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FIVE TO WATCH IN 1995 : Sure, they were impressive in 1994. They worked hard, they played hard, they coached their way to success. But just wait until this year, when these people show what they can do. : MEILEN TU : Rising Star Prepared for Pro Tour

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Meilen Tu of Northridge might not have shocked the world in 1994, but she stunned her tennis coach by winning the national junior championship and two international junior tournaments before turning pro in October.

Tu, 16, made a mercurial rise.

“She shot up so quickly. . . . I’ve never seen an athlete anywhere shoot up so quickly,” said Bill McClain, Tu’s coach for the past 18 months. “And it’s very unusual in the game of tennis to move that far that fast.”

McClain, 56, a Division I college coach for 19 years and now a teaching pro at the L.A. Fitness Warner Center Club in Woodland Hills, found several flaws in Tu’s game when the two met in June, 1993. Tu was beset by injuries at the time and had lost in the quarterfinals of the United States Tennis Assn. Girls’ 18-and-under national championships.

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A year after hooking up with McClain, she earned a spot on the USTA Junior National team, captured the USTA singles title and won the Junior U.S. Open, an international tournament played simultaneously with the U.S. Open Grand Slam event.

She also triumphed in two International Tennis Federation Junior events: the Banana Bowl in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on clay and the Surbiton (England) Championships on grass.

A victory in the Junior U.S. Open earned Tu a spot in the main draw of the U.S. Open, where after a first-round loss to Silvia Farina of Italy, Tu turned pro.

McClain predicts Tu will crack the world’s top 50, and perhaps the top 30 in 1995.

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“I thought she could be one of the top 30 in the world a couple years ago,” he said. “In fact, I think she is right now. And she’s the most mentally tough kid I’ve seen in my life.”

Tu, who turns 17 on Jan. 17, is the first to admit she has made sacrifices.

“But it doesn’t bother me that I can’t go out every Friday and Saturday night till like, 2 o’clock in the morning,” Tu said. “I think a lot of people who don’t know me think I’m going to burn out.”

Like Jennifer Capriati, who joined the tour as a 13-year-old prodigy and admittedly burned out at 18.

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“I don’t know Capriati, but I don’t think that will happen to Meilen,” McClain said. “She thrives on challenges on a day-to-day basis. She loves to play.

“It may get to be a problem, but I don’t think so. The pro game is difficult, but she’s already proven she can win at that level.”


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