Join Date: Mar 2002
It almost seems indecent to call a 19-year-old tennis player a “late bloomer”. But it’s all relative, and we are talking about a sport where players as young as 15 are in the top 100 of the WTA rankings.
At Indian Wells this year, we took time out to chat with Shenay Perry, who is ranked 127th at the advanced age of 19, and appears to have the tools to keep rising higher.
Perry’s 2004 campaign is off to a fine start. She began the year ranked 143rd, started the year well in Auckland, where she reached the quarterfinals with a win over Virginia Ruano Pascual, the highest ranked victim of Perry‘s career so far. At Indian Wells she reached the second round, defeating a player ranked in the 70s, Julia Vakulenko, before falling in straight sets to eventual semifinalist Nathalie Dechy. “I hope this can be a breakthrough year for me if I stay healthy and play well,” admitted Perry, who is taking it a tournament at a time. “I’m not really looking forward.”
Perry hails from Washington, D.C., and as a child played often at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center, the same facility that hosts an ATP tournament every summer. “I started playing at 4,” recalls the soft-spoken Perry. “My dad started me. He played a little bit at college, I think a year, at Morris Brown [a college in Atlanta]. He used to play with his friends and I started to play too. And I’ve just been playing ever since then.”
Her father, Ron, was a firefighter when Shenay was growing up, and now teaches tennis full-time. Ron was Shenay‘s first coach, but has backed away from that role in recent years. “He still has a little bit of a role with me, but now he’s a dad, and it’s actually working out pretty good.”
By age 11 Shenay showed enough potential that her family moved to Florida, so she could train at the famous tennis academies in the Sunshine State. She made a stop at the Rick Macci academy, before training at the famous school operated by Nick Bollettieri. It was there that Shenay found her biggest motivation to chase her tennis dreams.
“I always wanted to be a pediatrician when I was younger, and I was just going to go to college on a tennis scholarship. But when I moved to Bollettieri’s it was a little bit different, and I just realized that tennis was what I wanted to do. There, I had people around me helped me realize that I had some potential. I saw that it was some thing I could do, pursue.”
Because Perry didn’t really make a full-out commitment to tennis until she was 14, she found herself lagging in her tennis development compared to the best prospects of the same age, some of whom were already winning professional matches. Shenay elected not to play the international junior circuit, because she thought she wasn’t ready for that level of competition. “I wasn’t where I wanted to be in the juniors. I was pretty bad,” laughed the modest Perry. “I actually didn’t know if this was something I wanted to do. So I went straight to pros when I was 16 or something like that. I think it’s good in a way because I didn’t know… Is this something I really want to do? Is this the lifestyle I want to live? So at 16 I gave myself two years to decide, do I want to go to college or play in the pros.”
Perry has no regrets about chasing a pro career. “I’m happy to be doing this. And I’m earning a living. I live at home, so that helps,” Shenay adds with a chuckle.
When she is in action, Perry is a quick, slashing player who is pleasant to watch. The first thing that struck us about Perry on the court was her great speed. We suspect that if she succeeds in become a fixture on the tour, she might be recognized as one of the fastest players in tennis. When asked to describe her game, Perry said, “I’d say I’m an all-court player. And basically, my movement. If I move pretty well, I play pretty well. And then I like to move in and get to the net as many times as I can.”
We are now seeing increasing ethnic diversity in tennis, and Perry is one of a handful of promising young African-American pros. Shenay agrees that the Williams sisters can be credited for the fact that African-American kids are taking up the game in increasing numbers. “I think that they’re a factor,” said Perry, who does not know Venus or Serena personally. “What they’ve done for women’s tennis is tremendous, and for African-Americans in general. But,” she adds, “if I try to emulate anyone it would probably be Pete Sampras.” Given the calm, businesslike determination that Perry displays on court, it’s easy to see the Sampras influence. We wish the personable and talented Shenay Perry good luck as she endeavours to establish herself as a force on the pro tour.