By Matt Hill
Danielle Vines may only be 13 years old, but she already has the game, the work ethic, the demeanor and the professionalism of a seasoned veteran tennis player.
The Elizabethton native and student at T.A. Dugger Junior High has made a name for herself on the tennis court, and Vines has very high aspirations for the future.
It all starts with a tremendous work ethic for what already is an unbelievably athletic young lady. Whether it’s tennis, other sports or her academics, Vines always gives 110 percent.
Vines has only been playing competitively less than five years, but she always had what it took to be the best.
“I practiced looking in the mirror at my strokes,” she said. “I worked really hard at this. I focused a lot and I listened to everything (Coach Steve Brooks from the Country Club of Bristol). I lifted weights a lot. I think my parents gave me a little talent, too, from where they played.”
Vines is more than just a tennis player, she is one of the most athletic girls to come through Elizabethton in a long time. She has played basketball, baseball, soccer and ran track and field.
Playing these sports made her a better tennis player, as she is in the process of moving her focus all on tennis.
“When I was younger my parents (Jeff and Julie Vines) were playing and Steve saw me running around the place and he asked me when I was about five years old if I wanted to play and I said “yeah” and then he asked me if I was left handed or right handed and I said “left” and he really liked that. He waited four years until I was nine to take lessons to make sure I would take it seriously. He just asked me if I wanted to play and I said “yeah”.
Coach Brooks, who led several East Tennessee State women’s tennis teams to the NCAA Tournament before becoming a full-time teaching pro a few years ago at the Country Club of Bristol, saw the potential in this girl at a very young age.
“If you have a girl who can run at a young age and is very coordinated, you can teach them skills and if they practice those skills in a mirror and they mimic those skills on how exactly their suppose to go, they can advance pretty quickly,” Brooks said. “I knew she could progress quickly.”
The numbers on Vines are extremely impressive.
Vines has 62 singles titles and seven doubles titles, but that’s only the start of it. Vines singles record is 348-79 going up against the best in the country, and her titles include five Southern District Championships, one fall and winter Southern Tennis Association closed and one regional National Segment title.
In doubles, she has one national open title, which is played in Cincinnati where the ATP Masters 1000 event is played in August. Vines also has a National Clay Court runner-up decision and one ITF Doubles win, which is the step before the WTA Tour.
Brooks took his time with Vines, but it has paid off and it did immediately.
“Danielle won the state tournament her first year playing,” he said.
Vines started receiving national attention soon thereafter, even appearing in tennis magazines and on tennis websites.
Vines is currently ranked No. 5 in the Southern Tennis Association among the 14s.
“It was really cool, and I’ve played a lot of nationals,” she said. “It was really good to see players that good to see where I needed to be,” Vines said.
Vines says at this level, you have to have be strong mentally, and she has a maturity beyond her years.
The players she plays against shows a lot of the same characteristics as Vines.
“They’re players that will play on high Division I tennis teams, with some maybe playing pro,” she said. “They’re really strong in the head.”
Said Brooks: “These girls in nationals are some of the best players in the world, and she plays a very limited national schedule because she’s 13, she’s from Elizabethton and she doesn’t need to be flying all over the country to play tournaments when there are good tournaments locally, and she’s still developing her game. How good can she be? Whenever anyone is 13 and works as hard as she does, you have to keep the sights open to turn pro. She plays tennis about an hour or an hour and a half a day, and then she works out by running or lifting weights and hour and a half or two hours a day. We try to do a two-to-one ratio, we want to try to get two hours off the court of working out.
“It may not ever happen, and there are so many levels that have to be accomplished. Some players get to a certain level and if they can’t get through that level, they’re not going to turn pro. If you’re continually advancing through the levels you can accept all the new things and not fall back on all you did in the past to win, because the girls in the next level are good at handling adversity and different style of play as the match goes on. She’s putting herself in situations and training where she can handle the adversity and not get mad, but it gets tougher each level and you have to stay in control. She can make it.
If Vines doesn’t end up on Arthur Ashe Stadium or at Wimbledon, the future is still bright.
“She’s good enough right now to play Division I college tennis,” Brooks said.
Vines will definitely give it her all no matter what she does. She’s a straight-A student with numerous academic accomplishments to go along with her athletic achievements.
“I don’t want to lose,” Vines said. “A lot of it is mental, and not saying I’m done. You have to tough it out. I’m one that just wants to keep going.
“Say I don’t go pro in tennis and I want to go to college, if you don’t have the grades you’re not going to get in anyway. You have to focus on school, too and you have to have an education. You just can’t go out the world without knowing anything.”
Vines has some very important decisions to make starting later this year when she enters high school, but like the maturity she possesses in everything she does, is taking her time and conferring with her team on what is the next move for her.
Without a doubt, she will do it in a way that will make everyone around her proud that she’s from Elizabethton and representing the town in an outstanding way.
“She’s learning about life lessons,” Brooks said. “She doesn’t know where she’s going to be next year. I think she is a great inspiration to all the girls and boys in East Tennessee, she shows she can make it. It takes work, but it also takes smart work. Everybody thinks she plays all the time; the first three years she played she only took one or two lessons a week, so she hit with me one to two hours a week, and she still became No. 1 in the South in two age divisions. Danielle’s dad says it’s not the amount of hours you spend on the court, it’s the quality and what you do when you are on the court, and that’s where Danielle is a good role model because she has showed you don’t have to be on the court all the time to be successful.
Said Vines: “I appreciate everyone in Elizabethton rooting for me, and everybody asks me when I come back they ask me how I am doing. I know win or lose they’re going to be proud of me.”