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Coach’s sighting takes girl from Juniper Park to US Open

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In the summer of 1997, 7-year-old Anna Tatishvili took a vacation from the Republic of Georgia to visit her aunt in Rego Park.

A coach saw her playing tennis that August at Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village, and her path to her first berth at the US Open this year had begun.

From Georgia to Queens to years of intense training in Florida, hers has been a long journey, culminating with her triumphant return to the borough at 21 years old to compete in the tournament held each year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“This is like my second home, New York City and Queens. It’s always nice coming back because it brings back a lot of good memories,” she said Aug. 31 in an exclusive interview with TimesLedger Newspapers at the US Open media center.

The chat came less than 30 minutes after her nail-biting first-round doubles victory on Court 16, where she and Andreja Klepac of Slovenia? beat Taiwan’s Yung Jan-Chan and Anastasia Rodionova of Australia 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, repeatedly exchanging match point in the final set. The pair won their second-round match but lost Sunday to the eighth-ranked Czech duo of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 6-3, 3-6, 3-6.

Fred Kroll of Maspeth, a mentor and friend, was there to cheer her on during the first round, as he has been at so many of her matches since that day in August 1997 when he first saw her play and realized she had the potential for greatness.

“We saw? her come off the court at Juniper Valley Park and she kind of was mesmerizing as a 7-year-old because she just wanted to win and beat everyone. She didn’t speak English, but she spoke tennis. The only thing she knew how to say was, ‘I win you,’” Kroll said as he sat in the bleachers, basking in the afterglow of her first US Open win.

On that first day at Juniper Valley, Tatishvili’s father asked Kroll, one of the best players to frequent the courts at the park, to show his daughter the fundamentals of the sport, and she immediately followed his advice, showing a determination and grit that Kroll says cannot be taught.

He took her to Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows to work with Alex Rodriguez, the best tennis coach Kroll knew of in the borough. Rodriguez was skeptical when Kroll contacted him, but the first time he hit a ball with her they completed a 40- to 50-stroke volley, and Rodriguez was convinced she was “the real deal.”

So he signed on to hone her talent and put her in touch with the people who would help her become a Grand Slam-caliber player. Kroll and Rodriguez focused in large part on teaching her the basics and the mental aspects of the game.

“She’s a very sweet girl, always polite and accommodating, almost to a fault,” Kroll said. “One of the things we insisted on was to toughen her up and give her a New York attitude, a Queens attitude, to let her know toughness is a blessing.”

Tatishvili returned to Georgia until she was 10, when she came back to America and worked further with Kroll and Rodriquez before heading to Florida to train for a number of years under tennis legend Chris Evert. She now lives in Boca Raton, but she said she was honored to be back in Queens for the Open.

Though Tatishvili, who was ranked 85th in the world as of Aug. 29, lost her first-round singles match Aug. 30 in straight sets against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova — the world’s 16th-best female player as of Aug. 29 — she said the experience will help her grow, and that being in the city has helped her to excel.

“When you go to different tournaments, sometimes you have to get used to a different city, so it’s a little easier to be here,” she said. “For every tennis player it’s a dream to play in a Grand Slam.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 7:09 pm, September 14, 2011
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