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Success on court worth a commute

Traveling long miles, sleeping in the car, training four and five hours daily on the court, catching up with homework online or in the car: None of these things Bryanna McNamara imagined before she began a serious pursuit of tennis excellence.

It wasn't like the glamour in television or magazines, like Venus and Serena Williams.

It was hard work. Rather, it is hard work.

It isn't, however, something she regrets.

The 14-year-old budding star from Brandon was sure she wanted to make sports part of her life, and at age 11 she selected tennis over swimming and diving.

Before tennis she was a member of the renowned Brandon Swim and Tennis Club Blue Wave team, something that was tough but not quite as time consuming, physically demanding or hot, at least not at that age.

Tennis, especially when it requires traveling more than an hour and 30 minutes every day to Saddlebrook Tennis School in Pasco County, seems tougher.

"All the strenuous physical work, mostly in the hot sun, really gets tiring, but you can't stop to rest for awhile in a hard split-set match, so the conditioning is necessary," she said. "But commuting from Brandon each day does make the days longer.

"It seems like we leave home in the dark and get back in the dark. I sleep in the car some, but I also have to get my homework done too. The school puts our assignments online, so when traveling we have to work in motel rooms between matches frequently."

She seems to take it all as easy her nickname, "Breezy," even though her name and nickname often are confused at youth tournaments. It seems nobody knows what to call her.

"I am ranked number 160 under one name and I don't recall my ranking under the other, but mom says it would probably be around 130 if the two records were combined," she said, chuckling.

The bottom line is to play better and let people figure out the name later.

"My coach, Mike Henderson (an assistant coach at South Florida), has me working every day this summer just fine tuning every part of my game," she said. "Then I can hit the tournaments hard in the fall and hopefully finish in the top 50 by the end of the year."

The past two years she has received instruction at the prestigious Saddlebrook Tennis School, which accepts students from all over the world. Half her seventh grade year she lived in the school's dorm, separated from family. Last year, in the eighth grade, her mom was hired there as part of the faculty, and the two commuted from Brandon.

Last spring she broke into the starting lineup for the girls varsity high school team as an eighth grader and played No. 5 on the team that placed third at the Class A state championships.

Although she hoped the summer schedule would be lighter, her intense training continues.

Each day includes three hours of clinic drills, an hour of fitness training and an hour of private lessons two or three days a week.

And she usually finds someone to play a few sets each day.

"Working your way up the ladder in tennis is grueling work, but I do love my sport and have some goals I believe are realistic," she said. "I have learned much about the sport in the three years I have made it a serious part of my life.

"Although I have not competed in the USTA tournaments since the high school season last spring, my earlier matches have given me a respectable ranking. I hope to greatly improve in the last four months of the year.

"I want to get a tennis scholarship at Arizona State after high school. Beyond that it is difficult to see much more than hard work. What will happen will happen."