By David Rosenberg
Lauren Davis had just finished her first match as a professional when the obvious question was asked: How does a 5’2” player compete with girls sometimes a foot taller?
“All the girls are giants compared to me,” Davis said with a laugh. “So I think I have a disadvantage there. But I make up for it with my competitive spirit and I fight for every match.”
Davis, 17, grew up in Gates Mills, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. “Not the biggest tennis city,” she admits.
As a child, Davis recalls playing, “every sport in the book.” But she took her first tennis lesson at age nine at the Mayfi eld Village Racquet Club and immediately caught the attention of coach Oksana Fouchadji, who encouraged Davis to play a tournament at the club. After that, Davis was hooked and started focusing solely on tennis.
“I really enjoyed playing and going to tournaments and meeting people,” Davis said. She also started winning.
As a freshman at Gilmour Academy, Davis won the Ohio Division II state championships – losing only five games in the tournament. With little left to gain from high school competition, Davis decided to focus primarily on the national junior circuit.
In 2009, she reached the quarterfinals of the US Open Junior Tournament and was named the winner of the Gene Scott Memorial Scholarship Fund. She decided to use the money to enroll at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., and moved there in January, 2010.
Davis’ choice to leave Cleveland made sense—finding hitting partners and competition was getting harder and harder—though it didn’t make the decision easy for her mom, Traci.
“It’s been tough,” Traci says of Lauren’s move to Boca Raton. “She was 16 when she left.” The family’s goal was for Lauren to stay at Evert and then head to college on scholarship.
That goal seemed well on its way to becoming a reality; by the end of 2010, Davis had won 18 consecutive junior matches, including titles at The Yucatan World Cup, Eddie Herr International and the Dunlop Orange Bowl.But it was her surprise play on the USTA Pro Circuit that got Davis thinking about pursuing a professional career. She won a $10,000 tournament in Williamsburg, Va., and a $25,000 event in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
“I played really well and saw my true potential and decided that was what I wanted to do,” said Davis. “I was content being a junior and I wanted to go to college for the experience but [turning pro] was what I wanted to do.”
After defeating Coco Vandeweghe in the final of the USTA’s Wild-Card Playoff event to secure a spot in the main draw of the Australian Open, Davis consulted with family and friends and, two weeks before the start of the Down Under major, made the decision to turn pro.
And the reward for all that hard work? A fi rst-round encounter with Australian veteran Samantha Stosur. Although she lost 6-1, 6-1, Davis said the experience of playing Stosur was invaluable.
“It was really overwhelming and so exciting,” Davis said about the match. “I’ve never gotten to do something like that before and especially to play against such a great player; it was a really great experience for me.”
Davis said the difference between the pros and the juniors was immediately obvious. She had practiced with Vera Zvonareva and Yanina Wickmayer but had never faced a player of Stosur’s level in a match.
“If you hit a short ball–or any ball in the middle of the court, (pros) will pound it down your throat,” says Davis. “If I hit a short ball against Sam, I would just see it go past me.”
It’s something Davis is going to have to get used to quickly. Her goals on the pro tour are ambitious: “If I believe in myself I think I can get to Top 20–or Top 10.”
U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who invited Davis to be part of the U.S. team that traveled to Belgium immediately following the Aussie Open, sees big potential in the diminutive Davis.
“From what I see, Lauren is a very hard worker,” notes Fernandez. “She moves extremely well and knows her strengths and weaknesses. She is also very solid—the type of player you have to beat. She doesn’t beat herself.”
Her first coach, Fouchadji, joined Davis in Melbourne and also believes she can one day make it big. “I’m so happy for her,” said Fouchadji. “To see a student like Lauren excel; it’s what every teacher wants to see.”