- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Once Alexandra Mueller starts a tournament, every step she takes could become the subject of a new superstition.

“Typically, if I do something and win the first round, I do the exact same thing,” she said. “It’s not like I have something going into an event, but if I eat at a restaurant and I win, I have to do that. I have to order the same thing, lay my clothes out the same way. It develops, so by the end of the week, everything I’m doing is a ritual.”

Mueller started the Citi Open on a strong note Monday night, defeating fellow American Asia Muhammad 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 in a qualifying match. Although she lost to Russian veteran Nadia Petrova in the first round Tuesday, she will have the opportunity to put her rituals to the test later this week when she takes the court with Liga Dekmeijere in the doubles bracket.

For Petrova, formerly the third-ranked player in the world, the match was just a warmup for other singles matches to come, and she was glad for a quick 6-2, 6-2 victory.

“For me, it was important to play open court as much as I could and get [Mueller] out of her comfort zone,” Petrova said. “It’s too early to be happy. It’s the first round. I played how I wanted. I’m glad I didn’t spend so much time out there. I served well. I broke her twice.”

But for Mueller, 23, who hopes to continue her recent climb through the rankings, competing against a well-known player was an experience to learn from and enjoy. She finished 2009 ranked No. 452 in doubles, but she was up to No. 230 by the end of 2010 and currently is No. 189.

“I’ve definitely been working really hard on my fitness, and that helps in singles and doubles because your agility around the net is really important,” she said. “Just confidence, too. Winning any match, whether it be singles or doubles, helps.”

In her match against Muhammad, Mueller had to make a comeback after falling behind 5-3 in the third set. The two players have competed together in doubles, and they are good friends off the court.

“It’s always tough playing someone you know, but I just kept telling myself to keep fighting and try to win every single point,” Mueller said. “I stopped looking at the score and just focused point by point. Win this point, win the next point. Rather than getting down on myself that I was in that position in the first place, I tried to stay positive and keep fighting.”

Although Mueller turned professional at age 15, she has played in only one other event in D.C. She came to the Citi Open because of its proximity to her hometown of Abington, Pa. She will play tournaments in Vancouver and the Bronx after leaving Washington, hoping to raise her ranking. With luck, any restaurant that catches her eye on the first night of those tournaments can expect to see her all week long.

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