ED GRANEY: Stevenson's life reduced to her mother's racket
This is where Centre Court at Wimbledon ultimately leads some tennis players. This is how far the fall can be from two weeks of brilliant play and memorable curtsies. Out here at the Darling Tennis Center, struggling to hit consecutive winners on the obscurity of Court 11, your career seemingly blowing away in the high winds that surround yet another defeat.
Alexandra Stevenson had her 15 minutes in 1999. She was 18 and hit a ball like Floyd Mayweather Jr. does a punching bag. She was all power on the court and charming as can be off it. She showed up at Wimbledon as just another qualifier and departed a semifinalist, capturing the fascination of tennis fans around the world while subsequently watching her personal life conveyed to millions who learned she was fathered by basketball great Julius Erving.
adsonar_placementId=21160;adsonar_pid=167778;adson ar_ps=-1;adsonar_zw=250;adsonar_zh=250;adsonar_jv='ads.ad sonar.com';
She was ranked as high as No. 18 in 2002.
She is 369th today.
She is an old 26 trying to remain alive in a game meant for much younger players. She's fighting a battle her body suggests she can't possibly win, having been besieged with shoulder injuries that never allowed her to realize her true ability.
Stevenson was dismissed by Angela Haynes 6-7, 6-1, 6-1 on Wednesday in a first-round match of a USTA Pro Circuit Challenger, a sideshow to the Tennis Channel Open and basically the equivalent of a Double-A baseball game in Tulsa, Okla.
Stevenson refused comment after her match, walking much quicker to the locker room than she moved on the court all day, followed by a mother who continues to accompany her daughter to matches while exuding what resembles a disturbing amount of control over Alexandra's career given her age.
Example: During the first game of the second set, Samantha Stevenson chastised her daughter's coach for speaking to a reporter after the first set, then asked the reporter to leave. Minutes later, noticing everyone had kept their original places in the near-empty bleachers, Stevenson's mother moved herself and the coach 15 feet away, muttering that she didn't want her daughter to see him speaking with anyone.
(At this point, I was somewhat perplexed. Given that I coach a Bobby Sox team named the "Pink Flowers" and religiously watch "American Idol," I've always thought of myself about as intimidating as a bug on your windshield.)
Before being summoned, however, an amicable Chuck Kingman (I have no idea how much the man makes to deal with Mother Stevenson, but it's not enough) spoke about the player he just began coaching again after working with Alexandra years ago.
"The biggest thing with her now is to just get matches, get her confidence back," he said. "She knows that she didn't lose her ranking based on that she wasn't good enough. She has always had the talent. Her shoulder is healthier than it has been in a few years. She has matured as a person. I couldn't be more proud of her. I believe she is who she is because of the experience (at Wimbledon and the revelation of Erving being her father). I wouldn't wish that kind of (publicity) on anyone, but she is a much stronger person today for it."
Mentally, maybe. Physically, she isn't near where elite players exist. When her shoulder is right, Stevenson's serve is an obvious weapon. It was good enough to win Wednesday. But she didn't move well enough to find success even at this mediocre level of professional play. She was always a step too slow. She missed setup winners. She pushed easy volleys long. She needed a medical timeout in the third set to have a trainer work on her leg.
"I can't imagine going from (No. 18 to No. 369)," said the 22-year-old winner, Haynes. "I've known Alex since I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. She's a sweetheart. But it's very, very tough trying to make this kind of (comeback). I went from 95 to 190, and that was really bad. There are so many good, young players out there now. Personally, I wouldn't try it. It would be too much, starting over at her age and having to play all the qualifiers and smaller events, not being able to get into bigger events. I wouldn't put myself through it. Basically, you have to work your butt off and pray a lot."
Basically, she had her moment in the spotlight, then her body betrayed her. It's not a new story. It has been told countless times over in all sports.
Basically, it has come to this for Alexandra Stevenson: For some time now, those around women's tennis have talked more about her mother's weird level of influence than anything about her game.
Talk about a massive fall.
Ed Graney's column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or email@example.com