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tennisIlove09
Apr 11th, 2003, 09:19 PM
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 gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or by mail at 134 Columbus St., Charleston, S.C., 29403.

tennisIlove09
Apr 11th, 2003, 09:19 PM
Harkleroad advances with her court savvy
By JAMES BECK
April 11 2003
The Post and Courier

What makes Ashley Harkleroad such a good, young talent?

It's as simple as understanding the dynamics of tennis and a tennis court. She works the court and her opponent, turning a rectangular patch of surface into her ally.

Harkleroad is years ahead of her 17 years and 11 months in tennis court maturity. She's a women's version of Andre Agassi.

This perky blonde from Florida is in today's quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup. And, yes, she is capable of being in Sunday's final.

Harkleroad seems to absorb everything that is happening around her on a tennis court. It's as if she feeds that information into a computer, then delivers the strike that disarms her opponent, in this case, 11th-seeded Meghann Shaughnessy with ease, 6-2, 6-2.

But any plan is no better than its execution. Harkleroad has the tennis strokes to back up her smarts. She moves the ball around in Agassi fashion. She pulls her opponent farther and farther off the court, while always aware of the smallest opening and what it takes to put the ball in that unreturnable position.

Tall and thin Daniela Hantuchova will have her hands full with Harkleroad in the quarterfinals. The outcome will depend on how well Harkleroad handles the pressure of playing on the stadium court.

BOLD PREDICTION

Here's a bold prediction. I think Serena Williams' unbeaten streak will come to an end today.

Accepted, Serena is the best player in women's tennis right now, but Jelena Dokic is playing better tennis this week.

Hey, I'm serious. I know that Dokic is entirely capable of bouncing balls off the walls. I haven't forgotten her first match here each of the last two years.

But this talented blonde turns from a teenager into a woman Saturday, her 20th birthday. And she already is playing with the maturity of a veteran.

She'll have to stay in control of herself to have a chance, just as she did in a superb three-set victory over Elena Dementieva Thursday. Dokic had plenty of chances to quit, but she didn't.

Dokic is in excellent condition, moves well, has an excellent deep forehand but hits great from both sides, serves big and now competes well. The key will be if she can keep Serena guessing and moving, and if she keeps the ball deep.

DAVENPORT TOO GOOD

Lindsay Davenport wants everyone to keep thinking she can't play on clay by talking about how uncomfortable she is on it. She had Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez believing her, too, on the ESPN telecast of Davenport's straight-set victory over Clarisa Fernandez Thursday.

But the truth is that Davenport is feeling more and more comfortable on clay. She's lighter, quicker and more mobile these days. Plus, she still packs the same big wallop with her ground strokes and serve, and that's too much for Russian teenager Vera Zvonareva to handle.

Zvonareva is an excellent player, plays the entire court well and has a wonderful backhand. But she can't outhit Davenport.

PIERCE THE IMPOSSIBLE

Of all the 56 players who started out in the Family Circle's main draw, Mary Pierce may be the least mobile and least conditioned. But for six games, those two factors are less critical.

Anastasia Myskina already knew that. There just wasn't anything the 10th-ranked player in the world could do about it. Already up 2-0 in the third set when play started Thursday, Pierce persevered long enough to make her Russian opponent feel pressured and finally beaten. Pierce won four of the six games played and opened up a huge hole in the lower half of the draw.

Then the former French Open champion went out and did the impossible. She outlasted Amanda Coetzer in three sets.

Maybe, Pierce can do it one more time. If she can shut out Coetzer in the third set, she's capable of miracles. So, here's one more possible upset. Pierce has finally rediscovered her forehand and serve. That means trouble for Justine Henin-Hardenne.