Bammer playing better with daughter by her side

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Sybille Bammer came into the Sony Ericsson Open with a career-high ranking of No. 30, but that didn't mean her competitive life suddenly smoothed out. The week after an exhilarating run to the semifinals at the Pacific Life Open, Bammer found herself on an outer court battling a stubborn opponent and a damp, swirling wind that rattled the surrounding palm trees.

Bammer won the first set but labored through the second and looked listless in the third as she lost her first-round match to France's Emilie Loit. She showered and left the locker room quickly -- so quickly that her boyfriend, Christoph Gschwendtner, and their 5-year-old daughter Tina were wandering through the ripe-smelling ground-floor hallways of the stadium searching for her when they ran into two other people on the same mission.

Tina, wearing a ballcap mashed over her cornsilk-blonde, shoulder-length hair, held onto her father with one hand and carried a paper plate she'd decorated in the other. She burst into a short but animated monologue in her native German when she located her mother.

"She said, 'Someone from the press is looking for you, mommy!'" Bammer translated later.

Tina has gotten used to that recently. The 26-year-old Bammer emerged from obscurity early in the season when she beat Serena Williams in Hobart, Australia. It was a significant result for both players.

The loss to Bammer, then ranked 56th, infuriated Williams and sent her on a training bender that helped her win the Australian Open. The victory gave Bammer confidence that carried her through the next few weeks, and Indian Wells brought her a modicum of attention magnified by the fact that she is the only mother in the WTA's top 100.

Tina first went on the road with her mother when she was 5 months old and still breast-feeding. "It was a national tournament in Austria, just four hours away," Bammer said.

They've been traveling together regularly since Tina was 8 months old. She'll enter school this fall, and while many working moms view that day with relief, Bammer said she's treasuring this last season with her daughter.

"Many players say it's amazing, what I do," Bammer said. "I wouldn't be able to manage it without everyone working together, my boyfriend, my coach."

Gschwendtner left his job with an engineering firm to manage Bammer's career and travels with her and Tina full time. At tournaments where nursery areas are provided, he is nearly always the only father in the company of the wives and girlfriends of ATP players. Tina's best friend on the circuit is French veteran Fabrice Santoro's daughter, Djenae.

Commentator and former pro Mary Carillo, who has a teenaged son and daughter, said she couldn't have imagined the effort involved in bringing a young child on the tour.

"How would you make that work?" she asked. "It's enough of a hassle trying to travel with a pet. But the tournaments have become more kid-friendly, especially the Grand Slams."

Hall of Famer Pam Shriver did not have children until after her long career was complete.

"I think if you're going to combine motherhood and professional tennis, being in your mid-20s is pretty good," said Shriver, who now has three children, including twins. "You're at your fittest. Tennis demands full fitness, and motherhood is a full-fitness job. Not many people are brave enough.

"There are plenty of Olympic athletes who have come back after being mothers. It's just that the culture of tennis, with all the travel, makes it harder. But I don't see why there can't be more moms."

Double-duty mothers have been known to feel stressed out about trying to do both jobs justice. The sweet-voiced, serious Bammer feels lucky instead. She said Tina spends more time with her parents than most children. "When both of the parents work, the children are in a [day care center] from eight in the morning to five at night," she said.

As for this tournament, Bammer said she thinks the last few weeks of playing and travel -- including a week in Thailand, where Tina stayed behind with her grandparents and Bammer won her first WTA tournament -- simply caught up with her.

"I've had no days off for four weeks and I wasn't focusing on the ball like I did in Indian Wells," she said. "There were very difficult conditions today, but [Loit] was mentally stronger and she won. It was more my brain, not physical."

Bammer has said she is a better player now than she was before she had Tina, and part of that has to do with the brain, as well. After the loss to Loit, Tina told her mother, "'You're very good, and next time you will win. Don't be sad.'"

"She's so small, and she doesn't know the way adults think," Bammer said, laughing. Sometimes that child's vision helps her keep her eye on the ball.

Round of Applause
Nineteen-year-old Evgeny Korolev was not well-known by his fellow ATP players before the season began, but he has become a bit of a folk hero for his inadvertent role in shooting down the experimental round robin format. Players cheered in their formal meeting earlier this week when the ATP brass informed them the system would be shelved.

"Everybody said, 'Good job, good job, you stopped the round robin, you and James (Blake) stopped the round robin,'" Korolev said.

Korolev, ranked 68th this week, was the fellow who found himself in the middle of the rules sandstorm whipped up in Las Vegas last month. ATP chairman Etienne de Villiers intervened to send Blake through to the quarterfinals instead of Korolev, manually overriding the tiebreak that should have kicked in when the third player in their group retired. De Villiers later reversed himself and apologized.

The affable, buzz-cut, blue-eyed Russian said he wasn't uncomfortable with the notoriety the affair dumped in his lap. "No. Not at all. I'm a pretty easy guy," he said. "I may be young, but I still understand this whole situation, this business.

"The thing is, it was not about me. It was about the rule. You cannot change the rule which is in the rulebook, and you cannot change it during the tournament before the quarterfinal match. This is something incredible. It would be like if I lost in Vegas 7-6 in the third [set] in my semifinal match and I could call up and say, 'Listen, give me two more games. I want to continue to play.'"

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.