Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Best still lies ahead for Stevenson

1999 Wimbledon semifinalist on comeback trail at age 33

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Alexandra Stevenson has fond memories of Winnipeg, but she's not resting on past glories as she continues her tennis comeback.

Now 33, the one-time top-20 player is looking to work her way back to the WTA tour. This week's stop is the CIBC Wood Gundy Challenger, being held at the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club.

The seventh seed got off on the right foot Tuesday morning, with a convincing 6-2, 6-1 win over fellow American Alexandra Riley.

Back in 1999, the then-18-year-old won a bronze medal at the Pan Am Games, just a week after making it to the semifinals of a little tournament called Wimbledon.

'I'm not the victim anymore... I was the prey and now I can be the hunter'

She finished that year ranked No. 46 in the world and after dipping slightly the following two years, moved up to No. 18 in 2002.

It appeared as if she was on the cusp of reaching her goal of winning a Grand Slam title, but then she felt pain in her shoulder at Wimbledon in 2003. Her ranking quickly plummeted as she dealt with the injury. (She was down to 645th in 2006.)

She had one procedure on her shoulder, but it still wasn't completely healed. Rather than have a second procedure, she and her mother, longtime sports reporter Samantha Stevenson, came up with a plan to build up the strength the same way a baseball pitcher would.

She would go into matches knowing she was only going to hit a certain number of serves or play a certain number of games and then shake hands.

"In baseball, a pitcher goes in for two innings, but tennis doesn't have that so we made it up," said the elder Stevenson. "We did 22 retirements the first year and she's had 65 in her career, which is nine per cent of her career, and that ruined her record."

It didn't take long for her to gain a reputation in the locker-room.

"Before the word on the street was, 'Just go out there and she'll retire,' and that's what I did because of my shoulder. Now (the other players) are changing their tune because they know I'm healthy. They're a little more scared. That's fun because I can see it. I'm not the victim anymore.

"I was the prey and now I can be the hunter," Alexandra Stevenson said.

She has fond memories of her time in Winnipeg 15 years ago, but not all of them were on a tennis court.

"I remember the beach volleyball because the guys were cute. I went to all of their games. Forget the tennis, I liked the beach volleyball," she said.

Stevenson said she doesn't even know what she's ranked today (she's 567th), but she doesn't want that to matter a year from now when she plans to be in the main draw of the U.S. Open.

"I want to win a Grand Slam (event). I'm not doing this to be top 50, I've already done that. I figure I have a good eight to 10 years left because my mid- and late 20s were all spent rehabbing," she said.

One subject Stevenson didn't feel like discussing as she wrapped up her post-match rubdown was her father, former NBA superstar, Julius Erving, a.k.a. Dr. J.

"I don't talk about him. Sorry," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2014 C3

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