In November 2022, the Clemson women’s tennis team announced the addition of Leigh Van Zyl to the program. The South African native has only been in Clemson for over a month, but she has already made a noticeable impact on the program. Her passion for tennis has deep roots, as she began playing at only six years old.
Van Zyl shared, “My love for the game began when I started playing with my dad. Then at school, I played for a while and started really enjoying it. Through my school coaches, I started playing competitively.”
Van Zyl’s competitive junior years were exceptional, and she achieved several noteworthy accomplishments. She came to Clemson the top-ranked U18 junior player in South Africa while achieving a career-high ITF World Junior ranking of #125. In the past two years, she has claimed five ITF Junior singles and eight ITF junior doubles titles. In 2022 alone, Van Zyl made it to the final of the African Junior Championships in Tunisia and represented South Africa in the Fed Cup.
She speaks highly of her time in junior years, sharing, “My junior years were really amazing; I would not change it for anything. There were many ups and downs and disappointments, but it was still one of the most amazing experiences. Traveling at a young age and learning to deal with certain things by myself taught me a lot and made me a better person.”
Van Zyl expressed that her junior years have prepared her for college. She was not able to come to visit Clemson prior to arriving, but her gut feeling told her it was the place she needed to be.
“I had a warm feeling when looking at the photos and speaking to the coaches. The academics and sports programs are really good – I have the best of both worlds. The university and the campus are beautiful,” Van Zyl shared.
Transitioning to a university is a difficult process, and for Van Zyl, it was even more challenging as she was coming to an entirely new country. While the transition period for her was difficult initially, her relationships with her teammates and coaches have made the process a lot smoother as time has progressed.
“I have been welcomed with open arms by literally everyone – my team, my roommates, the coaches, the staff. Everyone has been so welcoming and made it feel like home. I have only been here for about a month, and it already feels so amazing. I feel so welcomed and at home.”
Her relationships with the entirety of the tennis program have raised her excitement for the current tennis season. What excites her the most is getting to experience college tennis for the first time, as it is a different world than juniors.
“Juniors was a way more individual game, and now it is very team oriented. I am excited to get to the next level in terms of my tennis as well. Competing and training with these girls will help me improve in every way,” Van Zyl stated.
In a short time with the Clemson Women’s Tennis program, Van Zyl has proven successful as she has gone 3-0 for the season thus far. Her success with Clemson is rooted in her love for the program, and she has expressed her specific fondness for the team culture they are building within the program.
“The coaches and the support system that the tennis facility and the tennis program have makes it feel easier to perform and do well. The culture we are building – supporting one another and training hard- gives us everything we need.”
In Van Zyl’s brief time at Clemson thus far, she has proven she is an asset to the Clemson women’s tennis program and the success they are having on the court. While completing her first season with the program, she plans on learning from her teammates and coaches to help her succeed at the collegiate level.