Harkleroad's breakthrough tournament
By GENE SAPAKOFF
April 11 2003
The Post and Courier
As a teenage tennis phenom, she was known as "Pebbles" from Flintstone.
She burst into the big-time spotlight at the 2001 U.S. Open, despite losing to Meilen Tu. Ashley Harkleroad, then only 16, wore a skimpy outfit that made cameras click and traditionalists cringe.
The resemblance to mega-popular Anna Kournikova was hard to ignore. Almost two years later, the tags of "The American Anna" and "Kourna Copy" followed Harkleroad to the Family Circle Cup.
Things are changing with every day she spends on Daniel Island. Harkleroad, thanks to her 6-2, 6-2 upsets of No. 9 seed Elena Bovina on Wednesday and No. 11 seed Meghann Shaughnessy on Thursday, has reached the quarterfinals.
Regardless what happens today against No. 5 seed Daniela Hantuchova, this is a breakthrough tournament for a native Georgian focused on the fast track.
"It's been pretty fun," said Harkleroad, who turns 18 on May 2. "I'm just trying to enjoy every minute of it."
Unseeded in Charleston and No. 101 in the Women's Tennis Association singles rankings, Harkleroad in two days has notched by far the two biggest wins of her upstart career.
Shaughnessy, a fellow American ranked No. 19 in the world, is having a fine year. She defeated No. 2 Venus Williams last month at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami. Bovina, a rising star from Russia, is ranked No. 16.
LIKE BARNEY RUBBLE
The 5-5, 121-pound Harkleroad had played in only four tournaments this year and made it to a main draw just once, downing Anne Kremer at the Tier IV event in Auckland, New Zealand, in January before losing to Emmanuelle Gagliardi.
"I'm in my own backyard," Harkleroad said. "I feel good being here. I feel close to home and maybe I might just make a trip back home to celebrate an early birthday and see my family."
Her father Danny played college football at Chattanooga, and is in town for the Family Circle Cup. Her mother Tammy played tennis at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. Harkleroad lives and trains in Wesley Chapel, Fla., but was raised near Chattanooga in Flintstone, Ga.
Hence the nickname.
In her first pro tournament on green clay, "Pebbles" and her strong baseline attack has gone through competition like Barney Rubble goes through a bronto burger.
COOL WITH ANNA
Harkleroad was gaining confidence against Shaughnessy on Thursday with every two-handed backhand laser, each accompanied by a long, loud screaming grunt. The Club Court crowd loved it.
"(The crowd) gets you going more," Harkleroad said. "But everybody always likes the crowd to be behind them, I think, so it was nice."
As for the Anna stuff, well, that's OK, too.
"I take it as a compliment," Harkleroad said. "I've been practicing with her a lot in Miami and she's a very sweet girl and we got along well, and she's a very cool girl."
But at this rate, Harkleroad's baseline play will make her the baseline for future comparisons.
Gene Sapakoff may be reached by phone at 937-5593, by e-mail at email@example.com
or by mail at 134 Columbus St., Charleston, S.C., 29403.