No one would have believed a year ago that in 2019 Charleston would produce a Junior French Open singles finalist and a Junior Wimbledon singles semifinalist, or even a Junior French Open doubles champion.
It was virtually unreal thinking at that time. Yet, it happened to a teenager who grew up in Charleston, attended Charleston Day School and Ashley Hall School, and was trained entirely at a local club by a local professional.
There was Emma Navarro playing on the green grass of Wimbledon in July. I was fortunate enough to be sitting at courtside watching and reporting to this newspaper on all five of her singles matches as well as doubles. I might never have visited Wimbledon if Navarro hadn't risen to an elite place among the top juniors in tennis. Not just in the United States, but in the world.
Although the trip to London was costly, it was well worth the cost to me. Wimbledon, indeed, is a unique place.
To have an 18-year-old from Charleston playing in the Junior Grand Slam at Wimbledon made the trip even more special for me. I was able to watch Navarro advance to the semifinals after pulling off three straight amazing rallies in matches in which she lost the first set each time. Navarro started each of those matches slowly, but then looked like a natural on the grass.
You'll probably be seeing a couple of those Navarro opponents on the WTA Tour in just a few years.
Katrina Scott of Woodland Hills, Calif., a 15-year-old at the time she faced Navarro at Wimbledon, is a can't-miss star who blitzed Navarro 6-0 in the first set with an awesome display of talent in their third-round match. Navarro dropped just one game in each of the last two sets of that match.
And hard-hitting Japanese lefty Natsui Kawaguchi won the first four games of her quarterfinal match against Navarro, only to watch seemingly helpless as a near-perfect Navarro won 18 of the last 20 games to advance to the semifinals.
World's No. 3 finish
The International Tennis Federation notified Navarro earlier this month that she has finished 2019 as the No. 3 junior in the world, which qualified her for certain ITF women's tournaments.
"On behalf of the ITF please accept our congratulations on finishing ranked three (3) in the ITF Junior World Rankings ('the Junior Rankings') for 2019," ITF World Tennis Tour professional circuit head Andrew Moss stated in a message to Navarro.
"The ITF firmly believes that the junior circuit is the most appropriate environment for young players to gain experience and awareness of the demands of becoming a professional tennis player. To finish the year in such a high position in the junior rankings is a very special achievement that the ITF wishes to recognize and reward.
"As a result, based on your year-end junior ranking, you are eligible for the Junior Exempt Project."
Launched in 1997, the JEP helps juniors make the transition from the ITF junior circuit to the professional circuits. Navarro has been rewarded with two entries in (up to) and including $60K events and three berths in (up to) and including $25K tournaments, all excluding tournaments that provide housing.
A great year!
Yes, 2019 was another great year for Charleston tennis.
A large number of juniors sparkled on the Southern and national levels, while several seniors earned prominent recognition at different levels. I won't even try to name them all for fear of leaving someone out. Congratulations, everyone.
LTP Tennis splurged by holding ITF $100K and $60K tournaments as well as the USTA girls 18 National Clay Courts.
And the Volvo Car Open put on another splendid show with Madison Keys defeating Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals and Caroline Wozniacki in the final.
Charleston's own Shelby Rogers made an impressive return to the WTA Tour at the VCO after losing all of her WTA Tour ranking points while sidelined more than a year with a knee injury and surgery. After ending 2018 with a No. 780 world ranking, Rogers won her first-round match at the VCO against former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and eventually lifted her official WTA Tour ranking to a current No. 177.
Rogers will not be a direct entry into the Australian Open, but she should be in the 128-draw qualifying tournament that is scheduled to start Jan. 8 in Melbourne. She appears ready to shine in 2020.
In the high school ranks, Phillip Simmons and Bishop England won SCHSL boys championships and Porter-Gaud's boys took the SCISA AAA crown. The girls followed suit in the fall with Bishop England winning a ninth consecutive SCHSL state title, and Ashley Hall capturing the SCISA Class AAA crown.
Phillips Simmons' Coy Simon and Bishop England's Lily Woods easily captured the boys and girls Class A-AA-AAA state individual titles, respectively.
Happy New Year.
Reach James Beck at email@example.com.