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July 19, 2012 01:35 PM
LeoThere’s a good chance you’ve noticed one of the 200 or so white signs affixed to telephone poles, light standards and stop signs across Albuquerque that say “ANTS” – America’s Next Tennis Stars.” The tennis hopefuls these signs are meant for are a bit buglike right now—boys and girls 12-and-under down to 4-and-unders.  ANTS is the creation of Derek Lynch, a former Lobo player and youth coach.  The goal, Lynch says, is to get young athletes who are playing soccer or basketball to consider tennis as their sport. ANTS is not meant to be competition for the USTA’s 10-and programs. Rather, Lynch began ANTS to complement the USTA’s venture.  Lynch put up the signs in May and 85 kids are now participating in a seven-week program, on small courts with child-friendly balls and reduced-size rackets. Practices are Wednesday mornings, with dual matches Saturdays. The first season ends Aug. 25 with a tournament. Leo Rocca, 6, is part of a 6-and under ANTS team that practices at the Wellesley Drive courts, using big foam balls. Leo’s father Michael Rocca is the team’s coach. Leo will be a first-grader at Bandelier Elementary School in the fall. 
Leo, you’ve probably been playing tennis for a long time. Ten years or so, I’m guessing.
What do you like best about it?
Tennis. What’s the best part of tennis for you?
I like that I get to hit the ball. 
Do you know who invented tennis?
My dad.
What is your best shot?
I think,  ummm . . . my forehand.  I’m left-handed.
Why are you left-handed?
I don't know. My dad told me.
Who is your favorite tennis player?
Roger Federer.
Why do you like him?
Because he hits the ball hard.
That makes sense.
You know, Roger Federer takes care of himself and eats the right foods. What is your favorite food?
Ummm. . . apples.
Can you beat your dad in tennis?
I don’t know. Maybe. He was in a tournament but lost.
How many tennis trophies have you won?
One.  In soccer. 
How is your backhand?
Not really good. My forehand is better.
Have you ever won a Grand Slam tournament?
No.  Maybe.
How long until school begins?
A long, long time, I think.
Are you excited about going back?

I want more summer.
What do you say at the end of a match?
Good job, thank-you.
You’re welcome.
For more information about ANTS, call 715-3317 or see www.ants-tennis.com

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