PlayBrave Champion - Lea Van Der Zwalmen
1. What are your main sports?
I started playing squash in Toulouse, France, at the age of 8 and went on to play both for club and country. Highlights of my junior career include captaining the under 19 women’s French team during the World Junior Championships in 2013 and winning the under 19 National French Championships in 2015. Since moving to the UK in Summer 2013 and subsequently attending Clifton College for Sixth Form, I have switched focus to the original rackets sports games of Real Tennis and Rackets.
2. What do you love so much about playing Real Tennis and Rackets?
For me Real Tennis and Rackets are totally addictive and character-building. You need audacity and quick reflexes for both. They are ultra-traditional with a unique atmosphere and a strategic, intellectual dimension: the angles are crucial. I personally find that, whatever our age, level or experience, the fun, friendships and life lessons acquired from both these historic games are much more valuable than simply learning a new skill – though nothing beats the deep satisfaction of middling a full-blooded backhand down the Rackets wall for a winner or ripping down the perfect cut volley return of serve to beat chase better than one yard in Real Tennis!
3. What are the proudest moments of your career thus far?
On the Rackets front, winning the first ever Ladies World Singles Championships in May 2015 at The Queen’s Club against the Real Tennis World Champion Claire Fahey in four games was very special. I remember the match and the huge thrill from winning like it was yesterday. On the Real tennis front, whilst I have won The Queen’s Club Ladies Championships twice and consistently made at least the semi-finals of various prestigious tournaments including Grand Slam events, my biggest achievement to date is perhaps climbing up the ranking from world number 16 in November 2017 to number 2 by August 2018 in a record time of just under 10 months.
On a more general note, being directly involved with growing the Ladies Rackets game over the last few years with more and more tournaments being set up (e.g.: Mixed Open Doubles, Ladies World Singles & Doubles Championships and soon Ladies US Open) and an ever-increasing participation at both school and club levels is perhaps my greatest pride.
4. What are your current goals associated with your sports?
My sporting goals are very clear: I want to make history by becoming the first ever person to be singles World Champion in both Rackets and Real Tennis in the same season. I also want to represent my country – France - at the upcoming prestigious Bathurst Cup in 2022. Furthermore, I have met some truly exceptional people and have been to amazing places through playing so I am determined to give back to these sports in some form. The prospect of being directly involved with the construction and opening of a new Real Tennis and/or Rackets court would be particularly exciting to me.
5. Do you have any match day superstitions?
I do not consider myself superstitious, but I do believe in the power of routines. Before a big match, I would try to load myself with carbs and some protein usually 2h before and then have another snack 1h before. I would then start a dynamic warm-up at least half an hour before whilst listening to my favourite playlist and drinking plenty of water.
6. What do you like to wear when you are playing sport and why?
When I am playing sport, I like to wear superlight and quality kit that is above all comfortable. When I put my sportswear on, I shouldn't have any restrictions in movement. It should really hug my body perfectly so that I don’t feel like I ever have to adjust it. I always look for special technical detailing within the apparel, such as sweat-wicking fabrics, which I know will help with my performance.
7. How do you celebrate your big wins?
It usually involves a glass (or two!) of delicious Pol Roger Champagne.
8. What’s your signature shot in the game?
I am perhaps most known on the tour for my backhand shots. More specifically, my backhand serve on the Rackets court often wins me a fair amount of points.
9. Where do you get your mental strength from?
I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by exceptional people throughout my sporting career. People, who not only support me in the good and bad times, but who also inspire me on a daily basis. I guess my determination, mental strength and dedication come directly from all these amazing people I am lucky enough to have in my life.
10. Who is the sportsman/woman that you most admire?
I have huge amount of respect for anyone who has reached the highest levels of their sport whilst growing the game along the way – and who stays involved long after they retired. The Real Tennis & Rackets world is truly blessed to have such amazing individuals as ‘guardians’ of both games. There are too many names to list here but one family that stands out to me as relentlessly moving heaven and earth to grow the Real Tennis game are the Ronaldsons – their utmost dedication, exceptional hard work and overwhelming generosity are indeed most admirable!
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