Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
I told you so.
I say this not with a huge smile, but a shrug. I’m not here to gloat, just to share facts. Like the fact that, as I wrote last summer, I knew Sarasota tennis player Nikki Yanez, once the No. 1-ranked United States Tennis Association player in her class, would return to form after taking time away from tournament play to refine her fundamentals.
How is this for rounding back into form: Yanez has won nine of her last 10 tournaments, including taking the USTA Level 3 Singles title — the highest-level offered in Florida, Level 1 being the highest overall — on Jan. 15 in Lakeland. She defeated Weston’s Kassandra Di Staulo, a four-star recruit herself, in three sets.
Think about how many things you can say you got right nine out of the last 10 times you tried them? Me, I can’t even type 10 words in a row without misspelling some, or make chili 10 times without having some combination of leaving the heat on too long and not using enough spices once or twice. (This happened to me during the Super Bowl. Didn’t add enough cumin, making the chili fine but underwhelming. Pro tip: Always add plenty of cumin.)
Now think about how many consecutive individual victories make up a tournament win in tennis, and you begin to see the scope of Yanez’s accomplishment. It’s incredible, regardless of level, and to do it at some of the most competitive tournaments in the state makes it even more so.
Yanez said a lot of her success rides on her being “match tough,” or learning to finish matches when she has the chance.
“If I am up 40-30 in a game, it is about getting those points and ending the game,” Yanez said. “Never in my mind do I say, ‘I am going to lose.’ ”
It was in the final of the first tournament in her run, the Inspiration Academy Level 6 Junior Championships in September, where she first felt her old form return. She was in a third-set tiebreak and, instead of feeling the pressure, felt calm.
“I said to myself, ‘I got this,’” Yanez said. “I went out and destroyed.”
She has also been helped by a mobile app her father, Paul Yanez, is developing. The app, called Tennis Tracking, can be used from a smartwatch or smartphone and shows real-time stats, like the percentage of break points you are winning, plus reminders to do things like stay hydrated and bring a change of clothes to the arena. Right now, the app is not available for commercial use, but that may change as it develops, Yanez said.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Paul Yanez said. “Before, you could not communicate with players in this way. Now, you are talking in a language that is real to them.”
Nikki Yanez’s next big tournament begins March 16, the USTA Florida Level 4 Championship at the USTA National Campus in Orlando. She will play a few local tournaments before then to warm up, she said. She will probably win those, with her 110 mph serve (she wants it at 120 mph or faster eventually) and quickness and mental game.
Yanez is back up to 22nd in the Tennis Recruiting Network’s national prospect list for her class, and seventh in Florida.
She keeps up her win percentage of 90%, and those rankings will shoot even higher.