#TGW: Returning The Paige
Her pro career on hold, former All-American Paige Hourigan came back to the familiar surroundings of Atlanta
By Jon Cooper
Paige Hourigan always knew she was going places.
As 2020 began, that literally was the case, of course, as the world of professional tennis holds tournaments worldwide. But she had good reason to believe that she’d be moving figuratively, as her improving game pointed to a rise in her ranking.
At mid-April, it’s where she’ll go next, that’s the issue.
It’s an issue that’s completely in flux due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but for right now, the 23-year-old native of Turakina, New Zealand, will make due with where she is – Atlanta, which certainly beats where she might have been locked down.
“I was stuck in (Potchefstroom) South Africa,” recalled Hourigan, who had been playing in the W25 Potchefstroom, an International Tennis Federation (ITF) event when the world pretty much came to a halt on March 13. “I was in the quarterfinals of singles and semis of doubles. We just weren’t allowed to go back on the court, so I got a flight straight from South Africa to Atlanta. I was lucky that they let me in. I’ve been here about a month so far.”
Atlanta was the perfect place for Hourigan, who from 2014 through 2018, made a name as one of the women’s tennis program’s most decorated players. In those four years, she earned All-America honors in singles and doubles as a senior, was four-time All-ACC (first team in ‘18), and graduated ranking seventh in career singles wins (93), second in doubles wins (107, three off Kristi Miller’s all-time record) and the all-time leader in doubles win percentage (.793 — two of her partners in that time, Johnnise Renaud (.744) and Kenya Jones (.725) rank second and third).
Fortunately, tennis is one sport when one can play while keeping proper social distance and she has been able to do just that – finding public courts to play on and playing partners to help her stay sharp, while adhering to social distancing practices.
Hourigan has been able to structure her days even with the restrictions.
“I’ll wake up around 10, 10:30 every day and then go and work out for a couple of hours, play some tennis from like 12 to 2, then afterwards work out, do some fitness,” she said. “I’m still getting conditioning in and tennis in every day. It’s just different times now and a little bit more leniency with the free time that I have.”
Hourigan is making the best of what is, obviously, a less-than-ideal situation for everyone. She’s using the time to fine tune her game, which has her currently ranked No. 422 in the world in singles, 203 in doubles — she has gotten as high as 403 in singles (on Aug. 5, 2019) and 134 in doubles (on Nov. 11, 2019).
The 2020 season was supposed to continue her ascension. It started off on a unique note, as, on Jan. 7, in the ASB Classic, in her native New Zealand, Hourigan not only got to make her WTA main draw debut, but also got the unique opportunity to do so against one of her tennis idols, Caroline Wozniacki. She’d fall, 6-1, 6-0, against the former World No. 1, but gained invaluable experience and a lifelong memory.
“It was a cool start to the year being able to play her. The score didn’t really reflect a lot, but I definitely learned a lot on the court,” she said. “It was awesome sharing a court with her before she retired. It was an amazing experience. Being in that environment was pretty, pretty cool. It just makes you want to work harder so that you can play those big tournaments every week.”
At the W25, she’d reached the quarterfinals when play was halted.
On the doubles front, Hourigan was preparing for the semifinals, with Brazil’s Laura Pigossi, her fifth different partner in her fifth event of 2020. She’d also teamed with Destanee Aiava (Australia), Abigail Tere-Apisah (New Guinea), and Berfu Cengiz (Turkey).
Rotating doubles partners is not new for Hourigan, nor is having success with all of them, as she reached the finals of two events and the semifinals in two others.
“It’s difficult because I’m never in the same continent all the time,” Hourigan explained. “I had a solid partner who I played with a lot last year and won a lot of doubles titles with, Aldila Sutjiadi. We haven’t really crossed paths this year or the end of last year. We were kind of playing different tournaments. But I would say she would be my most consistent (partner) probably.”
Last year, Hourigan and the Indonesia-born Sutjiadi, who was four-time All-SEC from 2014-17 at the University of Kentucky, combined to go 16-3, winning three different events and reaching the semis in three others. Hourigan also teamed with, and won, a tournament with 2019 Wimbledon sensation “Coco” Gauff and reached a final with former Yellow Jacket teammate Rasheeda McAdoo.
Of course, having success with different doubles partners is nothing new for Hourigan. She earned berths to the NCAAs with different partners each of her final three years — Kendal Woodard in ‘16, Johnnise Renaud in ‘17, Kenya Jones in ‘18.
While Coach Rodney Harmon usually paired Hourigan on The Flats, Hourigan has shown a knack for picking the right doubles partner. So what’s the method to the madness?
“I’m not sure,” she said, with a laugh. “I just love to win. I choose doubles partners that are my friends and I know them previously, so I’m not playing with a complete stranger. I just love having fun on the court. Doubles is all about having fun and competing with one of your friends next to you. I’m just fortunate to have had good results last year and this year.”
Hourigan has no idea what results await the rest of this year — the ITF, Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) have all pushed their tentative start dates back to July. Until they resume, Hourigan will continue to go day-to-day, quarantining, training as best she can, and continuing to set goals and dream big.
“Of course, there’s still going to be the 2020 Olympics next year,” she said. “I had to have my ranking by a certain number. June, I think, was the cutoff for the rankings. So I’m pretty sure I have the opportunity for the end of this year and the start of next year if we can play. So of course I’m still happy that I’ll still be able to hopefully compete at the Olympics.
“Fingers crossed and I hope that we do play this year,” she added. “I really don’t have a plan as of right now. Just kind of stay healthy, try not to get the virus, self-isolation and just hope for more updates and we can get back out and compete.”