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By: Lucky Letcord Podcast | Thursday March 26, 2020



It has been a strange, surreal two and a half weeks since Indian Wells was cancelled and the global grip of the Coronavirus pandemic ended sports—and life—as we know it. Three weeks into a shutdown that could last for a devastatingly long time we caught up with World No.19 Alison Riske to talk about what the experience has been like from a player’s perspective.

***INTERVIEW BEGINS AT 3:45***

Lucky Letcord Podcast

Alison Riske on Twitter

Alison Riske on Instagram

Alison Riske's WTA Profile


Riske is a consummate pro. She has notched eight consecutive Top 100 finishes and is sitting just one spot shy of her career-best ranking of 18. She was also in line to qualify for a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games as the fourth-ranked American, but that dream is also on hold as the IOC announced the postponement of the games on Tuesday, just a day before we reached Riske at her home in Orlando where she is making the most of her time at home with her husband Stephen Amritraj (they were married last July).


As the 29-year-old Pennsylvania native points out, we are all in this together, and while her practice and playing routine has been shattered for the foreseeable future she is intent upon making the most of her time as she continues the mental growth that has enabled her to blossom as a player over the last few seasons.

Tune into the full interview in podcast form (at the top of the page) to hear Riske’s thoughts on the difficulties of training when there is no official return date in sight, how she feels about the Olympic postponement, who she is leaning on for support and information during the crisis, what books and movies she is currently binging and why she is happy to enjoy a luxury that is incredibly rare for a professional tennis player—couch time!

Find the full transcribed interview below:

Tennis Now: Everybody processes this on a personal and professional level differently. Uncharted waters. How are you handling it?

Alison Riske: “We are in all of this together. As you said before the podcast began it is uncharted waters for us. We don’t really know what to expect from this but something we can rely on is each other and I’m hoping that each of us does our part in stopping Coronavirus from spreading.”

Tennis Now: Personally, how are you handling it?

Alison Riske: “I knew that question was coming… to be honest I’m not sure if it has actually set in quite yet, just because it honestly feels like we are kind of in the middle of an off-season despite it being, you know, March. It’s only been a couple of weeks for us, we’ve only had a few events cancelled as of now, and then obviously some are cancelled in the future but that hasn’t hit us yet. So I don’t know, I think come month two and we’re still in this questionable time, I think it’s really going to sink in then.

It’s tough. We don’t know. We obviously have an indefinite schedule. We don’t know how to go about our training days, at least from my perspective. I’m still training physically, but as far as tennis training goes it would be really hard for me to train like I’m used to for, say, three consecutive months. It’s something my body probably would have a tough time with and also mentally.

So I’m trying to play it smart and waiting to see a couple more decisions, maybe about grass season, which in my opinion is highly unlikely. Kind of just waiting for a little bit more of a green light.

“With that being said, I am loving being home, with my husband, and, I must say it’s not too difficult for me to be quarantined and not around humans, and just in my own home (laughing). From that perspective I can’t complain.”

Tennis Now: Where exactly are you? Do you have access to a court if you need it and a training facility if you need it?

Alison Riske: “I am home in Orlando and unfortunately USTA (Lake Nona) has closed. However we have a couple of public courts in our neighborhood so those are really easily accessible. My coach is in Tampa and he has courts around so the court aspect isn’t too difficult. Trying to just wait and see when the real training is going to begin.”


Tennis Now: It’s probably great to stop and have this confidence, but I imagine it’s also really difficult because I think you were looking for better and bigger things this year.

Alison Riske: “Absolutely. I think it kind of is a double-edged sword just as you suggested there. With that being said I did just play Doha and Dubai with a couple of nagging injuries that have been with me for a little bit of this year. Honestly, if this break didn’t come I was thinking about taking a little bit of time just to get things under control to get my mental in the right place.

“Honestly, if this break didn’t come I was thinking about taking a little bit of time just to get things under control to get my mental in the right place.”

