GAINESVILLE — Florida junior tennis player Allie Will has been very competitive since childhood.
If her soccer team took a lead, she'd beg her coach and father, Duncan, to move her to goalkeeper so she could be personally responsible for preserving it.
Will is very driven.
She gave up soccer after her teammates began talk of attending a party immediately after an overtime loss.
That's partly why her mother, Pamela, who played college tennis at Nevada, never pushed her daughter toward tennis.
"I knew that Allie would excel at any sport she played because she did at a very young age. But I thought tennis would be the most judgmental," Pamela said. "And I never really wanted her to play because it's … an individual sport. And you miss out on so many things growing up if you want to excel at it like she did."
Yet the discovery of one of her mother's rackets in the family's garage at about age 10 led to Will's interest in the sport. She picked it up, hit a few balls against the wall and "instantly loved it."
Despite also excelling in baseball, softball, basketball, swimming and soccer, there was no turning back.
"The second she picked the racket up, you could tell she was going to be able to play," Pamela said. "I knew it was the end of everything else."
And the start of something special.
At 16-1, Will, 21, is the No. 1 Division I singles player in the nation. And also at 16-1, she and Sofie Oyen are No. 1 in doubles. Nicole Arendt (1990-91) is the only other Gator to be No. 1 in singles and doubles in the same season.
"She is a perfectionist, but I think you have to be a perfectionist to be that good," senior teammate Joanna Mather said. "She's hard on herself. She works hard, and she expects the best from herself, which translates into the tennis she plays.
"She has so much confidence in herself. When she walks out onto the court, I think her opponents can feel she feels like she can win this match."
Coincidentally, one of Pamela's concerns turned out to be the reason her daughter loves the sport: She must rely only on herself.
"I think that's why tennis worked for me because it was just me out there," Will said. "I liked that responsibility."
That doesn't surprise her mother. And her tennis ability doesn't surprise Allie, who believes it's in her genes. Her mother's game is still fierce.
"I go and hit with her now, and she's amazing," Will said. "It's fun to watch her play because I can see where I get certain things. She had an amazing backhand swing volley, and I just don't grasp that. That's not my shot. I didn't get that from her, and it bothers me because I would love to have it."
Pamela has been her daughter's biggest supporter. Will was homeschooled once she became serious about tennis, and her mom traveled with her to tournaments. The bond helps on and off the court.
"She has an amazing tennis IQ, and I think that's why I was able to learn so much from her growing up," Will said. "Tennis is really hard. You have really horrible days, and to be able to talk to a parent that understands what you're going through but also knows what you could have done better to help and says it in a civil tone, it's helped me a lot.
"She's not my coach, but we're very close. And I wouldn't be half the tennis player I am today without her."
Pamela said she's most proud of the young woman her daughter has become, but Will's athletic achievements are also a source of personal pride — including that No. 1 ranking.
"It's a very special accomplishment," Pamela said. "That's the culmination of all the hours of work that she puts in. She works hard at everything she does. And it's nice to see rewards for all your hard work."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]
. Women's tennis
Rounds 1 and 2
Where: Ring Tennis Complex, Gainesville
Today: Florida State vs. Washington State, 11 a.m.; Florida vs. South Carolina State, 2
Saturday: Winners, 3