Dan Stefan first picked up a tennis racket at the age of 4 when his father, Dan Sr., was playing on a court in Vancouver, Canada. Dan Stefan hasn’t put the racket down since and is ranked 17th in the state according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.
Stefan, a Boca Ciega (Gulfport) senior, defeated Miami Country Day’s Shaun Berman, 6-2, 6-4, in the final match of the Boys 18 qualifier of the Florida Open earning a spot in today’s main draw.
Stefan won the first set handily before falling behind 4-1 in the second. Directors were forced to suspend play for 45 minutes in that second set due to lightning.
Berman came out hot, grabbing a three-point lead. Stefan, in his first Florida Open appearance, battled back, scoring the next five points to win the final match.
“For some reason I felt like the balls were a bit heavier, but he was also more consistent,” Stefan said. “In the first set I was able to play consistent and hit it back and he would miss.
“But after the rain delay, he was more consistent and he stopped missing. I felt like I needed to take more control.”
Stefan, 17, had to play in Friday’s qualifier because he didn’t have enough points to enter the main draw after missing most of 2012 with a knee injury.
“It wasn’t anything too serious where I needed surgery,” Stefan said. “I took some time off and now I’m back. Winning the state title gave me a lot of confidence.”
This past spring Stefan competed in high school tennis for the first time after receiving encouragement from a classmate at Boca Ciega. He was known among the USTA circuit after winning numerous titles but he had never played high school tennis because of the amount of travel that the USTA circuit required.
He won the Class 3A No. 1 singles title in his first year of participation, not losing a set at the state meet at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs. It was the first time a Pinellas County tennis player won an overall singles state championship since 1998, when Stefan was just 2 years old.
The Stefan family moved to St. Petersburg from Vancouver when he was 9 after he told his father that he wanted to pursue a professional tennis career.
“The tennis up in the Canada isn’t really good. There wasn’t much competition,” Stefan said. “It snows and rains so there wasn’t much tennis for me up there.”
Dan Stefan Sr., a high performance specialist, has been coaching his son all along and also coaches his daughter Jessica, 13, who decided tennis was the sport for her at 4.
Jessica is ranked 18th in her age group in Florida but isn’t competing in the Florida Open.
“She has the same potential as him,” her father said. “It’s a good advantage for her having him as an example. Also, in practice she’s hitting with him. He’s older and more experienced, it’s good for her.”
Stefan will compete today in the Boys 18 singles at 11 a.m. at Colonial Country Club.
Locals in qualifying
Several locals competed in the qualifying rounds of the USTA Florida Open on Friday but none were able to advance to today’s main draw
In the Boys 16 singles qualifier Fort Myers’ Zachary Blythe lost 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals, while Naples’ Chase Burton lost 6-3, 6-2 in the Round of 16.
Sydney Nowak of Fort Myers defeated Bonita Springs’ Viva Laas 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Girls 18 singles qualifier. Nowak lost in the semifinals 7-5, 6-4 to Naples’ Laura Gomez. Brianna Lashway of Bradenton defeated Gomez 6-2, 6-2 in the final.
Fort Myers’ Shani Idlette defeated Lauren Wich of Lighthouse Point 6-1, 6-0 in the quarterfinals of the Girls 16 singles qualifier before losing to Bradenton’s Brooke Lashway 6-0, 6-0 in the semifinals.
In the Boys 18 singles qualifier John Peterson of Fort Myers Beach lost to Berman in the quarterfinals.