Posts Tagged ‘child prodigy’

Little ‘Kangaroo’ hops into tennis all the way from Australia

CBS Sports – Dec. 9, 2009 – By Lesley Visser – Excellent footwork? Check. Concentration? Solid. Reliable forehand? Naturally. It’s when she says, “Daddy, can you take me to the bathroom?” that something seems a little strange.

Racket control and two-fisted backhands aren’t unusual at a noted tennis academy, but this prospect just turned 5 years old.

Mia Lines ‘has a gift, and 5 years old is not too young to nurture that gift,’ her coach says.

Mia Lines ‘has a gift, and 5 years old is not too young to nurture that gift,’ her coach says.

“She has the best adjustment steps I’ve seen in 25 years,” said Rick Macci, owner of the Rick Macci Tennis Academy at Boca Lago Country Club in Florida, where Mia Lines trains, when she’s not playing Scooby-Doo back home in Australia. “She has a gift, and 5 years old is not too young to nurture that gift.”

Macci, who worked with champions Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati and the Williams sisters when they were young, has been celebrated for his work with junior players and has been named the USPTA Coach of the Year seven times. Mia’s father found him on the Internet.

“When Mia was 3, everyone kept telling me she had talent and that I should get someone to look at her,” said Glenn Lines, a former day trader from Melbourne who is now the full-time single father to his tennis prodigy. “I had heard of Rick, and when I researched his program, I brought her to America to train with him.”

At 3 years old? Three years before school starts? At an age just beyond what child psychologists call “object permanence,” the ability of a child to remember what he or she just saw?

“We make sure she’s having fun,” said Macci.

It appears to be the case. Macci, who said Mia had racket control from the beginning, has the child bouncing basketballs with both hands, hitting the ball “on the rise, give ’em a surprise” and taking lemonade breaks. I watched her hit 30 balls in a row over the net, then jump over a couple of Macci-fed tosses as if the ball were a hot potato. She giggles and laughs, but there is something else inside.

“She’s extremely competitive,” said Macci. “When I had Venus and Serena, they would run through glass on the court to get to a ball. Mia’s the same way.”

She is small, short for her age, but when she gets up on her toes, tiny calf muscles pop out in the back. Her movements are efficient and the ball almost never goes beyond the baseline. But where is this heading, what can come of training three hours a day at such a young age?

“Well she’s not going to win any tournaments for 5-year-olds,” said renowned sports psychologist Dr. John Murray. “But it isn’t necessarily bad that she’s developing her passion. At the moment, she’s no different than any child who plays the violin or is precocious at ballet or art at a young age.”

Tennis has had its share of pushy-parent casualties. Stefano Capriati was famous for changing coaches, signing endorsement contracts and courting sponsors when Jennifer was only 12. Her early burnout is the stuff of legend. Andre Agassi wrote in his book that he hated the game his father forced him to play. Damir Dokic was famously ejected from a tournament where his daughter, Jelena, was playing, when he drunkenly accused an official of being a Nazi who endorsed the bombing of his native Yugoslavia.

“Some of these parents are just pathological,” Murray said. “They don’t understand that all athletes go through developmental stages. Being a star at 10 doesn’t mean that child will be world-ranked at 14.”

It’s too early to tell if Glenn Lines has the right stuff to make the precarious journey. He admits he “took a tennis ball to the hospital where Mia was born”, and “waved a tennis ball” over her head when she was in the crib.

But Lines seems to have some perspective.

“I don’t come from a wealthy family,” he said of his upbringing in Wantirna South, a suburb outside of Melbourne. “I’m middle class, and I’ve decided that when Mia turns 14, if she wants to do something else, anything else, that’s her decision. I know that my father, who loves Aussie rules football, wanted me to play, but I never did.”

Macci will not say whether Mia, whom he calls “Kangaroo,” will develop into a world-class tennis player.

“There are too many factors,” he said. “But I don’t resent or worry about her father. Many, if not most great players, had at least one parent devoted to their development — Jimmy Connors, Monica Seles, Chris Evert, Martina Hingis. Not all parents are bad.”

Macci has been on this route before. He is convinced that Mia has skills that put her “on the path” to greatness. And everyone agrees she has the perfect tennis name.