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Tennis prodigies can learn from Raymond


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 3, 2000

WIMBLEDON, England -- What an oddball, this Lisa Raymond. Instead of growing up in a tennis academy, which can be baby boot camp, she clung to Philadelphia suburban normalcy.

Even out of high school, Ted and Nancy Raymond's daughter refused to turn pro, opting for academic stimulation, social flings and athletic challenges at the University of Florida.

"Go Gators!" she bellowed.

"I wish more little tennis girls would demand to do it my way," said Raymond, in pursuit of a Wimbledon high at age 26. "It's too tempting, I suppose, if you're Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Anna Kournikova, Lindsay Davenport or the Williams sisters and can get an assured shot at quick wealth in midteens.

"Too often, though, that can lead to being terribly lonely as a tour babe, missing your one chance at so many joys of average youth, plus maybe being badgered by overzealous parents who're counting on you to be the family meal ticket."

Raymond spent 1991-93 with the Gators, achieving two undefeated seasons of singles tennis, winning back-to-back NCAA singles championships, embracing an expansive rainbow of Gainesville passions, before then becoming a tennis professional at 19.

"I've had some success on tour," she said, "but I still consider winning those NCAA championships as my top career accomplishments, especially the second one right there in Gainesville."

Raymond smiled as she flashed back to high school days at the Academy of Notre Dame near Philly and those two years at UF. "I went to my prom and skipped a chance to play junior tennis at Wimbledon so I could make my high school graduation," she said. "I knew Wimbledon would always be there, but graduation is one shot only.

"I really enjoyed being in classrooms at Gainesville, as well as experiencing the parties, including spring break. I don't think a woman can play for a better college tennis coach than Andy Brandi. If I sound like a recruiter for the Gators, that's fine.

"I'm a huge fan of UF football. Steve Spurrier, coach of the Gators, was always really nice to me and constantly encouraging. That man is some competitor.

"But, just to show I have interest in world peace, I'm playing Wimbledon mixed doubles with Paul Haarhuis; he's from Sweden but is also a Seminole, an alum of Florida State University."

Lisa doesn't have the WTA marquee gusto of Monica, Lindsay, Anna, Venus and Serena, but she is professionally accomplished, financially sound, personally stable and looking to substantial life after tennis.

FBI ... remember those letters.

Raymond has done especially well in doubles. While winning just one singles title, at Quebec City in 1996, she has 17 doubles championships, including two Grand Slam victories in mixed play, Wimbledon (1999) and the U.S. Open (1996), and one in women's doubles, this year's Australian Open. "Doubles are fun, I'm pretty good at it," she said, "but I do not consider myself a doubles player. Singles, that's where my greatest motivation lies. At 26, I think I'm the best I've been. We're about to see right here at Wimbledon."

Speaking of passion ...

* * *

"I'm competitively hungry to make this Wimbledon my best Grand Slam yet," the Gator said. Raymond has reached the fourth round of a major for the sixth time. She is yet to accomplish the next step, to a quarterfinal.

"Wimbledon has been good for me," she said. "Been a fourth-rounder four times. I'm due to make my upward move." Last year, she won three matches, beating two Grand Slam winners from Spain, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez, before losing to Alexandra Stevenson. Today, the Raymond challenge at the All England Club is the longest surname in tennis, Olga Barabanschikova of Belarus. We hear so much about the massive money in tennis, where eight-figure total incomes are not rare among Hingis, Davenport, the Williamses and glamor smash Kournikova. But what of the WTA supporting cast, like Raymond?

Her best year-end world ranking was 17th in 1997. For the three years since, she has hovered in the mid-20s. "Financially, to exist fairly comfortably on tour, where we constantly bounce between continents," she said, "you need to be a top-50 player."

Raymond flies business class, which is hugely expensive, stays in classy hotels, eats in good restaurants and bears the cost of having her personal coach, Oliver Messerli, attend 19 to 23 tournaments a year. Lisa estimated her tour overhead at $80,000. Career income approaches $2.5-million. Her residence is a townhouse in Wayne, Pa., not far from her retired parents.

Lisa plans to return to college. "I don't know if it'll be UF, since by then I may be too old to keep up with the social pace," she said, chuckling. "But I am adamant about getting a degree."

Her major: criminology.

"Every book I read is a whodunit," Raymond said. "It's in my soul. I have a probing, investigative mind. My favorite all-time movie was Silence of the Lambs and Jodie Foster captivated me.

"For years, I've wanted to eventually become an FBI person. Right now, doing best-ever at Wimbledon is what consumes me, but someday I might take great pride is being addressed as Special Agent Raymond."

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