Stevenson at home in foreign England


WIMBLEDON, England - So, Alexandra Stevenson, which character were you playing yesterday in your opening round match at Wimbledon?

Grace Kelly? Audrey Hepburn?

"Julia Roberts," she said. "Great actresses are wonderful to watch. You see them perform in the movies. You go on the court and you want to perform, too. You put on a face. It's your game face and you're tough."

Stevenson showed just how tough she was by beating Rita Kuti Kis, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).

It was a terrific "homecoming" for Stevenson, who had one of the more amazing Wimbledon debuts in 1999.

If Stevenson's tale were turned into a movie, no one would have believed it. She was a high school senior who seemed to come out of nowhere and stormed through the draw right to the semifinals, where she lost to eventual champion Lindsay Davenport.

Stevenson, raised by her single mom, Samantha, was at the center of a tabloid feeding frenzy after it was revealed that her father was ex-basketball star Julius Erving.

Amazingly, the player seemed to thrive on court in spite of the off-court, international news story.

Was she happy to be back at Wimbledon?

"It was great," she said. "It was very exciting. It was wonderful to be put on Court 3. It was like being back home. I loved it."

Her Wimbledon experience came in handy during the last year, when she sustained the inevitable hard knocks of a life on the women's tennis tour. Her ranking - No. 46 - wasn't spectacular.

"If you look back at a lot of great champions, their rookie years are horrible, they're not very good," said Stevenson, 19. "Everyone goes through it. You can't expect everything to be just peachy. It's going to be tough. Nobody wants to hand anything over to you. Women's tennis right now is getting a lot tougher."

But she said with all she has been through, "I've now learned how to be a professional."

It's her memory of last year's Wimbledon that has sustained her for a year and reminded her that she can win.

"I know at my best I'm great, and I can play great tennis," she said. 'It's just getting to the best, to the top of my game. It's just learning how to put it all together.

While Stevenson had a fond homecoming to Wimbledon, Davenport had a different kind of experience, meeting her doubles partner, Corina Morariu.

Davenport won, 6-3, 1-0, after Morariu slipped, injured her left arm, shoulder and leg, and was forced to retire from the match.

"It was a very bittersweet way to win," said Davenport, who also won last year's Wimbledon doubles crown with Morariu.

France's Nathalie Tauziat, who at 32 is the oldest player on the women's tour, bid a tearful farewell to Wimbledon after losing to Kim Clijsters, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Tauziat has gone through some difficult times with her fellow players after the publication of her book, a behind-the-scenes look at the women's tour. In it she criticized the tour's insistence on promoting style and such players as Anna Kournikova.

"I like Kournikova," she said. "I think she's a nice girl. But what I don't like is the whole system about people talking only about her because she's sexy. There are a lot of other girls on the tour who are as pretty as her and they don't talk about them as much."

She said she was happy with the book.

As for her tennis?

"I lost," she said. "That's it. It's finished."

Note: Jennifer Capriati's dad Stefano is back as her coach, and she made him look good yesterday, beating No. 16 seeded Dominique Van Roost, 6-2, 6-4. "So far it's good," said Capriati, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open semifinalist. "I've done well the last couple of weeks. Today I was really happy with my game."

Feature matches

(Seeds in parentheses) Today's men's singles

Pete Sampras (1) vs. Karol Kucera

Magnus Norman (3) vs. Olivier Rochus

Cedric Pioline (6) vs. Vladimir Voltchkov

Thomas Enqvist (9) vs. Francisco Clavet

Richard Krajicek (11) vs. Wayne Ferreira

Today's women's singles

Martina Hingis (1) vs. Yi Jing-Qian

Conchita Martinez (4) vs. Sonya Jeyaseelan

Venus Williams (5) vs. Ai Sugiyama

Serena Williams (8) vs. Yvette Basting

Anke Huber (11) vs. Louise Latimer

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