All In The Family

by Scott Langdon

September 2021

Cyprien Mboko didn’t play tennis, himself, but admired the sport and thought it would contribute to the physical fitness of his children. His four children have turned it into far more than a form of exercise. Now, 14-year-old Victoria is taking it even further.

Mboko and wife, Godee Kitadi, left political turmoil behind in their native Democratic Republic of the Congo and immigrated to North America with young children Gracia and Kevin. Kitadi moved to Montreal in 1999, nine months pregnant with third child, David, and eventually earned an accounting degree at the Universite de Montreal. In 2000, Cyprien moved to North Carolina where the family eventually settled in 2005 and started playing tennis.

U9 Champions, 2014.

“I have been watching tennis since I was very young. My friend and I, back home in the Congo, would watch Agassi, Courier, Graf and all the other great players,” Cyprien said. “Tennis was good exercise for our children, but I must have bought about 1000 balls from Walmart and they all seemed to end up in the bushes. At that point, we decided to see about some coaching. Gracia was identified by a local tennis pro and he used to take her from Charlotte, where we were living, to Concord every day for training. I would pick her up after work.”

The family moved to Toronto in 2006 with a fourth child, two-month-old Victoria, in tow. At this point the family’s journey took yet another turn and tennis played a key role.

“My kids started training at Players Edge at the Aviva Centre with Marc Assaraf and Bill Cowan. Then I met Pierre Lamarche who suggested we could move to Burlington to train at his academy, Ace Tennis. We moved there in 2010,” Kitadi told Ontennis Magazine.

All four of the Mboko children attended Ace Tennis. Gracia, the eldest and now 25 years old, earned a tennis scholarship at the University of Denver. Brother Kevin, now 23, earned a tennis scholarship at Edinboro University in northwestern Pennsylvania. David, now 22, was a “very talented” tennis player, but stopped due to eye problems. He will soon be graduating from the University of Toronto with a computer science degree.

And then there is 14-year-old Victoria, or Vicky, now taking the family’s tennis journey to even more places and perhaps higher heights.

Currently the number-three- ranked 14-year-old in the world on the International Tennis Federation junior circuit, she recently returned from an 18-week tour playing tournaments and undertaking specialized training in the United States, Central and South America and most recently Europe under the auspices and guidance of the Tennis Canada high performance program. Vicky needed the competition that the tour provided because tennis had been shut down in Canada for many months as a result of the pandemic.

She won three of the ITF tournaments she has played this year, been in three other finals, one semi-final and one third round as reported in a recent issue of the Ontario Tennis Association’s (OTA) Spin newsletter. She also won three doubles events.

Vicky began competing at the age of seven and her accomplishments and accolades are almost too many to mention. They include being finalist at the prestigious Orange Bowl tournament as a 12-year-old, European Overseas Player of the Year at the age of 13 and she has represented Canada in the Junior Federation Cup in Bolivia and the Czech Republic. She also won the OTA’s special U9 Champions (now U10) event in it’s second year when she was just seven years old!

The Mboko/Kitadi family: Top (l to r): Kevin, David, Gracia
Bottom (l to r): Victoria, Godee, Cyprien

Role of siblings

But her tennis journey started at an even younger age, points out older sister, Gracia.

“It almost seems like Vicky was born on a tennis court because our parents were always there when we were practising or playing and Vicky would be with them. She would wander on court and my friends and I would show her how to hold a racquet, play with her and teach her.”

ITF Tashkent, 2021.

Dr. Joe Baker, sport scientist at Toronto’s York University, has studied the role siblings can play in the development of athletes and says elite athletes are more likely to have older siblings who participated in regular physical activity and played sports at the pre-elite and elite levels as Gracia, Kevin and David did in the Mboko family.

“Older siblings can not only be training partners and competitors, but also great sources of emotional and instructional support,” his research study concluded. It also stated that elite athletes were more likely to be later-born children.

The role her brothers and sister have played in her personal development is understood and appreciated by Vicky.

“My sister and brothers have been really important for me. I probably would not have played tennis if not for them. They played with me and coached me,” she said.

