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Stevenson Is a Revelation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The silky one-handed backhand was inspired by Pete Sampras. The moxie and guile by Bobby Riggs. And the collective wisdom came from Southern California’s best tennis coaches.

It took a lot to put Alexandra Stevenson’s game together, but the 18-year-old qualifier from San Diego celebrated her unprecedented arrival into the Wimbledon semifinals with the high theatrics of another tennis star.

Andre Agassi bows and blows kisses four times, to all corners of the stadium.

Friday, after beating 16-year-old Australian qualifier Jelena Dokic, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, in the quarterfinals, Stevenson promptly curtsied four times to the crowd . . . once in each corner.

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That a female qualifier reached the semifinals at Wimbledon for the first time, in her debut, no less, normally would be enough drama for one day. But this has been a tournament that could be renamed “Alexandra’s Revelations.”

She and her mother have been the center of attention--on and off the court--for much of the fortnight.

After she had surprised the tennis community by reaching the fourth round earlier in the week, her mother, Samantha Stevenson, threatened to sue the Women’s Tennis Assn. Tour in a dispute over her daughter’s prize money. Samantha Stevenson also said her daughter had been subjected to racism at a junior tournament last year and that she wanted to protect her daughter from cattiness and jealousy in the locker room. Samantha Stevenson is white but Alexandra has a black father, whose identity the Stevensons chose not to reveal.

Friday, not long after Alexandra had dismissed Dokic--firing 15 aces--the news broke that basketball legend Julius Erving was acknowledging her as his daughter. Erving told the Associated Press in Philadelphia that he has supported her financially, although he has seen her only once, when she was 3. Previously, he had denied paternity, after the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel published a copy of Alexandra’s birth certificate with his name on it.

Alexandra and her mother, a freelance journalist, continued to decline comment, even after Erving’s announcement.

“No comment ever,” Samantha Stevenson said in an interview off the Wimbledon grounds. “I’ll go to my grave with it.”

Earlier, Alexandra had said she was “oblivious” to the controversy. Her mother said that she and Alexandra’s coach, Craig Kardon, are shielding Alexandra from the stories.

“We have a bubble. She’s in the bubble with Craig and me,” Samantha said.

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Before the current flap, the mother used to teach the daughter how to deal with the media.

"[Alexandra] says she’s starting to teach me now,” Samantha Stevenson said. “I’m the student now. I have to go back to class. I failed. She said that she passed.”

One of the recent stories Samantha wrote for the New York Times was about the father of her daughter’s quarterfinal opponent, Damir Dokic, who was removed from a tournament at Birmingham, England, last month because of disorderly behavior.

His daughter Jelena promptly beat top-seeded Martina Hingis of Switzerland in the first round here, then knocked off ninth-seeded Mary Pierce of France to reach the quarterfinals.

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Dokic and Stevenson had started their quarterfinal Thursday but could not finish because of rain. Once play resumed Friday afternoon, Dokic finished off the second set but later could not cope with Stevenson’s powerful ground strokes. In the third, Stevenson served for the match at 5-3 and held at 30, hitting an ace and service winner in the final game.

“At 5-2, I just hit the ball as hard as I could, hoping it was going in because I wanted to serve for the match [at 5-3],” Stevenson said. “I just focused really hard and didn’t think about winning. Or maybe just a little.”

She giggled when it was pointed out that John McEnroe had reached the semifinals here as qualifier in 1977.

“Yes, I’m very excited about that,” she said. “The first woman, because McEnroe was the first man, obviously. I think it’s right that it’s been two Americans. That’s even better, so I think it’s awesome.”

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Said Kardon, “She’s a great athlete. I don’t think we’ve seen really what she is capable of yet. She hasn’t had the opportunity to play full time. When she gets the opportunity to train, that is what is going to be amazing.

“She really does pick up things. We had some time to talk about the [Dokic] match. I told her a couple of things and she did exactly what should be done and ended up on top.”

Now, after spending an explosive fortnight at center stage, Alexandra will be living her childhood dream--on Centre Court. In today’s semifinals--weather permitting, of course--Stevenson will play third-seeded Lindsay Davenport of Newport Beach on Centre Court, and second-seeded Steffi Graf of Germany plays Mirjana Lucic of Croatia on Court 1.

Lucic, also completing a match that had begun Thursday, defeated Nathalie Tauziat of France, a finalist last year, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

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Ordinarily, Lucic would have been the major story, considering her and her family’s dramatic escape from her coach and father Marinko after Wimbledon last year. Lucic accused him of physical abuse if she practiced poorly or lost matches, which he denied.

She could not have envisioned this year’s dramatic turnaround.

“It was hard for me to believe it at the time,” she said. “When you don’t play well and you are injured and things are not going so well, it’s hard to believe that everything is going to be good.”


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