Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Meet Tornado Ali Black
By Lindsay Berra
ESPN The Magazine
Tornado Ali Black. It won't be hard to remember that name. The 13-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., seems to have quite the tennis future.
On Sunday, Black defeated Alyssa Smith in straight sets to win the Eddie Herr International Junior Championships Girls Under 16 Division title. It was Black's third consecutive Eddie Herr final; in 2009, she reached the final of the U-12 division, and in 2010 she reached the final of the U-14 division. "Tornado was under a lot of pressure because she had lost in the previous two years in the finals," says her coach, Freddie Rodriguez of the USTA. "It was something really mental for her, but she played really well and was able to get through it."
And she got through in extraordinary fashion. Black, who earned a wild-card entry into the U-16 tournament, defeated Canadian Erin Routliffe, the No. 13 seed, 6-0, 6-0 in the first round. In the second round, she defeated American Yelizaveta Patenko 6-3, 6-0. In the third round, she defeated another American, the No. 2-seed Johnnise Renaud, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, and saved a match point in the second set. In the quarterfinals, she defeated Anna Koval of Russia 6-1, 6-1 and in the semifinals, she notched a 6-2, 7-5 win over American Dasha Ivanova.
This year, Black also became the first American to be presented with the tournament's Rising Star Award. The award, which is not automatically given each year, is bestowed by the tournament staff upon a player who shows the potential to become a top-level professional. Prior recipients include WTA stars Maria Sharapova and Alissa Kleybanova. Like Black, Sharapova also won the U-16 tournament as a 13-year-old.
"Tornado is a very mature girl with imposing physical stature, a lot of strength and power and incredible fight," says Eddie Herr tournament director Rick Workman. "She went through the entire Eddie Herr draw and lost only one set. We think she is a very unique player who has what it takes to not only be on the pro tour but to be a top pro."
The fact that Black has a younger sister, Hurricane, who is also a talented prospect, has lead the pair to be dubbed the next Venus and Serena Williams. Although that classification may be a bit premature, Black's physical style of play certainly brings the Williams sisters to mind. According to Rodriguez, Black is an aggressive baseliner who likes to control the center of the court. "Tornado likes to move opponents around and get moved by her opponents," Rodriguez says. "She likes to make it a running game. She exerts herself on every shot she hits and is a very powerful girl for her age."
Rodriguez, though, is most impressed with Black's mental acuity. "A lot of people see her hitting the ball and think she just hits the ball big and that's it," he says. "But the most important thing for me as her coach is her understanding of the geometry of the court and when to do what. She's very mature with her tactics and understanding the chess part of the game, and it's that maturity that allows her to go out and compete against the older girls."
In early November, Black even reached the semifinals of a U-18 ITF tournament in South Carolina before losing to 16-year-old American Hayley Carter. She is currently playing in the U-16 Division of the Orange Bowl Junior Tennis Championships on the clay courts of the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Fla.
Hurricane, now 10, has begun to make waves on the U-12 circuit.
There is, as one might imagine, a story behind the girls' unique names. Tornado's given name is Alicia, but when she was 2 years old, she already was hitting the ball so hard and so powerfully that she was given the nickname Tornado. It stuck. A few months before Tornado's third birthday, Tyra Hurricane -- that is her given name -- was born. But the girls always have been known, both with family and friends and on tournament draw sheets, as Tornado Ali and Hurricane Tyra.
So, it's safe to say, storms are brewing in South Florida.
Lindsay Berra is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.