She trained with the likes of Eugenie Bouchard, played in the same professional tournaments as Venus and Serena Williams, and won Canadian championships at the U14 and U18 levels.
Today, former Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Charlotte Petrick is training the next generation of Canadian tennis superstars at a Toronto-area facility.
At 24 years old, Petrick has been retired from competitive tennis for three years. But she remains involved in the sport that has been part of her life since as long as she can remember. Now a Level 2 Tennis Canada certified coach, Petrick works out of the Ontario Racquet Club, where she trains youth aged six to eight in both the Performance and Progressive streams, as well as teens in a Transition program. She also runs six or seven adult clinics per week.
Now living in Etobicoke with her boyfriend Adam Hawkswell and their French bulldog Lola, Petrick still loves the game every bit as much as she always has, despite a long struggle with a wrist injury that led her to transition from playing competitively to coaching.
Petrick grew up on the tennis court. In fact, her parents, Frank and Colleen, are both avid players who competed at a high level in the sport. They met playing at a tournament, and chose to exchange their wedding vows on a tennis court.
Charlotte first picked up a racquet at two years old when the family lived in Oakville, but started learning how to really play the game a couple of years later. By the time she turned six, she began to take things seriously, deciding she wanted to make it her career.
“At that time in Canada, there weren’t a lot of programs for that age group,” she remembers. So her parents connected with the Nick Bollettieri Academy (now known as the IMG Academy) in Florida. Bollettieri, known as one of the best tennis coaches of all time, guided the careers of professionals such as Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, Jim Courier and Monica Seles.
Charlotte and Colleen moved to Bradenton, Florida, with Frank coming down with her three brothers when they could. Her game progressed rapidly while she trained at the top junior academy. In the meantime, she would return to Canada periodically to play in the nationals and to keep up with the Canadian system.
At 13 years old, she was chosen to be part of the Canadian National Team, which involved working with national coaches at Montreal’s National Training Centre. At that point, the family sold their Oakville home and moved to NOTL, where Frank grew up.
Like many young athletes on the track toward high-level competition, much of Charlotte’s life had been spent on the court, and not in traditional school. However, that first year the family resided in NOTL was the only one where she attended an actual school.
“My parents put me into Parliament Oak for Grade 8,” Petrick reminisces. “We were new to town and they wanted me to make friends, I guess. I had been home-schooled my whole life, and I think they just wanted me to be normal.”
She considered attending high school in Niagara, but conflicts with her training schedule made it nearly impossible. Instead, while in Montreal, Petrick completed high school courses through the Independent Learning Centre along with other tennis players, including Bouchard, all overseen by a certified teacher.
Petrick’s development on the court continued to advance. In April 2011, she won the U14 National Championship in Vancouver. Soon after, she was ranked 21st in the country in the U18 category. The following year, at only 15 years old, she captured the U18 Canadian title, beating girls much older than her.
As well, she began to play in professional tournaments around that same time, and started climbing up the ranks in the International Tennis Federation. She continued to enter pro tournaments, playing singles as well as doubles in Women’s Tennis Association events, finding success at many tournaments. At 17 years old, however, she started experiencing problems with one of her wrists.
“I had a pretty bad cyst in my left wrist,” she says. “No one knew what it was, I was getting cortisone shots like crazy, I was getting this cyst removed all the time but it just kept filling up. And I kept tearing this tendon.”
Assuming the problem was related to overuse, she was told to take a few weeks off to rest the wrist. But as soon as she returned to the court, the tendon would tear once again. After a year and a half of struggling with the problem, she saw a surgeon, who discovered that her left ulna, a long bone in the forearm, was almost an inch longer than her right, which was straining the tendon to the point that it would continuously tear.
The solution? Doctors recommended surgery to shorten her left ulna, and then reattach the damaged tendon. They would also insert a plate to give the bone stability. She consulted with Tennis Canada, who suggested she go through the invasive procedure. In January, 2017, Petrick underwent surgery at Toronto Western Hospital.
Recovery included almost eight months in a cast. Near the end of 2017, she finally got back onto the court, and even entered a couple of events that went quite well for her. But she was still experiencing pain and a lack of strength in her left wrist. It was back to the operating table to remove the plate, which had been rubbing against her muscle.
