Growing up as the son of the owner of the Englewood Tennis Club, Ben Zipay has been surrounded by the game of tennis for his entire life.

From sleeping in his baby carriage on the counter of the club to dragging racquets half his size across the courts, Zipay is finally growing into his game.

This spring, the junior led the Venice boys tennis team to the first state championship in school history, and has been named the Sun’s All-Area Player of the Year for his efforts.

“He told me when I was 2, he would hang a ball from the ceiling and I would hit it with a plastic racquet,” Zipay said of his father, Bob Zipay. “The first time I stepped on the court for a lesson was when I was 4. But he told me he never asked me if I wanted to play tennis or pushed me. He said he wanted it to be 100 percent me initiating.

“I guess when I was young I was just around the courts all the time and I said, ‘I really want to play.’ So I took out the adult racquets — I’ve never used a junior racquet.”

It wasn’t long after Zipay picked up his first racquet that he would be meeting his future state champion teammates.

Doubles teammate and Venice No. 2 player Ryan Rajakar met Zipay when they were just 3 years old — meeting through their parents’ friendship.

A few years later, the two met Jaden Wiesinger, Ryan Sherwood and Alex Dina in elementary school, and their bond was forged.

The next No. 1Even before Zipay was ready to make the transition to high school, Venice tennis coach Wayne Robertson was hearing about a kid at the Englewood Tennis Club who could really play.

“Some of the guys who were on the team a generation before Ben, they had been practicing at Englewood Tennis Club, so they knew the Zipays,” Robertson said. “Guys were always talking about who’s coming up next, so they would talk about Ben.”

While Zipay certainly had the talent and promise to be Venice’s No. 1 player as a freshman, he still had some growing to do.

With two seniors at or above his skill level, Zipay played out of the No. 3 position as he got a feel for the high school game.

Even in his first year, Zipay was already playing No. 1 doubles.

But, it wasn’t always easy for him.

Standing 5-foot-1, the freshman had to get creative in order to hang with the power and strength of players three or four years older.

“It was tough, especially me being really short playing against these kids who were maybe 6-feet tall,” Zipay said. “I was completely physically outmatched, so I would have to win matches with my brain. But I remember from the start of freshman year to the start of sophomore year, I grew seven inches.”

By the time the end of that first year rolled around, it was clear that Zipay would lead the Indians until he was done at Venice High.

Since then, he has reached new heights in each season — reaching the state finals in singles and doubles his sophomore year before winning the team championship this year.

A team playerTennis is, for the most part, an individual sport.

Outside of doubles play and team competitions in high school, each person’s success in the game falls squarely on their own shoulders.

Zipay is talented enough to only worry about his own game, but it’s simply not in his nature.

He leads team huddles, helps teammates in practice and cheers them on as they play matches. While he could easily spend his time with a personal trainer or at the Englewood Tennis Club instead, Zipay does his best to never miss an Indians practice.

It’s a team spirit that’s infectious and hard to be overlooked.

“Of all the guys, he’s at the most practices,” Robertson said. “All I have to say is, ‘Hey Ben, can you work with these two guys for a little bit?’ And he’ll set up a drill and sit there and work with them for half an hour. Things like that really stand out. Kids of his skill level don’t have to do things like that, but he’s into it.

“They respect Ben 100 percent. I hear them say it all the time that they’re amazed by the things that he does. Even though they play really well, too, he’ll make shots where they’re like, ‘Ben, you’re just sick.’ Because it’s just amazing how he can execute.”

Zipay’s appreciation for teamwork is easy to see on the court, too. Together with Rajakar, the two had lost just one doubles match all year until falling in the doubles state championship.

Over the years they’ve worked on strategy, communication and shot placement. Now, they’ve gotten to the point where they hardly have to look at each other to know what the other will do next.

Growing into his gameFor years, he has had to overcome his lack of size.

Zipay, whose grandmother was a professional player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, also tried baseball, but realized he only enjoyed hitting.

He tried basketball, too, but was too short to have much success.

So, it was tennis that stuck — even if he was too small to keep up with the older and better players.

From his days of playing with oversized racquets as a toddler to playing against 6-foot-and-up 18 year-olds as a small 14-year-old, the rising-senior is accustomed to having the odds stacked against him.

That is why, now that he’s 5-foot-11 and adding power to his game, there’s not many players that can keep up with Zipay.

After wrapping up an 8-4 record in singles and a 9-1 record with Rajakar in doubles, Zipay went undefeated in both singles and doubles throughout the team playoffs for Venice.

Next year, Zipay hopes he’ll be on his way to a Division-I university to play tennis, but not before he goes out with one more bang alongside his teammates.

“I would love to win doubles with Ryan and a team championship again because we’re all seniors next year,” Zipay said. “I’d like to win singles too, but I’d be happy with two of three. If I could win all three, that would be extraordinary for me and I would love that. That would be the highlight of my career so far.”

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