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Ditty Shining Again After Retirement

June 27, 2014 12:18 PM
Julie Ditty gets ready for a two-handed backhand.
Natalie Pluskota won this tournament in 2012.

By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

Justine Henin did it. Martina Hingis did it. Kim Clijsters did it. Even the great Bjorn Borg did it.

Now, it’s Julie Ditty’s time to come out of retirement and restart her career.

Ditty has broken three years away from competitive tennis with by entering two events. She played as a part of the Kentucky team that competed in the USTA Southern Senior Cup earlier this month. Now, she’s going solo in the US Open National Playoffs -- Southern Qualifying Tournament.

Later today the long-time Ashland, Ky. resident will move into the semifinals against Amy Yang, a promising 17-year old. She has already won three matches, including a straight-set drubbing of the second-seeded Natalie Pluskota, ranked No. 478 in the world last year.

Not that that ranking would scare the 35-year-old Ditty. Back in 2007-2008 she was ranked No. 89 in the world in singles and No. 66 in doubles. She won nearly a half-million dollars in prize money and appeared in three Grand Slam main draws.

But her most notable accomplishment was winning more USTA Pro Circuit/ITF Circuit titles than anyone, nine in singles and 30 in doubles. These tournaments are the ground floor of the pro tennis pyramid, the first step of most Grand Slam champions and many, many of starry-eyed juniors who can’t make the jump to the big time.

In 2011 Ditty announced she was ready to get off the grind of the WTA and USTA Pro Circuit tours and led a comfortable life as the director of tennis of Bellefonte Country Club in Ashland. She grew up at the club and figured it would be a perfect fit.

“I enjoyed teaching at Bellefonte. I had a lot of very good students. I did that for about a year. I wanted to try something different. I needed to get back on the road,” she said in an engaging, conversational tone.  Then, she started to look at other avenues to share her experience built on a life in tennis.

“I thought I would volunteer as an assistant for Vandy women’s team in 2012. … I also was an assistant coach for a semester for the Middle Tennessee State women’s team,” Ditty explained. Additionally she landed at clubs in West Virginia.

“I really like Louisville. That’s where I am now. I want to settle down in Louisville,” she said. Presently she’s teaching at the Louisville Country Club.

Joanne Moore Wallen, a fellow WTA veteran, well-known coach from Nicholasville, Ky. and USTA Southern volunteer, encouraged her to get back on court. “She called me about five times and bugged me until I said I’d play (in Senior Cup). I started to train for that tournament. Then I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to play again.”

First match was a test
Playing the US Open National Playoffs at Life Time Athletic at Peachtree Corners (Ga.,), Ditty seriously questioned her stamina in her first match. “I got woozy in the third set,” she admitted about the indoor match win against Georgia Tech’s Rasheeda McAdoo. In a phone interview the next morning she laughed and said, “I’m trying to hydrate. I cramped up in the middle of the night. … But, I’ll be fine.”

Indeed she was more than OK when she defeated Pluskota 6-0, 6-3 the next day. “I felt pretty relaxed out there. I didn’t want to make too many errors,” Ditty said in a post-match interview overlooking the club’s pool. “I was a little bit sore but I stretched a lot. My strokes will always be there. I just have to get in better shape.”

In the quarterfinal she sailed by Katherine Butler, of Charlotte, N.C., in a double bagel thrashing.

If Ditty prevails in the Southern tournament, she’ll advance to the US Open National Playoffs –Women’s Singles Championship, held August 15-18 in conjunction with the Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies in New Haven, Conn. With a win in that 13-player field, she’s off to a familiar place -- the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center -- and back in the US Open Qualifying Tournament.

That’s got to sound great to a 14-year veteran who still dreams about playing in the main draw of the one Grand Slam not yet on her impressive resume.

 

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