It was less than a year ago that Mallory Cecil was queen of her part of the tennis world.
Cecil, a native of Spartanburg, was a freshman at Duke when she claimed the NCAA singles championship last May, becoming the first woman in ACC history to win a singles title and a team championship in the same year.
To make life even sweeter, her boyfriend, Ole Miss freshman Devin Britton, won the NCAA men's title on a nearby court that same day at Texas A&M.
Since turning pro last fall, and giving up her final three years at Duke, the 19-year-old Cecil has been receiving an education of a different kind -- call it Life on the Pro Tour 101.
Cecil's education continued Monday in the first round of the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island. A wild-card entrant into the $700,000 tournament, which features three of the Top 10 players in the world, Cecil lost in her first-round match on Stadium Court, falling, 6-0, 6-4, to Paraguay's Rossana de los Rios.
"It's really tough," Cecil said. "The transition has been tough, switching your mindset and everything. It's a tough transition, but I'm working through it."
So is another young American hopeful, 19-year-old Alison Riske. She signed a letter of intent last year with Vanderbilt, but never even made it inside a classroom before deciding to turn pro.
Riske, also a wild-card entrant, fell to Germany's Angelique Kerber, 6-2, 6-4, on Stadium Court. In fact, Americans went 0-for-4 on Stadium Court on Monday, as veterans Lilia Osterloh and Julie Ditty also lost first-round matches.
Osterloh was eliminated, 6-3, 7-6, by 12th-seeded Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada, while Ditty fell to ninth-seeded Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine, 6-4, 6-2.
Cecil grew up playing at the Country Club of Spartanburg and went to Spartanburg Day School before she and her mom moved to Florida, where Mallory learned from famed teacher Nick Bollettieri. Cecil was the top recruit in the nation when she decided to go to Duke, where she quickly became the Blue Devils' No. 1 player before winning the NCAA title.
That sudden success left Cecil with little to accomplish as a college player, and she decided to turn pro in August 2009.
"It was a really tough decision," Cecil said at the time. "There were so many things drawing me back to Duke, but at the same time I feel like it's my time. The (age) frame for women's tennis is so young so I thought this is my opportunity to pursue my career. I had a great semester at Duke, a great team and so many great memories. It was a really tough decision, but I am excited to start this new journey."
So far this year, Cecil's journey has carried her to ITF Challenger Circuit tournaments in Great Britain and the U.S. She made the finals of a $25,000 tournament in England, and before the FCC she had earned all of $2,897 this year, good for No. 371 in the world rankings. Her first-round loss on Monday was worth $1,965, but the lessons learned were just as valuable.
After losing the first set in just 35 minutes, the 5-5 Cecil was able to push the veteran de los Rios, a 34-year-old ranked No. 101, a bit more in the second set.
"It was a disappointment, and I wish I had a better effort in the first set," Cecil said. "I had some chances, but I love playing in that stadium, and one day I hope to be in there winning some matches. But this was a good experience."
Riske, also 19 and ranked No. 192, can hope for the same thing. A native of Pittsburgh who now lives in Hilton Head, she decided to give up her scholarship to Vanderbilt and turn pro after a good summer on the ITF circuit last year.
This year, Riske has played ITF tournaments in Mexico and California, earning $3,422 before coming to the Family Circle Cup.