Former Wollongong player aces tennis scholarship in US

Wollongong-raised Ellen Perez stretches out at training on Thursday. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Wollongong-raised Ellen Perez stretches out at training on Thursday. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Promising teen Ellen Perez hopes to use the competitive American college circuit as a launching pad to a professional tennis career.

Perez heads to the US next week to begin a four-year scholarship at the University of Georgia.

The 18-year-old left-hander has lived in Melbourne for the past two years, training with Tennis Australia's top juniors.

She decided to put feelers out about college scholarships this year and didn't have to wait long for replies.

"Tennis Australia has a lot of contacts and we were able to put out an email to all the schools and they got back to me," Perez said.

"The goal I'm going over there with is to just go for it the first year and see how I go. The plan is always to leave and go professional at any point, but whether that's in a year or four, I don't know yet.

"There's a lot of match play against good players, so just being able to train in a really good environment and have a lot of matches will help develop my game."

Perez grew up in Wollongong and was introduced to tennis at age seven by her father.

She had her first lessons at the Oak Flats Tennis Club and attended nearby Corpus Christi Catholic High before moving to Melbourne.

Tennis has already taken her to Thailand, Fiji and the Philippines.

"I did Distance Education for year 11 and 12. It was tough but it was necessary so I could travel and play," she said.

"It wasn't until about February this year that I started contacting a few schools. At Tennis Australia there's no guarantees you're going to keep your spot, but at college you're guaranteed four years.

"Tennis Australia would love to keep me, but I thought I should have a look for myself.

"It's hard to beat when you get a scholarship. Everything's paid for and I can play tennis and have an education at the end."

Perez plans studying sports management, though she says "it could change".

After living away from home for the past two years she is confident of adjusting to life on a university campus.

"I don't get homesick," she said. "There's going to be 20 or so Aussies at different colleges over there and I know most of them, but I don't know if we'll see each other much because we're in different conferences."

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