MADRID, Spain - When Louisa Chirico's plane landed in Madrid on Thursday, she and a slew of fellow players on her flight fired up their phones and waited for their roaming cell phone data plans to kick in. Just a few hours earlier Chirico hopped on a plane in Prague, where she lost in qualifying at the J&T Banka Prague Open a few days earlier, and flew to Madrid hoping that by the time she landed she would hear she whether she had actually got into the Mutua Madrid Open.
"I wasn't originally inside the cut," Chirico told WTA Insider. "We found out the day before I came here. I was entered in another tournament just in case and then switched our flight. I was three out of qualifying and then I moved in at the last minute. So very happy and lucky but trying to do my best to use the opportunity."
Chirico was originally entered in another ITF tournament for this week, but as more withdrawals came in Madrid she soon saw herself very close to making the cut. After losing in the final round of qualifying in Prague, she and coach stayed there to practice and wait until it was time to head to their next tournament.
"I wasn't planning on playing a match until Monday at the other tournament and then found out we might be in here and I had to play the next day on Friday," Chirico said. "Obviously I want to play here, it's the biggest tournament right now. That wasn't a question. But the travel and everything, planning the weeks ahead can be difficult. Everyone has to go through it. You just have to make the adjustments and make the best of it."
Chirico did make the best of it. Ranked No.133, the 19-year-old American beat Irina Falconi and Mariana Duque-Mariño without losing a set to qualify for her first Premier Mandatory event. Her successful qualifying campaign in Madrid continues what has been a strong run of form for the New York native.
Since the tour has turned to clay she made good on a wildcard into the Volvo Car Open to make the Round of 16, beating Lucie Safarova and Naomi Osaka en route. Then came a strong qualifying run in Stuttgart, where she qualified for the main draw with wins over Barbora Krejcikova, Daniela Hantuchova, and Camila Giorgi - again, without losing a set. Last year she won the USTA French Open wildcard play-off to earn her first Grand Slam main draw appearance.
Chirico's comfort on clay stems from growing up playing on green clay. It's not often you hear an American player say they wished the clay season was longer.
"Extending the clay season as much as possible? I'm all about it."
"For me it's always been natural to move [on clay] because I grew up playing most of the summers on green clay," Chirico said. "So it didn't even come into my mind until I came out here and noticed people didn't really like playing on clay. I guess that gives me an advantage going in. I think it suits my game pretty well. Hopefully I can stay on the clay as long as possible, play as many matches on it as possible.
Get to know the 19-year-old from Harrison, New York. Just don't call her Lil Weezy.
Q: So let's back up. How did you first start playing tennis?
A: Actually I played a lot of sports when I was younger. I played soccer pretty seriously, I played basketball, a little bit of figure skating, and ice hockey. I was all over the place. I always loved playing sports. I was always running around and staying active.
My mom enrolled me in a clinic one day and from that moment I just loved it and decided to keep playing. I ended up choosing between tennis and soccer. Those were the two sports that I was most serious about.
Q: What position did you play in soccer?
A: Sweeper. Middle defender. I decided around 12 or 13 that I only wanted to play tennis. And the rest of it is history. I loved it right away.
Q: Speaking of those two sports, soccer is obviously a team sport and tennis is completely individual. Why choose tennis over being with a team?
A: I think the cool thing about tennis is that it is individual so it's you out there. It's solving the puzzle by yourself. Obviously you have your coach and your team at the side of the court but when you're out there they can't help you. It's a battle against another persona and you're countering their moves as well. You never know what is going to happen so it's like boxing. I think that's a really cool aspect and I enjoy that.
Q: So you chose tennis over soccer. At one point did you think you could actually play tennis for a living?
A: It was once I started playing some of the bigger events in juniors, going against the best juniors around my age at the ITFs or junior Slams. That's when I realized maybe I can do this as a career and really pursue it. I really wanted to but I had to gauge where I was. I was in regular school so I was only playing in the US or locally so I had no idea. There are so many players in other countries.
So once I started playing at the highest level and I had some success in the lower level Futures and stuff, that opened my eyes a little bit and I thought I could do this as a career.
