She didn't even have time to get over the jetlag, but with a bag of pineapple lumps in the carry-on, Whanganui tennis prodigy Paige Hourigan was glad to make it home for ten days before the final semester of her US college scholarship.

The 21-year-old departed Whanganui Airport yesterday afternoon for the long haul back to Georgia Tech, where she has caught fire in the last two months competing on the women's professional circuit while school was in the summer break.

In July, Hourigan captured her first ITF singles title after a straight sets win in the final of the US$15,000 tournament at Corroios-Seixal in Portugal, beating Zimbabwe's Valeria Bhunu 6-4, 6-3, having come in as a qualifier and proceeding to take the scalps of higher ranked players.

She followed that up with a strong showing at the US$25,000 ITF tournament in Fort Worth in Texas, ultimately making the semifinals before being eliminated by Robin Anderson, world ranked 334.

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Hourigan literally jumped on the plane in Texas straight after the match to make her way home, via a stopover in Australia, to spend just a week and a half with her Whanganui whanau, with her body clock whirling to adjust.

"Last night was my best night, it's been hard to sleep," she said.

"Exhausting trip, but I'm grateful I was able to come home, to be honest."

Hourigan is delighted her success in Portugal and Texas has see her ITF world singles ranking skyrocket from 872 to 602.

"It's fantastic," she said.

"Just having a great season, both as a team and individually, and it grows my confidence.

"The first tournament of the season, I lost to a girl I shouldn't have lost to, and that made me more determined."

Hourigan is now a double 'All-American' for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, which in tennis terms means she was able to break into the Top 16 seedings for American college players in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rankings.

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As well as singles, Hourigan and her Georgia Tech doubles partner Kenya Jones, 20, are seeded No1 in the NCAA.

Hourigan, third from the right, and her fellow Yellow Jackets made it to the Final Four of the best college tennis teams in America.
Hourigan, third from the right, and her fellow Yellow Jackets made it to the Final Four of the best college tennis teams in America.

"Also my Georgia Tech team got to the semifinals, or Final Four as they call it, of the NCAA Division 1 women's tennis teams event in May," said Hourigan.

"I played at No1 for singles and doubles."

In succession, Georgia defeated Eastern Kentucky University, Winthrop University, Pepperdine University and then power school UCLA to make the semifinals, where they lost to Vanderbilt University.

It was only the second time Georgia Tech had made it to the Final Four in the history of their tennis programme, the last being the talented 2006-7 team that went on to win the school's first ever NCAA national championship.

Having received a tennis scholarship to study chemical engineering, Hourigan had initially been on the academic honour roll at school, however an increased focus on her tennis performance means she has to go back and finish a couple of papers in her final semester.

As her increased world ranking has opened the door to enter more events on the professional circuit, so Hourigan will have to sit down and plan out her schedule, hoping to go for bigger money and more points to keep climbing the ITF standings.