Granville's career finding a new gear

WIMBLEDON, England -- Laura Granville is a thoughtful person, and when people pelt her with questions after a match, she listens and digests them before she answers. She paused an especially long time when she was asked what she would consider her lowest point in a career that has taken her from the grandest to the most modest stages in tennis and back again.

It's the kind of query that might elicit specifics about a sleepless night in a hotel room somewhere, or an acutely embarrassing loss. But when Granville finally responded, she spoke in general terms: "Feeling like my game isn't going anywhere.''

"I mean, there are points where you ask yourself, 'Why am I doing this? Why am I here in the middle of Oklahoma with two people watching?'" said the 26-year-old Granville, who has had to suffer the indignity of going back to the minor-league tournament level to try to bring her ranking back up during stretches of her six years as a pro.

"But I think that's what keeps me going, is I feel like I haven't reached my potential. I haven't played my best tennis yet.''

Granville equaled her best-ever Grand Slam performance Friday by knocking out 9th-seeded Martina Hingis of Switzerland in the third round 6-4, 6-2, a confidence-building result even considering that Hingis is at less than full strength with an inflamed hip.

Next up for Granville is Michaella Krajicek, 18, of the Netherlands, the 31st seed, who pulled off an upset of her own Friday against 8th-seeded Russian Anna Chakvetadze. Granville and Krajicek have never played.

Friday's victory brought Granville full circle to her first full professional season in 2002, when she surged through qualifying, then beat three straight top-100 players, including Mary Pierce, to get to the round of 16 at Wimbledon. Amelie Mauresmo ended her run and Granville has never quite recaptured that rookie magic here, but the All-England Club remains a special place for her.

"I don't think I really realized and enjoyed it like I am now because I didn't realize how tough this is,'' said Granville, who's now one of four American players left in the singles tournament along with the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick. "It was my first year. I was still -- it was just new for me. Now this win means so much more.''

How fitting it would be if Wimbledon kicked Granville's career into a new gear. She is ranked 77th, well below her high of No. 28 in 2003, and is still looking for her first WTA title, which is most likely to come on U.S. hard courts.

"A lot of it is just kind of loosening up on my groundstrokes,'' Granville said of her success this week. "Tight really doesn't work nowadays in tennis. You really have to be loose and follow through, have good racket head speed. Also trying to get my contact point a little bit farther out, not so close into me so I'm jammed.''

And one more thing. "Being more positive on the court mentally.''

That hasn't been a snap lately. After a joyless clay-court season where she went winless in four events, Granville also lost her first match in Birmingham, England, on grass, normally her favorite surface. She knew she needed a spark and connected with coach Raj Chaudhuri, who works with veteran U.S. players Jill Craybas and Corina Morariu.

Chaudhuri agreed to spend time with Granville over the last few weeks and said a more upbeat attitude is paving the way for her game to flower.

"I think she's underestimated what she's capable of,'' Chaudhuri said. "She has a lot of skills and talents she hasn't been able to use. For whatever reason, she's been a little inhibited to go out there and compete the way she can, keep her foot on the gas for the whole match.

"There are a tremendous number of matches to be won if you can keep your wits about you. The most exciting thing for her is beginning to think things are happening for her. She was feeling stagnant.''

Granville kept the pressure up against Hingis in a crisp 66-minute match on Court Two, nicknamed the "graveyard of champions'' because of the number of great players who have been tripped up there.

Hingis didn't have any real expectations of a run to the finals 10 years after her championship here, given the hip condition that sidelined her for six weeks this spring. "I mean, probably at the end of the day, [playing here] wasn't like the smartest thing, but at least I gave myself a chance,'' she said. "I'm getting into better condition instead of not doing anything.''

She gave Granville her due. "I think she served very well, made it hard for me to get into rallies, high-percentage first serve,'' Hingis said. "Didn't have too many chances on her serve. Second set definitely had chances, but she didn't really miss much. She dictated well from the baseline.''

It was a far cry from their first and only other match six years ago in the first round of the U.S. Open when Hingis was world No. 1 and Granville was just a couple of months removed from living in the Pi Beta Phi sorority house at Stanford University, where she was a two-time NCAA champion and went 93-3 in singles play.

Hingis blew Granville off the court that day, but Granville has persevered through some lean times, never quite letting go of the feeling that she could succeed in the game despite an unconventional path.

"My parents, they were very serious about education,'' she said of her upbringing in Chicago. "That was No. 1. I spent the day at school. I hate to say, a lot of times I'd only play an hour after school, an hour and a half indoors. But it worked for me just because tennis wasn't my life. I had a lot of other things.

"I've always just played tennis because I loved it. Even when I was in the juniors, I wasn't for sure I was going to play pro tennis. I knew I was going to go to college and see what happened. It worked for me. For some people it's not the right choice. ''

She has continued to work with her childhood coach, John Trump, and his colleague Greg Contro when she's home in Chicago. Trump said he thinks the fact that she has continued to play doubles regularly has helped her game.

"She's really improved her serve and her forecourt game,'' Trump said. "Now she's working on being a little more confident in big matches. She can play with those people.''

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who is covering Wimbledon for ESPN.com.