Stevenson makes history
Dr. J admits the first woman qualifier to reach semifinals is his daughter
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Alexandra Stevenson's life changed irrevocably Friday, a day she made history at Wimbledon and basketball great Julius Erving told the world he is her father.
Serving more aces than Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi combined in their quarterfinal wins, the 18-year-old Stevenson kept her Wimbledon fantasy alive by becoming the first qualifier to reach the women's semis.
Only one man, John McEnroe in 1978, reached the Wimbledon semifinals as a qualifier since qualifying competition began in 1925 to include a few players not selected for the main draw.
Stevenson served 15 aces at speeds up to 113 mph in a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Jelena Dokic, the 16-year-old qualifier who knocked out No. 1 Martina Hingis and No. 9 Mary Pierce.
Two hours later, Erving told The Associated Press that an earlier report he was her father was true, and that he has been supporting her financially.
Erving said his wife, Turquoise, knew of his relationship with Samantha Stevenson, a free-lance writer who covered the Philadelphia 76ers while Dr. J starred on the team, and that his four children were aware of the situation.
"All matters concerning Alexandra since her birth have been handled privately through counsel," Erving said from his office in Orlando, Fla., where he is a vice president with the NBA's Magic. "I am pleased to see Alexandra, at 18, doing so well and I applaud her mother's efforts and courage."
The possibility of Erving being Stevenson's father was raised this week when the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel published a copy of her birth certificate. The Basketball Hall of Famer initially denied being her father.
Erving said Friday he met Alexandra only once, when she was 3, and that it was "her call" whether they would start a relationship.
Stevenson and her mother again refused to speak about Erving, even after learning of his statement.
Samantha Stevenson has written many times about her efforts to raise her daughter to be a champion.
"What makes a champion?" she asked rhetorically in a World Tennis article in 1987. "Red Smith (the late New York Times sports columnist) once told me it's in the blood. I agree. A world-class athlete is born with the ability to be great. Alexandra has it. You do know if your child's got it."
She never named her daughter's father publicly but did tell several confidantes. Now Alexandra Stevenson will forever be identified as the daughter of one of the greatest basketball players in history.
Stevenson was 9 in 1990 when Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon for the last time, and she heard someone ask Navratilova if there will ever be a great serve-and-volleyer like her again.
"She said there is some 9- or 10-year-old who is going to be coming up," Stevenson said. "I was watching it and my mom was in the bedroom, and I said, 'Hey, mom, that's me.' I really thought it was going to be me. It's great that it's kind of coming true."
Stevenson still has to get past Lindsay Davenport in the semis, and Steffi Graf or Mirjana Lucic in the final. But no one who saw the way she served and volleyed and struck deep, sizzling one-handed backhands against Dokic could dismiss her chances.
Big one-handed backhands are rare in women's tennis. Graf hits with one hand but mostly slices the ball. Stevenson comes over the top with power, a shot she learned from Sampras' old coach, Pete Fischer. Like Sampras, Stevenson had to switch from being a two-hander at Fischer's insistence.
"I had a great two-handed backhand," she said. "When I was 11 years old, he said, 'That's it, you're switching,' and I cried. I was very upset."
When Stevenson reverted to the two-hander in the final of a tournament soon afterward, Fischer got angry and walked out.
"I ended up winning the match because I hit two hands, but he said later, 'If you ever use two hands again, I'll never coach you,"' she recalled. "Since then I've never put two hands on my backhand."
Stevenson's style resembles Sampras' in other ways -- the lunging volleys, the crushing topspin forehands, and the serve that is faster and more varied than most other women. In fact, Stevenson's approach to the game resembles men's grass tennis, depending less on long rallies and more on risky shots from the baseline and the net. Stevenson certainly took her chances while serving, and it paid off in a match that began Thursday, was stopped by rain at 6-3, 1-5, and finished in a half-hour amid sunshine Friday.
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