SARASOTA — East County sisters Abbey and Ari Siegel are as different as they come.
And nowhere are their differences more apparent than on the tennis court, where the two have been a fixture since before they knew how to walk.
Standing across the court from one another at Longwood Athletic Club, the two sisters begin warming up for their morning practice session.
The ball sails back and forth over the net, as the two prepare for what will be nothing short of a battle of wills.
Abbey, the more aggressive of the two, fends off each ball, using her power and precision to catch her sister off guard. Ari stands toward the back of the court, and retrieves each ball that comes her way in hopes that her sister eventually will make a mistake.
The two continue serving the ball back and forth before eventually moving on to the day’s individual instruction.
Abbey, 12, and Ari, 10, have been playing tennis since they were about 2 years old. Growing up in a tennis family, the girls’ mother, Maya, a former Satellite tennis player, decided to introduce the girls to the sport at a young age.
Before the sisters could even walk, they would spend their afternoons on the tennis court tucked away in their strollers watching their older brothers, Josh and Alec, play.
“The whole family played tennis, and I thought tennis was the best choice for the girls in terms of getting them sports-oriented and also keeping them out of trouble,” Maya Siegel says. “They grew up around it. They had no choice.”
Shortly after the girls picked up a racket for the first time, the sisters would practice a few times a week with their mom, who also serves as their coach.
But it wasn’t until Abbey was 9 years old and Ari was 7 years old that the sisters decided to take their game to the next level.
“I really started liking it,” Abbey says. “I started playing in tournaments and winning tournaments. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a pro.”
“I figured I have to play a sport, and playing once a week is not really playing a sport,” Ari says. “I decided I wanted to get serious about it.”
The sisters have been out on the court almost every day since, whether training or competing in tournaments.
Abbey and Ari train a couple hours a day with their mom, which both Maya Siegel and her daughters admit has its advantages and disadvantages.
“Sometimes it’s annoying because I look at her as a mom and not a coach,” Abbey says. “She’s my mom and I know she knows best. She’s taught me everything about tennis.”
“It’s very hard sometimes because they can’t separate mom and coach,” Maya Siegel says. “They don’t push themselves as hard as they would with someone else. They still do the job, just not as hard.”
In addition to training with their mom, the girls also train with other junior tennis players at the Longwood Athletic Club.
“I just like practicing,” Ari says. “I’m not that into tournaments. I’m not a big fan of match play. I just like practicing and learning new things.”
Abbey also hits with a college tennis player, which has helped prepare her for 14s and 16s tournaments.
“I get better from playing older people,” says Abbey, who reached the finals of her first girls 16s tournament a few weeks ago. “I’m used to the pace now and how hard they hit the ball.”
The girls’ hard work and dedication to the sport has already begun to pay off. Abbey currently is ranked 21st in the state in her age group, while Ari is ranked 14th in the Class of 2021. Ari also is ranked in the top 50 in the 12s division.
Over the summer, Ari won the girls’ 10s singles state championship. She defeated Orlando’s Patricia Gonzalez 3-4, 4-1, 7-5.
“I was really proud,” Ari says of the accomplishment. “It was really close, so I was relieved when I won. I had a lot of stress and nervousness, so when I won, it was like a moment of relief.”
Most recently, the girls competed in the Bradenton Country Club Santa’s Junior tournament Dec. 7. Ari reached the semifinals of the girls’ 12s singles tournament, while Abbey reached the semifinals of the girls’ 14s singles tournament.
The girls will return to the court Dec. 14, for a tournament at Longwood Athletic Club.
Abbey and Ari plan to continue playing tennis for the foreseeable future, but their aspirations aren’t the same. Abbey hopes to be a professional tennis player by the time she’s 17 or 18 years old, while Ari hopes to land a college scholarship to help her pursue a degree in wildlife biology.
“They have the resources that I never had,” Maya Siegel says. “Although everyone can say they want to be a pro at 12 years old, they don’t realize the obstacles that lie ahead of them. It’s a great dream to have, but you have to be ready to commit at 16 and know that tennis is a full-time job.”
BY THE NUMBERS
126 - Abbey Siegel’s national ranking among other players in the Class of 2019.
14 - Ari Siegel’s state ranking among other players in the Class of 2021.
2 - The age at which Abbey and Ari Siegel first picked up a tennis racket.
5 - The number of years until Abbey Siegel wants to be playing professional tennis.
10 - The girls’ singles division in which Ari Siegel won the state title this summer.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.