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Love at First Fight: Giuliana Olmos plays for her college, her country, and her chance to shape an impactful future
How the Mexican found her own path on the journey to doubles stardom.
Published Nov 01, 2022
Eighteen years ago, Giuliana Olmos anxiously boarded a plane bound for the 2005 Little Mo Nationals in San Diego, Calif. She never had a “love at first sight” moment with tennis, as some athletes may have with their sport. For her, it was only after that moment when she discovered an excitement and commitment towards the game that would endure to this day.
Olmos started playing tennis at age 5, but mostly due to her father’s passion for the game.
“It wasn’t so much of an introduction as it was ‘you’re going to play tennis.’” Olmos recalls. “It was hard having a tennis parent.”
“I think all tennis players say there’s like one crazy tennis parent,” she adds, lightheartedly. “My dad was all about tennis and I think it's just hard, as a kid, to separate parent from coach. You go home and you're still talking about tennis.”
Olmos’ initial disinterest—and even hate—of tennis stemmed from this strictness.
Little Mo Nationals was the turning point. It was there where an 11-year-old was able to truly see the joy and opportunities that tennis can provide for a gifted player like herself.
“The fact that I was flying to a tournament and we were staying at a hotel was so cool to me,” Olmos says. “I was like, ‘Wow, I'm like one of the professionals who gets to travel and play. I wanted that.’”
Now, 18 years later. Olmos is one of the very professionals she imagined becoming.
“I loved chasing the first and wanting to be the first,” Olmos says. “I think what excites me is that it's not really for me, it's more so for the women who come after me and the players who come after me.”
By 13, Olmos’ commitment to tennis was evident. She dropped P.E. to end school about an hour earlier than most of her other peers in order to have more time to train. She also transitioned from coaching with her father to training at an academy.
“I remember telling the coach I wanted to be a pro,” Olmos says. “He was like, ‘You're not even Top 10 in Northern California. You're never gonna make it.’”
Those harsh words stuck with Olmos, but as a positive motivator.
“I really like when people tell me I can't do something because it really fuels me to prove them wrong. And more so just to prove myself right … because I love being right,” Olmos says with a chuckle.
With her coach’s comment sitting in the back of her mind, she put her foot on the pedal. At 14, she began competing in more national tournaments; at 15, she started homeschooling, which gave her more time to devote to tennis. By 16, she was training six to seven hours a day.
“It was a lot, but I loved tennis,” she says. “At that point I fell in love with the sport.”
I’m obviously playing for myself and Mexico because my jersey says Mexico next to my name, but when I see how full the stadium is and all the people that are there, it really hits me. I’m playing for every single person in that stadium. Olmos, on playing in Guadalajara, site of last year's WTA Finals
Olmos’ love for the sport is also reflected through her love for country. She initially represented the United States Tennis Association, but then switched at 16 years old to play for the Mexican Tennis Federation.
“At the time, I had some opportunities in Mexico that weren't in the U.S.,” Olmos says.
Compared to the ultra-competitive U.S. junior tennis scene, Olmos was able to quickly join the Mexican Nationals and later played in the Junior Fed Cup. By 17, she was playing in the pro-level Fed Cup.
“It was an experience I knew I might not ever have in the U.S. and so I wanted to do that,” Olmos says. “I think also knowing there’s not a lot of Mexican tennis players from Mexico, I wanted to be that person that kids could look up to and be like, if she could do it, I could do it.”
To further her prospects at a professional career, Olmos decided to play for USC, where she learned what it was like to be a part of a team—beneficial for the doubles career she’d go to on have. She credits a lot of her growth to her time as a Trojan.
“I always told my [USC] coaches I wanted to be a pro after college, and I remember my coaches saying, ‘If you want to be a pro, you need to start practicing now—here at school, today.”
USC gave Olmos the necessary match experience and fundamentals, but more importantly, she was surrounded by supportive coaches to help further develop self-confidence, and seamlessly transition her into her professional career.
