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Q&A with Lea Van Der Zwalmen

Added 07 Mar 2019 by GFORCE

Here at GFORCE Sportswear we love a huge range of sports from across the world, niche or mainstream, and celebrating sporting achievement from grassroots to elite levels. In our latest Q&A we’ve teamed up with Lea Van Der Zwalmen to hear about her amazing success in Rackets and Real Tennis.

Lea, 23, started playing squash in Toulouse, France, at the age of eight and went on to play both for club and country. Highlights of her junior career include captaining the under 19 women’s French team during the World Junior Championships in 2013 and winning the under 19 National French Championships in 2015. She has now switched her focus to the original rackets sports games of rackets and real tennis. She is the current ladies rackets world champion, a title she has held since 2015, and is ranked number two in the world at real tennis – all while juggling training and competition with her work as a final year Economics and German student at the University of Nottingham!

How did you initially get into your chosen sports?
I was first introduced to rackets when I joined sixth form at Clifton College back in September 2013. They had heard about my squash background so the rackets coach had been very proactive in inviting me for a taster session. His passion and enthusiasm for the game was not only apparent, but also very much contagious. Thanks to him, I got the rackets bug right away and went on to play pretty much every day during my two years at sixth form. I still have very fond memories of travelling to all the other rackets-playing schools and playing doubles against the boys in some very competitive fixtures.

Upon starting at Nottingham University in 2015 I was very keen to keep playing rackets competitively, so I joined The Queen’s Club in London. Originally, I only played rackets and a bit of squash there but after a few friends kept on insisting that I try this other game called real tennis, I finally had my first taster session in April 2017. Straight away, I was intrigued by the more complex technique and tactical aspects of this game. Watching the best players in action at The Queen’s Club has inspired me to play this game at the highest level. I am currently ranked number two in the world and I’m aiming to win the world championships of rackets and real tennis – quite a challenge!

What do you love so much about playing Rackets and Real Tennis?
For me rackets and real tennis are totally addictive and character-building. You need bravery and quick reflexes for both. They are ultra-traditional with a great atmosphere and a strategic, intellectual dimension: the angles are crucial. I personally find that, whatever our age, level or experience though, the fun, friendships and life lessons acquired from both these historic games are much more valuable than simply learning a new skill – though nothing beats the exhilaration of middling a full-blooded backhand down the rackets wall for a winner or ripping down the perfect cut volley return of serve to beat chase better than one yard in real tennis!

What do you think has been your biggest sporting achievement so far?
On the rackets front, winning the first ever Ladies World Championships in May 2015 at The Queen’s Club against the real tennis world champion Claire Fahey in four games was very special. I remember the match and the huge thrill from winning like it was yesterday. Since then, I have convincingly defended my title in May 2017 and I am very much looking forward to defending it for a second consecutive time this summer.

On the real tennis front, whilst I have won The Queen’s Club Ladies Championships and consistently made at least the semi finals of various prestigious tournaments, my biggest achievement to date is perhaps climbing up the ranking from world number 16 in November 2017 to number two by August 2018 in a record time of just under ten months.

What do you like to wear when you are playing sport and why? What impact can the right sports kit have on your performance?
When I am playing sport, I like to wear superlight and quality kit that is above all comfortable. When I put my sportswear on, I shouldn't have any restrictions in movement. It should really hug my body perfectly so that I don’t feel like I ever have to adjust it. I always look for special technical detailing within the apparel, such as sweat-wicking fabrics, which I know will help with my performance.

What would be the one bit advice you would give to your younger self?
Don’t focus on the end goal so much that you forget to enjoy and truly make the most of the journey!

What is your favourite thing to do outside of sport?
When I am not studying or on court training, I love watching movies and series, discovering new music on SoundCloud, reading and spending time with family and friends.

What are your sporting goals and hopes for the future?
My sporting goals are very clear: I want to make history by becoming the first ever person to be world champion in both rackets and real tennis in the same season. I have met some truly exceptional people and have been to amazing places through playing so I am determined to give back to these sports that have given me so much over the years. I very much hope that my dedication and hard work might inspire more people, especially kids, to take up these amazing games. I would also love to be directly involved with the construction and opening of a new real tennis or rackets court.

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