Master of the mental game—Varsity tennis captain Ethan Jacob


Andrew Le

SERVING UP A STORM: Varsity captain sophomore Ethan Jacob sets a serve in a game against Sage Hill.

Ellen J. Wang, Staff Writer

Whoosh. His racket shoots through the air, blasting from a line of energy starting at his knees and rocketing through his arm. The ball zips like a bullet. It scrapes the service box and flies to the end of the court so quickly that the opponent’s effort to touch it was in vain. 

Another ace for Northwood varsity boys tennis captain sophomore Ethan Jacob, ranked second in singles on the team this season. Currently, he trains with tennis professionals and coaches while competing in level four and five United States Tennis Association tournaments, of which he has won seven so far this year. He’s been on the court ever since he could walk—for 13 years. 

“What entices me about tennis is just the extreme range of emotions you experience,” Jacob said. “You miss a lot of shots you’re not supposed to miss. The goal is to flip that around as fast as possible, and not to dwell on the past for too long. Once you get one good shot, your entire mindset kind of changes.” 

Famously known to be a mental sport, tennis is all about momentum, strategy and intimidation. The nerve-wracking game is extremely difficult to master. Besides training diligently with coaches and professionals, Jacob has abundant experience with the mental aspect of matchplay. 

“When I’m at 0-5, I accept the fact that I have nothing else to lose and I play freely,” Jacob said. “I sometimes play better because nothing can go worse. Once you get a momentum—they’re always nervous cause they’re trying to close it up—you can flip the game.”

Although he actively competes in tournaments outside of school, Jacob has been on the varsity team at Northwood for two years and he cherishes the experience. While tennis is an individual sport and winning is mostly dependent on the individual, having supportive teammates is an awesome bonus. 

“You have teammates cheering you on every moment of the way, which is really different from tournaments,” Jacob said. “Once someone finishes their own match they can just come watch—they can hype you up really easily and help with your mental state.”

Jacob’s strength as an athlete lies in his unique game: his forehand has heavy topspin and his backhand is the exact opposite—completely flat. He is a risk-taker and goes for shots that are hard to make percentage wise, yet he makes them against the odds. He plans to stay on the high school tennis team, but professional tennis is definitely a future goal for the Northwood sophomore: he is currently ranked top 50 in California for the boys 18 and under division. 

“Five years ago, my dad and I planned out for me to be number one in the country right now,” Jacob said. “Clearly [that] hasn’t happened, but COVID-19 had to deal with that. I’ll get it by senior year though. I know I will.”

Jacob currently trains by hitting against professional tennis players while the coach fine-tunes his technique and strategy on his side. So far, he has won six level five tournaments and one level four tournament, and plans to win many more. 

Check out varsity boys tennis games on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school to watch him compete.