“I honestly cannot complain about the timing. I try to look at the positives of every situation. It’s really out of our control. It’s one thing if I had the ability to change or do something about it, but in this scenario it is absolutely out of our control so you kind of have to take it as it is and treat it the best way that you possibly can.”

Tennis Now: With regard to your coach Billy Heiser who has had such an impact on your mental game. You gave some great interviews in Australia talking about the effect he has had. I wonder: Maybe it is now a mental game more than it is a physical game as you alluded to, because you can’t really ramp up your practice when you don’t know if you’re gonna be playing. We may not have a grass-court season, so what can you and Billy do to make Alison Riske a better player during this downtime?

"We don’t really know what to expect from this but something we can rely on is each other and I’m hoping that each of us does our part in stopping Coronavirus from spreading.”


Alison Riske: “I think, honestly, as I have previously stated in interviews, the mental game is the most important aspect of everything that we’re doing in our sport. For me to kind of have this time to dedicate really to just that, along with obviously some physical things, but in my opinion mental is harder and you don’t always have the chance to work at it in a calm environment, so yes, I am speaking to people right now to help me with my mental game.

“Billy has always been a part of that but during this time I am trying to work with people that specialize in that department and Billy is there to kind of keep it up to where it needs to be when I’m in tournaments. I’m trying to give Billy a rest because I think if I was on him every day about all my problems like I usually am, I don’t know if he’d be ready to travel with me when the time would come that tournaments begin again.”

“I’m trying to give Billy a rest because I think if I was on him every day about all my problems like I usually am, I don’t know if he’d be ready to travel with me when the time would come that tournaments begin again.”

Tennis Now: Can you elaborate a bit on some of the people you are working with and the types of things you are focusing on?

Alison Riske: “I’ll leave names out but I am working with a sports psychologist currently, and that’s been an awesome thing for me. It’s fairly new, and also I’ve worked with my husband’s cousin for more of a mental coach, so I kind of have people in different avenues but I am trying to use this time to designate to exactly that.”

Tennis Now: Yesterday we learned that the Tokyo Olympics will be postponed until 2021. This is an important bit of news for you—what is your reaction to that?

Alison Riske: “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but again, I can’t control it. I’ve put myself in whatever position I’m in, and I have faith that they will come up with some sort of I guess ranking situation for next year that will allow the best players to qualify, I have confidence that they’ll make the best choice in that arena and hopefully I would still have a chance of going in 2021.”


Tennis Now: So it’s a bit disappointing for you in terms of your position in terms of qualifying. As an American woman we all know how tough it is to actually qualify for the Olympics.

Alison Riske: “That’s right. But again I was not guaranteed a spot in the position I am currently in so I wasn’t celebrating just yet. The fact that it is not happening, obviously it’s disappointing because I had an opportunity or a chance to compete, but nothing was guaranteed, you know as of today, so there would have been a lot of hearsay and who knows what would have happened in the end.”

Tennis Now: It may not be a go for the grass season, but we’re all hoping to get back to tennis soon. I’m curious to know what you and your colleagues are thinking about in terms of trepidations, fears when it comes to getting back on tour. We know we are not going to have a vaccine for a while. What are you and your colleagues talking about in terms of getting back to tennis?

Alison Riske: “I honestly haven’t ventured down because we are not the specialists here, this isn’t are area of expertise, so we’re kind of going as the wind blows and as the professionals make these calls. Obviously we want to be out there and compete as soon as possible but with the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’d want the fans to be involved as much as possible—they bring so much to our sport so playing with an empty stadium obviously would not be ideal. But I think at the beginning if that’s something that needs to be happening just so it’s not affecting so many people’s lives, I think that would be an avenue to explore but again the fans are what makes tennis special so fingers crossed that we can all get back to it at the same time.”

Tennis Now: When you want to discuss some of these issues with your peers and whatnot, who do you turn to, do you drop a text on the WhatsApp group with the Player’s Council or are there certain voices that you look to hear from? Do you feel like there is a very open line of communication right now or for you is it more about a sense of ‘I’m going to just take some time and decompress and worry about these things later?’

