Florida turns out world-class tennis players like California produces surfers and the Dominican Republic yields nimble-footed infielders. To watch Andy Roddick or Maria Sharapova (Russian-born but trained in Bradenton) on the court is to be awed by blazing serves, passing shots, and breathtaking volleys with little thought for what it took to produce these amazing athletes. Well, Tailpipe is here to tell you that great tennis players don't grow on trees in Florida, like oranges or grapefruit. There's usually a parent schlepping the kid from match to match, working two jobs to pay some punishing bills.
Paula Liverpool of Miramar is a single mother whose 13-year-old daughter, Sachia Vickery, has been making some waves on the junior circuit. Currently ranked 322 in the world among players under 18, she was 873 a month ago. In mid-July, Vickery beat a 17-year-old Mexican phenom ranked in the top 100 en route to winning an International Tennis Federation tournament in St. Maarten, Dutch Caribbean. Just like that, Sachia has upped her status from also-ran to contender. If she keeps it up, she'll soon be ready to compete in the Women's Tennis Association against the likes of Sharapova and the Williams sisters. But the further she goes in the sport, the more expensive it gets. Liverpool just hopes she can keep the bill collectors at bay until Sachia hits it big.
"So many of the parents with tennis stars are former players trying to live their dream through their kids," Liverpool says. "But not me. I never played. If you gave me a racket, I wouldn't know what to do with it.
"As I understand it, after you make it into the top 100 junior rankings, you can get an automatic berth in the ITF Grand Slam events. I thought it would take a year, but it's already happening. Sachia hopes to qualify to play in the U.S. Open Juniors tournament this year. If she can play well in that tournament, she'll be ready to play against adult players. But you have to be at least 14 before you can turn professional, and she doesn't turn 14 until next May.
"Sachia is 5-foot-1. She still has time to grow. She hasn't had a growth spurt in her life. Right now, she's attending the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton. She's training on a scholarship, but it's still hard. Sachia lives there, but I work in Miramar. So I drive across the state to Bradenton on Monday morning, then come back to Miramar on Wednesday to work. On Thursday, right after work, I go back to Bradenton, but I have to come back to Miramar on the weekend so that I can work Sunday nights. I'm an admissions adviser to Kaplan University, and I bartend on weekends. I spend a lot on gas. I should open my own gas station.
"It's worse than last year, when she was playing in American tournaments. The ITF tournaments are all over the world. When it costs $10,000 in just two months, I'm literally pulling my hair out. Sometimes I'll have to neglect an important bill like my mortgage payment. This week, Sachia's playing in Jamaica. Next week, it's the Czech Republic for the World Games. I don't even go to the tournaments because I can't afford it. I have to spend that money so Sachia and her coach can stay in the hotel. It's hard, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if I wanted to give up, Sachia wouldn't let me, and I know she won't give up.
"I don't know if other parents can understand, but when you see your child motivated like that, competing against 17- and 18-year-olds who are taller and stronger than her, you're willing to do anything you can to help her. Whenever I tell people about Sachia, they ask me, 'How come you're not getting help financially?' I pray for a guardian angel, like the man who paid for Ana Ivanovic's training. I have an article about her. She's the number-one player in the world, and now she can pay her guardian angel back three dollars for every one he invested in her career. I keep that article with me always."
Case of the Assless Chaps
Tailpipe pities the guy who has to bring justice to this one.
Timothy Leonard is a slightly built, blond 51-year-old who likes the nightlife. Some of his favorite Broward haunts are Boardwalk (a male strip club in Wilton Manors) and Ramrod (a gay leather bar in Fort Lauderdale). On a recent Wednesday evening, though, Leonard found himself hanging out in the Himmarshee area favored by frat boys and office workers.
Leonard was wearing his typical cocktail attire: jeans and a T-shirt over assless chaps, with a harness and chains across his chest. After consuming two vodka cranberries, Leonard walked into the Porterhouse Grill. He says he unzipped his pants to tuck his shirt in when —oops! — his drawers fell down.