NCAA Women's Tennis Championships : Stafford's Victory Over Bowes Worth Shouting About

Special to The Times

After Florida's Shaun Stafford had won her quarterfinal match Tuesday at the NCAA women's individual tennis tournament, she ran to a restroom and screamed.

A few minutes later, Stafford emerged, evidently having eased her tensions.

"I'm pretty emotional," Stafford said. "I used to go crazy out there on the court."

Never mind that she still goes crazy off the court. And, from time to time, she reverts to her old ways during matches.

Stafford was holding an example of her regression, a smashed racket, while she talked about her 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 victory over second-seeded Beverly Bowes of Texas at UCLA's L.A. Tennis Center.

In the first set, Stafford got a warning from the chair umpire when she broke the racket by smashing it on her foot.

"It's an old racket . . . but I didn't hurt my foot," she said, smiling.

Florida Coach Andy Brandi wasn't amused.

"After she did it, I told her if it happened again, if she slipped one more time, I'd pull her out of the match," he said. "And she knew I'd pull her out of the match."

Then, Brandi smiled.

While coaches often make such statements, Brandi offered further evidence that he was not just paying lip service.

When Stafford, a freshman from Gainesville, Fla., arrived on campus, she already had a reputation for being temperamental. Brandi had a solution to that problem.

"It wasn't a hard thing to do," he said. "It took one outburst. She got mad and scraped her racket on the court. I told her to give me the racket. Then, I broke it. I broke four of her rackets.

"I said if it ever happened again, I'd break all her rackets. And she knew I'd do it."

Now, a few months later, Stafford credits Brandi for her vast improvement. She had compiled an excellent junior career, including a top 10 international ranking and a second-place finish at the U.S. Open juniors. But college observers weren't sure how she'd fare during the long dual-match season.

Stafford answered the question by compiling a 27-6 singles record before the NCAA tournament. The only question is: How long will she stay at Florida?

"This is the best year I've ever had," she said. "It's been a great year in college. I've had a lot of fun. . . . He (Brandi) has been great for me. He's helped me mentally. And physically, he's refined my strokes. He's just an awesome coach."

Brandi, who coached current pros Kathy Rinaldi, Carling Bassett and Lisa Bonder before arriving at Florida, compares Stafford favorably to his three former charges.

"None of those girls have had the weapon the way this girl does," Brandi said. "They were mostly counter-punchers. They don't have the something that can blow past people like Shaun's forehand."

Stafford's forehand eventually wore down, and wore out Bowes in their quarterfinal meeting. The Texas senior had played a difficult third-round match against Northwestern's Katrina Adams before winning, 6-4, 7-6. Stafford, on the other hand, lost only four games to Houston's Kathy Foxworth.

Against Bowes, Stafford lost the first set, 7-6, after blowing two set points at 5-4. However, she knew conditioning would become a factor. Stafford still felt that Bowes would fold, even when Bowes took a 3-1 second-set lead.

"I knew she was tired," Stafford said. "I'm in great condition. We have two-a-day workouts and he (Brandi) is killing us.

"You name it and we do it, and it pays off."

Notes

Miami's Lise Gregory joined that elite group of players--those who have won a set from defending champion Patty Fendick. Gregory won the first set and led 2-0 before Fendick won eight straight games and the third-round match, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Stanford's Fendick plays SMU's Jennifer Santrock in today's semifinals at 2 p.m. In the other match, Stanford's Lisa Green meets Florida's Shaun Stafford.

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