Like the majority of ranked Southern California junior tennis players, Cali Jankowski is well aware of how important practice is to becoming an even better player. And just like a lot of those players, Jankowski is not afraid to admit that practicing hasn’t always been her favorite thing to do, until recently.
“For me it is all about the competition and the tournaments,” said the 16-year-old Carlsbad resident. “I used to not like the practices, but knew it was important for my tennis.”
Jankowski feels like she’s found the right formula to keep her inspired on the practice court. It wasn’t until she started working with Coach Derek Miller, the director of tennis at the Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club, and in Orange County with Coach Frank Giampaolo, that she found her groove.
“I feel like now that I’ve found a good team around me, I look forward to driving to practice every day,” she said.
Jankowski, who is a junior and studies online at Laurel Springs School, came up big at the recent J.P. Yamasaki Tournament in Anaheim, capturing the Girls’ 18s singles title.
After dropping the first set to Jennifer Kerr in the semifinals, Jankowski came back to beat her 6-0 in the third set. She then downed Jennifer Gadalov in the final, also in three sets.
She started the year winning another big Level 1 in the 16s as she took the Henry Talbert Junior title.
Jankowski knows the SCTA Section results are important, but wants to turn her attention to then national events. She spent 2016 playing some of the area, and nation’s top players as she beat beat Ryan Peus at Fullerton before taking a set off Carson Branstine and falling in a super tiebreaker.
Jankowski played top 14-year-olds in Alexa Noel and Gabby Price at the Easter Bowl, and fell to the nation’s top 14-year-old Katie Volynets in the quarterfinals of the Carson ITF Level 1, taking a set before retiring down in the third because of an injury.
“Yeah, playing these high-level tournaments you really get to see the best of the best,” she said. “And some of these best of the best are from the younger divisions. They are extremely tough to play. You know the age factor is there and it’s subconsciously there that you are older, but some of the younger players are so tough.”
Jankowski will play up in the 18s at the Winter Nationals in Tempe later this month to complete her exceptional year.
An only child, Jankowski came to the sport like so many others. “My dad played in high school and my mom joined a women’s league,” she said. “My dad started feeding me balls when I was younger.”
Jankowski describes her style as “really aggressive” and has been like that from the start. “Now it’s just a matter of harnessing that,” she said. “I’m working on opening up more angles and serving and volleying and utilizing the whole court; moving them around and not giving my opponents anything. That’s what I’ve been working on with my coaches.”
Jankowski said she would like to get her second serve better and her fitness.
She will play for Arizona State University having already verbally committed, although she was recruited by other top Division I schools. “It’s a family school,” she said. “My grandfather was a dean of engineering and I have a cousin that goes there now, and an aunt who went there. All my family lives in Tempe.”
Staying in the Pac-12 means Jankowski will be able to keep playing her favorite tournament, The Ojai. “It’s just amazing how this small town brings out hundreds of people to watch the juniors and college players,” she said. “Ojai is my favorite tournament, and any tournament in the Palm Springs/Indian Wells area.”
Jankowski has set some lofty personal goals for the coming year. “I would love to be seeded at the 18s Hardcourts next year,” she said. “And just keep climbing up the rankings and play some ITF pro events.”
School has always come first, and Jankowski is looking forward to studying sports media with the hopes of someday working for a professional team. “I don’t want to just have a regular office job,” she said. “I want to be involved with something that has to do with sports.”
— Steve Pratt