Traveling the world, and still favoring Hilton Head Island

by Jonathon Braden

Alison Riske, the No. 47-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, has experienced countless new cities and experiences while traveling the world for her job.

One of her favorite spots, though, is a destination she got to know years before she was winning matches at Wimbledon: Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Alison Riske competing at the Family Circle Cup last week on Daniel Island, S.C.  (Family Circle Cup/Alice Keeney)

Alison Riske competing at the 2014 Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island, S.C. (Family Circle Cup/Alice Keeney)

Riske loves enjoying clear skies and 70-degree weather no matter the month she visits. She cherishes walking the ocean whenever she can. For the handful of hours she’s not sleeping, playing tennis or training, she also proudly indulges in another important exercise: eating on Hilton Head Island.

“I do a lot of eating,” she said. “That’s my main concern.”

Riske, who used to train on Hilton Head Island full-time, recently returned to her former residence. She stayed and trained on Hilton Head Island for a few days before heading north to Daniel Island, S.C., for the Family Circle Cup.

If you missed her on Hilton Head Island, experience what she did and try out her dining favorites.

She prefers Watusi for its steaming cups of coffee, “funky” chair upholstery and frozen yogurt. She loves Vine, a newer Italian spot in the Coligny Plaza. Order the oysters, she recommends. And if you’re in a hurry, you cannot go wrong with the chicken burrito from Fiesta Fresh, Riske said.

Riske said confidence in her game has led to more success at Majors. In March, she played at the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island, S.C.  (Family Circle Cup/Alice Keeney)

Riske said confidence in her game has led to more success at Majors. In March, she played at the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island, S.C. (Family Circle Cup/Alice Keeney)

“(Hilton Head) has so many places to explore,” she said.

She first explored Hilton Head Island while in high school, around 2004.

Her sister, Sarah Riske, a former all-SEC tennis player and touring professional, was training there. Alison Riske came to visit but decided to stay. (Her family had shown its love of Hilton Head Island years earlier, purchasing a condominium near Sea Pines.)

In 2004, Riske’s first year on Hilton Head Island, she played all over: Long Cove Club, Sea Pines, Palmetto Bluff and Indigo Run.

Around 2005, she started training full-time at Van der Meer Tennis. While training there, Riske made significant decisions and progress. She decided to turn pro in 2008, two weeks before she was going to start classes at Vanderbilt University.

By the time she left Van der Meer in 2009, her ranking was in the low 200s, up from 895 in 2008. “Mrs. Van der Meer was always wonderful to me and she still is,” Riske said.

Riske now trains with Marc Lucero near Los Angeles. Lucero is a former USTA Player Development coach. With Lucero, Riske wants to continue improving her already impressive results.

Last year at Wimbledon, she won her first matches at a Grand Slam, reaching the round of 32. She continued the good times in New York. At last year’s U.S. Open, Riske defeated two seeded opponents, including 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, before losing in the round of 16.

The difference, Riske said, has been confidence. “I just believe I belong where I am,” she said.

Where she is now, outside Los Angeles, is thousands of miles from Hilton Head Island. But Riske will always an affinity for the tennis capital.

“If my family is in Pittsburgh then that’s home,” she said. “If my family is on Hilton Head, then that’s my home.”

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