Sarasota, Fla., resident Nikki Yanez may have claimed her first gold ball and USTA National Championship this past week at the USTA Girl’s 12 Nationals in Alpharetta, Ga., but she was quick to point out that this event, and everything she does is a “family effort.”
“My brother, mother and father and really my whole family,” offered up the rising sixth grader. “They are the reason.”
Coached by her father, Paul, and using her older brother as a hitting partner throughout the week, Yanez said it helped “groove” her strokes and build her confidence.
“I was confident and played my game [throughout the week]. I wanted to, and worked hard to improve my result from the [USTA National Clay Court Championship].”
She did just that in winning the title 7-5, 7-6 at the Windward Lake Club over No. 5 seed Rachel Arbitman of Hewlett, N.Y. Arbitman was coming into the singles final on quite a roll. She hadn’t dropped a set in singles play the entire week, and on Friday, she and partner Kenadee Semenik of Las Vegas took the doubles crown.
“I was surprised,” said Arbitman. “Especially in my quarterfinal match (where she defeated No. 2 seed Semenik 6-1 6-1), I always expect a hard match, but always think I have a chance to win.”
Yanez’s strategy was to change up the pace and throw in lobs when necessary to frustrate Arbitman, an aggressive baseliner.
“Those high lobs – I should’ve come forward instead of staying all the way back,” reflected the New York native after the match. “On my serve, I could hit with more power and moved forward. On my backhand, when I’m pulled out wide, I [need] to hit with more power.”
With daytime temperatures averaging in the low to mid 90s all week in the Atlanta area, Yanez said that training year round in the heat of Florida made a difference. “[The weather] was fine. I’m used to it being in Florida.”
A rising seventh grader, Arbitman said the heat may have played a factor against Yanez. “All week, I kind of had to adjust to the hot weather. Being from New York, we don’t play all that much outside.”
Girl’s 12 Tournament Director Turhan Berne said the play all week was stellar. “Every match was good quality – especially the finals,” stated Berne, who is in his first year of running this prestigious event. “It’s great seeing the different styles of play, and how a girl who may be an aggressive baseliner mixes it and throws lobs up in air.”
In addition to watching over the matches with Head Referee, Cheryl Helton, Berne is responsible for making sure the girls also have fun off the court.
If you ask the American WTA touring pros today about their favorite junior tournament or most vivid junior tennis memory, many will say it was the Girl’s 12 National Championship. For most players, this event is their introduction to big-time tennis, and the experiences, friendships and memories made at this tournament resonate with the girls for years.
“We had a pizza party the opening night and a pool party on Tuesday night,” said Berne. “Next year, we are going to have a bigger trophy presentation. I’m going to add one more official and have Georgia peaches and ice cream available (on site).”
The Windward Lake Club boasts a water park adjacent to the tennis courts, and the players took advantage of the proximity of the pools to cool off and take a break from tennis.
“I liked winning, but I also loved the water park and how I could go there and relax,” admitted Arbitman.
Yanez, who looks up to Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal also manages her own website with the help of her brother. NikkiYanez.com contains the national champion’s blog, her schedule and photo galleries. Learning website development from her brother, it should be only a matter of days before pictures and her result from Alpharetta hits her blog and website.
As with anything else Yanez does, she makes sure everyone knows, that it’s a “family effort.”VIEW ARTICLE