Ally Baker's teenage life is as typical as Kelly Osbourne's, but
one day a week the 16-year-old tennis phenom lets down her hair,
puts on her blue jeans and heads to the mall. No bench presses,
no footwork exercises, no wind sprints--just an afternoon of
shopping and greasy grub at the food court. "See," she says, "I
can be a normal teenager, too."
During the other six days Ally plays, thinks and talks tennis.
She spends half the year at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca
Raton, Fla., and the other half on the road competing in
tournaments and visiting family in her hometown of Raleigh. The
5'11" lefthander hasn't been in an academic classroom for almost
three years, instead getting lessons, homework and exams by mail
from a Chicago home-schooling center. "I like not having to go to
school every day," says Ally, who is working at the level of a
high school junior. "The great thing about being at an academy is
that you're able to go straight from tennis to fitness and back
to tennis again. You don't waste any time."
At 11 Ally was blowing away the competition in Raleigh, so she
and her parents began making 12-hour, round-trip drives to ACE
Tennis Academy in Atlanta, training there two weekends a month
for two years. "ACE was amazing," she says, "but the travel wore
me down." To allow Ally to focus on tennis, the Bakers bought a
house near Boca Raton in the spring of 2000. Since then she has
ranked among the top three in the U.S. Tennis Association's 14,
16-and 18-under divisions.
In August she made her professional debut at the U.S. Open,
losing her first-round match to Elena Likhovtseva, 27, of Russia
(ranked 38th in the world at the time) in three sets. Last month
she signed with the sports management company SFX.
Like many devoted high school--age athletes, Ally has dealt with
injuries (she had two knee surgeries and broke her ankle, all
before her 15th birthday), growth spurts (she grew eight inches
in a 1 1/2-year span when she was 14 and 15) and a grueling
schedule. When she's not on the road, her typical day at the
Evert Tennis Academy, which is co-owned by IMG, includes four
hours of on-court training, two hours of fitness and four hours
of schoolwork--with an hour of Friends and The Cosby Show reruns
"I try to go back to Raleigh five or six times a year and see old
friends and go to high school football games," says Ally, who has
no immediate plans to pursue a college degree. She may be missing
out on the typical high school experience, but she's satisfied
with the path she's taken. "If everything ended today," she says,
"it would have all been worth it." --Albert Chen
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN JOHNSON SWEET 16 This year Baker turned pro and got an agent.