Note: This interview was originally published on 6 Dec., 2022.
This month, the WTA Editorial team is profiling a selection of up-and-coming names to look out for in 2023.
Alycia Parks was ready to end her season and kick up her feet for the off-season at the start of November. But the 21-year-old Atlanta native just couldn't shake the disappointment of seeing her ranking drop outside the Top 150. So she laced up her shoes and hopped on a plane overseas.
One month later, Parks won the biggest title of her career at last week's WTA 125 at the Crèdit Andorrà Open to break into the Top 100 for the first time.
"I set a goal earlier this year to be Top 100 by summertime," Parks told WTA Insider. "It took me a little longer. I gave it an extra push up to Midland because Midland was supposed to be my last tournament. I was so close to breaking the Top 100 and then I had 89 points fall off.
"I was like, 'No, I have to climb back up. Let me go overseas and try to give it one extra push.'
"I broke the Top 100 the day before the main draw of the Australian Open closed."
Parks' Top 100 debut was a meaningful reward for her late-season surge, which began in Ostrava. Armed with a big serve that excels on indoor hard courts - her favorite surface - Parks came through qualifying as the World No.144 and proceeded to score back-to-back wins over Karolina Pliskova, bageling the former No.1 in the first set, and notching her first Top 10 win over Maria Sakkari to make her first WTA quarterfinal. She lost to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova, but won the doubles title with Caty McNally.
It was a wild week for Parks, who was minutes away from missing her flight from Italy.
"Usually when stuff starts to get rocky for me, I know something good is about to happen because that's just God testing me," Parks said.
"When I went to Ostrava, I was at peace. When I am at peace, I have a clear mind. Something clicked there for me. I loved the feeling of how I was playing Ostrava, so I said, I have to remember this moment. I took those moments and brought it into the other tournaments."
Update: Parks followed up her title run in Andorra by winning her second straight WTA 125 in Angers, France.
With her season-ending momentum, 2023 is primed to be Parks' breakout season. Get to know the big-serving American, who once served as Serena Williams' body double and has a backstory that sounds eerily familiar.
She knew she wanted to be a pro tennis player from the start
Parks' father Michael, who has also coached her throughout her career, is a former professional basketball player. Parks is 17 months younger than her sister Mikayla, and the two athletic sisters found their way into tennis via a serendipitous moment with their mother, Erica.
"In elementary school, I made all A's and every time we made all A's, my parents took us to the toy store. It was taking me an hour to pick something. My mom was like, Hurry up or I'm gonna pick something for you.
"She just happened to look down and it was two tennis rackets and three tennis balls. She knew me and my sister liked to play outdoors and we had a tennis court in our neighborhood. She took us to the tennis court and she was reading her book and she just heard the ball going back and forth, me and my sister just kept rallying. She called my dad and she was like, I think they're pretty good at tennis."
Parks played every sport under the sun as a child, but it was tennis' individual nature that drew her in. Win or lose, she wants it on her shoulders.
"I wanted to become a professional tennis player at seven years old. When I first hit the ball, that's when I knew, okay, I want to go pro in this.
She skipped the junior circuit to maximize her pro potential
Parks played just eight junior events and did not play the junior Slams, a decision designed with the long term in mind.
"We didn't do the junior route because at the time, I was growing throughout juniors. I would always have knee problems and my dad wanted to prevent injuries. Just train and get ready for the pros. So that's what we did and here I am now.
"My sister also played, so we pushed each other. We didn't go based off the competition that was out there because we were always competing with each other. When you have a sister that you always want to beat and vice versa, I think that puts you in a different element.
"So when I got on tour and the pros, [the level] wasn't really a surprise."
She got to hit with Serena and Venus Williams at the US Open
A pair of athletic sisters, coached by their father, who honed their skills against each other on the public courts? Parks knows her tennis origin story sounds familiar.
"When I watched King Richard, there were a lot of scenes [that felt familiar]. We kind of did it that way too. It was so weird because it was so similar."
As a teenager, she was even roped in to play Serena Williams' body double in a Gatorade commercial.
"It felt good at the U.S. Open that I got to hit with both of them. Serena especially, because I look up to Serena. She's the GOAT of tennis. What can you do besides look up to her? She's literally tennis."
She's not here for any handouts
"I made a comment one day to my mom: 'When is it going to get easy?' She said, 'Oh, it's never going to get easy. It's never going to get easier. If you want something, you have to work for it.'
"So that told me, OK, handouts aren't going to be for you. You have to work for what you want."
She's a true believer that everything happens for a reason
Having started the year ranked No.237, Parks described her 2022 season as "Me vs. Me". Much of the season felt like a battle with herself to find the mindset and game style that would yield consistent results. But she never lost faith.
"I always do a hashtag, #WalkByFaith, on Instagram. For instance, last week when USTA was doing the whole point chase for the Australian Open wild card, Caty won the wild card but she ended up breaking Top 100 and didn't need it. I was two points behind Taylor Townsend for receiving the wild card.
"Something told me to come to Europe and play the 125s. I made the semifinals in Valencia [an ITF W80] and then came here and won it.
"Maybe that's why God didn't allow me to win Valencia because he probably said, OK, Alycia, you have ITF titles. I know how bad you want this, but next week you're going to win your first WTA 125 title, something that you've never done before. You won ITF titles, and that's cute, but a WTA title, that's a step higher.
"That's how I looked at it. So when I say walking by faith or having a little bit of faith, that proves it."
She has big goals for 2023
"If I keep playing like this, how I'm feeling now, I should be going through draws pretty freely. I do see myself Top 10 next year, which is pretty high, but it's definitely doable. So I think Top 10 next year is a goal for me."
Parks counts another 21-year-old, No.1 Iga Swiatek, and another American, Sloane Stephens, as players who inspire her.
"I love the way Iga plays. I'm pretty close to Sloane Stephens. We always have conversations and she's always saying something positive."
She's looking forward to rubbing shoulders with them on the main tour next year.
"I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to be playing main draws because everyone knows it's a grind coming through qualies. I think that's what I'm most excited for, because when I'm well-rested, that's when it's hard to stop me.
"So next year is up from here."