In a sporting context, there is an old cliche that will always remain accurate: ‘Talent only gets you so far.’ A young girl from Perth who always dreamt of playing professional tennis has become a reality for 17-year-old Taylah Preston, who represents so much more than talent alone. Admirable work ethic and a high level of maturity have laid the groundwork for an impressive 2023 season, capped off by a recent ITF title in her home city on the 23rd September.
Currently ranked number 317 in the world rankings, her prominent and continual rise commenced almost 14 years ago with unconditional support along the way. Speaking exclusively to The First Serve, Preston recounted how her tennis journey started and progressed throughout the years. “I started playing when my parents put me in a multi-sport program when I was around four years old,” Preston told The First Serve. “It involved playing a new sport every week and I just really enjoyed tennis which I soon realised that I have the coordination for it. That led me to take up lessons at a clinic before school which helped me increase my practice hours. “Then I began playing tournaments at around seven years old and that’s when I fell in love with the game as well as the competing element of it all.” Born in the golden era of both the men’s and women’s games, there were countless top players to idolise and look up to for inspiration. Preston highlighted the main role model who was instrumental, in addition to pinpointing the most important people in her life to be where she is today.
“When I was younger I had quite a few players that were considered my favourites. I loved watching the Aussie competitors such as Ash Barty who is an example of a complete professional and a champion. “The most important people in my life throughout my tennis adventure so far are my parents because they are extremely supportive of me and will do anything they can to help me achieve my goals and have sacrificed so much along with my sister.
“My coach (Brad Dyer) is also a major part of my journey because he has been with me for almost ten years now, so he has also made a lot of sacrifices and provided me endless support which I’m extremely grateful for.” Claiming her second ITF title this calendar year along with her maiden triumph in Tunisia back in May, Preston’s performances should come as no surprise for those paying close attention.
Entering 13 tournaments in 2023 thus far, the Australian teenager holds a win-loss record of 33-11 (75%), shining a bright light on her maturity and consistency. As the results continue to trend upward for Preston, how much has it grown her confidence and belief to push on and take the next step forward? “It’s been a really positive year despite being injured for around the first quarter of the season which was obviously really challenging. “I think it’s been great playing all-women’s competition besides Wimbledon juniors to be able to test my level at the lower pro tournaments. “My results have given me a real confidence boost because I know I can win at that level where I believe can start to play at a higher intensity and really start to test myself against the best.” Along with fellow Western Australian rising star Talia Gibson, Preston was named Tennis Australia’s female junior athlete of the year for 2022.
Although tennis is an individual sport on the court, the support networks and advice received from experienced veterans have offered Preston the opportunity to learn from some of Australia’s finest. “I was lucky enough to travel to Glasgow in Scotland at the end of last year to represent Australia at the Billie Jean King Cup where Alicia Malik was captain, so it was great to be there with her and learn so much. “Alicia also came down to one of my ITF events where I got the chance to talk to her about my game. She messages me from time to time to congratulate me on a tournament win or just simply offering support which has been so valuable. “In 2019, Casey Dellacqua took me to the Future Stars tournament and having her presence there was really good to learn from someone of that calibre with that type of experience,” she said. Going back to the classic cliche, the reason why talent alone is not enough to be successful in the sport is down to the amount of work done behind the scenes on top of being able to manage the mental side of the equation. There comes a point in every player’s career where a certain threshold will either make or break an athlete based on the overwhelming pressure and environment of competition. In Preston’s case, the ability to stay grounded and control her emotions has been a commendable trait for a player turning 18 next month. An example is her eye-opening tiebreak record this year, attaining a win-loss record of 8-2 (80%), demonstrating a sense of coming-of-age to deal with those high-pressure scenarios. Recent discussions have hit the news recently in regards to the role of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) led by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil to install groundbreaking change in the discrepancy between the higher and lower ranked players to make it more economically viable. Preston admits that although she has been relatively successful in entering tournaments over the years, it doesn’t mean that there is no pressure attached. “It’s definitely not easy and it’s a very expensive sport with all of the travelling involved, but if you do well in tournaments you can claim some prize money back to help accommodate for that even though there is pressure to perform. “I don’t worry too much about it because I just try to focus on what I can control on the court. “I receive a lot of support from different angles which helps me, but I don’t keep close attention on the PTPA.” Given the lack of tennis coverage on television and the demand for subscription services, you would be forgiven if you aren’t able to watch the top players consistently, let alone someone who is competing in ITF events for the majority. For those who are unfamiliar, Preston summarised her game style and how she would describe herself on the court. “I would say I’m a very aggressive player from the baseline and I like to control the points and look to move forward whenever the opportunity presents itself.
“My forehand and backhand are both of my strengths to set up the point for myself and they are shots that I’m comfortable with,” Preston concluded. At 17, the sky is the limit for Preston to kick on and make a real name for herself on the tour in the years to come.
Working on achieving goals and objectives little by little, what does the distant future have in store? “We have our small goals that we set and the aim is to hit those targets, but for me it’s all about working hard with my coach to start playing the higher-level tournaments and we’ll see where that takes us. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but what I do know is that I’m committed to putting in the hard yards and doing my absolute best.”