Growing Up Down Under

by Scott Langdon

February 2022

Former OTA junior stars are on a trajectory to add their names to the growing list of Canadian tennis stars!

They are like professional tennis players but for fame and fortune, yet a bond of friendship helps Ontario’s Vicky Mboko and Kayla Cross remain the humble teenagers they are.

Mboko, 15, from Burlington and Cross, 16, from London, recently returned from Melbourne, Australia with teammates Annabelle Xu, 17, Montreal and Mia Kupres, 18, Edmonton where they competed in the Australian Open Junior Championships tournament.

“On the court playing together they are dynamic. They smile and have fun even when the lose, yet they take it seriously for sure.”

- Virginie Tremblay, M.Sc, National Fitness Coach, Tennis Canada

It was the first main draw Grand Slam event for Mboko and second for Cross who qualified in singles at Wimbledon last year, retiring with an injury in the first round. Both players competed in singles and teamed up for doubles competition at Melbourne.

“Off the court, Vicky and Kayla are really good friends,” said Virginie Tremblay, M.Sc, National Fitness Coach, Tennis Canada. “On the court playing together they are dynamic. They smile and have fun even when the lose, yet they take it seriously for sure.”

Tremblay was with the Canadian contingent in Australia and for 19 consecutive weeks last year as they endured a multi-country tennis odyssey playing International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior tournaments.

“Vicky and Kayla are different people with different game styles, but they bring out the best in each other. Playing doubles, they have no fear. They are confident they can win, but not over-confident. Whether they win or lose, both remain the humble kids they are,” she added.

Victoria Mboko
Still only 15, Mboko has already had great success on the ITF junior circuit.

Mboko and Cross have played doubles together for a few years and have become “really close friends”, Cross says. “We have competed and travelled together and have always played well together,” she explained. “We are always smiling and laughing and having a lot of fun.”

Simon Bartram, Tennis Director, The Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, and interim Head of Player Development at the Tennis Canada High Performance facility in Toronto, coaches Cross and thinks the friendship the teenagers have developed plays a key role in their strong doubles play. “I think their chemistry as a doubles team comes from spending so much time together. And, without a doubt, knowing each other as well as they do, they easily forgive each other when mistakes are made. Having that kind of freedom from the fear of letting your partner down makes for a good doubles team.”

Privilege and Responsibility

As members of Tennis Canada’s high performance development program, Mboko and Cross spend much of their time at the National Training Centre in Montreal but travel frequently to play tournaments in various countries. They are playing a clay court tournament in Brazil at time of writing.

“They lead a privileged life at such a young age, playing a sport they love and travelling the world. They know how lucky they are to live an extraordinary life,” Tremblay said. “I don’t think I have ever met kids like them. They are so dedicated. Being away from home last year for 19 weeks was unusual. It wasn’t easy for them. There were times when their energy would be down, and one might say she wants to go home. But then one would pick up the other and away they go again. They push and support each other because they realize they are lucky to be doing this,” she added.


Canadian content: Cross and Mboko lost a close doubles final to fellow Canadians Anabelle Xu and Mia Kupres in the Dominican Republic in May ’21 Mboko won the singles title.

There is also the no-small-matter of their education which also puts demands on the two teenagers. Cross is enrolled at the Bill Crothers Secondary School, Markham, Ont. and Mboko studies online.

“It’s a big challenge for them…tennis, fitness, recovery and school. But they always find the required time for school. Tennis Canada is supportive and ensures school is a big part of their agenda while training in Montreal. They will also despatch a teacher on the road, especially during key periods such as exam time,” Tremblay explained. “Both of them know school is important and they have the discipline to handle it all. They are very professional.”

The discipline imposed by a busy, but fun life is also helping to develop their tennis skills, says Bartram. “There is no doubt Kayla, for example, is becoming a little pro. She has to be, based on what a typical day looks like for her. It’s full of a lot of structure with time on court, time in the gym, time to do homework and all this spending much time on the road,” he said.

