Rising stock: Robin Montgomery investing in her game

Robin Montgomery after winning the Orange Bowl last fall.
April 27, 2020 01:00 PM

By Arthur Kapetanakis, USTA.com

While financial markets struggle in the current climate, 15-year-old Robin Montgomery’s stock continues to rise.

Before the tennis world shut down due to COVID-19, Montgomery added one more title to her blossoming portfolio. The world No. 5 junior, and reigning Orange Bowl champion, cashed out in Las Vegas by winning her first pro-level title, at an ITF World Tennis Tour W25 event in March.

For the blue-chip prospect, whose fierce game is reminiscent of a tiger, the last six months have seen a bull market in her rise through the ranks. After reaching Round 3 at the 2019 US Open Junior Championships, the NJTL product’s stock began to soar in the fall.

Her perfect 7-0 record helped Team USA clinch a Junior Fed Cup three-peat in late September. Two weeks later, she won her first Grade 1 junior title at the USTA Pan American Championships.

To cap off a breakthrough year, the 5-foot-10 lefty won the biggest junior tournament in the world, outside of the Slams, at the 2019 Orange Bowl. But even before she won that high-profile title as the No. 5 seed, the buzz was growing.

“I realized that I was more known than I thought I was,” she told USTA.com in a recent interview. Her two most recent titles—both of which Montgomery called a “surprise,” particularly the W25 win— proved that she has the game to stand tall in the spotlight.

“I do feel more attention on me now in the tennis world,” she said, adding that nothing has fundamentally changed in her own mindset. “Both [the Orange Bowl and Las Vegas] are just stepping stones towards my bigger goal.”

It’s not the first time Montgomery has produced big results under pressure. After devoting the early part of 2019 to training, playing just one W15 event (and no junior tournaments) through late March, her hopes of competing in the upcoming junior Slams rested on a strong showing in the junior version of the Sunshine Swing—the Easter Bowl, immediately followed by the International Spring Championships (ISC).

Montgomery answered the call by reaching the Easter Bowl final, followed by a semifinal finish at ISC.

With the help of a strong advisory group, headed by mother Gabrielle Montgomery and longtime coach Alisama Agnamba, Montgomery—like any good investor—remains focused on the figurative marathon ahead, rather than the sprint.

“We kind of just keep the mentality of ‘OK, back to work,’” her mother explained, “to try to keep things moving forward.

“Fortunately, we have a really great community around us, from JTCC [Junior Tennis Champions Center, Montgomery’s home training base] to the USTA. It’s just been really helpful.”

While mom is hands-off when it comes to tennis, she plays a major role in her daughter’s academic life, keeping Montgomery grounded by balancing tennis with her online schooling. Gabrielle is also playing a major role in shaping her daughter’s potential college plans.

“I think that a college education is very important, so it’s going to take a lot for me to take it off the table,” she said. “I do involve Robin in that conversation and listen to what her dreams and aspirations are. So I do take that into consideration.”

The $3,935 champion’s check from the Las Vegas event keeps Montgomery, a high school junior, comfortably under the $10,000-per-calendar-year limit required to maintain her amateur status in the eyes of the NCAA.

For now, Montgomery’s potential college future remains uncertain, as do any plans of competitive tennis in the near future.

Prior to this current hiatus, her plans were to play the junior Slams and begin to test herself further as she transitions to the professional level.

“This is my year to focus on my game and figure out what I need to develop during this time,” she said, hoping to be back playing matches soon.

She feels her game is ready for the pros, and an increased focus on fitness has brought the confidence to go toe-to-toe at that level. The one area where she does sense a gap is in the mental toughness of the seasoned pros—though it must be said that Montgomery, in her Vegas title run, displayed impressive mental mettle with come-from-behind victories against WTA Top-300 opponents in both the semis and final.

“I think the difference between juniors and pros is that, for pros, it’s their life. It’s basically their job. So playing a match, at the end of the day, it does come out with how much money you make. So they’re going to be fighting, they’re not going to quit or tank a match because they’re down a certain amount of games. They’re always going to keep fighting because it’s their job.

“While in the juniors, we know we have so many other tournaments lined up, maybe some of our mindsets might be, ‘It’s OK, I’ll do better at the next tournament.’”

She got a front-row seat to the highest level of the pro game when she was invited by the USTA to experience the Fed Cup environment during the February tie against Latvia. Along with fellow top juniors Reese Brantmeier, Elena Yu, Clervie Ngoungue and more, Montgomery traveled to Everett, Wash., after she reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open as the No. 2 seed.

“It was just an unbelievable experience watching the top players from both the U.S. and Latvia compete against each other, and the Americans being able to win in a doubles clincher.”

The American team included Serena Williams, freshly crowned Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin, Alison Riske, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Coco Gauff.

Montgomery calls Gauff, the 2018 Orange Bowl champ, a friend. Sooner or later, she’ll call her a colleague on the WTA Tour.

But for now, that’s all on hold, as Montgomery—like so many Americans—remains housebound, in the Washington, D.C., area.

Her usual tournament schedule means that she is typically only home for two to three weeks at a time. Now, she’s been under the same roof for the most extended period in recent memory.

“Have I been annoying yet?” she joked to her mom.

Even JTCC—an NJTL chapter where she works with Coach Agnamba—is closed, leaving the Excellence Team participant to find new ways to work.

She’s been hitting against a wall nearby and attacking whatever home workouts her fitness coach sends her way. Outside of tennis, she’s used the downtime to catch up on schoolwork and browse on Pinterest for fun.

Montgomery is the top-ranked American junior girl in the ITF World Tennis Tour Rankings, a title that serves as another great addition to her prospectus. For her, it's just another dividend in her larger tennis journey. 

Perhaps the best proof of her long-term career outlook? She didn’t know she owned that current distinction until she was interviewed for this piece.

 

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