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DeVera Is Trying to Work Everything Out : Tennis: Coaches and critics question her dedication to the game. Others say she is too talented.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Faye DeVera hears it from everyone: her parents, her brother, her coaches, other coaches, players, even reporters.

If you worked harder, you could be so much better.

Better? How much better?

DeVera’s third-round showing in the U.S. Tennis Assn. national championships at Morley Field puts her among the country’s top 30 players in the girls’ 16 division. A sophomore at Villa Park High, DeVera, 15, is ranked fourth in her age division among Southern Californians.

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At 5 feet 5, 100 pounds, DeVera hits her backhand harder than some women on the professional tour, and she makes more net appearances in one match than most of her peers have in their lives.

“She could be the best player to come out of Orange County and Southern California in a long time,” said DeVera’s coach, Mike Nelson, who runs a tennis academy at Ridgeline Country Club. “I’ve been running this academy for 13 years and we haven’t had anybody coming out of here hitting the ball like she does.”

Steve Schultz, a sales representative for Wilson Sporting Goods and a family friend, has worked with DeVera since she was 9.

“With the way she plays now, she could get a college scholarship to a major school,” Shultz said. “But she could be a dominant force in college tennis if she worked a little harder.”

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If she worked a little harder.

So three hours a day isn’t enough?

“I know a couple of the really good players are playing six hours a day, but I can’t see myself working harder than once in the morning and afternoon,” DeVera said. “I can’t see myself working harder than three hours. My mind starts wandering and I play sloppy. It wouldn’t be worth it. I wouldn’t get anything out of it.”

In addition to practicing for three hours, DeVera also runs, lifts weights and jumps rope, though she admits she slacked off on the latter two activities of late.

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Apparently Tuesday’s opponent--Julie Ditty of Ashland, Ky., the tournament’s fifth-seeded player, hasn’t slacked off on much of anything. Ditty badly outclassed DeVera, 6-1, 6-1.

Guess three hours a day isn’t enough.

“She needs more guidance,” Nelson said. “Some kids need to be shown the way. She understands now what she has to do. She realizes now there’s a whole clump of kids better than her.”

Schultz said DeVera simply needs to play more.

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“If she would restructure how she practices, that would help,” Schultz said. “She drills a lot. I think the kids need to play more matches and part of the problem is the lack of competitive people to play with.”

However, during the summer, the competition gets plenty stiff for DeVera. Her brother, Jason, a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo comes home and challenges the little sister to 11-point tiebreakers.

“He used to have to give me seven points, but not anymore,” she said. “I beat him sometimes, but I can never really tell when he’s trying hard either. Sometimes, he’ll get mad and beat me easily.”

DeVera said Jason, who plays for the Cal Poly tennis team, usually works her harder than her coaches.

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“My brother wants it for me,” she said. “He looks at himself and thinks about when he was my age and highly ranked. He thinks I have a chance to really make it really big, so he wants me to work really hard. He doesn’t want me to blow my chance.

“I think he started working hard too late. He always says, ‘I’m not out here working out for me. I’m doing it for you, so you can get better.’ ”

Phil DeVera, Faye’s father, is not known for his light workouts either. In fact, the DeVera family workouts are often much more intense than Nelson’s or Schultz’s.

“I think her parents think she could be a pretty good player and I think that frustrates them,” Schultz said. “I can’t tell her to go out there and play more. It’s got to come from herself. I’m very anti-pushing kids too much. If she doesn’t want to do it, I’m not going to push it down her throat.”

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Said Nila DeVera, Faye’s mother: “I’ve told her if she wants to stick with it, you have to give it your full attention. She could push herself a little more, but we can only push her so much. You can’t drag her out to the court.”

DeVera said she is hardly dragging herself to the court.

“I enjoy the game, and I’m only playing as much as I want to,” she said.

When she’s not on the court, the sociable DeVera is usually hanging out with friends.

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“Sometimes I’m too lazy to go out with my friends and get on the phone and arrange everything, but I think that will change a little bit if I get my license,” said DeVera, who turns 16 in March.

Said Schultz: “She’s very social. A lot of people who want her to be a better player think she’s too social.”

But other coaches, including Schultz, believe part of DeVera’s problem is she might be too talented.

“Things come pretty natural to her, and that’s makes her not willing to work as hard,” Schultz said.

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DeVera said her talent has often made her friends jealous.

“Ryan Hollis (a Villa Park senior) would get mad at me because I’d win without trying,” DeVera said. “He’d be working his butt off and lose. That’s how I used to play. I’d win without even trying.”

It has taken a while to sink in, but DeVera is finally realizing she can’t win that way anymore.

“Sometimes in practice, I’d go through the motions,” she said. “If I were to practice the way I play, then there would be a big difference in my game. I’m starting to do that now. Now, I realize it has to come from myself.”

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Bad losses at national tournaments have changed DeVera’s perspective.

“When I first started, I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m going to turn pro,’ ” DeVera said. “But then as I got older and started traveling to national tournaments, I saw how many good players are out there and how tough it will be for me. So then, I thought, ‘Well, maybe after college.’ ”

After college, DeVera will try and make it on the pro tour and emulate? A grinder, Chris Evert? A serve and volleyer, Martina Navratilova?

Nope.

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Try, a natural, Pete Sampras.

“He makes everything look too easy,” DeVera said. “And he has a good time on the court.”

Maybe that’s all DeVera is trying to do.


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