Los Angeles — The women's professional tennis tour is long hours of intense practice, and nobody knows this better than Leslie Allen, a leggy, 5 ft. 10 in. touch of class who has a powerful serve, excellent range, and the desire of which champions are made.
She is already rated as one of the best young players on the tour, and her size, strength, and talent have become a major concern to most veteran stars. There is a feeling that once her game becomes more disciplined, Leslie is going to start blowing people off the court.
Before turning professional, Allen was a speech communications major at Southern Cal; worked briefly as an assistant to a New York costume and fashion designer; and was offered a track scholarship while attending Texas Southern. Her mother, Sarah, is a Broadway actress who recently appeared in "Weep Not for Me."
Although Allen has been playing the women's circuit for three years, the reporters never made that much of her until early February, when she won the $ 150,000 Avon Championships of Detroit. To do this she had to beat Hana Mandlikova, the world's No. 5 player, in the finals. And she did this rather convincingly, 6-4, 6-4, against a young star who has often shown the ability to break back and win after losing a first set.
Because Allen was the first black woman to win this big a tournament since Althea Gibson was an international tennis power back in the late 1950s, too much was made of Leslie's color and not enough of her talent. White or black, what difference did that make?
Put a microphone in front of Leslie Allen or introduce her at a press conference and she knows what to do. Questions are answered quickly and intelligently, with no groping for words and with a voice that can be heard in the back of the room. Yet her manner is neither loud nor abrasive.
"I was not an overnight sensation when I decided to turn professional," Allen told Los Angeles reporters. "I've had to work hard to get where I am, like everyone else, and that also meant learning from my defeats. Concentration during matches was part of my problem, but it also takes time to get comfortable with something new when you're just getting started."
"One thing I've noticed about Chris Evert [Lloyd] and Martina Navratilova is that they always seem to bring more mental toughness to their matches than the other girls," Leslie continued. "I've tried to learn from that, and I think I have. In fact, I've also learned that it doesn't pay to get upset when you're losing."
When Allen was asked what areas of her game she would like to improve the most, she replied: "I'm often inconsistent, and I don't think anyone can play winning tennis without keeping their game at a relatively high level. Anything else and you find yourself struggling to stay alive instead of putting all your energy into winning."
"One of the things I keep telling myself at the start of matches is not to hit the ball out, which has been a continuing problem with me," she added. "I hate it when I give points away and when I'm inconsistent. But I've found that being inconsistent against some players causes them to tighten up, because they suddenly realize that they can't be sure what is coming."
Allen is an aggressive player who uses an oversize racket, who is quick getting to the net, and who is aware that her height and reach make it difficult for others to hit passing shots by her.
While there is no indication that Leslie is ready to move into the same class as Evert Lloyd, Navratilova, Tracy Austin, or Andrea Jaeger, she has the physical tools to join the top ranks.
What Allen needs is simply more of what she is getting --nal and semifinal matches against the world's best women players. She isn't afraid of hard work and knows how to maintain her mental toughness under pressure.
When she isn't traveling, she and her mother live in a 75-year-old Harlem brownstone that they have renovated.