Cristelle clear (Women’s Tennis)

Martin Fox

For most of us, playing a professional sport sounds like the ideal job. We imagine traveling around the world, playing a game we love for money and fame. But after a year of playing tennis on the WTA tour, Cristelle Grier was ready to call it quits.

After graduating from Putney High School in southwest London in 2001, the Northwestern freshman played for a year on the WTA tour as an amateur. But in contrast to the glamorous life of the professional tennis player she imagined, she found a world of solitude and loneliness.

“It’s a very lonely sport,” Grier said. “It’s a hard thing to see people who have been on the tour for 10 years not making any money and still staying in dingy hotels.”

NU coach Claire Pollard, who played professional tennis for four months after graduating from Mississippi State in 1989, knows firsthand that the life of a professional tennis player is far from easy. Pollard said the hardest part about playing professionally was the absence of a support system and a guaranteed income, which created a competitive atmosphere that made socializing with other players on the tour more difficult.

“The girls tend to take what happens on the court off the court as well, making it that much harder to make friends,” she said.

With the WTA experience behind her, Grier is No. 6 in the nation and flourishing at NU.

“There’s a great support system here,” Grier said. “It’s great to know that your win contributes to something bigger than yourself.”

As a child growing up in Surrey, England, Grier said she played “every sport that was offered,” including track, javelin and netball, a basketball-like sport where no dribbling is allowed.

Grier’s tennis career began at age 3, when she played “short tennis,” a game similar to tennis but played on a smaller court with plastic rackets and foam balls for young children. At age 9 Grier moved up to the full-size court, but it wasn’t until she was 14 that tennis became the most important of Grier’s athletic endeavors.

In September 1997, Grier told her father that she wanted to take tennis more seriously. Roger Taylor, recently named captain of the British Davis Cup team, became Grier’s coach for the next four years. Grier trained with Taylor at nearby Wimbledon and credits him with inspiring her to take her game to the next level.

While on the WTA circuit, Grier earned an overall record of 25-38 against some of the world’s toughest international competition. Because of her amateur status while on tour, money she won could only subsidize her travel expenses.

Although Grier missed out on taking prize money home, staying an amateur was important in keeping her future options open. Grier said she planned to eventually play tennis at an American university, but was wary of joining a team, since she had never played on one before.

“I wanted to give myself at least a year (on the tour) just to try it out and see what I would do rather than get trapped in a four-year situation not having had team experience,” she said.

While looking at schools, NU’s straightforward approach made it the most attractive choice.

“It seemed like NU wanted to get to know me as a person rather than saying, ‘Oh she can play tennis. Let’s get her,'” Grier said.

So far, Grier’s career at NU has been nothing but spectacular. The freshman went 10-6 in the fall season and in the dual season has put together a 21-match winning streak — a new NU record. Grier said her happiness with both the team and the school have played a large role in her success on the court.

“The success you have on the court is not just on the court,” she said. “You’ve got to be comfortable in the environment off the court.”

Grier’s plans for after college are uncertain. While she would consider giving the WTA tour another shot, she isn’t in any rush to finish at NU.

“My game has progressed in the past nine months more than it has in the past four years,” Grier said. “So as long as there are still steps to take there, I have no plans to leave NU.”

At the moment, Grier’s personal goal is the same as the rest of her the Cats — win the Big Ten Championship. After that, the Cats will eye the NCAA Championships in May. NU is back in action against Michigan State on Saturday and Michigan on Sunday in Evanston.