I couldn’t think of a better title for this post. One week ago, I saw my name inside the U.S. Open Qualifying list, and there weren't enough words on my Instagram post to say what it all really meant to me.
When I concluded my college tennis career in May 2013, I deemed myself finished with tennis. Throughout my senior year, I told myself that this was it. This was as high as I was going to ride my tennis and was set on moving on with life as every college graduate does. Get a job, make money, advance your career, maybe go to grad school, and save for a house.
My parents would have supported me in whatever I chose to do, but it was my coaches that wouldn't let me give it up. Richard Gallien, my USC coach at the time, kept reminding me about my love for the game. West Nott, my other USC coach back then, insisted that my best tennis was still ahead of me. Then there was Kal, my personal coach since I was 15, convincing me day by day that he can still make me better.
With my parent's love and support, I was able to go on a whim and pursue this career as a professional tennis player. At the start of my life on tour, I would have seen being top 400 as a relatively successful career for me. When I snuck barely inside the top 300, I told myself, "Danielle, you're completely overachieving."
As I got to the mid 200 range, the reality started to settle in that a grand slam qualifying was totally possible. That's where things got tough. For the past 2 years, I have been within striking distance of a grand slam qualifying, but something always came in the way when I was about to push through that extra bit in the rankings. Whether it be injuries or fallible mindsets, a setback manages to appear when I get close.
Every cut I failed to make ate at me inside. I felt it killing me softly when my ranking dropped below 300 and I seriously thought of giving everything up again. As I was soul searching for the purpose behind this brutal grind, my expectations slowly disappeared. By the end of 2016, I figured I would give myself one more year to make a grand slam qualifying. If I was unsuccessful, I would hang it up and see what else life had to offer me off the court.
I had a far ways to climb, so I anticipated this past year to be more of a proper conclusion/goodbye to tennis than anything. Since I wanted to wrap up my tennis journey with pleasant feelings, I made it my goal to work on a balanced attitude every day. Relentless but forgiving of human error. Gritty but also not dwelling on the small stuff. Giving everything to this moment but not forgetting the big picture. With new mindsets, I started practicing and playing for the love of the game again. Day in and day out I enjoyed getting lost in the grind and the tennis gradually got better.
As my tennis improved so did my results and I began to believe once more. Slowly my ranking started to climb and a grand slam qualifying was again within reach for me. Just as I remembered in previous years, the weeks leading up to the US Open cut were incredibly taxing both emotionally and physically. I could feel the stress level rising just as it had before, but this time was different than the others. I was different. My belief wasn't fueled by hope, but from preparation. Picking the right tournaments, making travel arrangements, practicing more, training harder, and traveling continuously took a huge toll, but I was in a better place to manage it all.
Adding a deadline on my career gave me a no turning back and no regrets mentality all year. I wasn't afraid to fail this time around. Hindsight is always 20/20, but this made the real difference. My team (family, coaches, friends, & supporters) and I had given it everything we had this year. If it still wasn't enough and I still wasn't good enough, I was resolved to be proud of our effort and move on knowing my grand slam qualifying goals were not in my cards.
Scrolling down that qualifying list and seeing my name written as the last one inside the acceptance overwhelmed me with huge gratitude knowing that all our sweat amounted to something I was too timid to dream of 4 years ago. What an incredible feeling it is to meet goals that seemed like Mount Everest. It's so cliche to say I could not have done it alone, but it really was a team effort and I am so grateful to everyone who stuck with me long enough to dissuade me from giving up and to give me a chance to believe again. If you don't call this living the American Dream, I don't know what is.