“Being able to represent USC and Mexico are probably my proudest accomplishments,” Olmos says.
Fitting enough, at the time of our interview, Olmos was playing in Guadalajara for its WTA 1000.
“Whenever I enter the stadium, I’m obviously playing for myself and Mexico because my jersey says Mexico next to my name, but when I see how full the stadium is and all the people that are there, it really hits me,” Olmos says. “I’m playing for every single person in that stadium.”
In 2019, WTA named Olmos as an “Agent of Change” for being a positive example for youth, and in 2020, Forbes Mexico named her as one of the nation’s Top 100 Influential Women.
These accolades do not relate to wins or losses. They are measures of inspiration beyond the tennis court.
“I was like, ‘Do I really belong on that list?’'' Olmos says, laughing in astonishment. “It was such a big honor and just a motivation to keep doing what I’m doing. It wasn’t even a list that I thought I could make in my life or a goal I even had.
“I’ve always just tried to stay authentic. My biggest goals or priorities is to grow the sport to have more equality and inspire younger girls. I think it is part of my job to give back and be a good role model. I always take that very seriously. If I can do that just through just being myself or through my sport, I think that's really important. Whether or not I still play tennis, I will always try to do that.”
It's clear Olmos is both a motivator and player of the highest level. This week, she’ll compete in the WTA Finals, where only the Top 8 doubles teams qualify.
The 29-year-old is currently at a career-high ranking of No. 7. She’s won two prestigious titles with Gabriela Dabrowski: the WTA 500 in Tokyo and the WTA 1000 in Madrid. And she’s won more than half of her career prize earnings ($1,003,831) just this season.
Olmos’ goal for Fort Worth isn’t as lofty, though.
“Going into the Finals my goal is just to win one more match than I did last year, which is one match because I lost all my matches last year,'' Olmos says jokingly.
Last year, Olmos played her first WTA Finals with partner Sharon Finchman. Her main takeaway was recognizing small adjustments, whether that’s making a couple more first serves, on an important point of being more aggressive. This time around, the biggest difference is how much more experienced and confident she feels.
“I have more of a sense of belonging,” Olmos says. “We really earned our spot this year and we can compete with the best and beat some of the best teams already.
“I'm just really excited. It's such a special event; it’s so prestigious. I'm really happy that we qualified and I just want to go and enjoy the tournament, the experience, compete as hard as I can and prepare myself as best I can. If I do all those things, I can play freely and usually if I play freely, I play well.”
I know this will only happen for a limited amount of time in my life, so I just try and soak it all in and appreciate every match and every moment. Win or lose, there’s always something to learn.
This year she plays with Dabrowski; both have been to the WTA Finals before. They’ve had the time to work on their chemistry and learn each other’s playing styles.
“We’ve had a lot of open and honest conversations this year and we accept the feedback really well,” Olmos says. “No one takes anything super personal, we take it as it is and we know it’s just to better the team. I think since the US Open, we’ve hit our stride and I feel like we’re playing our best tennis right now.”
Hoping to end the year on a strong note, Olmos expresses her excitement for Fort Worth.
“It’s so thrilling to compete in front of fans, it’s like this high you can’t really replicate anywhere else—just feeling the love and support from all the people in the stands radiates like electricity in your body,” Olmos says.
“I know this will only happen for a limited amount of time in my life, so I just try and soak it all in and appreciate every match and every moment. Win or lose, there’s always something to learn. I’m just trying to enjoy my career as much as I can and for as long as it lasts.”
As she sat in her hotel room preparing for her afternoon matches and looked ahead to the year-end tournament, Olmos reflects on her journey thus far. Though she has more in store, it has already come full circle.
“I pretend I'm still that little 10-year-old girl that was on the airplane to San Diego and how cool and excited she would be if you told her this was all gonna happen,” Olmos says.
“I just try and enjoy it as much as I can for her and do the best I can for her.”