March 14, 2006
Schultz-McCarthy Serves Up One More Season
"I want to see how far I can go, and what I have learned in the last six years. I got hurt at the top of my game, and now I want to finish it my way."
INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - A return to professional competition has been a long time coming for Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, arguably one of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's original power players. The big-serving Dutchwoman powered her way to seven singles titles and nine doubles titles, and eventually the world's Top 10, during the 1990s. She also took down some of the greats of women's tennis, notching several victories over high-profile players during her career. However, her incredibly physical game would eventually catch up with her by way of a career-threatening back injury, and now she finds herself giving the Tour one more shot to end a storied career on her own terms.
Schultz-McCarthy's struggles with injury followed a decade-long rise to the elite level of women's tennis. Aside from her 16 aforementioned Tour titles, which included two Québec City singles titles as well as doubles titles with the likes of Gabriela Sabatini, Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario and Chanda Rubin as partners, the Dutchwoman was also a stalwart on her country's Fed Cup team and notched over a dozen Top 10 victories, including wins over Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Sánchez-Vicario and Jana Novotna. She cites her biggest achievement as a win over Sánchez-Vicario at Miami in 1994.
"I was always good friends with Arantxa, but I was always losing to her in tight matches," said Schultz-McCarthy, 35. "It was at a time when I had just met my husband, my boyfriend at the time, and I was feeling on top of the world. I had to play Arantxa in Miami, I was No.30 and she was No.2, and I beat her. It made me believe I could do anything. It was one of those matches where you come out thinking, 'I can do it.'"
The victory, as well as her April 8, 1995 marriage to American football player Sean McCarthy, brought Schultz-McCarthy to a level of confidence she had never before felt, and she continued that momentum through the next several years, finishing in the Top 15 year-end rankings every season through 1997, rising to a career-high No.9 in May of 1996. However, the back began acting up in 1998, when her game and form were in full swing.
"I had my best ranking when my back was crooked. I don't know exactly when it happened but it was pretty bad. They said first that it was a hamstring problem, but they were wrong. A few months later I was told by doctors in Holland that it was a back problem. It was a really tough time. It's tough to be injured. But I guess I was fortunate to play until I was 29-years-old without being injured."
After undergoing surgery for a herniated disc and taking nearly a year off to rehabilitate, she reinjured herself in 1999 and was forced off the Tour indefinitely.
"My doctors didn't give me much of a chance to play again after my surgery. But I was stubborn and tried to come back. Unfortunately, I reinjured myself at Roland Garros."
Since leaving the Tour, Schultz-McCarthy has focused her passion for the sport on a tennis camp, located on the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The camp caters to tennis players of all calibers and includes 11 tennis courts as well as facilities for basketball, soccer, rock climbing, water sports and more. She says her camp was developed with the need for sports diversity and fun in mind. It took four years to build and develop.
"Today I see parents forcing their kids to be on the court six to eight hours a day. There is no possible way that anyone can concentrate on one thing for that period of time. I believe you have to work hard but more importantly work smart. I tried to create a camp that I would have enjoyed when I was a kid - great coaching and really fun activities."
However much she enjoyed running the camp, and however much it satisfied her need to hit the courts, there was always a fire burning for one more attempt at the pro circuit. In 2005, Schultz-McCarthy would take the Dutch Fed Cup Team up on an offer that would eventually lead her to that destiny.
"In 2005 my back was feeling better. I changed my service motion, using my knees a bit more and not so much my legs. I was asked to coach the Fed Cup team, and I tried playing against a few of the girls. I told myself, 'If I can beat the Fed Cup girls, then I want to actually play in the Fed Cup.' I did beat most of the girls from the team and so they let me play. It went well, I played singles and doubles. Although we didn't win, I really enjoyed it. Then, I played some TeamTennis, and had wins over (Martina) Sucha and (Anne) Kremer.
"I decided to give the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour another shot before I started a family."
And with that, Schultz-McCarthy decided to embark on a comeback that would hopefully take her to some of her favorite tournaments from years past, most notably Wimbledon, where she reached one of her two career Grand Slam quarterfinals and notched 17 career match wins.
"I want to get there one more time, to the green grass. Wimbledon would be absolutely wonderful. There are a few tournaments at the end of the season I would like to play as well, indoor events like Québec City. Maybe Cincinnati also, in the summer."
So far in her comeback she is 2-3, falling in the qualifying events of Tokyo [Pan Pacific] and Memphis and losing 64 62 to Japan's Aiko Nakamura in the opening round of Indian Wells this past week in her first main draw back. Despite the losing record, there have been encouraging signs from the Dutchwoman's play. One of her wins came against Cara Black, currently one of the world's hottest doubles players, and at Indian Wells she led an early break in the first set against Nakamura, who would eventually reach the third round at the Tier I event.
"I feel like I definitely have the strokes, but I need a little more consistency now. I never had a steady game. Today I need better groundstrokes to back everything else up. So far, the biggest problem is the lack of match play, the toughest thing now is to hang in there when things aren't going so well."
All in all, the comeback signifies another chance for Schultz-McCarthy to play out her career on a good note. Whether or not she wins tournaments or even matches, the return to action is the key and no longer will she have to wonder what could have been.
"Returning to the Tour means I can end this thing on my terms. I didn't have that chance before. It's going to be a little emotional, but I hope I will get there."