You Got Served
This article appears in the April 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
State champ Lynley Wasson is a living, breathing modern tennis contradiction. Standing 5-foot-4 on a good day, Corona del Sol's senior No. 1 singles player bears zero resemblance to the powerful, flashy women who dominate the pro circuit these days.
She doesn't pump her fists. She possesses no signature gesture. She would never dream of wearing a bodysuit into battle. And her serves don't exactly make the radar gun malfunction.
Fact is, Wasson is the first to admit her game appears pretty pedestrian and that she doesn't even look particularly interested while playing. Right after she admits that, she dispenses the following advice to potential spectators: Deal with it.
"I'm not a flashy player at all, and I'll never be flashy," says Wasson, the two-time defending Class 5A state singles champion and the No. 1-rated player in the USTA Southwest Section girls' junior rankings.
"I don't get noticed much. I think a lot of people think the people I'm beating are better than me just because I don't waste my energy jumping around out there. My game goes with my personality. I can't go the other way because I'm not that loud a person."
But, Wasson warns, don't mistake dispassionate for disinterested.
"Honestly, a lot of people don't think I'm even trying," says Wasson, 18, who entered this season with a high school career record of 89-2 after going 30-0 each of the past two years. "They think I don't like it, like I'm forced to be out there. But if you came to every match, you'd realize that's always there. I'm just trying to focus on the match. I don't need to worry about how I present myself out there. I already have enough to worry about. Everyone does."
Wasson's principal concern is taking care of business — in other words, winning — and she has done enough of that to earn a full athletic scholarship to the University of North Texas. And while her court personality may be lukewarm, her match play is basically molten lava.
Wasson is a baseliner in every sense of the word. She stays back, plays the angles, runs down everything and, sooner or later, gets you to beat yourself. Her opponents must feel like they're literally hitting against a wall because that infuriating fuzzy, fluorescent ball just keeps coming back over the net.
"She builds her game around not missing," says Wasson's private coach, Dave Critchley, director of The Player's Academy, a junior tennis academy serving competitive players seeking college scholarships. "You can hit 100 balls at her and she won't miss. She's very crafty. She moves people around. She mixes her speeds. But her ability to stay calm no matter what's going on around her is definitely her biggest weapon. She plays with great confidence. She unnerves people because she doesn't respond outwardly whether she's playing great or poorly."
Wasson's game is methodical, through and through. Cool. Emotionless. Unerring. She is not the prototypical serve-and-volley, come-to-net, big-serve gunslinger.
"I know I can always rely on my consistency," says Wasson, who is also rated the No. 63 player in the USTA national girls' junior rankings. "Even when everything is going down the tubes, I know I can probably out-rally someone. That's something I've always had. If I can get in a point, I feel like I have a chance. I get to a lot of balls."
"Her ability to keep the ball deep in the opposite court even when she's off balance is amazing," says Critchley, 31. "She has an uncanny ability to get the ball back and not only get it back, but get it back in a place where the opponent can no longer attack her."
Her precision play and stone-faced demeanor are her best on-court allies, but Wasson happily uses every available edge. Like the desert heat of Arizona.
"It's a huge advantage," says Wasson, whose pre-match ritual consists of eating a cheeseburger shortly before lacing up her sneaks. "Especially when national junior tournaments come here. In the three-set matches, I usually outlast the competition. They get pretty fatigued."
And just in case there are any lingering questions about it, know this: Wasson enjoys the game of tennis immensely. She draws enjoyment from aspects fans can't possibly observe courtside.
"I really like the travel," she says. "It's great to get around. Especially when you're from a huge, spread-out city like Tempe where there's not a lot going on. You can only go to the movies so many times."
While it's indisputable that Wasson has a game plan in place that works, Critchley is trying to broaden her game without turning her into someone she's not.
"We're not trying to change her style, we're trying to add tools to her toolbox," says Critchley. "When she comes across someone who's dictating the match, she needs to use the sidelines and be the first to be aggressive. Instead of taking 25 balls to win a rally, she can step up inside the baseline and win points when given the opportunity. She's got to add that component as well as improve the zip on her serve with placement. Because in college, she's going to come across players trained to attack a player like her."
Wasson, who often treats the net like it's poison ivy, sees the merit in Critchley's plan.
"I'm trying to volley more and be more aggressive and work on my serve," she says. "I need to cut off more points so I don't have to play marathon points all the time."
Of course, with more points at net, Wasson will need something to do as she strolls back to the baseline. Odds are she'll keep her head down and keep walking. But this volley thing could open up a whole new world.
Heck, we might even see an occasional fist pump.