Hitter Miss

Three little South Florida girls make costly bids to be America's next tennis champ

His conclusion, which guides Dominique´s development, is that Dominique ought to get more tournament play than did the Williams sisters, though still less than girls like Sachia and Vickie.

Comparing the three, Dominique stands out for her willingness to hit the ball as it rises. Where other players seem to take an extra moment to line up their shot with their favored arm angle, Dominique shows the dexterity to adjust her arm according to the ball and thus return it faster.

As Dominique starts moving along the clay courts of Macci´s academy, it´s apparent that she´s no longer her mother´s ¨piece of spaghetti trying to play tennis.¨ Her speed is deceptive, the way it is in all long-legged athletes, but her feet gather very quickly around a ball, and when she connects, it´s with a resounding pop -- a pure, heralding sound, like the crack of a bat that announces a home run. Her forehand follow-through describes an elegant arc over her left shoulder. She gets extension on her two-handed backhand. Where other girls her age often seem to be pushing the ball, Dominique swings crisply through each stroke. Her shots are so low and fast that their arc is imperceptible.

Miramar´s Sachia Vickery is the top-ranked 12-year-old player in the country.
Miramar´s Sachia Vickery is the top-ranked 12-year-old player in the country.
Victoria Duval of Delray Beach is ranked fourth.
Victoria Duval of Delray Beach is ranked fourth.

She understands that technique must be her first priority, but Dominique longs for a little competitive glory in exchange for her hard work.

¨I like to go out in tournaments and show everybody else what I´m capable of,¨ says the 12-year-old. ¨They´ve never heard of me before, and I just go out and kind of dominate.¨

Junior tournaments, even at the 18s level that Dominique Henry plays, tend to favor defense-minded players who are judicious about taking the big shots that win points. While Dominique knows she ought to play more conservatively, she simply doesn´t have much experience at it. This is evident during her June 30 match against 16-year-old Stephanie Cardullo. Dominique looks too tentative, then too eager -- often within the same point. She seizes every opportunity to approach the net, but when she gets a ball that she can volley into an open court for a winner, she instead volleys it right back to Cardullo, who in some points is granted two or three chances to hit a winning lob or passing shot.

Bored by trading ground strokes from the baseline, Dominique finally connects on a line drive, hard and flat. A few of these zoom past Cardullo for winners, but most hit the top of the net.

As the unforced errors pile up and the first set slips away, Dominique is hanging her head, her shoulders sagging between points. She doesn´t have much practice at losing either. It´s a hazard for the most promising juniors, who are often shocked that their talent, so vastly superior to their opponent´s, doesn´t necessarily bring victory.

Dominique´s play is arresting, if only for the occasional flashes that hint at future brilliance. In one point, she chases a ball to her right, along the baseline. She can´t set her feet for a forehand, so Cardullo anticipates a soft shot and steps up. Dominique, swinging from her back heel, rips a ball cross-court to the left corner of the other court -- right past Cardullo.

On another point, Dominique scorches a backhand cross-court from her left side only to invite a big shot from Cardullo on the right. It should have been a winner, but somehow Dominique is already there, and her cross-court forehand wins the point. Cardullo´s own mother and coaches can´t resist a spontaneous ovation.

As Dominique gets older, she´ll wonder how she ever lost such matches. This one was further complicated by disputes over line calls -- Cardullo called Dominique a ¨cheater,¨ and Dominique called Cardullo a ¨baby.¨

Intimidation is a facet of the game one can experience only in matches. So Larechia took it as a positive sign that after they´d arrived home from the match, Dominique asked her mother the name of the girl who defeated her.

Larechia asked why she wanted to know.

¨Because I want to make sure I play her again,¨ Dominique said.

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