by Rick Vach, ustaflorida.com
Floridians Jennifer Capriati and Mary Joe Fernandez did it when they were 13 years old. Gabriela Sabatini did it at age 14, and Boca Raton's Madison Keys did it last year in Ponte Vedra Beach at age 14.
Now 14-year-old Deja Kitchiner, well aware when the young prodigies of women's tennis first made their mark, is ready to win her first pro-level match on the women's tour after turning 14 last month. The Citrus Springs (west of Orlando) resident will first test her game May 29-June 4, 2010, at the US Open National Playoffs Qualifying-Florida at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Since relocating to Florida from Northern California at age 9 for more competition, Kitchiner has targeted her 14th year to make the jump to the pros -- a step she has been training for by playing girls' 18-level tournaments almost exclusively.
"I've been looking to start playing pro tournaments for awhile, and we thought this would be a good tournament to start with," says Kitchiner of the US Open National Playoffs Qualifying-Florida. "I basically want to see what level I'm at and how far I can get, I want to see if I'd have a chance to win the tournament."
Kitchiner and her father/coach, Damon, use social media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook to spread the word of her potential and give a glimpse of a hard-hitting style reminiscent of a much older player. Click below to see the video (with more than 100,000 views so far) of Kitchiner working out with her father and talking about the US Open National Playoffs Qualifying-Florida:
"I like having people know about me and stuff because it makes me feel good," Kitchiner says. "My dad records me a couple times a year and he puts the videos up and people watch them, I like it."
She also likes the development of her unique backhand, originally patterned after a player whose career was long over before she was born -- former world No. 1 Bjorn Borg.
"That used to be one of my favorite guy players, I used to watch and model my backhand after that when I was doing the in-between backhand," says the 14-year-old. "I started out where I would hold [the backhand] with two hands and let go with one, but I was taking too much time on the swing, so we had to cut it down to a full one-handed swing, about a year and a half ago. But it used to be in the middle of both."
Besides old Borg footage, Kitchiner has adapted other strokes from some of the game's greats.
"My game, I kind of take a little bit from all the top players I see," Kitchiner says. "Like I do my slice based on Steffi Graf most of the time, and I'm kind of practicing my serve right now after Serena [Williams] -- I kind of take what I can from all the top players and see if I can work with it."
She has taken some lumps playing up in the 18s division, but says it is just a matter of time before she stands atop the National Girls' 18s rankings and begins to make inroads into the pro game in her mid-to-early teens.
"My father wanted me to keep developing, so the decision was made that I would play predominantly in the 18-year-old divisions," Kitchiner says. "I went from winning most of the time, to winning half of the time. When I would lose we analyzed how my opponents defeated me. From that point we worked to fix the flaw. At age 13 I made a breakthrough and won my last two smaller 18-year-old events. In typical fashion, and to keep me developing, my father has decided that I will now play the 18-year-old national events. There's just one thing; I don't expect it will take me long to figure out this level."
Her Google profile describes her "blazing speed, explosive power, and soft hands," and goes on to say, "Deja's game is completely unique as she can serve and volley, slice, chip, loop, or boom a powerful ground stroke at anytime. Deja's game does not resemble many up-and-coming players that you will see today, but let me assure you that she has every bit the consistency, talent, and athleticism. Deja was raised to be a very confident young lady, and she has huge dreams."
Kitchner says she has received offers from agents, academies, and from coaches around the world, but has decided to "do it her way."
Follow Kitchiner and her success at the US Open National Playoffs Qualifying-Florida, or in her own words, "Will Deja be able to find her way playing from instincts, when most girls are paying thousand of dollars per year for training? Stay tuned to find out."
More Deja Kitchiner on YouTube: