Bradenton's Whitney Osuigwe aiming to win Eddie Herr title
Whitney Osuigwe sprang up at the net, holding her tennis racquet with two hands to deliver a backhanded overhead smash.
The sheer power caused two spectators, among the many that congregated to watch America’s future in women’s tennis, to gleefully chuckle from their chairs situated just past the bushes and fence separating them from IMG Academy’s featured clay court.
And power is something Osuigwe developed through years of playing against older female competition and male players.
“She’s definitely gotten a lot stronger,” doubles partner Caty McNally said. “She’s been more aggressive and she can just blow the opponent off the court.”
On Wednesday, Osuigwe won her second round singles match before winning a first round doubles match with McNally at the annual Eddie Herr International Junior Championships.
The tournament, held at IMG Academy, features four age divisions — 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s — for boys and girls.
Osuigwe, who is just 15 years old, is the No. 1 ranked player in the girls 18s.
Winning an Eddie Herr title is on her checklist before devoting 2018 to playing the WTA Tour after a scorching 2017 that saw her capture the French Open girls title and the decision to turn pro.
“It’s my home tournament,” Osuigwe said about the Eddie Herr. “It’d be amazing (to win).”
A Bradenton native, Osuigwe wasn’t always solely focused on tennis. She played basketball and baseball and performed ballet.
But her best sport was tennis, and that was her focus starting at age 8 and 9.
Osuigwe’s game only grew on the IMG courts where her father, Desmond, has coached since 1997.
“When you are in this environment where all you see is tennis (players), you want to be one,” Desmond said.
Desmond, who played professionally on the ATP Tour, is one of several coaches that Whitney’s received guidance from over the years. However, Desmond is the one that’s worked on technique with her.
And it’s led to a huge 2017 season, where she’s won some International Tennis Federation (ITF) titles and her first Grand Slam title with the French Open girls singles crown.
“You’re not going to see too many 15 year olds accomplish what she’s accomplished,” Desmond said. “She knows it. She wants it. And she’s been hungry.”
To win a coveted Herr singles championship, Osuigwe must successfully navigate four more matches in the tournament, which concludes Sunday.
The event is open to the public with a $5 parking fee at Bayshore High School across the street from IMG Academy’s entrance on 34th Street West.
After this week, it’s a trek to South Florida for the Orange Bowl before shifting to the offseason and playing the WTA while balancing her high school studies.
“When we move to that level, we’re back to zero,” Desmond said. “So we have to start the year there.”
If you go
What: Eddie Herr International Junior Championships
Where: IMG Academy
When: Through Sunday
Cost: $5 parking fee at Bayshore High School