'Love' means more to Sportimes' couple
By JANE MCMANUS
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: July 12, 2006)
MAMARONECK — The day-to-day marriage between Ashley Harkleroad and Alex Bogomolov Jr. has a familiar rhythm. They like to stay in together, hate when distances keep them apart and someday, when their careers reach the end of their arc, they hope to have children.
Yet in professional tennis, where both Harkleroad and Bogomolov make a living, marriage seems the kind of move the professionals save until just before they retire — not when they are starting out.
"It's not so abnormal (in Georgia)," Harkleroad said, "but in the tennis world, it's a little bit crazy. But we knew what we wanted to do and so nobody was going to stop us."
The two married a year and a half ago, and since then they have worked to balance nascent professional careers and a life together. They try not to go more than three weeks apart, and this July they will spend three weeks together as the two main players for the New York Sportimes.
"Me and Ashley both missed out on college life and that atmosphere," Bogomolov said. "So we thought it would be fun, give us three weeks together in a different kind of way."
Last night, Harkleroad played women's singles for the Sportimes and Bogomolov played doubles in a 20-19 win over the visiting New York Buzz before roughly 400 fans at Harbor Island Stadium. The home team is 3-2, and hosts the Boston Lobsters in its next match tomorrow.
Before the match began, the in-house announcer made this introduction of Bogomolov: "This lucky guy also happens to be married to his teammate Ashley Harkleroad!" The comment caused Harkleroad to laugh and say, "Why does he say that?" to a teammate.
They are stunningly young. At 23 (him) and 21 (her), they aren't even newlyweds. But during a brief conversation with them before the World TeamTennis match last night, it was clear that they had a deep commitment to each other.
Bogomolov, with fair, curly hair, is from Moscow and Harkleroad from Rossville, Ga., but their childhoods followed a similar pattern of travel and competitive tennis. Harkleroad remembers meeting Bogomolov at a juniors tournament for the first time when she was 12.
Both are well known to hard-core tennis fans. After moving to the United States, he won the USTA Boys Championship in 2001. Around the same time, she was the it girl at the U.S. Open, wearing a Nike outfit that brought tabloid notice.
Professionally, Harkleroad reached a high point getting to the third round of the French Open in 2003, which is the same year Bogomolov reached a career-high 97 in the rankings. Harkleroad is currently ranked No. 76 in singles.
They don't play doubles for the Sportimes, although Harkleroad said they may try for a mixed doubles wild card into the U.S. Open. And tennis itself can be a touchy subject for the two, particularly since they are players trying to crack the top ranks.
"If he loses to a guy, I'm mad at that guy for the rest of the tournament," Harkleroad said.
But she admitted that she didn't always take constructive criticism so well herself, particularly after a loss. And Bogomolov — who won each of his five singles games last night — has learned to be careful with his advice, although he had no problem standing and cheering his wife on at several points last night.
"We had to learn a lot faster than the average couple, because we're going to have losses times two every week," he said.
Last night after she lost the last game in her women's singles event to Julie Ditty, Harkleroad wore her disappointment on the way back to the Sportimes bench. Bogomolov gently massaged her legs, poured cool water on a towel for her head and tried to brighten her mood.
In a lot of ways, they resemble a couple that has been married for many more years. They bought a house in Georgia and split Christmas between his parents in Florida and hers nearby. They have some notoriety, but feel very few have a window into who they are as a couple.
"They only see us when we're on the tennis tour, at tournaments together," Harkleroad said. "They don't really know who we are."