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A smashing debut

The Baltimore Sun

When did you start playing tennis?

I started playing tennis when I was 3. My dad, he's a tennis player. He was a junior tennis player in his country. He's from the Ivory Coast.

What do you love about tennis?

My dad just made me play and it's something that I just kept playing and tried to go further with it.

Didn't you like it?

Yeah, I did.

What happened?

You get sick of it after a while.

Was that part of your decision to leave Florida?

I just needed a break, and this is the longest break I ever took from tennis. I moved up here to live with my mom and put my education first, but the weird thing is I haven't played in seven months and I came back here and just played a little.

What was it like when you started playing for Woodlawn after that break?

It was nice because I never played for a team. I always played individually. I like that you have people supporting you and you can go and support your teammates. And it's a lot more relaxed. Not as serious.

Do you feel better about tennis now?

It's more fun now.

What did it mean to you to win the county and regional championships

It was nice for my mom to see me play and to win that because she's never seen me play after how long I've played. The next day, my mom bought me a new Dolce Gabbana bag (laughs). And it was just nice to bring something good back to Woodlawn.

What would you say is the best part of your game?

A lot of people think right now that it's my serve, because they think they've never seen a serve that big, although it's not as big as it was. But I always think my forehand is my weapon and my backhand is just solid.

What would you like to improve about your game?

I'd like to play more like [Rafael] Nadal. That's what I'm working on now. People say, "You play with a lot of topspin." That's the way my dad taught me to play. That's the difference between my game and other girls. My dad taught me to play more like a boy rather than a girl, because he didn't like how girls played.

What does that mean, he taught you to play like a boy?

Boys, they play more physical and when they hit it, the ball's harder and heavier and it has more rotation on it, more topspin. Girls play more flat and low.

Is there a professional tennis player you look up to?

Rafael Nadal. Svetlana Kuznetsova. Serena and Venus [Williams] for obvious reasons. That's more of an inspiration, but for my game I'm closer to Svetlana Kuznetsova. [Roger] Federer, of course, is awesome and [Justine] Henin I like.

Would you ever consider turning pro?

That's what I didn't tell anyone. At the end of last year, I was about to, before I took a break. I don't know. I might want to go back to it again. I think I would try to do one or two years of college first before I would try to go pro, because if you go pro right away you can't go back to college [tennis], and I think maybe I would try to do something else [as a career].

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