Peters Twp.’s Riske courts opportunity to play in U.S. Open
Tennis icon Billie Jean King was having lunch on the terrace of the Claremont Resort in Berkeley, Calif., watching a tennis match at a nearby club.
King noticed one of the players.
“She was a good ball-striker, and that was a major strength of her game,” King said. “She had a great attitude and was very respectful of those around her. As she grows and matures, those qualities will allow her to be a champion in life, regardless of what happens on the court.”
King was talking about Peters Township junior Alison Riske. Riske met King on Aug. 10 at a speaking engagement at the tennis club. Two days later, King asked to speak with Riske after the championship match of the USTA Girls’ 18 National Championships. Riske lost, 6-3, 6-3, to No. 2 seed Ashley Weinhold, but gained a lifelong memory.
“Meeting Billie Jean King was awesome,” Riske said. “She came up to me after the match to talk. That meant so much to me.”
Meeting King, who has won 39 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles, was just the beginning of a tennis dream for Riske. With her appearance in the title match, she earned a wild card into the qualifying matches for the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., which begins Tuesday. The qualifying event will be held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Riske, 17, must win three matches to reach the main event, which begins Aug. 27. She is believed to be the third female from Western Pennsylvania to attempt to qualify for the Open. The others are Mt. Lebanon’s Gretchen Rush Magers and Berta McCallum Russo.
Riske, who also will play in the U.S, Junior Open on Sept. 4, and 127 other players will vie for 16 available spots.
“Ali is on the radar now,” said Tom Benic, president of USTA’s Allegheny Mountain District. “She is an unbelievable talent who has accomplished an incredible feat by just getting to the U.S. Open qualifier.”
Riske credits her success to training with local professionals Janice Irwin, co-owner of the Upper St. Clair Tennis program, and Jim Jones. She also credits her chiropractor, Dr. Steve Mustin, personal trainer Ron Russell and UPMC trainer Ron D’Angelo.
“So many people have helped me,” Riske said. “My family has been so supportive. My parents (Al and Carol), and my older sister Sarah and brother Dan, have always believed in me.”
Jones said Riske always has been the most talented player in her age group.
“She has the whole package,” Jones said. “She is fairly good size, with speed and good mentally. She is a special talent.”
Irwin recalled taking a trip with Riske when she was 12. She had the forethought to pack a dress to wear in the final.
“She was 12 and so focused on the tournament that she had an outfit for the final,” Irwin said. “It is hard to find words to describe her. She deserves everything she has gotten because she works so hard.”
Riske’s attitude also sets her apart. She never throws a racquet. She doesn’t scream or swear. She has been rewarded for her demeanor with three sportsmanship awards, including last weekend.
“I wouldn’t think of throwing my racquet because I get upset when I scrape it on a shot,” she said. “I take care of my things. There are times I get frustrated on the court, and I might verbally fight back. That is something I need to work on, because sometimes I just forget about it and don’t say anything. The sportsmanship awards are my favorite awards.
I try to do the right thing.”
Riske is unlike other teenagers. She doesn’t own an iPod, or have an entry on facebook.com or myspace.com. She doesn’t watch much television, or eat red meat, and keeps sweets to a minimum.
“I don’t want anything to take away my focus,” Riske said. “I think, mentally, my game is strong, because I am in every match to the finish. I always fight to the end. My parents have instilled that in me. I think that separates me from some of the other girls.”