There aren’t many tennis players in Niagara who have the phrase “Ontario Champion” attached to their name, but for 13-year-old Stefan Simeunovic it’s becoming a habit.
Stefan has been provincial champion in each age group he’s passed through since he was nine. On March 18 2018, he added the Under 14 trophy to his collection. If that sounds routine, think again. “The biggest thing I’ve learned at provincials is it’s not easy to play when you’re the heavy favourite and everyone expects you to win”, Stefan told Stephen Leithwood of Niagara This Week. “The pressure is big and it’s mentally hard, but if you stay focused and believe in yourself everything is possible.”
In many respects, Stefan is following in the footsteps of another tennis star from Niagara Falls : Frank Dancevic. In 1997, Frank won the Canadian Under 14 title at the summer nationals …. something Stefan can strive for at the end of August. Frank began his professional career in 2003, a year before Stefan was born. Since then he’s earned almost $2 million in prize money and has represented Canada 24 times in Davis Cup competition. Late last year, he was named Davis Cup Captain - one of the most prestigious and high profile jobs in professional men’s tennis, a job that comes with lots of pressure-filled challenge.
But Frank was happy to turn his thoughts back to 1997 and reflect on his Under 14 career. “Dave Boland and Doug Carter were a big part of my success. Doug helped me tremendously on the technical side, whereas Dave motivated me on court to push my limits but make it fun at the same time. This was a great combination for winning national championships and eventually international competition. I’m happy to see them still working with Niagara’s young players. I see Stefan is on a similar path. He has shown great results on the National level. I’m looking forward to following him in years to come.”
Dave Boland and Doug Carter are indeed still part of Stefan’s coaching team, guiding his progress along with Erick Garcia at the Niagara Academy. They must be very proud of the run Stefan made from the middle of March through to early April :
As a result of so many wins, Stefan now holds the #2 national ranking for U14, and is #11 for U16. This has earned him a place on Canada’s Junior Davis Cup team, which will compete in Mexico in May for a chance to advance to the next round of international competition.
We’re very fortunate here in Niagara to have these two stellar players to follow and to cheer for. They share a philosophy we can all aspire to :
From Stefan : “Dream big and believe in yourself.”
From Frank : “Sometimes success lies in small communities with big dreams.Niagara has proven to be one of them.”
Stefan Simeunovic (right) with Jaden Weekes, finalists at the 2018 Canadian Indoor Under 14 Championships. Jaden is a left-handed player from Montreal. He and Stefan have a good rivalry, one in which Jaden currently has the upper hand. Perhaps they will spur each other on in the same way as Denis Shapavolov and Felix Auger-Aliassime have done.[Tennis Canada photo]
Stefan sharing his Nationals awards with Niagara Academy coach, Julio Murch. Julio had also been a Canadian U14 doubles finalist … back in the day.
Stefan’s tennis accomplishments take him all over the world for national and international competition, but he still enjoys the playfulness of the game. On Sunday afternoons, he’s just one-of-the-gang for extremely high-quality doubles with Niagara players of all ages and walks of life. From the left : Joe Zelic, Ben Pang, Sajeel Qureshi, Stefan Simeunovic, Tanner Bedard, Peter Bedard.