Sports

From Bulgaria with love

"Iliana Petrova recently got a chance to represent this part of the country.Pretty heady stuff for somebody who, up until a few years ago, wasn't in this part of the country. Or any part of the country.Petrova was one of five 14-year-old girls selected to play for the Northwest Zone team in a national, Davis Cup-style tennis tournament against teams from other zones around the U.S. The Bremerton Junior High School freshman traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the rest of the Northwest team, which also included five boys.I played seven matches - four singles, two (girls) doubles and one mixed (doubles), said Petrova, who immigrated three years ago from their native Bulgaria. They probably were the biggest matches I've played since I've been here, but they weren't the most pressure. It was more of a team thing.The summer and fall sectionals are a lot more pressure, she added, refering to the U.S. Tennis Association-sanctioned competitions that determine regional age-group rankings around the country.Petrova's inclusion on the four-state (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, as well as British Columbia) team is one indication of the potential she has to be an impact player in Northwest tennis circles.She's one of the top four players in the Pacific Northwest for her age, said Eric Jacobsen, Petrova's coach and mentor for the last three years at the Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club. Last year, she was ranked 11th, so you can see she's moving up.The potential was evident early in the younger of Vesselin and Mariana Petrova's two daughters (older sister Val will be a senior at Bremerton High School in the fall, and has been a mainstay of the varsity team during her career there). Soon after she took up the game as a first-grader in Bulgaria, she started specializing in the sport at the behest of a coach there.Since she came under Jacobsen's tutelage, he's had plenty of opportunity to see her talent. But he's seen something else in her that coaches appreciate just as much as natural ability.She's such a hard worker, Jacobsen says. And it's not her parents egging her on. They just drop her off. The work she does, she does on her own.She's a good player, he added. She's got good timing, and she hits the ball real hard for her size. But the thing I like most about her is that work ethic. When you see a kid working that hard, it's a pleasure to come in and work with her.She almost didn't get to make the Fort Laurderdale trip - after last year's sectionals, the Northwest team's organizers placed her sixth on the list of girls they were considering. When a girl from British Columbia surrendered her spot, though, Petrova was in, taking advantage of a tremendous opportunity to get experience against excellent young players from around the country.Not to mention the chance to travel to the extreme opposite corner of her adoptive country.I liked Fort Lauderdale a lot, she said, adding that none of her teammates for the trip were strangers. She knew all of them at least a little from her several years of regional competition in the Northwest.That made it easier, she said of the trip. It was nice to feel like you knew somebody, going so far away.Though Petrova played doubles in the tournament, she was most intent on her singles matches - in which Jacobsen said she compiled a 2-2 record. It's the mano-a-mano version of the game which she said is her first love.I'll play singles for Bremerton High, she said, noting that she'll be eligible for BHS' spring 2001 season. I like doubles, but singles is my favorite. You move more, think more, cover the court more.For the rest of the summer, though, she'll adhere to the five-hours-a-day practice regime she's undertaken for herself, haunting the Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Center courts every afternoon and evening. Fall sectionals, her next chance to improve her Northwest ranking, loom in October.She's got a chance, Jacobsen said of his young charge, to be a real good player for a long time.No doubt that will mean more chances for Petrova to represent this part of the country. "

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