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Midwest champ: La Grange eighth-grader Kowalski wins prestigious USTA championship

You never know what a little kid will dig up when they go exploring. It could inspire a lifelong interest or something they are a natural at.

When Meg Kowalski was 3 years old, she found a tennis racket while her mom was cleaning out the garage and was instantly fascinated with it.

Now, Kowalski, a La Grange resident who attends Park Junior High School, is a budding tennis sensation.

She won the girls 14-and-under division of the prestigious USTA Midwest Outdoor Closed Championships on June 27 in Okemos, Mich. The tournament draws players from five states and is only open to players who have earned enough ranking points from other USTA junior events to make the 128-player draw.

Kowalski won seven matches at the six-day tournament and beat Elysia Bolton of Lake Forest 6-1, 6-4 in the final. In her seven victories, Kowalski didn’t drop a set.

“It was definitely a big deal for me because I’ve competed in that tournament for four years and I haven’t gotten that close,” Kowalski said. “My game has definitely gotten much better because I’ve been working probably my hardest. I was mentally and physically prepared for this big tournament. I didn’t feel much pressure on me.”

A level-headed approach like that isn’t always found in kids not yet in eighth grade. Kowalski further showed off her mental game by talking about how she likes to construct points.

From the time she picked up that racket for the first time in the garage, she has pursued her love of the sport and developed into an elite player.

“She really had some great hand-eye coordination so I called around to see who would take her and they let her sign up for lessons,” said Meg’s mother, Mattie Kowalski.

Mattie says Meg was originally more into gymnastics and soccer, which she still plays for the La Grange Celtics. After playing at Score Tennis and Fitness in Countryside, Kowalski found her way to Hinsdale Racquet Club almost a year ago where she blossomed.

“The coaches are so good there and it just fits me a lot better,” Kowalski said. “My serves have definitely gotten a lot harder. I’ve learned to do more with my serve, aim it better and get some spin.”

Big national tournaments in Georgia, Arizona and Florida still are ahead on her schedule during the next year. After that, Kowalski, whose favorite player is the recently retired Kim Clijsters, is looking forward to joining the Lyons Township High School program and being a part of a team.

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