(Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Net Gains: Canada’s Branstine ‘loves’ her choice of college tennis, pro push can wait

California native competes internationally for Canada

A potential tennis career on the WTA Tour remains a distinct possibility for Carson Branstine. For now the two-time Grand Slam junior champ wants to make sure she broadens her horizons.

The native of Irvine, Calif., who competes internationally for Canada, has settled in nicely since transferring to the University of Virginia.

Branstine, who teamed with Bianca Andreescu to win French Open and Australian Open junior girls doubles titles in 2017, said she doesn’t think going the college route will hold her back at all.

“I think it’s going to help me and it’s going to shape me into the person that I want to be after my tennis career,” she said. “So I have no regrets in the position that I’m in.

“At first it was hard, but now that I’m where I want to be, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I love what I’ve chosen.”

The five-foot-11 right-hander has posted some decent results at lower-level ITF events, reaching finals last year in Gatineau, Que., and Carson, Calif.

However, injuries were an issue during her freshman season at USC and she didn’t feel the program was a good fit. Branstine underwent surgery to repair a meniscus issue in February and feels refreshed and energized since resuming regular training.

With most tournaments cancelled this fall, Branstine and teammates are preparing for the start of the spring season in a few months.

“I see a big change, I feel very strong and fit and I feel good all around,” she said in a recent interview from Charlottesville, Va. “But my actual game style definitely hasn’t changed. I love going for it.

“I love coming to the net, mixing in heavy balls and angles and stuff and using whatever I can to win a match.”

Branstine, whose mother is from the Toronto area, still maintains a WTA Tour ranking (currently No. 593) despite only occasional pro appearances. Normally she’d play a few tournaments in the fall, but most events were cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

“My mindset right now is when I get back out on court and everything is normal, someone better have a good reason to beat me because I’m definitely putting in the work,” she said.

Currently a media studies major, Branstine has full eligibility at UVA.

“I could stay four more years if I wanted to and get grad school paid for,” she said. “But it depends how my tennis goes. If my tennis is going really well, then I would definitely take the jump and turn pro before I graduate.”

The allure of potential WTA earnings and fame must be tempting.

Andreescu, a 2019 U.S. Open champion from Mississauga, Ont., made US$6.7 million before her 20th birthday. Montreal native Leylah Annie Fernandez, who beat Branstine in the Gatineau final last year, just turned 18 and has already earned a cool $413,000.

Branstine — a cousin of Atlanta Braves superstar Freddie Freeman — said she wants to play tennis for a “very long time” but first wants to maximize her education.

“I want to play on the tour and win as many matches as I can,” she said. “But I also thought I really worked hard during school, my entire life, school is a very big part of me. And I didn’t want to just waste that on just tennis. I feel like tennis has opened a million doors in my life, every connection, everything I’ve made, it’s been pretty much through tennis.

“And I didn’t want to limit myself just to being a professional tennis player. I think I have way more to give to this world than just playing professional tennis.”

Virginia was No. 11 in the women’s Division One team rankings last March when the season was halted. Head coach Sara O’Leary is excited to have Branstine on board, noting her big serve, return and forehand power will put opponents on defence.

“I think there’s no ceiling on her,” O’Leary said Thursday. “I think when she sets her mind on something, she’s capable of so much especially when it comes to her tennis.”

Branstine said she’s “extremely happy” with how everything has turned out.

“I love this position that I’m in now in terms of college, professional tennis, everything,” she said. “Everything I’m doing now, I think it’s really going to help me in the future.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.

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