Oct. 11, 2005
by Simit Shah – It’s not often that Kristi Miller is at a loss for words, but the Georgia Tech tennis standout found herself speechless during her recent appearance at the U.S. Open.
“The first time I walked into the player’s lounge, there were players eating, and Andre Agassi was at the next table,” she recalled. “I looked down at the practice court, and Serena and Venus were out there hitting. I was sitting there in shock, and for me to not talk, it has to be pretty cool.”
There have been quite a few “pretty cool” moments over the past year for Miller. The Marysville, Michigan native went from being relatively unknown when she first arrived on campus a year ago to becoming Georgia Tech’s first female all-American tennis player.
She set the school record for both singles and doubles victories, leading the way for the program’s first-ever ACC title and sixth overall ranking. Not much could top that, but Miller’s summer schedule unexpectedly concluded with the U.S. Open.
The trek to Flushing began a few months earlier in California, where Miller met Megan Bradley, who had just finished her career at the University of Miami.
“Megan and I were on the opposite of the net for most of the year,” she said. “I played her twice, but I didn’t know her at all personally.”
The duo crossed paths again at the $50,000 USTA Bronx Challenger, where they teamed to advance to the doubles quarterfinals of the tournament. Shortly afterwards, Bradley called Miller to ask if she would play alongside her in the U.S. Open.
The Grand Slam tournament awards several wild card spots, including one to the NCAA doubles champions. Since one of the defending collegiate champs had shoulder surgery and was unable to compete, Bradley was given the wild card slot and allowed to pick her partner. She called Miller, who quickly accepted.
“Since I was little, I’ve always loved watching the U.S. Open,” she said. “I went with my family two years ago, and I loved every minute of it. So to be able to go and be a player this year, it was just amazing. You just don’t get the opportunity to do that, especially while you’re in college.”
Miller admits she was a little star-struck, as she got to see some of her favorite players up close, including James Blake and Kim Clijsters. Her parents joined her in New York, but her coach, Bryan Shelton, wasn’t able to attend in person. However, he was in constant contact with Miller.
“She was calling me every few hours telling me what was going on and who she had seen,” he said. “There’s no doubt that she was having a good time.”
Shelton, a seven-time U.S. Open participant in his professional career, was in an unique position to guide Miller. “That was kind of neat, seeing her do something that I had done,” he said. “I’ve never had another player who has played in a pro tour event, much less the Grand Slam.”
On the court, the Miller and Bradley prevailed in their first round match against Catalina Castano and Laura Pous Tio in straight sets. That catapulted them into the second round against the tournament’s number eight seed, Corina Morariu and Patty Schnyder.
“The second match was a little different, playing against people I had seen on TV,” she said. “I had watched Patty Schnyder on Arthur Ashe the day before. In a way, I was a tiny bit intimidated, but it’s not as much on the doubles court. We were a little more nervous, but I think that’s kind of natural on that stage.”
Morariu and Schnyder won 6-2, 6-3, but the experience of playing in a Grand Slam is valuable, something that can’t be replicated on the amateur level.
“It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype around a major event and hard to focus on your own game,” explained Shelton. “She did a great job. She got the most out of the experience.
“She was able to look around and see how things operate and how the top players in the world prepare. She got to hang out with some of them, so she got a full sense of what tennis is like at the highest level. At the same time, she got to focus and concentrate on winning matches.”
Shelton has already seen it pay off since her return to campus, as she prepares for her sophomore season. Her all-American status will make her a target every time she steps on the court, and the pressure will increase exponentially. However, her coach feels that her experience in New York has prepared her well for the upcoming season.
“Kristi has clearly defined her goals for this year after that tournament, and she sees herself as one of the top collegiate players,” he said. “She’s setting goals for herself to win the individual national championship. That’s partly has come on because of her experience this summer. Her whole mindset seems to have changed. She’s very confident but also very hungry. She doesn’t want it to be a one-time deal.”