Heather Watson knew tennis was her game from the beginning.
"She paid for her own lessons," her mother, Michelle, said Sunday after the British 18-year-old had played her way into the main draw of the Family Circle Cup.
"She was doing too many things ... dancing, swimming, Brownies. I told her she had to give up something, so she saved the money her grandmother sent her and used it to pay for tennis lessons."
That was back in Guernsey, England, when Watson was 7. She has been training the last six years out of the famed Bollettieri Academy as well as the National Tennis Center in London. Ranked 123rd in the world, Watson is now a prime prospect to help lead the British out of their tennis doldrums.
Scoring a 6-1, 7-6 victory over Lenka Wienerova, of Slovakia, in the second round of qualifying on Sunday to advance into the Family Circle Cup might have been a good omen for Watson. She has advanced through qualifying three previous times this year, and each time she reached the quarterfinals of the main draw ($220,000 events in Auckland and Memphis, Tenn., and a $100,000 tournament in Nassau, Fla.).
"Hopefully, I can go further this time," said the enthusiastic Watson while eating lunch in the clubhouse, surrounded by family and friends. "It's important that my family (mother and retired father) travels with me."
Watson, whose first-round match today against American Christina McHale will be the second match on the Althea Gibson Club Court, was pleased with her play on clay.
"The more I play on clay, the better I get. My game automatically changes, getting more spin and height on my shots."
Alexandra Stevenson credits her new Donnay racket with her rise in the rankings this year. "They made it just for me ... nobody else is using it," she said about the white and hot pink grommets Xencore racket from Donnay USA that she started using in December.
Stevenson was quite happy to defeat what she calls a "USTA girl" (Coco Vandeweghe) on Sunday. "I really like beating USTA girls, because the USTA doesn't help me at all," the 30-year-old former Wimbledon semifinalist said.
She was also surprised to see USTA coach Tom Gullikson go out on the court to talk with Vandeweghe in a match against another American player.
"I've been around the block," Stevenson said. "So nobody scares me."
Help might be on the way for Venus and Serena Williams. Just turned 18 years old, Sloane Stephens looks like a real comer, with strong, deep groundstrokes and excellent quickness and consistency. She's also an African American.
Stephens earned a berth in the main draw with an impressive 6-3, 6-1 win over Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and will take on Shuai Peng of China today in the fourth match on the Club Court.
Falconi uses her height
Former Georgia Tech All-American Irina Falconi thinks she's a "unique player" because she uses her 5-4 height to her advantage. She gets down better for low balls.
Falconi turned pro last year after posting 70 wins in two seasons at Georgia Tech, where she was ACC player of the year and tournament MVP.
"I felt like I was ready to go to the next level," she said Sunday.
Now, after winning a pair of qualifying matches, she's in the main draw of the Family Circle Cup in today's third match on court No. 4.
Falconi and her family moved to the United States from Ecuador when she was 3-years-old.
--The 32-player qualifying tournament started out with 15 U.S. players, but Stephens, Stevenson and Falconi were the only U.S. players to qualify for the main draw.
--Former Grand Slam doubles champion Murphy Jensen is back as the on-court master of ceremonies for the Family Circle Cup.
--Sunday's crowd of 5,382 was the largest for a qualifying round since 2003. The two-day qualifying attendance of 10,482 was more than a 100 above last year's figures.
--Don't forget, hometown product Shelby Rogers takes on Jill Craybas in today's second match in Family Circle Stadium. There's talk that Rogers' doubles match with partner Patty Schnyder against the team of Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia and Anastasia Rodionova of Australia might be played in the stadium on Tuesday night.