FORMER Kiama-Shellharbour District Tennis Association ace Ellen Perez left earlier this week to take up the opportunity of a lifetime - a four-year tennis scholarship with the University of Georgia.
The 18-year-old from Shellharbour is hoping the experience of playing in the strong US College system will help her continue her dream of competing at the sport's highest level.
"I have been playing tennis since I was seven and competing since I was 10. I won the Australian junior titles in doubles when I was 14," Perez said.
"Since then I have played tennis almost non-stop. One of the highlights was qualifying to play in the juniors at this year's Australian Open. Unfortunately I drew No 1 seed and eventual champion Anna Konjuh in the first round but played OK, going down 6-3, 6-4.
"I also qualified for the juniors for the French Open and Wimbledon, but had to withdraw due to a foot tendon injury which required surgery.
"I am back now and feeling strong, despite a recent bout of flu, and can't wait to head to Georgia."
Apart from travelling the globe playing, including winning a tournament in Thailand, Perez has been a Tennis Australia Academy scholarship holder for the past 2½ years and spent that time playing and practising in Melbourne.
She had multiple offers from US universities, but got that down to five and earlier this year returned from visiting their facilities with her father, before eventually settling for the University of Georgia.
After completing her Higher School Certificate by correspondence, Perez will study sports management or something similar in a sports field.
"It was a bit nerve-racking making a final decision and waiting for confirmation, but the fact that Georgia were the No 1 ranked university in tennis at the time [now No 4], made me feel that they would be a good fit for me.
"I just can't wait to get there."
She will be looking to increase her women's world ranking - she sits just inside the top 600 and top 500 in doubles, while she is ranked No 19 in Australia and No 2 in juniors behind her regular hitting partner, Ashley Barty.
"I really want to thank the Kiama-Shellharbour District Tennis Association for the tremendous support they have given me over many years and the ongoing support they give to other young players - it really is appreciated."