Originally created 04/02/04

Washington is optimistic after defeat



Eighth-seeded Mashona Washington seemed lethargic on the court Thursday.

After her 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) loss to Julie Ditty in the second round of the Taylor Infiniti USTA Challenger, she admitted as much.

It's not easy, she said, to be a finalist in a tournament on one side of the country - she fell to Anne Keothavong in the championship of the Subway USTA Challenger of Redding, Calif., last week - and then play on the other side of the continent three days later.

That's the major reason Washington seemed tired at the beginning of Thursday's match and had a tough time finishing her shots against Ditty, who is ranked No. 275 in the world.

But it's got nothing to do with her age.

Don't even mention that to Washington - who's in her 11th year on the tour - a 27-year-old player facing up-and-coming 20-year-olds. Don't mention that she's the second-oldest woman in the 32-player main draw.

It means nothing to her.

"Everybody mentions it," Washington said. "Everybody has a different story. But I don't look at the ages of players. I play a faceless person. I don't care how old they are or how much money they make."

Instead, the big factor in Thursday's match at The Club at Raes Creek was how much more energy Ditty could produce.

Although Ditty won the match's opening four games, Washington - who saved seven set points in the first - stormed back to force the tiebreaker. She fell behind early in the second set too, but knotted it at 6-6.

Washington, who won Wednesday's first-round match in three sets and also is playing doubles with Francesca Lubiani this week, just didn't have the energy to complete the job.

But don't talk discuss retirement with Washington. She's not ready for it yet.

"Every year - every six months - I'm still improving my game," she said. "As long as I make steps, I want to see how far I can take it."

All she has to do is look to her older brother for inspiration.

Malivai Washington, who ranked as high as 11th in the world during the 11-year career that ended in 1999, advanced to the 1996 Wimbledon finals before losing to Richard Krajicek in straight sets.

Mashona and the rest of the Washington clan - which includes brother Mashiska and sister Micheala, both of whom have played professionally - watched the match from their family reunion in West Point, Miss.

Mashona, ranked No. 142 in the world, continues her search for success - and she won't back down from her younger peers.

"I can't think that I might be playing some 14-year-old phenom," she said. "Then I'll get caught up in the hype. I want to focus on beating the 14-year-old with the weak backhand."

Good point, Augusta resident Martha Garzon-Elkins said.

"If you're playing somebody that's up-and-coming and that everybody's talking about, it works a little bit in your head," said Garzon-Elkins, who played the circuit until she was 32 and now is the club's head tennis pro. "But you'd be crazy to start judging people by how old they are."

Washington, for one, won't let that happen.

Besides, she's won three doubles titles on the pro circuit and another in singles, and she advanced to the second round of the 2002 U.S. Open.

She's not quite ready to try another profession.

"I'll still play a handful of more years," Washington said. "I don't know many places where you can lose in the first round and make $10,000.

"Maybe I can be like Andres Gomez and win my first major when I'm 30."

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216

or josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com.