On an island where tennis is a big part of the sports landscape, Key Biscayne has its own little ambassadors representing the Village for the first time in the USTA Junior Team Tennis League at Tamiami Park.
Arraya Academy Tennis Pro Gabriel Rojas is leading the pint-sized players into competition.
“We made a team last fall and summer season, and we also had an Orange Bowl team. It’s the only one from Key Biscayne, the only one represented from Key Biscayne,” Rojas explained.
Village resident Lucas Alonso, 9, joins Fabiana Barrios, 9, and Sabrina Casareale, 8, to play in competitions designed to accommodate various skill levels.
The USTA-sanctioned event has specific outlines for kids 10-and-under as they progress in the sport, using color-coded balls that compensate for age and ability.
“You start playing with red balls, which bounce I believe 70 percent less than the yellow ball,” Rojas said. “It’s almost like a foam ball, so it’s easier for a little kid to hit it because it bounces at a head height instead of bouncing two meters high.
“And once you grow older you start playing with orange balls, which bounce at 50 percent, then green dot balls and so on.”
The red, orange, green and yellow format is something Rojas believes is helpful in building the confidence of young tennis players on the Key.
The latest tournament schedule, which began in February, plays one weekend a month through April at Tamiami Park. And so far, so good: “We played in the first month, and we’re doing pretty good,” Rojas said. “We played four games, we won two and lost two. It’s the first time they competed, so they’re doing pretty good. They play doubles and they play singles.
“It’s super fun for them. They love it.”
Practicing at the KBTA, the kids learn a lot more than tennis while training for competition, according to their coach, who beams with pride while talking about the progress his players are making. Rojas said he’s excited about getting kids involved in competitive tennis on the Key at an early age in hopes of grooming skill setsthey can use in the future.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to get kids to play at an earlier age, so when they hit middle school, they are ready for it and they know how to hit, how to play and how to socialize with other kids their age and how to behave on the court,” he said.