Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kiick, daughter of ex-NFL star, tackles pro tennis

Allie Kiick, the 18-year-old daughter of former
Miami Dolphins running back Jim Kiick, turned
pro in April. Photo by Paul Bauman
   REDDING, Calif. — Watching the television news in her New York hotel room on Aug. 20, Allie Kiick was shocked when her father appeared on the screen.
   Jim Kiick was among nearly three dozen members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated team in NFL history, being honored by President Barack Obama at the White House.
   "I got on the phone, and I'm like, 'Dad, did you want to tell me you went to the White House?' " Allie, 18, of Plantation, Fla., cracked today after winning her first-round singles and doubles matches in the $25,000 The Ascension Project Women's Challenger. "He was just telling me all about it, and he's like, '(Obama's) a great guy.' (The team members) really enjoyed getting together because they don't usually do that."
   The Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972, including three postseason games culminating in a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles. Kiick, the starting running back, scored Miami's decisive touchdown on a one-yard run.
   Championship teams routinely are honored at the White House today, but that was not the case then. Also, President Richard Nixon was preoccupied with the Watergate scandal. Finally, the legendary Dolphins team was recognized. 
   "I know that some people may be asking why we are doing this after all these years," Obama deadpanned at the time. "My answer is simple: I wanted to be the young guy up here for once."
   Kiick traveled to New York last month for the U.S. Open. She lost in the first round of singles qualifying to 17-year-old Mayo Hibi, who won the $50,000 Sacramento Challenger in July, and in the opening round of women's doubles in her Grand Slam main-draw debut.
   Kiick and Sachia Vickery of Miramar, Fla., had earned a wild card in women's doubles at the U.S. Open by winning the title in the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego in early August. Vickery defeated Kiick in the singles final in three sets. 
   Seeded seventh in the Ascension Project Challenger, Kiick ended a five-match losing streak by holding off 17-year-old qualifier Anne-Liz Jeukeng of Boca Raton, Fla., 7-5, 7-6 (1) at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness. Kiick came away with mixed feelings, though.
   "I got the win, which is always good, but I didn't feel I was playing my best tennis, unfortunately," lamented Kiick, who's ranked No. 297 in the world after turning pro in April. "It's tough getting used to the California conditions. The air is a lot thinner, so the ball will fly a lot. I was really having a hard time finding my strokes today."
   Kiick also struggled in the heat, which soared to 105 degrees (40.6 Celsius). Her match mercifully began at 10 a.m., but she said Northern California's dry heat is different than the heat and humidity in Florida.
   "When I don't sweat, I don't drink as much as I should, so that throws me off a bit. I kind of miss my humidity," Kiick said with a laugh. "Also the fact that we're playing on hardcourts (rather than clay) adds like another 15 degrees on the court, so it's like a sauna out here."
   Kiick will meet Despina Papamichail of Greece on Thursday in the second round. Papamichail, 19, outlasted Jelena Pandzic, 30, of Croatia 7-5, 2-6, 7-5. Pandzic lost to Jamie Hampton, now ranked 25th, in the 2010 final.   
   Another 17-year-old qualifier, Christina Makarova of San Diego, had more success than Jeukeng. Makarova knocked off eighth-seeded Sanaz Marand 6-3, 6-4. Marand reached the quarterfinals last year and won the doubles title with fellow American Jacqueline Cako, Kiick's partner this year.   
   Robin Anderson routed Krista Hardebeck 6-1, 6-1 in a matchup of Pacific-12 Conference stars last season. Anderson reached the NCAA doubles as a sophomore at UCLA, and Hardebeck helped Stanford win the NCAA team title.
   In doubles, Americans Elizabeth Lumpkin and Emily Harman surprised top-seeded Maria-Fernanda Alves of Brazil and Olivia Rogowska of Australia, 6-3, 6-3. Rogowska, also seeded first in singles, will open against Montserrat Gonzalez, 19, of Paraguay on Wednesday.
   Kiick has watched clips of her father, the fifth-leading career rusher in Dolphins history, on YouTube.
   "It's very funny to see his little hairdo and everything," Allie said of Jim's bushy hair and beard. "Gosh, I couldn't imagine him being like that. But yeah, I saw him play. I saw him score a touchdown in the Super Bowl or something like that, so it is really neat to see, actually."
   Naturally, Allie and her parents are avid NFL fans. Jim and Mary, who are divorced, actually favor the New York Giants because they grew up in New Jersey. Allie, tired of the Dolphins' losing ways, reluctantly converted to the Giants. 
   "When the Giants play, we are all glued to the TV," Allie said. "I'm not really a Giants fan, but since the Dolphins aren't very good and my parents love the Giants, I kind of go with them."
