With talent to burn and a steely work ethic to match, teenage tennis stars Talia Gibson and Taylah Preston are leading WA’s next generation of WTA hopefuls.
Already the best players in Australia for their age, the dynamic duo have been turning heads on the International Tennis Federation junior circuit for the past few years.
Recently named dual winners of Tennis WA’s Junior Tennis Star Award, Gibson and Preston have both held the ranking of number one in Australia for their year of birth (2004 and 2005 respectively) within the past year.
With the summer of tennis on the horizon and Melbourne Park beckoning the nation’s top players, the pair are hoping to snare a spot in the Australian Open qualifying rounds.
However, despite their impressive resumes there is a shared understanding between the two training partners that there is a long way to go until they reach the top of the mountain.
“When you first get to number one, it’s a bit overwhelming,” Gibson said. “It’s a really good achievement; I’ve worked so hard to get here, but it’s also about knowing I want to work harder, improve on that ranking and go and play worldwide.”
“Obviously it’s a good feeling when you’re ranked number one for your birth year and you feel like all of your hard work has paid off a little bit, but it’s just the start of where you want to get to eventually,” Preston said.
Gibson began the year with a career-high ITF junior ranking of 39 in the world and despite being just 17 years old, made her mark in the local State League this year, winning the women’s MVP award last season after helping Peppermint Grove finish as runners-up.
The Alfred Cove resident has an ITF J2 (the third-highest international junior grade) win at Tweed Heads to her name, as well as finals, semi-final and quarter-final appearances at various J2 and J1 events in Korea, Fiji and Thailand.
In 2019, she won under-16 Australian Championships singles and under-18 Australian Championships doubles titles at Melbourne Park before representing Australia at the under-16 WTA Future Stars event in China, where she reached the semi-finals
Preston already has nine ITF titles under her belt (three singles and six doubles), including all four on offer in Darwin earlier this year.
Like Gibson, the Greenwood Tennis Club player enjoyed a successful 2019, winning both the singles and doubles at the under-14 Australian Grasscourt Championships and then repeating the feat at the under-14 Australian Championships.
The Hocking product travelled to Shenzhen with Gibson for the WTA Future Stars event and reached the semi-finals of the under-14 category.
The pair said playing overseas had been illuminating and confidence-building.
“It was a really good experience to see the players overseas and where my level matched with them and how I’m going,” Preston said. “It helped me in my development.”
“When you get to see and play against all these different players around the world, you see you’re matching all these players,” Gibson said.
“It does give you a lot of confidence; it’s not like you’re behind or anything. It just motivates you to work even harder.”
While the results speak for themselves, those who have worked with Gibson and Preston are quick to sing their praises when it comes to their work ethic.
They have a strong supporter in another Perth product, former doubles world number 52 Jessica Moore.
Moore, a 12-year veteran, said she had tracked the duo’s progress over the past couple of years, and their work ethic and attention to detail stood out.
“They both compete unbelievably well,” she said. “I’ve seen them both fight through matches, which is good to see, especially at such a young age.
“They both hit incredibly big balls; they’re physical, but what I like most is they give it a crack and compete.
“Every drill we do, they’re giving it their all and that’s not always the case at this age. Every session, they’re going for it on the practice court; they know it’s going to improve them and they’re thinking long-term.”
WA national development squad coach Tom George works closely with the pair and called them “special” talents, noting their work ethic and on-court aggression.
“Taylah is an aggressive baseliner who’s got great intensity, is very professional, trains the house down and has big punishing ground strokes,” he said.
“She has won seven ITFs over the past two years and is moving from strength to strength.
“Talia’s game style is a little bit different; she also possesses big powerful ground strokes but has more of an all-court game.
“She’ll slice backhands, slice serves, come to the net in transition and do some volleys, but she changes direction well.”
Brad Dyer, who has coached Preston since she was just eight years old, said the same attitudes that stood out when he first encountered her remained strong today.
“She always had a really strong work ethic, always put in, was always on time; the little things that make a quality athlete were always in place,” he said.
“Fighting qualities, excellent attitude, I think she’s got a world-class backhand. The attitude is unreal.”
Perspective is needed when discussing the futures of the two youngsters; Gibson is only finishing high school this year, while Preston still has a couple more years to go, and it is far too early to pencil both in as long-term WTA players.
But Moore, who played on the tour as recently as 2020, firmly believes Gibson and Preston have what it takes.
“With the strengths they have and the way they go about their business, they can be as good as they want to be,” she said.
“I’ve seen the level of the top players on the WTA tour and I think they (Gibson and Preston) hit an amazing ball, so it’s pretty much up to them and if they want to take it where they want to, I think they can do it.”