Ex-WPIAL champ Alison Riske on tennis’ biggest stage in Wimbledon quarterfinals
When Alison Riske joined the Peters Township girls tennis team in 2006, she already was one of the country’s highest-ranked players for her age group.
It would be her only season of high school tennis, typically not a domain for the elite of the sport. Riske would go on to win the WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA singles titles, of course, and she “just rolled through all of her completion, pretty much,” as her coach at Peters Township, Brandt Bowman, tells it.
“We knew she was unstoppable,” Bowman said Monday, a few hours after Riske advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. “She had the ability, and she had a strong work ethic.”
Riske, Bowman said, joined the Indians tennis team for the experience. Then a cyber-school student who eventually moved to a warmer locale where the best tennis players are trained, Riske enjoyed bonding with a team and the normalcy of being a high school athlete.
“Her teammates all loved her,” Bowman said. “She was great to everybody. What she’s doing now, it couldn’t happen to a better girl. She’s so nice, and she comes from a nice family. It’s great to see.”
Riske on Monday beat world No. 1 Ash Barty, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, in the Wimbledon Round of 16. Six days after turning 29, she will play in a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time, facing 23-time major champion Serena Williams on Tuesday in London.
#BREAKING: Peters Township native Alison Riske (@Riske4rewards) defeats top-seeded and world No. 1 Ash Barty in a third-round match at Wimbledon, propelling her to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time.https://t.co/7rqZYpZjbp
— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) July 8, 2019
“She beat Barty, who is probably the hottest player on tour right now,” said Augie Garofoli of the Upper St. Clair Tennis Development Program where Riske learned to play the sport. “Now, she’s going to play the best player ever.
“I think Ali will be ready.”
Garofoli emphasized he never did one-on-one private instruction with Riske, but he is one of the teaching pros at the Upper St. Clair facility where Riske trained most often under head pro Janice Irwin. Garofoli remembers conducting camps for youngsters and having Riske catch his eye early.
“We’ve known Ali since she was 8 years old,” Garofoli said. “We know her family, so we definitely keep tabs on her.”
So, increasingly, is the tennis community in Western Pennsylvania. The populace at large certainly will start taking more notice if Riske can upset Williams in a match that begins 8 a.m. Tuesday.
“She never really (left the area) to train, like you see so many of the top players do,” Bowman said.
Riske eventually did leave once she turned pro, moving to Hilton Head, S.C., after high school. Nashville is listed as her current residence. Riske initially accepted a full scholarship to Vanderbilt, but just weeks before classes began, she elected to try the pro game.
She has been ranked as high as No. 36 in the world (in 2017), although Riske entered Wimbledon ranked 45th and almost certainly will move up after her performance at All England Club. Riske previously advanced as far as the Round of 16 in a Grand Slam tournament in 2013 at the U.S. Open.
A first ever Grand Slam quarter-final awaits…
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 8, 2019
Grass courts always have been where Riske feels most comfortable. Last month, she won her second professional tournament — the grass-court Rosmalen Championships in the Netherlands — and is 14-1 on grass this year. She is 11-8 all-time at Wimbledon, winning at least one match there in five of the past seven years and making it to the Round of 32 four times in that span.
“She hits a real flat ball, and she likes to go to the net,” said Bowman, explaining Riske’s strength on grass courts. “She had a good return game, too, which neutralizes the best servers on grass.”
Thirteen years ago, Riske led Peters Township to its first PIAA team tennis title cruising to the WPIAL and PIAA singles titles. Riske lost a total of eight games in eight WPIAL and PIAA singles tournament matches played at Hempfield High School and Hershey Racquet Club, respectively.
Tuesday, she will be on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .