Before she even arrived at OU, Ivana Corley had already carved a place in history. A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Corley hit a milestone that no other tennis player from her hometown had reached in twenty years.
Corley first picked up a tennis racquet at the age of seven after trying a variety of other sports but quitting as soon as she got bored. Her mother, Maria, let her try tennis, but with one condition - she had to stay involved for three months. The three months passed, and Corley never looked back.
Playing in New Mexico proved a challenge; the sport's lack of popularity in the Land of Enchantment meant few opportunities to grow her game.
“I always had to stay motivated because it was hard; our resources were a little limited,” said Corley, who attributes her grittiness on the court to training with older players, most of them male.
She frequently traveled to out-of-state tournaments to get experience, but in 2017, Corley had the opportunity to play in a tournament in her hometown and embraced it.
Corley and her sister, Carmen, were granted a wildcard entry to the doubles main draw at the Coleman Vision Tennis Championships in Albuquerque. The $80,000 ITF Women's Circuit Tournament has given wildcard bids to players from Albuquerque every year since it began in 1998, but none had ever won a main draw match. The Corley sisters became the first hometown players ever – in singles or doubles – to do so, and in statement fashion. They beat out the No. 4 seed by grinding out a three-set victory, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (6), 1-0 [10-7].
Corley awaits a serve at the 2017 Coleman Vision Tennis Championships.
“We had worked very hard for that moment. We had the whole community supporting us, so it just meant a lot,” said Corley. “It was just really cool being able to do that for Albuquerque. I don't really know how else to explain it — that feeling was so cool in the moment, because we knew that we'd started something.”
Corley earned WTA Women's Professional Status at the tournament, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary the same year. “It was such a good environment and community, it was really fun,” said Corley of the accomplishment.
The Coleman Vision Tournament was once called “a path for rising stars” by the Albuquerque Journal and is a stop for many professional tennis players on their journey to fame. Winner of the 2017 US Open and now a household name, Sloane Stephens gained ground at the 2010 Coleman Vision Tournament, where at the age of 17, she made a run to the quarterfinals.
"I don't really know how else to explain it — that feeling was so cool in the moment, because we knew that we'd started something."
- Ivana Corley
And although she considers Stephens one of her inspirations, it's the Williams sisters that Corley has idolized.
“Serena really stands out to me because I feel like she keeps ... not changing the game, but continuously doing things that surprise everyone,” said Corley. “I think she's become so influential in sports and in tennis in general – any time someone thinks of tennis, they think of Serena because she's done so much.
“My parents would constantly use Serena and Venus as examples, like, ‘Look what you can do,'” Corley continued. “Everywhere we'd go, when people would see [my sister and me], they would immediately be like, ‘Oh! The next Venus and Serena!' It was definitely something we heard a lot, and we didn't base our life around it, but it was definitely something we want to be someday.”
Corley won 19 matches in the fall and has earned a spot in the Sooners' singles lineup for spring duals.
Since arriving at OU in August, Corley has already proven her prowess on the court with a game style she says reflects Venus Williams', specifically her backhand. The freshman complied a 7-2 singles record during the fall tournament season. She added a team-high 12 doubles wins partnered with Jasmine Asghar, and the duo recorded a finish in the quarterfinals or better in every tournament, including a finals appearance in Corley's first event as a Sooner.
Corley has played at the top spot in doubles with Asghar in every dual match this spring and the two have three victories over ranked opponents to date. Corley has also earned a spot in the singles lineup and helped the Sooners to four wins on the year.
"On the court Ivana brings power and finesse. There are very few players that can hit big powerful serves and soft delicate drop shots," said head coach Audra Cohen.
"Off the court she brings fun and joy. Ivana has an incredible personality that brings so much fun and joy to this program."
Ivana Corley made history, but she's not finished yet. With her collegiate career ahead of her, there are more records to be broken and achievements to be met -- and exceeded.
Corley and the Sooners are home to host Arizona State Saturday at 10 a.m. CT.