When Kimberly Yee returns to the U.S. Open next month, she believes she has a better chance of sticking around than she did a year ago when she was ousted in the second round.
The 15-year-old, home-schooled sophomore from Las Vegas secured her spot in this year's Open junior girls field after capturing the U.S. Tennis Association national championship Saturday in San Diego.
Yee, who advanced to Flushing Meadows by winning the girls 16s singles title with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Katerina Stewart of Miami in the finals, also claimed the girls 16s doubles with Mariana Gould of Boise, Idaho. Yee became the first Las Vegan to win two national championships in singles and doubles.
"I'm looking forward to going back," she said. "Last year was an amazing experience being there for the first time. It was like a new adventure. This time, I'm going to take what I learned and make it more business while still having fun."
The U.S. Open Junior tournament begins Sept. 2. Last year, Yee had to win two matches as a wild-card entrant to get into the main draw. She ultimately was eliminated by Sweden's Ellen Allgurin, 7-6 (6), 6-0.
This year, Yee's road is easier as she won't have to compete in the qualifying matches.
"I think that's big," she said. "Last year, I had to battle just to get into the main draw. This time I'm already in, and hopefully I'll get a good draw. But I can't control that. All I can do is be ready to play my best tennis.
"I'm in the best shape of my life. I run two miles a day. I'm doing yoga twice a week, and I'm stretching every day. I feel so much stronger, and I'm hitting the ball harder and getting to more balls than before."
Yee, who turns 16 in October, also is a year older and more mature emotionally. Last year, she had to sit around for a couple of days as rain washed out her scheduled match with Allgurin. Eventually, they played indoors in Port Chester, N.Y., which is located an hour north of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. Yee said she should handle any unexpected situation better this time around.
"I was in the players' lounge, and I would see Serena (Williams), Maria (Sharapova) and all the top players and how they handled themselves, and I learned a lot," she said. "Nothing seems to bother them.
"I'm stronger, both mentally and physically. I'm a different person."
While in San Diego, Yee's maturity was tested when another player mistakenly walked off with her bag, forcing her to play her third-round match with a borrowed racket. Such an incident would unnerve most 15-year-olds. But Yee grabbed the strange racket and went out and won.
"I didn't have time to get upset," she said. "I had to go right to the court and play my match. But for some reason, I didn't think about it. I just went out and played."
Tim Blenkiron, who coaches Yee, has noticed the difference.
"She's learning how to handle pressure," said Blenkiron, who coaches another Las Vegan, Asia Muhammad. "Kimberly has discovered continuity in her game, and she's learned that one match doesn't define her career."
Blenkiron said Yee's improved physical conditioning allows her to cover more of the court and get to balls she couldn't get to before.
"She's able to stay in the rallies and extend points better," he said. "She's taking the ball earlier and is attacking more rather than being defensive. It's a big change for her, and it has a lot to do with her success in winning nationals."
Instead of traveling to tournaments, Yee will stay home to prepare for the U.S. Open. She'll work with Blenkiron and her father, Adam, who also coaches her.
"I want to be 100 percent ready for New York, and I think this is the best way," Yee said. "I want to carry the momentum from nationals into the (U.S.) Open and give myself the best chance of succeeding."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.