Friday, February 17, 2012

WPRO Highly ranked racquetball pro's passion for sport led her to love affair with new hometown

By Don Wade  Posted February 13, 2012 at 12:07 a.m.

Adrienne Fisher works on her game on the racquetball court at Germantown Athletic Club. An Ohio native, Fisher came to know Memphis from competing in the sport's U.S. Open. She is now the fifth-ranked player in the world.

This is not a story of boy meets girl, but of girl meets game and girl meets city.

Adrienne Fisher met the game of racquetball when she was 6 years old. She fell in love with it, committed to it by turning pro as a teenager and decided to stay with it, even though she understood the game's figurative low ceiling: Pro racquetball is too fast to make for good television. And this keeps the game and its players forever standing by the side of the tracks as the Great American Sports Gravy Train rolls by without them.

"It's frustrating," Fisher says of the money not to be made on the women's pro tour. In her best year, she brought home maybe $2,000 in winnings and bonuses; she's currently the fifth-ranked player in the world.

"But it's a Catch-22," she continues. "There's not as many racquetball players as there are people playing tennis or golf. So the money's proportional to how many people are playing it. But playing the tour has never been about making money. It's something I love to do and I don't have to spend money. I can break even."

A second story: Fisher met Memphis at 16, kinda liked it, and grew to like it more as she made her annual return to play in racquetball's U.S. Open, which for years was held at The Racquet Club. Ultimately, Fisher, now 26, fell for the city, even as those around her -- native Memphians -- were disparaging it.

"I didn't go to Graceland until I moved here," she says, "but everybody was really nice. I know a lot of people from here say they hate it, but I don't know what the problem is. I love it here.
"There are just so many things to do -- the Pink Palace, Beale Street, all the good places to eat. I just went to my first Grizzlies game, and it was awesome. I'm now a Tigers/Grizzlies fan."

Originally from Centerville, Ohio, Fisher played racquetball at the University of Alabama and graduated with a degree in marketing and public relations. She is close to getting a master's in restaurant and hospitality management from Alabama and works for an area hotel owned by Kemmons Wilson Companies.

"They've been supportive," she says. "They let me go play the tournaments."

Fisher has mostly avoided injury during her career, but she did recently have her tonsils removed and has just returned to the court. She is always looking for ways to improve her health and conditioning. Recently, she began using an app on her iPhone to help her adjust her diet. Her biggest challenge to staying true comes at work.

"We get all the leftovers from the catering," she says.

Besides playing racquetball, she runs, lifts weights and takes the occasional spinning class.
The sport earns high marks for burning calories: website says a 130-pound person playing a casual game of racquetball for an hour would burn 413 calories, 590 if playing competitively.

She has added paddleball, essentially a slower version of racquetball that demands a lot more running, and results have come quickly. She has reached the semifinals twice this season -- a career first -- and less frequently finds she's using inventive ploys to buy time and catch her breath.
"I'm not making as many mistakes, not taking as long to recover between points, not having to clean my goggles, tie my shoelaces, check my strings -- I've used them all," she says with a laugh.
With no other pro women's players in town, Fisher has to play men -- if they're willing to step on the court with her.

"There are a lot of guys who don't want to play her because they're afraid they'll get beat," says Charlie Andrews, 50, one of the top players in the city, who usually plays Fisher on Sunday afternoons at the Germantown Athletic Club. "I don't ease up on her. She wants me to play as hard as I can. Her dream is to be No. 1. She's told me that on several occasions."

It is perhaps a romantic notion given that the world's No. 1 player, Paola Longoria, is demonstrably better than No. 2 Rhonda Rajsich, and Rajsich is clearly better than everyone else. Fisher's game is power. Or as tour veteran Cheryl Gudinas, 44, who once held the top spot four years running, says: "She hits the ball a ton."

Fisher embraces the power label, especially on her more formidable backhand side, and says, "Strategy is not my first thing. But that's just the way I play. I play aggressive rather than being defensive and waiting for people to make mistakes."

Gudinas, who has been something of a mentor to Fisher, recalls a semifinal match they had a couple of years ago. Gudinas had the serve and was one point away from closing out the match when she left Fisher a "setup," and an easy lane for hitting a passing shot. Instead of hitting the pass, Fisher went for a kill shot, skipped it, and lost the match.

"There are times when she could make it more simple for herself," Gudinas says, adding there is much to like about her game: "She has a really good drive serve, the power, and hits the ball well down the lines."

Says Andrews: "Fundamentally, she's sound. She's extremely competitive, which is a really good strength. She's fearless. She's not afraid to hit a shot."

Gudinas and Fisher serve on the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization's rules committee, and Gudinas says Fisher is "good for the sport."

Fisher plans to stay in the sport and in Memphis; her job is here, her boyfriend is here, and she envisions playing years from now, even without much financial reward.

"I'm going to play as long as they let me go play," she says. "And when it's time to start a family, we'll see. There are a lot of girls (on tour) that have families and jobs."
© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material has been approved to be republished, by the WPRO

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