Natalie Kopala is saving her running for the tennis court these days, and she may be better off for it.
Kopala ran track last winter. She said she ran too much, to the point where she began feeling pain in her left hip. Initially, it wasn’t too much of a concern. At the time she figured she suffered a sprain or a muscle pull, nothing that a week’s rest wouldn’t fix.
The hip injury took Kopala out of action for six months, followed by weeks of intensive physical therapy. That’s a long time to be away from tennis.
The physical therapy concluded in the early summer and then Kopala was finally back on the tennis court again.
“It was kind of hard, but I have muscle memory,” the Southold/Greenport sophomore said. “You remember how to hit strokes and everything.”
The stern-faced Kopala looked as good as new Thursday as she went about her business. She needed only 34 minutes to run through Center Moriches senior Taylor Hanson, 6-0, 6-0, in first singles as part of the visiting First Settlers’ 6-1 win.
Kopala, who brought her season record to 3-2, was impressive. She was the picture of consistency, moving her opponent around the court and finding open alleys to hit into. Kopala outpointed Hanson, 48-4, put away 26 winners and mishit only four balls.
“Six months is a long time to not be playing,” said Kopala, who was an All-Conference player last year. “Now I’m getting back to hitting the same way that I was.”
While Hanson, who has a high ball toss for serves, struggled with her serving in the breezy conditions (her first and second serves were both at 50 percent), Kopala put 75 percent of her first serves in and went 7-for-7 on second serves. That’s right, not a single double fault.
“You have to beat Natalie,” Southold coach Mike Carver said. “She won’t beat herself. You have to beat her. You have to earn it.”
“She’s solid, very solid,” he continued. “Natalie is very consistent. She knows how to get it done. She moves the ball well around the court. She’ll rally all day with you and she waits for the right time and pulls the trigger.”
Kopala didn’t need to go to a second serve until the first point of the sixth game of the first set, which was completed in less than 16 minutes. Her mix of power and placement is tough to match. On match point, she ended it with her 11th service ace.
“She looks really good,” Southold’s Reese Thompson said. “Just like last year, she looks amazing.”
Thompson didn’t look bad, either, at second singles, beating fellow junior Emmie Auffant, 6-1, 6-0.
Thompson credited practice the day before. Carver called it the team’s best practice of the season. Carver and assistant coach Allison Salmaggi put the Settlers (2-3, 1-1 Suffolk County League VIII) through drills with an emphasis on foot movement.
“Until today, I think we were all disappointed with our performance,” Carver said. “We were getting ahead, winning the first set, and then somehow giving the second set and third set away.”
It’s amazing what a good practice can do.
“I’m seeing everybody doing exactly what we worked on, moving their feet, putting the ball where you want it,” Carver said. “We played well. Hopefully this gets us on the right track.”
Southold’s Ellie Alloway was a 6-1, 6-0 winner over Nya Pemberton at fourth singles.
All three doubles matches went Southold’s way as well. The first doubles pair of Danielle Henry and Hanna DeSimone handled Kayla Mitchell and Lily Murphy, 6-1, 6-4. Camryn Koke and Ella Neese prevailed over Isabella Nicostro and Kaylie Robert, 7-5, 6-1. And Kaitlyn Duffy and Julia Mejsak were 6-4, 6-4 winners over Emma Matos and Emily Ferguson.
The last match to conclude brought Center Moriches (0-2, 0-1) its sole point. Alyssa Morano held off Jessica Latham in a two-hour, third singles match, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Meanwhile, it sounds as if Kopala’s track and field days are over.
“I’m not going to do running in the winter and spring,” she said. “I’m just going to focus on playing tennis all year to get really good.”
Sounds like a good plan.
Photo caption: Southold/Greenport’s sophomore first singles player, Natalie Kopala, was out of tennis for half a year with a hip injury. (Credit: Bob Liepa)