It all started in California during a family vacation trip.
Fourteen years ago, Qavia Lopez and her father, Hezron Lopez, passed a line of tennis courts. She was curious and asked her dad what those courts were for. That question changed the trajectory of her life.
Hezron went to Walmart that same day, bought a couple of rackets and balls, and watched his daughter’s love for the game turn into a professional pursuit.
She was only 4 years old when she learned how to play tennis like her dad, she said. Hezron immigrated from Belize to Watts, California, when he was 8 years old. In high school, he played tennis.
His love for the game was ultimately inherited by his daughter.
“[Qavia] and I are very much the same,” Hezron said. “We are driven and passionate about what we do.”
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Qavia was homeschooled from third grade to high school. Her routine was focused on tennis with a four-hour practice every day during elementary school and a six-hour training during middle school.
She moved to South Florida in 2019 and graduated from Wisconsin Virtual Learning last May. Qavia participated in the 2019 U.S. Open Junior — her first big tournament — when she was 14 years old.
She won the first round (6-1, 6-4) of the eight qualifier against Japanese tennis player Funa Kozaki but lost (6-4, 6-1) in the qualifying match to Lauren Anzalotta Kynoch from Puerto Rico.
“It was a surreal experience for me,” Qavia said. “[I thought] I’ve made a lot of improvement, I’ve come a long way from where I started, and I [said] OK, I can really do this.”
Qavia played in high-level competitions including the Australian Open Junior, Roland Garros Junior and Wimbledon Junior — her most recent professional tennis appearance.
Though she sacrificed her personal time and missed birthday parties, prom and homecoming activities, her persistence paid off. During her journey, she visited more than 25 countries including Australia, Ecuador, Spain, France, Turkey, Mexico and Guatemala.
She wasn’t prepared for the next step after playing her whole life in tournaments — college tennis. Her arrival to UF was her first encounter with the traditional school experience after many years of being homeschooled, she said.
She received her first call from a college recruiter when she was 16 years old while playing in Paris, France.
Her high school friend and current teammate, Rachel Gailis, talked to Qavia about Florida when Gailis signed with the team as the second-ranked recruit for the 2022 class.
“She always had such great things to say about the staff [and] the school,” Qavia said.
After college tours to UCLA, Pepperdine and UF, she knew she wanted to be a Gator.
Qavia officially signed with Florida last year as the No. 1 recruit in the nation for the 2023 class. She is a freshman majoring in business administration and finance.
Her first official match was at the Kitty Harrison Invitational in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Qavia defeated (6-3, 6-2) Duke tennis player Karolina Berankova and North Carolina State player Gabriella Broadfoot (3-6, 7-5, 6-1) in singles.
She added two more wins (8-1, 8-4) in doubles with freshman Malwina Rowinska against University of North Carolina tennis players Sara McClure and Lindsay Zink and Charlotte University players Lucia Aranda and Lucie Petruzelova.
“She is very gifted athletically,” said UF head coach Roland Thornqvist. “Her hand-eye coordination as well as her technique in her strokes [are] very good.”
With a No. 19 International Tennis Federation ranking in 2022, she collected titles in doubles at the 2022 JB1 Indian Wells, 2022 Easter Bowl, 2021 JB1 San Diego and 2021 JB1 Nicholasville.
On Sept. 5, the International Tennis Federation released its Tennis National Preseason Rankings and Qavia was ranked No. 7 in the Women’s Freshman/Newcomer Rankings category.
At the ITA All-American Pre-Qualifying tournament — which started Sept. 30 in Cary, North Carolina — she won 6-1, 6-2 against Northern Arizona University player Patrycja Niewiadomska in singles.
Qavia and Rowinska won doubles matches defeating 8-7 NC State players Abigail Rencheli and Gabriella Broadfoot and 8-4 against Xavier University players Anna Roggenburk and Imani Graham.
She had two wins (6-4, 6-3) against UCLA Elise Wagle and University Oklahoma Julia Garcia Ruiz (7-6, 6-1) Oct 1.
“Hard work [is] something I always hear my dad say every time I talk to him,” Qavia said. “Talent is overrated, that’s what he says all the time.”
The Gators will continue their ITA All-Americans run in the qualifying round on Oct. 2-3.
Contact Scarlling Manzanarez at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @scarlling.
Scarlling Manzanarez is a sports media journalism student and sports reporter at The Alligator for Fall 2023. She served as the 2022-2023 sports editor at Miami Dade College’s student newspaper, The Reporter. She is a baseball fan and aspires to cover a Major League Baseball team.