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Florida Tennis Profile: Gullickson Wins Mixed Doubles and Confidence at US Open

September 14, 2009 07:00 PM

 Florida's Carly Gullickson and partner Travis Parrott
(photo by Philip Hall/USOpen.org)

By Rick Vach, USTA Florida

On a women's tennis tour abounding with baseline singles bashers, Palm Beach Gardens' Carly Gullickson stands out.

The 22-year-old showed off her net-rushing, slicing-and-dicing game in a narrow first-round loss at the US Open after successfully navigating the qualifying rounds. Now on the verge of cracking the Top 100, Gullickson is showing opponents on old-school look in singles that is rarely seen these days in professional tennis, in an age where strict topspin forehand and backhand walloping from the baseline has become the rule rather than the exception.

"I think because it was taught to me at such a young age that it just stuck with me, so I feel comfortable playing that way," Gullickson told USTA Florida of her net-rushing style. "It's very rare to see that [aggressive play] on the women's tour, you only see a handful of players playing like that. I feel like it's a good game style against these other girls because they all just hit the same, they don't see that kind of ball often. You have to be a little bit fearless to play that style."

Gullickson credits United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) Hall of Fame grand inductee Bill Tym of Tennessee with molding her aggressive style and varied game.

"Coach Tym, Bill Tym, he was my coach from when I was probably 10 to 16, and he pretty much developed my whole game," Gullickson said. "I just remember we would only work on serve/volley, dropshots, and slices. I would honestly say he's probably one of the best coaches that I've ever had. And I mean, definitely I credit all my, like, volleys and slice and everything to him."

But it was at doubles in New York where the soft-handed blonde, who can also hit a heavy ball from the baseline when needed, made her mark. 

"A little bit fearless" was a most accurate descriptor of Gullickson and partner Travis Parrott through the fortnight in New York when, needing a wildcard to even obtain entrance to the US Open mixed doubles draw, they ran all the way to the title.

After each improbable win over the No. 6-seeded Max Mirnyi and Nadia Petrova, former doubles No. 1 Daniel Nestor and Sania Mirza, No. 3-seeded former No. 1-ranked Lisa Raymond and Marcin Matkowski, top seeds (both former No. 1-ranked) Mahesh Bhupathi and Liezel Huber, and in the final No. 2-seeded former No. 1s Leander Paes and Cara Black, the talk was all about Gullickson's quick hands and her ending points head-to-head with the male players.

"For me the psychology changed because she's so good at the net," Parrott said. "I don't feel the pressure to have to come up with a big serve. In mixed doubles in the past I'll end up double faulting more because I have to get a lot of free points. With Carly, put a good serve in there, and she'll clean it up."

The pair were looking at a first-round exit against Mirnyi-Petrova, down a match point, but Parrott-Gullickson prevailed before putting their games in fifth gear, never allowing another opponent a set.

"I still can't believe we actually won the US Open," Gullickson said. "It's weird to me...I was super-relaxed because I felt no pressure on the court, because it was just fun. Hopefully I can maybe gain a little bit of confidence into my singles and doubles from this."

Another stroke of fate for Gullickson, who didn't know if she would even play the mixed draw, was a text message from Parrott asking her to partner only after Abigail Spears couldn't play.

"I kind of just felt I won't even try [to play mixed], because I couldn't find anyone [ranked] high enough...Travis texted me, and I think it was -- yeah, two days before sign in, but we needed to sign in for like a wildcard request form," Gullickson said. "And actually we were late doing it -- I mean, I think we were like a day late. They pushed it [through] anyway."


Gullickson and her family moved to Palm Beach Gardens approximately six years ago, primarily for the benefits of tennis training in the Sunshine State. She comes from athletic stock, as her mother played college tennis, and her dad was a 20-game winning pitcher one year in the 1980s for the Detroit Tigers.

"We moved mainly for tennis, my whole family moved down there," Gullickson said. "My dad used to play professional baseball for 17 years, and my mom played tennis in college at Western Kentucky. There are six of us in our family, five girls and one boy. Everyone is pretty athletic into sports. Like my younger sister, she plays tennis at Georgia. My brother plays baseball at Georgia."

Palm Beach Gardens has become somewhat of a hotbed of professional tennis, but Gullickson says she rarely sees her famous neighbors who live approximately a mile away, the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.
"I see them sometimes at the grocery store, but not really," laughed Gullickson.

Now recovered from major injuries, including a hamstring tear that kept her out for 6-7 months, Gullickson sees the remainder of 2009 as all upside -- a chance to capitalize on the confidence a Grand Slam title brings, and crack the Top 100 on the WTA Tour Rankings.

"I feel like now I'm playing tour level," Gullickson says. "I qualied here [at the US Open], I feel like the more and more I play against the top girls, the more and more used to it I'm going to get. My ranking now, I think, I'm already [No.] 120 or 115, so I'm getting closer and closer to getting in the main draws of Grand Slams."

This will likely be her highest year-end ranking since turning pro in 2003. The week after the Open, Gullickson is directly into the WTA-level draw in Quebec City, Canada, at the Challenge Bell pr?sent? par Banque Nationale, drawing top-seeded Nadia Petrova in the first round. Her current ranking puts her on the bubble of getting into the main draw at many WTA events, so after Quebec City it's off to play either the qualifying or main draw during the your-level calendar swing in Asia.

"My goal is to be main draw for Australia [in 2010]," Gullickson says. "I'm going to play some in Asia after this and maybe a few challengers at the end of the year. But hopefully I'll be Top 100 by Australian Open time into the main draw."

One of 12 Americans currently ranked in the Top 150 on the WTA Rankings, Gullickson hopes to eventually join the elite three -- Venus Williams, Serena Williams and breakout player Melanie Oudin -- in the Top 50 in 2010. That would also mark a return to the Top 50 of serve-and-volley tennis, which would undoubtedly bring no small amount of adulation from tennis commentators and former s-and-v'ers Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe, who lament the waning art of net play in singles.

"It's where I want to be," says Gullickson of her net play. Now following a US Open where Melanie Oudin put all other rising Americans in her shadow, Gullickson is content to be injury-free with a US Open title in hand, and rising on her own accord.






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