Alison Riske: “I definitely am trying to stay out of the way. A lot of things are not in our control. I think that we can voice our opinions, and I feel like the tour is very lucky to have someone like Steve Simon at the top who I believe always has the players best interests at heart so I’ve dropped him a few emails to express some ideas that I’ve had whether it be the ranking situation or possible Olympic ideas or things of that sort.

“I also message with Stacy Allaster (USTA Head of Pro Tennis) just for things like Fed Cup or things of that nature, obviously Kathy Rinaldi (National Coach, Women’s Tennis) is in the mix as well, so we have a lot of people that I’m in contact with and I feel like we’re very lucky to have them in our corner, especially during this time.”

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but again, I can’t control it. I’ve put myself in whatever position I’m in, and I have faith that they will come up with some sort of I guess ranking situation for next year that will allow the best players to qualify."


Tennis Now: It’s amazing. Even as we have this conversation. The amount of things that tennis has lost and is going to lose in the next couple of months it’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

Alison Riske: “Yeah, it definitely is. Again, we’re all being affected. Maybe some more so than others, but everyone is experiencing everyday life that isn’t what they’re used to. So I think if nothing else, we have that going for us in a sense that we are in it together and we can kind of beat this if we all treat it together, support it together and do the right things together.”

Tennis Now: What are you doing for fun at home—how are you social distancing?

Alison Riske: “My husband and I have not left the house four—I think we’re going on 12 days now. We went out and did a huge grocery haul so we haven’t had to worry about that, but we’re starting to come to the point where we need to think about more grocery shopping, and I was looking into Amazon Fresh, so we don’t have to leave the house. But we are taking it very seriously. Especially my husband, who is actually the alarmist right now. That’s usually my position so it’s a little flipped right now. We’re taking it extremely seriously.


“I am watching some shows I’m reading some books, I’m having a lot of couch time which is honestly very welcome because we don’t get that a lot, and I’m just being home with my husband. We’re very rarely home together and just to enjoy the time and do some things around the house is something that I’m looking at from a positive angle.

Tennis Now: The bright side of things, right?

Alison Riske: “Exactly. Trying to.”

Tennis Now: Any books or movies that you want to recommend to the fans?

Alison Riske: I just started “Haben,” which is the about the first deafblind woman to graduate Harvard Law School, I’m in the very early stages, my mom sent it to me. I love autobiographies so it’s something I’m super looking forward to. We’ve been watching “Hunters” on Amazon which has been NUTS.

Tennis Now: I have not heard of it.

Alison Riske: “You have to check it out. It’s really intense, kind of alarming but super intriguing. It’s basically Nazis in America that are hunting Jews and vice-versa, so it’s kind of, umm, it’s crazy—it’s very suspenseful. I love “Homeland” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” those are our go-to weeklies, so we’re always tuning into those.”

Tennis Now: Good stuff, thanks for the recommendations. Ok, last question. We take a break. You are 19 in the world now. You’ve done some pretty amazing things over the last 52 weeks. If you had to look back and pick one moment that you would say is the high point of your pre-Coronavirus pandemic career, what would you say it is?

Alison Riske: “Oh god. That’s so funny. Well funny and also sad that we have to refer to it as that… Besides getting married last July I would have to say, in my tennis career, winning the title in Surbiton (defeated Rybarikova in the final, went on to win the title at ‘s-Hertogenbosch and reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in the same grass season) was my favorite moment because it kind of kick-started my grass-court season last year and it gave me a lot of confidence and I got a lot of encouragement from winning that tournament and it kind of propelled me to have a good summer and heading into the fall.

Tennis Now: That’s cool you didn’t just go with the Wimbledon quarterfinal run which you could have easily done.

Alison Riske: “Yes, well it definitely did not start there so I have to give credit where credit is due.”


 

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