Isabella Yan packs a lot of power in a small package.
One only has to watch the 11-year-old Yan run through a training session with her coach Marek Neheil at the Regina Fieldhouse to see that power.
Yan sprints along the end line, returning volleys over the net with precision and speed. She rarely misses a return or a volley during the spirited session.
“Tennis is fun,” Yan said before a recent practice. “It’s a harder sport to do because the racquet looks like a fly swatter to me.
“I just like playing tennis. Practice is fun and now I just have work on my consistency.”
Yan, who also goes by Bella, has progressed at tennis since being introduced to the sport at the age of seven.
Neheil said that Yan is ranked in Canada’s top five for under-12 players. She often plays against older opponents because there are more opponents and competition than at the under-12 level.
On the weekend, Yan traveled to Calgary where she finished first in the under-16 girls singles at the Alberta Open.
In September, Yan and Vancouver’s Amy Shen won the under-12 doubles title at the 2022 Canadian outdoor junior championships in Laval, Que. Yan finished second in singles, losing to Shen in the final.
“It was really a big honor because you’re playing at nationals and you’re representing your province,” Yan said. “You’re playing a national game, but it’s fun to go.”
In August, Yan took part in her first Canada Summer Games when she traveled to southern Ontario for the national multi-sport event.
As a 10-year-old, she was one of the youngest competitors at the 2022 Games and helped Saskatchewan finish sixth. The result tied Saskatchewan for its best performance in tennis at the Canada Games.
“She’s a really good player with lots of energy,” said Neheil, who was a Team Saskatchewan tennis coach at the Summer Games. “She works hard and has good focus for her age. It’s not usual for kids at their age to focus for long periods of time. Usually it’s shorter.”
Isabella’s parents — Sam and Amanda Yan — placed her in gymnastics and other sports before introducing her to the Lake Shore Tennis Club.
“The first half hour was a disaster because every time she tried to hit the ball she missed,” Sam Yan said. “She’s powerful, but she’s not very patient. I remember that we almost quit because tennis wasn’t for her.”
Sam then grabbed a box of tennis balls and gave it another try. He served the ball and Isabella connected with it. He sent a few more balls Isabella’s way and she returned most.
“No one had ever told her how to hold a racquet or anything like that,” Sam said. “She just has something inside of her and she was born for this type of thing. She has tennis in her blood.”
The Yans eventually turned to Neheil for more formal coaching and training. Isabella has progressed to the point where she trains up to two hours a day, six to seven days a week.
“It’s great to have a kid that’s interested like she is at the level she is,” Neheil said. “It’s not the usual level of what we have here in Saskatchewan or on the prairies in general. We have some better players, but not one at her level who stands out at her age.”
It’s not all tennis for Yan. She’s in Grade 6 at MacNeill Elementary School.
“I don’t have that many friends at school because I go away a lot,” she said. “My grades are OK and I’m good at math. I also have tutors. I’m trying to learn French because when I do go to Quebec I have to talk in French.”
Tennis is a family affair for Yan, who counts on her parents to drive her to tournaments and practices.
“There are very important to me,” she said. “If I didn’t have then, I would never be able to play tennis because you need money for everything.”
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