BRADENTON -- When Tommy Mylnikov earned his way into the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis tournament via a wild card, he was a long shot to win it.
But heading into the today’s championship match in the 16-and-under division, Mylnikov is still standing on the verge of pulling off what would arguably be the biggest upset of the weeklong event.
His performance might be a surprise to a lot of people.
But he is not one of them.
“Getting to the final is not something I never thought would be possible,” Mylnikov said Saturday after defeating 15th seed Andrei Aposta 6-2, 6-2 at the IMG Academy’ Courts.
In winning five tournament matches, Mylnikov took out the eighth seed and two qualifiers, all in straight sets.
“It’s all about confidence,” Mylnikov said. “Up until about six months ago, I didn’t have much, and about two months ago I really started to believe in myself. It’s something that came out of me. Nobody can help you get it. It’s something you have to find by yourself.”
It’s something Mylnikov has been seeking for a long time in many places. He was born in Israel to his Russian immigrant parents, moved to Canada at 4 years old and came with his family to train at IMG about five years ago.
“I used to be really nervous coming into the big matches,” Mylnikov said. “A couple of months ago, I just decided I am a better player than I had been showing in tournaments because I got so nervous. Now, I believe in myself a lot more, and it’s made a big difference.”
Mylnikov’s father was a soccer player in Russia, and he grew up in Canada, a country where hockey is king. But his dad decided his slender, now 6-foot-1 son had the right frame for tennis and encouraged him to give it a try.
“We were living in Canada and looking for a place for me to train,” said Mylnikov, who just turned 16. “We drove down to a place in Naples and somebody there recommended IMG so we stopped here on the way back home. I eventually came and have been here ever since.”
Due to limited finances, Mylnikov says he can’t play in tournaments around the world. But that has taught him to make the most of every event. He has made major improvements in his game, which he attributes for his recent success.
“My serve has definitely gotten me to a way higher level, which helped me gain confidence and believe in myself,” Mylnikov said. “The biggest obstacle I had to deal with is me. I had to overcome a sort of fear I had going into matches. My dad has helped and has been a great motivator.”
Mylnikov couldn’t have looked more confident than in his semifinal victory, using a strong serve and forehand and his speed to cover a lot of ground and dominate the match.
“It is an honor to be in the finals. He is a good player and won an ITF tournament a couple of weeks ago,” Mylnikov said “To win five straight matches all in straight sets feels good. I attribute that to all the help I’ve gotten here. I’ve been in the gym a lot, working hard on my conditioning and getting better nutrition in my diet. It’s helped me feel better and play better.
Mylnikov goes to Florida Virtual school and is a sophomore. His plans are to forgo college and get into the professional ranks as soon as possible.
Today, his goal is to win and become a storyline as a Herr champion. He faces Andrew Schaefer at 9:30 a.m. for the 16 year-old boy’s title.