Another six months of recovery after the second surgery and Petrick was back training at the Ontario Racquet Club with coach Yves Boulais. But it didn’t take long for her to realize that she would never regain the strength that had made her such a fierce competitor.
“I was trying to train four hours a day, but I was struggling with three-set matches,” she recalls. “My wrist would be black and blue, and I wouldn’t be able to play the following day. It was too painful, my backhand was just terrible, because I was overcompensating, trying to protect my backhand, and that was one of my best weapons my whole career.”
She made the difficult decision in early 2018 to retire. Reflecting on it now, she says she had reached such a point of frustration, dating back to when the wrist problem first developed, she had been feeling defeated for quite awhile.
“She had a good, good career in front of her, she was a good athlete, very motivated,” her rehab coach Boulais remembers. “It’s always sad to see someone have to leave a sport that she was so dedicated to. I was still hoping that she could have another surgery and she could get better, but I think at one point she had just had enough, and couldn’t see it happening.”
“By the time I finally decided to call it quits,” Petrick laments, “I had reached such a point of frustration that I kind of put it in the back of my mind. I took a year-long mental break and got a job at Willow (Cakes and Pastries) in town, which is where I met my boyfriend.”
That, of course, is one silver lining. The other is related to the Toronto facility where she had worked on getting her game back after both surgeries. While working at Willow, she also earned her Level 2 coaching certification through Tennis Canada. In summer, 2019, Petrick contacted Boulais to ask for advice on what to do next. He offered her a job at ORC.
“For us, we were fortunate that she was able to come coach at the club,” Boulais says. “I know she didn’t have a lot of experience, but she has such a deep background in tennis. She’s a very energetic person, gets along with everyone. When you have someone like that, the rest is just learning how to do it, and she is always willing to learn, and the kids relate well to her.”
Now on the other side of the player-coach relationship, Petrick is amazed at what she sees in her job. “I called my parents on the first day,” she says. “We’re doing these ladder drills, and the kids are so capable, they’re crushing it, really. I asked them if I was like that at six or seven. I can’t even fathom how good these kids are.”
And she is especially excited to still be involved in the game she loves so much. “I’m one of the only women coaches on staff there,” Petrick says. “You get a special kind of reaction, especially from the younger girls there, because it’s exciting having a woman on the court. I never had any female coaches. I think you have a special connection, and that makes me love coming to the courts every day.”
She has a great attitude toward her career trajectory in tennis. Petrick realizes the toll competing at such a high level can take on a young woman’s body. Besides the wrist, she dealt with back injuries and a concussion at various points in her career, and she sees what some of her contemporaries continue to go through.
“When you grow up with such a different lifestyle, it’s easy to get out of reality a bit,” she says. “You feel that your sport is your life. But one thing that helped me with my mindset is going through those super serious injuries. I realized at the time in discussing it with my parents and my brothers that there’s also a life after you retire, whether you retire at 21, or 38, you have another entire life to live.”
“From that moment,” she continues, “I tried to have the mindset to keep things as level as you can, and not let injuries get you too down, because there’s a lot of life to still live and a lot of stuff to still do.”
And she credits her support system for helping her get through the end of her playing days and into her new role as a mentor to younger tennis players. “I’m extremely close to my parents, and my brothers, and my boyfriend has a wonderful family. When I stopped playing, I realized things aren’t as bad as they seem, and I was able to use that to help move forward.”
Looking to the future, Petrick is hoping that one day soon she and Adam (and Lola) will be able to move back to Niagara. They return to town frequently to visit both sets of parents, and to spend time with friends. And when they are in town, the trip often involves a couple of matches on the courts at Rye Street Park.
“We love the city,” Petrick says, “but we are small-town people, all our friends are here. We come back to Niagara-on-the-Lake almost every weekend. Our plans are definitely to move back here some time, within a few years, probably.”
And don’t be surprised if when that happens, Hawkswell, whose family runs Niacon Construction, builds a few courts for Petrick so she can begin her own tennis academy right here in her hometown. It would be the next, most obvious step in Charlotte Petrick’s tennis journey.