On the Verge: Serving Notice
Editor’s Note: Brooke Austin won the U.S. Tennis Association’s Girls 18-and-under championship on March 18, a month after turning 16 and more than four months after suffering stress fractures in her foot. Here is our feature on her from August 2011.
The girl is a lot of things: Southsider. High-school sophomore. Bearer of serious tan lines. Fifteen-year-old world traveler. And, maybe soon, world-beater.
Since May, tennis prodigy Brooke Austin has played not the junior tournaments where precocious teens hone their strokes, but rather Pro Circuit events—the minor league of pro tennis. She reached the semifinals of her first tournament and the final of her second, won a doubles title, and debuted in the world rankings. Look for her this month at the U.S. Open in New York where, if she wins the Girls 18s National Championships, she’ll snag a wild card into the main draw.
Although she has been approached by three major sport-management companies, Austin has yet to sign with firm representation. “It’s hard enough to be this age without all of that,” says her coach, Jeff Smith. The U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) began sponsoring her when she was 10, on the heels of her attendance at an invitation-only, high-performance training camp outside of Miami.
Austin won the national championship in the 12-and-under division and began playing on the USTA’s junior national teams, traveling as far as Australia and the Czech Republic and going undefeated in international team competition. Last December, she captured the Junior Orange Bowl, one of the most prestigious international junior tournaments. Shortly after, at 15, she reached a national No. 3 ranking in the Girls 18s division. Her ultimate goal, she says, is “to be No. 1 in the world.”
While that dream is usually reserved for tennis-academy students, Austin has kept up with them from her training base at Center Grove High School. But she is still often separated from her family. At Smith’s request, her parents don’t attend her matches, so she has been boarding planes without them for years. As a junior player, Austin traveled so much that she was kicked out of eighth grade for missing too much school. (She now takes classes online.) This summer, tournaments have kept her on the road for 10 days at a time, leaving her parents, Bart, a retired high-school principal, and Robin, a physical therapist, paying for last-minute plane tickets or lining up a chaperone to drive their daughter out of state. It’s not cheap, or without stress on their relationship (they divorced a few years ago), but they have been on board with Austin’s career from the beginning.
“I was lucky with my parents,” Austin says. “They were always willing to drive me somewhere at 5 a.m.” Now it’s time for Austin to drive herself the rest of the way, and see how far she can go.
Name Brooke Austin
Home Courts Center Grove High School and the University of Indianapolis Tennis Center
Sponsors Adidas, Prince, and MSV strings
Strength Desire to win. “People think it’s something you’re born with, but it’s not. It’s programmed,” says coach Jeff Smith.
Photo by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the August 2011 issue.