Haynes Shakes Off Tragedy, Comes Back

It’s great to see Angela Haynes getting back in the groove here in the desert after the personal tragedy that hijacked her career more than four years ago. That was when her brother, Dontia, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005.

“They were tied at the hip,” her father and coach, Fred Haynes, told me during Angela’s practice session yesterday.

I wrote about it in Monday’s USA Today, but suffice it to say Haynes has been a mental zombie the last few years after showing promise by reaching the third round of the 2004 U.S. Open as a 20-year-old. Amazingly, she hasn’t won back-to-back, main draw matches at WTA Tour event since the ’04 Open.

Haynes was 0-4 in 2009 before qualifying as a wild card and reaching the third round here, where she faces No. 12 seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy.

“I’m just trying to stay within myself and have fun,” Haynes told me yesterday. “That’s been the most important thing. I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself. That was the big thing coming into here.”

Haynes says she used tennis as an escape to deal with the pain of losing her brother, who was two years older and played tennis at San Diego State University. They were thick as thieves and extremely close. She said in retrospect it was a mistake to stay on tour, but she didn’t want to sit at home and let the wound fester. She says she has also used religion to get her feet back under her.

“If I could do anything different, I would have taken time off and spent it with my mom because she was all by herself,” she said. 

Haynes grew up in Compton, Calif., and her brother sometimes practiced with the most famous products of that gang-scarred town, Serena and Venus Williams. Since the Williamses also lost a half-sister – Yetunde Price, was gunned down in 2003 – I wondered if Haynes had ever spoken to them about their common tragedy.

Haynes said she ran into Serena in 2007 in Australia. The current No.1 said she was sorry about what happened, but it didn’t go beyond that. “I didn’t bring up her sister,” Haynes said. “It’s something I don’t even want to talk about.”

Haynes, who now lives in Irvine, Calif., with her dad and often trains at the USTA facility in Carson, insists despite being 24 she has a lot of good tennis in front of her. She wants to crack the top 100 and start playing in majors again. The last one she competed in was the 2005 U.S. Open. She’s also happy to be working.

“I feel really good,” she said. “I’m starting to enjoy life, tennis, everything. I’m grateful for everything. That has been the real change. The way the world is going and people losing their jobs, I’m just be happy that I have a job – and a good one!”

Happier and more at peace, Haynes says she still thinks about her brother all the time, but more as inspiration than setback. “My brother was a real fighter,” she says. “He fought for every point. I just have to remember that when I’m on the court.” I’ll be pulling for her against Pennetta today.


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