Alexandra Cercone wasn't born with a tennis racket in her hand, but one was placed there shortly afterward.
Her mother, Maria, is director of tennis at Bardmoor Country Club in Largo. While her mother was busy with a lesson or running a tournament, 4-year-old Alex would smack balls against the practice wall.
"She'd be out there all day," Maria said. "As a working mom, it was kind of good to have a job like this where she could come out."
Tennis is in Cercone's genes. Aside from Maria's job, Cercone's older sister, Nicole, was an accomplished junior player. She was ranked in the top 100 nationally as a junior and played tennis at Florida State.
Now it is Alex's turn.
Cercone, 16, is ranked 10th nationally and third in Florida by the U.S. Tennis Association, which earned her a berth in the prestigious Easter Bowl tournament April 6-13 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. And she will spend the week before at the USTA International Spring Championship in Carson, Calif.
Cercone will play in a higher division in the tournament, the girls 18s. She played in the Easter Bowl tournament last year and finished in the round of 16 for singles and teamed with Jacqueline Kasler to win the doubles championship. When she was done playing, she discovered a stress fracture in her wrist.
She will have a new partner in doubles this year, and her expectation in singles is to be competitive.
"I feel pretty confident," Cercone said. "It's not like I've said, 'Oh, I want to get to the quarters or whatever.' I just want to play matches and do my best there and compete."
In her last big tournament, Cercone cemented herself as a top player internationally when she went to the girls 16 final at the Eddie Herr Junior Tennis Championship in November in Bradenton. She was an unranked wild-card entrant but won five singles matches before losing to eventual champion Zarina Dayas 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
Since then, Cercone has been working out at Bardmoor in anticipation of the California tournaments.
"The main thing I'm working on is my fitness," she said. "I'm trying to get stronger and have better stamina. It's improved. Also, I'm working on strategy and shot selection."
Cercone is a sophomore at Seminole High and said she would like to play college tennis. But if she continues to do well in junior tournaments, there is a chance she might forgo college to turn pro.
"What's difficult now is that 99.9 percent of the players in these tournaments are homeschooled, so they don't have to worry about missing classes like Alex does," Maria said. "She wants to stay in school. She likes school very much. So if she continues to do very well, we might have a decision to make. We'll just have to make that decision when the time comes."
Cercone is not the only local who will be heading to the West Coast. Largo's Julia Jones is ranked 13th in the girls 14 age group. Wesley Chapel's Alexander Domijan is 13th in the boys 18s.
Dunedin has expanded its tennis program.
Beginning on Monday, the city will offer classes to adults and private lessons with pro Greg Reardon. The classes will be cardio tennis, as well as three levels of clinics. The classes will be introduction to tennis, intermediate tennis and advanced. For information, call 812-4537.
Kevin Phelan of St. Augustine won the boys division title in the Mizuno Junior Tournament last week at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club. He shot 2-under 211 for the three-day tournament at the par-71 Copperhead Course.
In the girls division, Doris Chen of Bradenton won with 2-over 212 at the par-70 Highlands North Course.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the 15th annual Mizuno Junior at Innisbrook featured 138 boys and 78 girls — ages 12-18 — from 27 states and five foreign countries. This was the largest tournament field in the history of the AJGA. Champions of the event include PGA and LPGA Tour players Charles Howell, Ryuji Imada, Beth Bauer and Brittany Lincicome.
Holes-in-one: Mary Riepe aced the 18th hole at Cove Cay Country Club on March 17. It was her fifth hole-in-one and the second time she has aced the 18th. … Florence McGregor of North Redington Beach got a hole-in-one on the par-3 No. 3 at the Tides Golf Club on March 21. She used a pitching wedge from 70 yards.
The Pinellas Heat Volleyball Club went to Atlanta last weekend to compete in the Big South National Qualifier.
The club sent four teams: 13-under, 14U, 16U and 17U. The 16-under team won the tournament, which included more than 130 teams. The 17-under team finished third, and the 13U and 14U teams finished ninth. Players on the teams attend local schools, including East Lake, Palm Harbor University, Ridgewood, River Ridge and Bay Point Middle School. By winning, the 16U team earned a spot at the Junior Olympic National Championships during the first week of July in Dallas.
Rodney Page can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8810.