Nerves Have Been Her Toughest Opponent

Times Staff Writer

Seeing the name Patty Schnyder next up in the draw and her scary left-handed calling cards -- slice and spin -- did not bother Larry Willens.

Really, it could be much worse for Abigail Spears of San Diego, who will play the enigmatic Swiss player Saturday in the third round at the Australian Open. Willens, who coaches Spears, counted all the reasons, in no particular order: Serena and Venus Williams, or any of the talented Russians.

Today, Willens was working overtime to get the 23-year-old Spears ready. They practiced at Melbourne Park and Willens came into the media room, looking for press clippings for motivational fodder. He said Spears had to get past her nerves in the first round against Meghann Shaughnessy, a major hurdle.

“After the first two games, she realized, ‘I can beat this girl,’ ” Willens said. “And that made her incredibly nervous. She lost the first set, and then it really began to change. She came out in the second set and the match was over.”


Spears, who had never won a match at a Grand Slam tournament until this week, won the final two sets and took her next match in straight sets, upsetting No. 20 Tatiana Golovin of France in the second round. Far away from the Williams sisters and top-seeded Lindsay Davenport in the draw, Spears has a great opportunity. The highest-ranked player in her round of 16 is No. 6 Elena Dementieva of Russia.


Two sets of compelling shot-making -- including an electric tiebreaker -- in a 4-6, 7-6 (8), 6-0, 6-3 loss to Lleyton Hewitt of Australia earned James Blake well-deserved respect from a partisan crowd Thursday in the second round.

Blake was similarly impressive in the interview room afterward.


In the last year, Blake lost his father to cancer, broke his neck in an on-court accident and later contracted shingles, causing paralysis in his face. He said the adversity gave him new perspective.

“As I told my mom and some others, the best thing that happened to me last year was breaking my neck,” said Blake. “I got to find a positive. I got to spend the last six weeks of my father’s life with him. I’ll never regret that.

”... You find a silver lining, and I’ve definitely done that. Now I realize that I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. How many people can say they do what they love for a living, they get paid well, they travel the world, have my coach with me who is one of my best friends? I live a charmed life right now. I’ve obviously had some tragedy, some unfortunate situations, but to look at the big picture, I’m a lucky person.

“That’s how I stay positive. I have my friends to keep me in check if I start complaining. Like I said, the worst thing that happened to me is I lost a tennis match. I guarantee there’s a lot of people, even in this room, that have had a lot worse occurrences happen today, yesterday, whatever.”




State of the Nations

Remaining countries in the Australian Open after two rounds (* -- Denotes after three rounds):



* United States: 4 (Andre Agassi, Taylor Dent, Bobby Reynolds, Andy Roddick)

* Argentina: 4 (Guillermo Canas, Juan Ignacio Chela, Guillermo Coria, David Nalbandian)

* Spain: 4 (Juan Carlos Ferrero, Feliciano Lopez, Rafael Nadal, Tommy Robredo)


* Russia: 2 (Nikolay Davydenko, Marat Safin*)

* Sweden: 2 (Joachim Johansson, Thomas Johansson*)

* Australia: 1 (Lleyton Hewitt)

* Austria: 1 (Jurgen Melzer)


* Belgium: 1 (Olivier Rochus*)

* Britain: 1 (Tim Henman)

* Chile: 1 (Fernando Gonzalez)

* Cyprus: 1 (Marcos Baghdatis)


* Czech Republic: 1 (Radek Stepanek)

* France: 1 (Jean-Rene Lisnard)

* Germany: 1 (Philipp Kohlschreiber)

* Slovakia: 1 (Dominik Hrbaty*)


* Switzerland: 1 (Roger Federer*)


* Russia: 9 (Elena Dementieva, Vera Douchevina*, Svetlana Kuznetsova*, Elena Likhovtseva, Evgenia Linetskaya*, Anastasia Myskina, Tatiana Panova, Nadia Petrova, Maria Sharapova)

* United States: 5 (Lindsay Davenport, Lisa Raymond, Abigail Spears, Serena Williams, Venus Williams)


* France: 2 (Nathalie Dechy, Amelie Mauresmo*)

* Italy: 2 (Silvia Farina Elia*, Francesca Schiavone)

* Australia: 1 (Alicia Molik)

* Bulgaria: 1 (Magdalena Maleeva)


* China: 1 (Li Na)

* Croatia: 1 (Karolina Sprem)

* Czech Republic: 1 (Nicole Vaidisova)

* India: 1 (Sania Mirza)


* Israel: 1 (Anna Smashnova)

* Slovakia: 1 (Daniela Hantuchova)

* Switzerland: 1 (Patty Schnyder)