'She's like a Tyson'
No longer the little girl, Vaidisova is one of tennis' rising stars
By Jim Masilak
February 19, 2006
When Nick Bollettieri talks about Nicole Vaidisova, it isn't immediately clear if he's describing the next great women's tennis player or a contender for the heavyweight title.
The No. 1 seed in this week's Cellular South Cup, Vaidisova is a 16-year-old Czech by way of Germany who packs a big serve and an increasingly powerful resume.
After winning three straight tournaments to end the 2005 season, and with a strong start to the current campaign, Vaidisova comes to The Racquet Club as the No. 13-ranked player in the world.
"She's no longer the little girl on the block. She's a veteran now," said Bollettieri, the perma-tanned tennis guru who has coached the likes of Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Venus and Serena Williams and has been working with Vaidisova since she first came to his eponymous, Bradenton, Fla.-based academy in 1999.
"Her serve is becoming a major weapon. She's a hitter. She's like a (Mike) Tyson," Bollettieri added. "She comes out slugging from both sides. She's a tall girl, and she's becoming much stronger physically and she's believing she belongs on the tour. Even though she's a big girl at 6'1, you'll find she's very coordinated. She has no ego at all, but she's a tough mama."
After winning two tournaments in 2004 as a 15-year-old, Vaidisova followed up by taking titles in Seoul, Tokyo and Bangkok in consecutive weeks at the end of the '05 season.
Already this year, Vaidisova has advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of the Pan Pacific Open, losing to the eventual winner in both events.
Long tipped as a future star, Vaidisova, one of just six women to win five singles titles before her 17th birthday, is making good on her immense promise.
"Doing what she did last year is almost unheard of," Bollettieri said. "No one expected a young rookie to win five tournaments (so soon). She's got a lot to defend right now."
Most players would be thrilled with Vaidisova's results, but she was dissatisfied in losing to eventual champions Amelie Mauresmo in Melbourne and Elena Dementieva in Tokyo.
"I was a little disappointed. I always want to do better," Vaidisova said. "I go to every tournament expecting to win. I'll come (to Memphis) wanting to win again. That's my goal."
As the seventh seed in last year's Cellular South Cup, her Memphis debut, Vaidisova made an impressive run to the semifinals before falling in straight sets to Meghann Shaughnessy.
While Vaidisova could have chosen to play in the more prestigious Dubai tournament this week, she elected to return to Memphis.
"It was a great tournament last year, and I'm excited to come back," she said.
Because of her age, Vaidisova, who doesn't turn 17 until April 23, is permitted to play only a limited number of tournaments on the WTA Tour.
Being on the road for so long, after all, can take its toll.
After being away from her family in Florida for nearly two months at the start of the year, she decided to return home to rest up and work on her game at the Bollettieri Academy.
"I played a lot of matches in a row, and it was hard because I was sick and injured and tired. It's tough going to different countries," she said. "I didn't want to go to Dubai and Doha, and I liked it last year in Memphis."
At the same time, Vaidisova is enjoying the perks of being one of the best, and most-talked about, players on the tour.
"It's fun. You get to see things normally you wouldn't -- different people, different cultures.
"I try to walk around each city a little bit to get a feel for where I am, if I have time."
Increasingly, Vaidisova has little to spare.
The attractive teenager already has appeared in Elle Girl, Rolling Stone and Life & Style, and she appears in Reebok's "I am what I am" advertising campaign.
"The photo shoots are fun. I definitely want to do that a little bit. It's definitely part of it, but you always have to think tennis first and fit everything else around it," she said. "You have to learn to say, 'No, I can't do it,' even if you want to do it."
While Vaidisova admits enjoying the attention and opportunities her talent and looks have created, she bristles at the inevitable comparisons to other tennis player-celebrities such as Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova.
"People always compare people, but you don't want to waste energy or time to think about other people's expectations," she said. "I don't bother with what people say because it just puts extra and unuseful stress on you."