Longshot Gordon takes Tinsley over Puchkova for first-ever title
By WHITEY REID
Published: May 5, 2008
Ever since Alexis Gordon turned pro in January, she and her coach/boyfriend Michael King have had one goal in mind.
They want to fill what they say is a “gap” in American’s women’s tennis.
On Sunday afternoon at the Boar’s Head Sports Club, Gordon took a huge first step. The former University of Florida standout, who came into the tournament unseeded and ranked 637th in the world, won her first-ever pro event, defeating Olga Puchkova, 6-3, 6-3 in the finals of the Boyd Tinsley USTA Women’s Pro Tennis Championships.
“It’s like a dream,” said Gordon, who only turned pro in January and was playing in just her eighth tournament. “I woke up this morning and said, ‘Wow, I’m in the finals.’ Even now, I’m still stunned. It hasn’t hit me that I won yet.”
Puchkova had a far different feeling when she woke up on Sunday morning.
“I knew right away that something was [off]. I was too tired from the [semifinal] match because we played so long,” said Puchkova, referring to her hard-fought three-set win over Bethanie Mattek on Saturday. “Alexis started off really fast and strong. I was sleepy today, but she’s a great player.”
With the victory over the second-seeded, 124th ranked Puchkova, Gordon moved all the way up to 375th in the world. In addition, she earned an automatic entry into the main draw of next week’s tour stop.
Currently in American tennis, Venus Williams is No. 8 in the world, while Lindsay Davenport is No. 25. Gordon and King’s goal: to land somewhere between them, “filling the gap.”
“We just put that out there,” said King, smiling, “and we’re trying to move toward it.”
But why stop there?
During the post match award presentation, USTA tournament supervisor Missy Malool told the large crowd at the Boar’s Head that she fully expects to see Gordon become a Top-5 player.
Malool believes Gordon is just as talented as some of the past big names who have rolled through Charlottesville to play in the event — namely Anna Kournikova and Jelana Jankovic.
“That makes me feel good,” Gordon said, “but I’m just trying to take everything in stride and step by step.”
Against Puchkova, Gordon’s biggest strength was her consistency. She kept the ball in play on numerous points, forcing Puchkova into mistakes.
The turning point of the match came with Puchkova serving at 3-4 in the first set. Puchkova, who was playing with a heavy heart — her father is in the hospital — had several chances to win the game.
Unfortunately, her serve betrayed her.
The 20-year-old Russian double-faulted four times. Gordon won the game, then held serve and took the first set.
Puchkova showed some fight in the second set. Trailing 3-1, she pulled to 3-3 after breaking Gordon’s serve. However, Gordon took over from there.
“My serve was off on a lot of the big points,” Puchkova said. “I didn’t finish games that I should have finished. That was it pretty much.”
Gordon’s strategy was to play consistent and keep the ball out of Puchkova’s “strike zone.”
“She has a huge forehand and huge backhand,” Gordon said. “She likes to slam the ball. Just keeping it on the court and out of the middle were the keys.
“I was just trying to stay focused. I was just trying to move the ball around, keep everything in perspective and not let the lead slip away.”
Gordon never seemed to tire during the match and was extremely efficient in her movements — she didn’t waste a lot of energy. The 25-year-old, who took over a year off while in college following the birth of her daughter, credits King for that.
King, a former hurdler at Florida, devised a system of workouts for Gordon that are starting to pay big dividends.
“Coming into it, I knew I had an athlete slash tennis player,” King said. “When I recognized that, I said, ‘Well I can teach her a lot of stuff that I learned.
“She ate it up. She loved it and wanted to start waking up at 7 [a.m.] every morning to work out at the track.”
Gordon says she may try to qualify for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this summer. She says she is definitely targeting the Australian Open in January as a place to make a big move.
It certainly sounds like she’s well on her way to filling that gap.