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East County Thursday, Jun. 11, 2009 8 years ago

Creating a Racket

by: Jen Blanco Sports Editor

PERIDIA — Alexandria Stiteler was just 5 years old the first time she told the world what she wanted to be when she grew up.

After pulling out a piece of paper and some crayons, she set to work drawing her dream job. But unlike most girls her age, Alexandria didn’t have her heart set on becoming a nurse or a teacher or a princess. Instead, she simply wanted to be a professional tennis player — big aspirations for a child barely old enough to hold a tennis racket.

It’s been eight years since Alexandria expressed her desire. But her passion hasn’t waver, and since then, the 13-year-old home-schooled student has climbed the ranks of junior tennis’ elite with the hopes of one day fulfilling her dream.

“I’m a competitive person, and I like to play tennis,” she said. “It’s exciting when I win and since I’m competitive I like to play sports like that.”

Alexandria began playing tennis when she was 3 years old after her mother, Lisa, introduced her to the sport — simply as a way to keep her energetic toddler occupied.

“I was playing tennis at a tennis club in Massachusetts and Alex didn’t want to be in the nursery, so I would bring her out to the court and hit a few balls to her,” Lisa Stiteler said. “That opened the can of worms. I was trying to keep her occupied so I could play tennis, and it ended up keeping her happy.”

By 8, Alexandria was immersed in the sport. She began competing in tournaments and within a few years, she became the No. 1-ranked girl 12-under player in the New England section of the United States Tennis Association.

“I really enjoyed playing tennis and it was actually very easy to learn,” Alexandria said. “I caught on quickly.”

Looking to further her budding tennis career, Alexandria left the indoor tennis courts and moved to Florida in September 2007 with her mother and younger brother, Oliver, 8. The family settled in Peridia Golf and Country Club.

“Everybody up in New England said, ‘You’ve got to move south because she’s such a great player… it’s just the power that she has,’” Lisa Stiteler said.

Upon arriving in Bradenton, the left-hander had to adjust to playing outside on clay courts. Alexandria spent the following summer adjusting to her new environments, battling the heat, wind, sun and the rain, which all proved to be problematic for Alexandria at one time or another.

Shortly after moving to Florida, Alexandria began training at Celsius Tennis Academy in Sarasota where she would spend three-and-one-half hours a day playing tennis. In addition to her daily practices, Alexandria also takes private tennis lessons twice a week and spends three days a week working on fitness, strength and conditioning. This year, Alexandria switched training schools and now works with Nick Bollettieri at IMG Academies in Bradenton.

Alexandria’s most prolific tennis accomplishment occurred last December, when she reached the finals of the prestigious ITF Dunlop Orange Bowl. In the finals, the unseeded Alexandria battled No. 1 seeded Indy de Vroome of the Netherlands until the very end, falling 7-6, 7-5.

Alexandria competes in at least three tournaments a month, two of which are local and one a designated or sectional tournament. With each tournament, Alexandria is awarded points, which increase her overall player ranking and allow her to compete in national tournaments.

After dominating the 12-under circuit, Alexandria has since moved up to the 14-under division and has also started playing in girls 16-under and 18-under tournaments for additional competition.

Earlier this year, Alexandria won the 14-under Nike Junior Tour Qualifier, the Florida Designated girls 16-under tournament and the 18-under Florida Super Series.

“I would rather play older competition because it provides much harder matches instead of just winning 6-0, 6-0,” Alexandria said.

Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].

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