Local player living her own American dream
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The sound of tennis ball on racket echoes in the otherwise quiet University of Mary Washington Tennis Center on a Friday night in December.
Alicia Wise’s muscular, 5-foot-8-inch frame stands poised to return her hitting partner’s serve. With smooth, quick and amazingly powerful strokes, she sends the ball rocketing back to Scott Nickeson.
Her gold cross necklace, which never leaves her neck, bounces as she darts to one side of the court to send the ball back over the net.
Wise’s intense concentration doesn’t break until she slams the ball hard—right into the net.
“This is not my really good shot,” she says, laughing at herself.
Wise’s skill and power suggest a lifetime of experience playing tennis, but she didn’t pick up a racket until she was 35.
She decided to take up the sport just over a decade ago after watching Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Martina Hingis play on television.
“I was thinking, that could be a great sport just to pick it up,” Wise said.
So, at the age of 35, she got a racket, went to the tennis courts at Memorial Park (also known as Kenmore Park) and started practicing with the players there.
After only a month, to her surprise, Wise was already playing at a 3.5-rating level. The United States Tennis Association rates players from beginner, 1.5, to world-class professional, 7.0.
“I asked the people why I got a 3.5 and [they] said, ‘Well, because you’re good,’ and I said, ‘How can I be good? I’ve just been playing one month.’” Wise explained.
It took Wise just a few years to win the women’s Fredericksburg Area Tennis Patrons Championships in 2002 and 2003.
And now, 13 years later, Wise has proven that it was more than beginner’s luck that was showing on the courts when she started—it was natural talent.
“She’s amazing,” said Ginnie Branscome, who was the coordinator for the Fredericksburg area USTA leagues for 10 years. “I don’t know of anybody in all the years that’s picked it up like she has.”
She is now the only 5.0-ranked player living in the Fredericksburg area, according to the USTA’s recently released year-end rankings, and has thrived in local and national competitions.
Of the 400 tennis players who participate in USTA leagues in the Fredericksburg area, only about 40 are ranked as high as a 4.5.
“She’s definitely one of the best players in town—men or women,” said the assistant coach for UMW’s women’s tennis team, Art Canizares, who has watched and played with Wise over the past decade.
“I haven’t played [Wise] too much [lately] because I don’t like losing,” Canizares joked.
Because of her high ranking, Wise has played more in Northern Virginia with other 5.0-ranked players.
“I don’t want to go jump in and kill everybody,” Wise explained why she doesn’t play in the Fredericksburg leagues.
Wise and her Mid-Atlantic team, Double Trouble, won the National Championships for Adult 5.0 women in 2008 and 2012.
“When you really want to be one of the best … in what you want to do—it’s just the choice to be better than anybody and to be strong by yourself,” Wise said. “When you travel and compete with different people from different states and you win, it’s just so exciting.”
But it’s not all about winning for Wise. Tennis is her passion—a part of the realization of a dream she had more than 20 years ago when she was living in her native city of Michoacán, Mexico.
“When I was in my country, I think the USA was my dream,” Wise said. “I’m coming right here to just get something I cannot get in my country.”
She moved from Mexico to Los Angeles in 1991 and then came with her boyfriend to settle in Spotsylvania County in 1998.
Wise works at the Bill Britt Mazda car dealership during the day, practices tennis when she can in the evenings and plays four or five weekend tournaments a year, traveling as far as California.
“I really think you find a way, you know, to figure out work, tennis and relationships,” Wise said. “You just need to find the balance with all three and give the time. Plus, when you really love something you find the time to do things.”
For Wise, finding this balance is the realization of her dream that started in Mexico.
“I’m here. I really like what I do. I love tennis. I love the life I’ve got,” Wise said. “I live my dream.”
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TENNIS RANKINGS EXPLAINED
The USTA ranks players based on the following criteria, according to the National Tennis Rating Program:
1.5: This player has limited experience and is still working primarily on getting the ball into play.
3.5: This player has achieved improved stroke dependability with directional control on moderate shots, but still lacks depth and variety. This player exhibits more aggressive net play, has improved court coverage and is developing teamwork in doubles.
4.5: This player has begun to master the use of power and spins and is beginning to handle pace, has sound footwork, can control depth of shots and is beginning to vary game plan according to opponents. This player can hit first serves with power and accuracy and place the second serve. This player tends to over-hit on difficult shots. Aggressive net play is common in doubles.
5.0: This player has good shot anticipation and frequently has an outstanding shot or attribute around which a game may be structured. This player can regularly hit winners or force errors off short balls and can put away volleys; can successfully execute lobs, drop shots, half volleys and overhead smashes; and has good depth and spin on most second serves.
6.0 to 7.0: The 6.0 player typically has had intensive training for national tournament competition at the junior and collegiate levels and has obtained a sectional and/or national ranking. The 7.0 is a world-class player.