Originally created 03/28/04

Garzon-Elkins up to challenge



Martha Garzon-Elkins still feels the competitive fires that she thought were buried deep inside.

And it's not something she easily quenched in her current job. To be sure, working as the head tennis professional at The Club at Raes Creek is nice.

But it's not the same as staring down of a booming serve headed straight for your forehead. It's not the same as lining up across the net from players who thirst for the big time. It's not the same as playing the pro circuit.

She can reminisce this week.

The 34-year-old Augusta resident, who retired from professional tennis more than a year ago, will compete today in the qualifying draw for this week's Taylor Infiniti USTA Challenger.

Win two matches, and she'll make the main draw, where she'll compete against players ranked inside the world's top 200. Lose, and it's still OK.

At least, though, she has the opportunity to compete once again at a high level. At least she can douse some of those competitive flames.

"I've always been excited about tennis," said Garzon-Elkins, a native of Colombia. "To get back to the circuit is just great."

And tough.

Remember, Garzon-Elkins, who had a six-year pro career, hasn't played world-class competition in quite a while.

But she's practiced for the past three months, she's done her road work and fitness routines, she's put her best effort into this one-week-only comeback.

Even the old aches and pains have returned.

"To really get back into it, it's very, very tough," said Henri Elkins, the club's tennis director and Martha's husband. "But this is a one-time shot."

Then he gives her a wry smile.

"But, if she wins it," he said, "you never know."

A quick roll of the eyes from Garzon-Elkins confirms what's pretty obvious - she likely won't have a chance at the title of the $25,000 event.

Not that there's the same pressure she faced in the past.

Back then, she was trying to make a successful living on the USTA Pro Circuit. Training for hours a day. Traveling from places like Edmond, Okla., to Southlake, Texas. Trying to earn enough money to get herself to the next stop on the tour.

At one point, she was one of the best 400 players in the world. But, she points out, it's tough to maintain the effort and money needed to stay afloat.

"Tennis is so mental at this stage," said Garzon-Elkins, who moved with Henri from Hilton Head to Augusta after she retired. "Everybody is so talented physically. It'll depend on who wants it more, who believes in themselves."

Although she hasn't played competitively since 2002, she can fall back on the fact she's faced world-class competition during her career, including a 6-2, 6-0 loss to Jelena Dokic - now ranked 16th in the world - in 1999. Plus, she'll have some local fans.

"She's excited, because she'll be in front of a local crowd," Elkins said. "She'll have plenty of local support. All the (club's) members will come to see her play. Her easy-going South American personality is advantageous to that."

But will it translate into a couple of wins? Or, if you live in Elkin's world, will it translate into the tournament title?

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216

or josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com.