An early shot at stardom 

S.F. doubles teams taking their best shot for chance to play against professionals

 

Lana Tsodikova said it would be a dream. Doubles partner Michelle Lam couldn’t even get to sleep just thinking about it.

And now, the two members of the Lowell High School girls’ tennis team are only two matches away from qualifying for the doubles draw at the USTA-sanctioned San Francisco Tennis Classic.

"Well, I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so excited," Lam said. "I can’t imagine what it would be like on the court playing with [a professional]. It would be such a privilege."

The Classic is in its second year and will run from Oct. 8 to Oct. 15. In a new wrinkle for 2006, tournament director Tim Harper decided to have the wild-card entrant in the doubles field come from the ranks of The City’s high school-age players. The preliminary qualifying tournament is being held this week and began Monday with seven teams, with the semifinals set for today at 5 p.m. at Golden Gate Park and the final Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club, the same venue as the Classic.

The winner of that match will enter the doubles draw of the Classic and take on the top-seeded tandem.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamed about playing a professional," Tsodikova said. "And if we made it and got to play, it would be amazing."

Lam and Tsodikova will play the top seeds of the qualifying rounds, sisters Carmen and Janice Lam (who play at St. Ignatius and received a first-round bye), in one semifinal, while sisters Anh and Chau Truong, who compete at Galileo, will take on Natalie Dillon and Danielle Sabalvaro (who also play at St. Ignatius) in the other.

Even though players are competing with their high school teammates, they are not representing their schools in the tournament, per CIF rules.

Harper and his wife, Peanut Louie Harper, were the catalysts behind the idea of including high schoolers. Louie Harper is one of the most accomplished tennis players ever to come out of The City. She grew up in the Richmond District playing tennis at Golden Gate Park, graduated from Washington High in 1978 and played on the WTA Tour from 1978 to ’92, reaching a career-high ranking of No. 19 in the world in 1985.

"We do a lot of work with kids and this was really something to reach girls at the high school level," Louie Harper said. "I love that they’re enjoying the team aspect of the sport at their schools, and hopefully they’re enjoying this, too."

Phil Sleeper, the site director for the Golden Gate Park tennis complex and tournament director for the pre-qualifying event, said the prospect of playing the pros has brought out the best amongst the competitors.

"You can kind of tell when it’s a casual thing or a serious thing," Sleeper said. "And they have the serious thing going on right now."

melliser@examiner.com

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