WIMBLEDON, England -- He won 162 major-league games -- including 20 for the Detroit Tigers in 1991 -- but Bill Gullickson is just another tennis father here at the All England Club.
|Former MLB pitcher Bill Gullickson is a good tennis dad, daughter Carly says.|
He never raised a racket until nine years ago, after he retired.
"I hit a lot of balls," Gullickson said, laughing. "But I don't retrieve a lot."
His 16-year-old daughter, Carly, on the other hand, gets most of them back. One of the youngest players in the main draw, she won three matches to qualify for her first Grand Slam tournament. Heading into the opening of play on Monday, she was the longest shot on the women's side, ranked at No. 282.
The order of play committee didn't make it any easier on her; only two of the day's 64 matches didn't have a home when the day began, but when things started shaking out, Gullickson's match against Iroda Tulyaganova was placed on ... Centre Court -- the most famous tennis court in all the world. Venus Williams was relegated to Court 2, but Gullickson was a featured early evening attraction.
"Can you believe it?" Gullickson asked later. "I was in the players' lounge when they told me, 'You might be on Centre Court -- it depends what happens with Guga (Gustavo Kuerten). When (John Van Lottum) retired, they said, 'You're on Centre in 10 minutes.'
"My dad told me people play here 20 years and never get to Centre Court. Oh, my gosh."
For one brief, giddy moment, it looked like Gullickson was going to win in her maiden voyage. She led Tulyaganova 5-2 in the first set but eventually fell 7-5, 6-4.
"I was up and, to be honest with you, I think I got a little nervous trying to close it out," Gullickson told an audience of two reporters in a small interview room. "She started playing better and I hit some double faults. I do that when I'm nervous."
|Carly Gullickson never dreamed that she would be playing on Centre Court today.|
American women are well represented here. Gullickson was one of 20 U.S. women
to claim one of the 128 spots in the draw. And while she was not one of the five athletes among the top seven seeds who tennis fans know on a first-name basis -- Serena, Venus, Jennifer, Lindsay and Chanda -- Carly has a last name that turns heads of meat and potatoes sports fans.
"He's not psycho," Carly said. "He's a good tennis dad. He never says anything about technique because he doesn't really know the game."
Gullickson's tennis instincts come from her mother, Sandy, who played at Western Kentucky. Her daughter very quickly became a phenom.
In 2001, she was a singles finalist in six major 18-and-under USTA tournaments -- at the age of 14. One of those events was the USTA Super National Clay Courts where she became the youngest to win the tournament since Jennifer Capriati.
Gullickson reached the quarterfinal of the Kroger St. Jude Tier III event in Memphis in February, losing to Lisa Raymond in a respectable three sets. She won her first-round match over Joanette Kruger in the NASDAQ-100 Open in Miami but lost in the second round to Chanda Rubin. She received a wild card into qualifying here and won all three of her matches to advance to her first-round match with
Tulyaganova may not be a household name herself, but the 21-year-old from Uzbekistan is ranked No. 41 on the WTA Tour and has three career victories. She took five games from Serena Williams at the Hopman Cup and worked her way to the Round of 16 in Miami, losing to Williams again. Tulayaganova made the semifinals last month in Madrid before losing to Chanda Rubin.
When Tulyaganova, another first-time visitor, and Gullickson walked onto the court, they told each other how nervous they were. The crowd that approached 14,000 was twice as big as any crowd she's ever played in front of. Initially, it looked like Gullickson was going home in a hurry. She lost four of the five points in her service game and Tulyaganova held to go up 2-0. And then Gullickson seemed to settle into the match. She won five straight games, the last spectacular six-deuce game that she finally took with a forehand winner just inside the line.
And then, a game from her first Grand Slam set, she sort of unraveled.
Tulyaganova reeled off five straight games herself. Gullickson had a game point at 5-all but double-faulted. After another double-fault, she sent a tentative backhand into the net and Tulyaganova easily held serve.
Gullickson has a pleasing and polished game. She hits big, always seems to be moving forward and is equipped with the ability to volley. At her best, her sorties to net pressured Tulyaganova into errors. At her worst, unforced errors were crippling.
By the second set, she was shaking her head and talking to herself.
Tulyaganova applied the heat in the ninth game and Gullickson double-faulted twice to allow Tulyaganova to serve for the match. The last stroke, appropriately, was an ace down the middle.
Gullickson finished with 12 double faults and was broken four times.
Gullickson, the father, played 14 seasons, the first seven with the Montreal Expos (1979-85), followed by stints with the Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers. In 1980, Gullickson struck out 18 Chicago Cubs in a memorable game at Olympic Stadium. His curveball was effective and he was a reliable starter, logging more than 200 innings seven times. Control was his specialty; Gullickson was regularly among the league-leaders in walks-per-nine-innings and led the National League with a 1.47 mark in 1984. His career record was 162-136.
After 15 years of living in Brentwood, Tenn., Gullickson moved his family to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., two weeks ago.
Athletics is a reoccurring theme in the Gullickson family. Cassie, 18, will attend Notre dame on a track and field scholarship this fall. Craig, 14, is a left-hand pitcher and plays basketball and football, as well. Chelsey, 12, is also a tennis player.
Gullickson was about to step on a plane to Nashville on Thursday when he received word that Carly had qualified for Wimbledon's main draw. He touched down in London on Saturday and within a few hours looked completely at home. He was wearing a deep tan and khaki shorts; he might be carrying a few more pounds than his 6-foot-3, 215-pound playing weight.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" he asked, looking out over the Aorangi practice courts. "I could get used to this. I lived half my life in hotel rooms, so it's no big deal, really."
The difference between tennis and baseball?
"Well, you don't have the pitching coach coming out onto the court and yelling at you," Bill Gullickson said. "Like baseball, tennis is a mental game.
"I've talked with Carly about consistency with her work habits. You know, if you really want to do it, really go after it. If it's something like missing going to the movies with friends, I mean, this is what you want to do.
"The thing I like is she's level-headed. She keeps it in perspective; she's not too upset when she loses and not too happy when she wins."
Father, as it turns out, knows daughter best. On Monday, Gullickson had a wry smile on her face as she walked off Centre Court.
"I did, didn't I?" she said, sounding like an amped teenager who had just had three double cappuccinos. "To just be on Centre Court. I was upset that I lost and everything, but it was just the moment. It was fun to be out there."
Last year in her first visit to Wimbledon, Gullickson played her three junior girls matches on Courts 7 and 8. That's probably where she'll be next week when the 2003 junior tournament begins.
And how will she handle that downgrade?
"Fine," she said. "I'll be a lot less nervous. After playing on Centre, it should be a lot easier."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.