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Through the Tears, a Triumph : Van Nostrand Beats Maleeva, Gains Quarterfinals

July 03, 1985|MIKE LITTWIN | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — Molly Van Nostrand is living out the family dream, learned long ago at her father's knee and never for a day forgotten.

It's a dream the four children all grew up with. It's a dream that one would die for.

Molly is a Wimbledon quarter-finalist, having emerged from the nether lands of the tennis unwashed, advancing from the qualifying rounds to the round of eight at the All England Club. Ranked 155th in the world, Van Nostrand upset fourth-seeded Manuela Maleeva Tuesday in the day's good-news story.

But the family must smile through tears.

"You have to realize that life goes on," Boots Van Nostrand said Tuesday, one of the happiest days of her life.

Boots is Molly's mother--and John's.

John was the golden boy of the tennis-playing Van Nostrands. Though he grew up on Long Island, he was of that breed destined for California sun. When Pepperdine beckoned, he abandoned New York for the Coast and a life reserved for the chosen few.

He was a model, a calendar boy, a screenwriter, an actor. Good looking and smart. And, like all the Van Nostrands, he played tennis.

On April 15, 1984, a Sunday, John and a friend, Joe Heldmann, flew to Mexico City, where they would rent a car for the 250-mile drive north to San Luis Potosi, to play in a satellite tennis tournament.

John didn't have to go. That Tuesday, he could have been filming a Levi's commercial. Or John could have been in Hawaii, where Jimmy Connors had offered to fly him if he would hit balls with Connors in advance of an exhibition match against John McEnroe.

But John had a dream. He learned it at his father's knee. It was called Wimbledon. And John was headed for some obscure tournament in some small Mexican town to pick up a few Grand Prix points in order to qualify for Wimbledon.

They rented a car in Mexico City and headed north on Route 120 when a turn proved too treacherous on the mountain road and the pair fell 600 feet to their deaths.

John was 22. In an obituary, Rolling Stone magazine wrote of John: "He had it all, and if he'd given them the chance, they would have made him a star."

Two weeks later, Molly, then at Southern Methodist, played in the Southwest Conference tournament. Her mother came to help see her through it.

"She cried her way through," Boots said. "But my husband thought it was a good idea for her to play."

John and Molly were to have played mixed doubles at the 1984 Wimbledon. Instead, Molly, then 19, came alone, lost in the first round of qualifying and cried the long plane ride home.

"It was very difficult for me," Molly said. "It was difficult for my whole family. For a while there I just wanted to win for him--and for everyone else. I was playing horrible, trying too hard.

"I still want to win for him, but there's not the pressure any more. I still feel he's with me."

Molly broke her foot at the end of 1982 and injured it again at the start of '85. They took out two bones from her left foot, causing her to miss about five months. Her physical therapist advised her not to come to Wimbledon. Her doctor thought it would be all right.

Molly knew she had to go.

And so she made it through the three rounds of qualifying, surprising herself. And she made it past a first-round match and then she upset Peanut Louie before coming up against Maleeva, an erratic but talented Bulgarian who can be rattled.

Molly's father and coach, King, himself ranked in the over-50 group, woke up at 3:30 a.m. (EDT) Tuesday to call his daughter with these words of encouragement:

"The way you're playing, you can beat anyone in the world."

And she believed him.

Trailing, 5-3, in the first set, Molly won the next four games, breaking Maleeva twice to win, 7-5. Down a break in the second set, losing 2-0, she won the last six games.

"I felt from the beginning that I could win the match," Molly said. "I was really pumped up. I was surprised I felt that way.

"I never expected to get this far, and I'm playing with no pressure on me. I just want to do the best I can."

She smiled through every word, the smile of young woman who believes anything is possible.

Her brother would understand. Before that fateful trip of last year, John's agent, Paul Lazarro, asked him why he had to go to Mexico when there were so many other things he might have done.

John told Lazarro: "When I'm old and talking to my grandchildren, they'll ask me, 'Did you play Wimbledon?' I don't want to say, 'No, but I did a Levi's commercial.' I've got to make Wimbledon."

And today, little Molly plays Zina Garrison in the round of eight. Through her tears.

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