By Blake Shessel, USTA Southern intern
They say the best things come in threes. For the Kay family, that is exactly the case. The three rising tennis stars from Alpharetta, Ga. have showcased their talents on the tennis courts for the last ten years.
This weekend, the dream for Whitney, Casey and Michael is to qualify for an entry into the US Open as the three are competing in the USONP Southern Sectional Qualifying Tournament at their home court, Windward Lake Club. Though the accomplished juniors, who live in Alpharetta, would have to win this tournament and the New Haven tournament to earn a spot in the qualifying draw of America’s Grand Slam, the possibility of playing on New York’s stage is thrilling.
Though tennis is primarily seen as an individual sport, the family dynamic between Whitney, 19, Casey, 19, and Michael, 16, has played a crucial role in their development as athletes. On the practice courts, they challenge each other, raising the bar for each sibling to become quicker, fitter and bolder on the court. On match days, they motivate each other, always sitting courtside to offer encouragement and inspiration. Finally, off the court, they support each other, keeping their family mentally tough as they travel the long road of junior tournaments chasing their dreams to be top players.
"It’s the dream," Casey said with an excited smile about reaching the top of the sport.
Regardless of whether that dream is reached this summer or further down the road, the three siblings each have interim dreams of pursuing collegiate careers. Whitney will play for the University of North Carolina in the fall. Choosing the team for its exceptional coaching, Whitney will be a valuable member for the nation’s seventh-ranked women’s Division I team.
Casey will take the court as a Georgia Bulldog in the fall, joining a program also known for its excellent coaching and rich tradition.
Though Michael still has a few years to hone his skills, he is also in pursuit of a prominent collegiate career hoping to follow his brother to Georgia.
The Kays cruised through the singles draw on Saturday morning but all fell in afternoon action. On Sunday, Casey and Whitney advanced to the quarterfinals in mixed doubles with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Bruce L. Smith and Therina Steenkamp.
The rather accomplished Kay family would not be complete without the unwavering support of their parents, Fred and Jeanne. Through raising and coaching their three players, Fred and Jeanne have unique perspectives on their children’s varying personalities.
"Whitney is the stoic one. Casey is easy-going and Michael is flamboyant," Fred explained.
Indeed, Whitney is often noted for her composure on the court. Constantly upbeat, a wide ball or faulty serve never seem to faze her. In recognition for her character, Whitney has received multiple sportsmanship awards including the USTA’s Bill Talbert Jr. Sportsmanship award and the USTA Southern’s Bill Ozaki Junior Sportsmanship Award. According to her parents, Whitney’s integrity both on and off the court is a natural trait.
Casey may be described as easy going, but he is a driven competitor on the court. Like his sister he is not easy rattled by missed balls. Always striving "to take it one shot at a time," Casey has also earned sportsmanship awards.
As the flamboyant one, Michael brings copious amounts of passion and intensity to his matches, inspiring the crowd whether they are cheering for him or against him.
As it is for all athletes, the Kays’ journey through the Juniors has not been all success. While there have been some grand moments, there have also been some tough losses. However, if there is one piece of advice the Kays have emphasized to their children, it’s that no matter what happens on court, at the end of the day it’s about who you are, the character you exhibit and the family that surrounds you.
For the second year in a row the Windward Lake Club in Alpharetta, Ga. will host the tournament, which will run from June 29 to July 3 and will again include both men’s and women’s singles and mixed doubles. The USTA created the US Open National Playoffs to expand the footprint of the US Open to cities nationwide by providing the opportunity for all players 14 years of age and older to earn a berth into the US Open. USTA Southern will be the last of 13 sections to hold qualifying.