Preteens catch guru's eye, train for tennis fame
Posted on Sun, Apr. 20, 2008
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
knows a good young tennis player when he sees one. His list of former pupils reads like a Hall of Fame ballot -- Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Boris Becker.Serena
and Venus Williams
and Maria Sharapova
have also gotten their share of tips from the gregarious guru with the famous academy in Bradenton.
So, when he laid eyes on South Florida 12-year-olds Sachia Vickery
and Victoria Duval
a few months ago, he knew right away that he wanted to tuck them under his wing and try to develop them while they are still young.
Both come from financially strapped homes (Vickery's mom took a second job bartending at a North Miami strip club to fund her daughter's dream), so Bollettieri offered them scholarships. They have been training in Bradenton since February.
Their mothers and Vickery's grandmother moved with them. Vickery's mother, Paula Liverpool,
is there Monday through Friday, then drives five hours home to tend bar Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
''It's a big commitment, but when Sachia got the offer, she told me we have to take it,'' Liverpool said. ``This is her dream and she has a burning desire, so I'm doing what I can to help her.''
The girls wake up at 4 a.m. and train from 5 to 6, 9 to 10, and noon to 1 p.m. They play practice matches from 4:30 to 6 p.m. In between, they are home-schooled through the Internet.
The hard work is already paying off. Vickery, of Miramar, last Saturday won the 14-and-under Easter Bowl title in Rancho Mirage, Calif., after knocking off top seed Kyle McPhillips
of Ohio. Vickery and Duval, both still 12, were the youngest girls in the draw.
Duval, of Delray Beach, reached the round of 16 before losing to McPhillips.
''I want to help the future of American tennis, and it's important to find youngsters like Vicki and Sachia, girls who have so many fantastic qualities, such talent, and really, really love the sport,'' Bollettieri said.
'Would you believe when they got off the plane from California, the first thing they did was come to the court and ask if they could practice? They have passion. They say, `Thank you.' They give hugs when they leave the court. And they are A students. This is what our country needs. They have the potential to be darn good.''
Bollettieri said both have exceptional ground strokes and are comfortable at the net or along the baseline.
''Sachia's movement on the court is breathtaking,'' he said. ``She is never off balance. Her grip and swing pattern are terrific. She and Vicki are still young, but they have the foundation to be able to play this game at a high level. It's exciting.''