By Bill McCaughey
For the Fort Bend Star
When Marlee Zein needs advice on her tennis game, she doesn’t have to look far. Her three older sisters all played tennis in college and are available if she needs them.
Marlee, 16 and a junior at Dulles High School, is ranked ninth nationally in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Women’s Age 16 group. Although she just turned 16, Marlee has moved up to the USTA Women’s Age 18 group this summer where she is currently ranked 39th. In her career, she has over 500 match victories. Since moving up to the 18-year-old group, her record is 24-15.
Marlee was recently named to the USTA Junior Leadership Team. She was the only woman from Texas and one of 29 junior tennis players from across the country to be honored. The award is based on leadership, sportsmanship and character.
Marlee also plays on the International Tennis Federation circuit, where she has a record of 9-4 so far this year. In her short time on the ITF Junior tour, she is ranked 446th in the world.
Marlee’s sisters are Melissa, Maya, and Mariam. Melissa, 28, played tennis at Prairie View A&M and is now a nurse in Chicago. Maya, 26, played tennis at the University of Texas at Austin where she was on the Academic All-Big 12 second team in 2012. She currently works at a Houston bank. Mariam, 22, just graduated from Rutgers University and is planning to attend law school after taking a gap year. In 2012, Mariam became the first Fort Bend ISD student, and Dulles High School student, to win a state championship in tennis. Mariam played tennis for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights for four years, ending her career with a singles record of 32-37.
As for family bragging rights, Melissa and Maya were 4-Star college recruits, Mariam was a 5-Star, and Marlee is a Blue Chip, the highest college recruiting classification.
Marlee’s mother, Kathleen Zein, a pharmacist, is probably the family’s biggest tennis fan.
“She will get up at 2 a.m. to watch the Australian Open on television,” said Marlee.
Kathleen is the one who encouraged her daughters to take up tennis.
“I found a free tennis academy for Melissa, and the others just followed along,” she said. “Of course, none of them listens to me when I offer a suggestion.”
“I had to go to all my sisters’ matches. My mom gave me a tennis racket and a ball and told me to go amuse myself while she watched their matches,” Marlee said. “I would run around behind the stands. I didn’t care about watching my sisters’ matches.”
Marlee’s father, Fareed Zein, recently retired from Shell Oil Company where he was a technology manager. Now he has more time to accompany Marlee to practices and tournaments.
As a Dulles freshman in 2015, Marlee attempted to duplicate Mariam’s state championship but lost in the state finals. In 2016 Marlee didn’t play in the state tournament due to conflicts with her USTA schedule. This coming year Marlee will not play with her high school team in order to concentrate on the USTA and ITF tournaments.
“I missed a lot of school, maybe 22 days last year,” said Marlee. “But Dulles is very accommodating about me making up my assignments.”
When she plays ITF tournaments, she will miss a week at a time.
Kathleen added, “Marlee tried home schooling but none of us liked it, so she went back to Dulles.”
Marlee is a strong competitor on the court but stays calm on the outside. On the inside she is telling herself to play smarter.
“Sometimes I will play a dumb point and then come back and play a smart point,” said Marlee.
“My forehand is probably my power shot, and I am still working on my power serve,” said Marlee with a laugh. “My serve is probably my weakness.”
In September, college recruiters will be able to contact Marlee.
“I do not want to go anywhere cold, and snow is out of the question,” said Marlee. “Other than that I am open.”
Kathleen is looking forward to Marlee going to college.
“I have been transporting my daughters to practices and tournaments for 20 years. I am looking forward to retiring from that,” she said.