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UGA Tennis' Perez's memorable week

357 days ago
John Frierson | UGAAA Staff Writer
Photo: Georgia Athletics

Some weeks are better than others. Some are busier than others. Some combine the two, and you can maybe even throw into the mix a dream becoming reality. That's what Georgia sophomore Ellen Perez experienced last week.

"It was definitely quite memorable," a rested Perez said Monday, after helping the No. 4-ranked women's tennis team earn a pair of victories during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, earning a spot in next month's National Team Indoor Championships.

Long before donning the red and black with her teammates and taking the court at the Lindsey Hopkins Indoor Courts on Friday, Perez's week began halfway around the world, literally, in Melbourne, Australia.

A native of Shellharbour, Australia, Perez moved to Melbourne when she was in high school and trained at the Tennis Australia Academy, located at famed Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open. Before last week Perez knew well what it was like to spend hours on the courts at Melbourne Park, but not what it was like to compete in the main draw of a Grand Slam event.

She does now. Because of her success as an amateur at pro events and with the Bulldogs - she was a doubles All-American last season with partner Lauren Herring - Perez was offered a wild card into the Australian Open main women's doubles draw. That's one way to start off a new year, making your Grand Slam debut.

Perez said the wild card had been in the works for quite a while, though a spot in the draw wasn't locked up until shortly before the event began. Perez knew she needed to find a partner, which led to a rare Georgia-Florida collaboration. Florida junior Belinda Woodcock, ranked No. 3 in singles, is from Melbourne and trained with the 12th-ranked Perez at the Tennis Australia Academy.

The two played doubles together some in the juniors, Perez said, so it was only natural that they team up again. When the draw was released, Perez and Woolcock found themselves in an all-Aussie affair, playing against pros Jessica Moore and Storm Sanders.

The veterans Moore and Sanders ended Perez's Australian Open experience in the first round, winning 6-4, 6-2.

"It was an awesome experience to be able to rub shoulders with all of the pro players at the Australian Open, and even to have that experience of going on court and playing my first doubles match at the Australian Open," Perez said, adding, "I think at the start I was a little nervous, just when I was warming up and maybe in the first game, but once you get started I think it all kind of went away and the goal to win came into play."

It was a winning experience, regardless of the result on the court. Overall, Perez said, her Grand Slam debut, with friends and family looking on courtside, was "pretty surreal."

And then came the grind of air travel. Perez said she got off the court Wednesday night and had an 11:25 a.m. flight back to Atlanta the next morning. All in all, it was basically 30 hours of travel from door to door, and she arrived back in Athens around 9:30 Thursday night, about 12 hours before she needed to show up at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex to prepare for last Friday's 1 p.m. match against Wyoming.

"I actually woke up about 4 a.m.; the day started about there because I couldn't sleep anymore, and I felt OK starting the match," said Perez, who plays No. 1 singles and doubles for Georgia. "But as the singles progressed I was starting to get really tired, and especially after the match it all hit me. I crashed pretty hard afterwards."

Georgia coach Jeff Wallace saw Perez run out of gas. She and partner Mariana Gould won their doubles match and the Bulldogs clinched the victory 4-0 before Perez could finish off her singles match.

"You could see her kind of hit the wall a little bit about three-quarters of the way through her singles match," Wallace said. "Still, I thought she did a great job after all that travel and being that busy."

The Georgia women didn't play Saturday but they did practice at 6:45 in the morning, after which Perez, the toll of the tennis, travel and jet-lag hitting her hard, "crashed" again for the rest of the day. She awoke rested and ready Sunday, and it showed.

Against Old Dominion, the No. 14-ranked duo of Perez and Gould won in doubles and then Perez cruised to a 6-1, 6-0 win in singles. Georgia beat the Monarchs 4-0 to qualify for the National Indoors.

"Her results were fantastic [Sunday]," Wallace said. "She was just in top form."

And it's getting a taste of tennis' top level that can help elevate Perez's form even higher. Not that she's in any rush to stop being a Georgia Bulldog.

"Obviously the Australian Open experience was awesome and I won't ever forget that, but just being able to come back and rush back to be with my team was just amazing," she said. "I would do anything to be back here to play for them. That's obviously two great things I accomplished in one week and I'll always remember it."

Georgia is back in action at the indoor courts at 4 p.m. Saturday, when the Lady Bulldogs host No. 20 Clemson.