Gates Mills Native Lauren Davis Hopes to Shine During This Week's New Pro Tennis Tournament in Cleveland
A new professional tennis tournament brings 48 of the world’s best players to The Flats in Cleveland this week. Tennis in the Land is the first-ever pro women’s event in the city.
Among those in the field is Gates Mills native Lauren Davis, who turned pro in 2011. She reached a career high of No. 26 in 2017. She's currently ranked No. 97 in the world, and is No. 15 among U.S. players.
She says this will be the first time all of her family and friends have been able to attend one of her tournaments.
A late start
Davis started playing tennis at the age of 9, which is considered a late start for most of the top competitors.
"I played a lot of other sports, so I think that's why I started tennis later," she said.
At age 13, she said her parents made her choose between soccer and tennis. She chose tennis, and put all of her focus into it.
At 16, she moved to Boca Raton, Fl., to join the elite Evert Tennis Academy, a boarding school founded by former tennis star Chrissie Evert.
"My family wasn't a fan of it, but I was determined and I knew what I wanted. It was truly my decision," she said.
Davis said she feels like it was the right time to pursue tennis as a career because she was still able to have her "fair share" of high school experiences.
"At the time I thought I would go to college and take a scholarship, but life had different plans for me," she said.
"You really just gotta learn how to get back up the next day and start training again, and have a vision and goals and dreams that propel you forward."
Davis made her debut on the ITF Junior Circuit in 2008 at the age of 14, via wild card at the 2008 US Open. She won a number of junior tournaments, earning her a No 3. ranking. She ended her junior career after a third-round appearance at the 2011 Australian Open.
Davis turned pro in 2011, and had her best year in 2017, winning her first WTA title at the Auckland Open en route to a No. 26 ranking.
"It's quite an experience, learning how to manage the highs and the lows and basically lose almost every week unless you win the tournament. You really just gotta learn how to get back up the next day and start training again, and have a vision and goals and dreams that propel you forward," she said.
And she described the pressure she's felt to succeed.
"I've definitely struggled with some discouragement in the past. I was just so focused on winning and not losing, and on rankings and moving up and defending points. But as I've gotten older, in the past two or three years, I've started to just take a step back and just realize that the most important thing at the end of the day is if I'm having fun and enjoying myself and that small, incremental progress is the most important," she said.
And Davis says lately she's been trying to recapture some of the magic she had when she reached that career-high ranking of 26.
"I think to myself, 'What was I doing at that time? Who was I being?' And I definitely try and tap into that these days and try to emulate the person I was being back then. I felt very free on the court, was just enjoying myself, and I was not so focused on winning. I was just enjoying the lifestyle. It's definitely tough—the level obviously— when you get into the top 30, but I think that's definitely where I belong and that's where I'm going to try and go next."
A focus on mental health
Current world No. 2 Naomi Osaka has been in the headlines lately for refusing to give post-match press conferences, citing social anxiety. She ended up withdrawing from the French Open to focus on her mental health.
Davis agrees that mental health needs to be talked about more among athletes.
"For me, I've struggled immensely with it, whether it's panic attacks or just a lot of anxiety. And I've never come out and said anything about it. But I think it is important to do, because once you do so, there are so many more people who are struggling with that and a lot of people who can relate, so you don't feel like as much of an island."
And she says the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more challenging for athletes.
"For over a year, we were in a strict bubble at these tournaments, not being able to leave hotels. It's been difficult, especially not having an outlet to even go out for a walk. But it's gotten better, because we're not in a bubble anymore in the states."