Tennis Pro Retires Into Class of '05
DeLone, now 32, arrived at Harvard in 1991 with one year on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) professional tennis tour under her belt.
“I came to Harvard freshman year because I wanted to experience college as a normal student,” she says. “I had five roommates in Weld and I loved them all, and the team was great. I tried to balance academics and playing for Harvard, and had a great time. But I felt that I was being pulled in too many directions, and if I wanted to play pro that was the time to do it.”
After the 1991-1992 academic year, deLone took a leave of absence and returned to the tour, never doubting that she would one day graduate from Harvard.
“It’s very unusual [for tennis players] to leave college and then come back, although some people will finish their four years and then go play,” she says. “The longer I was away, the more people would question whether I would come back, but it was never a question in my mind.”
GAME, SET, MATCH
While on tour, deLone reached a career high ranking of 65th in the world, won $766,020 in prize money, and defeated players such as Alicia Molik, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, and Sonja Jeyaseelan in singles and doubles play. She also played at all four Grand Slam events.
“I love the Australian Open,” she says of the Grand Slams. “Wimbledon is the event with the most history, the one you grow up watching. The U.S. Open is also incredible, because it’s in the United States and all of my friends were there.”
DeLone also witnessed several important moments in the sport’s recent history.
“I remember playing Monica Seles in the second round of the U.S. Open, on Center Court, after she had just come back from being stabbed. Everyone was very emotional and the stands were packed, and it was a little unsettling.”
Despite the excitement of travel and competition, deLone says the tour was not without its downsides.
“It’s a small group, we’re not nomads but we live out of suitcases more than half of the year. It’s tough because sometimes you have to play your friends, and it can be very competitive. Sometimes you have to be selfish but at the same time you’ve shared all these experiences,” she says.
So after 10 years traveling the world with the WTA tour, deLone was ready to leave. A stress fracture in her rib and a feeling of accomplishment on the tour made her eager to return to Harvard.
“It was time, and I wanted to move on and start a new career,” deLone says.
DeLone says she found the process of returning to campus surprisingly simple. “For them to allow me to come back after 10 years was amazing,” she says. “All I had to do was tell them I wanted to come back, and they said just e-mail us a couple weeks before registration.”
But deLone faced some unusual difficulties adjusting in her sophomore year.
“I took Marine Biology, and they would be showing slides of Bali, or of coral reefs in Australia,” she says. “I would miss the tour sitting there in class and realizing that I could actually be out there in other parts of the world doing exciting things. It was pretty hard getting into study mode.”
She naturally returned to tennis, helping to coach the women’s team during her first year back. “Initially I missed competing, and challenging myself, so it was an adjustment,” she says. “But now I don’t miss playing at all.”
DeLone remains active with tour, serving on the WTA Board of Directors. Involvement with the Board, which negotiates tournament rules, decides prizes, and sets long-term WTA policy, has also helped deLone keep in touch with players around the world.
DeLone will attend business school at Wharton next year with hopes of returning to tennis on the business side of the WTA. She says that without the typical burden of extracurriculars she has missed far fewer classes than the typical college student. “Now it makes me wonder how other athletes do it, and keep everything balanced.”
—Staff writer Ashley B.T. Ma can be reached at email@example.com.