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Old Jan 27th, 2002, 11:45 AM   #1
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Ashley Harkleroad In Rockford, IL * Article

From my local newspaper:

http://cf.rrstar.com/sports/storypage.cfm?ID=2258

Challenger tennis tournament
Harkleroad hoping to follow in Anna's footsteps


ROCKFORD -- Tennis fans remember well the sun-kissed teenager with the long blonde ponytail who won the first Rockford Women's Challenger.

Now a new youngster is stealing hearts as she makes a name for herself in the women's professional tennis scene. And at this year's Challenger, Ashley Harkleroad is hoping for the same success as her predecessor, Anna Kournikova, had in 1995.

Harkleroad is one of the top players in the qualifying round of the United States Tennis Association Rockford Challenger. Qualifying matches begin today at 10 a.m. and run through Monday afternoon. The top four players out of the qualifying round advance to Tuesday's main draw, which runs through the title matches on Sunday.

At age 16, Harkleroad is getting used to being compared to Kournikova, but she said the comparison couldn't be farther from the truth.

"I get that a lot, and that's OK," said Harkleroad, whose hometown is Wesley Chapel, Fla. "But I'm not her. I don't even play like her, and we definitely don't have the same personality."

The soft-spoken Harkleroad is in her second year as a professional. In the middle of traveling across the world for tournaments like the Challenger, she is completing her high schooling with Florida's Saddlebrook Tennis Academy. She attends the academy on a full scholarship she received after winning the 1999 United States National Girls 16-and-under Clay Court Championships at the age of 14.

Harkleroad was America's top-ranked junior in 2000, and last year she reached the girls singles semifinals at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open and won the girls doubles at Wimbledon.

Today she is seeded seventh among the 32 players competing for a spot in the Challenger's main draw.

"I've been playing in a bunch of qualifiers like this, and I've been doing pretty well," Harkleroad said. "Sometimes it's a good thing that I've had three matches under my belt. While the rest of the players are coming in cold, I already have gotten used to the courts and the lighting and everything."

Harkleroad's current world ranking is 276.

More than 60 world-ranked players are competing for $25,000 in prize money and world-ranking points in this week's Challenger. The points earned help the players feed into larger pro events such as the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
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