Jul. 3—The first time Sarah Hage played in a tennis tournament she was 8 years old and in her mother, Amale’s, home country of Lebanon for a family visit. She played on clay and won.
“One coach admired her and said she had that fighting spirit,” Amale Hage said recently. “Mentally, she was so tough.”
That’s one of the reasons that even though Hage, a freshman this season at Waterford High School, was down 4-1 in the deciding set of the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship match — against defending champion Maddie Hamm of Stonington, no less — Amale felt like her daughter could still win.
“When she played her final, she was down 4-1 but I had the feeling she was going to win the match,” Amale Hage said. “She has experience. She played for so many years. She thinks when she’s losing. She thinks what she needs to do to get back.”
Hage was named The Day’s 2021 All-Area Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year. She was the ECC champ, dispatching Hamm 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in a 3-hour, 16-minute match at Stonington High School. She helped lead Waterford to the quarterfinals of the Class M state tournament, qualified for the state invitational tournament for all classes and earned Class M all-state honors.
Her brother, Fadi Hage Jr., a 2020 graduate, is the former No. 1 for the Waterford High School boys’ team.
The Hage siblings have something else in common. Throughout their successful tennis careers, both have been coached by their mom. Amale Hage was the top-ranked women’s tennis player in Lebanon from 1998-2000 and a former physical education teacher there before her immigration to the United States along with husband Fadi Sr.
It is typical to see Hage, who began playing tennis when she was 5 or 6, and her mom on the courts outside Waterford High.
“Sometimes, I didn’t listen,” the diminutive Hage, who figures she is about 5-foot-1, said with a smile. “It’s harder to listen because it’s, like, your mom. If I’m working with a coach, I wouldn’t talk back, but with my mom I would. There’s a lot of stuff I can still learn from her. She taught me strokes, my forehand and footwork are the two biggest things. She’s good at teaching stuff like that.”
Amale believes Sarah’s strengths lie not only in technique but in the mental toughness she described.
“It’s a sport that has a lot of pressure,” Amale said. “I played the sport and competed. I know how hard it is on the court, how to deal with it. … National coaches, high-level coaches, any coaches will tell you that 50% of tennis is mental, no matter how good you are. You’re by yourself on the court. You can’t be coached. You have to manage yourself. Nobody can help you.”
The two take breaks in their training. Some days they’ll go for a walk or a hike, instead, or maybe play a board game. From time to time, Hage will take a lesson with another coach to switch things up. Amale also started taking Sarah to practice somewhere other than Waterford once a week or so for a change of scenery.
Hage, 15, is undefeated so far in this year’s U.S. Tennis Association U16 season at 7-0, last winning the Level 6 Centre Court Boys’ and Girls’ Singles Round Robin in Riverside, Rhode Island, finishing 4-0.
She remembers playing a tournament in Madison when she was 9 and winning.
“I was really, really nervous,” she said. “It was like a half court for under-10. I was really happy and really excited.”
“It was like, ‘Oh, my God,'” Amale said of Sarah’s early victories. “Keep on trying. She kept winning and winning and winning. She doesn’t win them all but she makes great results.”
Waterford, coached by Ed Kolnaski, finished 13-3 overall this season, 10-2 in ECC Division I, including the Lancers’ first win over six-time division champion Stonington since 2014. Hage did not lose a set until the ECC final against Hamm, whom she battled four times including a state tournament matchup.
Hage enjoyed her freshman season with her Lancers teammates but, although she took some time off following the season, you will still find her practicing.
“I have to work on my serve,” she said. “I’ll be at Waterford with my mom. I kind of take it as it comes. People are expecting me to win next year.”