Where Are They Now?
Rose Continuing To Blossom In Pros
by Joey Dillon, 10 August 2016
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While Oklahoma State University (OSU) stunned the college tennis world en route to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championships, there was one player unsurprised and beaming with pride: Malika Rose. Rose was Head Coach Chris Young's first recruit at OSU and came to Stillwater in January 2010. Although she was only a 4-star recruit, she was ranked in the Top 25 of the 2009 recruiting class. "My recruiting process was not conventional. My parents and I weren't aware of the process and how to go about finding the right college for me," Rose said. She continued, "To coaches around the country, I was unknown - a wildcard."
Standout Malika Rose at the Mertz Aesthetics Women's Challenger 2015 in Raleigh
© Neal Trousdale
The journey to Stillwater began in New York City, where Rose was born and began learning the game from her father Paul, a tennis pro. "I really owe all of my success to my Dad, who would teach me late at night or early in the morning, when I did - and sometimes didn't - want to play. Without him, I wouldn't have the experiences I've had." One of the highlights of Rose's time was participating as the kid participant in the Arthur Ashe Kid's Day at the 2002 US Open. In front of a home crowd, she participated in drills alongside top pros, including then (and current) World No.1 Serena Williams. "I was completely overwhelmed with emotion after completing the challenge on court alongside so many of my idols. There are so many moments from that day that I vividly remember." Rose would move to Florida that year to bring her tennis to the next level at the Saviano High Performance Tennis Academy
, where she trained alongside future professionals Sloane Stephens, Mallory Burdette and Laura Robson among others. "Malika was my first friend in tennis. We've known each other since we were kids and we grew up together - she's like my sister," Stephens said.
Rose maintained a Top 60 ranking throughout her prep career while opting for online schooling to help balance her tennis schedule. A top player in Florida, Rose began to branch out in ITF Pro Circuit events her junior year, earning her first ranking points in 2009 when she defeated two Top 600 players. One match that helped Rose finalize her sights set on college was a 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 loss to Shelby Rogers, who made the Roland Garros quarterfinals this year. Young, then coaching at Wichita State, first watched Malika at that event and was "quickly intrigued" - pointing out her power and athleticism as things he remembered. "I took the job at OSU a week after I saw Malika for the first time, and I knew we needed her in our program."
On top of taking a semester off before going to school, Rose was relatively under-the-radar in the recruiting process. Fresno State
reached out, but Rose knew the chances of an open slot were slim. "I was interested in going to a big-name university that had a large athletic program as well as respected academics." Fortunately, Young reached out a few weeks later - this time from an OSU email address. Armed with former WTA Top 50 pro Jamea Jackson as an assistant coach, Rose signed with the Cowgirls with hopes of pursuing a professional career after college. "(Chris) was eager to let me know that Jamea was joining the program. At the time, I had no interest of attending school so far away from home or in the Midwest, but that really grabbed my attention," Rose said.
Rose hopped into the lineup right away, starting at No.5 singles and playing Nos. 1-3 in doubles. While she had a winning record, Rose still struggled grasping the college tennis atmosphere. "(In juniors), each player has to develop the skills needed to be their own coach, positive voice, and motivator while competing. There is no point during a match where one can problem-solve with another person or teammate, but in college, all of that changes. Your coach comes and gives you advice whenever necessary, you have teammates cheering you on after points, the environment is loud and rowdy. It took a whole season to acclimate." Armed with a season under her belt, Rose earned a 16-6 ledger her sophomore season in the middle of the lineup, which included an 11-0 start to her season. She was also named to the Big 12 All-Academic Team for the first time. Rose would spend her summers playing professional events and earned the then-biggest win of her career before her junior year, upsetting No.391 Amra Sadikovic. The win would jumpstart her best season yet as a Cowgirl. "I was in a good place mentally after a great sophomore season, and then entering my junior year, our team dynamic was so strong. It helped me feel more comfortable not only as a Cowgirl, but as a leader for the team."
Rose would upset two ranked opponents, but a win over Texas
stands out the most. "Nobody thought we had a chance. We were No.52 and lost our previous three or four on the road. We hadn't beaten Texas in over twenty years, and it was our last chance to make NCAAs. Honestly, not many of us were optimistic," Rose remembered. With the team match tied at 3-3, Rose would upset No.30 Aeriel Ellis in three sets to seal the team win over the No.6 Longhorns, putting OSU in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. "Malika locked in so well during the third set and stayed on the baseline and controlled the points. When she is dictating and being able to stay consistent with her pressure, she can beat anyone. She cruised to the victory in the third set and gave us one of the biggest wins in program history," Young recalled. Teammate Meghan Blevins could tell right away the impact the match had on Rose. "You never see her get too emotional on the court and her smile and happiness after that match was so amazing to see."
