour Finals this November in London.

Prior to this week's USTA National Spring Team Championships, I spoke to Leustian, who trains with the USTA's Andy Brandi and Eric Nunez in Boca Raton, about his recent surge, the advice that has helped him improve, and his appearance on the Romanian version of Sports Center.

 

Questions and Answers

Colette Lewis (CL): What clicked when you went overseas?

Stefan Leustian (SL): Definitely attitude, my attitude changed. I was a lot stronger with my mental game over there. I always kept a calm and positive attitude. I just focused on point by point and that helped me throughout the tournament.

 

Leustian has been working with USTA Coaches Andy Brandi and Eric Nunez
© YourGameFace.com
CL: Is that something you've been working on for a while?

SL: I've always been working on that, keeping a positive mental game, and with the crowd over there, it kind of helped. It's a really different atmosphere when you've got 3,000 people watching you. And all 3,000 people were against me, because I was playing a Frenchy. So I knew I had to stay focused, block them all out and focus on my game. Because of my attitude, I started winning over the crowd, and in the third set they were actually rooting for me, because the French kid kind of started going wild. So because of that, I got helped even more in the third set.

 

CL: What advice or suggestions have you gotten from Andy Brandi that has helped you with the process?

SL: He's always forced me to stay calm, because I'm kind of a whiner on the court. He's like two strikes and I'm out, so if I whine twice, I'm out of practice, so I always have to keep a calm attitude. And now it's a little easier to keep calm on the court and stay engaged in every point. He's also fixed some parts of my serve to make it more effective, and my footwork. And we've been working a lot on transition.

 

CL: What do you consider the strengths of your game?

SL: At Les Petits As, my backhand down the line was really helping me out, and my deep, penetrating forehand was helping me find my way into the court. The courts there were slower, so it gave me some time to move in and finish at the net.

 

CL: Who introduced you to the game?

SL: My dad, when I was two years old, gave me a plastic racquet and a rubber ball, and I just smacked it in the house. I was going wild, smacking it wherever I could, and I really liked it. I started playing on an actual tennis court when I was six years old, and my first coach, he made tennis fun. When I was seven, I played my first tournament, an 8-and-under novice, and I won it. It really helped my confidence and it was fun, because I really wanted to play and to win. So I kept pushing myself.

 

CL: What do you find appealing about tennis?

SL: It's always fun, even when you're not playing your best, to fight to find a way to win. I love the grind.

 

CL: Do your parents play?

SL: When my dad was back in Romania, he would play once in a while, but not serious tennis.

 

CL: Do you go back to Romania?

SL: Yes, I was actually there a couple of weeks ago. I used to go every year, but tennis kind of took over. Now when we have time and I need a break, we go over there, meet family.

Since I won Les Petits As, everyone knew me and the Romanian Tennis Federation asked me to come hit while I was over there. There's a little academy in my hometown in Romania and I hit with the coach there and with some friends.

We have a close friend whose niece is the host of a kind of like Sports Center, so I was on TV over there. I speak Romanian but the interview was in English and they just translated it.

 

Leustian enjoys the team environment
© Zoo Tennis
CL: What do you like about the USTA Team Nationals tournament?

SL: I played last year and it was really fun. It was one of my first team experiences. It's fun having a team backing you up and the pressure of having to work with a team and not let them down. When you're playing just yourself, you really don't have anyone cheering you on, but with a team, you always have friends there for you. If you're down, they can help pick you up. And a coach, if you're stuck in a match, not knowing what to do, he can sit you down and tell you what to do and you can go out stronger.

 

CL: Do you feel there's more pressure on you now that you've won such a big tournament?

SL: My coach says that tournament is a pimple on an elephant's butt, so I won't go boasting and get real cocky. He also told me not worry, you're going to lose matches. Don't let other kids say, oh, you won Les Petits As, now you have to win every single match. You can have a bad day, you can be injured, the other kid can be better than you. A lot can change in a couple of months.

 

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About Colette Lewis

Colette Lewis has covered topflight U.S. and international junior events as a freelance journalist for over a decade. Her work has appeared in Tennis magazine, the Tennis Championships magazine and the US Open program. Lewis is active on Twitter, and she writes a weekly column right here at TennisRecruiting.net. She was named Junior Tennis Champion for 2016 by Tennis Industry Magazine.

Lewis, based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has seen every National Championship final played since 1977, and her work on the tournament's ustaboys.com website led her to establish ZooTennis, where she comments on junior and college tennis daily.

 
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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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