Julie Ditty’s competitive fire is burning again after a three-year retirement from pro tennis.
Now 35, the Ashland native displayed her familiar form in winning a U.S. Open National Playoffs Southern Qualifying tournament last week in Norcross, Ga.
Ditty outplayed 2014 NCAA doubles champion Maya Jansen 6-2, 6-2 for the title to complete a run of five wins in as many days.
“I’m still recovering,” Ditty said half-jokingly Tuesday in a phone interview from Louisville, where she teaches tennis at the Louisville Tennis Club and Blairwood Racquet Club. “I was definitely sore during the tournament. I feel a lot better now.”
Even more, the experience rejuvenated her about being back on the court.
“I’m really excited,” Ditty said. “It felt so good to be competing again. I didn’t put any pressure on myself.”
As one of 13 USTA sectional champions, Ditty advances to New Haven, Ct., in mid-August with an opportunity to win a wild card into the Qualifier for the U.S. Open. It’s the only Grand Slam main draw to elude her thus far.
The Kentucky Tennis Association Hall of Famer will likely get a fitness coach to help her train for the next round. She also plans to play practice matches against pros and college players in the Louisville area.
For now, Ditty is enjoying her re-found passion for playing tennis rather than deciding if she wants to return to the pro level.
“I haven’t really made a commitment one way or another,” she said.
This whole development isn’t something Ditty saw coming. She said she woke up four weeks ago with a weird feeling.
“A little voice in my head was saying, “You need to play,’” Ditty recalled. “I never had that happen in three years.”
Ditty didn’t decide to enter the U.S. Open Southern qualifying event until about two hours before the deadline. Friend Chris Groer, also a former Vanderbilt University player, helped talk her into it.
Actually, the ball had begun rolling prior to that. Ditty competed on the Kentucky Senior Cup team at the Southern championships. Joanne Moore Wallen, also a WTA veteran, urged her to play and Ditty helped Kentucky win the 35-over title.
“It was a fun tournament,” Ditty said. “There were people there I knew that I hadn’t seen in a long time. It kind of got me thinking about the past and how much I loved playing then.”
Ditty showed up in Norcross not knowing what to expect, and without all of her equipment.
“I didn’t even have a bag for my rackets,” she said. “I used a rubber band to hold the four of them together.”
Ditty quickly found herself in a tough first-round match before defeating Georgia Tech player Rasheeda McAdoo 7-6, 3-6, 6-1.
“After that, I had (leg) cramps in the middle of the night,” Ditty said. “I woke up and didn’t know if I would be able to play the next day.”
She bounced back impressively, knocking off second-seeded Natalie Pluskota 6-0, 6-3. Pluskota was ranked 478th in the world last year.
Ditty never lost more than three games in a set the rest of the way.
“I feel like my experience definitely helped me,” she said. “I was not in the best shape, but my game was still there.”
Last month, Jansen and University of Alabama doubles partner Erin Routliffe turned in one of the most dominant performances in NCAA doubles finals history. They lost only 13 points in beating their Georgia opponents 6-1, 6-0.
Jansen, however, couldn’t get much going against Ditty — 15 years her senior.
“I wasn’t able to get a rhythm,” Jansen said. “I felt like she put the ball where I didn’t want it.”
That kind of ability enabled Ditty to win a record 39 USTA Pro Circuit — 30 in doubles — during a distinguished career. Her world rankings peaked at 89 in singles and 66 in doubles.
Following her retirement in 2011, Ditty made several stops teaching tennis and assisting at the college level before making Louisville her home.
“I love it here,” said Ditty, who has family in the area. “The tennis community is huge.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.