A change of scenery. That's all Anna Ross' big game needed.
From Chicago's cold doldrums of winter skies and frozen weather to the bright skies of Mount Pleasant's sunny Live To Play Tennis complex was the answer.
Two years after the move, Ross is still in love with LTP and Charleston.
"Here, we play outdoors, 24/7," she said on Thursday at LTP's Randy Pate Academy after finishing a long drill under the bright afternoon sun.
Ross is just 16 years old, but she is preparing to play as a seeded player in the USTA's National Girls 18 Clay Courts Championships that are set to start early Sunday morning at LTP. The tournament also will use courts at Family Circle Tennis Center.
Ross' father still runs a business in Chicago, but Charleston is now his home base from travel. "He's back and forth, but he's here now mostly, four or five days a week," she said.
Her mom is a stay-at-home mom. "She does everything for us. She's the best mom in the world."
Brothers Eddie (18) and Michael (14) also train at the Pate Academy.
Everything is rosy. Anna is fresh from bringing home the girls 18 doubles title and singles runner-up trophy from the recent Southern Closed Championships in Mobile, Ala. She is ranked second in the South in girls 18 and fifth in girls 16.
"I didn't think I would come this far. I never would have imagined the spot I am in now," she said.
But how nice it would be to wear a national clay court crown, and claim the wild card berth that goes with the title into the main draw of next spring's Volvo Car Open.
The trip all started with younger brother Michael's participation in 2016 in the National Boys 12 Clay Courts Championships at LTP. "That's how we found out about the academy. I didn't come," Anna said.
She had never heard of the Pate Academy, which had just relocated from Winston-Salem, N.C. But how quickly that would change.
"My mom really liked the coaches, the scenery and the atmosphere down here. So, we came here a week after the clay courts. We talked to the academy and we really loved it. It was unbelievable how welcoming everybody was. We moved down here and tried it out for a semester. We just fell in love with it," Anna said.
There was no going back.
"It's very cold in Chicago. Very different. So, three-fourths of the year we play indoors. Here at the academy, I'm playing maybe four and a half or five hours a day. With fitness, that would be six hours. In Chicago, we would do three to four hours a day in the summer and only two hours a day (the rest of the year)," she said.
She attended Wando High School the first year, then switched to online schooling.
What are Ross' chances in the nationals?
"There are a lot of good players out here. I just learned today (Thursday) that I was going to be seeded (33rd), which was unbelievable. I didn't think that was going to happen," she said.
"But I am not going to take anything away from myself. If I go out there and do my best and I happen to play my best tennis ever, there's really no limit. As long as I push myself and I'm giving 100 percent, I think I have a very good chance in this tournament. I'm going in it with a winning mindset."
Ross is one of four Pate Academy players who are seeded in the nationals. Emma Navarro is the No. 5 seed, and part-time academy player and Navarro doubles partner Chloe Beck of Watkinsville, Ga., is seeded 16th. Peyton Pesavento also is a 33rd seed. Incoming College of Charleston freshman Lily LaBiche of New Orleans is seeded 17th.
Four other local academy players are in the main draw: Callie Billman and Kat Lyman from the Pate Academy; and Allie Gretkowski and Elizabeth Truluck from MWTennis Academy.
Reach James Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.