Upset of Martina Hingis sweet for hard working yet overlooked Laura Granville
Wimbledon, England -- Daily life on the women's tennis tour isn't so much about first-class plane flights, interviews on national television or hordes of admiring fans. It's more like the life Laura Granville has known since she left Stanford six years ago.
It's a hard, unforgiving existence for most of the women out there, with precious few rewards. Granville realized that a few years back when she got a look at her surroundings, stuck at a Challengers event in Oklahoma, and wondered, "Why am I doing this? Why do I keep playing this game?"
It's mostly about dreams -- and on a cloudy Friday at Wimbledon, Granville lived one. In a stunning third-round upset on the fabled Court 2, she knocked off 11th-ranked Martina Hingis 6-4, 6-2 in the most satisfying win of her professional life.
That's opposed to her amateur life. Granville left her Chicago home for Stanford in 2000 and was simply unbeatable, twice winning the NCAA singles title and twice winning the Tennis Magazine/ITA College Player of the Year award. She'd always thought about a career in pro tennis, but only after that sophomore season did she begin to take it seriously.
"Stanford is such a great place to be," she said. "It's definitely its own little world. Such a great atmosphere, and I had my teammates, everyone being so supportive -- sometimes I didn't even know what was going on in the rest of the world. But I knew I wasn't challenging myself against the best players."
Foregoing her junior year, Granville turned pro and boarded a very crowded train to anonymity. She had a huge third-round win at the 2002 Wimbledon, beating Mary Pierce, who at the time was coming off a quarterfinal appearance at the French Open (losing to eventual champion Serena Williams). Until Friday, though, that remained her signature performance.
"I think at the time, I didn't realize how tough (the tour) is," said Granville, who has generally floated between the No. 50 and No. 100 rankings and is currently ranked 77th. "Then you get out there, and you struggle, and people are criticizing you. You learn to really appreciate the good matches. I certainly didn't enjoy (beating Pierce) like I'm enjoying this one."
Hingis had a storied career, cut short by an injury-forced retirement in 2003, and she returned to find quite a different tour. It wasn't just the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and a handful of others playing power tennis; it seemed that everyone was crushing the ball. Encouraging results have come sparingly, and lately Hingis has had hip and hamstring problems stemming from an inflammation of her left femur bone.
She was fit enough to play, though, without any blatant signs of vulnerability, and if you were watching the two players for the first time, you would peg Granville as the superior talent -- by far. She dictated the points, played smarter at the key moments, had the more reliable groundstrokes. Granville knew all about Court 2, the so-called "Graveyard of Champions," but then again, she wasn't the champion in question. She would have played on Court 718 if they had one.
Hingis left the grounds wondering if she should have played Wimbledon at all, saying, "I definitely feel there's still something going on (with her leg injury). The doctors said I couldn't injure it any more, but I don't feel any better than about 70 percent (recovered). But give Laura all the credit today. I tried to hang in there, but she didn't let me come back."
The mature, well-spoken Granville figures she'll be back at Stanford someday, to finish a degree in psychology. There were times in recent years when she had her suitcases halfway packed. For now, there's the fourth round of Wimbledon, against Michaella Krajicek, and a lot of attention coming her way. Such are the rewards for perseverance.