The Australian tennis ace we never knew

Pursuing an education has kept Ellen Perez out of the public eye but now the Australian is intent on making her name in tennis.

Making her grand slam debut in New York is a decent start, but even Perez understands why few fans back home have ever heard of her.

“I don’t think many people have,” the 20-year-old from the NSW South Coast told AAP before her US Open first-round clash with Zhang Shuai on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST).

Perez didn’t take the traditional route to Flushing Meadows.

After growing up in Shellharbour, the one-time Australian under-14 champion opted to pursue long-distance education and moved to Melbourne at 16.

While living with a homestay family, Perez trained with the National Academy for the next two years before accepting a scholarship at the University of Georgia.

“I always do value education. That was a big side of things,” she said.

“When I was 18, I was deciding whether to go pro or whether to go to college.

“I’d had a lot of injuries and setbacks and so I decided it was best to go to college and at least have a back-up degree and go from there and progress my game.”

Two years into her sports management degree, Perez surprised many this month with successive victories over Naiktha Bains, Arina Rodionova and Ashleigh Barty to win Australia’s US Open wildcard playoff in Florida.

“I’m sure a lot of people are probably saying how did she get the wildcard but to be able to say you’ve beaten some of the best players in Australian tennis makes me feel like I deserve to be here,” Perez said.

“So I’m definitely really excited.

“When I was younger, I was always just the outsider. Like, if they’d take the top four on tour, I was always about six.

“So I kind of always missed out on those opportunities, but I kind of always persisted.

“Tennis is definitely where I want to go. I want to go professional and I’m trying to make that transition.

“Whether that’s before I finish college or after, that’s my goal.”

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