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Many Happy Returns: 1999 Wimbledon Sensation Stevenson Back As ESPN Analyst

She recalls her spectacular run to the Wimbledon semis as a teen, bonding with the Williams sisters as a tween, and more

“My mother took [the photo]. It was following the finals of a 12-and-under Southern California tournament. Venus (L) was 10. I was 9 and Serena (C) was 8. We are six months apart in age.

“Venus won. I lost. Serena  is consoling me. She whispered in my ear, ‘You will beat my sister – don’t worry – but you’ll never beat me.’  This was before Serena ever played competitively. ” 

– ESPN’s Alexandra Stevenson on this encounter with fellow tennis prodigies Venus and Serena Williams

(Photo courtesy Alexandra Stevenson/ESPN)

She was 18 years old and less than a month removed from her high school graduation when she burst upon the tennis scene.

Alexandra Stevenson played two grass-court warmup events near London before the qualifying rounds for Wimbledon. Without true grass-court shoes, she borrowed a pair from a male coach.

Alexandra Stevenson made a historic run at Wimbledon in 1999. (AELTC/Michael Cole)

“They were too big,” she recalls, “so I wore three pairs of socks.”

Despite having pulled a stomach muscle in the first warmup that limited her powerful serve, Stevenson advanced to the main draw without dropping a set in three matches.

Once there, her anonymity quickly disappeared as she repeatedly rose to the occasion and surprisingly upset five straight opponents. These included 11th-seed Julie Halard and Jelena Dokic, later ranked No.4 in the world.

That quarterfinal victory made Wimbledon history as she was the first – and still only – female qualifier to reach the semifinals.

Despite falling to eventual champion Lindsay Davenport in the semis — “I had nothing left,” she admits – Stevenson was named Rookie of the Year for 1999 by Tennis Magazine and to the Most Fascinating List by People Magazine.

Stevenson has come a long way from youth tennis – when she was compatriots of legends Venus and Serena Williams (see photo and quote above). As Serena indicated in her whispered consolation to Stevenson, the Williams were going to be tough outs: Each won her respective match with Stevenson on the pro tour, but Stevenson teamed with Serena to win a doubles title in 2002.

Stevenson has ranked as high as No. 18 in in singles.

Today, at 40, Stevenson is part of the ESPN tennis team and working her first Wimbledon after contributing at the US Open the last two years.

Pam Shriver (L) and Alexandra Stevenson (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Stevenson/ESPN)

“It’s going to be interesting going back and not being a player, but it will be special,” she says. “Doing TV is exciting. I’ve always liked performing, being on stage and being in front of the camera. I approach it like tennis, setting goals and trying to improve. [ESPN Vice President, Production] Jamie Reynolds and [ESPN commentator] Sam Gore have been great mentors to me, as well as [ESPN tennis analyst] Pam Shriver.”

Stevenson made herself known at Wimbledon 1999. It remains a special place for her. In fact, her fondest memory from that year is not from any of her matches but simply the first time she visited Centre Court.

“Before the tournament, my coach gave me a tour of the grounds,” she says. “We visited each court and he told me about them. We snuck onto Centre Court and I just stood there listening to the silence. It’s hallowed ground.”

At Wimbledon in 1999, the 6-foot, 1-inch, Stevenson instantly became known as one of the biggest servers in the women’s game.

Although a change in the composition of the grass used has diminished the server’s advantage, Stevenson says it’s still critical.

“Yes, the grass has been slowed down with the different rye grass used and that’s helped the returner,” she says. “But if you hit your spots with power and have a good return, you win.”

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