Growing Into Her Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After what her body and tennis game have been through the last few years, it's hard to believe Susanna Lingman is ready to endure any more growing pains. But Lingman, a month shy of turning 14 and already 5 feet 7, said there's room for more growth.

"My goal is to be 5-9," she said. "That way, I can be that much better with my overhead and I can cover the net better. I don't want to be as tall as Venus Williams though, 5-9 is perfect."

Everything seems to be perfect these days for Lingman, who has recovered nicely from a frustrating summer of injuries and tough losses, to win 20 of 21 sets as Woodbridge's No. 1 singles player.

"It's been kind of a long process, but I think my game's finally coming together," said Lingman, a freshman who is also 3-0 in doubles for the third-ranked Warriors.

The process began a couple years ago for Lingman when she started taking lessons from Phil Dent, a former top-10 player from Australia who has worked with Michael Chang and more recently, his son Taylor, one of the top-ranked juniors in the world. Dent decided he would try to move Lingman into the court.

"If you're really going to be a tennis player, you have to learn how to play inside the court," Dent said. "It hasn't been easy for her, especially with all the injuries."

About the time Lingman began her transformation, she started to grow. She, in fact, suffered through the same type of growing pains that Taylor Dent did.

"Both of them just needed to grow into their bodies," Phil Dent said.

During her growth spurt, Lingman battled ankle sprains brought on by weak ankles and swollen knees, caused by the rubbing together of her knee bones. In addition, Lingman spent the summer without the guidance of her coach, who was in Europe with Taylor.

Lingman entered the season ranked 15th in the girls' 14s in Southern California, but her results this year have improved her ranking to 11th. In the girls' 14 national hardcourt tournament, Lingman lost in the first round.

"It was a real frustrating summer," she said. "But I learned a lot from my experiences."

Lingman also learned that sometimes it doesn't hurt to take a break.

"She couldn't play as much as normal because of the growing pains and I think the parents did a good job of not over-playing her," Dent said. "They didn't push her to go out and play and that really benefited her."

Dent also thinks Lingman has benefited from the success of her older brother, David, one of the top-ranked boys' 16 players in the country.

"It's nice to have someone play at that level in your family," Dent said. "They know exactly what it's like and what you're going through."

David also had some injury problems--a bacterial infection in his back that sidelined him for six months last year--but the pain appears to have given way to success for David and Susanna.

"A lot of it is coincidence that both of us are playing well now," Susanna said. "But both of us have worked hard this summer to raise our level of play. I know I realized how important this is to me. It seems like we both started coming together at the same time."

Lingman's timing couldn't be better for Woodbridge, which lost last year's No. 1 singles player Natalie Exon to graduation and No. 2 player Adriana Hockicko to a knee injury for the first month of this season. Wednesday, Woodbridge lost, 10-8, to defending Southern Section Division I champion Palos Verdes Peninsula. But Lingman did all she could, winning her three singles sets.

"I was a little nervous before the match, but I'm playing with a lot of confidence now," said Lingman, who is often playing people four years older. "I'm confident with my game and how I play it."

Dent said Lingman now has a game that most other girls don't.

"She hits a really big ball and she doesn't even have to try, and she's not afraid to come in," he said. "I always thought she'd be pretty good. It was just a matter of time. Some kids develop quicker than others."

Some kids also grow quicker than others. And some kids don't want to stop growing.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 14, 1997 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 9 Sports Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction Girls' tennis--A photo that ran in Saturday's Times Orange County Edition with a story about Woodbridge's Susanna Lingman was of teammate Danielle Hustedt. Lingman is pictured above.
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