PRO TENNIS

Riske opens her mind to success

January 16, 2014 07:36 AM
Alison Riske celebrates after defeating Yanina Wickmayer in her second-round match.

By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
 
MELBOURNE, Australia
– Alison Riske began the 2013 season with a towering mountain to climb, as she hadn’t won a single WTA main-draw match in 2012 and was ranked a lowly No. 179.
 
But she didn’t lose faith that she could develop the type of threatening game that could make her a force on the WTA.
 
A year later, she entered the 2014 Australian Open ranked No. 51, and after crushing Yanina Wickmayer to reach the third round, regardless of what happens in the coming week, she will crack the Top 50 for the first time.
 
Until the Washington tournament last summer, she had not won a WTA main-draw match on hard courts. The flat-hitting Riske had had tremendous success on grass, but longer rallies were not her forte. But she polished up her attack, became more patient and, at the 2013 US Open, she shocked 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and reached the fourth round.
 
“I think I understand the game a lot better and understand myself more than ever,” Riske said. “That makes for an all-around package that has come together. I have confidence now, and I plan on keeping it there.”
 
A native of Pittsburgh who now lives in Maryland, Riske spent the off-season working with her coach, Yves Boulais, and his wife, the former WTA player Patricia Hy. She said that she went beyond the standard two-a-day routine and did four-a-days, switching between on-court practice and fitness. Her fitness and technique improved, but so did her mindset.
 
“Amidst all the training and gym workouts, you need to learn to rest your mind and have an open mind at the same time, too, which is the most crucial thing,” she said. “You need to get something out of it."

The 23-year-old Riske is a good-natured person, but she is also sensitive, which is why it took her so long to start using the social media tool Twitter, where at times fans can be tough on players.
 
After 2013 Wimbledon, though, the woman who goes by the handle @Riske4rewards gave it a whirl and is now enjoying herself.
 
“I’ve had so much fun with that,” she said. “People I meet in certain cities, they tweet me, and I think that’s pretty cool.”
 
She then added with a hearty laugh, “I hope to provide some enlightenment to certain people.”
 
Riske is a chummy sort and considers fellow U.S. player Melanie Oudin to be her best friend. Oudin was diagnosed with the muscle-damaging condition rhabdomyolysis last November, but Riske says she is back on court training again and is thrilled.
 
“It was a little scary there for a while,” she said.
 
Melbourne Park has been scorching the past three days, with temperatures hitting 105 degrees or higher. The forecast for Friday, when Riske faces ninth seed Angelique Kerber, is for around a balmy 110 degrees.
 
Riske recalled playing in similar heat during the second round of qualifying at the 2013 Australian Open, when she wanted to get off the court as fast as possible because it felt like she was having an “out-of-body experience.”
 
She knows she will have to stay strong against Kerber, a tough grinder who loves to wear foes down.
 
“I don’t know if you can prepare [for this heat], other than practicing in a sauna,” Riske said. “You hydrate and go out there and give it what you got and see if you can handle it.”

U.S. player notes:

  • Lauren Davis is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the toughest outs on tour. The 5-foot-2 sparkplug has contested six long matches already this year, and in the second round of the Australian Open, she knocked out former Top-20 player Julia Goerges, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, to earn herself a third-round match against Canada’s Genie Bouchard, whom she knows from the juniors.
     
  • Sam Querrey upended 23rd seed Ernests Gulbis in straight sets in what he described as one of his best serving performances ever. He feels that if he plays at his top level that he has a chance to knock off 15th seed Fabio Fognini and reach the fourth round of a major for the second time in his career.
     
  • Americans Donald Young and Sloane Stephens pulled off incredible victories on Thursday, with Young upending No. 24 Andreas Seppi, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, and Stephens coming back from 3-5 down in the third set to best Ajla Tomljanovic, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. Young will next face Japan’s Kei Nishikori, while Stephens will confront Ukrainian teen Elina Svitolina.

***

For more coverage of Americans at the 2014 Australian Open, please also read:

Sock ready to make his move sooner rather than later
Refreshed Querrey ready to take more risks
Mattek-Sands going with her own flow
For Harrison, big year and big expectations
Teenager Keys ready to go

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