In our first interview, we feature promising Dutch-Liberian junior Rhonda de Lang.  Born in the Ivory Coast, Rhonda hopes to emulate the ascent of the Williams sisters to the pinnacle of their sport.  Entering tennis relatively late at age eight, this charismatic junior quickly gained attention by finishing among the top ten in girls under 12 and signing a sponsorship contract with Wilson.  Could she become the first women’s Slam champion from either of her nations?  Together with her three trainers, she spares no effort in pursuing that goal.

1. What do you think is the strongest part of your game?  What part of your game do you most want to improve?

My greatest strength is the way I attack.  I want to give so much power from the baseline that my opponent gives me a short ball and then I can finish it.  (But my coach and I are still working on it).  I want to improve my service and the hard spin ball on the baseline.

2. What do you think is your strongest character trait?  What part of your character would you most like to improve?

I always want to win, but I must keep patience until I get the chance to score.

3. What type of opponent do you find the most challenging?  Why?

Baseliner, since I must be careful that I don’t lose my patience and wait for my chance.

4. Rank the following accomplishments in order from most to least meaningful to you:  Wimbledon, the #1 ranking, the Olympics.  Why?

Wimbledon – #1 ranking – Olympics. Wimbledon is for me the ultimate grand slam to win. #1 ranking is not everything because #1 position and winning no grand slam is nothing. Olympics is only once every 4 years so you can win that only one or two times in your tennis life.

5. You are serving at 5-4, 40-30 in the third set of the Wimbledon final.  What do you tell yourself that you need to do in order to win this point? What if you are serving at 4-5, 30-40?  What do you tell yourself?

Stay focused, don’t play an easy ball, and have patience. It’s the same answer for both situations.

6. You win the first set and then have a match point in the second set.  But you do not convert the match point and later lose the second set.  What do you tell yourself at the start of the third set?

Stay cool, play like the first set.  Try everything to win that game.

7. The WTA experiment with on-court coaching has generated much discussion and controversy.  What do you think about it?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?  Would you use it?

We had something similar during training as well and I love it.  If you don’t see what you do wrong, your coach/trainer can tell you, so you can improve it.  On the other hand the coach on the other side can give advice to beat you.  But if it’s possible I will use it.

8. Tennis has three highly distinct surfaces.  Do you prioritize any surface over the others?  What do you think are the challenges of each surface for you?  Do you wish that tennis were played on only one surface, or do you prefer the contrast?

I prefer clay and my second favorite is hard-court.  On grass I haven’t played yet, but if I want to win Wimbledon then I must work hard to play on that surface.

9. The life of a professional tennis player is demanding and can be all-consuming.  How do you balance your pursuit of tennis excellence with other interests?

That’s a choice that you make.  Most of your time you are busy with tennis and try to make time for nice things for yourself. You need to plan carefully.

10. If you were not a tennis player, what type of career path would you have chosen?

Then I want to be a doctor so I can help people.

11. You have mentioned that the Williams sisters are your greatest inspiration among active players.  If you could ask Serena and/or Venus one piece of advice to help you in your career, what would it be?

I am a little shy, and my father tells me to be aggressive and yell on the court when I make a good point. So maybe they can help me with that.

12. What question did I not ask that you would have liked to answer?

The only thing I wish is that I can play at Wimbledon against Venus and Serena, so I hope they will keep on playing tennis for a long time until we can meet each other on that court.

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We look forward to following Rhonda’s future progress and wish her the best when she confronts the challenges that await her and all those determined to succeed in one of the world’s most demanding sports.  Our series of 2010 review articles resumes shortly with the WTA edition of “Seasons to Remember.”

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