(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
Hiroko and Bill Haynes are thrilled that their daughter has shown early interest in tennis, a game the Vancouver residents play regularly. They hope she continues to enjoy a sport that can be played throughout life.
Julia Haynes wants more from the sport than the satisfaction of beating mom and dad and hitting winners against older kids at Club Green Meadows.
“She has other dreams,” Bill said. “Julia wants to be a world champion.”
At age 10, Julia is off to a nice start.
The Pioneer Elementary fifth grader recently won her first national title, rolling to the championship in her age division of the Little Mo National Tennis Tournament. At the national finals played Oct. 15-17 in Austin, Texas, Julia won each of her four matches in straight sets, dropping only four games.
“I was a little nervous,” Julia said. “I just wanted to play my best.”
She qualified for the Little Mo nationals by sweeping the competition at a sectional tournament in Tacoma and at a regional playoff in Sacramento, Calif. She had only one three-set match along the way — and said the heat in Sacramento took a toll in that match. Julia entered the nationals as the top seed. Relying on her powerful ground strokes, Julia had little trouble living up to it.
Julia’s favorite part of tennis is smashing the ball past an opponent. Her favorite player is Maria Sharapova “because she can really hit the ball with power.”
But, Julia said her ground strokes and her consistency carried her through the Little Mo tournament.
The Little Mo title is Julia’s biggest yet.
But it isn’t her first national tournament, nor her first time in the limelight.
At 5, she was introduced to the world via YouTube.
A video that her dad put on the website five years ago as a way to show family and friends 5-year-old Julia hitting a tennis ball became wildly popular. It has been viewed more than 235,000 times.
The popularity of the video surprised Bill and Hiroko. But the foundation of her early success in tennis is evident in that video as 5-year-old Julia consistently returns the ball to her mother.
Julia began hitting tennis balls over the net before she turned 3. She wasn’t happy hanging out in daycare while her parents played tennis, so she would go to the court with mom and dad.
“When she was 2-2½, I realized she had really, really good hand-eye coordination,” Bill said.
More recently, her parents enrolled her in a program for young players at the University of Portland. Each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Julia joins other players for two hours of intense training under the guidance of Pilot’s assistant men’s tennis coach Henry Oldham. Julia is the youngest player in a group that is mostly 14-year-old players, and holds her own.
“She doesn’t have a day where she doesn’t practice hard. That’s just so unusual when you’re 10 years old,” Oldham said.
Oldham said Julia’s balance and coordination stood out from the first time he met her. But it is her ability to concentrate that sets her apart from most young tennis players.
“She has incredible potential. Her concentration is off the charts,” Oldham said.
She is willing to play 50-shot rallies if that’s what it takes to win a point, Oldham said.
Julia said Oldham’s coaching, and the opportunity to train with older girls several days a week, was a big help to her in the Little Mo competition. In fact, it made playing other 10-year-olds — even talented ones — seem easier than those weekday training sessions in Portland.
“It was easier. I usually play (age) 12s or 14s, and there are a lot of great competitors,” Julia said.
The pedigree of the Little Mo — a tournament for players ages 8-12 staged annually by the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation that Andy Roddick once won — and the three trophies Julia won along the way make this a special accomplishment, Julia said.
Oldham said he wasn’t surprised Julia won the tournament — but was surprised by the ease with which she breezed through four matches at the national finals.
“She is a great player, but I thought she would have some tougher matches,” the coach said.