Three years ago when she was just 13 years old, Ellie Halbauer and her family made a difficult decision. They would pack up and move from their Daniel Island home to south Florida, where Ellie could maximize her tennis potential.
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Family Circle Tennis Center
TICKETS: $10 (familycirclecup.com)
For more Family Circle Cup coverage, go to postandcourier.com/fcc
Family Circle Cup Qualifying
"It was a tough decision," Halbauer said this week. "But the tennis is really good in South Florida."
Ellie's local fans and friends will get a chance to see how far her tennis has come this weekend, as the 16-year-old returns to Charleston to play in the qualifying draw for the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island.
Recent results are promising for Halbauer, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., and trains at TopGun Tennis Academy.
She won her first pro event in October in Hilton Head, claiming the title at the $10,000 Van Der Meer Shipyard tournament. And last month, she won the Dunlop Junior Championship at the Family Circle Tennis Center, earning a wild card into FCC qualifying.
Halbauer remains an amateur - she was able to accept only expense money for her Hilton Head win - and says she will decide when she's 18 whether to play college tennis or turn professional.
Meanwhile, her days at TopGun are filled with tennis and home-schooling, and not too much else.
"We wake up and play tennis from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.," said Halbauer, describing her typical day. "Then I go back home and do some school and eat lunch. It's back to tennis from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., and then we do fitness. Then, we go home and eat some more and go to sleep.
"It's a long day," she said. "But you've got to put in the work."
Halbauer got started in tennis as a way to keep up with her older brothers, Trey and Drew, saying, "I wanted to do what they did."
She trained at the former Players Club in Mount Pleasant with local pro Bryan Minton before moving to Florida.
"One of her coaches told us that he felt she had potential," said Natalie Halbauer, Ellie's mom. "And he felt we needed to get to south Florida for her training. I think it's been the right choice, because there are so many kids at the top level here trying to achieve the same goal, and they have the same lifestyle with the schooling and tennis.
"Certainly, it's been a journey," she said. "You're just trying to keep it all together, and there's not a handbook to tell you how to do it."
Ellie also has been working at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, where Daniel Island's Shelby Rogers trains. (Rogers has a wild card into the main draw at the Family Circle Cup this year). At USTA, Halbauer works with coaches such as Kathy Rinaldi and Jamea Jackson.
Halbauer, who likes to pattern her game after that of third-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, will have to win twice in qualifying to make the Family Circle Cup main draw. She should enjoy something of a homecourt advantage on Daniel Island.
"At the Dunlop Cup, all her friends came to support her and it was great, a lot of heartfelt moments," Natalie Halbauer said. "I guess she's an ex-hometown girl, but she still feels like a hometown girl."