NEW YORK – You might find a player at the US Open happier just to be here than Erin Routliffe. But you’d have to look pretty hard.
The 20-year-old, who is from Caledon, Ont., just northwest of Toronto and a member of Tennis Canada’s national centre program for several years, went the college route and has had a standout NCAA career so far in winning back-to-back national doubles titles at the University of Alabama with partner Maya Jansen.
On Saturday, after winning four matches at the US Tennis Association’s national US Open wild card playoff (and more earlier in the summer at a regional qualifier), Routliffe and Jansen hopped the train from New Haven, Conn., alit at Grand Central station in midtown Manhattan, checked in at the official hotel next door, and began their US Open experience.
The tennis side was probably as expected; they drew experienced No. 6 seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, both 15-year pros in their 30s, and were beaten 6-2, 6-1.
But as they hopped a flight back to Birmingham to catch up on their missed schoolwork, they had, as Routliffe’s partner said, “the experience of a lifetime.”
Routliffe had been here once before, in 2012 during her junior days. But this was officially the major leagues.
“I’d say it was crazy. We obviously had no idea we’d be here,” said Routliffe, who played a couple of small tournaments in Quebec this summer but spent most of her time teaching tennis at her local club. “Being in the same locker room, that’s just … I passed so many famous people. In the locker room someone asked me about Caroline Wozniacki, ‘Do you know this player?’ I was, like, ‘Uh, not personally, but I do know who she is.’
“Maya is really good at acting cool. I just lose it. I’m really terrible. I just lost my breath a lot. I just wouldn’t breathe. But I got better,” she added.
The NCAA singles champions generally get a wild card into the US Open singles draws. And Routliffe and Jansen might have gotten one as well, Crimson Tide women's head coach Jenny Mainz told Eh Game. Except for one little, major detail: Routliffe is a Canadian. So they had to go the roundabout route.
Janson didn’t have the type of junior career Routliffe did; her tennis credentials were more regional in nature and she never competed at the top ITF level. So this was all new for her. “I learned a lot just looking at the professionals, how they act, and how they train,” she said.
“My biggest moment was when I saw Ana Ivanovic. She’s been my ‘Oh my gosh!’ player since I was 13 or 14. She was my profile picture on Facebook one time. So when I saw her three feet away from me, I wanted to hug her. But she just lost, so I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
The pair, just the third duo in the history of NCAA women’s tennis to win back-to-back doubles titles, won’t be able to compete together this fall. Jansen is scheduled for surgery to repair a full thickness tear in her hip labrum at 10 a.m. Friday morning, and that will take her off the court until well after the holidays.
“I pretty much begged my surgeon to play this. He said, ‘Play these two weeks as much as you can, and as soon as you get back, we’ll fix it', ” she said.