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Talented youngster shooting for top

Danielle Collins loves everything about tennis except losing.

Fortunately for the 10-year-old, her results include many more wins than losses. In fact, she closed out the 2003 rankings No. 2 in Florida. A state-sanctioned sectional championship this month advanced Collins to No. 1 in her division.

"I want Danielle to get as good as she can get," said her father and coach, Wally. "I will be happy if she's able to pick the school she would like to attend.

"To do that, Danielle has a lot of work to do," he said. "She needs to work on her serve and just keep working on her all-around game."

Collins plans to be a professional player and has designated 14 as the age she'll launch her career.

"I know that I have to work hard, especially on slice and kick serves," Collins said. "I have a pretty good second serve and can improve my drop shot.

"I like a lot of the top pros, like Serena (Williams) and Justine (Henin-Hardeene), but I want to be like me as a player and be even better than they are."

Collins first began swinging a racquet when she was 3, playing at 7 and entering tournaments at 8. Her dad introduced her to the game. Working with Krishnan Anandan, Kevin Manning and the late Dan Sullivan has supplemented her training.

"It works out well in our relationship, on and off the court," Wally said. "Sometimes, it might start out rough, but practice always ends up on a positive."

Last season, Collins played 73 matches in 23 tournaments to receive a No. 2 spot in the 10 division. She posted a 24-6 record in the 12 class. This season, with most of her competition in 12, tournament participation will be somewhat reduced.

Collins played a lot of events, Wally said, to learn how to play. Now, she will compete in a couple each month.

"I'm only going to play in the 12 division a year and then play in the 14," Collins said. "I'm not worried about being No. 1 in the 12s because it will help me more to be No. 1 in the 14. Playing in the 14 division will better prepare me to be a pro, too."

Collins has learned at an early age to give back to the game she loves and volunteers two days a week in the well-attended U.S. Tennis Association's First Serve Grassroots Tennis Program at St. Petersburg Tennis Center.

STATE-RANKED JUNIORS: Top-20 singles players in the 2003 season included Julia Claire Jones (No. 14) and Julie Sikorski (No. 19), in girls 10-and-under; Morgan Basil (No. 18) and Alexandra Cercone (No. 19), 12; Morgan Frank (No. 4) and Christina Liles (No. 17), 14; Anthony Barrancotto (No. 1), 10; Joel Samaha (No. 8), 14; George Navas (No. 18), 16; and Navas (No. 20), 18.

NET SHOTS: Susan Hobbs and Ann Worthington finished second in the 4.0 division of this month's Battle of the Suncoast Ladies Doubles at Cheval Country Club. In all, 16 teams participated. In this month's state-sanctioned sectional championship, No. 6 George Navas upset top seed Alex Vuckovic of Valrico in the semifinal round and No. 4 Konstantin Lazarov of Tampa in the final to capture the boys 18 title.

MARK THE DATE: The 21st annual American Cancer Society's classic is Feb. 20-22 at Clearwater's McMullen Tennis Center. Events include women's, men's and mixed doubles from the 3.0 skill level to open. The cost is $40 for one event and $65 for two. Call (727) 669-1919 for player questions and 581-7062 for sponsoring opportunities.

COMING UP: The Brandon Swim and Tennis Championships for junior singles players begin Friday at Brandon Swim and Tennis Club. To enter, call director Pete Stecher, (813) 689-0908. Train Smart Tennis Rookie I is Saturday-Sunday in Tampa for junior singles and doubles players. Call (813) 610-7301. The Adult Winter NTRP is Feb. 6-8 at East Lake Woodlands. Men's and women's singles and doubles and mixed doubles are available. Call 785-2212 by Feb. 3. The Rookie Challenger Series begins Feb. 7 at Treasure Bay for 18-and-under singles players. Call 360-6062.