BARCELONA, Spain - Georgina Garcia Perez was just a teenager when she walked away from tennis, but now she’s back to take the world by storm.
Nicknamed “El Huracán” by her most loyal fans, Garcia Perez finished last season ranked outside of the Top 200 - but after a breakthrough 2018, she’s earned first WTA main draw win, first Top 100 win and first Grand Slam win to sit at a career-high ranking of World No.124.
But best of all, she’s just getting started - and the 26-year-old Spaniard has the weapons and the mindset to go even higher in 2019.
In this exclusive interview with wtatennis.com, Garcia Perez discusses how she fell back in love with tennis after quitting the game, and how she’s harnessed her loyal social media fanbase to crowdsource her return to the sport.
1. At 18 years old, Garcia Perez made the difficult decision to walk away from tennis:
“When I stopped, I hated tennis. I couldn't even bear to talk about it!,” Garcia Perez recalls. Suffering from mononucleosis - which zapped her energy and left her almost unable to finish a match - and carrying knee injuries, Garcia Perez finally caved to years of mounting family pressure and guilt and hung up her racquets in 2011.
“I could see that my parents were spending a lot of money on me, even though they never blamed me for that,” she said. “I had to play on a very tight budget, and sometimes I refused to go to places just because they were too expensive. If you can't focus 100% on a sport it's very hard to perform well at this level.”
She added, “Up to this point, it has been the hardest decision in my life, because I felt I was disappointing my family and a lot of people who were and still are close to me.”
2. During her “retirement”, Garcia Perez finished high school and started working on a psychology degree.
Garcia Perez was three years into her psychology degree when she ran into an old tennis coach. After agreeing to visit him on the court, she started hitting some balls - and the rest was history.
“I hit some balls just to see if I still had it, and at some point I got to enjoy the game again and wanted to compete as soon as possible,” she recalled.
From then, it all happened pretty fast: just one month after that practice hit, Garcia Perez was entered in an ITF 10K in Melilla.
“I managed to reach the final, where I wasted some match points [she lost 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(14)]. I lost the match, but something in my mind had changed.”
3. Now in the thick of her “second career” in tennis, Garcia Perez is managing her expectations - but still keeping her goals lofty.
In 2018 alone, Garcia Perez fought through qualifying to reach the Roland Garros main draw - her first ever Grand Slam main draw appearance - and won her first-round match. She’s also claimed her first WTA title, winning doubles in Budapest alongside Fanny Stollar, and featured in Spain’s Fed Cup squad.
But she continues to set higher goals for herself in order to achieve her ultimate goal: “To reach my maximum potential.”
The question of what she could have achieved haunted her during her time away from tennis, and this time around Garcia Perez is letting herself dream - but not too much.
“Of course I would love to be World No.1 and to be remembered for that, because it would mean I would have managed to achieve something really important,” she continues. “Every player dreams of that, and I believe it's healthy if you do not get too obsessed with it.
“I was born in Barcelona in 1992, so I would love to be able to play the Olympics. Maybe getting a gold medal? You never know…”
Garcia Perez catches herself, adding: “I'm not a person who dwells too much into the future. I play in the moment and whatever good comes from it, it will be really appreciated.”
4. Her love for tennis started at just two years old, but it was a lot longer before Garcia Perez believed in her own potential.
The Spaniard recalled her earliest tennis memories, killing time at her local tennis club in Barcelona as her parents played:
“I started playing because my parents did so and they took me along with them,” she said. “My mother used to play with a friend of hers. She told me I picked up my first tennis racquet when I was two and a half to play against the wall while I was waiting for them to finish. After that they signed me up for lessons in a local tennis club.”
Due to her impressive height - Garcia Perez clocks in at 6’2”, towering head and shoulders above most of her Spanish peers - she was nudged toward basketball, but tennis was the sport she ultimately chose.
However, it wasn’t until Garcia Perez was much older, already retired and making her comeback to tennis, that she believed in the potential that everyone else saw.
“I believed I could really be a professional after my first comeback year [in 2014],” she admits. “I had no expectations whatsoever, but it turned out to be a good season. I have never looked back since.”
5. The Spaniard’s biggest weapon is her serve - but her biggest weakness might come as a surprise.
She’s only featured in a handful of WTA events, but already a pattern is emerging: Garcia Perez hits a serve… and the camera immediately cuts to the serve speed reader.
The Spaniard is known for hitting powerful serves and aces and, as she continues to make her way into more and more WTA tournaments, she’s keen to break some speed records.
What’s even more impressive? That motion is self-taught.
“[The motion] came naturally to me!” Garcia Perez explains. “I actually taught myself to hit a topspin serve when I was a girl, because no coach wanted to teach me, and I saw the other girls serving just slice while the boys would hit with more variety… After that, when I was a teenager, some coaches helped me develop that shot further. I would like to improve my percentages, though.”
