Champions Crowned At SoCal Pro Series In Rolling Hills

Colton Smith and Patrick Maloney (photo: Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES, Calif., July 1, 2024 (by Steve Pratt)

Top-seeded Sahaja Yamalapalli’s victory speech Sunday after she defeated No. 3 former Michigan Wolverine Amy Zhu, 6-4, 7-6 (4), to win her fourth career ITF World Tennis Tour singles title was full of giving thanks to those who made it all possible during the week – Kramer Club GM Peter Smith, the ball kids, sponsors and the organizers at the USTA Southern California.

During her winning week on her first-ever visit to Southern California – which included five straight-set wins over players with college tennis ties at the Kramer Club stop on the SoCal Pro Series – the 23-year-old Yamalapalli of India thought back to those who have helped her most on her tennis journey. She said she was indebted to her coaches at Sam Houston State University, where she was a decorated college player and the first in school’s history to be named the Southland Conference Player and Student-Athlete of the Year honors for two years.

Amy Zhu, Sahaja Yamalapalli

Amy Zhu and Sahaja Yamalapalli (photo: Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)

Currently ranked No. 323 in the WTA world rankings, Yamalapalli always had the dream to play college tennis in America, but coaches weren’t lined up to offer her a spot on their rosters. “I wasn’t a very good junior,” said Yamalapalli, who ranked in the top 100 in India. “I had a huge transformation in college. I’ve always had the passion to learn. I love to learn. I happened to be in the right place with the right coaches. They wanted to teach, and I wanted to learn. And I worked hard, and it just worked out.”

Yamalapalli said she is thankful for idols she had growing up – specifically Sania Mirza – the former world No. 1 doubles player who won six Grand Slams before retiring in February of 2023. Both come from the same region near where Yamalapalli was raised in Hyderabad, India.

“She broke all the barriers in India,” Yamalapalli said of Mirza, who is one of only two Indian women to win a WTA Tour title, and the only one to be ranked within the top 100 in singles. “Back in those days and being a woman it was very unusual for players to make it to the top of the international level. She made it possible for players like me.”

Yamalapalli trains half of the year Asia, and half in Bradenton, Fla. She said she was able to take in some of the sights while visiting L.A. for the first time. “We went shopping in Beverly Hills and to the Griffith Observatory and the Santa Monica Pier,” she said. “It’s such a great place to be. I love L.A.!”

A Wolverine came out on the winning end of the men’s singles final as No. 8 seeded Patrick Maloney ended University of Arizona senior Colton Smith’s qualifying run in the men’s final, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. Maloney, 24, was playing in his third SoCal Pro Series event this summer and in his first ITF Pro Circuit final.

“I played USD (semifinals) and Rancho Santa Fe (lost to eventual winner Learner Tien) so it’s been a good run,” said Maloney, who will not play the following two weeks of SoCal Pro Series events in Lakewood and head back to Michigan.

Maloney also won the doubles title at the Kramer Club on Saturday for his second straight doubles title on the SoCal Pro Series. He teamed with Joshua Charlton as the top-seeded team took out unseeded Bryce Nakashima and Jack Anthrop, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6). On the women’s side, No. 3 seeded Anita Sahdiieva of Ukraine and Aussie Stefani Webb beat the No. 2 Australian pairing of Lily Fairclough and Tenika McGiffin, 7-5, 4-6, 10-6.