Professional Careers Ahead?

Kayla Cross
Cross was invited to the 2019 WTA Future Stars U14 event in Shenzen, where she made the finals.

While both Mboko and Cross view college scholarships as options for their futures, they appear interested to give professional tennis a try as they transition from the junior ranks in the next few years. “College is always an option”, Mboko says, but adds she would like to achieve an ITF junior top 10 ranking, then begin to transition to small women’s professional tournaments.

The Australian Open experience made professional tennis seem a bit closer. “Playing in Margaret Court Arena with ball kids, the Hawk-Eye line calling system, a chair umpire…it was so professional,” Cross said. “We were treated like little pros. It makes you feel so important when there are people cheering for you, even though there weren’t a lot.”

While being treated like “little pros” is exciting, it is easy to remember both youngsters are teenagers, says Tremblay. “Vicky can seem shy, but she is quite funny when she gets to know people and feels comfortable. She seems to gather people around her she is so easy to be with. Kayla is similarly quiet, not looking for all the attention. She is also easy to be around. We joke with her all the time about being so polite. Everybody notices,” Tremblay laughed.

The tennis community also noticed their on-court skills in Australia. Cross, currently ranked 18th by the ITF and Mboko close behind at 22, teamed up to win the doubles championship at the J1 Traralgon Junior International tournament, a tune-up for the Junior Australian Open. Cross also made the singles final. Then, they made the finals of the Australian Open junior competition, falling in straight sets to American Clervie Ngounoue and Russian Diana Shnaider at Margaret Court Arena.

The results, as impressive as they are, almost seem secondary to their continuing growth from teenagers to young adults and possibly from junior tennis to the college or professional ranks in the years ahead.

Editors note: Mboko and Cross kept the Australian Open momentum going in mid-February at the ITF Junior J1 tournament in Brazil. Mboko won the singles title and partnered with Cross to win the doubles.

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.

Mboko & Cross
Vicky and Kayla played in the first ever OTA U9 Champions event in 2013

Junior Stars Thrived in the OTA Tournament System!

Vicky Mboko and Kayla Cross started playing OTA tournaments at a very young age. Both of them had older siblings who helped pave the way for their introduction to the rigours and pressures associated with playing competitive tennis against some of the top juniors in the province.

And they both thrived!

Cross, 16 from London and Mboko, 15 from Burlington, both started playing tournaments in the Under 8 category and it wasn’t long before they rose to the top of the rankings. In fact, Mboko won the OTA’s second-ever U9 Champions event in 2013 at the age of seven, a win which came with a $6,000 coaching bursary! Both players have had successful junior careers to date, including provincial championship victories in singles and doubles. After first gaining success in Ontario, they later rose through the ranks at the national level, followed by success at ITF international tournaments, including the recently completed Australian Junior Open Championships, where they reached the girls doubles finals!

OTA Player Development Manager Kartik Vyas notes, “Both Vicky and Kayla showed tremendous promise at an early age. From the time they reached 10, both were playing up at least one age category. There is a rule in place that prohibits players from playing up more than 2 age groups but, because of her talent, Vicky is the only player that has ever been granted and exemption to that rule, playing in a U18 tournament when she was still a U12! I’m not surprised the two of them have had recent success.”

Of course, nobody can do it alone. Both players have had tremendous support from their families, but each took a different coaching pathway. Mboko started out at ACE Academy in Burlington before moving on to the IMG Academy in Florida. Now she is enrolled in the Tennis Canada High Performance Academy in Montreal. Cross began training in London, tagging along with her older brothers and has had several private coaches throughout the years. Currently when not travelling to tournaments, she spends some time training at the Tennis Canada High Performance Centre in Toronto.

For a detailed look at their junior playing careers, click here for Cross’s OTA and Tennis Canada history and here for Mboko’s. For international play, search by name on the ITF Tennis site here.

Based on their current trajectory, their futures in tennis look very bright! Go Team Ontario!