Monday, September 24, 2012

Redding notes: Title puts Gullickson back on track

Qualifier Chelsey Gullickson rebounded from recent adversity
to win the $25,000 USTA Oak River Rehab Challenger
in Redding, Calif. Photos by Paul Bauman
   Leftovers from the recent $25,000 USTA Oak River Rehab Challenger in Redding, Calif.:
   That's more like it -- Chelsey Gullickson reversed a rough stretch by winning the singles title as a qualifier.
   Gullickson ended her college career on a bad note in May, then sprained her right ankle in practice the week before making her professional debut in Lexington, Ky., in July. She aggravated the injury in the second round of qualifying, lost the match and withdrew from Vancouver the following week. Redding was her first tournament since Lexington.
   Gullickson won the 2010 NCAA singles title on her home courts as a sophomore at Georgia. The tournament returned to Athens, Ga., this year, but Gullickson lost in the first round.
   "I put a bunch of pressure on myself to do the same thing," she said after reaching the Redding quarterfinals. "It was really upsetting. Then I go to Lexington and hurt my ankle. That was upsetting, but I just went back to the practice court. I'm happy to be out here."
Allie Will lost to Gullickson in the final. They were
Southeastern Conference rivals.
   The 5-foot-11Gullickson, 22, went on to beat former Southeastern Conference rival Allie Will 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in the final for her second title in a pro tournament. She won a $25,000 event on clay in Raleigh, N.C., as a high school senior in May 2008.
   The 5-foot-10 Will also turned pro in July, after leading Florida to its second consecutive NCAA team title as a junior.
   Gullickson's mother, Sandy, played tennis at Western Kentucky. She introduced the game to Chelsey's older sister, Carly, and Chelsey tagged along. Carly became a professional player and won the 2009 U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Travis Parrott.
   The sisters' father, Bill, pitched in the major leagues for 14 years (1979-94, including a stint in Japan). Chelsey, who was 4 when he retired, has only faint memories of him as a pitcher.
   "I remember he played for the (Detroit) Tigers, and they had family picture day," she said. "We all dressed in Tigers uniforms. He'd walk out of the house to go to work, and we'd all be hugging his feet not to go."
   So is Chelsey a baseball fan?
   "Actually, no. It's a slow-paced game for me. I'm used to tennis being fast, fast," she said, snapping her fingers.     
   Comeback kid -- Another player happy to be back on the court was 21-year-old Canadian Rebecca Marino, who lost in the second round after returning from a 6 1/2-month sabbatical.
Rebecca Marino, a former top-40 player,
says she "did the right thing" by taking
a 6 1/2-month sabbatical.
   "I was at the point where my body was telling me I needed a break," said the 6-foot Marino, who reached a career-high No. 38 in the world last year. "I could either listen to my body and prolong my career or keep going and struggle more. There were also some personal matters that I'd rather not discuss. I feel I did the right thing."
   Added Marino: "It was not an easy decision. There's a coaching team depending on you, and it's my source of income."
   Marino spent most of her time off at home in Vancouver, British Columbia.
   "I reconnected with a lot of friends and had a lot of family time," she said. "I spent time with my brother (a junior rower at Cal) and learned to snowboard. It went miserably for me. I did a backflip and landed on my face."
   Marino said she watched "bits and pieces" of the U.S. Open women's final, in which Serena Williams defeated Victoria Azarenka, on television.
   Marino played on the same court, Arthur Ashe Stadium, two years ago in the U.S. Open. As a qualifier, she lost to Venus Williams 7-6 (3), 6-3 in a second-round day match televised across the United States and Canada.
   Two things about that encounter stand out to Marino. 
   "Firstly, I felt really comfortable in that situation," she recalled. "It surprised me, because it was new territory for me.
   "And Venus is such a great athlete. She's intimidating in a sense because she's tall with a cut physique. She hit so hard, it was unbelievable. It was a great experience and helped build my game a lot."
   The tennis whisperer -- Mercifully, no players shrieked like Maria Sharapova or Azarenka during matches on Tuesday or Wednesday of the Redding tournament.
   But Angelina Gabueva made a whistling noise while blowing every time she hit the ball.
   The 23-year-old Russian reached the quarterfinals before losing to qualifier Kristie Ahn, a Stanford junior.
   Unlikely partners -- Elizabeth Ferris, who lost to Gabueva in the second round, tells a humorous story about how she hooked up with fellow American Nadia Echeverria Alam in doubles at the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in the Sacramento area in May.
   Ferris, 26, of Anaheim, had beaten Echeverria Alam, 17, of Miami, in singles one year previously.
   "We didn't have the best on-court relationship," Ferris said in Gold River. "It was rocky. Out of the blue, she asked me to play doubles. It's funny how it worked out."
   Ferris elaborated on the friction between her and Echeverria Alam.
   "She's young and probably felt she should have beaten me. She was making fun of the way I played. I use slice, placement and spin. My game is the opposite of hers. She's a typical young player with a lot of pace," Ferris said. 
   "She was making comments to her parents: 'This is girls 12s, not women's tennis.' I was pretty shocked by her behavior, but I got to know her, and everything's been fine."
   At Echeverria Alam's request, she and Ferris wore multicolored knee socks on their right legs only during their first-round loss in Gold River to second seeds and eventual champions Asia Muhammad and Yasmin Schnack.
   "(Echeverria Alam) has a fun personality, and it loosens her up," Ferris said. "Whatever I can do to loosen her up and make it fun, I'll be glad to do as her doubles partner."
   Echeverria Alam, a Venezuela native, also wore pink war paint -- actually lipstick -- under her eyes.
   "She tried to get me to do it, but I sweat a lot," Ferris said. "I knew it would be all over my face."

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