Michelle Lam and Lana Tsodikova of Lowell High School earned a bid into the San Francisco Tennis Classic, a USTA Pro Circuit event, when they beat Natalie Dillon and Danielle Sabalvaro of St. Ignatius 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 on Friday.
Lam and Tsodikova won the San Francisco Classic Doubles Qualifier, a weeklong invitational organized to field a local youth doubles team for the professional tournament. The event fielded six pairs, many composed of singles players playing doubles for the first time. Lam and Tsodikova will get their shot against the Classic’s top-seeded team next week.
"I had to move in. I was awkward at the net," Lam said.
Despite having to adjust to doubles play, the teams produced high-level action that stopped some of the players at the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim club in their tracks.
"How old are those girls?" one onlooker asked, dumbfounded by the speed and hard hits.
Players from six high schools participated in the event, which is not affiliated with the any high school despite many of the pairings coming straight out of Academic Athletic Association play.
"This being an inaugural event, we didn’t know who would come out," tournament director Phil Sleeper said. "But we were pleasantly surprised. All of our most proficient players accepted the invitation."
Many of the players were tempted by a chance to play against professionals.
"I think this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me in my tennis career," Tsodikova said. "I’m overjoyed and overwhelmed."
Lam and Tsodikova’s bid was hard-earned. Starting with a tough first match right down to Friday’s test against an energetic Dillon and Sabalvaro, which was no cakewalk, either. In the words of Tsodikova the first game "was intense."
Despite the high level of play, the tournament emphasized positive thinking. Classic organizer Peanut Louie-Harper wanted the tournament to showcase San Francisco’s talent but still be a good experience for the players.
"It’s so competitive and intense out there these days. I didn’t want them to lose the game and be devastated," Louie-Harper said before the match. "I just hope they can relax and enjoy the game."
Organizers hope to expand the field next year and eventually a larger 32-pair format. Though, according to Sleeper, with professional competition as the prize, the level of play must be preserved.