Mashona Washington, 34, finished 2004 ranked No. 50 in the world after reaching her first WTA final in Tokyo, and advancing to the quarterfinals at the Olympus US Open Series events in Stanford, Calif., and New Haven, Conn., where she defeated then-world No. 7 Maria Sharapova. In 2005, Washington achieved her best showing in a Grand Slam by reaching the third round at Wimbledon. Her rise was halted when she suffered a knee injury in July 2006 while playing for the U.S. Fed Cup team in Belgium. Due to the injury, she did not compete in singles again for more than a year. Washington returned to the winner’s circle in May 2008, qualifying and taking the title at the $50,000 event in Carson, Calif., for her third career USTA Pro Circuit singles title. She also holds 13 career USTA Pro Circuit doubles titles, including back-to-back championships she won in Florida last month with partner Ahsha Rolle. USTA.com recently caught up with Washington while she competed at the $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Midland, Mich.
USTA.com: You first played this tournament (Midland) 18 years ago -- the 1993 qualies.
Mashona Washington: Eighteen years ago? I think I probably played this tournament more than anybody, I do know that. It's always been a really good tournament, a high prize-money tournament. I grew up here, and my parents are an hour away, and that gives me one really good opportunity to just come here instead of taking (time) out of my schedule. My dad came up one day, but he teaches at the local community college in Flint (Mich.), and he has to work all week. My mom and sister have been coming up every day, so that's been nice, them cheering for me and supporting me.
USTA.com: What does it mean to you to qualify here?
Mashona Washington: It's kind of bittersweet because sometimes I feel like maybe my history and the fact that I've been top 50 and have played at that higher level that sometimes I might get a little bit of help, like a wild card or something, but that's not happening because, I guess by their standards, I'm older. But I don't like them putting limitations or restrictions on me. I'm very happy, though. I'm very happy because that just lets me know that maybe I didn't need a wild card, but at the same time, I could have saved myself three matches and probably 100 miles on my legs (laughing).
USTA.com: Is there one moment in the course of your career that stands out above the rest? Maybe a city you've visited or an experience you've had because you are a tennis player?
Mashona Washington: Yeah, I think it was 2004 at Wimbledon, when I was playing mixed doubles with Marcin Matkowski, a Polish player, and we were playing against Tina Krizan and Jeff Coetzee. We ended up beating them, but a good portion of that Wimbledon there were rain delays, and (the Wimbledon officials) were like, "We're putting you guys on Centre Court," and all four of us looked at each other like... "OK." And it was awesome. I got a chance to get on Centre Court because I'm like the stadium player -- I love being on Centre Court. And then my brother Mal, of course, was in the Friends' Box, so for me to be on Centre Court and look at him, knowing that he got into the final back in 1996, it was just an awesome feeling. It was kind of like, "Wow, he's watching me, and I'm on Centre Court now." And he was in there with a grin on his face and was so proud of me. We're just so proud of each other.
USTA.com: So originally you were scheduled for another court?
Mashona Washington: Yeah, and then we got put on there and then we got moved off the court, but for that brief 10 minutes that we were actually on Centre Court, it was just very special to have my brother there. He was there commentating with ESPN. It was very special.
USTA.com: So you were on, and then it rained again?
Mashona Washington: Yeah, we played like three or four games. But still it was one thing that really stands out because he was there and able to see me.
USTA.com: I know Mal has done a lot of great work since he retired from tennis. Have you given any thought to what you want to do?
Mashona Washington: I have so many different things. I have a business degree. I am about to get my real estate license, so I'll probably do that. And tennis is always easy. So I don't know. I have a few more years. I still enjoy playing, and I think this week is definitely a testimony that I'm still able to play some good tennis. And here it's just all about mentality and mental ability, and I figure, if Kimiko Date, at 40 years old, is older than me and she can be top 100, it lets you know that, again, it goes back to the restrictions and age limitations people want to put on you because you're such and such an age.
USTA.com: Where did you get your business degree from?
Mashona Washington: American Continental University. It's an online university. It was the year in 2006 when I was injured playing Fed Cup for the U.S. vs. Belgium. I always knew that I would go to a university because all of my brothers and sisters have degrees, and I knew one day I would go. I was sitting at my computer one day with my leg, I was icing my knee after surgery, and I went online and said, "OK, now's the time." It's a two-year degree. It's an associates. I'll eventually go back and get my bachelors, but I don't know when. Probably when I stop playing because it's a lot, a lot of work.
USTA.com: So you were actually able to get the two-year degree while you were traveling?
Mashona Washington: Yeah, well I was injured, and then when I came back and started playing, I had about six more months before I graduated. It worked out perfectly.
USTA.com: What about you and Ahsha Rolle playing together this year? You've already won two titles. What's that experience been like?
Mashona Washington: Ahsha is a lot like me. Sometimes I feel like I'm Batman and she's Robin (laughing), or she's Batman one day and I'm Robin. I don't know. We joke around about that. But she's a real strong player. She's got as much fire as I do and than I did when I was her age because she's a lot younger than I am. We had to figure each other out, but I think the more and more we play, the more and more we're going to depend on each other. I enjoy playing with her. I really do. She's a fighter, she's strong, she's a strong player, and I think we can be a top-contending doubles team.
USTA.com: Is that something you think about? Not to say that your singles career is coming to an end, but maybe in doubles, if you guys keep doing well together, that could extend your career.
Mashona Washington: Most definitely, there's no question. I mean, doubles is like half the court, and if my doubles shoots up and I start playing there, then that's great. Hey, again, I'm not putting any limitations on myself. If I go and win the French Open this year, then, OK, that's great, I'm still going to play singles. I think two paychecks are better than one.
USTA.com: When you got hurt in '06 and you went to school and got that done, were there ever thoughts of retirement?
Mashona Washington: No, because there are players that I look at that I know, hands down, I am physically... I'm not trying to say I have the best game... but I know I am physically stronger, I am physically fitter, and I have a better looking game, and they're making it work. And I'm thinking, "Wow, if she can do that, come on." Why would I give up and go to a 9-to-5 job when I can still travel around the world and make a whole lot of money?
USTA.com: When it comes to money and career earnings, you're almost at a million dollars. Can you put that in perspective? Over a 15-year career, what does that actually mean?
Mashona Washington: Nothing. It means absolutely nothing. That's just like the total prize money. But when you put together expenses throughout the year and you're having $50,000 to $60,000 in expenses, then you're really not making a whole lot of money at these smaller tournaments, unless you're winning them. Of course, I think I want to make the $1 million dollar mark. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm a millionaire. It's a good thing I have some investments (laughing).