MICHELLE LARCHER DE BRITO
Portuguese teenager serves notice
Michelle Larcher de Brito, 14, beat 43rd-ranked Meghann Shaughnessy 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) in the first round in her WTA debut.
BY SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN
Michelle Larcher de Brito's favorite movie is When a Stranger Calls
''It's a scary movie,'' said Larcher de Brito, who turned 14 in late January.
During Wednesday's first-round tennis matches at the Sony Ericsson Open, Larcher de Brito's WTA Tour debut could have shared that same title. Nobody, including the WTA, knew much about this emotive Portuguese teenager, who indeed was scary in her first victory as a pro.
Larcher de Brito, the Sony Ericsson's youngest player, grunted, groaned and fist-pumped her way to an impressive 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) victory against 43rd-ranked Meghann Shaughnessy of Scottsdale, Ariz. Larcher de Brito became the second-youngest woman to win a match in the Key Biscayne tournament.
The youngest: Jennifer Capriati, who was less than a week short of her 14th birthday when she defeated Patty Fendick in 1990 after Fendick retired in the first set with a knee injury.
Shaughnessy, who is 5-11, didn't seem to appreciate Larcher de Brtio, a wild-card entry, continually pumping her fist as she eyed Shaughnessy and yelled, ''Come on!'' several times.
When she won her sixth game in the final set that pushed the match to the tiebreaker, Larcher de Brito switched to Portuguese, screaming ''Vamos, é agora!
[Let's go, it's now!]'' She cruised to win the first six points in the tiebreaker, lost the next three, and then dropped to her knees in astonishment -- hands covering her face -- when Shaughnessy, 27, hit the final shot wide.
''I didn't know what to think at the moment,'' said Larcher de Brito, who speaks English, is managed by IMG and has been training in Bradenton under Nick Bollettieri since she was 9.
``This is a really big tournament, and winning the first round I was just so happy. I mean, I couldn't believe it.''
Assured of at least $9,600 by reaching the next round Friday against 18th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova, the winner of last week's Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Calif., Larcher de Brito became the first female from Portugal to defeat a player in the top 50. And she's not even ranked yet. She needs one more pro tournament (she lost in an International Tennis Federation pro event last month in Midland, Mich.) to earn a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour ranking.
''I was definitely nervous [Wednesday],'' said Larcher de Brito, who is most secure with her groundstrokes and movement, and least secure with her serve.
``I was just really excited . . . really pumped through the match . . . It's not easy because she's a lot stronger and taller and more experienced than me.''
Some things you likely don't know about Larcher de Brito:
• She has 18-year-old twin brothers who also train with Bollettieri.
• Her father, Antonio, 39, a former public relations and marketing representative, is one of 11 children, two of whom have gotten their respective companies to financially support Larcher de Brito's family (including mother Caroline) in Bradenton.
• She is ranked 64th by the ITF, the youngest player among the top 100 juniors.
• Her favorite television show is The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
because, ``It has Will Smith in it.''
• Her favorite music is hip-hop and rap, ``and my favorite artist right now is Justin Timberlake.''
• Her good-luck charm is a religious necklace her grandmother gave her when she was baptized -- ``I play with it every single match.''
• Her favorite female tennis player is Martina Hingis.
Larcher de Brito's parents are with her in Key Biscayne, but IMG agent Ben Crandell said they would rather stay in the background and not do interviews. Only eight Portuguese women on the WTA Tour are ranked, with the highest being No. 261 Frederica Piedade.
Because of the age difference, Larcher de Brito said she mostly stays out of the way of her competitors.
''I just sort of do my thing,'' she said. ``I just go on the court and play . . . I don't really talk to them.''
Her goal this week?
''Just go out there and play my best,'' she said. ``Just have fun with it.''
So far, so good.