Harkleroad ready to prove her worth on court
The new glamour queen of the tour, Ashley Harkleroad, will attract throngs of spectators to her matches at the US Open this month.tennis Updated: Aug 21, 2003 09:57 IST
Ashley Harkleroad will attract throngs of spectators to her matches at the US Open this month, but whether they will go in search of a future champion or a media phenomenon remains unclear.
Blonde-haired Harkleroad, 18, wows fans and press alike by wearing daring, cut-off tops, and her image as the new glamour queen of the tour will help generate further publicity at Flushing Meadows in the absence of Anna Kournikova.
We already know a great deal about Harkleroad, the American who began playing aged four and whose nickname of 'Pebbles' stuck after she grew up in Flintstone, Georgia.
We know she is a part-time model and that she hopes to forge a movie career in the future.
We know she has been hailed as the 'new Kournikova' and as the 'Britney Spears of tennis'.
We know she has a penchant for sweet potatoes and used to date Andy Roddick.
What we do not know is whether the 2002 French Open junior finalist is ready to become a respected entity on the WTA Tour.
Or, crucially, whether she can avoid the nightmare scenario that dogged Kournikova and back up the hype with tangible success.
Her progress at the US Open -- an on-going elbow injury permitting -- could provide some more answers and encouragement after this year's French Open.
At Roland Garros, Harkleroad beat ninth seeded Daniela Hantuchova 9-7 in the final set of the second round after more than three hours of gutsy, top-drawer tennis.
"I've always been very feisty -- a fighter," she said after eventually losing in the third round in Paris. "Ever since I was eight years old."
An infectious personality and wise head on young shoulders also appear to stand her in good stead.
"Well, I like Britney Spears and it's nice when people say nice things about me but I can't hold a tune," she once joked.
"I'd rather keep the focus on my game. If I'm not doing well, I'm not happy. Tennis is why I'm here."
For all her qualities, her feistiness may be required most because, as time passes, the media will demand evidence of her true worth -- just as they have done with Kournikova.
It is then that we will really get to know Harkleroad. In the mean time, it will be an interesting courtship.