|Wednesday, June 28
Stevenson aspires to be Alexandra the Great
WIMBLEDON, England -- The curtsy is back at Wimbledon.
Alexandra Stevenson, who reached the semifinals last year and has had little success since, won her first-round match Tuesday. As usual, she celebrated with theatrical curtsies to the crowd after beating Rita Kuti Kis 7-5, 7-6 (3).
"It was very exciting," said Stevenson, 19. "It was like being back home."
A year ago Stevenson became the first woman qualifier to reach the Wimbledon semifinals. It was a memorable Grand Slam debut by the teen-ager from California, and not just because of her booming serve and uncommon poise.
During the course of the tournament, her mother made allegations of racism and lesbianism on the WTA Tour, and for the first time the media revealed the identity of her father: Hall of Fame basketball player Julius Erving.
Stevenson's memories are apparently positive. She arrived at Wimbledon with a dismal 7-17 record this year but is optimistic the return to grass will jump-start her career.
"It's kind of like a new beginning," she said. "I looked back on last year and I saw that I came out of nowhere basically and beat a lot of players. ... I know at my best I'm great, and I can play great tennis."
The 1999 semifinalist was relegated Tuesday to Court 3, where there's a swirl of sound from other matches and fans constantly streaming past. But the humbling environment was fine with the irrepressible Stevenson.
"I loved it," she said. "It was wonderful to be put on Court 3."
Her ranking has slipped to 46th and will fall much lower if she makes an early exit this week. But the first-round win was cause for encouragement because she played pivotal points well.
The first service break came in the final game of the opening set, when Stevenson slammed a pair of groundstroke winners. Her forehand briefly went awry in the second set, but she rallied from a 3-1 deficit, forced the tiebreaker and won it easily by playing aggressively.
Receiving serve on match point, she reached for a backhand and confidently whacked a winner.
Stevenson's biggest challenge at Wimbledon might be to focus on tennis. Questions at a postmatch news conference ranged from her acting aspirations to the issue of racism and the recent disappearance of Erving's 19-year-old son in Florida.
She declined to discuss the latter subject. She said she has been a target of racism on the tour, but declined to give specifics. Her mother is white and her father black.
"It's naive to think there's no racism in the world, and the tour is part of the world," she said. "It's made me tougher. ... It's the year 2000 and everyone should grow up, but it's not going to work that way."
As for acting, Stevenson wants a Hollywood career after she's done with tennis. In the meantime, she pretends to be a famous actress whenever she takes the court.
"One day I'll be Julia Roberts, one day I'll be Audrey Hepburn, one day I'll be Grace Kelly," she said. "It's fun to pretend you're someone else."
This week she'll settle for being the Alexandra Stevenson of a year ago.