In the fall of 2017, Lauran Finn was an 8-year-old competing in her first orange ball tournament, orange being the tier sandwiched between red and green balls for kids trying to learn how to play tennis.
“She lost every match like 4-1 or 4-0,” said David Finn, who is Laura’s father. “But then eventually she started winning pretty much all of her matches in orange, and then she went to green.”
Finn was well on her way to becoming a competitive tennis player.
And by the time Finn stood on one of Baker Park’s 2nd Street tennis courts earlier this month, smacking powerful groundstrokes from the baseline and exuding her usual sense of calm, she showed she was fully capable of holding her own against grown women less than three years after she struggled in orange ball matches against other kids.
Finn, an 11-year-old Hagerstown resident, teamed up with her adult neighbor, Kathleen Su, to win the Frederick Tennis Doubles Championships women’s title by beating Aline Rodriguez and Lisa Stones in the final 6-2, 6-2 on Aug. 14.
Finn’s performance is just the latest example of the progress she’s made as a tennis player, one who one day hopes to play the sport at the Division I or pro level. But those goals are a long way off — Finn is about to start the sixth grade at Northern Middle School.
She does possess traits that belie her age, though.
“She’s quite a precocious girl. She’s definitely more mature than your typical 11-year-old,” said Su, 44, who routinely hits with Finn. “She’s very serious, especially about her tennis game. She’s a heck of a player.”
As she improved, Finn rose up the tennis ranks, earning USTA Mid-Atlantic No. 1 ranking the 10-under age bracket.
She’s competed in about 70 USTA matches. She’s also played in events like the Capital Clash, a USTA event comprised of boys and girls from the USTA’s Northeast sections, and a 10-under event at the Citi Open.
She trains diligently. She and her 8-year-old brother, Matthew, hit on a tennis backboard in their driveway. Both attended a JTCC camp in College Park this summer. And Finn plans to train at WestWinds in Frederick County once a week this year.
“I started liking the sport a lot more and started focusing and started doing everything I’m supposed to do,” said Finn, who was asked what she liked about tennis. “You have to be smart to play tennis and you have to know a lot of tactics and strategies.”
She eventually settled on a pro favorite, too, in Rafael Nadal.
“He’s hard worker, and I like his game strategy a lot,” she said.
Like Nadal, Finn relies heavily on her groundstrokes — the 5-foot-7 right-hander has a good forehand and backhand — as well as an ability to shake off inevitable mishaps.
“I would say her baseline is her strong suit and she’s also very calm and cool and very rarely expresses any emotion on the court other than maybe a little fist pump, which is unusual for someone of that age,” David Finn said. “You can’t really tell whether she’s winning or losing, usually.”
She and Su did plenty of winning at the Frederick Tennis Doubles Championships. They had a history. Finn hits with Su, as well as Su’s kids, and both of them play at Fountain Head Country Club in Hagerstown, where Finn won a singles title. Eventually, David Finn suggested his daughter and Su team up for the country club’s doubles tournament.
Su then came up with the idea of having the combo play at the Frederick tournament. She knew the event, organized by Luke Grimshaw, featured players of varying skill level, including those who played at a high level.
“I thought it would be a challenge for us, and I really didn’t think we were going to win,” Su said. “I just thought it would be fun to play some different people than we’re used to playing here leisurely.”
Su is good volleyer, so she was able to close out points prolonged by Finn’s ability to deliver consistent shots from the baseline.
“I think she plays a lot of singles, but I think she enjoys being on a doubles court, having company out there,” Su said. “And I think she enjoys playing in front of a crowd, which was good, and also very unique for a kid.”
Finn said Lu helped her with tactics and strategies. Next up for the 11-year-old is a tournament in Williamsburg, Virginia. And later, she’ll face the player she joined forces with to win a doubles title in Frederick.
“We have our singles club championship match coming up,” Su said. “Sept. 12, we will play against each other.”