Ten-year-old Nikki Yanez stands poised behind the net.
With a firm grip on her tennis racket, the home-schooled fifth-grader sizes up her competition, in this case her 12-year-old brother, Vincent, and awaits the serve. The ball sails through the air, and she quickly sends the ball back over the net in a flourish.
The two rally back and forth before Yanez sends a strategically placed shot into the far corner of the court past her brother’s outstretched arm. Yanez continues practicing with her brother for another 20 minutes or so, before calling it a day.
It’s a rare occurrence for Yanez to spend time practicing on an actual tennis court. Instead, the former gymnast has taken a different approach. Rather than spending four to five hours on the tennis court, Yanez only practices three days a week — the vast majority of which are spent stretching, conditioning and doing gymnastics elements in her family home. Occasionally Yanez will go to the park and hit for a while, but the majority of her time is spent off the court.
“It helps me with my balance,” Yanez says of practicing other sports rather than being on the tennis court. “It helps me a lot. Everything in tennis relates to gymnastics whether it’s balance, speed or coordination.”
Yanez’s unique training approach paid off last month when she captured back-to-back championships.
Yanez won the Girls 11 Little Mo Sectional July 12 and July 13, in Sarasota, finishing 48-1 in four matches. It was Yanez’s first major tournament championship.
“I thought I played really well,” Yanez says. “I just like competing, playing with new people every week and winning.”
Yanez returned to the court July 19 through July 21 and won the USTA Florida Level 5 North Florida tournament, in Tallahassee. Yanez won all five of her matches without dropping a set against the top Girls 12 players in the state.
“That was the biggest tournament that I’ve played in,” Yanez says. “It was tough because the people I played were great. My goal is to win (the) Eddie Herr (International Junior Championships), and this win puts me in the right direction.”
A two-time AAU Gymnastics Florida state champion and one-time Southeast regional champion, Yanez began playing tennis two years ago after watching her older brother play. She played her first tennis tournament that same year at IMG Academy. Yanez lost her opening match, but through the experience she learned the value of sportsmanship.
Since then, she’s won all eight of her local tournaments, as well as the two major tournaments last month. She’s currently ranked third in the state and 12th in the nation for the Class of 2022.
Yanez, who competes about once a month, will return to the court in a Level 4 Girls 12s tournament at the end of August, in Delray Beach.
“It’s going to be a step up in competition,” Yanez says. “I just try to think of it as any other tournament. I’m just confident.”
12 – Yanez’s current national tennis ranking among girls in the Class of 2022.
2 – The number of years Yanez has been playing tennis.
3 – The number of days Yanez practices in a typical week.
48 – The number of games Yanez won in four matches to win the Girls 11 Little Mo Sectional.
8 – The number of local tournaments Yanez won before moving up to the state level