Layo≠ lets ex-re­porter give ten­nis sec­ond shot

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - BY KE­LYN SOONG ke­lyn.soong@wash­post.com

Like other ju­nior ten­nis play­ers of her cal­iber, Prim Sirip­i­pat once had dreams of hoist­ing a Grand Slam tro­phy in front of thou­sands of ador­ing fans. On her col­lege bio at Duke, Sirip­i­pat wrote that her ul­ti­mate TV high­light would be of her “win­ning a ma­jor tour­na­ment like the U.S. Open.”

But in­juries and a bur­geon­ing broad­cast jour­nal­ism ca­reer al­tered those am­bi­tions, and her com­pet­i­tive ten­nis ca­reer fiz­zled af­ter col­lege grad­u­a­tion, and with it came the sud­den end­ing of a chap­ter that Sirip­i­pat started as a 7-year-old in Mex­ico, Mo.

Or at least that’s what she thought.

An un­ex­pected lay­off from ESPN in April has given Sirip­i­pat the chance to go all-in on pro­fes­sional ten­nis 15 years af­ter com­pet­ing in her last pro tour­na­ment.

This time, Sirip­i­pat said, she wants to end it the right way.

“I felt I didn’t go down fight­ing,” Sirip­i­pat, 36, said re­cently in a phone in­ter­view. “It was just so an­ti­cli­mac­tic . . . . I started my ca­reer in broad­cast­ing, and I never re­ally took the time to prop­erly say good­bye to the sport.”

It was around May of last year that a feel­ing of dis­ap­point­ment about how her ten­nis ca­reer ended be­gan gnaw­ing at Sirip­i­pat. When her then-fi­ance asked her whether she would play again if she had the op­por­tu­nity to do it all over, Sirip­i­pat burst into tears.

So she be­gan to train, fit­ting in ten­nis around her hec­tic TV sched­ule. She woke up at 4:50 a.m. for one to two hours of prac­tice be­fore head­ing to the ESPN cam­pus in Bris­tol, Conn.

An hour of strength and con­di­tion­ing would fol­low. Some­times she would get home at 2 a.m., just hours be­fore wak­ing up and re­peat­ing the process.

Ben Aron­son, whom Sirip­i­pat mar­ried in March, sug­gested that they film the jour­ney for an up­com­ing doc­u­men­tary ti­tled “Sec­ond Life.” Orig­i­nally slated to fin­ish in June, Sirip­i­pat plans to con­tinue com­pet­ing through the end of the year be­fore re­assess­ing.

“Had I stayed at ESPN, I prob­a­bly would’ve ended the project in June, just be­cause it was get­ting so dif­fi­cult,” Sirip­i­pat said. “So I re­ally do think that things hap­pen for a rea­son. The uni­verse or who­ever you want to call it has a larger plan ahead of us, and I think I was def­i­nitely meant to do this in this pe­riod of my life.”

Sirip­i­pat splits her time be­tween Con­necti­cut and Wes­ley Chapel, Fla., where she trains at her old academy, Sad­dle­brook Prepara­tory School.

“I know that’s a very ephemeral goal,” Sirip­i­pat said. “It’s a feel­ing, and I don’t think I’ll know I’m there un­til I get to that point.”

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