Q: You're 19-years-old, traveling the world playing sports for a living. Your friends are probably all in college. When you talk to them, what's the biggest misconception they have about your life?
A: Geez, I don't know. I think the funniest thing I get is "So what do you do for food?" I'm like, well...I still eat regular food [laughs]. I guess with the diet and the sleeping everyone thinks we're robots and on a schedule. Obviously we have to be professional and on a schedule. It's funny to hear those questions.
All my friends are interested and they're like have you played Serena or Sharapova yet? They don't really get the tiers of the tour. So when I tell them I'm playing qualifying for a tournament they're like, "So you're playing a tournament to get into another tournament?"
But they're all really supportive and I'm really lucky to have friends that are that supportive of me. I think it's really important to have friends outside of tennis so you're not always consumed with it. Sometimes you just need to relax and get a break. It's nice to not talk about tennis 24/7. Because when we're out here I do enjoy talking tennis. I think we all do. It's what we do. We love it. But it's nice to have a couple friends who don't know anything about the game.
Q: So what do you do to get your mind off tennis?
A: I like to read. I like to sketch and draw a little bit. It's the artistic outlet, I guess. I love music. You'll always see me with my headphones in. I like to hang out with my friends. I like to keep it social.
Q: So what are you listening to these days? What's on repeat?
A: I'm pretty into house music so I was really excited coming to Europe. I always leave Europe and I have a whole new playlist! Currently on repeat is the new Calvin Harris song that came out with Rihanna. It's really good. I recommend you listen to it.
Q: Alright, I'm going to fire off some quick-hit questions now.
A: Oh boy.
Q: Would you rather have a night out or an evening in?
A: Evening in.
Q: Extroverted or introverted?
Q: TV or book?
Q: TV or movie?
Q: What's the last movie you saw?
A: I saw Concussion in the theater. It was really good. Interesting story.
Q: Twitter or Instagram?
Q: Would you rather swim in a pool or the ocean?
Q: Name three things you would take to a desert island?
A: My phone, a book, and a friend.
Q: If money were no object, what would you do all day?
A: Play tennis.
Q: Did you always want to be a professional tennis player?
A: When I was younger and I played soccer I wanted to be Mia Hamm.
Q: Do you have any nicknames?
A: Lou. My trainer calls me Lil Weezy. He's the only person who can do that. I wouldn't really respond to anyone else yelling that.
Q: I have this theory that everyone has an X-Men power. Something you naturally do better than anyone else that is your gift as well as your curse. What's yours?
A: I always have energy. I don't drink coffee, I don't need caffeine. I always have energy and for what we do that's an advantage. So...Energizer Bunny over here.
Q: What's your favorite family tradition?
A: Christmas every year. I have a pretty big family. My dad's side of the family all lives in New York. My mom's side lives half in Korea and half in California. But my dad's side is in New York and we all get together every Christmas. It's the one time of the year everyone is together. It's really nice. We go around the table and talk about what we're thankful for. It keeps you grounded. It's really special to me.
Q: Do you still sit at the kids table?
A: I am now old enough that I no longer have to sit at the kids table.
? Tennis Captions (@tenniscaptions) April 8, 2016
Q: How many languages do you speak?
A: Fluently? English. I took a little bit of Spanish. I took 3 years of Mandarin in school but I wouldn't say I'm fluent.
Q: So you're not Christina McHale (McHale speaks Mandarin)?
A: No, I'm not Christina. I didn't go to Asia last year but this year hoping to so I'll brush up on my Chinese.
Q: Do you speak Korean?
A: No, actually. Just hello and stuff.
Q: Do you have a Starbucks name?
A: I've given Rihanna. Because I just love her.
Q: She's your girl?
A: She's my girl.
Q: If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A: Ellen Degeneres. I think she's hilarious and I would love to be on her show.
Q: Well if you make a deep run at the US Open...
A: Exactly. That's the goal, right? But I'll settle for coffee with her.
Follow Louisa on Twitter @Louisa_Chirico!