Growing up, Olivia Kharkover couldn’t win a girls’ tennis match to save her life.
That was because she always played against her older sister by three years, Pauline Kharkover, who would grow up to become Old Bridge High School’s top player for all four of her high school years and a Division 1 player at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she is currently a sophomore.
But once Olivia Kharkover started playing other girls, particularly girls her own age, she was ready, and she beat most of them. Her years of training against Pauline had made other, younger opponents seem easier.
Now a junior at Old Bridge herself, Olivia Kharkover is still beating most of those opponents. The Knights’ top singles player is 9-2 this fall. She qualified for the NJSIAA singles tournament last fall and has already qualified again this year.
But even as a top singles player in her community and one of the best players in the state, the younger Kharkover is still chasing her older sister. She still wants to improve so she can get to where Pauline already is: A Division 1 program.
“My sister inspired me,” Olivia Kharkover said. “She taught me to fight for every point and not let anything go by me.”
Olivia Kharkover carries that mindset into every match. It usually leads to victories, too.
But sometimes a mindset alone isn’t enough. Sometimes your opponent is just more consistent and well-rounded than you are.
This was Olivia’s problem against Pauline growing up, and it remains her problem against the elite players in the Greater Middlesex Conference, one of the most tennis-rich areas in New Jersey.
On Sept. 25 at Thomas A. Edison Park in Edison, Kharkover finished third in the No. 1 singles bracket at the GMC Tournament. The Old Bridge junior only lost two matches in the entire tournament, to East Brunswick High School’s Naomi Karki and South Brunswick High School’s Divya Venkatarama, who finished first and second, respectively.
“They were more consistent than me and they hit more winners,” Kharkover said. “My returns could be better when serves are hard and I’m not used to it as much.”
It’s something that Kharkover will improve on as she continues to play against elite competition. The GMC Tournament was one rep. The state tournament will be another.
But the junior will really make her move toward the Division 1 radar after the high school season ends in late October. At that point, she will go back to training three to four times per week at the Centercourt Tennis Center in Marlboro, instead of just two to three times per week, like she does during the high school season.
“I want to train more hours during the week,” she said. “I need to spend more time on tennis.”
Kharkover will also continue playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments in an effort to get her ranking up. She is in the top 60 in the USTA’s eastern section right now, but she wants to climb even higher to get Division 1 attention.
“I need to improve my ranking so they see I’m in the top,” Kharkover said.
“She’s a very focused and determined girl,” added Old Bridge girls’ tennis coach Evan Wigdortz.