On the plane trip to the International Children's Games in Greece last summer, Alex Hosner of Canton could recite his tennis pro's tip sheet on backhands and forehands backward and forward. The 14-year-old Jackson High School sophomore was ranked one of the best players his age in the Midwest.
But nobody told Hosner his strongest competition would come from -- of all places -- Thailand. He lost in straight sets in the first round. "I didn't know Bangkok was such a good tennis region," Hosner says. "I knew it was going to be tough competition, because a lot of their kids were at their peak.
"If I did well, I would have been excited, but I wasn't too disappointed."
Apparently not. The 5-foot-4, 107-pound Hosner is back at this year's competition in Cleveland -- the first held in the U.S. in the games' 36-year history. A 17-member Cleveland delegation joins 3,000 other kids, ages 12 to 15, from more than 55 countries. They'll compete in 10 sports, including baseball, basketball, track and field, and tennis. "I'm excited [that the foreign athletes] get to see what it's like over here culturally, like the different money we have, all the food," Hosner says. "It's going to be fun to be the host this year."
But it won't be all play. Since last year's games, Hosner's been nailing his serve ("Toss the ball forward and out, so that you're reaching out to get more power on it") and backhand ("Go low, and make sure you're all the way back and following through"). He's also mapped out his plan of attack for the gold medal. "I'm preparing for the worst," says Hosner. "But I'm ready for them."