Grace stays grounded in reaching for the top
, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 02/04/2010 12:38 PM | Sports
The lone Indonesian representatives at last week’s Australian Open were veteran Yayuk Basuki, at 39 making her return to Grand Slam play, and junior Grace Sari Ysidora. While Yayuk and partner Kimiko Date-Krumm made an early exit in the first round, 16-year-old Grace battled through to the third round of the girls singles in Melbourne.
Although she was proud to be playing for her country, she says she also felt “sad” that there were only two Indonesians in the draw. Still, she was pleased that two Chinese playing, Li Na and Jie Zheng, could reach the semifinals of the women’s event, calling it “amazing”, as well as the return of Justine Henin, the player she idolized growing up.
It was the 33rd-ranked Grace’s chance to compete against the “big girls” of junior tennis, not only in terms of higher rankings but also in physique.
At 164 cm, the player from Jakarta is, like Henin, relatively small in tennis terms, compared to leading juniors such as the Pliskova twins of the Czech Republic and Britain’s Laura Robson, although she still has time to grow.
“They’re so big, they just hit the ball so powerfully all the time, the way to beat them is you have to play smarter, use slice and really move well,” she said of her junior opponents after a morning practice Wednesday.
She used those smarts to overcome 13th seed Tamara Curovic of Serbia in straight sets in the first round, Canadian Marianne Jodoin for the loss of only three games in the second, before running out of steam against 3rd seeded Russian Daria Gavrilova after taking the first set.
“She has a really complete game, she can volley, mix it up with spin, so I was really confused when she started playing differently after the first set,” the young woman says with a smile.
Born to North Sumatran parents, Grace started playing as a five-year-old in Bandung, after wanting to join her older brother in a game. A coach quickly spotted her potential, and Grace’s mother gave her daughter an ultimatum of choosing between her first love of ballet and her new sport.
“My parents always tell me to do my best, that’s the most important thing.”
The teenager says her parents support her game but have never pushed her to play (her mother, unlike the stereotypical tennis parent ever hovering over their offspring, leaves Grace to speak for herself during the interview and goes off on her own).
Coached by Deddy Tedjamukti, who also coached former junior Wimbledon and French Open champion Angelique Widjaja, Grace is targeting reaching the top 10 in juniors and the top 300 in women’s rankings this year, from her current 769.
If she continues on to a pro career, she wants to be top 20. She says she needs to work on her movement to compete against stronger players, and introduce “suprise” elements, such as slice, to disrupt opponents’ rhythm.
“She has an explosive return, deep backhand drive, stylish running forehand and a tricky angle on her serve,” says tennis fan Adji Soedibjo, who has followed Grace’s career, adding that she has the ability to hit more winners than Angie.
“She still needs to improve her power, develop more agile footwork, her mental toughness and her offensive consistency.”
Grace, as older people like to say of the young, has a good head on her shoulders. She is focused on her schoolwork as well as her tennis, and is realistic about the demands of a pro career.
She acknowledges that the week in, week out schedule of tournaments and the loneliness of travel, is difficult.
Angie, who retired from the game two years ago after suffering injuries, has talked about the intense homesickness she felt traveling the world.
“I know that you really have to love the game to go on tour,” Grace says, adding that if a career on the circuit does not work out, she will go to university in the US (she has already been approached by Stanford and Northwestern).
Indonesian tennis is generally considered to be in the doldrums. In the 1970s and 1980s, the country was still one of the strongest in the sport in Asia.
In the 1990s, Yayuk was one of the most stylish and dynamic players on the women’s tour, reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals and a top singles ranking of 19.
Today, since Angie’s retirement, Indonesia rarely earns a mention in the tennis world, aside from hosting an annual year-end tournament in Bali.
Observers blame the lack of a cohesive talent-scouting system and allege that officials play favorites in supporting the careers of those players who are part of their group.
Grace is too young to get involved in political game playing, she is more interested in simply playing the game of tennis. “Papi used to get upset about it, but he said when you get to number one, then nobody can argue with that anymore.”
For if you can’t join them, at least you can beat them. She says junior players can be standoffish, keeping a distance from their rivals.
“But once you’ve beaten them, then they start saying hello to you,” she says.