Ellen Perez will be waving the flag for the Illawarra as she aims to win her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon next month.
The Shellharbour export has just come off the back of a career-best run at the French Open where she progressed all the way to the semi-final with her American doubles partner Nicole Melichar-Martinez.
“There’s always a bit of a bittersweet feeling when you get so close to achieving a dream or a goal and just fall short,” Ellen told Region. “But overall the result is still a really good achievement.
“Last year we lost the first round so if you had told me we would make semi-finals the following year, we would 100 per cent take that.”
The performance saw her crack a top 10 world ranking in doubles, which she said is a “pretty cool feeling”.
“I had a lot of coaches and friends told me I could be top 10 in doubles but I never really knew if I’d ever get there or believed in it myself,” she said.
Ellen hoped the boost will help the pair go the extra mile at Wimbledon.
“My partner and I feed off feeling confident and we both love playing on grass,” Ellen said. “Wimbledon last year was where we first had success together as a team so we have lots of fond memories.”
It’s been a long journey for Ellen, who started playing tennis when she was just seven years old.
Her parents John and Mitz Perez said that as a child Ellen thrived in whatever sport she tried – whether it was soccer, softball or backyard cricket.
“From a young age Ellen showed a lot of natural talent in sport and it was pretty much every sport, it wasn’t just tennis,” John said.
“We saw something very unique in regards to having that ability, that hand-eye coordination in everything,” Mitz said.
Ellen admitted that she didn’t love tennis when she was young and preferred the team environment of soccer, but her dad found ways to get her on the court.
“When she was little I used to bribe her to go and have a hit with me,” John said. “We’d always have to stop for some lollies after we had the hit.”
Ellen said her dad was her inspiration for pursuing the sport and that her family played a huge role in her success.
“They always took time off work to drive me to training and tournaments,” she said. “They believed in me from day one and pretty much did whatever they could to help me make something of it.”
When she was 16, Ellen made her first big step towards pursuing tennis professionally when she moved to Melbourne to train full-time with the Tennis Australia National Academy.
“We realised then that she needed more hours, more hours on the court,” John said. “Once she made that commitment to move to Melbourne to that next level, that’s when I thought yeah this is what she wants to do.”
Her commitment and dedication continued to grow, but despite her success she still battles with self-doubt.
“Throughout my whole career my belief in whether I was good enough has always wavered,” she said. “You take so many tough, embarrassing losses along the way that make you question if you are good enough.”
And she said dealing with the expectations of being in the international spotlight is an ongoing challenge for all athletes.
“In tennis, you lose almost every week, and you must be good at dealing with losses,” Ellen said. “If you can’t learn and grow in defeat then you won’t ever make it.”
“On top of the expectations you place on yourself, you have fans and gamblers out there who expect certain results. The biggest challenge now with all tennis players is how to deal with these people who abuse and threaten you after your matches.”
And she deals with many of these challenges alone, spending at least eight months of the year overseas.
“There’s really no rest because as soon as one tournament finishes, she packs her bags and she’s off to the next one,” Mitz said.
“It’s obviously not ideal and difficult not being able to see family, friends and my boyfriend,” Ellen said. “Not to mention missing a lot of momentous occasions like weddings.”
Each January she returns home for the Australian Open, which she said was her favourite tournament because her friends and family can watch.
“I know she thrives on it but at the same time it does add stress because she does love the interaction with people,” Mitz said.
And it’s not just playing in Australia that Ellen loves, it’s also playing for Australia.
She said a career highlight was putting on the green and gold in Tokyo 2020.
“I always dreamt of going to the Olympics and representing my country at the highest pinnacle of the sport,” Ellen said.
And she still has more success in her sights.
“Doubles-wise, I want to be number one in the world,” Ellen said.
“I’d love to win the gold medal with Storm Hunter in Paris 2024 and lastly, I want to win a grand slam.
She’ll get the chance to go for one of those dreams on 3 July in Wimbledon.