source: Flickr/Robbie Mendelson

Not just anyone can be a student-athlete at UCLA. Ranked no. 13 on the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, and armed with 112 NCAA championships divided amongst 23 men and women’s sports programs (more titles than any other school in the country), UCLA demands that its student-athletes be tough, smart, dedicated, hardworking, and well above average both inside and out of the classroom. You have to be exceptional.

Well, for the past four years, Varsity Women’s Tennis player Robin Anderson has been busy being just that: exceptional. Her on-court record speaks for itself, and is impressive even by UCLA’s sky-high standards. Not only did she play the no. 1 position in both singles and doubles for all four years in an extremely competitive conference, but she also earned All-American honors in both categories for each of those four years as well. She was selected to the prestigious First-Team All-Pac-12 her freshman through senior years, and was additionally named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year for the 2011-12 season and Pac-12 Player of the Year for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, respectively.

If you thought that was all, think again, because it gets better: Anderson helped lead UCLA to a Final Four performance every year at the NCAA tournament, and even clinched the program’s third NCAA title during her junior year by decisively decimating then-no. 1 ranked Jamie Loeb of UNC 6-2, 6-2 for a 4-3 UCLA victory.

The Matawan, New Jersey native also won the coveted Honda Sports Award for tennis both her junior and senior years, which is exclusively reserved for the best of the best female athletes in each of twelve collegiate sports. Her senior year, she posted an in-season 19-2 record in singles and 19-8 in doubles, which led her to finish her collegiate career ranked no. 1 in the country in singles and no. 11 in doubles.

Not to mention that she did all of this while maintaining Honor Roll status as well as receiving annual Scholar Athlete honors.

But as anyone who excels at a craft will tell you, success comes neither cheap nor easy. In fact, without a staggering amount of effort, persistence, and consistency, chances are that success won’t come at all. This is especially applicable to tennis given that it requires nearly as many hours off the court as on. Tennis is therefore infamous for its uncanny ability to bestow an innumerable number of life lessons upon all those who play. Some are wanted, some are needed, many are neither, and none are delivered on a silver platter. Players rarely need to learn the same one twice.

I had the opportunity to speak with Anderson last week as she was in the process of preparing for the 2015 U.S. Open Qualifying tournament, which begins on Tuesday, August 25. When asked about the life lessons that tennis had to offer her, Anderson said, “The biggest thing it [tennis] taught me that with hard work, good things will happen. Putting in the time in the gym, on the court, on the track. You have to go through the grind every day.”

Hearing about her training schedule made that pretty clear. In addition to maintaining a rigorous course load, the Anderson spent approximately fifteen hours per week training on the court with her teammates under UCLA’s Head and Associate Head Coaches, Stella Sampras Webster and Rance Brown. Lift, which happened every Tuesday and Thursday in the gym at 7 AM, allowed her to focus on building the strength and lean muscle that she needed to be the best player in the country. She spent the other three days of the week improving her speed, agility, and quickness on the football field by doing sprints, ladders, and footwork drills with her teammates after practice.

Even before UCLA, Anderson was no stranger to hard work. Her father began teaching her both soccer and tennis at a very young age in Matawan. With her natural talent and obvious athleticism, she had an immediate affinity for both sports. Anderson chose tennis permanently at age 11 when she went to her first United States Tennis Association (USTA) training camp and realized that tennis involved meeting and practicing with new people. From that point on, she rose up through the national rankings and became one of the most well known players in the junior circuit. When asked if playing college tennis had always been a longtime goal, Anderson said, “Not really. I didn’t think about playing in college until my junior year, when July 1 came and coaches started calling.” Given her status as the no. 1 college recruit in United States, it was no surprise to learn that she received what was probably an onslaught of calls on the first legal day for coach-player phone communication.

When she narrowed down her college search to three schools, she said she chose UCLA over Stanford and Duke for three reasons: the unbeatable SoCal weather, the campus atmosphere, and the coaches, Stella and Rance, who “definitely made me feel welcome.” This pro-UCLA instinct did not lead her astray. By her senior year, Anderson said, “it felt like a family. Everybody on the team was really close. Everyone competed their hardest and we were all really focused and on the same page with the same goal.”

UCLA Bruins before the 2015 NCAA tournament.
UCLA Bruins before the 2015 NCAA tournament | source: Instagram/@kristinwileyy

Unlike college tennis, professional tennis had always been on Anderson’s mental horizon. “I had the opportunity to compete [professionally] out of high school, but I knew I needed more development. UCLA was good for that time in my life.”

Now, after graduating from UCLA in June, Anderson’s pro career has gone from being a post-grad aspiration to a reality. Less than one month after the graduation ceremony, she qualified for and got to the finals of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) $25,000 Pro-Circuit tournament in El Paso, Texas. In July, she fought her way through to the quarterfinals of a $50,000 ITF in Sacramento, and only last week made it to the finals of a $25,000 ITF in Landisville, Pennsylvania. These results have earned her a career high singles ranking of 416 in the world, as well as one of only 128 spots in the U.S. Open Qualifying tournament. Sixteen of these 128 will win three rounds and qualify for the world famous U.S. Open Grand Slam tournament in New York City.

Anderson plays her first round on Wednesday, August 26, against eighth-seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands. While the two have never played before, it is safe to say that Anderson has done everything in her power to prepare. Without classes to attend, she was able to develop and adhere to a tennis-centric schedule:

“So on a training day, I play tennis for roughly two hours in the morning. Then I go to the gym and lift, grab lunch, go back out for another 2-3 hours, and then do some kind of running— either three miles or sprints depending on the day.”

Anderson has undoubtedly proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with in college tennis, and is striving to continue to do so in the pros. “I would love to play every slam,” she said. “My first goal is to make the top 150 or top 100, and then see where it goes from there.” With her WTA career in the works, one thing is certain: her reputation as a tough but honest competitor will follow her wherever she plays. Reputations like that are hard to come by in the tennis world, which is often ruthless and unforgiving. What’s the bottom line? With American tennis on the rise, Robin Anderson is going to be a name to watch out for.

Check out the Bruins’ UCLA Spotlight featuring Robin:

Spotlight: Robin AndersonThe nation’s No. 1 singles player and reigning Honda Award winner Robin Anderson is featured in this week’s Spotlight by #BruinFilms.

Posted by UCLA Women’s Tennis on Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Robin is the fifth match on Court 16 Wednesday, August 26.  Match play begins at 11 AM EST. Follow her match live on usopen.org.