Nick Bollettieri 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.”
FEDERER SEEKS ADVICE
Top-ranked Roger Federer, desperate to turn things around after his worst season start since 2000, has hooked up with Spanish coach Jose Higueras, a clay-court specialist. Higueras coached Michael Chang,Jim Courier and Pete Sampras and is working with Federer this week at the Estoril Open in Portugal. Federer has been without a coach for nearly a year, and is aiming for his first French Open title next month.
He has not reached a final in four tournaments this year.
ROLLE ON FED CUP TEAM
Ahsha Rolle of Miami Shores makes her Fed Cup debut April 26-27 in Moscow. The 23-year-old, who reached the third round of the 2007 U.S. Open, will be joined by Vania King, Madison Brengle and doubles specialist Liezel Huber.
Venus Williams, who took a month off from the tour to deal with minor medical issues, spent a few days last week at the Masters golf tournament. She was with boyfriend/PGA golfer Hank Kuehne, who was there with the entire Kuehne family to support his brother, Trip, who is retiring and was playing his last Masters.
India’s Sania Mirza, ranked 30th, is out for four weeks after having surgery on her right wrist last week in Miami. The operation was performed by hand surgeon Dr. Alejandro Badia of the Miami Hand Center.