It all started when my grandmother took my twin sister, Katherine, and I to our neighborhood courts in Marietta, Georgia, when I was seven years old. I played soccer and tennis and really enjoyed both sports. My mom made us choose which sport to play because it was too much traveling to do both. I chose tennis because I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it even from a very young age. I would hit against the garage door at my house, take my grandma up on any chance to hit with her, and drag my sister out to hit with me in the cul de sac.
At nine years old, I was watching Venus Williams play on television at Wimbledon. I would sit in front of the TV and watch as long as my mom would let me before having to do homework. I looked up at my mom while watching and told her that I wanted to play at Wimbledon one day just like Venus Williams. She looked at me and said,” Ok hon.” At nine it was a very distant dream, but I had made my mind up and that was it. I wore a tennis outfit to school when we had to dress up for career day. That was what my dream was and I was going to do everything possible to reach it.
I was playing as much as I could with balancing school and homework, but it was very hard to get everything done and be ready to play tournaments. I was lucky enough to have parents that believed in my dream and when I asked to try homeschooling for one year when I was twelve, they were very supportive. I missed my friends and the night parties that year, but the improvement I had in tennis was drastic! Being able to spend more time on court and learning more about the game, I was really becoming a smarter tennis player and knowing what my game was going to be.
I was always such a slow and steady player. My coach always worked with me on playing the “right” way. He would tell me in the long run, it will pay off. I lost a lot of matches getting so close to winning, but just not being able to pull it out. Every tournament though I started doing a little bit better and getting a little further. I played against older and stronger girls a lot but I learned so much from my losses. It definitely made me a better player.
Things started to really come together and click when I turned sixteen. I won my first ITF tournament in Lexington, Kentucky. It felt like all my hard work sacrifice started to pay off. I won the next tournament, and the next. It was almost like I didn’t know how to lose anymore. All of my close losses had made me so strong mentally. I had such belief and confidence that I wasn’t losing close matches anymore. I won five tournaments in a row and my streak ended up twenty-seven match wins. I was number two in the world in the ITF rankings.
My coach had made a deal with me awhile back that if I wanted to turn pro, I had to have a certain ranking in the pros or else I needed to go to college. That spring after my great run, I turned professional at sixteen. I had made the ranking and was going after my dream for real now.
Playing in professional tournaments was not much different than the juniors. The women were more mature and smarter players, but I learned quickly that I was right there with them. I got an opportunity to play in the US Open main draw as a wild card that next year before my seventeenth birthday and I drew another wild card from Australia. It was such a great opportunity and I blew it. I lost 7-6 7-6 in a close, hard fought match that I was so nervous in, I didn’t play within myself. I was devastated and told myself if I ever go another opportunity like this, I would take it.
The next year I was seventeen and had slowly moved up the rankings to 175 in the world. People had started to notice me since I was one of the youngest players in the top 200. I was in Wimbledon qualifying that summer and to get to play at the main site, you have to win three matches to qualify. I wanted it so bad. This was what I had dreamed of when I was a little girl watching Venus Williams on TV.
During my first match at Wimbledon qualifying, I was down two match points on the other girls serve. I fought and fought and used that mental toughness I had learned over the years to come back and win that match. Again, belief and confidence from winning that match helped me to win my next two. I was in the main draw of Wimbledon for the first time! I made it to the fourth round that year and had propelled my ranking to 80 in the world.
A few months later, the US Open was coming up. I was in the main draw of the US Open on my own ranking! I was very proud since at seventeen I was one of the youngest in the top 100 in the world. The draw for the tournament came out a few days before it started and I was still in Atlanta practicing. My coach and I looked at the draw together and he joked with me that if I wanted to win the US Open, I had to beat six Russians and a Williams sister. We laughed because my draw was very tough, but I was ready.
Everything in my tennis career had always been slow and steady This was the year that changed and it all started with this tournament. I won my first match fairly easily against a player that I had lost to easily about a year before. My next match I was going to play the number four player in the world, Elena Dementieva, on Arthur Ashe Stadium. I was pretty nervous but I looked down at my shoes and remembered the word I had put on them before the tournament, believe.
Believing in myself that US Open was exactly what I needed. I was on my way to beating six Russians and a Williams sister before losing in the quarterfinals to Caroline Wozniacki. It was an amazing tournament for me and I was now ranked 40 in the world. I also found out that once you make the quarterfinals in singles in a grand slam, you become a part of the final eight club and can always get in to the tournament for the rest of your life!
After that great run, I was flooded with media obligations and sponsor opportunities. I was on the Ellen show and the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. I had photo shoots and appearances to go to. People also wanted to know everything about me and my family which I wasn’t used to. I really enjoyed all of it, but I never knew all of this came with doing well in tennis. I just wanted to practice and keep getting better and better.
It was a lot of pressure on me when people would say that I was going to be the next great American player after the Williams sisters. Things were hard for me the next year and a half or so in singles as nerves were a factor and I let the pressure get to me. Little did I know that I would win my first grand slam in mixed doubles with Jack Sock at that special place, the US Open, in 2011. I never thought I would win a grand slam in mixed doubles since I always wanted it to be singles, but a grand slam is a grand slam. I will have it for forever.
In 2012, things started to really click again for me and I was over the pressure. I won my first WTA tournament and was back to 80 in the world. I was on the right track again moving up slow and steady. Unfortunately, at the end of 2012 I was struck with my first health issue, a rare muscle condition. Over the next few years, it was just constant health issue or injury. It was almost like I would work so hard to come back and get better only to get injured again.
Mentally and physically I was drained. My body would not let me play at 100% anymore and to play at that top level, you have to be 100%. I made the decision to retire in August of 2017 and start the next chapter of my life. Being a professional tennis player was my dream since I was a little girl watching Wimbledon and I got to live my dream for almost ten years! I am very proud of my accomplishments and have no regrets about my career. I was fortunate to play the sport I love as much job for many years and tennis will have a special place in my heart forever.