Cristina Belardi has been around tennis for most of her life, but it was only after spending several years as a competitive gymnast that she committed full time to the sport.
“I’ve always played as a hobby with my family when I was younger,” says Belardi. “When I got to high school, I didn’t really know what to do because I had stopped gymnastics. I knew that I had always been playing tennis, so I decided to give it a chance. I’ve loved it from then on.”
The senior at Rosary Academy is a singles player for the Royals and balances both the individual and team facets of playing high school tennis while appreciating both sides of the game.
“You get that individual aspect, as you’re relying on yourself,” says Belardi, “but you also have your teammates on the sidelines cheering you on.”
The three-year varsity player and co-captain enjoys the responsibility that comes with setting an example for her younger teammates. Belardi knows that once she graduates, she will miss both the camaraderie and challenge her team provides.
“What I’m going to miss the most is being with my teammates and having fun at practice, and [also] branching out as an athlete and meeting new people, such as Trinity League members,” says the 17-year-old. “Just having that unique unity feel in a team, that I probably won’t ever get to feel again.”
One of Belardi’s toughest challenges as a player came last year when she experienced a dislocated knee during one of her league matches. Forced to miss the remainder of her junior season, Belardi worked through countless hours of rehabilitation and physical therapy to get back on the court.
“It’s really helped me grow as a tennis player,” says Belardi of her injury. “I’ve worked hard to get back to where I am and to put that behind me.”
Rosary’s head tennis coach, Debbie Simonton, has seen first hand how Belardi’s recovery has brought a new determination to her game.
“Cristina is a quiet leader, leading by example, and she shows her passion for tennis by working hard and not complaining,” says Simonton. “She has a bright future in whatever she chooses to do because of her relentless pursuit of her goals both in the classroom and on the court.”
Because the sport has become such an integral part of who she is, Belardi hopes that her future includes playing tennis as well as studying either political science or English. The Tustin resident credits tennis for teaching her the meaning of sportsmanship, her mother for being her strongest role model and her team’s pregame ritual of prayer for keeping her and her teammates both prepared and grateful.
“My faith is a really big part of who I am, especially for my team,” says Belardi. “We’re thanking God for giving us this opportunity.”