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Enemy of Art
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Lucic falls in first round
By St. Clair Murraine
DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER

To understand why Mirjana Lucic wept Wednesday after she lost in two sets to unseeded Andrea Nathan, you have to know where she has been. Losing in the Wimbledon semifinals to Steffi Graf two years ago was easier to take.
That's expected at the WTA level. But not the first-round exit she made from the USTA Tallahassee Satellite, an entry-level professional tournament with a $10,000 purse.

“It's hard,” Lucic said, barely able to hold back tears after falling 6-4, 6-4. “I've never had to play $10,000 tournaments. I've never had to go through a really hard way up. It's very difficult mentally because I've been practicing hard.

“It's just disappointing that I haven't played my game today.”

Lucic's game is one of power shots - long and short. But the same power that helped Lucic beat many world-class players on the WTA Tour betrayed her at Scott Speicher Center.

She has been struggling to regain her form for the last two years, following a series of injuries. Meanwhile, she lost her top-50 world ranking and has to play at a lower level to earn her way back to the top.

Lucic started the match looking as though she would breeze past Nathan, whose claim to fame is being an All-Big 10 player at Wisconsin. But on Wednesday Nathan didn't play like a 23-year-old player who has been trying for almost two years to earn enough points to make the WTA circuit.

“I had no pressure on me,” said Nathan, who plays wild-card entry Angels Haynes today at 10 a.m. on Court 2. “I knew she had all the pressure on her. A player like that you never count out, but I felt like I could win the match. I felt like she wasn't having a good day.

“If there was ever an opportunity to win a match like this it was today.”

Nathan kept Lucic on the ropes for most of the match, which lasted an hour and 25 minutes. Lucic's inconsistent play led to her early departure from the opening tournament of the Satellite 2002 circuit.

As if to punctuate her poor play, Lucic double-faulted on consecutive serves in the decisive game of the second set to end the match. The booming serves that had become the 5-foot-11 Croatian's trademark weren't there against the 5-6 Nathan from Illinois.

Lucic's big shots kept her in the match. Nathan nonetheless remained wary of the crafty veteran she was facing.

“I had to tell myself, 'You just can't hit the ball on the court,' ” Nathan said. “It was hard to move her around because she hit the ball so hard. I just tried to get it back. I told myself, 'Stay positive. Just one more ball. One more shot and try to see what happens.' ”

What Nathan did was breathe new life into a career that had teetered on being abandoned. She came into this tournament looking for results that would probably help her put off a decision to attend law school this fall.

“I'm not going to be playing tennis for very much longer,” said Nathan, who is ranked 470th in the world. “I put a time limit on myself and said if I wasn't top 300 by the end of last year I was going to look to my future and what I'm going to do for a living.”
 
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