When injuries forced Prim Siripipat off the court in 2001, the Duke star wasn’t quite ready for it.
Sixteen years later, she’s beginning a tennis comeback.
“I just missed the game,” she said. “I felt like the way I walked away from the sport felt so wrong.”
As part of her return to the game, the former Duke star and radio personality recently competed at the USTA Middle States Wildcard Weekend event.
Growing up in Mexico, Mo., she first picked up a racquet at age 7. For the Siripipats, tennis was a family affair.
“Both of my parents and my brother were better than me, so that helped because I was always able to play someone that was bigger and stronger,” she said.
Tennis became a lifestyle by the age of 9 as she began playing year-round tennis and building her national ranking. As a high school junior, she found herself ranked in the top 10 nationally with multiple scholarships from top tier tennis. She chose Duke for its combination of athletics and academics.
In just three years at Duke, Siripipat compiled a 44-15 singles record by punishing her opponents with powerful ground strokes, despite her smaller frame.
Although her career was very successful, she was playing most of her matches in pain. She went through three surgeries in 2001, and her nagging injuries proved to be too much. Siripipat ultimately decided to hang up her racquets in order to pursue a professional a career.
“It was a combination of factors,” she said. “Part of it was my body. I thought it wouldn’t last. And It just got old having to play through so much pain but truthfully, I just felt a little uninspired and I lost some confidence.”
The end of Prim’s tennis career meant an unexpected new beginning. She found happiness and success in the broadcasting world after leaving the game she had devoted so much time and effort to playing over 15 years, even reaching the pinnacle of sports entertainment at the industry’s biggest network.
“I was with ESPN for six years and had a radio show with Sarah Spain, which was a lot of fun,” she said.
Although she found success on the other side of sports as a broadcaster, she never felt satisfied with the way she exited the sport.
“When I decided to stop playing, it felt so undramatic and it bothered me that I didn’t go down fighting”.
The last time Siripipat had picked up a racquet was in 2004. She picked it back up again in 2016 to make her comeback.
“I realized that I didn’t like the way my career ended. So I’m essentially going back and seeing if I can rewrite an ending to my career,” she said.
Towards the end of her tenure with ESPN, Siripipat began training for competitive tennis again. This meant facing down those same demons, both physical and mental, that plagued her in her finals days at Duke.
Siripipat is now playing in professional tournaments to build her ranking and ultimately find closure in her athletic career.
Her first step was simply getting back out onto the court. Now, it’s time for her to prove to herself that she belongs there.