For the next two weeks in London, ESPN Production Assistant Tory Zawacki gets to watch the best tennis players in the world compete at Wimbledon.
Unlike most observers, however, Zawacki has special familiarity with the All England Club’s grass courts. The former nationally Top 5-ranked junior singles player competed at Wimbledon as a teen.
In fact, Zawacki competed in both junior singles and junior doubles events at all four tennis majors before continuing her career at Duke.
“Wimbledon is the place every tennis player strives to get to. Although I only played there at the junior level, there is still this mystique about it, like, I can’t believe I’m actually at Wimbledon,” said Zawacki, who at one time was ranked among the top 500 players on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour.
In the 2002 Wimbledon juniors, the 17-year-old Zawacki defeated Great Britain’s Francesca Flavell 6-2, 1-6, 6-2 in a first-round match. Zawacki was eliminated in the second round, however.
Although her Wimbledon competitive run was brief, Zawacki romped in the U.S. Open junior doubles. In September 2002, she and partner Shadisha Robinson (pictured in blue below) advanced to the finals in New York.
“I had success at the US Open where all my family and friends could watch and be there with me, so playing in New York gave me a lot of wonderful memories,” said Zawacki, a Union, N.J. native.
The two-time New Jersey player of the year — at one time, she was 58-0 — has played against several of the WTA’s top players.
“Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Samantha Stosur, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marion Bartoli, and Vera Zvonareva are probably some more well known names I played in the juniors,” said Zawacki.
At Duke, Zawacki earned All-America honors in doubles as a freshman in 2003-04. A season-ending injury her junior year helped derail her tennis fortunes, however.
“There’s no way of knowing how I would have done had I pursued playing professionally,” she said.
“There are so many other issues like financially supporting your career, injuries, etc., So I can’t say I regret anything. My tennis career eventually led me to ESPN, where I get to do something I love every day and that’s working around sports.”
Zawacki has a rich athletic heritage.
Three sisters played NCAA Division I tennis: Tracy and Terry Ann starred at Wake Forest, where Terry Ann was a two-time All-American; Tammy competed for Seton Hall.
Brother Tim played baseball and basketball at Monmouth University.
Father Ted played basketball for Wake Forest from 1959-63 and helped the Demon Deacons to the NCAA Final Four in 1962.
In July 2002 Zawacki, competing as an amateur, won the USTA Pro Circuit $10,000 Satellite in Baltimore.
Since starting at ESPN in December 2008, Zawacki has had the chance to work on various projects. She’s worked on NFL Live, and before this return to Wimbledon had a chance to work on site for the 2010 and 2011 Australian Opens.
“What I love most about my job are the diverse opportunities. Nothing is routine,” she said.
“Recently at Fenway Park, my colleague Jason Roy and I had to get [analyst] John Kruk to his “favorite seat” in the ballpark for a segment for Baseball Tonight.
“We were standing right next to third base with the Yankees warming up literally two steps from me, in front of a jam-packed crowd. It was one of those moments I felt I needed to pinch myself and just take in the moment.”
ESPN Production Researcher Kareem White contributed to this article.
Read more about ESPN’s multi-platform coverage of Wimbledon.