At just 19, up-and-coming tennis star Harriet Dart knows that her best years are ahead of her. Currently ranked 357th in the world, Dart competed in the 2015 Hong Kong Women's ITF Pro-Circuit tournament last week, where she lost in the quarter-finals.
"It's my first time in Hong Kong. I'm not enjoying the weather, but its crazy busy!" the Briton says.
Dart, who grew up and lives in London, took up tennis at the age of seven. In an exclusive interview with Young Post, she explained how she got her start in the sport. "My parents are members of a racquet club, so I was always around tennis courts. My mum plays tennis and one day I just asked if I could join in."
As she grew older, Dart got better and better and invested more time and effort into the sport. She was inspired by her idols. "I've always admired Maria Sharapova. I really look up to her, with everything that she's done for tennis. She's pretty incredible."
Dart hopes that one day she will face off against the Russian. "I'd love to play against her, and also Serena Williams, because she's arguably the greatest player of all time. But I need to work my way up the rankings to get there first!"
Last year, Dart decided to pursue her passion and become a pro. "I had to make the decision on whether I wanted to go to college or continue as a professional," she says. "I think that right now for me it is a better choice to go professional, to continue playing. I can go on later to study if that's what I end up wanting to do."
She says her training is very intensive. "Usually on a day-to-day basis I have two tennis sessions which are around an-hour-and-a-half to two hours each." The hard work doesn't stop there. "I have physical work in the gym, plus court speed work, and then recovery. All in all, it's probably around six hours [every day]."
The reward has been Dart's steep rise in the rankings in just six months. At the end of 2014, she was ranked 532, and now she's 357.
Grass is her favourite surface. "I really like the way you can change the speed up quickly on grass; the surface is really fast," she says.
She played in the annual Aegon International tournament in Eastbourne, in Britain, this summer. Unfortunately, as a result, she missed out on Wimbledon this year. This is because she could not play in the Wimbledon qualifiers, which clashed with the Aegon tournament. "It was a little annoying," she says.
Dart says there are several misconceptions about professional tennis players. "People think that they live a glamorous lifestyle. If you're at the top level, it can be glamorous, but you have to get there first."
Life can be difficult for players who haven't established themselves, she says. "Playing in tournaments, you're trying to make more money than you spend, and that's tough."
Dart says that she and her coach, David Felgate, set goals at the beginning of every year. She wants to play in the qualifiers for the Australian Open in January, but for that to happen, her ranking would have to be below 250. "It's a pretty high target but it's something I want to achieve. In the future, I hope to be in the top 100 and I want to be playing in all the majors and competing against the best players in the world."
The teen star has some valuable advice for Young Post readers. "It's incredibly tough to be at a high level in any sport, and you've got to be able to put in many hours of hard work and show great dedication," she says.
Dart thanks her friends, parents and coaches who helped her along the way. "You've got to realise that a lot of people make sacrifices for you, for example, your family and friends, so just keep working hard, do your best and be the best you can be."