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An ambitious 10-year-old

When Nathan Graddy was interviewed about a year ago, the then 9-year-old said he planned to become a pro at 18.

In the past year, Graddy has worked vigorously toward that goal, going 36-14 in 13 tournaments. As a result, he ended 2003 No. 2 in Florida behind St. Petersburg's Anthony Barrancotto.

With Barrancotto turning 11 next month, Graddy will be No. 1 in the 10 division. And when he does, he doesn't plan to give it up.

"I hit harder than I did a year ago and am going for more on my shots most of the time," Graddy said.

"I'm controlling my emotions a lot better. I think the experience I've gotten from playing a lot of tournaments has helped me improve in all those areas."

Cheval Country Club teaching pro Francis Cooke, who has coached Graddy since he was 5, credits his drive and determination.

"I can't say there is anything specific Nathan has improved in technically during the last year that would account for the success he's had," Cooke said. "Nathan is such a competitor that he will not give up. If he stays with it and continues being so determined, he will be a success."

At this month's sectional tournament in Clearwater, Graddy was the No. 1 seed but lost in a semifinal to Brett Clark and finished fourth. But the points Graddy earned by reaching the semifinals made him No. 1 in the 10s.

"I had beaten (Clark) at states before, but I just didn't go for my shots like I should have," Graddy said. "Next time, I'll go for things and play to his weaknesses."

Graddy likes to hit down the line off the forehand or backhand. Playing against hard hitters is easier, he said, because they provide all the power. Pushers prove more difficult.

Though Graddy has several months before he must compete in the 12s, he plans to compete in his second national 12s tournament next month. Last year, Graddy competed in a national 12s tournament and lost to the No. 8 seed.

"I know my hours on the court will be increasing and Francis will have me doing more conditioning," Graddy said. "I don't like to do the conditioning, but I know it pays off when I do. I want to keep getting better, so I'll do whatever I need to do to get there. I still want to be a pro when I'm 18."

STATE RANKINGS: Junior singles players in the top 20 in the state from the 2003 season include area players Jamie Mera (No. 6) and Alexis Kreplick (No. 17) in 14s; Laura Gioia (No. 17) and Zoe Kent (No. 19) in 16s; Brianna Williams (No. 13) and Stacia Fonseca (No. 21) in 18s; Paul Polarczyk (No. 17) in 12s; Joel Samaha (No. 8) in 14s and Sukhwa Young (No. 7), Shawn Young (No. 10) and Alex Vuckovic (No. 12) in 18s.

NET SHOTS: Among the winners in the Junior New Year's Eve Kickoff at Tampa Palms were Brooke Allen (18s), Gustavo Torres (14s), Danny Heidenberg (12s) and David Chittenden (10s).

Valrico's Stephanie Miller won the girls 10 consolation draw.

Susan Berkov of Tampa and Marcia Oltz of Lutz won the 3.9 division in the Battle of the Suncoast Ladies Doubles held at Cheval Country Club. Tampa's Karen Randazzo and Maryanna Everle won the 4.0. Sixteen teams participated.

Vuckovic finished third in this month's boys 18 sectional tournament in Tampa. Konstantin Lazarov was second.

MARK THE DATE: The American Cancer Society's classic is Feb. 20-22 at the McMullen Tennis Center in Clearwater.

Events include women's, men's and mixed doubles from the 3.0 skill level to open. It costs $40 for one event and $65 for two.

Call McMullen at (727) 669-1919 for player questions and Cindy Cooper at (727) 581-7062 for sponsoring opportunities.

COMING UP: The Brandon Swim and Tennis Championships for junior singles players begins Friday at the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club. Call Pete Stecher at (813) 689-0908 today. Train Smart Tennis Rookie I is Saturday-Sunday in Tampa for junior singles and doubles players. Call Alan Williams (813) 610-7301 today. 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 Rick Workman at 785-2212 by Tuesday. The River Hills Junior Championships is Feb. 7-9 at the River Hills Sports Center. Call Greg Jones at (813) 653-3776 by Feb. 4.