Nineteen-year-old Texas freshman Aeriel Ellis of Hayward, Calif., has had an outstanding start to her collegiate career, with results that include winning the singles title at the ITA Texas Regional Championships. One of the highest-ranked freshman in the ITA Division I National Singles Rankings at No. 17, Ellis recently took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for USTA.com.
USTA.com: As one of the top-ranked juniors in the class of 2008, you were recruited by a number of top programs. Why did you select Texas?
Aeriel Ellis: It’s a great school where you’re surrounded by great athletes. I really like Patty Fendick-McCain and have a lot of respect for her. She and I have the one-handed backhand in common. I really liked the team and felt it was the best fit for me.
USTA.com: Did you ever think about going pro right from juniors, or did you always know you wanted to go to college? Was that a difficult decision for you to make?
Aeriel Ellis: I knew I would be able to test things out on tour without penalty, but I knew that going to college was the best way to go. I can always go pro afterward.
USTA.com: Being from Northern California, was there any culture shock when you got to Austin?
Aeriel Ellis: No, not at all. It reminds me of Berkeley (Calif.). It’s a really diverse place, and I like it here.
USTA.com: What is a typical day in Austin like for you?
Aeriel Ellis: School, practice, conditioning, study hall and sleep.
USTA.com: Is it difficult to balance all your classes and schoolwork with your tennis?
Aeriel Ellis: Yes, but it’s easier now after getting the first semester out of the way. I always try to stay ahead of everything and get my work done early so I don’t have anything to worry about.
USTA.com: What players did you look up to growing up? Or pattern your game after?
Aeriel Ellis: Roger Federer and Justine Henin. Justine is like me – she’s short and has a one-handed backhand.
USTA.com: As one of the highest-ranked freshman in the ITA National Singles Rankings, your college career is off to a tremendous start. What were the biggest adjustments you had to make in transitioning from junior tennis to college tennis?
Aeriel Ellis: Adjusting to the different schedules. In junior tennis, I was usually in the top 10, and then when I got to college, I didn’t have a ranking. It was nice to not have any pressure, and that helped me a lot.
USTA.com: Your coach, Patty Fendick-McCain, was a top collegiate and then pro and is a tremendous coach. What have you learned from her since coming to Austin?
Aeriel Ellis: Patty has definitely helped me out with my mental game. She has made me fight harder in matches. She teaches me to play hard and not give up.
USTA.com: What are your goals for yourself and for your team this season?
Aeriel Ellis: Individually, I want to be an All-American, and as a team, we want to win the NCAA Championships.
USTA.com: What’s the best thing about being a Texas Longhorn?
Aeriel Ellis: We have great support and all of the resources we could possibly need. But I also love walking through airports with my Texas gear on, and people will give me the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who want to play in college?
Aeriel Ellis: Make sure your college choice is your own decision because it’s something that affects your own life much more so than others.