Long wait, but Eliza's finally back on court

FRUSTRATION isn't a feeling Eliza Long is used to on the tennis court.

While no sportsperson always performs at their peak, Long's become used to bouncing back to her best quickly.

That was until an enforced break from the sport.

For most of this school year the 18-year-old has swapped her tennis racquet for her schoolbooks to study for year 12 exams.

Long is by no means the first student to make sacrifices in their final year of school.

But very few others have to worry about tumbling completely from the world rankings and plummeting from the top 50 Australian women down to 125th.

Worse than that, though, is the loss of touch and feel of a ball on string that only hours on court can rediscover.

Now, with her exams and 'schoolies' behind her - and the prospect of joining US college Baylor ahead - the Knowsley teen is navigating the bumpy path back to the standard of play that her talent deserves.

"I dropped a lot in training this year which is making it most frustrating at the moment, trying to be patient, trying to find my way back into it," Long said.

"It was just because of school commitments, I couldn’t travel as much, couldn’t play tournaments, so I dropped down to about getting maybe five to six hours per week. 

"It’s definitely shown now that I’ve come back into tennis and playing again.

"Although in your mind you know you can’t be as good as what you were when you come back it’s just very frustrating in a middle of a match.

"I’m playing a point I usually have complete control of and I don’t have control. 

"It’s very hard to contain my anger at the moment, but I’m slowly getting through it."

Long burst onto the Australian tennis landscape after a stunning under-16s national championships triumph in 2011.

The next summer she was playing in front of friends and family at the William Loud Bendigo International - the region's Pro Tour tournament.

Her rise might have seemed sudden to outside observers, but Long's impressive performances showed she wasn't out of her depth.

That's why, at last weekend's 18s national titles, it was tough to cop three straight sets losses to players she knows she can compete with.

"It shows that I still have a fair bit of work to do to come back to my best," Long said.

"Although it seems a bit far-fetched to say, I could have done alright at that tournament if you gave me a bit more time.

"I think I could have because obviously those girls are the ones I beat two years ago when I won the title."

To get back to that standard, Long has set short-term goals to improve her fitness and hitting consistency.

She hopes it won't take too long to rediscover her touch and court-covering movement.

Relocating to Melbourne should help.

Long has moved to the city to work more closely with her Glen Iris-based coach Kane Dewhurst, and to get more high-quality matchplay.

Later this summer she's hoping to qualify for Pro Tour events in Tasmania and Queensland.

Further down the track, in July, Long will make the life-changing move to study and play tennis at Baylor.

It's a big decision to head to the Texas university, but one that came after careful consideration.

Long and her mother toured three universities in April and chose Baylor ahead of colleges in New Orleans and Florida.

She knows what she wants most from the college stint - to remove the chinks in her tennis armour.

"Two things mainly would be to get my serve up, to make it a weapon and obviously my forehand," she said. 

"My backhand's always been my stronger stroke but even my coach says I’ve got to get my forehand going so people don’t have a target.

"Overall, the main thing (that influenced my college decision) was the coaches.

"The players they (Baylor) take on it was all about the development of them, whereas I found at the other colleges - which was quite typical of American college - it was just about winning.

"The girls don't get coached technique-wise, they just get coached how to win a game.

"Whereas at Baylor, although they're really focused on winning, the way they want to win is by looking at the technique and development of all their players."

Long was blown away by the tour around Baylor.

"The most overwhelming thing was the facilities they have, it's ridiculous the amount of money they put into facilities," she said.

"They've got underwater treadmills...I can't even explain the facilities they provide for the players." 

Long had the chance to meet her future team-mates on the visit and, crucially, they got on well.

Not only will they spend hour after hour hitting together on court and training in the gym, but the team will need to play as a well-drilled unit to achieve the holy grail - the NCAA Championship.

"That’s the main goal for each college," Long said. 

"After the teams they have an individual – and the individual that wins that gets a wildcard into the US Open.

"The top 50 girls in the college rankings…the Pro Tour in Bendigo, they’d be doing pretty well in those tournaments - so it’s a good standard over there."

At the moment, many of Long's Catholic College Bendigo schoolmates are sweating over final VCE results to see where they might continue their studies, but she isn't.

"This will sound bad, but I don't really care," Long laughed, before adding: "I don't not care, I will care, but I don't know, I'm not that nervous compared to my friends.

"It doesn't matter at all what I get but, in some ways what my mum and everyone has told me throughout the year, it's my pride really.

"It would be nice still to get a good score, but you know..."

Majoring in sport science, physiotherapy or something else entirely should mean four years studying at college - longer than her friends back home.

Not that that bothers Long at all.

"I’m willing to take longer to get the opportunity to play tennis over there."

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