I am not sure what is tougher – playing tennis or trying to make friends in the sport.

Walk into any WTA change room and on one side there will be the girls who are engaging and laughing with one another.

They are a close-knit group and can often be seen socialising throughout the tournaments.

On the other side of the room, are those individuals who choose to keep to themselves and make every effort to not speak to anyone else.

I felt a bit out of place at first – us Australians, when we walk past someone it’s in our nature to smile and say hello.

There are a lot of girls you simply wouldn’t do that too on Tour.

With there being so much pressure to perform on the WTA circuit, I can hardly blame them.

Every girl with a racquet is your competitor and you never know who you’ll soon be matched up against in the Challengers.

But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for me – I have been lucky enough to have made a lot of good friends from those who have embraced my graduation into the pro circuit.

My intentions since turning pro has always been quite simple – be a sponge and absorb as much information as possible.

I want to learn from the best and take on board everybody’s feedback as I strive to wake up each day a better all-round tennis player.

No doubt the biggest change for me since making the jump to the WTA has been the need to be more proactive when it comes to sponsorship and funding.

As a junior, you’re spoiled rotten compared to pro level – when ever you go to a tournament everything from the travel to hospitality and expenses in between have been pre-paid for you.

When you play on the WTA Tour, it’s not like that at all – you have to start from the bottom and work your way up.

It’s up to you to find your own sponsors and donors, which is an enormous challenge when tennis is your sole priority.

But I guess it’s all part of the learning experience of becoming a pro. While my first year has presented many challenges, there has also been plenty to celebrate.

As mentioned I made a heap of new friends and equally I have matured as a person and through my tennis.

In just 12 months, I already feel more comfortable with my game style, and feel as though I handle myself better in those pressure moments when there is a big crowd watching on from the stands.

I’m only getting better and I’ve set my sights on cracking into the top 100 this year.

I obviously still have a long way to get there, but I am edging closer to that elite status. I feel if I can keep my body healthy and play another full year on tour, there’s no reason why I can’t push to be there.

At the current time, it makes me so proud to know I am ranked #6 for Australia – I really embrace my duty to represent my country as best as I can.

I don’t take it for granted and I certainly make every effort to remind myself that playing tennis is a privilege, not a right.

There are a lot of talented players who step on the court and forget that we have the opportunity to forge a career from tennis – for me, it’s important that I never lose that mindset as it keeps me grounded and gives me more motivation to get to the top.

I never want to be the person who takes playing tennis for granted, because not everyone gets to play tennis and represent their country.

In fact, it was only 18 months ago where I was faced with the harsh reality of whether I had a future in tennis.

Sure as a junior, playing tennis was a no-brainer, but it does require a lot of support and sacrifice to make the decision to turn pro.

I remember looking through a university booklet, trying to decide which bachelors degree appealed most to me if I did choose to walk away from tennis.

I’m glad I stayed with it.

Once I fully decided I was going to stay, I just put all my heart and mind into going pro – there wasn’t a day where I wasn’t on the practice court or liaising with sponsors.

Much of which was only made possible because of the lengths my family went to make it happen.

It’s no secret that I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Throughout my teenage years, my family used to get up at 3:30am and drive me to the tennis centre so I could practice and work on my game.

After school, they’d be coming right back to pick me up at 6pm.

I can’t even tell you how many days and years we did this for.

They so unselfishly put their lives on hold, just to help me advance further in my tennis, in the hope I could one day make it to the top level.

I’m so grateful to have had my parents champion my tennis dreams.

They always tell me how proud they are of me for even getting as far as I have, but I don’t think I do a good enough job of telling them how much their sacrifices have meant to me.

My entire vision of what success means to me is helping my parents retire and allowing them to relax for once.

That’s what I wake up for now.

Ultimately making the decision to turn pro was for me. I want to elevate my game to match the best in the world, and forge a legacy where I am remembered for years beyond my tennis career.

It is nice knowing how proud my parents are and how much they care about my tennis, I especially know Dad takes a vested interested in my game, because playing professional tennis was his dream long before it was mine.

It’s nice to know we’re in this together, because singles tennis can be a lonely game, so for Dad to be so involved is massive benefit for me.

We have a big year ahead of us.

Lizette Cabrera

Lizette Faith Cabrera is an Australian tennis player residing from Brisbane, Queensland.

Lizette made her WTA singles debut in 2017 featuring in a Brisbane tournament, before making her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open in the same year.

She has a strong desire to elevate her tennis to match the best in the world.