Lamade's comeback complete
Fred Kelly , The Midland Daily News 02/10/2003
Four months ago, Bianka Lamade was standing in front of a mirror, wondering if she’d ever win another tennis tournament.
On Sunday, she was standing on the champion’s platform at the Midland Community Tennis Center.
Lamade, in only her third tournament since coming back from a broken foot suffered last July, beat top-seeded Laura Granville of Chicago 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 to clinch the USTA/Dow Corning Women’s Challenger singles title, her second pro tour championship.
The title seemed nothing less than stunning to the 20-year-old German whose lone goal at the Dow Corning was simply to qualify into the main draw.
Asked if there ever was a point in the tourney when she believed she could win the whole thing, Lamade replied with a hearty laugh, "I think never. Not today. Not yesterday. Never. Just now, I cannot believe it, you know. I was just playing point-for-point, match-for-match, and it’s just incredible (to win the championship)."
Lamade, who had climbed as high as No. 59 in the world in 2001, entered Midland ranked 233rd. Her only previous tournaments following her injury were Fullerton, Calif., last month and Rockford, Ill., last week.
Being sidelined for the final five-plus months of 2002 was a miserable experience for someone who is used to playing tennis up to six hours a day, Lamade said.
"I couldn’t walk. It was such a bad time," she said, adding of her broken foot, " ... You can do nothing. Nothing. You can just sit at home and watch TV or read a book, and you miss something. I missed the racquet in my hand.
"Sometimes, I’d hold (the racquet) in my hand and stand in front of the mirror and (pretend I was) making some shots. It was just crazy."
Having started practicing again as recently as late November, Lamade’s main goal at the start of this year was getting a few matches in and regaining her form.
She got plenty of matches in this week, winning eight times in as many days to advance out of qualifying and storm through the main draw.
Lamade becomes the fourth qualifier in the past eight years to win the Dow Corning championship. The others were Anna Kournikova (1996), Alexandra Stevenson (1998), and Na Li (2002).
Meanwhile, Granville, ranked 47th, was attempting to win just one more match to end a week that had been tough on her both physically and mentally.
Having also reached the doubles semifinals with partner Sarah Taylor, Granville had played a total of six matches in five days. Granville’s semifinal doubles loss Saturday night to eventual champions Abigail Spears and Teryn Ashley ended only 14 1/2 hours prior to Sunday’s singles final.
Immediately prior to that doubles semifinal Saturday, Granville had the unenviable task of beating close friend Ansley Cargill in an emotional singles semifinal.
Still, Granville offered up no excuses for her loss to Lamade.
"I think I might’ve felt (fatigued) a little bit in the beginning. But once I got into the match, you don’t really think about it," she said.
As she had done all week, Lamade used a powerful serve and a versatile assortment of weapons Sunday to keep her opponent under the gun.
Lamade, whose serve has been clocked at 180 kilometers per hour (110 mph), hit 10 aces and 27 winners, many of them coming on picture-perfect drop shots and volleys at the net.
"She’s definitely a very all-around player," Granville noted. "She has great hands and powerful strokes and serves."
Lamade used three of those winners to earn a break and go up 4-2 in the first set.
After a pair of service holds and with Lamade serving at 5-3, Granville got to 0-30 and was two points from getting back on serve. Lamade responded with an ace and two winners to earn the first of four set points.
Granville erased the first three set points, but Lamade converted the fourth on an unforced error by Granville.
"I think I started a little slow. I wished I’d started a little better, but she was putting a lot of pressure on me," said Granville. "She had such powerful strokes that she was really keeping me on the defense most of the time."
Granville rallied to break Lamade twice and win the second set in only 23 minutes.
"I think in the first set, we were both very tight. I think we had a lot of respect for each other," said Lamade. " ... She was, in the second set, the better player, and I was losing power. So I thought, ‘OK, let the second set go and concentrate on the third.’"
After each player had broken serve twice in the final set, Granville was down 5-4 but serving to stay in the match. Instead, Lamade broke her at 30 to put it away.
"I think I just made more mistakes (in the third set)," said Granville, who finished with 10 winners and 31 unforced errors. "I stopped putting pressure on her, and she felt really comfortable back at the baseline hitting with me. I think she just felt more comfortable in the third set."
Lamade, who earned $12,000 as champion, said her goal now is to finish 2003 in at least the top-120 in the world rankings. She also indicated that she would like to return to Midland to defend her title.
"I really like America," she said with a smile. "I enjoy to play here."
Bianka Lamade returns the ball to Laura Granville (not pictured) during the finals of the USTA/Dow Corning Women's Challenger Sunday afternoon. Lamade won the tournament in the third set of the match.
Bianca Lamade holds back laughter after accepting the prize for her first-place win at the USTA/Dow Corning Women's Challenger Sunday afternoon.