Alexandra Stevenson: When will she be the great?
Q&A: TUESDAY, JULY 16
By Matthew Cronin
Sheís enigmatic, talented, delightful, outspoken, controversial and completely unpredictable both on court and off.
San Diegoís Alexandra Stevenson burst on to the scene in 1999, when, fresh out of La Jolla Country Day, she reached the Wimbledon semis. The daughter of former tennis journalist Samantha Stevenson and NBA legend Julius Erving, Stevenson hasnít come close to matching that Grand Slam result in the past three years. But, much to her credit, since last fall she has clawed her way up the charts, cracking the top 30 and coming into Wimbledon seeded No. 24. Boasting a huge serve, a serviceable volley and big but erratic groundstrokes, Stevenson expected to win the title this year. But (there goes that ďbutĒ) she was shocked in the first round 6-1, 6-3 by the unknown Saori Obata.
Stevenson, who is coached by her mother and the USTAís Ray Ruffles, will play in all three of Californiaís hard court tournaments Ė Palo Alto, La Costa and Manhattan Beach. Here she talks about her career and future.
********************: Your career has already been quite a journey.
Alexandra Stevenson: Very much so. I could already write a memoir. There arenít many 21-year-olds who have had the experiences Iíve had, starting from Wimbledon í99, which was crazy, coming out of high school, not knowing what I was doing and then having to play top-10 players. Then the interest in me slowed down and I went off the radar screen. People started dissing me, which made me tougher. The whole society was doing it. It had a very negative impact on me. Without my mom, I would have quit. But she wouldnít let me.
tr.net: What were people saying?
AS: When you get to the Wimbledon semis out of nowhere, people expect you to all of a sudden to win Grand Slams. They said I was a fluke, overweight and slow. Someone said I was chirpy and happy but had no substance. That was hard. Iím not 30, over the hill. People donít understand that my game is totally different from other girlsí and it takes a while to develop. Itís a manís game. Look at Kuerten, he took a while.
tr.net: Were youíd wishing you never reached the Wimby semis?
AS: No. It was a great experience and happened for a reason Ė God didnít want me to go to school. Otherwise, I would have been at UCLA. I was proud of it. Everyone was trying to diss it and take it away, but you canít take history away.
tr.net: So you think that people should have understood that you were still on a learning curve?
AS: People are fickle and go with whoís winning, whoís the hot ticket and if youíre not, youíre dirt. But it was good going through it because I learned a lot and if I hadnít gone through it, I would have been totally clueless about the world. You canít trust anyone. When I came on tour, I was really nice and trusted a lot of people and ended up getting hurt. Your blood cares about you and about five percent of other people sincerely care. If youíre lucky, youíll have a close circle. I learned that itís a job. I still play for the glory of the sport because I was raised that way and still play for the fun of it, but if you donít take it as a job you are going to get eaten up. I needed to focus and grow up.
tr.net: You went back to school, too.
AS: Iím studying liberal arts online at the University of Colorado. Iím going to graduate in 2006. I want to go to the Yale School of Drama and NYU to study film and be an actress.
tr.net: Thatís a lot.
AS: I want to pull a Jennifer Lopez
tr.net: And she never got to the Wimbledon semis.
AS: Iíll pull one ahead of her. But thatís later on. You donít have to just play tennis. You play tennis maybe two hours a day and then maybe an hour and a half workout so I went back to school to get something done. It makes you more educated, so you donít lose brain cells out here. Because let me tell you, you can lose serious brain cells on the tour.
tr.net: How much better are you than in í99?
AS: Thereís no comparison. I was a high school girl with no muscle tone. Martina and Anna were early bloomers. I was very late. People tell me that Iím 21 and washed up and I look at them and say, ďYouíre stupid.íĒ
tr.net: You see yourself as more of a Pierce or a Davenport, who won their first Slam titles in mid-career.
AS: Yeah. People dissed Lindsay, too. There are little phenoms who come up when theyíre 12, but they grow up in a different culture, with different bodies. Itís a different way of life.
tr.net: But two of those phenoms are your good friends, Venus and Serena.
