Brisbane, Australia, 11 November 2022 | Leigh Rogers

Zachary Viiala is one of Australia’s most promising junior athletes.

After undergoing hip surgery earlier this year, the 17-year-old from Perth has made a promising return. Viiala won an ITF junior title at Adelaide in September without losing a set and has recently been competing on the ITF World Junior Tour in Asia.

In our series profiling Tennis Australia’s National Tennis Academy athletes, the unassuming Viiala reveals discipline is his biggest strength …

Can you tell us about your start in tennis?

I think I started when I was about four years old. One of my friends wanted to start playing and he asked me to play with him and it sort of took off from there. I really enjoyed it.

Where did you start playing?

At my local club in Perth, a place called Onslow Park Tennis Club.

What do you enjoy most about tennis?

I like the individuality. I like being by myself on the court and relying on myself to win. There’s lots of different aspects in tennis and I want to perfect all of them.

Who is your favourite player to watch?

Roger Federer has always been my favourite. He’s just nice to watch and he is so humble off the court as well.

Is there an Australian player that’s really inspired you?

I wouldn’t say there is one in particular. I know James Duckworth the best, he was around (in Brisbane) while he was injured. We had the same injury this year, so we bonded over that a bit. He is a good guy as well.

To have a player who has been ranked inside the top 50 help you recover from hip surgery must have been pretty special?

Yeah. He was always like ‘just shout out if you need anything or want to chat about the process of it’. And it was kind of good to see the exercises that he was doing.

After being sidelined for eight months, how did it feel to return to competition?

I wasn’t too nervous. It had been reasonably boring and pretty repetitive for a few months. I don’t play tennis to train, I play to compete, so I was ready to get back out there.

Did you learn much about yourself while injured?

I guess everyone’s going to get injured at some stage and it’s all a learning curve. I feel like I’ve learned a few different things, but nothing too outstanding. I feel like I’ve always been reasonably disciplined within myself, and I think that sort of showed.

Zachary Viiala. Picture: Tennis Australia

Zachary Viiala. Picture: Tennis Australia

Who have been the biggest influences in your career so far?

There has probably been two. I worked with my first main coach, John Thorpe from Dalkeith Tennis Club, for about eight or nine years. I feel like I really bonded with him because our personalities are pretty similar. He was always there for me, he knows a lot about the game and helped me to get to where I am today.
The second is my old doubles partner Kent Yamazaki. He really embodied the values that I strive for with his hard work, discipline and humility. He taught me to focus on being a better person, rather than a better tennis player.

What has been the proudest on-court moment so far in your career?

I represented Australia at the ITF Junior Tennis Finals in the Czech Republic three years ago and getting to play for your country gives you a special feeling inside. Obviously living in Australia, we don’t get too much international exposure when we’re younger. It was a bit of an eye-opener to see the European players and how hard they work. It was a good experience and makes you even more competitive.

Do you enjoy travelling internationally?

I wouldn’t say I like it too much. There’s a lot of variables that you can’t control, but it is part of the job, so I’ll have to learn to like it eventually.

How difficult is managing both school and competing?

It sort of varies from person to person and depends on how much effort you want to put into school. I’ve always valued education, as it is hard to make a living out of tennis and I want to have options. I feel like I’m managing it well, but it can be tricky at times. It’s all about discipline and hard work. There’s no easy way around managing school.

What are your favourite subjects at school?

I’d say maths is my favourite. It sort of just clicks with me.

Can you describe your playing style in one sentence?

I’d say disciplined and an all-rounder.

What are your biggest strengths as a player?

My mental state and my serve. I feel like I’m pretty composed on court, I don’t sway around too much or show too much emotion. I feel like that helps me in tough situations. And my serve has come along well these past few years and I feel like I’m relying on it more and more.

If you could steal any stroke from another player, what would it be and why?

I probably say Rafael Nadal’s forehand. It is one of the best out there.

What are your tennis dreams?

I sort of just want to develop as a person, more than a player. I feel like that’s more important. I hope I can make a living out of tennis, whether that is coaching or playing. I don’t like to expect too much, because you might end up disappointed.

How do you think tennis can help make you a better person?

You have to learn from the people around you – their strengths and weaknesses, both on and off the court, to help you bond with them and also beat them in a match. I feel like there is a lot of independence in tennis too. It can get lonely at times, so you have to learn how to deal with that.

What do you like to do when you’re not playing tennis?

I’m not too extroverted, I like being by myself. I enjoy chilling out and watching Netflix, but there’s not too much time in the day for other activities.

What is your favourite television show?

I recently finished watching Ozark and it’s probably up there right now.

What is your favourite food?

I used to be a bit of a foodie back in the day, but now I sort of just eat what gets served and I’m not too fussy. If I have to choose, I’d go a good steak.

Do you have a favourite social media platform?

I wouldn’t say I have one. Social media is a bit of rubbish to be honest.

What is your favourite playing surface?

In Perth there are a lot of grass courts, so I grew up playing on both grass and hard courts.

How would your friends and family describe you?

My family would say I’m funny but serious. My friends would say I’m disciplined and quiet.

What is your earliest Australian Open memory?

I remember the 2012 final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. I wasn’t there but I was watching on TV with my family. The 2017 final between Roger Federer and Rafa was a special one for me, because I like Roger a lot.

Do these matches inspire you to want to play at that level?

Yeah, that’s the main goal for me. There’s lots of money in the Grand Slams and all the best players play. Hopefully one day I’ll be there.

Do you remember the first player autograph or selfie you got?

My first one might have been Nick Kyrgios at a Davis Cup tie in Perth in 2014. I remember trying to get Roger Federer’s signature at the Hopman Cup, but he just walked by me and ignored me.

Zachary Viiala training at the National Tennis Academy in Brisbane. Picture: Tennis Australia

Zachary Viiala training at the National Tennis Academy in Brisbane. Picture: Tennis Australia

How has joining the National Tennis Academy helped improve your game?

I feel like the coaches here are some of the best in the world. If I ask them a question, they know the answer straightaway, and I think that really helps develop my game to the senior level. It is a big jump from juniors to seniors and they know the secrets behind success. There are also decent guys as well, so it’s nice to have them around.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your time at the National Tennis Academy?

I mean, there’s been lots of lessons. If I had to choose one, I’d say it is to work hard because even if you fail, people will know you for being a hard worker. While working hard won’t always get you what you want, it does open your eyes to a lot of things.

What are the benefits of training at the academy?

I think if you view it as an intense environment, you won’t get the most out of it because you’ll be too stressed most of the time. We all get along decently, so I think we push ourselves and each other a lot. I think having bonds off the court is important too, because even though tennis is an individual sport, it helps to work as a team during training.

How do you find working with such experienced coaches and training alongside Australia’s top players?

At first it was quite intimidating in a way. If you’re called up for a hit with Ash Barty or James Duckworth, you do get a bit nervous. But if you want to play at that level, you have to relax into it. It’s always good to have someone to look up to and see where you want to be in the future, so it’s good to have them around.

What was it like hitting with Ash Barty?

She’s pretty intense while she’s hitting, but chilled out during the breaks. She’s a good person. The first time I hit with her I was pretty nervous. It was before this year’s Australian Open and she’d been world No.1 for a while, so I was feeling the heat a bit.

How did you go?

A lot of the drills were based around her needs, so it was tough to win points. But it was a great experience to see what a world No.1 level is like.

What are your goals for the rest of the year?

After my injury, I just want to play as much as I can.

Meet more rising stars of Australian tennis:
> Lily Fairclough
> Jeremy Jin
> Hayden Jones
> Mia Repac
> Philip Sekulic

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