The girl has completely gone nuts. She even gives us a beutiful poem she wrote
The journey continues
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Posted by Alexandra Stevenson
Editor's note: Alexandra Stevenson, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1999, has been out of the game for a prolonged period of time while rehabbing a shoulder injury. Stevenson has pronounced herself healthy this year and is vying to get back into the game.
I wish it were easier to get back to the top of women's tennis. It's not. I played in Boston last week in a $50,000 Challenger Series event.
A good comparison for Challengers is probably Single A baseball. It's bad food, old locker rooms, small towels, cheap hotels, a change of surface and mostly friendly volunteers. Double A and Triple A would be too nice to compare. I know, I've thrown the first pitch at a few minor league ballparks.
I've spilled a lot of tears in Challengers trying to come back. In Challengers, tennis clubs around the world find sponsors and put on the tournaments for players to work on ranking points and their game. It's under the umbrella of the International Tennis Federation. You pay for your hotel, airfare, coaching, food, stringing, entry fee and any additional expenses.
You might associate Challengers with Andre Agassi. He was 144th in the world and used Challengers to get back into playing shape. I had a longer way to go -- I was ranked in the 900s. Let's face it: Being 18th in the world and turning 23 years old was the perfect way to bring my game to the top. But now, even though I am still 20-something, the journey back brings so much more angst.
The major problem at the Challenger level is the lack of licensed physical therapists. On the WTA Tour, the sports science staff is superior in credentials and physical-therapy treatments. WTA trainers will find a way to make your body parts work on the court. I strained my adductor (hip muscle) and hamstring at Wimbledon in my second match of qualifying, when I slipped on the grass during a mild rain shower. The adductor acted up in Boston during my quarterfinal match in the second set. I lost the ability to explode off my left leg. I realized it was going to be tough to continue. I didn't feel strong, my leg had throbbing pain, but I stayed out there and took the loss.
It's hard to carry on sometimes. The whole time I was trying to grind out that match, my best friend, Kristen -- a New York accountant -- was spending her weekend at the Surf Lodge, a new hot spot for the summer in Montauk, on Long Island. I envied her, because a loss is not my idea of fun.
You have to learn to lose as a tennis player and move on so you can win. I wrote about losing for a poetry class at the University of Colorado. Here it is:
The tennis court is meant to showcase grace and power,
Unstoppable athleticism where the ball sails like a fast-moving car
Impossible shots that skid through the court
For one player there is a final shot missed
A ball that is driven twice as hard as needed
Or a lob that arcs the wrong way across the blue sky
A deep volley that is punched into the loose net
The player can hear her coach trying to draw her through it, the words spinning in her mind
"Move your feet … Bend your knees … Spin it … Chip the returns … Get your first serve in."
Meanwhile, the player lifts her body into one last service motion, stretching her fingertips
The ball slams into the net, empty air beside the player, a last error
A feeling of despair, her muscles twitching
The player's racket dangling by her side
The actress inside forcing a cool appearance on her face
But she is thinking, "My God, not again."
The player wipes her hand on her skirt
Shake the opponent's hand, smile, "Good match."
Look at the boy in the audience with the big yellow ball, his eyes following the player
Place the sunglasses on her face, a shield that keeps the world away
See the crowd push for her attention, the boy swaying in the crush, giving his pen and ball to the player
Sign the big yellow ball for the boy who grins with a million-dollar smile at the player
It's time to wave goodbye, a gesture that is warm, unlike the cold certainty of the match result
Quiet in the locker room, the bags spilling over with clothes, ice packs waiting, players looking the other way
The player affectionately touches her rackets, looking at the strings, remembering the beautiful, rolling strokes
In the pressroom, they sit in rows of gray plastic folding chairs, some are standing, and the cameras are clicking
They ask about the games that got away, not the moment when the big, flat serve went down the middle at 124 mph.
They don't ask about the games that showcase beauty, phenomenal power and grace
Instead, they ask, "Why did you lose?"
Nothing has happened to the player's game. It is still there, a level of excellence that is ready to rise
The tears fall down the player's brown-sunburned cheeks as she looks at strangers looking back at her
It is the easiest of conversations to talk about the constructed points, the fluid abandon that the player feels
But, the crisis of the moment is so deep, that she thinks no further.
Most players don't have a press contingent come around at Challengers events after they lose. I've lost count of how many reporters show up in small towns and big cities to interview me, win or lose. My mother, Samantha Stevenson, a journalist, tells me, "Feel flattered that they care about you."
The two female reporters from the Bay State Banner and the Boston Globe said they came mostly because of my "back story." "You have an interesting family dynamic," they said. They didn't really care that I lost. They got that it was a process and progress had been made during the week. Hallelujah.
And, they waited an hour for me to finish in the training room. I felt like I was on "The View." Our hot topics were my tennis, Carrie Bradshaw, God, age, being American, locker room politics, chick lit, boy friends, Derek Jeter (the Yankees were playing the Red Sox).
So, here I am with a week to rehab the adductor and play in qualifying at Stanford. Small steps for Chris Pogson, my physical therapist -- and Chris Coleman, the boxing coach -- to coax my muscles back to an explosive state.
Today, I moved into Stanford qualifying with my ranking points -- and this is the first time I haven't had to wait until the sign-in deadline (the day before play) to find out my status.
You might wonder why it's taking me longer to get back than it took Martina Hingis during her comeback or Lindsay Davenport following the birth of her son? Hingis and Davenport are Grand Slam champions -- and they were allowed unlimited wild card entries. I must use my ranking points to get into qualifying of events, while building back into the top 100 -- and moving into the top 20 -- and No. 1 in the world. It's like Rafael Nadal said after his amazing win over Roger Federer: "It's my dream." You have to dream big to make it.
Making it means having a dream team. Look at Dara Torres. I have admired her training team for a long time. I've got my mom. I've got Pogson and Coleman, and a chiropractor and soft tissue specialist. I've got the most famous functional specialist in the world -- Pete Egoscue -- who has worked on giving me a balanced body since I was 10 years old. But, I don't have a designated coach who travels and hits with me every day, because that would require a salary to pay him. I hire hitting coaches on the road, and at home in Los Angeles, I am fortunate to have coaches who have known me since I was 9: Robert Lansdorp, my childhood coach and the groundstroke genius who brought my strokes back after surgery; Chuck Kingman at Seal Beach Tennis Club, who drills me over and over and keeps me up to date on pop celebrity; and Barry Horowitz at Mountaingate Country Club -- I call Barry "The Professor" because he has such a brilliant take on the game.
These guys remain in the trenches, believing in my game and my way back.
Because, in my mind, I want it back the way it used to be. I remember all my old Wimbledons, and I even remember a young Rafael Nadal as a junior player, staring me down. It was 2002, and junior players are not allowed to practice at Aorangi, the practice site. Well, a young Nadal, who was playing juniors at Wimbledon, walked down to my practice court that year, which was in the back, and he pressed his face against the gate, watching me hit. It was in the day when I worried about who was around my court because of all the press and the father issues, so I asked my mom to go see who was at the gate. She did. She said to the young boy at the gate, "You are Nadal, the player who is supposed to be a great champion one day." I kid you not. She said that. She invited him in. He said, in broken English, "No, no, I watch her. Semifinals at Wimbledon." And he smiled. It seems he wanted to see the girl who had made history.
I thought that was cute back then -- and, looking back on it, it goes along with him and his champion's mentality -- he cared about history and wanted to see it up close. I want to see it up close again, too.