Like many 27-year-old women, all Alexandra Stevenson wants to do is shop.
But first she'll have to win a Grand Slam event.
'Let's put it this way: Girls like to shop and I can't wait to go shopping,' Stevenson said Sunday after reaching the main draw of the Family Circle Cup with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 2 seed Julia Schruff at the Althea Gibson Court. 'I haven't been shopping in about four years. I can go shopping when I win Wimbledon. I have to win a Grand Slam before I shop.'
Playing professional tennis can mean big paychecks. Stevenson has earned more than $1.3 million in her career, but most of that came before she suffered a serious shoulder injury in 2003 that ultimately forced her to miss three years on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
Trying to jumpstart a career can be expensive. Playing in a tournament such as the Family Circle Cup can cost a player $2,000-$3,000 a week depending on the cost of a plane ticket, hotel room and some modest meals. Playing in Europe can be even more expensive because of a weak dollar. Stevenson's winnings this year are a paltry $3,118, but that amount will grow with a good showing this week. Still, do the math and you'll see why Stevenson and her mother, Samantha, work to make ends meet.
Stevenson, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999, was ranked No. 18 in the world in 2002, picking up paychecks and endorsement fees from sponsors Nike and Dunlop. But the injury halted her career for three years after she underwent surgery on Sept. 21, 2004. Nike and Dunlop weren't interested in renewing contracts, and Stevenson even dipped into her savings account and tapped her IRA to make ends meet while she was inactive and on the mend.
'I even had to buy my shoes,' she said. 'I called up adidas and asked for shoes, and they said I had to pay for them. I had to go to my local super-sports store. They ordered a few for me and gave me a discount.'
Sunday's victory was impressive as Stevenson, the daughter of basketball legend Julius Erving, continued to play well on clay. She'll earn at least $3,455 this week. Of course, the top prize of $196,000 would be nice.
'This win today was very important because it was tough out here and I need to make some money,' said Stevenson, who turned pro in 1999. 'I have to pay my bills. It's just not about tennis. It's about surviving. Each match I win, I can survive a little more, move up in the rankings and get my career back.'
Money is important. But returning to the top of the tennis world is equally as important. A return to the top is proving to be grueling physically and mentally.
First there was the recovery.
She spent the first year getting the motion back in her shoulder. She spent the second year working on motion and strength. The third year entailed working on motion, strength and endurance.
'The pain, you actually feel, it's worse than giving birth, although I don't want to find that out for 10 more years,' Stevenson said. 'You know how many people told me to quit? Thousands. That made me want to come back more.'
She says many people do not remember her. 'They do at airports. I do have to say the black population has my back, because at airports they'll come up and say, ‘When are you coming back. We want you back.' '
She will also hear, 'That's Dr. J's kid.'
'That kind of ticks me off,' Stevenson said. 'But they don't mean it to be mean. They think it's cool. So I have to understand they think it's cool.'
The trips abroad can be humbling, too. She played in a tournament in Bangalore, India, in March. She described the stadium as a bullfighting arena with three tennis courts.
The scoreboard, near the edge of the court, had a rusty screw sticking out of its side. She chased down a shot and cut her right arm near her surgically repaired shoulder. She had to have a tetanus shot when she returned to the United States.
Now, she's trying to return to the top and the journey has been winding, but worth it.
'I want to win Wimbledon. Another goal, is, I want to build my IRA back up,' Stevenson said.