Friday, Jan. 9, 2009 | midnight
It shouldn't be much of a surprise that Eli Deville is a natural with a tennis racket in his hand.
The 11-year-old southwest Las Vegas resident loved watching and playing the sport before he was aware of his family's link with greatness. His mother is the half sister of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
"I liked tennis since I was very young and I always wanted to play," Eli said. "I kept asking my mom until finally she allowed me to start playing last September."
Eli's mother, Sabrina Deville, was initially reluctant to promote the sport that consumed her father and tennis coach, James Williams. She got him lessons with tennis professional James Johnson out of the All American Park in West Valley.
Eli has only been playing for three months, a relative late start compared to many tennis youth, but Johnson has already noticed the hand-eye coordination that makes a great player.
"Because of his drive and ability, he is going to catch up to a lot of kids really fast," Johnson said. "The kid is three to four months ahead of himself."
Johnson, who briefly worked with the Williams sisters while instructing in the 1980s, did not know Eli's connection to the family when he first taught him his stroke.
Looking back, he can see the resemblance in the blood line.
"The first time he held a racket I saw something," Johnson said. "He came out and almost had a natural stroke immediately. There was just something I couldn't put my finger on that told me he would be a pretty good player. He is learning at a rate that is just incredible."
Eli follows the sisters on television, but the young player is already determined to make a name for himself.
Joining him in tennis is his brother, Solomon, 8, who has also been training with Johnson. The brothers push each other whether they are returning forehands or picking up balls.
"We are extremely competitive, especially at school," Eli said. "That probably makes us better players."
Deville, who home schools her children, does not like to exploit her sons' connection to their half-aunts. They are fans but have not met the Williams sisters.
However, Deville cannot deny the natural talent she said has been passed down from her father.
"I absolutely believe that it's genetic," she said. "There's something to be said for those who work hard to be good, but he has a natural talent there I didn't know he had."
Eli and Solomon have not yet began competition, but Johnson expects to start them in tournaments by March.
Eli said he is committed to tennis and already has high plans for the future in and outside the sport.
"When I go professional I won't be able to stay that long because I will still have to join the Air Force and become a neurologist," he said.
Sean Ammerman can be reached at 990-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org.