College Tennis Alumni at the 2021 Australian Open – Part 2: Women’s Singles

In part 1 of this miniseries, I looked at college tennis alumni, who competed in the men’s singles main draw bracket in the recently completed Australian Open. In this part, I will do the same for women’s singles. As a disclaimer, I am more familiar with the men’s game, both on the collegiate, as well as the professional level. I apologize in advance for any factual errors or inaccuracies.

Just like with the men, I will highlight the junior/pre-college accomplishments of the players, the highest finish of their team in the NCAA tournament, and a few of their individual accolades at the college level before turning pro. The players are once again listed in alphabetical order by their last name.

Aliona Bolsova, Oklahoma State University/Florida Atlantic University

  • Ranked #4 in the ITF World Junior Rankings, #459 WTA before college
  • Team: 2017 NCAA Quarterfinalists (with Oklahoma State)
  • 2018 Singles All-American

Having already been ranked inside the Top 500 WTA before college, Aliona originally enrolled at Oklahoma State in the fall of 2016. In the spring of 2017, she went 20-4 in dual match play, playing mostly line #3 singles on a team that made the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. After her freshman year, she transferred to Florida Atlantic, where she went 26-1(!) in singles for the year – including 19-0 in the spring dual match season – while playing the vast majority of her matches at line #1 singles. She turned pro after her sophomore year, and as of this writing is ranked #104 WTA.

Jennifer Brady, UCLA

  • Ranked #36 in the ITF World Junior Rankings, Top 600 WTA before college
  • Team: 2014 NCAA Champions, 2015 NCAA Finalists
  • 2-time Singles All-American, 1-time Doubles All-American

Jennifer Brady is the reigning Australian Open finalist, and currently ranked #13 WTA. As a side note, Brady is the first women’s college tennis alum to reach a Grand Slam final since Kathy Jordan did it in 1983. Prior to turning pro, she spent two seasons at UCLA, where she was a part of the 2014 national championship team, and the 2015 team that lost to Vanderbilt in the NCAA final. Jennifer also made the quarterfinals of the 2015 NCAA singles tournament, her last collegiate event.

Danielle Collins, University of Florida/University of Virginia

  • #2 recruit nationally in her class, Top 600 WTA before college
  • Team: 2013 NCAA Semifinalists (with Florida), 2014 & 2016 NCAA Quarterfinalists (with Virginia)
  • 2014 & 2016 NCAA Singles Champion

Danielle is the first player on the list, who spent all four years in college. After transferring from the University of Florida to the University of Virginia following her freshman year, she won the NCAA singles crown as a sophomore. As an American NCAA Champion, she received a wild card into the 2014 US Open singles main draw, where she played the #2 seed Simona Halep in the first round, and took a set off of Simona. Impressively, Danielle returned to school after a taste of the highest level of professional tennis, and won her second NCAA singles championship two years later. As of this writing, Danielle is ranked #37 WTA.

Astra Sharma, Vanderbilt

  • Debuted on the WTA ranking at #969 in October 2012, prior to college
  • Team: 2015 NCAA Champions
  • 2-time Singles All-American, 3-time Doubles All-American

As best as I can tell, Sharma wasn’t a highly ranked ITF junior, nor was she ranked inside the Top 600 WTA prior to college like the other players on this list. As a matter of fact, during Astra’s freshman campaign in the 2013/14 academic year, she didn’t crack Vanderbilt’s singles lineup. Yet by the time her collegiate career was over, she was an NCAA team champion, 5-time All-American, ranked as high as #2 in the NCAA singles rankings, and #1 in the NCAA doubles rankings. A fantastic example of player development at the collegiate level, Astra received a wild card into the 2021 Australian Open and is currently ranked #114 WTA.

Mayar Sherif, Fresno State University/Pepperdine University

  • Ranked #47 in the ITF World Junior Rankings, Top 550 WTA before college
  • Team: 2017 NCAA Quarterfinalists (with Pepperdine)
  • 2-time Singles All-American, 2-time Doubles All-American, 2018 NCAA Singles Semifinalist (with Pepperdine)

Mayar first enrolled at Fresno State with her sister Rana in the fall of 2014. During her sophomore season, the sisters became doubles All-Americans, and Mayar transferred to Pepperdine for her final two years of collegiate eligibility. During her senior season, Mayar went 19-1 in dual match play, and finished the season ranked #11 in the NCAA individual rankings.

It’s hard to establish any firm conclusions based on just five players. However, I would like to highlight a couple of similarities and one difference that I see when comparing the men’s and women’s lists.

In terms of similarities, every single player on the women’s list was an All-American at least once, with four out of the five earning that distinction multiple times. Furthermore, every player on the list has made at least the NCAA team quarterfinals; Astra Sharma and Jennifer Brady were part of NCAA championship squads. A competitive practice environment matters, and individual accolades can be used as a guide to inform college players as to whether they should try to turn pro or not.

In terms of a difference, a few of the players on the women’s list transferred between schools, while we didn’t see a single transfer on the men’s side. Every transfer situation is different, and there are a lot of factors in play. What might make it a little easier to transfer for women as opposed to men, is that NCAA Division 1 men’s tennis is an “equivalency” sport, while women’s tennis is a “headcount” sport. In “headcount” sports, you can either be on a 100% athletic scholarship, or none at all. Those are the only two options. In “equivalency” sports, the scholarship can be split up. A player can be on 100%, 70%, 43%, 27% athletic aid, what have you. Furthermore, women’s tennis teams have 8 athletic scholarships available to them, while men’s teams only operate with 4.5 scholarships.

On the women’s side, if a player is looking to transfer, and their potential new school has a scholarship available, they know it will be a full 100% just per “headcount” sport rules. In men’s tennis, the scholarship situation tends to be a bit tighter, since there are only 4.5 scholarships to go around. As a result, if a player on the men’s side – say for financial reasons – needs to be on a 100% scholarship, the number of schools that can make that offer to him is usually more restricted than on the women’s side.

In the next installment of the series, I will look at college alumni in the 2021 Australian Open men’s doubles bracket. Doubles is crucial in college tennis; almost every dual match starts with doubles, and getting the doubles point is a big confidence boost prior to the singles matches. As a result, teams tend to spend a significant amount of time practicing doubles, and you see quite a few college alumni competing on the doubles tour following their amateur careers.

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