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On Her Toes

VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Practicing Ballet Has Improved Hedberg's Game

April 29, 2001|LAUREN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OJAI — Mykala Hedberg keeps opponents on their toes with a an accurate backhand, passing shots heavy with top-spin and aggressive approaches--to the net and the game.

She keeps herself on her toes with ballet classes.

Hedberg of Oxnard, the daughter of a ballet instructor, uses dance to keep her life balanced. She has been on point on the court and in her mother's studio.

"I like ballet because it kind of keeps my flexibility up for tennis, and also, a lot of my friends are in ballet," she said. "Otherwise, I'd never see anybody."

Hedberg, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, spends weekends playing junior tennis tournaments and admits the sport would take over her life if she allowed it.

"Tennis is definitely my favorite thing," Hedberg says. "Playing professionally is what I want to do."

Toward that end, Linda Strangio-Hedberg drives her daughter to tennis practice each day at the Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai--when she isn't teaching her in twice-weekly ballet classes or directing her in the annual Festival of Dance at Ventura College.

"The arts and your spirituality are so important," Strangio-Hedberg said. "All our kids have to go to the theater and they have to love music."

Mykala does. But she loves tennis more.

She advanced to the semifinals of the Ojai tournament's girls' 14-and-under division before being beaten, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, on Saturday morning by eventual champion Jenny Sperry of Eldorado.

She also reached the semifinals last year, losing to Tracy Lin of Anaheim.

Ranked No. 18 in the girls' 12s division in Southern California in 1998, she rose to No. 9 in the same division in 1999 and was No. 10 in her first year of girls' 14 competition last year. She is 11th in 14s this year and likely to rise.

She won the 14s division of the Fullerton tournament earlier this month, was a finalist in the Whittier tournament in March and lost a third-place match in the Copper Bowl in January.

Like the Ojai semifinal, Hedberg lost that playoff to Sperry, a friend. They advanced to the doubles quarterfinals of the Easter Bowl Super National Championships two weeks ago.

"She hits the ball hard," Sperry said. "She's a very tough player. But at least she can recognize that you're not going to win every match."

It is something Hedberg has gotten better at.

"I used to be really bad and just talked and talked and talked to myself on the court all the time," she said.

"But I'm beginning to learn, 'I missed the point. It's over. There's nothing I can do to get it back.' Professional players don't say anything most of the time. I play a lot better when I do that, and that's what I want. I want to be a professional tennis player."

So far, she's right on point.

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