Maybe Bon Jovi was right — you can go home again.
As a freshman last year, Connie Hsu earned Ivy League Player and Rookie of the Year honors after going a staggering 44-3 in singles, playing exclusively at No. 1. While similar success may have eluded the rest of the young Quakers roster, dominance was routine for Hsu.
But when the former Penn women’s tennis prodigy returned to her native Taiwan to win a $10,000 Women’s Tennis Association tournament last June, it wasn’t any ordinary victory.
“A lot of my relatives were there and they were all supporting me,” Hsu said. “I had a really nice time. I hadn’t been back since I was 14, so it was really nice to see my family.”
But Hsu’s triumph in Taiwan was more than just a homecoming. It was the victory that brought her tennis career full circle.
In the same country that she established herself as a prodigy by winning an under-10 national championship as an 8-year-old back in 2000, Hsu and her family decided that it was best for her to forgo her sophomore year at Penn and finally turn professional.
“Even when I was 4 or 5, I would grow up watching her play tennis,” Connie’s younger brother Steven said. “I would say she’s the most hard-working person I know. She devotes five to six hours each day conditioning for tennis and has had to balance it with school.
“Her schedule has been just packed throughout her life, and I don’t want to see all that work for nothing.”
Based on Hsu’s body of work, going pro was always in the cards. But even though she has left Penn, Hsu plans on returning to campus in a few years if her pro journey stalls.
In the meantime, though, Hsu will continue globe-trotting. She has won two singles titles in Turkey in addition to her victory in Taiwan. Hsu has also competed in Thailand and San Diego, with a tourney in Brazil coming up. She estimates she has played in 15 singles competitions since turning pro eight months ago and is now ranked 416th in the world.
“It’s a lot of fun to go to different places,” Hsu said. “My dad has been traveling with me most of the time and I guess on the road he’s my coach and trainer, so it’s good to travel with him.”
But becoming a professional tennis player has quite literally come at a price for Hsu and her family. Since hitting the pro circuit full-time, her winnings have consistently offset her travel expenses. On tour, victories are as much financial necessities as they are professional achievements.
“It’s expensive to be a pro,” said Steven, a sophomore at Penn. “The people [outside] the top 100 usually just break even or even lose money. If my dad’s away and acting as travel advisor and tennis coach for Connie, then he can’t be home to support the family, so then my mom has to work part-time and I have to work 25-30 hours a week also.”
Hsu, though, isn’t distracted as her family continues to support her.
“I do miss Penn,” she said. “I miss having a team. I still talk to [women’s coach] Sanela [Kunovac] and some of my teammates. I was thinking if I get back from Brazil I can go watch their matches.”
But for the next few years, it will be Hsu who is in the spotlight, looking to vindicate the many years of sacrifice and separation her family has made for her ever-promising tennis career.
“I really enjoy the situation I’m in now,” she said. “In general, I don’t realize there’s a lot of pressure on me.”