Sayre student Madeline Rolph is playing in her second Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships this weekend. The 16-year-old from Lexington hopes to stay around longer this year.
"(Last year) was a new experience because it was the first pro tournament I have ever played in," Rolph said. "This year I put in a lot more hours on the court and focused on my fitness and mental part of the game... I think I'm ready."
Ranked players from around the world converge at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex at UK to compete for the $50,000 prize. The main draw begins July 22, and the title matches are July 28.
In 19 years, the tournament has seen some big names, including recent Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, former world No. 1 player Lleyton Hewitt, John Isner and Mardy Fish.
Rolph again received a wild card. Last year, she lost in her first match to American Sylvia Krywacz, who was ranked 771 in the world at the time. This year, she said, she thinks she can win her way to a second match.
Tournament director Brooks Lundy selected six players — three men and three women — and gave them a chance to earn their way into the main draw of the tournament. To qualify for the main draw, players must win all three of their matches in the qualifying tournament. She also gave one woman and two men wild cards directly into the main draw.
Lundy said the wild cards are selected based on local interest and the potential future of the player. Rolph fit that description.
"(The tournament) gives her a taste of what is to come," Lundy said of Rolph.
Rolph has tournament experience, but little at the professional level. She won her first tournament at age 12. More recently, as a sophomore at Sayre, she won the KHSAA state singles title after enrolling in January. She had planned to wait until her junior year to re-enroll at the school she attended through the seventh grade but a spot opened up in the middle of the year.
Between her stays at Sayre, she trained at Rick Macci's Tennis Academy in Florida. Macci has worked with tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick. For about two years, Rolph trained eight hours a day while being home-schooled.
"She's an ideal student that anyone wants to work with," Macci said of Rolph. He said she is very receptive to teaching and constructive criticism.
But training in Florida wasn't easy, physically or mentally.
"It was hard," Rolph said. She said it was physically tiring and that it was difficult to motivate herself to do schoolwork. She also didn't have the comforts of home.
"I was away from my family," Rolph said. She made the decision to move back to Lexington.
"I felt like I had gotten everything that I had needed," Rolph said.
She now trains with UK men's tennis coach Cedric Kauffman.
Rolph remains a part of Macci's academy, traveling to Florida to train during breaks in school when she is not playing in a tournament.
The transition back to Sayre was not easy. She has to get her school work done daily instead of weekly, and her time on the court has been cut in half. She tries to get onto the court every day, but sometimes studying for tests takes priority.
"I learned to focus really hard during the hours I have," Rolph said. "I find that when I play, it's quality more than quantity."
Macci said Rolph's passion and work ethic can take her to the next level.
She is entering more tournaments during her summer break, playing in both singles and doubles competition. The Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships will be her fourth tournament this month, including the USTA National Clay Court Championships that began July 14. Before the the national championships, she won two of her seven USTA matches this year.
"She's very intelligent. She's gonna go to college and play for Division I," Macci said.
When: Main draw July 22-28. Qualifying rounds July 20-21.Finals July 28 at 2 p.m.
Where: Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex at UK | Tickets: $10 daily or $50 for week-long pass. Qualifying weekend is free.
Leigh Dannhauser: (859) 231-3447 Twitter: @heraldleader.