AS: They developed fast but they also have the athletic gene on their side that helped them. I do, too. They worked hard down in Florida while I was going to school. Now that Iím doing well they are really cheering me on. Venus writes me little notes. If I lose, sheíll come to me and say, ďAlex, next time Iíll have to beat her for you.Ē Itís nice, Iím getting closer in the rankings to them. Itís not as far as No. 115 [her 2001 ranking]. We have a picture when Serena is eight, Iím nine and Venus is 10 and Venus has just beaten me in Anaheim. We were like the Ghetto Special. Itís so funny. Our hair is sticking up and we all wear hand-me-downs. Our clothes are horrible.
tr.net: Last fall, you went to play in Europe and Russia right after 9/11, when almost no other American went. How was that?
AS: We flew into Boston the first day after 9/11 and it was really weird. It was like that Stephen King movie where the people fly into an airport and thereís no one there.
tr.net: The Langoliers, where people are being chased by time.
AS: It was a time warp. Just like that. When we went to Leipzig and Moscow, there were no other Americans there. It was weird. I trekked through Europe and it was a nightmare. I was in qualies everywhere. But I went from No. 115 to 66. I had to go to work.
tr.net: You came into Wimbledon seeded for the first time and were shocked in the first round by a no name.
AS: I wasnít prepared. I took two months off after March because of a wrist injury, played Roland Garros, got sick in Eastbourne. It hasnít been a very good five weeks. I was better two days before the match and I thought I would win. I froze. I couldnít get a ball in the court. I didnít win a service game until the last games.
tr.net: You were tight?
AS: Do we have to talk about this? I couldnít serve. I was hitting the ball cleanly but I aimed the ball wrong. That comes from not playing matches. It will make me tougher. Iím going to go out and beat everybody in the hard court season. Iím going to go out there and be a killer.
tr.net: Arenít you supposed to not aim the ball and have it come more naturally?
AS: Yeah, but my aim was so off, and you have to aim it somewhere. I couldnít correct it. It was really horrible, it was worse than 2000, when I came back and lost all my points.
tr.net: Because you think that now youíre better and more mature?
AS: Yeah. I thought I could go all the way through and win the title. But I didnít. It was a big letdown. Iím going to win Wimbledon one of these years.
tr.net: Sampras said itís really hard to go home from a tournament you expected to do well in.
AS: Itís devastating. This is what Pete and I build our year around. I want to be like him, where heís won seven Wimbledons. Seeing him lose made me more upset. I was already upset but after seeing him I felt worse.
tr.net: Heís your inspiration?
AS: I really look up to him and itís unfair that people are saying he should retire. Heís a great champion. Heís won more Grand Slams than anybody and he shouldnít be treated like a has-been just because heís having trouble winning. Everybody does. Look at Andre. They put Pete down because heís an easy target. Itís unconscionable. He just had a bad day.
tr.net: Heís had a bad year.
AS: Yeah, but heíll get it back. They shouldínt be mean to him. But people have been mean to me. Thatís why I feel for him.
tr.net: But youíre 21, with your best days ahead of you, and heís almost 31, with his best days behind him. Heíll never be the dominant player he was five years ago.
AS: You canít say that. He could have a comeback. You always have to think positive. He still thinks he can play. Heís the same person, maybe five years older, but if he trains hard and really wants it, he can come back and beat all the guys.
tr.net: Are you still working with Pete Fischer (Samprasí former coach, who spent more than three years in jail on child molestation charges)?
AS: Iíve known him since I was nine so itís not like heís going to be an enemy. But, no.
Samantha Stevenson: Alexandra, the correct thing to say about Pete Fisher is that he will always be your friend and mentor without getting into all the stuff, thatís unfair to her. But, on the road, Iím the coach.
tr.net: Are you going to move back to California?
AS: Iím trying sell my place in Florida and might buy something in Miami and LA.
tr.net: Is this a big year for you?
AS: After losing in the first round of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, itís been a bad two months, but Iím still planning on reaching my goal of top 16 and qualifying for the year-end championships. I have a lot of tournaments in front of me so I canít get too depressed. Earlier this year I was playing well but I was losing to the top players in the third or fourth rounds. It was making me mad. Then I hurt my wrist and couldnít lift a racket for two months. I lost my edge and have to get it back and I will get it back in the summer season. I can play with the top five. They all put their underwear on the same way I do. But the top five get treated like queens, so much better than everyone else. They get perks like a Mercedes, or to walk in front of people and ask for a practice court. You shouldnít be able to do that. But when youíre in the top five youíve made it and itís a much easier life.
tr.net: How much do you love playing?
