Like many, Caroline Garcia enjoys her mother’s cooking. But for the 22-year-old WTA rising star, that cooking takes place in apartments around the world as the French tennis pro trots the globe in search of ranking points and tournament victories.
“When mom is cooking, we are more in a routine,” says the Lyon, France, native who just recently turned 22 on Oct. 16. “You can better relax when you go through things like you usually do. It is more comfortable.”
Garcia must hop from tournament to tournament, often hitting up to four events in a row without a break. The young star reached her career-high ranking of No. 25 in mid-March of this year (she is currently ranked at No. 39) but the regardless of ranking, the constant travel takes a toll, both physically and mentally. The four-year pro says she aims for that sweet spot of arriving to a tournament with just enough time to acclimate from the jetlag and flight, but not too early, as she personally doesn’t like having too much down time before her opening match. “When we plan the travel, we change when to arrive based on how long the flight is,” she says. “Sometimes (the flight) is very long and sometimes very short. I don’t like to arrive too early. Most of the time, three days is fine.”
When she does arrive, Garcia, who routinely travels with her mom and dad, looks to land an apartment with a kitchen, making it “more like home.” It is there that her mom, Mary Lene, can shop and create the home-cooking environment.
“I don’t bring anything special with me,” Garcia says about her travel nutrition. “I just eat very simply. I check everything and try to eat a lot of rice and chicken. I just want to be safe and very careful.”
Safe and careful extends to her in-season practice regimen as well. With her father and coach Louis Paul, the pair spends most of their in-tournament time on site “getting ready for the match as much as you can.” For Garcia, the main practice comes in the offseason. Since she plays singles and doubles as much as possible, she’s zapping energy at a steady rate week after week.
“You are not going to gain anything or any power (during a tournament), you are trying to keep your level the same,” she says about workouts. “If I lose early in the tournament, I can work out and try to improve. When the tournament is done, I’m just trying to get well and work on the recovery for the next day.”
With practice, preparation, two matches and recovery all mixed into a typical day, Garcia says she doesn’t get to see much of the cities she visits. “People think we have quite a long time to go sightseeing,” she says. “But actually, it is not very often. I would be happy to do more sightseeing. I would love to do more after my tennis career.”
That said she knows how fortunate she is to have traveled and seen what she has. “At 21, I am lucky to have been at so many countries, continents,” she says. “Some people stay all their life in their country.”
At the same time, though, the constant on-the-road lifestyle can take a mental toll on Garcia, who says, “Sometimes you want to stay quiet more than a week and stay in your own bed.” She misses family and friends. “Some of the time,” she says, “it can be more difficult to go away.”
Missing her dog, Endy, doesn’t help either. Occasionally Endy will make a European trip with Garcia, but she knows that spending the day at a tennis tournament isn’t the best for a dog. Leaving for weeks on end is tough. “I miss her a lot,” she says.
When Garcia lands in tournament-to-tournament mode, as she did in October with appearances at the China Open in Beijing and Hong Kong Open, ahead of the WTA Rising Stars Invitational tournament in Singapore, she says winning remains the most important thing to keep her focused. Garcia had her Asian swing extended when she won a WTA Rising Stars fan vote, giving her an extra tournament at the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. Garcia has also qualified as one of the top-eight doubles teams at the WTA Finals in Singapore with her partner Katarina Srebotnik.
“Yeah, I’m very excited,” she says about Singapore, a place she’s never visited. “It is always great to discover the city and I hear it is very different than China. It will be very interesting to see a new tournament and people say it is very good, so I’m even more excited.”
For the 22-year-old, she’ll continue to balance that excitement of traveling the world with the need to focus on tennis. Maybe some of mom’s home cooking will help.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.