There's nothing out of the ordinary about a mother watching her children's tennis lesson. But Tuesday's maternal audience is not something College Park residents Jordi Arconada, 17, and his 15-year-old sister Usue Arconada, see every day at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park.
The Argentina-born siblings, who moved with their family to Puerto Rico nearly a decade ago, were around 11 and 9, respectively, when they left for Florida in pursuit of elite-level training. They received a scholarship to the IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis Program, where many players, such as Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi, started their tennis careers.
After a year-long stint in Atlanta, the two followed coach Frank Salazar to College Park, where they've lived with friends and trained for four years.
“My parents thought it would be easier for us to play tennis over here, to play pro tournaments and college, there's more opportunities than in Argentina,” Jordi Arconada said. “It's easier to travel to more tournaments [in the United States].”
The children of national team volleyball and gymnastics coaches, Usue Arconada said she and her brother were instilled from a young age with a strong work ethic and the type of focus and commitment required to separate oneself from his or her family. But the Arconadas agreed having each other along for the ride has made the journey a lot easier.
“They come from athletic parents with a coaching background who understand the mentality and what it takes [to become a professional athlete],” Salazar said. “It definitely takes a level of commitment. They knew where they were living the opportunity was less. They've been away from home since they were little, now it's just become part of their lives. But it's benefitted them to be here as brother and sister. And they push each other. If one does well, the other one wants to do just as well.”
Jordi Arconada, who won a round at Junior Wimbledon last month, is currently the No. 75-ranked boy in the International Tennis Federation junior rankings (18-under). Usue Arconada, who reached the semifinals of the doubles competition at Wimbledon, is No. 31 in the girls' ITF rankings. At 14, she became the second-youngest player in history to win a WTA match with her victory in the first round of qualifying at last year's Citi Open in Washington, D.C.. She won the Citi Open Wildcard Challenge last month to gain entry into qualifying again, but is already committed to represent the U.S. — Jordi Arconada plays under the Argentinian flag — in an international team tournament to be held at Wimbledon.
The Arconadas, who said they relish the opportunity to be role models for younger JTCC athletes — Usue mentors a 10-year-old girl — display similar speed, tenacity and competitiveness on the court. They are, however, on slightly different tracks. Jordi Arconada, who boasts a world-class two-handed backhand, committed to Texas A&M University last month. His ultimate goal remains professional tennis and Salazar said the teenager has the ball-striking ability, speed and fight to make it there. But college tennis will give Arconada time to get on a regimented weight training schedule in order to put more body mass behind his shots, as well as more match experience under good coaching.
Usue Arconada, whose impeccable timing and hand-eye coordination allow her to take the ball early and hit hard, flat shots through the court off both wings, benefitted from being the youngest of three siblings — the two have an older brother who plays college tennis in Puerto Rico — and began training and playing at a high level at a much earlier age.
Already headed toward the top of the rankings with three more years in the 18-under category, Salazar said, the younger Arconada, who credits her older brothers with pushing her from the start, could be winning junior grand slams in the next couple of years. She is set to increase her professional tournament schedule in the fall, Salazar said, and could be part of a new wave of American tennis in the next few years as she gets older; something she said she has her sights on.
“It's been really important to have my brother with me,” Usue said. “My family is all over the place. It was a lot of sacrifice leaving everyone behind but training here is good and we need it to improve on our tennis. ... I really want to make a mark [on American tennis]. I know the [U.S. Tennis Association] is looking for new upcoming talent. There are a lot of girls my age who are pretty good but surely I want to make it up there.”