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Charleston's Emma Navarro wins NCAA national title in women's tennis

Emma Navarro

Emma Navarro of the University of Virginia returns a shot against Miami's Estela Perez-Somarriba during the women’s singles final at the NCAA Tennis Championships on May 28 Orlando, Florida. Manuela Davies/USTA

Her tennis journey began on the rooftop courts at the MUSC Wellness Center in downtown Charleston.

"They have like five courts on the roof that not many people know about," Emma Navarro said. "There were always helicopters going over and construction going on, and it would get blazing hot there during the summer."

And then there was the tree-shaded single court at the Hazel Parker Playground on East Bay Street. 

"I played there for a long time with my dad and my siblings," Navarro recalled.

Those roots in Charleston tennis helped prepare Navarro, an Ashley Hall graduate and a freshman at the University of Virginia, for perhaps the biggest moment of her young career thus far. She won the NCAA women's tennis championship on May 28 with a dominant 6-3, 6-1 victory over defending champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami at the USTA National Campus in Orlando.

Navarro, the ACC's freshman of the year, avenged her only loss of the season, became the first freshman to win the women's title since 2009 and earned a wild card into the main draw of the U.S. Open this fall.

"It feels awesome," said Navarro, The Post and Courier's All-Lowcountry player of the year in 2017. "I think what is so special about it is the team of girls and coaches that have been behind me this whole season. It makes it really special having them out there supporting me, and they've been with me every step of the way. So to do it for them is really cool."

Navarro's triumph was hardly over when her phone began to blow up with well-wishers from Ashley Hall, where she played for longtime coach Mary Gastley.

"Some of my closest friends are from Ashley Hall, and we talk pretty much every day," she said. "So yeah, they are at home and very fired up."

On hand in Orlando was her family, including father Ben, a Charleston businessman and philanthropist and owner of the LTP tennis centers and the Volvo Car Open, a WTA Tour event on Daniel Island.

Emma's national title and stellar 24-1 record this season prompted questions about whether she would consider turning pro.

"I'm planning on going back to school, just because I've had such a great time at school this past semester," she said. "And we'll really just take it one semester at a time. I'm not sure what the future will hold. We'll see."

Her future will include the 2021 U.S. Open, set for September in New York. As the NCAA champ, she earns a wild card into the main draw of the Grand Slam event.

"I would say that's my favorite tournament and it's really special for me," said Navarro, whose family moved to Charleston when she was about four years old. "I was born there, and my parents lived there for a long time. So playing in New York City is pretty awesome, and I would be ecstatic about that opportunity."

Navarro won her first main-draw match in a WTA Tour event at the Volvo Car Open in April, and also won a match during the following MUSC Health Women's Open at LTP Daniel Island. Those experiences against veteran WTA pros helped steel her for the NCAA tournament.

"They prepared me for sure, probably more mentally than physically," she said. "They've taught me a lot about mental toughness and just how to handle myself in big moments, in pressure situations."

Navarro had lost to Perez-Somarriba in three sets earlier this season, but was never threatened on Friday.

"She played a great match and had a great season," said Perez-Somarriba. "I would say it was one of the best seasons a freshman can have, so congrats to her and it is very well-deserved."

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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