AS: Thereís nothing better. Itís so cool. It beats sitting in class or a 10-to-5 day job. Itís so much fun to get better and run around the court. Thatís what I lacked in 2000, when I didnít want to go out on court. In Florida, I didnít like who I was around and the person I was becoming. It was like a bad karma.
Samantha Stevenson: We donít believe in karma, Alexandra.
AS: Then it was bad vibes, like when you walk into a place and you feel weird. [People were] cold. For a Southern California girl, it was hard to move to Florida.
Samantha Stevenson: But you got to pick the bedroom you always wanted.
AS: Itís really cool.
tr.net: Are you peaking?
AS: Not even close. Maybe when Iím 30, but hopefully in the next year. Now I feel stronger and think I can win. Iím not worried about who Iím playing anymore but how I play. My goal is still to reach the WTA Championships this year.
tr.net: Which will be in LA, maybe your new hometown.
AS: What better place than LA because of the Hollywood scene.
tr.net: Are you attracted to the Hollywood scene, going out and rubbing shoulders with celebrities?
AS: I donít go out. I donít have a celebrity lifestyle. I donít know any celebrities.
tr.net: Serena knows celebrities and goes out and sheís your friend.
AS: But Serenaís won Grand Slams and sheís invited. I havenít done anything yet and am not known, which is good because it keeps me focused. I work out, play tennis and go to sleep. Iím pretty boring. I go to an occasional movie and study. I like to pretend I do a lot, but I donít.
tr.net: Thatís not an exciting lifestyle for a 21-year-old. Are you missing something?
AS: Iíve never done it, so I donít know what itís like. I only see it in movies and say, ďThat looks like fun.íĒ
tr.net: There have to be a couple of times when youíve gone out and partied, especially in high school.
AS: Never. I went to school, drove up to LA three times a week to practice and then drove back on Friday to see Robert Lansdorp, played tournaments on the weekends and then went back to school on Monday. My senior year, I finally went to a party after we graduated and it was the day before we left for England. I left in an hour because it was so stupid.
tr.net: Maybe you should go to more parties since that was the year you reached the Wimbledon semis.
AS: I donít think it was that Ė I left because everyone was so gone and I thought it was really childish. I like to dance but I never saw the point of going to parties whereís thereís alcohol and people get in trouble.
tr.net: Youíve never gone out to a club to dance?
AS: Never. Once, I went to an under-21 club and it was pretty funny. So, technically, Iíve never gone to a club. Serena wants to take me. Maybe Iíll go with her once.
tr.net: You donít want to see how a lot of the rest your peers live?
AS: No. I want to be in the top 10, and to be there I canít be partying and getting interested in boys and dresses. Iím interested in clothes, I just have nowhere to wear them.
tr.net: But Serena goes out sometimes and sheís won a few Slams.
AS: But sheís very focused and I can get distracted. Thereís no reason to waste your energy. I like to go shopping Ė thatís my thing. But Iím on a budget and need to save money if I want to buy a house in California. When I win a Grand Slam, then Iíll have a big party in L.A. That will be my reward.
tr.net: With alcohol?
AS: I donít drink, but I guess Iíd have to provide some for other people. But Iíd just have music and water.
tr.net: Not even juice? Ms. Excitement.
AS: All I drink is water [laughter].
tr.net: Youíre torturing yourself.
AS: Water is very important. You donít want to get dehydrated when youíre dancing [laughing].
tr.net: Who is Alexandra Stevenson?
AS: Iím nice, fashionable and fun to be around. On court, Iím tough, a great athlete and you donít want to play me.
This article first appeared in Inside Tennis magazine.
this interview reveals a lot about Samantha as well. what an intrusive, controlling, enmeshed relationship! not at all healthy for Alexandra IMO. i also think that Alex' focus is way past tennis and that may be a mistake. she needs to focus more on the here and a bit less on the there if she wants to have more tennis success...just MHO