Two Grand Slam appearances and a standout 2016 US college season highlighted a “great’’ year for Shellharbour tennis player Ellen Perez.
Perez has returned to Melbourne a year after realising a childhood dream to play at the Australian Open.
This time around the 21-year-old has been granted a wildcard entry into the doubles draw of her home Grand Slam alongside partner Olivia Tjandramulia.
The Australian pair will play experienced duo Miyu Kato and Eri Hozumi on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Perez can’t wait to hit the court in front of her home fans.
“It's always a great time of the year and I love being able to play back here in Australia. It’s always great playing in front of a home crowd,’’ she said.
“Olivia [Tjandramulia] and I played in tournaments together in the juniors but this is our first time playing doubles together.
“It’s going well so far and we hope to do well in Melbourne.’’
Perez returned home to Australia in December after enjoying another stellar season for the University of Athens Georgia on the US college circuit in which she climbed to No.3 in the ITA division one singles rankings.
The gritty left-hander also won a singles tournament in Europe and four doubles events before securing a spot in the singles’ main draw of the US Open.
Perez lost in the first round to Zhang Shuai but said the experience was “invaluable’’.
“I managed to do a lot of good things in 2016 but obviously any time you get an opportunity to play in a slam, that’s going to be a highlight,’’ she said.
But Perez was soon brought back down to earth after opting to have surgery on her left elbow.
The injury kept her sidelined for two months and meant Perez wasn’t at her best when she returned home in December.
“It was tough for awhile but I’ve definitely picked up my form in the last few weeks,’’ she said.
“And the start of 2017 has been good. I had my first WTA win [in Sydney] and then my first slam [Australian Open qualifiers] singles win.
“I’m looking at going pro in May this year but my main aim is doing well in Melbourne this week.’’