West student gets to play tennis with a legend

Special to the News-DemocratMay 1, 2013 

Gabi Papachrisanthou played tennis with Jimmy Connors on April 17.

Yes, that Jimmy Connors. The metro-east native who was the No. 1 player in the world for 160 consecutive weeks in the 1970s, won five U.S. Opens and who retired from professional tennis in 1996.

Gabi wasn't even born until 1997.

"But I've watched so many of his matches, I know how good he is," said the Belleville West junior, whose coach at West is Connors' brother, John. "I got to hit with him for an hour and 15 minutes at Kings Point. I've never been so out of breath or sore in my life. He didn't go easy on me. We never took a break."

What were the best tips Connors gave her?

"He told me to never give up one point. Just keep it up till you get it."

And on her serve: "Have a fluid motion and hit it at it's highest point ... and relax."

Did it help?

"My serve has definitely improved."

Gabi is the daughter of Angelo and Michelle Papachrisanthau, of Millstadt. When she's not playing tennis, "I like to hang out with my friends. But I don't have much down time."

She plays tennis every day, and is preparing for the tournament season that starts in May.

She is one of the top players on the Belleville West girls team. She reached the finals of sectionals last year and advanced to the state finals, beating two seeded players along the way.

"I take tennis very seriously. I hope to get a scholarship and play tennis in college."

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