Tennis is a game of dedication, passion, and perseverance. Kaitlin Quevedo, 16, whose focus, aggressiveness, and competitive spirit are the makings of a champion, is well on her way to greatness.
Last July, the Naples resident won the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Girls’ 16 National Clay Court Championships singles by swinging 8-0 for eight days at the Athletic Club Alabama in Huntsville. One of the most important minors’ tournaments in the nation, these matches earned her the coveted Gold Ball.
“I felt really amazing in the moment,” says Quevedo of her first big win. “I was so happy, but it was hard playing so many matches and winning all eight.”
Following this championship, she won a couple of International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior tournaments in Colombia: her first ITF junior level 5 in Medellín, and the next week, an ITF level 3 in Bogotá. The week after, however, she lost in the quarterfinals of an ITF level 4 in Cali. Still, she managed to reach a 19-match winning streak between July and August.
At home, her talents were already being recognized. In June, Quevedo was named the Southwest Florida Girls Tennis Player of the Year by the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. She earned this title after playing undefeated in her freshman year at Community School of Naples and leading her team to a state runner-up finish in Class 1A.
“Kaitlin is a consistent and aggressive player,” says Gabriela Mateus, the tennis director at Gomez Tennis Academy in Naples, where Quevedo trains. “She knows how to bring the opponents in. But her biggest talent is her work ethic. She is dedicated and thrilled to work hard and learn more.”
Now ranked eighty-fifth in the USTA’s players under age 18, Quevedo hopes to play in this year’s junior Grand Slam French Open in May and U.S. Open in August. But she must qualify by being in the top 50 of the ITF junior ranking. “To train and be able to do my best, I will no longer be attending in-class school,” she says. “I will study online because my time is more flexible, and I will be available for more
Quevedo comes from an athletic family with great expectations for her as well as for her 13-year-old sisters, twins Sofia, who also plays tennis, and Anabel, who is into martial arts. In 1993, their father, Alberto, came to America from Spain on a golf scholarship to Michigan State University in Lansing. “I wanted to eventually play professional golf but wasn’t good enough,” he says. “So I became a golf course superintendent in Florida, because there are so many options. Naturally, I wanted my daughters to have a sport, too.”
Tennis started early for Quevedo. At age 6, when she was visiting her paternal grandfather in the Canary Islands, she became interested after watching him play so skillfully. “He was a great tennis player, which encouraged me to take an interest in it, eventually beginning lessons in Naples and playing for fun,” she says. “I loved it but realized I wasn’t a natural and had a lot to learn.”
By age 8, she decided to take a break from the racket. She played some golf and spent time deciding what sport she wanted to pursue. It didn’t take long for her to miss the game, especially the running around on the court. She returned to tennis a year later, eager to learn everything she could and vowing to put in the time to excel.
“Kaitlin is a smart player, has great technique in her swing, goes for it, and really works hard,” says her father. “Her strength is understanding her opponent’s weakness and using it to her advantage.”
Standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall and sporting an infectious smile, the right-handed Quevedo has a good two-handed backhand and a strong forehand volley. In 2014, she began to hone those skills and more at the tennis academy. “Gomez coaches worked on my technique, how I play, and also helped me focus on the game style,” says Quevedo. “I went to regular school then, so I only spent two hours after classes on tennis because I had homework to do. But I really loved playing and know I made the right decision to focus on it.”
Mateus says Kaitlin is a consistent player, stays long, increases the quality of the ball, and is good with patterns. She is skilled at transitioning to the higher court. “As a player, Kaitlin is agile and quick,” says Mateus. “She creates power and uses her opponent’s pace to move around. She sees their power and moves them back.”
In the past few years Quevedo’s hard work and training at Gomez has really paid off. Her regimen now puts her on the court six days a week, both mornings (from 6:30 to 10:45, with a break until 12:40) and afternoons (another hour and a half). “As I improved in tennis, I got more motivated,” says Quevedo. “I watched tennis being played to learn new things so I could imitate them.”
For example, her tennis idols are Spanish champion Rafael Nadal and American dynamo Serena Williams. “Rafael is my favorite because he is humble and works hard,” she says. “I love to watch him move his opponents around the court like I do. I have learned a lot from studying his talents.”
Quevedo is also impressed by Florida-based Williams and what the 23-time Grand Slam winner has achieved in her stellar career. “I like Serena, and it is so amazing that she has dominated women’s tennis forever,” she says.
She also follows a disciplined fitness schedule six days a week. For power and agility, Quevedo works for more than an hour with light weights and body weight one day, and on mobility the next day. “Outdoors, I mix various exercises with jumps, emphasizing 30-minute warmups, core,” she explains. “Every exercise I do is related to tennis. It is an important part of my overall tennis schedule.”
At night and on weekends when she is not playing tennis, Quevedo enjoys the same things as other teenagers—going to the movies, getting manicures, being outside, hanging with friends and family, and pursuing hobbies. “I still play golf, but I’m not good,” she laughs. “And I do my homework. But I really have no extra time for anything else with my tennis schedule being so intense.”
Mateus admits that tennis is hard for most players, but dedicated athletes like Quevedo who love the game and have the right work ethic seem to fare better. “She will do well on the junior tour,” says Mateus. “As Kaitlin goes forward, I know that the sky is the limit.”
Such talk from a coach boosts Quevedo’s confidence. It gives her more incentive to work hard, even on days when she is tired from travel, frustrated over the course of a game, or distracted by her dreams.
“My goal is to follow Serena’s course,” says Quevedo. “She has won so many Grand Slams and remains very inspiring. For now, I need to play in many junior Grand Slams for the experience. I want to grow and learn everything and eventually become number one in the world.”
Quevedo is taking her cue from tennis champion Roger Federer, who said, “You have to believe in the long-term plan you have, but you need the short-term goals to motivate and inspire you.”