Marcello Audino has three times finished in the top 16 at junior nationals in U12 boys’ singles. Now the Winnipegger is looking to make his mark in the U14 division.

Audino is part of the Manitoba contingent that will travel to Saskatoon for the Prairie Regionals, February 26-28. The Regionals serve as a qualifier for him to participate in the U14 Indoor Rogers Junior Nationals (April 3-9 in Vancouver).

One of the province’s rising stars, Audino hit his first tennis balls at six years old. At the age of eight he entered his first tournament, winning the U10 singles at Winnipeg Winter Club’s annual junior tournament.

When he was nine, Audino played in the “Little Mo” International Open tennis tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He reached the quarterfinals in his singles draw, won the boys’ doubles for nine-year-olds with an American partner, and finished second with Reece Carter in mixed doubles for their age category.

In the summer of 2014 Audino spent six weeks in Florida training with Lance Luciani, a coach who has worked with such players as Florida’s Adam Neff (winner of a number of high profile junior tournaments) and Manitobans Reece Carter and Ryan Carter. Hitting ball after ball, Audino trained for six hours a day.

“There was fitness too,” recalled Audino, who won the boys’ 12 singles at the BSAC Tennis Level 7 Jr. Summer Challenge in Brandon, Florida during that 2014 trip. “In the heat, we did really hard drills. It was really tiring.”

His training with Luciani also consisted of a lot of match play.

“There were some good players that came in,” said Audino, who has also been coached in Florida by Serbia’s Vladimir Obradovic. “We’d play a match every afternoon – one set with different players and that really helped me because I could use what I learned in the morning.”

Audino’s hard work has already paid off at the national level. In March of 2014, he beat No. 13 seed Jun Makita of Alberta to earn a spot in the Championship Flight (top 16) at the U12 Rogers Indoor Junior National Championships in Calgary. Audino also reached the final 16 of the boys’ singles at the 2015 U12 indoor nationals and the 2015 U12 outdoor nationals.

On top of that, Audino posted a couple of big wins at the U14 outdoor nationals in 2015 in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec: he edged Michael Robinson of Alberta 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, and beat fellow Manitoban Shawn Sophasath 7-6, 6-1.

“It doesn’t matter the opponent’s level – if they’re weaker or stronger, he has the same game plan,” said Audino’s coach Peter Otto, Head Tennis Pro at Winnipeg Winter Club and Kildonan Tennis Club.

At the local level in 2015, Audino captured titles at the Deer Lodge Junior Classic (boys’ U14 and U16 singles), the Kildonan Junior Open (boys’ U16 singles) and the Manitoba Junior Open (boys’ U16 singles). This past summer he finished third in the boys’ U12 singles at the Roman Cup in Ottawa, won the boys’ U12 singles at the Quebec Jr. Open, attended a tennis camp in Montreal (eight hours of training for five days) and played the U12 and U14 outdoor nationals (both in Mont-Tremblant).

“He understands it’s not about the power,” Otto said of Audino. “It’s about looking for your opportunities and he’s very patient.”

Audino was first coached by Rob Langan at Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. He also worked with Robert Kennedy before being coached by Otto.

“He was very competitive,” Otto remembered of Audino when he first started working with him. “Most competitive kids want to work to succeed and he had that fire right from the start.”

Audino is off to a strong start in 2016. At the Ravenscourt Junior Open at Winnipeg Winter Club in January, he beat Ontario’s Owen Dunn 6-0, 6-0 to win the boys’ U14 singles title and reached the final of the boys’ U16 singles before losing to Sophasath 7-5, 6-1.

“In tournaments, I love the environment,” said Audino. “It just motivates me more. When there’s a tough match and the crowd really goes, I like that.”

Audino, 13, also excels at soccer. At the recent Golden Boy Indoor Soccer Tournament at University of Manitoba, February 10-15, Audino’s Winnipeg South End United Soccer Club team finished second to Thunder Bay.

“When I was one year old I used to kick balls with my mom – just pass,” said Audino, a Grade 7 student at Ecole Christine-Lesperance. “I played rec when I was four or five and just kept playing.”

Audino says the footwork involved in soccer has helped his tennis game. He cites Roger Federer as his favourite tennis player.

“He’s really calm,” Audino said of the 17-time major winner. “He doesn’t show much emotion.”

While competing in Quebec last summer, Audino had a chance to see the Rogers Cup in Montreal. If he could pick one Grand Slam tournament to go watch, he said it would be either the French Open or Wimbledon.

“It’d be tough to pick,” said Audino.

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