Since the USTA suspended sanctioned events because of the coronavirus pandemic, Alison Riske has gotten imaginative with her training. The McMurray native just completed Day 10 of her quarantine in Orlando, where she resides when not on tour.
Riske runs at the local track and practices tennis at the public park because the USTA facility with its 100 courts is currently closed because of the worldwide pandemic.
“The cardio is easy but the weights require more creativity,” she said because the local gym is closed.
“I find Tide laundry detergent makes some pretty good weights,” she added with a delightful giggle.
Riske is well aware that COVID-19 is no laughing matter. That is why she adheres to the CDC’s recommendations, particularly the one regarding social distancing.
“What is going on is pretty crazy. So unnerving,” she added. “I hope people listen and we get a grip on this thing. We are all in this together.”
The health concern gripping the world, however, has had an upside. It allowed Riske the opportunity to virtually get together with family and friends. Through Google Meet, she addressed students and faculty at Seton LaSalle High School, where her sister-in-law works.
“Ali is always traveling all over the world so we were so excited to be able to do this,” said Bridgette Kennedy-Riske, who has been SLS’s Director of Admissions as well as Campus Ministry for two years.
“I’ve always wanted her to come here but the only time she has off is Christmas and Fourth of July and that’s when we are not in school. So when all her events had been canceled through June, Ali said she would be delighted to do this. I was so happy because she is such a wonderful and vibrant person.”
Riske’s enthusiasm shone throughout the hour she addressed her audience.
“This is really amazing. Pretty incredible,” she said of the technology that enabled her to be present though many miles away. It reminded her of days when she attended Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.
Though she went to public school in Peters Township until high school, Riske learned online because her training become “too extreme” during her teen years. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., she attended virtual school then would practice three to four hours a day.
“It wasn’t your typical brick-and-mortar experience,” she said but noted she did have her community friends as well as many tennis acquaintances with whom to socialize. “Cyber school was the perfect decision.
“And with ‘corona’ going on, you are doing that right now,” she said as she addressed the SLS students. “So my advice to you would be stay on schedule, block out this period of day to study because it’s crucial not to fall behind.”
Riske never fell behind in her tennis. With her siblings, Sarah and Dan, as role models, she dominated the courts throughout her formative years. She won a PIAA state championship, reached a No. 1 ranking in the country in Girls 18s and was committed to play for Vanderbilt University.
“I was getting ready to graduate. I had the sheets, towels, bedding to go away to college. Take that traditional path,” she said.
However, Riske turned pro. This is her 12th year on the tour. She is ranked 19th in the world after having reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in February. Riske also advanced to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2019, where she defeated the world No. 1 and reigning French Open champion Ashleigh Barty. She has also performed well at the U.S. Open.
Throughout her career, Riske said there has been one constant. Her spirituality.
“Faith for me is everything,” said the 29-year-old daughter of Carol and Al Riske. “I have relied on God and faith in all areas of my life.
“Tennis is a great microcosm for the world because you are constantly pitted against somebody each week and you lose a lot but you have to have a belief so strong. You can rely on God fall back on his strength and power. It is amazing what he will guide you through if you rely on him.”
Riske refers to her favorite scripture passage during troubling times.
“Be strong. Have courage and do the work,” she said, quoting Chronicles where David talked to Solomon. She added that “if you do God’s work in all area’s of life and do the right thing, you will never be denied.”
While these are not normal days, Riske endeavors to work. When she is in regular-season mode, she trains for at least three hours, maybe from 9 a.m. to noon. After a few snacks or a lunch break, depending on how she feels, Riske hits the gym for maybe 1-2 hours. At home, she’ll recover, maybe take an ice bath, and spend a low-key evening with Steve Amritraj, whom she married last July at St. Bernard’s Church in Mt. Lebanon.
“It’s all centered around tennis. It’s what makes me tick. God gave me my talent and it would be an injustice if I were not to go out and make use of it. Not many things strike up passion in me. Faith, family and tennis,” she rattled off. “So I am going to work with the gift that he has given me.”
Because she has put in the work, Riske said she is bearing the fruits of her labor. The difference now, after a dozen seasons, is maturity.
“It plays so much in everyone’s lives,” she said. “It’s been a long journey and it’s taken a long time before I felt that I belonged and am able to compete at the top level. I had faith my time was going to come but I didn’t know when it would. I did the work. I feel we all have our own journey and path. You can never doubt that.”
Riske’s journey has taken her to great places — Beijing and London among her favorites — and through great challenges. She said her greatest and most exciting accomplishment was reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last summer only to lose to Serena Williams.
“Two of the things I am most proud of ironically came at the same time. After all the years on tour, I got to the highest ranking. Gosh, I thought at times, it’s never going to happen.”
Currently, Riske does not know what is going to happen. For her, it’s an “odd time” of sitting at home. The Olympics have been postponed. She added, “the grass courts, too.”
The future is beyond her control. All she can do is her part.
“We all have to stay healthy and flatten the curve,” she said reciting the mantra regarding the coronavirus. “First and foremost, we have to listen to those experts urging us what to do to get this thing under control. Distance ourselves. Don’t risk yourself or others.
“In my opinion though, this won’t last but we don’t know when it will end. We can still go outside and be active. Do things that keep us healthy and sane. Keep the faith and try to keep positive as much as we possibly can.”