   Allie, 5-foot-7 (1.70 meters) and 135 pounds (61 kilograms), inherited considerable athletic ability not only from her father but her mother, who played professional softball. Allie wanted to compete in an individual sport "where if I win, I get all the credit." She tried swimming but didn't like it. Next was tennis, the 8-year-old was hooked.
   Jim taught Allie to throw a football, which she still does because the motion is similar to serving.
   Allie also inherited her parents' competitiveness.
   "My whole family is (intense), which is a good and a bad thing," Kiick said. "When we play sports together, it usually ends in an argument. Even if it's a card game, we all just want to win. It kind of ruins the purpose of having fun."
   "I'm a very competitive person. That's not necessarily a good thing. When I'm out on the court and I miss a few shots, I get mad. I want to be a perfectionist. I just want to beat everybody so badly, and that creates a bad attitude."
   Jim Kiick, the macho former pro football player, couldn't handle it when his 11-year-old daughter beat him 8-0 in tennis, so he quit playing. Nor does he attend Allie's matches much anymore because he gets too emotional.
   "He would scream at me when I was on the court, and I'd be like, 'Shut up, Dad.' " Allie said. "He'd yell back at me, and we'd have like a conversation arguing back and forth, and my mom would be like, 'Jim, stop!' "
   Mary now is married to Curtis Johnson, an ear, nose and throat doctor who financed Allie's tennis exploits until she turned pro.
   "He's awesome," Kiick said. "Without him, I probably wouldn't be where I am today."
   Kiick verbally committed to the University of Florida, the 2011 and 2012 NCAA champion, but changed her mind after a strong start this year. She qualified for the Sony Open in Miami on the WTA tour in March and reached the semifinals and final of two clay-court Challengers in the southern United States in April.
   "The deal with my parents was that if I turn pro, I have to pay for everything myself," Kiick said. "I kind of took a risk, but I'm doing pretty well right now."   
At Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness
In Redding Calif.
First-round singles
   Jacqueline Cako, United States, def. Denise Muresan, United States, 6-2, 6-2.
   Allie Kiick, United States, def. Anne-Liz Jeukeng, United States, 7-5, 7-6 (1).
   Veronica Cepede Royg (4), Paraguay, def. Elizabeth Lumpkin, United States, 6-4, 6-3.
   Ksenia Pervak (2), Russia, def. Rosalia Alda, United States, 6-2, 6-0.
   Robin Anderson, United States, def. Krista Hardebeck, United States, 6-1, 6-1.
   Christina Makarova, United States, def. Sanaz Marand (8), United States, 6-3, 6-4.
   Despina Papamichail, Greece, def. Jelena Pandzic, Croatia, 7-5, 2-6, 7-5. 
   Lauren Embree, United States, def. Ashley Weinhold, United States, 6-2, 7-5.
First-round doubles
   Emily Harman and Elizabeth Lumpkin, United States, def. Maria-Fernanda Alves, Brazil, and Olivia Rogowska (1), Australia, 6-3, 6-3.
   Veronica Cepede Royg, Paraguay, and Adriana Perez (2), Venezuela, def. Denise Muresan and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States, 6-4, 6-0.
   Jacqueline Cako and Allie Kiick, United States, def. Rosalia Alda, United States, and Montserrat Gonzalez, Paraguay, 7-6 (7), 6-3.
    Erin Clark, United States, and Despina Papamichail, Greece, def. Jessica Perez and Katelyn Ross, United States,  6-2, 6-4.
Wednesday's schedule
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
Court 2
   Macall Harkins, United States, vs. Maria-Fernanda Alves, Brazil.
   Chanel Simmonds (3), South Africa, vs. Michelle Sammons, South Africa.
   Olivia Rogowska (1), Australia, vs. Montserrat Gonzalez, Paraguay.
   Macall Harkins and Sanaz Marand (4), United States, vs. Michelle Sammons, South Africa, and Sianna Simmons, United States.
Court 1
   Ivana Lisjak, Croatia, vs. Adriana Perez (5), Venezuela.
   Catherine Harrison, United States, vs. Angelina Gabueva, Russia.
   Robin Anderson and Lauren Embree, United States, vs. Roxanne Ellison and Sierra A. Ellison, United States.
   Anamika Bhargava and Ashley Weinhold, United States, vs. Ulrikke Eikeri, Norway, and Chanel Simmonds (3), South Africa.
Court 3
   Julia Boserup, United States, vs. Ulrikke Eikeri, Norway.
   Samantha Crawford (6), United States, vs. Anamika Bhargava, United States.
   Beatrice Capra, United States, vs. Caitlin Whoriskey, United States.
   Angelina Gabueva, Russia, and Ivana Lisjak, Croatia, vs. Ksenia Pervak, Russia, and Yasmin Schnack, United States.

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