The story of Rose improving every year would continue for her senior season, where she played No.1 singles and doubles. She upset four Top 50 opponents, including giving eventual NCAA Runner-Up Mary Weatherholt her only other loss of the season, guiding her to a No.58 singles ranking. She and Kanyapat Narattana continued their play from the previous season and would participate in the ITA All-American main draw in the Fall before upsetting three Top 20 duos in the Spring. They would earn a bid into the NCAA Doubles Tournament, where they reached the Round of 16. "Senior year was bittersweet knowing it was going to be my last season competing for the Cowgirls and being with my close friends and teammates. With doubles, Meaw and I played with each other for years and our communication and chemistry was fantastic on and off the court. We each knew where the other would go, even though we didn't consider ourselves good doubles players." Rose would end her career making the Big 12 All-Singles and All-Doubles Teams and earning the Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship Award for the Central region.
A few weeks after NCAAs, Rose embarked on her professional career, earning WTA points in singles and doubles, earning a doubles ranking that October. Rose would graduate from OSU with a Business degree in December and have 2014 be her first full-year on tour. She would quickly earn her singles ranking and since has played on three continents. In 2015, Rose would have her best year on tour, making two singles quarterfinals, which included her career-best win over No. 351 Ayaka Okuno at a tournament in Mexico.
Finances to sustain life on tour and injuries have kept Rose from competing full-time on the circuit, but she's making her comeback after nursing hamstring and rotator cuff injuries since August. Through her limited scheduling, Rose has risen to No. 880 in singles and No.826 in doubles. Using her alma mater's inspiring run in Tulsa, she returned to the tour in June at a $10k ITF in Canada and has been quick to gain momentum, reaching the finals at the RBC Bank Wealth Management Open in Eugene, Oregon and the semifinals at the Stanley Park Open in Vancouver.
Young credits Rose to helping mold the program to what it's become since her graduation. "She's been a large part of the evolution of our program. She had a passion for playing at the highest level and is someone that you want to help because she treats people the right way. I am so proud she is representing our program in what she does." He hopes Rose can achieve the potential he's seen firsthand. "Malika has the natural ability to compete at the highest level. She hits the ball as hard as anyone out there, and she is a great athlete. I don't think there is a limitation to what she can achieve given the right circumstances." Blevins points out Rose's love for the game as something that will keep her thriving in the pros. "She works her butt off, and you could never make her take a break - playing through a lot of pain in her college career. She's obsessed with tennis and even said that Wilson US Open balls were the best ones - and thinking about how good they feel off of her racquet made her want to cry."
Rose has had recent success as a pro tennis player
© Billie Weiss
While her attributes on the court are noteworthy, how Rose is off of the court stands out to everyone around her. Katrina Adams, Chairman, CEO & President of the USTA, believes Rose can climb her way up the rankings. "Malika is a very hard working young lady. She's kind-spirited and motivated to succeed. She is a fierce competitor and is committed to doing her very best." Stephens appreciates the lifelong friendship she has in Rose. "You wouldn't find a nicer person - she's one of a kind and just so fantastic. We can talk for hours about things, both on and off the court. I want her to do well and believe she can work her way up." Young, who keeps track of Rose's progress, says she can handle anything thrown at her. "Malika has an infectious personality that allows her to adapt to any environment and draw people to her. I am so proud of Malika for the young woman she has become, and I am excited to see what her future holds." For Rose, by sharing light and positivity, it comes right back. "I just try to interact with others the same way I wish they would interact with me. I care about others and what they're going through, and I will always try to do my best to make someone else's experience pleasant or easier. I just try to be true to myself."
As for Rose, she knows the lifespan of her tennis career isn't long, but she knows she wants to stay involved in tennis, wherever it leads. "I want to help people grow with the game, whether that be with kids in New York or Jamaica - or with college players entering the tour. I definitely have some interest in the real estate business, so maybe I'll try to dabble in something in that field. However, for the time being, I just want to continue to enjoy tennis for as long as I possibly can." While she's enjoying the ride of professional tennis, Rose makes sure to soak in the moments each and every day. "I don't know where tennis will lead me to - or what doors it will open - but I don't have a doubt in my mind that whatever is next for me, it's going to be just as beautiful and remarkable as tennis was to me."
You can follow Malika's progress on her website at www.malikarosetennis.weebly.com and her Facebook at MalikaRoseTennis.
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About Joey Dillon
Joey Dillon fell in love with collegiate tennis as a junior, attending
a Top 5 Georgia Tech-UGA 4-3 battle. He would eventually attend The
Ohio State University, where he worked with both tennis programs
throughout his four years. Upon graduation in 2014, he accepted an
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