Madison Cohen, a 15-year-old tennis standout, recently crowned Pennsylvania state champion, barely seemed to break a sweat during a recent indoor practice session; the tennis balls, though, sure took a pounding.
Cohen's fluid stroke mechanics and sharp footwork make the most of her 5-foot-4-inch frame. Her shots have uncanny velocity and spin, and most are directed at the severest of angles.
The freshman at Lower Moreland High School in Montgomery County uses two hands for her forehand and backhand shots, a style that few have managed other than Monica Seles, who dominated women's tennis in the early 1990s.
The origins of Cohen's playing style date back to when she first picked up a racket at age 3. She was going to play with her father Mario, but didn't have a racket of her own, so she borrowed one from her older brother, Taylor; it was too clunky for her to hold with just one hand, so she naturally clutched it with two, as if it were a bat.
Now Cohen has no shortage of tennis equipment. She entered her first junior tournament at 8 and, at 12, earned a top-five national ranking for her age group. A sponsorship from the sporting goods company, Wilson -- worth an estimated $5,000 per year -- came along next, so she's got all the rackets, strings, grips and bags she could ever need.
Lots of Trophies
She also possesses plenty of trophies, including a medal for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Division AA championship, which she captured earlier this month at the tournament in Hershey. In the final, she defeated Harriton High School's Casey Robinson, 6-2, 6-0.
That's three years running for the Cohen clan. Taylor Cohen, now a freshman standout at Clemson University in South Carolina, won the boy's tittle the previous two years.
"My brother called me up before the match and told me I've got to keep it in the family," said Madison, who added that the two rarely practiced together when they were growing up because of the age gap between them.
These days, she spends two hours on the court virtually every day, does strength and conditioning training, maintains a strict, low-carb diet -- which included a sliced tomato after her practice -- and travels throughout the country for national and international junior tournaments.
She explained that many elite tennis players forgo high school and are either homeschooled or attend boarding academies for athletes. But her parents, Mario and Robin, said it was important that she have a relatively normal high-school experience. For example, going to the movies with her friends is a favorite non-tennis activity. (The school district allows her to practice in the middle of the day, and she often returns to the building late in the afternoon to finish her work.)
"I have a social life," she said. "[But] it does get hard sometimes, when I can't go out at night because I have to play the next day."
Also, while she said her schedule prevented her from attending Hebrew school, she received private tutoring in order to become a Bat Mitzvah. While she's not particularly religious, she's anxious to visit Israel and may get a chance next summer. She's exploring the option of touring the country and competing in exhibitions against Israeli teens.
Cohen has her sights on top-tier colleges and said she hopes to become a doctor or lawyer someday, but, of course, also wants a crack at the pro tour. At 15, she just started competing in the 18-year-old amateur division and is currently ranked 190th in the nation; but she expects that to change with more tournament play against older girls.
"I should be ranked higher," she said. "I like to win."