Freedom High tennis player Julianna Gibson doesn’t race across the tennis court, she glides.
Her forehand and backhand aren’t harried, they are harmonious.
Her demeanor isn’t delirious, it is docile.
It all works together to make Gibson one of the top high school tennis players around.
Last year, as a freshman, she played line 1 (where typically the best players at each school line up) and went 14-0 in singles, winning District and Regional titles on her way to the State tournament.
She kicked off her sophomore season on Valentine’s Day by winning 8-0 against Gaither in singles, and teaming up with Zoe Rosen for another 8-0 win at doubles. She is 4-0 so far this season.
“I think it’s gone pretty smoothly,” Julianna says of her brief high school career. “A few of the matches were pretty competitive, but I have gotten through most of them pretty easily.”
Gibson has been playing tennis since she was 5. Her parents, Mike and Carri-Ann, say Julianna tried a number of sports, like soccer and volleyball and even earned a black belt in Tae Kwan Do.
“I coached her Little League softball team, and she was a really good hitter and threw really well,” Carri-Ann says. “I thought, “We might have a softball player here.’
Despite having physical gifts — Julianna is 5-feet, 9-inches tall with a long reach — that lend themselves to almost any sport, none had the amount of action to keep his daughter’s attention like tennis, according to Mike.
“She took to tennis like a fish to water,” he says. “It was a sport she seemed she could really get into. I remember she said in tennis, the ball comes right back to you and you get another chance. It’s a constant engagement. You have to be constantly engaged when you’re playing tennis.”
As an only child, Julianna said she enjoys the individual aspect of playing singles. She started out in playing in the USTA’s Junior Team Tennis leagues, but most USTA junior tournaments focus on singles.
The competition can range from friendly to fierce. Many of the opponents Julianna has faced in her junior career are training 5-6 hours a day at expensive and prestigious academies away from their families.
The Gibsons prefer a more balanced approach. Julianna has hopes for playing in college, and does train with personal coaches, but she says her obsession for being a professional tennis star takes a back seat to enjoying her high school years.
And so far, she says she has been enjoying them.
“It’s nice playing on a team with other girls, and cheering them on,” Julianna says. “I like that part of it.”
Her height and long frame give Julianna an advantage over most opponents when it comes to serving and her forehand, her two strengths.
Still More To Accomplish
That helped catapult her to her unbeaten season last year, and the Patriots advanced to the Class 3A Regionals as the District runner-up.
Gibson won her singles match at Regionals against Largo, with her opponent remarking that she couldn’t believe Julianna was only a freshman.
At States, Julianna lost her first match 7-5, 6-2 to Fort Myers’ sophomore lefty Shani Idlette, still the only blemish on Julianna’s high school record.
“It was a lot more competitive there,” says Julianna, who says she was sick the week of the match. “I lost, but it was pretty competitive.”
Her main goal for this season is to make it back to States, but she doesn’t plan on going alone.
“I want the whole team to go,” says Julianna. “The one thing I thought when I was there last year was that this would be more fun as a team.”