Senior Sofia Labatt began playing tennis at four years old by chance. On a rainy day in her former home in San Francisco, her parents needed something for their rambunctious toddler to do instead of just sitting inside. After finding local indoor tennis courts, they sent her to play while they worked. “[My parents] put me on a tennis court that day, and I fell in love with it,” Labatt said.
An active child, Labatt played a lot of sports growing up and did not hone in on tennis as her sole sport until she was 13. Once she devoted herself more to the sport, she realized how much she loved it and where tennis could take her.
The summer before her freshman year, Labatt’s mother decided to look for summer tennis programs for her daughter. She found one at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain. The plan was for Labatt to just do the summer program and then come home in the fall, but Labatt found out her friend was doing a semester at the academy. “My mom immediately lit up [when I mentioned it] and said ‘you have to go for the semester [instead of just the summer],’” she said.
Labatt, however, was initially opposed to the idea. “I did not want to go away at 14, and I was just very, very scared of what the experience would entail.” In the end, Labatt decided that there was no harm in applying, as she could make a firm decision after finding out whether or not she was accepted.
The application process was relatively simple: Labatt sent in a video of her playing tennis, and once her skillset was approved, she had an interview. She was accepted into the academy, meaning she had to decide whether or not to attend. Her alternative was to attend San Mateo High School, a plan that she didn’t feel very drawn to. She also became very excited at the prospect of traveling around Europe, so she accepted.
Labatt ended up loving her time at the Rafa Nadal Academy, where she spent time playing tennis, traveling and meeting new people. Although she was supposed to come home at the end of that semester, her mom called her and offered to let her stay for the full year if she wanted to, so she did. “[Staying] ended up being an amazing decision because when COVID hit, I ended up staying [at the academy].” She had the option again to go home because of the pandemic, but opted to stay. “I ended up becoming so close to the people there during [COVID-19] that it was like I was with my family,” Labatt said of the bonding experience that the pandemic created.
At the end of that year, though, she was ready to come home. Labatt had already applied and been accepted to Menlo and was excited to attend the following fall. Despite enjoying her time at the tennis academy, Menlo offered the more academic focus that she was looking for since the Rafa Nadal Academy placed a heavy emphasis on tennis. According to Labatt, she only attended classes for around four hours each day, and the rigor was not the same as what she has experienced at Menlo.
Her life after the academy was still full of tennis. Upon transferring to Menlo her sophomore year, Labatt became a member of Menlo’s girls’ tennis team and was a captain this year. High school tennis holds some of her fondest memories. For Labatt, while tennis is a very individualized sport, being a part of a high school team offers something more than that. “I’ve just found so much joy being a part of the Menlo tennis team because it’s such a community within an individual sport.”
Pulling off major, unexpected wins with her high school team has been one of her favorite aspects of the sport. Harker is a huge rival for Menlo tennis and is also always a very talented team. This year, playing alongside teammate and close friend Natalie Westermann, Labatt was able to win the victory-clinching match against Harker and beat them for the first time in years. “Everyone rushed the court, and it was just an unforgettable experience,” she said.
Labatt has not completely decided on how she will continue her tennis career after high school. If she does not play for her college, she plans on playing club tennis. Regardless of her college plans, tennis will be a part of her life for a long time. “Luckily tennis is a sport you can play for your whole life, so I’ll be on the court for a while.”