Ever since her appearance at the 2001 US Open in a that racy outfit that left the crowd open mouthed Ashley Harkleroad has been plagued with the nickname “The American Anna”. The 5 ft 6 in Georgian beauty briefly challenged the world top 40 in 2003 but she remains far more famous for the sexy numbers she wears on the court and her modelling assignments off it. In 2008 Harkleroad became “Playboy's first tennis player” when she appeared on the cover of the August edition of the famous men’s magazine. As of 2008 she has failed to win a single WTA Tour title.
Ashley Harkleroad was born on May 2nd 1985 in Rossville, Georgia, United States. Her father, Danny played college football at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and mother, Tammy, played college tennis at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee. Ashley was encouraged to play many sports from a young age but by the age of 9 she had decided that tennis was the one she wanted to pursue. After five years of professional training Ashley won her first tournament in 2000 at the girls under 18’s Easter Bowl Championship at the tender age of 14 years, 11 months and 20 days. In the same year she was hugely impressive going undefeated in singles and doubles to lead the USA to 2000 ITF Connolly Continental Cup, the junior equivalent of Fed Cup. Ashley Harkleroad turned pro on June 12, 2000, and was quickly "billed" as the next American tennis superstar
Her big introduction to the public came in 2001 when she appeared at the 2001 US Open. As a wild card entry the 16 year old Harkleroad made the first round but was beaten by Meilen Tu in a hard fought three set match. In 2002 she won her first WTA tour matches, reaching the second round at San Diego, Hawaii, and Bratislava, where she made her first doubles semi-final with Argentinean Maria Emilia Salerni. Harkleroad also won two singles titles at Los Gatos and The Bronx. She ended 2002 in the top 200 for the first time.
Her breakthrough year was in 2003, when at Charleston she defeated three top 20 (No.16 Elena Bovina, No.19 Meghann Shaughnessy, and No.9 Daniela Hantuchova), losing just 11 games to reach her first tour semi final before losing to Justine Henin-Hardenne. She became the lowest-ranked semi finalist (No. 101) in the event's history since unranked Jennifer Capriati reached the finals in 1990. In June she soared into the Top 50 at No.39 following a run to the semi finals in Strasbourg and the third round at the French Open, again beating Daniela Hantuchova en route.
In 2004, Harkleroad made her first career WTA Tour final, at Auckland in the first event of the year, before losing to defending champion Eleni Daniilidou. She also debuted at the Australian Open, falling in the first round to V.Williams. The 2005 season saw various injuries and a family illness limit her court time. She did however collect a further 2 ITF Women's circuit tittles winning at Louisville and Washington.
2006 saw Harkleroad’s second Top 100 finish at 86th. She also played all four Grand Slams in a season for first time, reaching the second round at all except the US Open. This included The Australian Open where after defeating Shuai Peng of China in the first round was narrowly beaten by fourth seed Maria Sharapova 6-1, 7-5 despite having 3 set points. She also won her fifth ITF Title at San Francisco defeating Clarisa Fernández 6-2, 6-3 in the final.
2007 saw Harkleroad achieve her equal-best career Grand Slam finish, reaching the third round at The Australian Open where she defeated No.17 seed German Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6–2,6–2 en route, before falling to No.15 seed Hantuchova 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-3. January also saw Ashley selected for the USA team in the Hopman Cup for the first time after Venus Williams withdrew due to injury. In singles Harkleroad pushed Tatiana Golovin of France to three sets before losing 3–6, 6–4, 3–6. Ashley also lost 3–6, 0–6 to Russian Nadia Petrova and 6–3, 4–6, 4–6 to Alicia Molik of Australia. Although disappointing in the remaining three slams of the season Ashley ended the year on a high by retaining her title in San Francisco and winning in Pittsburgh and in La Quinta back to back. She ended the year ranked 67, her second highest year end to date. She also won the doubles title in la Quinta with Christina Fusano.
In preparation for the 2008 Australian Open Harkleroad played in Hobart. She defeated three top-100 players before bowing out in the Semi Finals to top seed Vera Zvonareva. In the Australian Open, Ashley lost to 30th seed Virginie Razzano in the first round. In February Harkleroad made her debut for the United States Fed Cup team in a first round tie against Germany. Notable wins against Tatjana Malek 6-1, 6-3 and Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 7-5 saw her play a instrumental role in the 4-1 victory at La Jolla, CA. At the Sony Ericsson Open, she reached the third round but lost to Elena Vesnina 4–6 7–5 4–6. During the tournament a large cyst on one of her ovaries burst and she was sent to the hospital. She made it through the ordeal but missed nearly two months of the season and struggled to regain full fitness during the clay court season. In September Harkleroad announced she was pregnant and withdrew from remainder of season stating she planned to return to the WTA Tour in mid 2009.
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