Tornado Alicia Black made the U.S. Open girls' final as a wild card. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
With names like Tornado and Hurricane, you're just asking for attention. As it turns out, that was kind of the point.
Gayal Black, the mother of junior standouts Tornado Alicia Black, 15, and Hurricane Tyra Black, 12, told espnW that she gave her daughters those headline-grabbing names for marketing purposes in anticipation of potential future success in tennis. Gayal and the girls' father, Sylvester Black, who played for the Jamaican Davis Cup team and is now a teaching pro, say the names are all part of a larger plan for their talented daughters.
Here's an excerpt from the story:
"I have a marketing degree . . . and I knew I needed to do something for them to stand out, and we thought it was cute," Gayal said. "[Tornado didn't like her name] a few years ago. Kids tease you. But now they understand it's marketing and it's very big to say a storm blew through the US Open.
"It's great for everybody, for publicity. Greg Norman was the Great White Shark. Sir Richard Branson said you have to have a brand to use. We don't want them to be the next Williams sisters or those African-American sisters. They're Tornado and Hurricane so people can identify them as something other than the next Venus and Serena. And what better marquee above the US Open than 'Tornado and Hurricane Black?' "
Sly said it was all a "part of the plan" when the girls were younger but that it made more sense as they got older.
"It was a little joke, but it turned out to be a pretty big deal," he said. "Yes, Tornado and Hurricane are names for marketable athletes, but that's a big part of it nowadays, and if you can get a good, strong name, all the better."
Tornado, who is 21st in the ITF junior rankings, made the U.S. Open girls' final as a wild card this year. Born Alicia Black, the family nicknamed her Tornado after she showed tennis talent at a very young age. "When the next one was born," Gayal told espnW, "we knew she could do it, too, and so her [legal] name is Tyra Hurricane." Tyra, who still trains with her father, is the top-ranked 12-and-under girl in the nation.
Gayal said she doesn't want her kids labeled as "the next Venus and Serena Williams," though that's precisely how they describe themselves in their profiles on InvolvedFan.com, a Kickstarter-like site for athletes, as well as on Gayal's own website. Alicia said she doesn't like the inevitable and lazy comparisons to such other young African-American players as Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend, either.
“I just want to be myself and do my own thing and not follow other people’s steps," she told The New York Post.
The family is based in Boca Raton, Fla. Though Alicia trained at the USTA facility there for more than a year, she now practices at L'Academie de Tennis in nearby Boynton Beach. The USTA is not funding her training, so the family relies on donations and alternative fundraising methods. In addition to the InvolvedFan site (which, as Sandy Harwitt reported, may have misled donors), Gayal looks to have started "Stormy Tennis", a consultancy business.
"We're going our own way," Gayal said to espnW. "We played the junior ITF circuit, the Williamses didn't. It's nice [for Tornado] to be compared to Serena, who's the greatest of all time, but they want a name for themselves and I think they'll live up to their own names and win their own Grand Slam titles in years to come."