Conway girl finds her niche on the tennis court

Conway Elementary School student Isabel Solazzo has her sights set on playing professional tennis.

Conway Elementary School third grade student Isabel Solazzo may be a little girl, but she has some very big dreams for the future.

The 8-year-old who plays tennis three times a week, has her sights set on becoming a professional tennis player. She already takes lessons from Coach Punsisi “Pun” Dayaratne at Conway’s Riverfront Tennis Center.

“I just really like hitting the ball back and forth,” Solazzo said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The daughter of Lydia and Jim Solazzo began playing tennis when she was only 3-years-old, and fell in love with the sport almost immediately.

“I would play all the time if I could,” she said. “I love it.”

Solazzo will compete in her first tournament in December when she heads to the court at the Myrtle Beach Tennis Center for the Bojangles Open.

“Isabel got started in preschool when a friend invited her to Prestwick,” Lydia Solazzo said. “After her first lesson, she was very focused and intrigued by it. She wanted to keep playing.”

Solazzo gives Dayaratne a lot of credit for his work in refining her daughter’s skills.

“Coach Pun really does an excellent job building the program and getting the kids excited,” she said. “He’s very professional. He has them so mesmerized. If you come out here from 3 to 7 p.m., it’s packed. It’s exciting to see. He has a way with the kids.”

Solazzo describes her daughter as very focused and athletic.

“I think she’s been very focused since she was little,” her mother said. “She was born focused if you ask me. She’s very focused when she needs to be focused.”

In addition to playing a lot of tennis, the youngster likes to swim and is also a pretty good gymnast even though she doesn’t particularly care for that sport. She takes math and science classes for gifted and talented students at CES, and is very bright for her age. She also takes art classes and enjoys drawing.

The youngster especially enjoys drawing landscapes and animals, and sometimes reads passages in at her church.

Solazzo’s idol is Serena Williams, who has been ranked number one in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association six times.

“I’ve always liked the way she plays, the way she hits the ball,” the youngster said. “I’ve seen her play a little more than Venus.”

Solazzo’s goal is to become a professional herself, and perhaps compete against Williams one day.

“Those are some big goals for a little person,” her mother said.

Solazzo comes from a very athletic family, but neither of her parents are serious tennis competitors even though both played for fun a little bit when they were in college. Her mother practices and teaches yoga and both of Isabel’s parents have run marathons and half marathons in the past.

“My husband and I are not very aware of what’s good or what’s mediocre, but a lot of parents think she’s a great tennis player,” Solazzo said. “They say she’s very agile, very fluid and very calm. Her coach says she’s really patient and I’d say that would be an asset in anything you do.”

Although her mother gets nervous watching Solazzo play, the child seems to thrive on competition.

“She’s really funny,” her mother said. “She’s shy at first, but when you get to know her she’s super funny. Friends would say she makes them laugh. She’s very playful and kind at heart.”

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