The home-court advantage

Tennis: Leslie Harvey practically grew up on the Druid Hill Park courts. Today, she plays in the USTA Women's Satellite tourney there.

July 27, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Leslie Harvey is a vivacious 18-year-old with a blistering forehand. It's the forehand that helped earn her a wild-card selection into the main draw of this week's USTA Women's Satellite tournament at Druid Hill Park.

It is her experience and knowledge of the local courts that may help her survive past the first round that begins today.

"She has known these courts since before she was born," said Leslie's mother, Marie, an administrative assistant at Old Court Middle School. "Her dad was out here playing in a tournament the week before she was born, and I was sitting in the stands cheering for him."

Marie Harvey laughs. She has been watching tennis from the stands for 20 years, as she first supported her husband, Ponell, assistant principal at Woodbourne School, and then took her daughter to tournaments all over the country.

"I'll be out here this week supporting my baby," she said, knowing when Leslie leaves for college this fall, she'll be continuing her supporting role for daughters Ashley, 11, and Elizabeth, 16, who also play the game.

The Satellite Tour of Baltimore was to begin play in the main draw at 10 a.m. today at Druid Hill Park and Greenspring Racquet Club. The finals are Sunday.

A total of 32 women, including four from qualifying rounds held yesterday and Sunday, will play in the main singles draw, and 16 players will compete in doubles.

Leslie Harvey was selected as a wild-card entry by tournament director David Owens, who also is executive director of the Head Urban All-Star Tennis Academy, a nonprofit tennis program for urban children.

Owens is trying to help develop the next Pam Shriver. He looks at the rise of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, Chanda Rubin and, most recently, Alexandra Stevenson's reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, and knows their success is having an impact on his program.

"I guarantee you, they're the reason we have a women's satellite tournament here," Owens said. "Our kids can see people just like them. They can say, `I have braids in my hair and I have beads in my hair, just like them.' And they're educated. Tennis has become viable. It's something our young people can strive for."

When Leslie Harvey was 5, she rushed onto the tennis court to hit the ball with her dad. Today, she remembers how much fun that was and how thrilled she was to be able to hit the ball over the net.

"It wasn't until I was about 14, when I was ranked fifth and played in a Mid-Atlantic [regional] tournament and then went to Atlanta for the hard-court nationals that I thought about really being serious about playing," said Leslie, who is coached by her dad.

Last year, she won the American Tennis Association's national 18-and-under championship and the 1998 Maryland State High School championship. She didn't try for the state title this year, choosing instead to attend her senior prom.

She graduated from Randallstown High this spring and will attend Long Island University on a full tennis scholarship and study for a degree in physical therapy.

This summer she is working as a camp assistant for Liberty Road Recreation and Parks at Deer Park Middle School, helping teach math, reading, science and language arts to children between the ages of 5 and 12.

After work, she comes to Druid Hill to practice her tennis game for about three hours every day. She also lifts weights and tries to run sprints five times a week.

"I accepted resumes and chose Leslie because she was born and raised on these courts and because this experience can help her as she moves up the ladder," Owens said. "She's gold. She's got a great attitude. She's God-fearing and unassuming. Now, on the court, all bets are off. She has a forehand to die for, and she has excellent court savvy and a very aggressive game."

Leslie, 5 feet 4 -- a height she defends as being taller than professional player Amanda Coetzer -- is eager to reward Owens' faith.

"I was very surprised to be picked, but I really wanted to play," she said. "I've been working really hard, and my goal is to get past the first round. You know, seeing Wimbledon earlier this month and seeing how well Alexandra Stevenson did has given me a lot of courage.

"No one had ever heard of her and no one had ever done what she did and she was 17 -- just like me," said Leslie, who turned 18 last weekend.

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