Rising Star Akasha Urhobo Serving Up a Storm
Nov 03, 2023
Though Akasha Urhobo trains on the courts where Chris Evert developed a steely baseline game that vaulted her to the top of women's tennis, her style of play is the antithesis.
It's in-your-face serve and volley.
Above: Akasha Urhobo serving big in the first round of US Open Junior tournament where she got the win. Photo: Todd Pechter.
If you're a long-time tennis fan/player, think of Patrick Rafter, the Australian who won the U.S. Open in 1997 and 1998 and spent his career charging to the net.
Akasha's father, T.J. Urhobo, is a veteran teaching pro at the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center at Fort Lauderdale's Holiday Park, and he patterns her game after Rafter.
"That was one of the goals I had," he said in an interview with Florida Tennis. "I really enjoyed the game of Patrick Rafter, I liked the way he came in. He wasn't always perfect but he won a majority of the points. I tried to implement that into her game."
And it's reaping dividends. At age 16 Akasha has a Women's Tennis Association ranking of 737. She has the top ITF ranking in Florida and nationally in the 16-and-under girls' division.
She has won two UTR pro tournaments and a whopping 17 Battle of Boca women's open titles at Rick Macci's academy at South County Regional Park in Boca Raton.
"She has lots of potential, she's a great competitor and high-level athlete and has lots of variety," said Macci, who coached Venus and Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova in their formative years.
Akasha has victories over WTA players ranked in the 400s and 500s.
"Right now she's playing at WTA Tour level," said T.J. "I'm very excited about what she's doing."
So is Akasha.
"I've changed my game and I've felt very comfortable with it," she said.
Go to any junior girls tournament or women's pro event and you will seldom see players smacking a serve and immediately coming to the net. Akasha Urhobo does so on most first serves and sometimes on her second serve.
"That's her style now, and she's in control most of the time when she does it" T.J. said." She's the only one doing it, so it will probably change the game a little bit."
Akasha is a native of Florida who won her first tournament, a USTA 10 and under, at age 5. In 2014 she was No. 1 in the state in the 12's. She was the first player to win the "Little Mo" Grand Slam in consecutive years in her age group, which enabled her to take home the world's tallest trophy in junior tennis, 6-feet tall.
Above: A look back at a young Akasha winning the Little Mo. Photo: Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation (mcbtennis.org).
In 2016, she became the youngest to win the USTA National 18's Clay Court Championships.
She also won the American Tennis Association National 12's at age 9, the National 18's at 13 and the National Women's at 14. And last year she earned her first WTA Tour point by winning a main draw match in an ITF Women's $60,000 tournament.
T.J. implemented the serve-and-volley part to Akasha's game when she turned 14.
"She already had developed a strong game from the baseline," he said. "I wanted her to get a little edge, so we worked on that. After we made that transition, she's pretty dominant now."
Asked what aspect of her game she's working on to improve, Akasha said, "Getting more secure in my game and more confident."
Her father added, "Just working on shot selection. It's a matter of making the right decisions on the court."
After "a little soccer and karate" Akasha decided to focus totally on tennis at age 5. She is home schooled, taking online classes at ICL Academy.
Asked if she has ever hit with Coco Gauff, the 19-year-old from Delray Beach who won the U.S. Open women's singles title and is ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles with Jessica Pegula, Akasha replied, “I haven’t hit with her and I’m open to it.”
Does she pattern her game after anyone on the WTA Tour?
"I like to have my own unique style," she said.
And that has been the family mantra for years. When Florida Tennis ran an article about this prodigy in 2019, it was noted that players at the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center were saying Akasha would be the next Chrissie Evert. T.J. would reply, "No, she's Akasha."
She will play in the 18's division in late November at the Eddie Herr International in Bradenton and in the Orange Bowl International in Plantation, That might close out her junior tournament play.
"I doubt she will play juniors next year," T.J. said. "She's playing a lot of Challengers and will focus on getting her ranking up."
High enough to earn a wild card into Miami Open qualifications?
"That's our hope, our goal," he said.
Another goal in this international sport that requires considerable travel and expenses: "Right now we're really looking hard for sponsors so she can get her ranking up. That's the only way she can get to a higher level."
Written by Florida Tennis Founder and Editor Jim Martz. Top Photo: Todd Pechter. This article also appears in the November/December 2023 issue of Florida Tennis Magazine. Be sure to subscribe for expanded coverage, exclusive interviews, and in-depth tennis news.