At the end of August, Cody Rakela, a Scotts Valley teenager, left for the Saviano High Performance Tennis Academy in Plantation, Fla., in pursuit of lofty athletic goals.
He will train with tennis pro Nick Saviano, who was recently inducted into the United States Tennis Association Northern California Tennis Hall of fame.
“I'm excited to have Cody training at Saviano Academy and consider him to be an outstanding prospect,” Saviano said. “We're happy to help him pursue excellence in his tennis development.”
In addition to learning from world-class coaches, Rakela is taking a full online course load through the academy. He will return home and resume classes at Scotts Valley High School after a semester in Florida.
Rakela, 16, comes from a family in which playing competitive tennis is a way of life.
His mother, Judy Newman, is the tennis director at La Madrona Athletic Club and a former professional tennis player, profiled in this column in March (“Tennis pro shares love of game,” Page 10, March 23). She also coaches the Scotts Valley High girls varsity tennis team.
His father, Jim Rakela, played tennis for California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
Cody Rakela was born in Berkeley in 1995, followed by his sister, Desi, two years later. He took an interest in tennis at an early age and began playing with his parents.
“I played my first match when I was 7 at Meadow Swim & Tennis Club in Orinda, where my mom worked as a tennis pro,” said Rakela. “It was for kids 18 and under. I was the youngest one.”
At age 8, Rakela played in his first real tennis tournament, the Oakland City Open. He was in the 10-and-under division and made it to the finals, losing to an older boy.
“After getting out there and tasting what it was like to win, I developed a competitive edge and couldn't wait to do it again,” Rakela recalled. “From then on, I would practice five to six days a week, usually hitting with my parents or another pro.”
By the time he turned 10, the family moved to Scotts Valley, where Rakela continued to excel at tennis. He attended summer camps at University of California, Santa Cruz, led by renowned coach Bob Hansen. He also took private lessons from Hansen.
Rakela began to travel to high-level tournaments around the state as a teenager. Months before his 15th birthday, he qualified for and played in the 16- and 18-year-old National Clay Court Tournament in Del Ray Beach, Fla.
Rakela also competed in several top tennis tournaments this summer. The first was the USTA Northern California sectional in Sacramento in June, where he played in the 18-and-under division.
“The match lasted for over four hours,” Rakela said. “It was at least 100 degrees and even hotter on the courts. I won by sheer determination and endurance. My opponent was 17½-year-old, seeded player. It was a really good win for me, since I played up.”
Then, in August, Rakela played in the prestigious Kalamazoo National Hard Court Tournament at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. He finished in the top 32 out of more than 200 players.
In addition to training to build up his physical endurance, Rakela has worked with sports psychologist and tennis pro Jeff Greenwald of The Mental Edge in Marin County.
“If Cody really applies himself in college and improves his game, he has the potential to turn pro,” Greenwald said.
At the end of this month, Newman and Rakela will play in the Mother-Son National Clay Court Tournament in Florida.
“We share a huge dedication and commitment to tennis,” Newman said. “This is our big chance to play together.”
Rakela has lofty goals of his own, too.
“I want to improve my game and get a higher ranking so that I can get a scholarship to top college,” he said.
He’s aiming for Notre Dame University, Duke University or University of California, Berkeley.
“By the end of year, I'd like to become one of the top 25 junior players in the county,” he said. “We'll see if my game takes me there. I've learned that I can't control a lot of things in life. In the meantime, I just want to do my personal best.”
Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.