Majoli fell down under; Youngsters make their breakthrough
Majoli fell down under; Youngsters make their breakthrough
By Rose Paton
Special to WTAFANS.COM
Iva Majoli hails from Zagreb, Croatia, but she would be more than happy to have her mail forwarded to Charleston.
The 25-year-old defending Family Circle Cup champion smiles a bit more and stands a bit taller these days at the Daniel Island Tennis Center.
"Everyone here is so nice. Everyone is like, 'Oh, here's the champion! Here's the champion!' It feels great," Majoli said last Tuesday after dispatching first-round foe Lindsay Lee-Waters in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5.
Being the defending champion of a Tier I event on the WTA Tour certainly has its perks. Besides having the tournament staff attend to her every whim, there was the added bonus of playing her first-round match on the main stadium court.
This, despite being unseeded and ranked just No. 31 in the world.
Make no mistake, though. Her victory over Patty Schynder in last year's title match was no fluke. Rather, it was a payoff for persevering through three long years of recovery from an injury-plagued 1999 season.
"It was a difficult time for me and there were so many injuries," Majoli said. "I would always come back and get injured again and was never really able to practice full-time."
Making matters worse for the 5-foot-9 forehand specialist was the rapid evolution of the women's game during those oft-injured years, which began with a sprained ankle at the 1999 Australian Open. At that time, the No. 1 player in the world was the similarly sized finesse artist Martina Hingis.
Next came multiple shoulder injuries followed by multiple surgeries. By the time Majoli was healthy enough to resume a full slate, the game was dominated by the likes of Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus. Overwhelming serves, ferocious power strokes and heavily muscled upper bodies had transformed the game.
"I finally just started spending half a day in the gym and working on my shoulders and upper body to get bigger and stronger," Majoli said. "And, until last year, I struggled a lot."
Then came a little dose of luck at the 2002 Family Circle Cup.
A wonderful draw put the stronger power players like Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams in the opposite bracket. Then, as Majoli quietly advanced through the tamer bracket, Schnyder went on a rampage, knocking off Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Williams and Capriati. That set up the first Teir I final between unseeded players.
In that match, Majoli's unique, high-kicking forehand volleys led her to hoisting a WTA trophy for the first time in five years.
The Majoli that walked onto the stadium court Tuesday was indeed much different from the one that had won the 1997 French Open title and been ranked as high as No. 4 in the world.
Through adversity, Majoli found desire. Through desire, she learned to adapt.
Through victory she found confidence. And through confidence, she found that winning smile.
Youngster make their breakthroughs
Ashley Harkleroad celebrates her win over Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia during the quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup, Friday, April 11, 2003, in Charleston, S.C. Harkleroad upset fifth-seeded Hantuchova 6-2, 6-1. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
Ashley Harkleroad, perky blonde from Florida, entered the Family Circle Cup as a 17-year-old wildcard with a stellar junior record and plenty of pro potential. She left Daniel Island with victories over three top-20 players, and a label as the next rising star in women's tennis.
The 30th Family Circle Cup was best known for two things: the end of Serena Williams' 21-match winning streak, and the arrival of Harkleroad as a player impossible to overlook. With consecutive victories over world No. 19 Meghann Shaughnessy, No. 16 Elena Bovina and No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova, the Georgia native became the first wildcard to reach the tournament semifinals since Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
Harkleroad's relatively easy advance through three world-class players stunned her fellow competitors, and will almost certainly change the way she's perceived on tour. When she enters her next tournament, possibly the German Open in Berlin next month, she'll do so as an 18-year-old, full-time WTA player with a reputation as a dangerous foe.
Harkleroad entered the Family Circle Cup ranked 101st in the world. Before this week, her greatest accomplishment in pro tennis had been a win at a small ITF event in the Bronx with a total purse of $50,000. She earned $49,125 for reaching the semifinals on Daniel Island, and her ranking will climb into the high 50s when the new rankings are released today.
Another one is in Estoril, Portugal.
German qualifier Julia Schruff continued her impressive debut tournament, reaching the semifinal in her first event on the WTA Tour with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Ludmilla Cervanova of the Slovak Republic. Schruff, ranked No. 238 before this week, knocked out top seed Katarina Srebotnik in the second round and met Switzerland's Emmanuelle Gagliardi
"I'm a little bit surprised," said Schruff after beating Top Seed Player. "I was very nervous in the third set, but I'm looking forward to the quarterfinal."
"I really don't know how I got there," said Schruff. "It was really about me fighting for every point rather than anything technical. I haven't really digested the whole thing yet. I'm just happy to be here and I never thought I would have won the last two matches."
Gagliardi, playing in her second WTA Tour semifinal, said: "I couldn't underestimate my opponent today as she has had some good results here this week. But I'm happy to get through and I have a good feeling about the tournament."
"I can't believe that I'm in the final," said Schruff. "It's really like a dream. I think I need some days after the tournament to reflect on this. I really don't know how I've done this."
After the loss again Magui Serna, she said that it's because of exhaustion that halted her best play, playing in her eighth match in nine days.
"I was so tired today," said Schruff, who also knocked out top seed Katarina Srebotnik in the second round. "I pulled a muscle in my right thigh at the end of the first set, but I wanted to carry on in the second.
"I will take a lot of experience and confidence from this week. I will sleep well for the next two days, maybe have a little party and then start practicing again for the next tournament."
Serna, ranked 196 places higher than her opponent, was the overwhelming favorite coming into the final, but the 24-year-old did not put herself under any extra pressure. "I didn't know much about her," said Serna.
"I knew she was a qualifier and she must have been playing very well to reach the final. I just tried to stay calm in the conditions and play my game today."