However even though Garcia Perez is backed by her booming serve and a lights-out aggressive style of play - as well as projecting millennial-cool confidence on social media - she admits that’s exactly what she lacks on the tennis court: “I believe I need to improve my self-confidence in order to start matches with more security.”
6. Garcia Perez qualified for the main draw of Roland Garros on her first try, and immediately claimed her first Grand Slam victory.
The Spaniard had made just one trip to a Grand Slam in her professional career: in 2017, Garcia Perez reached three straight ITF level finals - winning two back-to-back, at La Bisbal 25K and Monzon 25K - and entered the Wimbledon qualifying tournament. The trip was short-lived, though, as she fell in the first round to Sachia Vickery, losing 9-7 in the third set.
But everything clicked in 2018. Garcia Perez started the year with a title at Andrezieux Boutheon 60K, and steadily chipped away at her ranking to enter the French Open qualifying. After three tough victories, she finally reached her career first Grand Slam main draw, and went one better as she took down Dalila Jakupovic - ranked 98 spots higher than her - in straight sets in the first round.
“It was awesome and I enjoyed it for a moment,” Garcia Perez recalled. “But my friends told me to keep my feet on the ground because I had to play my second round match two days after that. With all the post-match obligations and the like, it wasn't that long before I had to think about Wozniacki.”
7. However, her second round match against No.2 seed Caroline Wozniacki was a moment to forget.
Garcia Perez came crashing down to earth in the next round. Taking on World No.2 Wozniacki on Court Philippe-Chatrier - the highest-ranked player she had ever faced and on the biggest court she had ever played - Garcia Perez managed just one game, losing 6-1, 6-0.
“I was carrying a back injury that also affected my leg, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she explained. “I was very motivated because of that and I looked forward to playing in such a big court in front of so many people. I felt I had fought so hard to get to that point, and that I had earned it.
“I had some trouble adjusting to the court, because I couldn't train there before and it was a totally different perspective. Maybe I should have prepared a different strategy with my coach, considering the injury. But all in all, she was the No.2 seed and she is a great player with way more experience, so she rightly destroyed me - but I learned a lot from the match.”
8. Garcia Perez has a horde of fans across social media, where she’s known as “El Huracán”.
Spanish for “the Hurricane”, Garcia Perez reveals the origin of her famous nickname:
“I was playing a tournament in Monzón - where Conchita Martínez was born - and I won singles and doubles without dropping a set,” she said. “A local journalist started writing about me that week and he came up with that nickname, which I think suits me well.”
The nickname is a fitting homage to Garcia Perez’s aggressive playing style - although lately, the Spaniard has been learning to contain the storm.
“I'm an aggressive player, but I don't really like playing kamikaze tennis like there's no tomorrow, even though some coaches told me to do so,” she admits. “I like to build points and wait for my chance to go for a winning shot.”
9. Her most loyal fans even advise her on everything WTA-related - even tournament scheduling.
Over the years Garcia Perez has cultivated a dedicated network of fans across Twitter and Instagram who call themselves “Huracaneros”.
“I am a very outgoing person and I like interacting with fans,” she said. “I think they value my approach to social media, which means that I usually try to be honest, even when I am wrong or not politically correct.”
Garcia Perez’s most loyal Huracaneros are a part of a Whatsapp group called “Los Marichochos,” and they advise her on everything from WTA tour matters to tournament scheduling.
“For instance, they told me to focus more on WTA tournaments since my ranking had improved and I could test my level against the best players in order to eventually sneak into the Top 100, and it hasn't turned that bad at all!” she said, adding: “My coach is also involved in the process of creating the schedule, but we mostly agree on everything.”
Longtime tennis fans, some of Garcia Perez’s Marichochos also teach her about the history of the sport, key moments and old tennis greats.
“Some of them have been following tennis for decades and one of them even had the opportunity to get a PhD about the history of the sport and related matters.”
Quick Hits with Georgina Garcia Perez:
Did you have a tennis idol when you were younger?
My mother really liked Steffi Graf, so I liked her too.
Favorite tournament? Wimbledon (and I hope I can say the Olympics in the future!)
Favorite surface? Clay is where I got my best results.
Do you have any rituals before a match? I usually have the same routines, which involve listening to music, painting the racquet logo and putting on the grip.
How do you relax away from the tennis court? I love hanging out with my family and friends and playing any type of game with them.
What is the most used app on your phone? Whatsapp.
What do you miss the most when you’re travelling? Spanish food.
Favorite food? If I have to choose, I would say French fries with mayonnaise, cherries and meat. This answer might change tomorrow, though. (Update: Georgina’s favorite food is now sushi.)
Favorite musician? I love any music that I can dance to.
Favorite books or movies? "Los renglones torcidos de Dios", by Torcuato Luca de Tena. And for movies, "The Untouchables", "Gladiator", “The Notebook” or "Never Been Kissed".