Junior Tennis: Ugrelidze seeks comfort zone

COSTA MESA — Nini Ugrelidze said she does not like it when her mother watches her play tennis. She is just getting used to seeing mom around.
Ekaterina Meishvili followed her daughter's every move on the court Friday at the 108th annual Southern California Junior Sectional Championships. She smiled whenever the 14-year-old threw her hands in the air in frustration.
The little things are what Meishvili does not take for granted. Of course, the winning makes mom proud.
The incoming Corona del Mar High sophomore won twice in singles action at the Costa Mesa Tennis Center and advanced to today's quarterfinals in the 14-year-old girls' division.
For nine years, Meishvili rarely saw Ugrelidze. The two lived apart, Ugrelidze in the country of Georgia and Meishvili in the U.S.
It has been 10 months since mother and daughter reunited. Meishvili said she feels blessed that Ugrelidze is now with her in Corona del Mar.
Being thousands of miles away took a toll on both. The two cried over the phone on a daily basis.
Meishvili and her husband, Brian, said they tried to get Ugrelidze to America. Brian said the previous attempts failed.
Ugrelidze almost lost hope.
“I was thinking I never [would] come here,” said Ugrelidze, who lived with Meishvili's parents in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. “But it finally happened.”
Ugrelidze said she is happy to be with her mother, who is three months pregnant with twins.
Ugrelidze adds that she misses her grandparents, Mzia and Mevludi. They raised Ugrelidze while Meishvili pursued a better life in America.
After three years of submitting the proper paperwork, getting interviews and then rejected for Ugrelidze's visa, Brian said he and his wife received a call at 2 a.m. one day in August.
“Finally, they switch the consular officer and they called us and said she has an interview [on Monday],” Brian remembered. “So, we got up and bought tickets and flew down there and came back with her.”
When Ugrelidze arrived in America, she could not speak English.
CdM tennis coach Brian Ricker did not have to talk to Ugrelidze to recognize she was a gifted player.
“It took 30 seconds on the court,” said Ricker, adding that he heard Ugrelidze was coming to the Sea Kings' program.
Brian said Ugrelidze enrolled at CdM on the first day of the school year. Looking back, he said Ugrelidze, due to her age, should have been an eighth-grader in middle school, not a freshman in high school.
Meishvili and her husband said they moved from Irvine into the area so Ugrelidze could play tennis at CdM. The plan worked.
As a freshman, Ugrelidze made a varsity team loaded with talent, earning the No. 3 singles slot. Ricker believes Ugrelidze's stock is rising after she helped the Sea Kings reach the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.
Ricker attended Ugrelidze's 6-2, 6-3 victory in the round of 32 against Irvine's Chloe Pham on Friday. The match went longer than expected, two hours. Ricker saw things he liked and some things he did not from the No. 12-seeded Ugrelidze.
The forehand has improved immensely since the high school season. Before, Ricker said Ugrelidze mostly used a great backhand, but it turned her into a one-dimensional player.
“Once she made that change [of mixing her shots], I think she won her first three out of four [United States Tennis Assn.] tournaments,” Ricker said. “She's beaten some kids [in tournament play] that she lost to in our [high school] season, and lost to them badly.
“When [players] get to her age, it's that transition from … just keeping the ball in play to going to hit it really hard. That's a hard transition to make for all the kids. If they hit it too hard, they make too many mistakes, and then they start losing. But they don't want to go back to keeping the ball in play. She's clearly right in the middle of that transition.”
Ugrelidze has time to move her tennis game forward. Meishvili plans to be there in support. Ugrelidze had better get used to mom watching her matches.

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