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March 24, 2015 02:18 PM

Sara_Kuuttila_(2)Toby Smith spends time with Sara Kuuttila

At 16, Sara Kuuttila is clearly a bright star on the rise.  In early March she won a silver ball at the USTA National Spring Team Championships, in Mobile, Alabama. That event attracts the best junior age-group players from across the country. Since the year began, Sara has competed in tournaments in Alabama, Arizona (several times) Texas and California. Tennis keeps her on the go so much she has not had time to get her New Mexico driver’s license. Her national ranking in the girls 16 singles is in the low 70s.  She has been playing up since the beginning of the year.  Universal Tennis rates her No. 1 among female players in New Mexico in head-to-head matchups. Her coach, Johnny Parkes, the tennis director at Club Rio Rancho, calls Sara’s game “formidable.” She plays aggressively, especially on the forehand side. At 5-feet-5½ inches she is working on coming to the net more.

So, when will you get your driver’s license?

[Laughs]. I have one more lesson to go.  I should have it in a couple of weeks.

Your first name is really Sarianna. Where does that come from?

It’s Finnish.  My mother (Lisa Kuuttila) is Finnish.  I prefer to go by Sara.    

When did you start playing tennis?

I was 3.  It was when we lived in Indiana.  We moved to Albuquerque the next year.

Who did you train with here initially?

I took lessons from Andy Cramer and then David Pitts at Tanoan.  Later, when I was 10, I went down to the Lobo Club and worked with the LPTA.  With Max Jones and Johnny.

Do your parents play tennis?

Yes, they’re both 4.0

Your older sister Anna had a nice career as a junior and then played at UNM. What is Anna doing these days?   

She’s taking a year off. She doesn’t know what’s out there. She finished college and will probably go for a master’s degree but probably not in New Mexico.  She’s only 20.   

You played at La Cueva as a freshman with great success.  Are you going to play some matches this year for them?

I’ll play when I’m in town, but I travel a lot. I played in a match recently against Sandia.

I know that Johnny Parkes has worked with you a lot, just as he worked with Anna.  On what things is he concentrating these days?

We do a lot of work on fitness; I need to get fit. I need to work on my core.  I used to pull abdominal muscles.  Now I do a lot of sit-ups and other exercises. Johnny takes me to the gym three times a week.

What else?  

We’re working on endurance and strength.  I run quite a bit.  A lot of miles.  On the UNM track and on the La Cueva track.  My best time in the mile is slightly more than seven minutes for a mile.  My sister ran a 5:46 mile.  So I have to get better there.

Do you ever play against Anna?

I would prefer not to play a match with her. She helps coach me.

I know Johnny was working with you even when he returned to England. How did that go?

When Johnny was living in England, he talked to me on Skype once a week.  Mostly we worked on how to be mentally tough. He gave me this book called “The Chimp Paradox.”  I would read a chapter and then we would talk about it on Skype.  [“The Chimp Paradox,” by Steve Peters, explains, among other things, how someone’s irrational behavior can have a negative effect.]

What is Johnny like as a coach?

He pushes me to have fun.  He tries to make me smile when I get down on myself.  

How about your parents?

They always support me in everything I do. Even when I lose, they tell me to stick with it.

What are your goals in tennis?  

I want to go to a top-10 college or go professional.

If you couldn’t be a tennis player, what would you like to be?

Maybe a golfer.  I like golf.  I just play it for fun and it’s relaxing. I don’t keep score.  I just go out with my dad (Bill Szaroletta).  

Because you are often out of town, how do you manage your education?

I study online, with Laurel Springs School.

What are your favorite courses?

I like math and sciences.  English is my least favorite.

What was the last book you read?

“The Hunger Games.”  I’ve read all the books and seen the movies.

Where do you keep your silver ball?

My mother put it on a table in the front room, but I’ll take it and put in my bedroom eventually.

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