Rachael Adler of Temple Terrace is not quite 9, but she already has claimed tennis as her favorite sport.
Young Adler was introduced to tennis by her dad, Peter, when she was 4, just as her father was by his mother at that age.
"We started out just bouncing the ball back and forth," Peter Adler said. "I would teach a little and we would keep it fun. Since Rachael was born, I could see her competitive spirit and knew we should channel it in some way. Because I played tennis, I thought that would be a good sport for her."
Rachael's mother, Karen, considers herself an occasional player, unlike Rachael and her dad.
"I take lessons three hours a week and practice some with my friends," Rachael said. "I've beaten my mom and need to get more strength before I can beat my dad. I would like to someday play tennis in college."
Last weekend's St. Petersburg Country Club Rookie Tournament was Rachael's fourth this year and third top-two finish.
"Rachael seems to be the happiest when she's playing and her competitiveness motivates her to improve," Peter Adler said. "She loves to run and I can see her joy when she trains. Since she's only 8, she may wish to do something else in the end. But right now, I know she's loving tennis."
Rachael has taken lessons from teaching professional Manny Mariani at the Temple Terrace Tennis Center the past two years. The center's director practices reverse psychology in his sessions with Rachael.
"Rachael has a great personality for the game and gives 100 percent on the court," Mariani said. "It works for us when I challenge her and tell her she can't do something. She enjoys proving me wrong.
"Most important right now is to keep it fun and the seriousness comes later."
Rachael first developed her two-handed backhand and now works on changes in her forehand. Practicing one skill at a time seems to be most effective for the young player. Mariani felt her backhand, volley and overhead skills were good for her age.
"Now, we're changing her forehand grip from a Western to a semi-Western," he said. "We work on a skill until Rachael understands what to do with the ball and then move on to the next skill."
Rachael has taken beatings in some tournaments, Mariani said, but always brings back ideas of what to work on for next time. That, Mariani said, is the sign of a champion.
SENIOR MEN'S LEAGUE: Last weekend, the USA Tennis Florida District 12 Senior Men's Doubles League had its first set of matches for 29 teams of players at least 50 years of age.
In the five-team 3.5 North division, PGTA-Gari defeated Innisbrook 2-1. Winning three-setters for PGTA-Gari were John Colaneri and Carmelo Mugavero in No. 2 and Dick Lashley and Willie Coquelet in No. 3. Dick Willets and Don Bergner pulled out a three-set win for Innisbrook in No. 1.
In the 3.5 Central division, PGTA-Graham beat Shipwatch Tennis Club 3-0. Michael Laskey and Ira Piller scored a three-set win in No. 1, as did Jim Smith and Bill Graham in No. 2. Dick Durstein and Bud Lytle won by default in No. 3.
The senior men's league includes three teams in 3.0 and 4.5; four in 4.0 North and 4.0 South; five in 3.5 North, Central and South divisions.
NET SHOTS: Entered in this month's Chanda Rubin ITF Junior Tennis Classic in Columbia, S.C., are Alexis Dorr, Maiko Enomoto, Yumi Hasegawa, Christina Liles and Sarah Svoboda.
COMING UP: The Tennis Classic, a benefit for the Good Samaritan Health Clinic of Pasco, Inc., begins Saturday at the Paul Kronk Tennis Center in Crescent Oaks Country Club. Call (727) 934-6920 for playing times. The Junior Clay Court Challenge for singles players begins Friday at Hunter's Green Country Club in Tampa. Call Bill Macom, (813) 973-4220, today. The Tampa Bay Doubles Challenge is this weekend at the Phil Green Tennis Academy in Safety Harbor. Call Green, (727) 724-7729.