Courting her Dream

Thirteen-year-old Olivia Martinelli has high hopes for a professional career in tennis

By Michelle F. Solomon | Photos by Fritz Michael Devon Moore | Makeup by Carla Visjnic

08052016 Olivia Martinelli (72) FinishedAsk Olivia Martinelli what she wants to be when she grows up, and the Coral Springs eighth grader will tell you she’s known since she was 5 years old—when she first picked up a tennis racket.

Discovering that her daughter had the makings of a tennis prodigy was sheer accident, according to Olivia’s mother, Laura. It was the summer before she started kindergarten. Laura and her husband, John, had enrolled Olivia in Eagles Landing Junior Camp at North Broward Preparatory School. “When I was signing her up, they told me I could add tennis one day a week. I did, and she liked it,” Laura says.

There’s been no stopping Olivia since. Now, life for the Martinellis is “all about tennis, all the time,” John says.

Olivia, 13, starts her days with tennis practice from 8 to 11:30 a.m. at Nextennis in Eagle Trace with her private coach, Gabriel Matteazzi. A typical day for Laura, an attorney in Coral Springs, is dictated by Olivia’s tennis schedule.

At midday, Laura picks up Olivia and then they both go home for lunch before heading to the office that Laura and John, who is president and CEO of 1st Choice Realty, share on Coral Ridge Drive. For the rest of the afternoon, Olivia holes up in the office’s conference room to concentrate on school work with Broward Virtual School. Then, Olivia is back on the courts from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. or later.

John says his daughter is as determined to do well in academics as she is on the tennis court. “She has a perfect 4.0 GPA and she is in the National Junior Honor Society,” he says. “I could never work as hard as she does.”

08052016 Olivia Martinelli (103) FinishedTennis Recruiting Network ranks Olivia 134th in the Southeast and 64th in Florida among Class of 2021 girls. But tournament rankings aren’t a concern to Olivia, her parents or their coach. “Our philosophy is not chasing points or winning matches. We’re developing skills,” John says. “Her coach will train her in something new, and then we go to a tournament and try it out; we don’t expect her to win. We’re developing a star.”

Matteazzi takes a similar approach to coaching Olivia as he did with a previous private student, Kellyn Abbanat of Coral Springs, a blue-chip recruit for the women’s tennis team at the United States Naval Academy, Class of 2019.

As a private coach in Florida for 13 years, Matteazzi taught professionals before he started working on what he calls “projects from scratch.” Kellyn was the first player Matteazzi trained from the ground up. Now it’s Olivia.

“He’s very selective,” says John, who adds that the only way Matteazzi would work with Olivia was that she had to play for him first. “He only takes on one rising star at a time.”

Matteazzi believes in working on a player’s skills first rather than going for results. “I’ve seen where things break, so I decided to not follow that path,” Matteazzi says. “Results are good, and they win matches, but what normally happens in careers other than sports is that you first make someone a doctor by teaching them the skills, and then the achievement comes.” He believes that with Olivia’s talent and his coaching, she has a shot at being a professional tennis player.

“I want to be No. 1 in the world,” says Olivia, who also has hopes of being sponsored by Nike when she turns pro.

Her coach and her family believe her dreams can come true.

Matteazzi says she is a powerful player and unique because of her size. At 4 feet, 11 inches tall, she has power and speed. “It’s interesting to work with Olivia because she can become something not typically seen, which makes it even more exciting for me to work with her,” he says.

Olivia has already been courted by two universities, Brown and Brigham Young, but she plans to go straight to professional tennis. Her parents say they will support that decision. “When you’re 30, you’re finished in tennis,” John says, adding that she will complete college at some point.

As much as everyone’s behind Olivia’s game, her parents and her coach want her to enjoy being a teenager. “I’ve seen how professionals’ careers have fallen apart because at some point in their life, they realize that they lack things they’ve never had in their life, like a childhood,” Matteazzi says.

Watching Netflix and making videos, hanging out with friends and going to the movies at Magnolia Shoppes on Friday nights are what she does in her spare time, but she’s quick to say tennis is a hobby, too.

“I play tennis about 30 hours a week and I take one day off,” Olivia says.

Her coach says she’s a “normal, happy and well-taken-care-of kid. She’s not a follower, either. She likes who she is.” 

08052016 Olivia Martinelli (80)becoming a family

Laura Martinelli knew from the moment she first saw her photo that Olivia was special beyond words. But it would be nearly a year before she could bring her future daughter home.

When she married John, who had grown children from another marriage, the two tried to have a child naturally but couldn’t. Laura, who had been touched by the underprivileged children she saw during travels with her parents, always had thought about adoption. “I figured this was a sign.”

A neighbor who owned an adoption agency had been working with Guatemalan children. “Olivia was three weeks old when we received her picture,” Laura says. “I slept with the photograph on my nightstand. I knew she was meant for us.” A couple of days before her 4-month birthday, the Martinellis flew to Guatemala and spent the weekend with Olivia. “She was such a happy baby, smiling and laughing,” Laura recalls.

Most of the adopted children were being united with their parents when they were 4 to 6 months old, but because of red tape between the United States and Guatemala, the Martinellis’ adoption was held up. The couple would travel to the Central American country every three weeks to see Olivia. “We were going to fight with everything we had to bring her home to us,” Laura says.

They hired an immigration attorney. Eventually, their case was sent to a supervisor in Guatemala.

“He sat us down in his office and said, ‘You look like a wonderful family, and I will sign off on your papers, but she needs to become something because she is really special,’” Laura recalls.

Olivia was 10 months old when the family was finally united. “They say that God finds the perfect child for you when you want to adopt,” Laura says. “We couldn’t have created ourselves a better mix of the two of us.”

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