As the summer progressed and the tennis game of Peters Township native Alison Riske gained more and more momentum, she was being pushed closer and closer toward a major decision that would significantly affect her life.
"I thought the biggest decision of my life was when I decided if I wanted to go to Duke or Vanderbilt," Riske said. "And then this came about, and it was a lot more difficult."
A recent Peters Township High School graduate, Riske, one of the area's top tennis talents of the past decade, reversed her decision to attend Vanderbilt by electing to turn professional.
"It was a hard decision, but really, at the same time, it was really easy," Riske said. "Just all signs pointed to concentrating on tennis at this point in time. Of course, my family had questions, but the beautiful thing about it is everyone was excited for me and happy for me regardless of what I chose.
"It all weighed on my shoulders. I wished someone had just said, 'This is what you're doing' so I didn't have to choose myself. But now I'm really at peace with what I'm doing, and I'm working hard, focusing on tennis and not what if I did this or what if I did that. I'm just playing."
Riske's first match as a professional was a U.S. Open qualifier last week. Riske lost to Yulia Fedossova from France in a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 marathon that lasted more than 2 1/2 hours.
"I know it can get a lot better in the next tournament from what happened in the first one," Riske said with a laugh.
Riske, who will spend time at a family residence in Hilton Head, S.C., as well as at home in Peters, last fall had chosen to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., on a scholarship and was planning on a field of study in business. In fact, she was already registered for her classes and dormitory residence. Her older sister, Sarah, had previously played for Vanderbilt.
She was to move into her on-campus residence Aug. 22 and classes began at the Southeastern Conference school last week. The Commodores' tennis schedule was to get under way next weekend with the SEC Coaches Classic.
But as the summer unfolded, Riske's performance at several USTA Women's Pro Circuit events she entered (while maintaining her amateur status so she could keep her college eligibility) made a decision to turn professional now increasingly wise. By the end of July she had advanced to the semifinals of three singles tournaments and to the final of two doubles events. The tournaments generally have purses of $10,000 to $50,000.
At age 19 -- considered well into the prime for professional tennis players -- Riske began to weigh her options more seriously.
"It basically came down to about two weeks before the Open -- at that point, I didn't even know if I was getting in at all -- I kind of decided this is the time for me to go for it," Riske said. "I have some momentum.
"It's unfortunate, but tennis has an age frame when you're most liable to succeed, and I feel like the longer I wait, the less chance I have, so I just decided to go for it now, and I can always go to school later.
"I was playing good tennis and I was getting momentum and to have that be interrupted by having to go to college and be specializing in two things -- tennis and the classroom -- something's going to suffer, and right now I don't want that to be my tennis.
"I was going to be a student-athlete, but I can just be an athlete now and a student later. I feel like I'll be able to focus more on each of them and put my full attention on each. Right now, I'm going to play my tennis and definitely look to get my education later."
In addition to the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger tournaments, Riske plans on entering some WTA events.
"I'm hoping just to keep improving and working on my game," Riske said. "Hopefully, I'll get my ranking to the point I can be competing in Grand Slams, whether it be qualifying or in the main draw.
"You always have to start somewhere, and I'm just starting. I'm going to give it the best shot I can."