Tennis fans who gathered on Court 13 this afternoon had the chance to look straight into the eye of a tornado.
14-year-old American Tornado Alicia Black, who came through qualifying to play in her first ever main draw of a Grand Slam junior event, displayed impressive running ability and fighting spirit during her match as she rolled through in straight sets against Oleksandra Korashvili of Ukraine 6-3, 6-4. Despite the added pressure of competing in a Grand Slam, Black said she is taking in all the new experiences that come with playing at the US Open.
“I didn’t expect that many people to show up for a first round junior match,” said Black. “It was a little strange having so many people watching me that I didn’t know, but it was fun to be out there.”
Her given name is Alicia, but she was hitting a tennis ball so hard at such a young age that her parents gave her the nickname Tornado and it stuck. Since then, that name has been what she's called amongst family and friends, as well on tournament draw sheets.
The win was just another step towards a family plan to turn Tornado into a tennis champion that was developed practically from birth. She was hitting balls regularly from the age of two, along with her younger sister Hurricane, who is also being groomed by her mother, Gayal, into becoming a tennis champion. By the age of 10, Tornado had spent extensive time at the world renowned tennis academies run by famed coaches Nick Bollettieri and Rick Macci, the latter of which has already declared she will be the best American player since the Williams sisters. These days, she is training at the USTA Player Development center in Boca Raton, FL.
But the dream hasn’t come without sacrifices. Gayal has struggled financially to provide for the family’s dream of tennis stardom and has experienced coming home to find no electricity or running water, with a stack of unpaid bills on their doorstep. Money crunches have also been part of their decision to follow the path that Venus and Serena’s parents trailblazed by largely ignoring the junior tennis circuit, instead choosing to focus on overall development. On the occasions that Tornado has played junior events, they’ve often crashed on the couches of friends to save money.
“I really only played the national championships, which was twice a year,” said Black. “But I’ve played a lot of matches at Nick Bollettieri’s and Rick Macci’s academies, just not tournaments so much. But now I’m playing some more events and am looking to get my ranking up to play more tournaments.”
Black has played six junior events so far this year and climbed up to her current ranking of No. 118. But even having just turned 14, being a professional has always been the end goal for Black. She took her first steps on that path this summer by competing in two $10,000 futures events, and she reached the final in one. She also received a qualifying wildcard into the WTA event in Washington D.C., where she lost to former top 15 player Aravane Rezai.
“The biggest difference at the pros is their attitude,” said Black. “They fight for every point and prepare for each match the best way they possibly can. That’s what I’ve taken from it.”
Black said she is hoping to play some larger challenger events on the USTA Pro Circuit next year and make it into the main draw of the 2014 Australian Open. While that seems like a lofty enough goal in itself, her ambitions have always been much bigger than that.
“I just want to be the best I can be, but my goal is to be No. 1 in the world,” said Black. “That’s always been my dream.”