In 2015 Isabelle Wallace switched allegiances from Britain to Australia aged just 19, due to a lack of support from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). Fast forward two years and Wallace has celebrated the best year of her career, reaching a ranking high of 271, following an impressive four titles. But what’s it like representing a different country? We caught up with Isabelle to discuss her fantastic year and her hopes for 2018.
Isabelle grew up in a sporting family. Her father was a semi-professional goalkeeper, while her brother was also a footballer before his career was ended due to injuries. But it was tennis that interested the young Scot, playing at Inverness Squash and Tennis Club with her parents.
Her family moved to Australia when Isabelle was just ten years old, and so in her junior tournaments, Wallace represented the Aussies. After six years in Melbourne, Isabelle and her family moved back to the UK, where she decided to represent her country of birth, training with the LTA and Tennis Scotland. However, this relationship wasn’t to last for long.
“I wasn’t receiving any support from the LTA which then led me to decide to change nationalities back to Australia.” Speaking to the BBC when Isabelle made the switch, her family cited a lack of confidence in their daughter from the LTA following a dip in form. This response is also comparable to Josh Goodall, whose funding was cut after being told he wasn’t performing at a high enough level; Goodall retired at 27.
From then on, the difficult decision was made for Wallace to switch back to represent Australia.
The LTA’s loss is Tennis Australia’s gain and after a difficult start to her professional career, Wallace is receiving the support she so sorely desired from the LTA. “Tennis Australia has been really really good to me. They mentor and really help me out at tournaments, keeping in touch despite being so far away and not being in the academy training programme over there.”
This support is welcomed by Isabelle, who felt like she didn’t receive as much as she may have deserved in Britain. “I think the LTA definitely has their favourites and stick to them. They have so much money and really don’t help a lot of the girls in the UK, especially the ones that need it.”
What’s happened since Wallace switched to represent Australia?
Making the move was brave, especially given the amount of money the LTA has at its disposal. The switch has paid off, and Wallace is seeing her career move in a positive direction. She has rocketed up the rankings. In 2017, she climbed from outside the top 700 to 274, a ranking that would place the Scot as the British number six, above Katy Dunne, Katie Swan and Tara Moore. She also notably won an ITF $25k title in Belgium back in August, showcasing the step up in her form and performances.
She also has the support from her Australian followers: “I’ve had so much support from Aussie fans. I’m not a complete stranger to everyone over there so it’s been really nice to have the kind of reaction I’ve had.”
It’s fair to say the future is looking bright, but Isabelle is staying notably grounded. “Overall this year has been so positive for me, giving me a lot of confidence. Also changing coaches has helped me incredibly. I’m at a career high right now, but I’m really just taking it one step at a time. I’m not getting too far ahead of myself and just want to see if I can keep improving and see how far I can get.”
Life on tour
Like many other players have said in the past, Wallace finds tennis a lonely sport, with difficult tournament experiences in the lower graded events. “Life on the tour can be lonely, especially when travelling alone, which I do a lot. But I know a lot of girls on the tour so that helps.
“Every tournament is different depending on the level and location. Some 15s and 25s are just awful, whereas others can be a lot nicer when the tournament level goes up, for example 80s, 100s and WTAs.”
Training takes priority over Isabelle’s life, where she spends almost six hours a day working on improving her game. However, the results have been there for all to see. “My biggest achievement so far, I would just have to say, is this year. I have a few titles under my belt and been able to play my first WTA qualifying event. I’m just really proud of myself for the hard work I’ve put in, and there’s a lot more to come next year, hopefully!”
Should Brits still back Wallace?
While British tennis fans have welcomed the likes of Jo Konta and Aljaz Bedene to represent their nation with arms wide open, it’s tough to say the same for players who decide to represent a different country. Since Wallace switched to represent Australia, little has been mentioned about her development and progress, with the exception of some regional and local titles in Scotland.
It’s clear that Isabelle and her family were put into a difficult position with funding and support. If Wallace made it through an event in Britain, would fans support her as a homegrown player?
She would deserve it for the sheer braveness in her decision to leave the LTA and ask another country’s association to support her progress. Tennis Australia has shown its confidence in her abilities and, through its mentoring, Wallace now has a solid foundation to build a career inside the top 250 and compete on the main WTA tour. Who would question the decision of a tennis player making a change to help better their game and have the best professional career possible? I certainly wouldn’t.