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Stevenson enjoys time in spotlight

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Posted: Tuesday June 27, 2000 09:17 PM

By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

LONDON -- Hard to believe that a year ago Alexandra Stevenson was fresh out of high school, a little-known, lightly regarded American prospect. So lightly regarded, in fact, that she had to quality for the Championships, as this ludicrously proper event bills itself. Of course, by tournament's end she was the latest character in the surreal soap opera that is the WTA Tour.

Stevenson was revealed to be the out-of-wedlock daughter of Dr. J, a biracial -- "Actually eight [races]," she claims -- SoCal chatterbox straight from the set of Clueless whose sportswriter mother was protecting her from the lesbian predators on tour. And, oh, yeah, she reached the semifinals here. Stevenson did everything, so it seemed, but give birth to an alien and accept a marriage proposal from an NHL player she'd dump a few weeks later.

A Nike deal followed, as did a tête-à-tête with Barbara Walters and general just-add-water celebrity status. Alas, so, too, did a string of uninspired tennis. We complain about Anna Kournikova's popularity outstripping her results? Stevenson made the WTA Tour's vaunted 2000 "commitment list" that Nathalie Tauziat rightfully decries in her book.

Yet following her triumphant Wimbledon, Stevenson couldn't get out of the first round of a tournament. This year alone, her 8-16 record includes losses to players like Louise Latimer, Shinobu Asagoe, Lilia Osterloh, Tatiana Panova, Anastasia Myskina (twice) and Sylvia Plischke. Once Wimbledon ends, her ranking -- currently a respectable No. 42 -- will drop like a Tiger Woods putt. "If you look back at a lot of great champions, their rookie years are horrible," she explains. "You can't expect everything just to be peachy."

Everything was darn near peachy for her Tuesday, though. Playing on a show court, Stevenson handled Hungary's Rita Kuti Kis 7-5, 7-6 to advance to the second round. She hardly looked like a threat to replicate last year's feat, but her serving was superb, her play on big points uncharacteristically poised and her affinity for grass-court tennis apparent. "It was like being back home," she says. "I love it here."

Apart from the facilities, this aspiring actress and dancer also relishes the international stage Wimbledon affords. Dripping with self-assurance, Stevenson held forth after the match on topics ranging from racism on tour (she doesn't let it "bug" her) to the merits of Audrey Hepburn (two thumbs up) to Julia Roberts' boyfriend, Benjamin Bratt ("He's really cute"). Presumably, there was no time to garner her opinion on the election strife in Zimbabwe.

There's something endearing about a young player so candid and uninhibited, so saturate with opinions and thoughts. "I'm going to go into acting and win an Academy Award," she vows. "There's nothing better than giving a great performance."

Perhaps so. It would just be nice if she could deliver more, as she did Tuesday, on the tennis court.

Half volleys

Women's tennis may not be a hotbed for parity, but grass can sure shake up a draw. Four seeds bit the dust Tuesday: No. 16 Dominique Van Roost, No. 7 Nathalie Tauziat, No. 14 Julie Halard-Decugis, and No. 13 Amelia Mauresmo. The first two lost to solid players -- Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters, respectively. But what do we make of the latter two, both of whom have games that could thrive here, falling to Kristie Boogert and Gala Leon Garcia? ... Erratic American Jan-Michael Gambill notched what might have been the biggest win of his career, dropping seventh-seeded Lleyton Hewitt on Centre Court in straight sets. ... Defending champ Lindsay Davenport advanced in bittersweet fashion when her doubles partner and first-round opponent, Corina Morariu, had to default with a shoulder injury. ... He may be the third seed as well as Martina Hingis' Swedish meatball, but Magnus Norman still finds respect hard to come by. He was banished to Court 18 for his win over Mark Woodforde. ... Gustavo Kuerten has been trying to teach himself to play Bob Marley tunes on a guitar he purchased in Rome. He showed up here with his hair in dreads. ... Is Goran Ivanisevic nearing the end of the road? The three-time finalist here lost to Arnaud Clement in four sets.

Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will be filing daily reports from Wimbledon.

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