Making the big leagues in any sport is difficult and an almost impossible dream for most athletes. But that's life in general for the vast majority of people.

Jessica Ho gave up an education at one of this country's premier universities to take a shot at professional tennis. That was three years ago, but the 5-4 player from Cape Coral, Fla., is still going after the pot of gold called the WTA Tour.

She's still ranked in the 500s, but Ho is just two wins away from a possible small payday at the Volvo Car Open. That's how many victories it takes to fight through the tenacious battles of qualifying for a Premier level tournament such as the $823,000 VCO.

It's dog-eat-dog in a sudden-death situation in the VCO qualifying tournament that will be held Saturday and Sunday at Family Circle Tennis Center. But the 22-year-old Ho is accustomed to such pressure. After all, she won five straight matches in the VCO's Wild Card Event just to qualify for this weekend's main qualifying tournament.

The eight survivors from the 32-player qualifying draw will earn berths into the VCO main draw, which will run from Monday through next Sunday on Daniel Island.

"I'm playing very well and have been working really well. I believe I can go far, and my goal is to play my best tennis each match," said Ho, who already was in town on Thursday.

But advancing to the main draw would be very special for Ho. "It would be a huge boost for me," she said.

Ho played the 2016 season as a freshman at Duke but chose the pro route after that season.

"I had a great opportunity to play the pro tour ... and return (to Duke) when I wanted to and still have my tuition paid," she said.

Of course, the top 100 is one of the goals of most young pros.

"Supposedly, to break into the top 100 is the toughest jump," said Ho, who played a $25K ITF event in Brazil after the VCO's Wild Card Event. "I believe that with the right work and commitment it's very doable. There's a lot that goes into playing the level required consistently day in and day out to go directly into the main draw. Those who can stick with it and keep improving will be able to achieve all they can dream, but obviously there are many variables involved and every person's journey is different."

Ho has a new coach, one from her early years in tennis. Tom Downs, an Australian who served as Ellie Halbauer's coach in last year's VCO qualifying tournament, now coaches Ho.

"I've known Tom since I was 10 and worked with him then," Ho said. "I got back in touch with him when he was with Ellie, and it just so happened things worked out that I came back to the States, and he (Downs) was working with a few juniors only."

Ho will face 10th-seeded former Ohio State All-American Francesca Di Lorenzo on Saturday in the second match on Court 3. Play on all courts will begin at 10 a.m.

Two young players to watch in qualifying include former Junior U.S. Open champion Kayla Day of Santa Barbara, Calif., and 17-year-old Caty McNally of Cincinnati, who won doubles titles at the Junior French Open and Junior U.S. Open in 2018. They will play in the second and third matches on the Althea Gibson Club Court.

Navarro in singles semifinal, doubles final

Local junior star Emma Navarro, who will be back in town next week to compete in the main draw of the Volvo Car Open, advanced to the girls 18 singles semifinals of the ITF JB1 Easter Bowl National Championships in Indian Wells, Calif., on Friday with a 6-2, 6-1 win over 10th seed Charlotte Owensby of Boca Raton, Fla. Navarro is the third seed.

Navarro also won on Friday in doubles with longtime partner Chloe Beck of Watkinsville, Ga., as the Duke-committed second-seeded team scored a 6-1, 6-3 win over the Jaedan Brown/Fiona Crawley team to advance to the doubles final.

Navarro earned her berth in the VCO main draw by winning last summer's girls 18 singles title in the National Clay Courts at LTP Tennis. The Navarro/Beck team won that national title and will compete in the VCO main doubles draw.

SATURDAY ORDER OF PLAY

(Play starts at 10 a.m. on all courts)

ALTHEA GIBSON CLUB COURT

L. Kichenok (UKR) vs [12] L. Davis (USA)

[7] B. Schoofs (NED) vs K. Day (USA)

[8] M. Trevisan (ITA) vs C. Mcnally (USA)

N. Melichar (USA) vs [13] S. Soler-Espinosa (ESP)

COURT 3

[5] T. Martincova (CZE) vs L. Hradecka (CZE)

[WC] J. Ho (USA) vs [10] F. di Lorenzo (USA)

[3] C. Perrin (SUI) vs [WC] K. Shaffer (USA)

[1] K. Kozlova (UKR) vs [WC] J. Jebawy (GER)

COURT 4

[4] V. Flink (RUS) vs A. Rosolska (POL)

[6] C. Dolehide (USA) vs L. Marozava (BLR)

U. Eikeri (NOR) vs [9] M. Frech (POL)

[2] A. Sharma (AUS) vs A. Klepac (SLO)

COURT 5

A. Spears (USA) vs [16] D. Aiava (AUS)

N. Kichenok (UKR) vs [11] S. Zhuk (RUS)

D. Jurak (CRO) vs [15] S. Karatantcheva (BUL)

S. Aoyama (JPN) vs [14] A. Zaja (GER)

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his latest columns on the Grand Slams at ubitennis.net/author/james-beck.

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