Emma Navarro was still a child when she committed to Duke more than two years ago. How was she really supposed to know?
She’d just finished her freshman year of high school, just got her driver’s license. She was already a blue chip tennis prospect but nowhere near the heralded junior she’d become. She’d traveled the country some but had yet to dig into the Wimbledon ryegrass or slide around the hallowed red clay of Roland-Garros.
That all seems so long ago to her now. She’s experienced so much since, learned even more. She’s a much different player than she was then, a much different person. Her desires both personally and professionally have changed. As have her college plans.
Navarro committed to Virginia on Monday, two years and two months after originally giving Duke a verbal pledge.
The Ashley Hall senior is currently ranked as the No. 1 junior tennis player in the nation and the fourth-best in the entire world.
“I was so young when I committed to Duke,” Navarro said. “It seemed like the best option for me at the time. And it’s nothing against Duke. But a lot of things have changed since then. So I had to look at all of my options and Virginia felt like a better fit for me at this point.”
Duke seemed like a sure thing for a while as Navarro’s doubles partner, Chloe Beck, is also committed to the Blue Devils and her longtime coach, Peter Ayers, was an All-American and four-time ACC singles champion in Durham.
Navarro met the coaches at Virginia just a few weeks ago. They visited her in Charleston and again in San Diego shortly after. They offered Navarro the opportunity to continue working with Ayers in college, which was a requisite of her college search. She also liked the individualized training within the Cavaliers program and the opportunity to hit with players from the men’s team, something she’s been doing most of her life.
“It kind of lets me have the best of both worlds, playing college tennis and playing on the team and also still playing professionally and still hitting with my coach,” Navarro said. “They were willing to work with me playing pro. It’s kind of similar to what I’m doing now [at Ashley Hall].”
Some question if Navarro, as talented as she is and having already begun her professional career this summer, will land in college at all.
She won the 18 singles title at the USTA National Clay Court Championships in 2018 to earn a wild card bid into this spring’s Volvo Car Open. She added the Easter Bowl National Championships girls 18 singles and doubles titles in March, a week before making her WTA professional debut in Charleston.
Navarro nearly upset German veteran Laura Siegemund in the opening round of the Volvo Car Open. She and Beck did upend tour veterans Darija Jurak and Jelena Ostapenko to advanced into the second round of doubles play in her hometown tournament that her father, Ben, now owns.
Navarro took second in singles and won doubles with Beck at the Junior French Open in Paris in June. She reached the singles quarterfinals and doubles semifinals the Junior Championships at Wimbledon a month later.
“I knew I was good enough to play that well and get those results but it didn’t really sink in that it actually happened until a few days after,” Navarro said. “You don’t realize when you’re playing but then it hits you. I was like ‘Whoa, I did pretty well over there.’”
She’ll compete next week in the U.S. Open qualifying tournament in New York City, a bid she earned by placing second in singles at the USTA Billie Jean King Girls 18 National Hard Courts Tennis Championships earlier this month.
She’s ranked as the second best college prospect in the nation, behind only Katie Volynets, who defeated Navarro for the Billie Jean singles title.
Despite her blossoming success on the world stage, Navarro insists she’ll play at least a season of college tennis.
The hardest part of changing her commitment might’ve been telling Beck, who’s become one of her best friends, that they won’t be attending college together as originally planned. Beck was a little disappointed but she understands. Navarro kind of felt bad delivering the news. But Navarro can’t afford to operate off of emotion any longer. It’s all strategy moving forward — a true sign of maturity in the budding star.
“I’ve definitely have had a lot of new experiences, which has been really exciting,” Navarro said. “It’s helped me improve as a player. I’m more comfortable in certain situations and on bigger stages. So moving forward, I’m going to continue on this path and see where it takes me.”