Ashlyn Krueger had a month to remember in August 2021.
Krueger, who had by then established herself as one of the top youth tennis players in the country, won both the singles and doubles titles at USTA National Championship, earning her spots in both events at the 2021 U.S. Open.
She then fulfilled a lifelong dream before the major tournament by turning professional and making her debut on the courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y.
Now with her first 12 months as a pro complete and a second U.S. Open appearance under her belt, the 18-year-old Highland Village resident is working her way up the ladder of professional tennis.
“I never have doubted that she’s going to be a household name in the sport someday,” said Dave Anderson, the academy director at Brookhaven Country Club who has worked with Krueger for a decade.
Krueger first picked up a tennis racket in Springfield, Missouri, when she and her parents would just hit a tennis ball around her driveway. Krueger played other sports like soccer and basketball in those early years but fairly quickly settled on tennis.
Her family moved to Texas when she was around 8 and she soon started practicing at Brookhaven. It wasn’t until Krueger was around 12 or 13 that she took her dedication to the next level and wanted to start playing in tournaments.
“If there’s one thing I can say about Ashlyn, even before, it’s always been her driving the ship,” said her mother Franchel Krueger, who played tennis at Iowa State in the early 1990s. “I’ve never, her dad’s never had to, Dave’s never had to say, ‘OK, can you practice today? You need to do more.’ She never complains about going to practice. She never complains about training.”
She had her first major victories as a junior in late 2019 when she won the Eddie Herr International Junior Championship and then the esteemed Orange Bowl U16 tournament in short succession. Krueger returned the next year and won the Orange Bowl U18 title, becoming the first player since former world No. 4 and 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu to claim consecutive Orange Bowl titles.
‘Best time ever’
But Krueger made her biggest splash at the 2021 USTA National Championships, where she swept the U18 titles and earned wild card entries in both the singles and doubles draws at the U.S. Open.
It was Krueger’s first time in New York, which was overwhelming at first. But she adapted to the city and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and had the “best time ever.”
“The first day is when you soak it all in,” Krueger said. “You practice there and you have top 10 players practicing next to you. It’s always very surreal. But I have to get in the mindset that I belong there and it’s normal. I’m getting better at that.”
While Krueger was bounced in the first round of the main singles draw, she and her doubles partner Robin Montgomery won their first-round doubles match. The duo would take home the U.S. Open junior doubles championship one week later in what was Krueger’s final match as a junior.
Krueger only earned a wild card spot in the qualifying draw for this year’s U.S. Open but she won all three of her matches to make the main draw for the second year in a row.
She went up against former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the first round and managed to win the second set before losing the match.
“I just think it brings out the mentality that I need to win, the fighter in me,” Krueger said of playing under pressure. “It’s just fun. It’s fun to play under pressure. It’s fun to see your opponent under pressure. Succeeding when you’re under pressure is always the best feeling.”
Watching the end of her match against Azarenka was American star Jessica Pegula, who currently ranks fifth in the world.
Krueger highlighted Pegula as someone who has been an important mentor for her since embarking on her pro career. Pegula and Krueger have both worked with the same coach, Michael Joyce, which is how they connected. The two have practiced together at tournaments and Pegula said she does her best to show support for her up-and-coming countrywoman.
What stuck out to Pegula the most during the Azarenka match was Krueger’s maturity, noting it was very different from the 2021 French Open juniors when Krueger “almost had a heart attack” because Pegula came by to watch her play.
“There’s so many good players in American tennis and I feel like she has a really good shot to be one of the better players just because she handles herself on court really well,” Pegula said. “She’s got a really nice, quiet kind of maturity about her, which I feel like I can relate to. You always want to see people like that succeed as far as just being a good person and doing the right thing.”
Pegula thinks the 6-foot-1 Krueger has the potential to break into the top 100 and win tournaments. She also noted that when watching her play in matches and in practice, there is nothing that sticks out as a weakness.
That lack of a weakness is something that the soft-spoken Krueger also noted when describing her game. It’s not that she doesn’t have room to improve upon, she said, but it’s that she doesn’t consider those skills to be weaknesses.
“Ashlyn has one of the most complete games I believe out on the WTA Tour,” Anderson said. “Some players have a weapon. Some have two. She’s poised to have a weapon in literally every zone of the court, from the backcourt to the net. Now she’s just trying to figure out how to put it all together and when to use it.”
Krueger entered the week of September 26 as the No. 212 ranked player in the world, which is her career high. She was ranked No. 649 in the world at the 2021 U.S. Open. Krueger has also been ranked inside the top 200 as a doubles player.
Entering the top 200 was a goal for Krueger at the beginning of the year so she can get into the qualifiers for the Australian Open. She also wanted to win her first professional tournament, which she did in July in Evansville, Ind.
It has been a year full of adjustments and improvements for Krueger, who now trains at the USTA national campus in Orlando. But it has also been one that has seen her inspired by her rapid rise up the rankings and steadily grow her confidence.
“I’ve learned that I’m very strong — much stronger than I thought I was,” Krueger said. “And that can get you so far.”