Local tennis phenom Kyra Foster thriving with major opportunity

Canterbury tennis star Kyra Foster is spending the year studying and training in Florida. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

During her first two years as a high school tennis player, Canterbury’s Kyra Foster put together a 55-4 record and advanced to the state semifinals each season.

Arguably, she was one of the top high school athletes in the area, but she knew she needed new challenges if she was going to improve to the level she dreams of. In August, she got her chance when a call came from the famed IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Would she be interested in attending school and training there this year?

She had three days to decide but only needed three seconds.

“Last January I went there for a camp to get ready for season, and I liked it a lot,” the 17-year-old said. “I went back again during Spring Break and they really wanted me full-time, and we just stayed in contact and it all came together. I’m definitely going to miss playing in season this year and being on the team, but I thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

IMG bills itself as the finest sports training site with 1,000 of the world’s elite young athletes in tennis, soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse and football.

“We have the best of best here at IMG, probably the most competitive players that you’ll find anywhere else in the world,” said Margie Zesinger, director of the female tennis program. “It’s very unique because there is so much competition. Usually, you can go to another tennis training facility and you’ll find one or two players, and here we have about 11 girls who are among the top 100 juniors in the world.

“Putting someone like Kyra in an environment like this, you are not the best so it’s not easy. You are broken down, but then you are broken down to be built back up. There is always someone who is better than you and girls behind you who want to beat you. It’s the closest to what you can recreate in a tournament environment for them. It’s extremely competitive on a daily basis and it tests the athlete very well.”

Foster doesn’t rank among the top 100, but she may get there. Training runs weekdays from 7-11:30 a.m. followed by school from 1:10-5:45 p.m. After dinner, there’s a 90-minute study hall. The classes are college prep, which is great for Foster who wants to become a family primary care physician, something she’s dreamed of almost as long as being a pro tennis player. Her plan is definitely to attend college before considering a pro tour attempt, and several colleges have reached out to her, including Oregon and Utah.

“Your only option is to improve if you are hitting with good players every day,” Foster said. “There is competition in every single practice.”

After taking her leap of faith in herself, Foster is thriving, gaining new confidence every day in her game and herself. She’s not anxious or nervous about her ability to compete but excited to get better with each practice. She knows she’s still improving. She’s more self-assured and knows exactly what she’s doing and how her life is benefiting.

She came home to visit over Christmas and play in a Chicago tournament where she compiled a 5-2 record. She seemed like someone two years older, a college freshman who came home after the first semester a more mature, confident person who had thrived on the responsibility of living alone.

“I think she’s grown a ton from this experience, and it has really opened her eyes to all the possibilities for her college future,” Canterbury coach Jerry Gerig said. “She’s definitely got a plan for the future, and she’s being very thoughtful about how tennis can help her. You want your players to grow up, and she’s done it even quicker with this chance in Florida.”

Recently, Foster was named IMG’s student-athlete of the week, a fairly significant award considering the competition. She’s blossoming in the classroom and on the court, finding new possibilities each day.

“One thing I’ve noticed from her time here is that she’s a perfectionist, and we’ve kind of allowed her to understand you don’t have to be perfect in tennis,” Zesinger said. “A lot of times it’s about making your opponent play worse and not always focusing on yourself. I think that’s been a huge part of her development in match play. She’s just become a better competitor since she has been here, a lot more confident and at ease. When she loses now, she learns from it and moves on. She doesn’t dwell on it.

“I think coming here is one of the best things she could have done for herself.”