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June 19, 2018 by Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist American Amanda Rodgers cruised through her first-round match against Vancouver’s Ana-Maria Ileana…

Top seed Amanda Rodgers knows pro tennis road can be a long one – Times Colonist

Published June 20, 2018

June 19, 2018 by Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist


American Amanda Rodgers cruised through her first-round match against Vancouver’s Ana-Maria Ileana on Tuesday at the ITF Encore FX tournament at Panorama Recreation Centre.
Photograph By DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The rewards can be so great at the top end of professional sports, that it’s easy to see why so many athletes reach for them.

It’s called chasing the dream, which is what the players are doing this week in the $15,000 US International Tennis Federation EncoreFX women’s tournament at the Panorama Recreation Centre.

“My dream is to win the U.S. Open,” said top-ranked Amanda Rodgers.

“But you have to reach a lot of smaller goals first in order to get there.”

Dreams may never reach reality for those taking part in hundreds of such ITF tournaments each year, from Panorama to Poland, and many stops in-between, as players look for precious world ranking points.

But, as author Roger Angell once admiringly wrote about minor-league baseball players, you’ve got to be good enough to dream. Many kids, or more often their parents, start out with visions of the big leagues dancing in their heads when they register in atom or novice. But so few will even make it to the minor pro levels. And if they do, it’s not an easy road from there.

“I keep evaluating myself every three months to see if I’m making progress or getting stagnant,” said Rodgers, an all-rounder who grew up in Virginia playing tennis, lacrosse, soccer and also riding.

The 25-year-old Rodgers is the 571st-ranked women’s tennis player in the world. A Grand Slam championship can seem a long way off from there. Yet, anyone good enough to get a world ranking is better than more than 99 per cent of the millions of people who play tennis around the world. It’s all relative.

And if before the pro ranks you can use your sport to gain an education, then all the better to have something to fall back on. Rodgers, who has a master’s degree in journalism, was the top female singles player for three years in NCAA Div. 1 tennis for the Syracuse University Orangemen and was named to the all-Atlantic Coast Conference third-team in her senior season in 2015.

When the pro path gets hard, Rodgers is reminded why she began the quest and what drew her to her sport in the first place.

“My parents took me to the U.S. Open when I was eight years old, and the atmosphere was so energetic and electric, that I just fell in love with it,” she said.

Among opening-round highlights at Panorama, Rodgers defeated qualifier Ana-Maria Ileana of Vancouver 6-2, 6-3 and 2015 Panorama tournament champion Gail Brodsky of Seattle beat Andrea Renee Villarreal of Mexico 6-3, 6-3.

Brodsky is coming off a $25,000 ITF tournament this month in Sumter, South Carolina, in which she reached the semifinals and gave world No. 74 Taylor Townsend all she could handle.

“It was a confidence builder and gave me belief that I can play with top-100 players again,” said Brodsky, who played in the U.S. Open in 2008 and 2009, and whose highest world ranking was 182.

Brodsky is a teaching pro at the Eastside Tennis Club in Kirkland, Washington. But at age 27, and the mother of three-year-old son Grayson and two-year-old daughter Brooklyn, she knew it was now or never to again hit the trail as a touring pro.

“It’s about having a no regrets mentality,” said Brodsky, who has won three ITF tournaments, and has $132,472 in career prize money.

“My tennis students kept asking me about my experiences touring as a pro, and that re-inspired me to try it again.”

For Brodsky, the dream dimmed but never died.

The EncoreFX tournament, featuring players from six nations, continues through the week at Panorama with the singles Round of 16 today and Thursday, quarter-finals Friday, semifinals Saturday and final Sunday.

Singles play begins at 10 a.m. followed by doubles.

The doubles final will be played Friday after the singles quarter-finals.

There is no admission charge and seating is courtside.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com