Tennis phenom in the making

Douglas Fritz • May 31, 2014 at 7:53 PM

Winning a high school state tennis championship was important for Danielle Vines, but her sights are set much higher.

And if work ethic has something to do with it, she may one day see her professional dreams come true.

Her only coach, Steve Brooks, can attest to the efforts of Vines, a player so talented he said at 15 years old she could already play at the top of the lineup for East Tennessee State, and be in the top six for the University of Tennessee.

“Every day no matter how hard she works, even if she can’t get up off the floor, she looks at me and says, ‘Did I do good enough? Do I need to do more?’” said Brooks, who is the director of tennis/fitness at the Country Club of Bristol and a former ETSU head coach. “She’s down and can’t even get up, and says, ‘I’ll be fine.’ What kid do you know who does that?”

The drive all comes naturally, said Vines.

“I was kind of born with it, wanting to go work as hard as I possibly can,” she said. “I want to be the best, and want to make sure I’m doing all the right things, and doing everything I can to be the best. It’s dedication and a lot of discipline. I’m very dedicated to tennis.”

Vines, a rising junior at Elizabethton, blew through the high school circuit and lost only two games all season. Both of those came in the Class A-AA state finals against two-time defending champion Skylar McDonald in a 6-1, 6-1 decision during last week’s Spring Fling in Murfreesboro.

It was Vines’ first year of high school after being home-schooled during what would have been her freshman year.

“She wanted more of a social atmosphere,” said Brooks. “She worked out a deal with Elizabethton that allowed her to get out of school at 12:30 p.m, and she took the other classes online.”

The decision worked out well, not only for Vines but also for the Cyclones.

“I had a blast with the team,” said Vines. “It was so much fun. I had really missed the team atmosphere. I loved it.”

Once the Spring Fling was over, Vines turned her attention to a pair of national tournaments. She will compete in the United States Tennis Association’s National Clay Courts tournament at Virginia Beach, Va., in July. Later this summer, Vines will play in the USTA national hard courts event in San Diego.

There’s a specific design for Vines in competing at the national level, said Brooks.

“If she does really well, maybe the USTA will open its bank account and give her some money to help with travel, and things might change,” said Brooks. “If they see potential, they will throw her a little money and help out to see if her game grows.”

Brooks has been the key figure in the tennis life of Vines. He spotted her as a nine-year-old running around at one of his camps, and saw something special.

“I picked her out of a crowd,” said Brooks. “Her and her brother were running around, and I asked if she wanted to be a good tennis player. I said I would be her coach. I said she would be No. 1 in the state and No. 1 in the South. Her mom said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re coming back to your camp.’ And I said, ‘I’m not trying to get you to come back, I’m telling you what will happen.’ ”

Tennis was the central focus, but Brooks didn’t stop there. He said he wanted to build Vines to where she would be able to play at an elite level in tennis or any sport.

“She’s had personal trainers who also worked with NASCAR pit crews on speed and strength,” said Brooks. “She had one personal trainer who was an NCAA All-American gymnast. She worked with Anthony Jones on speed and sprinting, and he once held the third-fastest time in the 400 meters in the world.”

It’s all part of a process that has been going on for six years.

“When you develop strength, you can’t develop it overnight,” said Brooks. “It takes years, and you have to do it the right way.”

As far as tennis goes, Brooks has focused on making Vines a complete player and developing every part of the game, including the mental aspects, which Vines said she is getting better at using.

“A lot of players develop mental strategies and the mental side of tennis before developing the physical side,” said Vines. “I was opposite. I figured out how to hit every shot, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I’ve gotten better at the mental side. I’ve had detailed conversations with Steve about strategies and playing matches.”

Part of the mental game is trusting the physical part.

“She’s getting much better at recognizing when she’s in a little trouble to not go for the knockout,” said Brooks. “She can back off, put the ball in play, and trust her athleticism, skills and experience to win the point. That really paid off at the state tournament.”

Overall, Vines said Brooks’ coaching has been the defining factor for her success.

“He has been huge,” said Vines. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be nearly where I am today. He taught me everything I know about tennis. Him and my parents have made the biggest difference for me.”

Having success at the national level this summer is important, said Brooks, but not critical. Vines is ranked No. 1 in the South, which is a nine-state region. Her national ranking, which is close to No. 40, is low because she hasn’t competed at that level often because of finances.

“She’s only 15 years old, so it’s not extremely critical,” said Brooks. “There’s always more time. If she lived in Florida and went to one of the big-time academies, it would be different. She would already be on tour. But she lives in Elizabethton, and it’s a different environment.”

When she gets to the national event, Vines said she knows the challenge will increase.

“It’s a pretty big step up,” she said. “Obviously the high school players are good, too, but national is a whole different level really. It will be a lot more competition, and I will have to train really hard. I’m excited about it. I really think I’m ready for it.”

A dream scenario would play out something like this, said Vines: “If everything was perfect, I would play in some lower-level pro tournaments and work my way up. We will just have to see how I am physically and mentally and go from there.”

Whether she returns to the high school level next year is also up in the air.

“I haven’t decided yet,” said Vines. “I’m definitely considering it. I just have to see where I am after the summer.”

Follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.

Recommended for You

    Johnson City Press Videos