Camila Osorio is currently the highest-ranked Colombian tennis player (185th in the ranking). She became junior US Open champion, world number one, and even won two Olympic medals. In the interview for Tiebreak we were talking about these wins and about her beginnings in tennis. Enjoy the interview.
Hi Camila, thank you for agreeing to do an interview for our website.
Hi! Thank you for inviting me.
Can you introduce yourself a bit at the beginning?
Well, I’m a 19-year-old girl from Colombia and I love playing tennis. I started playing when I was 6 years old.
Why did you choose tennis? Was it because of someone from your family or was it your choice?
All my family does sports, so I decided to do something but just as a hobby. I told my parents that I wanted to do skating, swimming or tennis. They decided to take me to play tennis but since I started playing, I fell in love. So here I am.
What was the moment when you realized you want to become a professional tennis player?
I think I knew from the beginning, but the time when I finally decided was when I was 11 or 12. At that time I changed normal school to online school so I had more time to practice and to travel.
Are there good conditions for tennis in Colombia? Was it hard at the beginning?
I guess it was okay when I started, but I moved to the USA for 3 years when I was 11 because I felt I needed more competition. That helped me a lot. I think I improved my level when I was there.
When you moved to the USA, was it hard to get used to living there?
Yes! It was super hard for me because I couldn’t speak a word. I remember the first week in the academy I called my dad and told him that I wanted to go back to Colombia, but my parents (as I said, they were athletes so they understand me) are my support and they told me to be calm and patient. After a few weeks, I made some friends and I enjoyed the end a lot.
That must have been hard. How long did it take you to learn English and understand other people?
About 6 months to understand and to talk a little. Now it’s better but I still need to learn a lot.
I don’t know if you've ever heard this, but your story is quite similar to Sharapova’s beginning. She also left her home country because of tennis. Also didn’t know a single English word… Has anyone told you this?
No one told me but I know her story was really hard.
Now I would like to talk about your junior career which was amazing. Can we talk a bit about Youth Olympic Games in Argentina?
Uf! The Olympics in Argentina. I think it was my favorite junior tournament. I love the slams but this week was so special for me. The people there, the courts, and also you had the chance to be with the best junior athletes in the world in different sports, so that was crazy too. I won two medals in mixed doubles and in singles.
That is an incredible achievement. How big was the support from the crowd? Were they pushing you for better results?
I remember I had a lot of people cheering for me and that helped me a lot. In the second round, I was losing to Cocciaretto 6:2, 5:2 and she had two match points. I came back and won 7:5 in the third and I guess after that match the people there just stayed with me for the rest of the tournament.
As you said you won two medals there. Were you even expecting this? Which one is more important to you?
Both are really important... Of course, I wanted to win gold but it wasn’t easy. I remember coming back every night after the matches and all the girls were talking about the medals they won and that they were done competing. In my head, I was like: "I still have to play 3 matches tomorrow (singles, doubles, and mixed) to try and get one...". So when I won the first one I was so happy even though it wasn’t gold.
In my opinion, every Olympic medal is a huge success. And the fact that you won two is just incredible. Another important part of your junior career was grand slam tournaments. In 2019 you achieved the biggest win of your junior career. You became a US Open champion. What did this tournament mean to you?
A lot. When I started playing juniors all I wanted was to win a slam and be the number 1 player in the world. That was my last tournament as a junior, but I wanted to enjoy it. I decided to go just with my brother. I guess he brought me luck (laugh). When I won I couldn’t believe it. I was so so happy that I cried.
Your dream came true. How much did your life change after the US Open title?
I think not much, I guess. In Colombia, people started to recognize me a little bit. I also got some confidence and started believing more in my tennis. But the rest was the same.
And can you tell us about coming back to Colombia? I heard that people went crazy about your win.
Yes, it was crazy (laugh). A lot of media and interviews in Bogotá. When I arrived in my city I got a firetruck and the police to take me to the city and say hi to people, it was really funny.
Almost like a football team coming back from a tournament (laugh). Were you surprised by the welcome in your city?
Yes, I was surprised. I didn’t expect any of that. Now I remember that also in the airplane the pilot said I was flying and people started clapping. It was too much. I was happy but also a little embarrassed (laugh). I didn’t know how to act.
I also wouldn’t know how to act. Maybe it was a bit harder than winning a grand slam, right? (laugh)
Yes, a bit harder (laugh). I prefer running side to side on the court.
You’re right. After the 2019 US Open, your junior career ended. How would you sum up this part of your life? Is there something else you wanted to achieve?
It was a great junior career I believe, and I got everything I wanted. Medal in Olympics, grand slam, and world number 1, so I’m really proud of what I did.
How did your parents react to your US Open win? Weren’t you sad they were not in NYC with you?
They were happy and proud, too. All my family was watching the final. I love traveling with my parents but it was the first tournament with my brother and I was having so much fun in NYC when I wasn't playing matches. I also get to visit the city every night, eat everything I wanted (laugh), so I kind of forgot that they were not there with me.
I understand. Sometimes you need to enjoy it and not think about matches so much, right?
Your first season as a senior was affected by the covid-19 pandemic. How did you spend the break from tennis?
I was relaxing and kept doing fitness but I did some other stuff. For example, I was watching a lot of Netflix and I read many books and learned other things like cooking.
How long were you without playing tennis?
Two months and a half.
I guess it was the same as in the Czech Republic. You were supposed to play US Open qualifiers in 2020 because junior champions receive wild cards. Were you sad that it got canceled?
When you win a junior slam you don’t necessarily get a wild card for the qualifiers, but I’m top 200 so I was in the draw. I was sad because I really wanted to play last year.
Instead of US Open qualifiers, you played the tournament in Prague. How did you enjoy the city?
I really like Prague. One of the most beautiful places in the world.
What did you like the most about our country?
Well, I couldn’t visit much, but I’ll say everything. And the tournament was also really good.
Are you going to come back to the Czech Republic for more tournaments in the future?
Hopefully! It would be nice.
Your first senior grand slam experience was in Paris. It probably didn’t go the way you expected, but did you at least learn something new? How did you feel about it?
My first experience was actually in Australia last year. I won one round there. But at Roland Garros, I didn’t play that well and the other girl was playing great that week. I’m learning from all of these experiences and I'm working every day harder to get better and have better results. I’m young so I just have to be patient.
Sorry, I thought it was at Roland Garros. You started the 2021 season with an Australian Open qualifier in Dubai. Were you sad that you didn’t travel to Australia?
Yeah, I was really close to getting into the main draw but it is what it is. At the moment I was sad, I didn’t even want to talk about that match with my coach. After a week I thought "let’s just start over".
And how did you feel that the qualifier was played in Dubai? Did it feel like a grand slam tournament?
It was kind of weird but yes. It was my first time there and it was funny to think I’m playing an AO qualifier in Dubai.
What do you think about tennis players from Latin America? In my opinion, they are now on the rise, e.g. Schwartzman, Pordoroska...
Yes, I think we have so many players in Latin America with so much talent. For me, Podoroska is an example. She inspires me.
Do you know her well?
Not so much. I played some tournaments against her but she is a really nice girl. She is so humble and hard-working person.
Yes, she is. Do you have any goals or plans for this year?
To play the main draw in grand slams, and to be in top 100.
I believe you’re gonna make it.
Thank you for the interview, Camila, and I wish you good luck in the future.
Thank you so much for doing it and for being patient. It was really fun.
Czech version here.