SOME BIRTHDAY PRESENT
Picture the scene; a normal family room in the house and mother asks the daughter “What would you like for your 14th birthday?” Daughters reply, with a straight face is, “The National Under 18 title.”
Well, that may not be exactly how it happened but Kaylea Sher “received” the present just after her 14th birthday last month to become, in all probability, the youngest winner on record. Yes, by winning the highest Junior title on offer in South African tennis Kaylea has certainly made a lot of people sit up and take notice of her prowess.
The tennis world is used to early success with perhaps the best example being when Martina Hingis won the French Junior title in 1993 at the age of 12. Then add the success achieved by the likes of Tracy Austin and Jennifer Capriatti, and the picture becomes clearer that it can and does happen.
But for history to happen on our doorstep needs analyzing. Although Kaylea does not come from a tennis family, her father was a good squash player. She has a cousin, Tamarin, 15, who lives in America and is ranked 20 in the under 18 age group on the ITF world rankings, so the genes are there within the family. Tamarin was born here but went to America at an early age and now is attached to the Nic Bollettieri Academy.
Kaylea started hitting a tennis ball at the age of 7 when her father took her to the TAC Club in Johannesburg. He hit squash balls, she hit tennis balls. Her first big tournament was as a 10 year old when she lost in the final of an under 12 event at Ellis Park in two tie break sets. From there Kaylea has won a succession of age group titles. She had a taste of senior tennis when playing for TAC in the Bundes League last year. But this year it has all started to come together. She played three events in Central America winning two of them and also represented South Africa in a Junior Fed Cup event where South Africa came 8th out of 16 countries taking part in the under 14 age group.
Just before the Junior Nationals she spent time in Spain at the CIT training centre practicing on clay readying herself for her upcoming trip to Italy. She leaves on 18th October and will be playing on the Nike Tour in Turin and then hopes to play more junior events in Malaysia, Kenya and Uganda this year. Her current under 18 world ranking is 230 and with participation in these events until the end of the year, Kaylea hopes to get her ranking inside the bench mark whereby she can play the Junior Grand Slam events next year.
When asked why she played in the Nationals at under 18 when just 14, she replied “Well, my Mum asked me what age group did I want to play and it was either under 15 or under 18 so it really just happened.” Kaylea does admit she thought there was a chance of winning, but was she nervous? “More so in the early rounds but when I got to the final and was 1-4 down inside five minutes I thought “Oh, what am I doing here!” Not only down in the first set but later was set and 3-5 down but her will power and tenacity saw her drop just three more games to beat the top seed Abigail Olivier 46 75 63 to annex the crown.
Kaylea is quick to heap praise on her parents for their help and support. “Mum and Dad are always there for me and give support when my coach is not around.” Although Kaylea wants to make tennis her life she is realistic enough to have written her O Levels and is now studying for three A Level subjects, maths, English literature and either history or geography through college. A level head on those shoulders without a doubt.
When asked who her role models are, the answer is unhesitatingly quick. “Roger Federer for all that he has done and Justine Henin.” She has pictures of Federer as well as Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick on her bedroom wall.
Sweet dreams, Kaylea for what you want to achieve with those superb ambassadors and role models to guide you, and you to look up to for inspiration and to see what you can achieve with hard work and dedication. Already you have shown a huge capacity in those two vital areas of the game.