Something special

According to Kartik Vyas, the OTA’s player development manager, the best thing about Vicky might not be her tennis.

“She is good, one of the top players in her age category and has had success all over the world. Yet, you would never know it to talk to her. She is such a nice kid, so humble,” he said.

Itf World Junior Team Championships: Captain Heidi El Tabakh, bottom l to r, Mia Kupres, Vicky Mboko and Martyna Ostrzygalo.

Lamarche, owner of Ace Tennis and a member of Tennis Canada’s Hall of Fame with a host of national and international accomplishments to his name on and off the tennis court, says he knows where Vicky’s personality and demeanor come from.

“All four Mboko kids have trained at our academy and each one of them is something special. It comes from their parents. This is almost an unbelievable story and I have so much respect for what Godee and Cyprien have done for their children,” he said. “They are one of my most favorite families of all time. Godee is a go-getter, very protective of her children and involved in their development.”

Simon Larose, high performance coach at Tennis Canada was asked to tell Ontennis Magazine about Vicky, the person and player.

“I could talk to you about Vicky for hours,” he responded quickly. “She has incredible maturity for a 14-year-old. She is quiet, calm and composed most of the time, but when she gets to know people around her and feels comfortable, she is talkative and likes to have fun. She is quite funny, actually.”


Victoria Mboko's tennis progression.

Her game

Kevin Mboko, who was hired as a coach at IMG Academy in Florida and who chaperoned Vicky as a 12-year-old there on a tennis scholarship, says his sister “has taken the best from each of us and incorporated it into her game.”

“It is Vicky’s competitiveness, though, that separates her from others. She was probably one of the worst players when we arrived at IMG. She was one of the best within months. She progresses so fast.”

Larose adds: “She is incredibly strong with great timing. Her groundstrokes are heavy and hard and she rallies well. In time she will have an amazing serve. She has lots of tools.”

Lamarche says “Vicky plays to win”, but there is improvement and development ahead. “Probably when she starts losing, we will see her improve further because she will have to work on different parts of her game and learn to be more creative on court.

“In a way,” he laughs, “it would probably be helpful for Vicky to be a little more like Kevin. He is ‘Mr. Personality’ and played with such joie de vivre.”

Vicky, herself, sees the need to continue improving, noting that, “I played well in some tournaments and bad in others” during her recent international tour. She wants to be more consistent and plans to work on her daily routines and training.

Temper expectations

Larose cautions about expectations for Vicky.

Coach Lan Yao, Vicky Mboko, Martyna Ostryzgalo, Kayla Cross at the Junior Billie Jean Cup in 2021.

“She is really good and quite mature for her age, but she is still only 14 years old. I’m sure she has her dreams, but we have to be careful not to put pressure on her for no reason. Our only focus is on the process for improvement, not results. We don’t compare her at this age to others, we downplay her ranking and wins and focus more on how she is playing,” he explained.

Not surprisingly, the Mboko family has a wonderful perspective.

“I would love to see Vicky succeed which means being happy with what she is doing, whatever that is,” Kitadi said. “If tennis makes her happy, I’m happy.”

Added brother Kevin: “I hope she gets as far as she wants. I’m here, whatever she needs. And if she stops playing tennis, I am fully behind her. Vicky is humble and I know she will keep our family values.”

Being away from home helps “you learn about yourself and build independence,” Kevin says. To Vicky, this means being responsible without her parents, including spending most of her off-court time focused on her grade nine online classes and “calling Mom” when she needs some help or guidance.

When asked if she misses her kids when they are away on their tennis travels, Godee Kitadi replies with one word: “Yes.”

No doubt everyone in the Mboko family is happy to have Vicky home again.

Scott Langdon started playing tennis in his 60s, but wishes he had played earlier, much earlier. He played some Junior A hockey, had some opportunities in baseball, but says the tennis serve is the most difficult sports skill he has tried to learn. He worked as a communications consultant on behalf of clients across North America and became a post-secondary teacher after retiring. He has been freelance writing about sports, mostly baseball, over a span of 20 years. His work has appeared in the Toronto Sun, on and and in various newspapers across the country. He has a master’s degree in organizational communication.