Ellen Perez is the first to admit her grand slam debut didn’t go to plan. A 6-1, 6-1 drubbing to Zhang Shuai at the 2016 US Open, a stark reminder of how far she was from the sport’s elite.
Now, a little over two years later, the Shellharbour product will once again contest a grand slam singles match and this time she feels prepared to compete.
Perez received a favourable first-round matchup in Chinese world number 64 Yafan Wang. However, a potential date with Australian star Ashleigh Barty looms should she defeat Wang.
“The US Open was the starting point of everything,” Perez said. “It was the first time I was playing against those top players and first time being around that level of tennis.
“That was the building blocks of what was to come. From that, the nerves have gone down a bit and I feel I’m able to compete against more girls of that level. Having that US Open experience will help.
“I’ve done a lot of hard work to put myself in a good position. I definitely feel ready to compete, I feel I’ll be able to compete at a high level and give it a crack and be right there with my opponents.”
The 23-year-old was handed an Australian Open singles wildcard by tournament organisers last week after an impressive finish to 2018 that saw her climb to a career-high ranking of 175. The spring saw Perez reach four ITF singles finals and take out two ITF doubles tournaments with Arina Rodionova.
Perez’s finish to the year came after a stilted start in which she was forced to overcome niggling injuries and struggled on the court. She credits those tough times, however, with helping set her up for a successful finish to the year.
“I’ve had to work extremely hard and I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices throughout the year. I’ve worked just as hard at the end of the year as I did at the start.
“That work has now started to pay off, things are starting to click. All that hard work from the whole year has led to this point.”
Having worked so hard to get to this point, it could be easy for Perez to take a breather and simply enjoy her Australian Open experience. That, she vows, won’t be the case.
Instead, Perez is hoping to use the opportunity as launching pad for a successful 2019.
“It’s a dream come true to play in a home grand slam, but there’s still work to be done.
“This wildcard opens up a lot of opportunities for me. The best way to repay Tennis Australia is to keep working hard and show I was deserving of it. It makes me want to do well and keep competing.
“This is another great opportunity to play the top players, spend time training with them and see how they go about their business.
“Then hopefully I can play more WTA events in 2019, the ultimate goal is to crack that top 100, I’d love to play more grand slams off my own ranking, rather than with a wildcard.”
Perez will also contest the women’s doubles competition, once again partnering with Rodionova.