For Fairfielder Ellyse Hamlin, tennis isn't just recreation, it is life.
And she wouldn't have it any other way.
The 14-year old is currently ranked 74th in the nation by USTA U14 girls singles and 20th in doubles, as she has quickly shot up the rankings at the 14-year-old level.
Hamlin and her step-father/coach, Ryan Ginley, have taken her gift, and turned it into a lifestyle. Hamlin recently completed eighth grade at Tomlinson Middle School, but will not be attending Fairfield Ludlowe High School. Hamlin will be home schooled and focus on tennis.
"Homeschooling is a big step," Hamlin said. "It's a new focus."
However, there is a two-fold explanation for Hamlin's trip from regular school to home schooling. The would-be freshman was born on Nov. 9, and would have entered Ludlowe as a 13-year-old, a prospect that was not to enticing to Ginley and her mother, Annie.
"We wanted to slow her matriculation to college," Ginley said.
Hamlin's tennis game has benefited mostly due to the tutelage of Ginley. He is the senior director of High Performance and Player Development at Intensity Tennis Academy in Norwalk. He's currently responsible for teaching about 80 athletes, but has taken on the special role as Hamlin's one-on-one coach.
Ginley has been focusing on giving Hamlin, and the rest of his students, the gift of self-awareness. He focuses on asking questions of his players, and also pays close attention to detail, which allows most of them to allow them to zero in on the mistakes that they're making.
"We focus on increasing awareness," Ginley said.
This attention to detail has enhanced the number of USTA titles that members from Intensity have won from 18 in 2008 to 44 so far in 2010. Hamlin has been among those title winners, taking the 14s National/Sectional Level 4 Championship in singles. She, with the help of doubles partner, Nicole Frenkel, have taken both the 14 and 16 Level 4 Championship, and was a champion at the 14 and 16 Level 5 division too.
Frenkel and Hamlin also competed, but were defeated in the 18s Level 5 Finals, 8-4.
For Hamlin, the progression as one of the top younger players in the nation has been especially exciting. She has enjoyed the spoils of meeting people from all over the country, and has formed a bond with young girls her age. One of her closest friends is her Frenkel, who is from Winchester, Mass.
"Her social network is nationwide," Ginley said. "She has more of a connection with people outside of Connecticut."
Traveling around the country and seeing different colleges has been fun for Hamlin, too.
"It's been really fun seeing all of the colleges and going to check out the schools," Hamlin said.
The lifestyle that each lives is not entirely full of riches. The duo was in Syracuse, N.Y. for Thanksgiving, while Hamlin competed in a tournament. They'll also set off for Arizona for a tournament two days after Christmas. The travel has put a non-traditional spin on the holidays for all parties involved.
"We had Thanksgiving dinner at a Ruby Tuesday," Hamlin said.
Ginley says he is grateful for the flexibility and understanding of Annie, especially since the family now has a 20-month old baby, Grace.
"She deals with it unbelievably well," Ginley said of his wife.
Hamlin picked a good time to enter the realm of professional tennis. Unlike 15 or so years ago, when teenage professionals were seemingly the norm, the physical fitness on the women's tour has forced young players to mature both physically and mentally.
"The women on the tour are so incredibly fit," Ginley said. "You don't have girls who are physically capable to keep up with the older, fit players on the tour."
This is perfectly fine with Ginley and Hamlin, who are working more toward the goal of major college tennis. They've already begun to receive letters and inquiries, still four years from her 2015 arrival date. Hamlin currently sits as the 61st best player amongst girls who will enter college that year.
Ginley thinks that a Division I career, followed by whatever she wants, is certainly attainable, if Hamlin keeps progressing in the proper direction.
"Goal setting is important for us," Ginley said. "I'm impressed by where she is and where she knows she needs to be."
Ginley also realizes the risk of putting so much of an emphasis on her tennis career at a young age. He knows all of the horror stories of players who attempt professional careers, and then burn out after a while.
But he doesn't worry about that from Hamlin, mostly because of the enthusiasm and fire that she shows now and the type of kid that she is.
"She's enthusiastic," Ginley said. "And she's willing to do the arduous things to get better."
Hamlin isn't worried about it either. She still is more than happy to hit tennis balls with Ginley, or go see a tennis match on her days off.
"I love the game and that's what it comes down to," she said.
The future is bright for Hamlin and Ginley together, and as the two have worked together, they've created a bonding relationship that many father/daughter combos don't have.
"Every day we get to go to work together," Ginley said. "The connection we have is special."