I can't believe some wouldn't shake Lauren's hand at the net. I do declare!
Tennis' ugly side wisens phenom, family
By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 1, 2002
For the budding U.S. tennis champion, instructional books are as plentiful as hard courts. From Patrick McEnroe's Tennis for Dummies to Brad Gilbert's Winning Ugly, Amazon.com lists 1,359 titles on the sport.
Only Anna Kournikova's Internet photo gallery is more comprehensive.
But what about the parents of a budding U.S. tennis champion? Where's their how-to manual?
There's an extensive oral history on the subject. Of course, the stories passed down from one generation to the next tend to be no less scary than the tales told around the campfire. Gloria Connors. Jim Pierce. Damir Dokic. Eeech! It's enough to make any rational parent go screaming into the dark night.
Ask Teresa and Tony Albanese. The elder of the couple's two children, 12-year-old Lauren, is No. 1 in the nation in her age group. During the summer Albanese won two 18-under tournaments to cement her status as The Next Big Thing (never mind that she's 5-feet-1 and 85 pounds).
The Albaneses moved from Atlanta to Coral Springs at the beginning of the calendar year so Lauren could train six hours a day, six days a week with Rick Macci, who has schooled such prodigies as Jennifer Capriati, the Williams sisters and Monique Viele. Lauren, who is being home-schooled, is so intent on turning professional when she turns 14 that Macci and her parents have to remind her on occasion to stop and take a deep breath.
As Albanese's tennis career gathers momentum, she has caught the eye of management groups and marketing types. FILA is dressing her. Yonex is putting racquets in her hands. From Madison Avenue to Manhattan Beach, her progress is being tracked as though she were a tropical storm.
Will Lauren pack as big a wallop as Chrissie, Jennifer, Venus or Serena? Or peter out like Monique? Only time will tell. In the meantime, her parents are trying to guide her to safety without the benefit of a guidebook.
"How I wish there were one," Teresa said recently with a sigh. "We really don't know whether we're doing it the right way or the wrong way."
Teresa was a basketball player in high school. Tony was a college baseball player. Neither of their athletic histories prepared them in any way for junior tennis.
"We didn't have a clue what our daughter was getting into," Teresa said. "It's been an education all around."
Albanese's parents didn't know the real show often takes place in the stands, not on the courts. It never ceases to sicken them to see some of the parents sweating (and swearing) over every point. "Some of the parents, I can almost see them playing the point out emotionally," Teresa said.
At the start of the year, when Albanese was ranked No. 129 in her age group, people thought it was cute how she tirelessly ran down every ball on those Popsicle stick legs of hers. Now that she's vaulted to the top, the reception she receives isn't always so warm.
Albanese has defeated girls in the 18-under division who have refused to shake her hand at the net. Her mother says that older opponents have volleyed obscenities at her during a match.
"It's so puzzling," Teresa said. "We've seen some of the girls she has played lose to girls closer to their age and size and they seem to take it much better than when they lose to Lauren."
It's a story as old as Cain and Abel. Wherever two or more are gathered in the name of competition there is resentment.
Nothing invites spite quite like success. The pity is that Albanese is getting a crash course in sociology before she reaches high school.
The first time a competitor hurled expletives at her or refused to shake her hand, Albanese was startled. She has learned to take it all in stride. She has no choice if she wants to grow up to be a top-five player in the world.
"A lot of times, I go up against girls who are bigger and older than me, and the crowd will get behind the other girl and root for her," Lauren said. "They're kind of jealous, I guess. It just pushes me to do better."
The same thing goes for those competitors who blow off the post-match handshake at the net. "That doesn't make me mad or anything," Lauren said. "If somebody doesn't want to be sportsmanlike, it just makes me want to beat them by more the next time."
Good for Albanese, but how gauche for tennis.
That which doesn't kill her spirit will make her stronger. Albanese is learning lessons the tennis instructional books conveniently omit.