After years of training in California and Florida, tennis star Kylie McKenzie returned to her hometown of Glendale to reunite with her youth coach and train at the iTUSA.
McKenzie spent 10 years training at the U.S. Tennis Association surrounded by professional tennis players and developing her game. In July, she reached out to her first coach, Rafa Font de Mora, about rejoining the iTUSA.
“It was not a difficult decision at all. It’ll be great to be at such a great facility and training with Rafa again,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie started playing tennis at 3 years old and began taking the sport more seriously at 8 years old, when she began her training with former European professional Font de Mora.
Font de Mora has been coaching tennis for more than 30 years and has come across many players, but he still remembers his first encounter with McKenzie.
“I remember like it was yesterday. I’ve had many students, but some make an immediate impact on you. She was the type of player that, even when very young, was focused, determined, extremely attentive to detail, and had really good technique,” he said.
As McKenzie thrived at a young age in tournaments, the U.S. Tennis Association took notice and recruited her to train with it in California.
Despite having to leave home, McKenzie was thrilled to have this opportunity. “I was just so excited with the opportunity to go train with pros. By the age 13 or 14, I was already training with Sloane Stephens,” she said.
Her youth career took her all around the world and found great success. She played in tournaments in the Caribbean, Denmark, Barcelona and across the United States. She won the age 16 nationals at 15 years old, which qualified her to play in the US Open Juniors, where she progressed into the quarterfinals. At age 16, she won the Eddie Herr International Junior Tournament, which is the largest international tournament in the world for players under 18 years old.
Throughout her career in global tournaments, she’s learned to embrace the pressure that big matches bring.
“There’s definitely pressure and stressful moments when you’re playing. But honestly, for me, that’s why I love tennis. I love the adrenaline of competing and feeling that pressure and basically executing under that pressure,” she said.
Now, at 22 years old, she returns to train with Font de Mora at iTUSA, where her career began.
Along with Font de Mora, the smaller and more individually focused coaching techniques of the iTUSA were the main reasons for McKenzie’s return.
“The way Rafa and the academy train is very unique. It’s very personalized. It’s very different. I really love how detailed he is. It gives me a lot of confidence that I’ve made the best decision to help launch my career,” she said.
In the USTA, McKenzie said she trains in large groups with one coach overseeing them. At the iTUSA, Font de Mora said there are about 20 players in the academy, and he works personally with five of them.
McKenzie’s eyes are set on a professional career.
“My plan is to officially start on tour next year and get on the pro tour in 2022. I want to build my rankings and keep climbing,” McKenzie said.
Font de Mora has similar expectations for her future.
“She has a special pedigree. I think she was born to be a great player. I think she is in the right setting here in Arizona. I think she can definitely be a top 10 player in the world,” he said.
He said he also thinks that McKenzie’s impact will go beyond her own court. He believes her future success will encourage more kids to be involved in tennis in Arizona.
“This is a perfect breeding ground to make Arizona develop more top players. I’m hopeful Kylie can be a springboard to make more kids have that desire.”