Saturday January 9th, 2016

Samantha Crawford's delayed flight didn't bother her too much. After an "awesome" run to the Brisbane semifinals, the 20-year-old American was headed to Melbourne for the first time since playing there as a junior in 2012. An hour delay wasn’t going to dampen that.

A junior U.S. Open champion in 2012, Crawford had her career halted in 2013 after knee surgery following her third meniscus tear. But in November 2015, the Tamarac, Fla., native won the $50K Cooperwynd Women's Pro Challenger in Scottsdale, Ariz.—her first professional singles title and her ticket to the Australian Open via a main draw wildcard from the USTA. Her quest for success in Melbourne in 2016 began last week in Brisbane, where she played through qualifying and then beat Priscilla Hon, Belinda Bencic and Andrea Petkovic before losing to Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals of the main draw.

Shortly after stepping into the Melbourne summer, Crawford spent time talking to SI.com about typical tournament-week life. And right now, that day starts with an acai bowl. “I’m going through a phase with that,” she says with a laugh. “I’ll go through things where I eat a lot of oatmeal, berries and Greek yogurt with granola. I usually don’t eat eggs a lot unless I’m at home, sometimes I would just rather not eat something really heavy.”

[tweet=https://twitter.com/samcrawford18/status/685278186670653440​]

The positive nutrition choice in the morning sets her up for her first hitting session of the day, usually a one-hour court slot with another player in the tournament. “If you’re at a tournament, there are always girls looking to practice,” she says. “You can sign up if you are looking for someone or just practice with someone you know.”

Typically the 6'2" Crawford hits the court for an hour in the morning and then another hour in the afternoon, maybe adding in an extra 30-minute session to work on specific skills. During the court time with another player, practice sets rule the day. And instead of focusing on the minutia of her game, she takes a different approach.

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“If you’re at a tournament, it is better to keep things simple so you don’t overwhelm yourself,” she says. “If you work on too many things it can get frustrating. You want to feel your best before you play. You are trying to simulate how you want to play and the things you want to do while you’re playing.”

But there’s more to her training than just the two to two-and-a-half hours on the court. Crawford runs through a dynamic warm-up before each session and typically does a bit of cardio fitness and strength exercises for her core and shoulders for injury prevention on daily basis. The intense workouts happen away from tournaments, back on home soil. Every court session or workout ends with stretching. To keep her nutrition going on the right path, Crawford puts a focus on salmon or chicken with salad. She will dip into pasta or rice with a protein and vegetables “and all that good stuff” for dinner.

While Crawford was in Brisbane solo, she has the help of her coach, Michael Joyce—former coach of Maria Sharapova—on this trip, along with support from the USTA, she says.

To prepare for specific opponents, she does try to keep their tendencies in mind, but puts more of an emphasis on her own game. “I think it is really important to focus on everything you can control,” she says. “Having a clear mindset on how you want to play and focusing on that.”

But a day isn’t filled with just acai bowls, court time with her Wilson Pro Staff and off-the-court stretching. There’s plenty of time to relax too. “Tennis is such a big part of my life and it is obviously really important to me,” she says, “but it is good to get away from it and not have to stress out about everything and relax while watching a show or reading.”

Crawford after winning her junior girls' final against Anett Kontaveit in 2012.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA

Crawford mixes in books with her television—right now she’s into The Blacklist and Making a Murderer (“everyone is watching it”)—all in an effort to make sure she isn’t obsessing over matches. “I try to chill and read and watch a show to take my mind off things,” she says. “(If I’m obsessing) I think I get anxious.”

At age 20 many of the tournaments still offer up new opportunities to see fresh international sites. “I feel like every time I’m somewhere, I try to see something,” Crawford says. “I walk around and check everything out, find some places to eat and enjoy the city.”

Crawford now hopes the short flight delay arriving into town for the Australian Open is a sign that her stay in Melbourne will get delayed with a few wins. That means a few extra acai bowls for breakfast.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb

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