As a professional tennis player, Alison Riske has enjoyed experiences most 20-year-olds could only dream of.
From walking the historic sights of Paris to holding a koala in Brisbane, Australia, Riske spends roughly half the year competing in tournaments across the globe in the hopes of becoming one of the elite players on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour.
However, no matter where she is, Riske said she is always looking for a way to make it back home to Peters Township.
“My family and I are always wondering when I’m going to come back home,” Riske said. “It’s tough with my schedule to find a week where I’m not competing or training, but I try to at least make it back home once a year.”
Riske grew up playing tennis on the public courts in Peters and was coached by Jan Irwin from the age of 8 in Upper St. Clair. She also attended Peters Township Middle School.
“I loved growing up here because our township was so close, and I made a lot of close friends who I still keep in touch with,” said Riske. “Our school system was phenomenal and I actually really liked doing projects and writing papers. Being close to Pittsburgh was definitely nice as well.”
However, as the sectional and national tennis titles began to rack up for Riske, she eventually enrolled in an online school at the beginning of high school so she could have more flexibility in traveling to tournaments.
Riske eventually became the top-ranked junior player in the country, but opted for college and enrolled at Vanderbilt University. However, two weeks before classes began, she had a sudden change of heart that drastically altered the course of her life.
“I ended up turning pro literally two weeks before classes began,” said Riske, who made her pro debut in 2009 as a wildcard into the qualifying of the U.S. Open. It was a whirlwind at that time, but once a sponsor came out to help us, that made it a different ballgame.”
The decision also resulted in Riske moving from Peters to Hilton Head, SC, where she now trains at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy. Riske’s mother, Carol, also made the move down with her.
“I had come down to Hilton Head periodically while my older sister, Sarah, was competing as a pro on the WTA Tour,” said Riske. “I was supposed to be down here for two months and then just ended up never leaving. Everything that I need here is close by and its been so nice to be right by the beach.”
Within two months of turning pro, Riske won her title at the challenger level, considered to be the minor leagues of the pro tennis circuit. The following summer, she reached the semifinals of a WTA event in Birmingham, United Kingdom, where she took a set off former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova before losing in three sets, in addition to making her debut in the main draw of Wimbledon.
After winning three consecutive challenger titles last fall, her ranking was high enough to gain direct entry into the main draw of the Australian Open. Since turning pro, her ranking has gone from No. 344 to No. 114.
The experience on tour also has became a family affair, as Riske’s older sister has assumed coaching duties while she travels on tour.
“We have our moments like anybody would when you’re with them all the time, but it really is a functional relationship,” Riske said. “I look up to Sarah so much and want to listen what she has to say. Plus, we’ll throw hotel room dance parties when we’re on the road and those are always fun.”
Riske said that when she does make it back to Peters, there are a few must-dos on the itinerary, including dinner at Hibachi Japan, catching up with old friends at the Starbucks on Route 19 and shopping at South Hills Village. She also tries to make it to Pittsburgh to explore the South Side.
As for school, Riske said that she plans to enroll in college once she’s done and that focusing on tennis now actually might be beneficial to her academic pursuits.
“I was going to go the business route at Vanderbilt because it would be easier to finish while playing tennis there, but I wasn’t as interested in it. Since I’ll just be able to focus on school when I go, I’d love to do something with medicine and just be able to take the classes that I’d find interesting.”