By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001
TAMPA -- Her long black hair was tied with a red and blue ribbon and pulled through the back of a baseball cap. She had the same slight build and quiet confidence.
And her blasts from the baseline were all too familiar.
Hillsborough County players might have feared three-time state qualifier Caroline Tien had returned for another season when they played King this spring.
But it was her younger sister, Linda, they saw instead.
"They are very similar," said King coach Carole Pressick-Cooper, who admits to mistaking the two at junior tournaments. "Their style of play is the same. Personality-wise, I think Linda is more open than Caroline, but they have a similar game."
For now, Caroline is the sister with more accolades. But that could soon change.
Linda Tien cruised through the regular season with an 11-1 record, losing only to childhood friend Brianna Williams of Gaither 2-6, 6-0, 6-1. Other than Hillsborough's Rebecca Edwards, who Tien defeated 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, no other county player has stretched the freshman to three sets.
Despite losing 6-4, 6-1 to Williams in Thursday's Western Conference final, Tien will be the runaway favorite when the Class 3A, District 11 tournament begins Monday at Hillsborough Community College.
Tien and Williams are in different districts, leaving Plant's Paula Fillion as Tien's most likely challenger. Tien defeated Fillion 6-4, 7-6 earlier this season.
Tien, 15, is of Vietnamese descent. She was born in Alabama and moved to Tampa when she was 1. She was 7 when her father, Ha Su, introduced her to tennis.
At first, the two hit balls back and forth. Then Tien began taking lessons. She began playing competitively at age 10.
"My dad always pushed me to try my hardest," Tien said. "It was just kind of gradual. As I got better, I became more and more serious."
As Tien's interest in tennis increased, she began practicing with her sister. Occasionally, the two played doubles together at junior tournaments.
Caroline Tien played in three state tournaments, winning the No. 4 singles championship as a sophomore. Now a freshman at MIT, she recently was promoted from No. 4 to No. 3 singles.
"I always looked up to her," Linda Tien said. "She always tried her hardest."
Tien has known Williams for as long as she has been playing. Though they practiced together for years, they did not meet in a competitive match until this season.
Pressick-Cooper said Tien gets more nervous before facing Williams than any other opponent.
"It's hard playing someone you know," Tien said. "There's more pressure, I guess, because maybe more people expect you to win or because you know the person. Maybe you're supposed to win."
Because they play in different classifications, Tien won't have to worry about Williams for another year. In fact, if she gets by Fillion, she might not see a familiar face for the rest of the season.
Future opponents might mistake Tien for her sister. But that's okay. They've got three more years to get to know her.
FAMILY: Father, Ha Sun; mother, Tuyet; sister, Caroline, 18.
ACADEMICS: Carries a 4.0 grade point average.
ACTIVITIES: Tennis, cross country, band (clarinet).
INTERESTS: Going to the beach and swimming.
FAVORITE FOOD: Pizza and cupcakes.
FAVORITE MAGAZINE: Teen.
FAVORITE MUSIC: "Any kind of music, really, except for rap."
FAVORITE TV SHOW: The X-Files.
FUTURE: Would possibly like to join her sister at MIT.