Tuesday, August 14, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 23

Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on October 4th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 31

Local underdog: Nipomo's Sophie Whittle dazzled at the Central Coast Pro Tennis Open


For every hard-fought point that Nipomo native Sophie Whittle won over her world-ranked opponent Laura Robson on Sept. 28, a full house at the Templeton Tennis Ranch stadium in San Luis Obispo County erupted.

“Great serve, Soph!”

Sophie Whittle (right), a junior at Gonzaga University and an Arroyo Grande High School grad, played against English pro player Laura Robson (left) at the Central Coast Pro Tennis Open.

“You got this!” they yelled.

With unflinching poise, Whittle chased down Robson’s ruthless backhands and forced her into mistakes. If Robson approached the net to deliver a demoralizing slam, Whittle anticipated it and sent soft lobs over her head, just out of reach.

The crowd cheered and Robson groaned in frustration.

Even though Whittle had been seeded as a “local wildcard” at the Central Coast Pro Tennis Open—the first-ever U.S. Tennis Association invitational to be held on the Central Coast—with the hometown crowd behind her, Whittle didn’t look the underdog. She came to win.

“It was really nice to know pretty much the whole crowd was here for me,” the former Arroyo Grande High School star said after the match with a wry smile. “That was kind of fun.”

Whittle’s now a junior at Gonzaga University and an all-conference tennis player. In her time at Arroyo Grande High School, she tallied a 230-9 overall record, was a four-year league champ, and a four-time MVP.

The Central Coast community showed up big for Nipomo’s Sophie Whittle and her Round of 16 match at the Central Coast Pro Tennis Open.

She certainly wasn’t lacking any confidence against Robson, especially having knocked off a high-ranking Canadian player, the three-seeded Francoise Abanda, in a huge upset the day before. It was her first professional victory.

Now, Whittle was neck and neck with a 23-year-old Brit who’d competed in Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open, and, a few years ago, was ranked 27th in the world.

Whittle played a brilliant first set and pushed Robson to the brink, but narrowly lost it, 7-6, in a tiebreaker.

Robson, a left-hander with a rocket of a serve, not to mention a menacing physical presence, came laser-focused for the second set and wore Whittle down, winning it 6-0.

While everyone in the Templeton stands walked away incredibly impressed with Whittle’s fight and effort, the loss shook her, and she couldn’t help but kick herself for mistakes in a post-match interview with the Sun.

“I wish I could’ve pulled it off tonight,” Whittle said. “I felt a little off. I felt like I couldn’t really execute tonight. But [Robson’s] a really tough player, she could pick her targets anywhere.”

Whittle did call the experience “an amazing opportunity” to compete at a professional level. She walked home with a $911 check, too.

Nipomo native Sophie Whittle hits an overhand shot before a Sept. 28 match in the Central Coast Pro Tennis Open at the Templeton Tennis Ranch.

“I can’t thank everyone enough for giving me the opportunity,” she said. “It kind of shows me where I’m at and what I need to work on.”

In addition to the competitive benefits, the tournament was also a chance for Whittle’s friends and family to see her play, since she’s usually playing her matches up in the state of Washington.

“It was really nice. A lot of the people who were here don’t get to see me play often,” she said.

The day after the match, Whittle bolted for Los Angeles to compete in one of the four “major opens” for college tennis players: the Riviera Women’s All-American Tennis Championships in Pacific Palisades on Sept. 30.

“Tomorrow I fly to LA, so I got a long night ahead of me,” she laughed.

As to whether Whittle sees herself back under the bright lights of a professional tournament in the near future?

“I would love to,” she said.

Sports contributor Peter Johnson is a staff writer at the Sun’s sister paper to the north, New Times, and can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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