BAYSHORE GARDENS -- Ever wanted to see superstars like Maria Sharapova or Andy Roddick play tennis during their formative years?
Beginning with the qualifying draw on Thanksgiving, tennis fans gathering at IMG Academy can get a glimpse into what the future of the sport holds when the Eddie Herr International Junior Championships begin.
More than 1,300 players from roughly 80 countries are descending upon the private sports academy in Bradenton for one of the biggest junior tennis tournaments around.
The main draw starts next Monday as there are four different age groups (12s, 14s, 16s and 18s) for both the boys and girls to compete in.
"I just like to see what tennis is doing and who is coming up," IMG tennis director Rohan Goetzke said. "Sometimes you hear about them, but now I'd like to see them also. ... It's a good mea
suring stick. And it's exciting to get a lot of kids all in one place."
Performing well at the Herr doesn't necessarily correlate into permanent long-term success in the sport, but it can be a gauge as to the potential and it can put a player onto the radar for both the pro circuit and college game.
IMG trainee Allie Baer is competing in the girls 18s this year, after capturing the girls 16s doubles title with Charlotte Petrick last winter.
However, Baer doesn't need this year's tournament to impress any college scouts.
She signed with Michigan State University earlier in November but is looking forward to the Herr, nonetheless.
The tournament also gives Baer the chance to compete on clay as the 18s are the lone division to play on that surface. The other three age groups battle on hard courts.
"We don't play on clay much," said Baer, who has been at the academy for 10 years and is making her third appearance in the Herr. "So bringing out the drop shots and the slice, because it's a totally different game. Especially, how I hit. The clay's more slow, and hard court the ball goes faster. Just mixing it up."
Just to get into the Eddie Herr is an accomplishment for some, and it's an arduous process that begins in August when registration opens. That comes to a close in October, and a panel reviews each entrant -- roughly 1,500 -- before whittling the list down to the final field.
The field includes both the qualifying draw and main draw for each division.
This year's tournament has expanded in the qualifying from 64 to 96 players in the 12s, 14s and 16s for boys and girls to give players more opportunities to play in the main draw of the prestigious junior tennis event.
"We can afford to raise the draw size higher here, because of our facility," IMG events director Blake Ulrich said.