The Whittier Narrows Tennis Center (WNTC) in El Monte used to be a magnet for tennis players from all over Southern California. WNTC was launched in 1993 by Horacio Tamborini, who was able to turn the then abandoned courts at the Los Angeles County-owned Whittier Narrows Tennis Center into a thriving tennis community with 3,200 players. The 16 court facility was subsequently managed by a number of different people from 1999 until 2010.
Today the facility is being run by an organization known for professional management of tennis facilities: iTennis, Inc. The owner of iTennis is John Letts, former ATP Tour and world top 100 ranked doubles player and Wimbledon competitor. Letts participated in this tournament, as well, and captured the Open Doubles title with his doubles partner Andy Chang, Tennis Director at WNTC.
Tennis was very competitive throughout the weekend at the First Annual Whittier Narrows Open, a $1,000 prize money event. 98 players participated from places as far away as Oakland and Palm Desert.
Some of the finalists playing on Sunday could have easily been qualifiers for much larger tournaments on the ATP or WTA Tour. In fact, finding the Women’s Open winner Toby Miclat, 16, from Claremont on a WTA Satellite event soon should not come as a surprise after Sunday’s performance. As unseeded player she was able to beat the no. 1 and no. 2 seeded players to win the trophy. Ranked 43rdin the Southern California 18’s division, Toby said “I only recently started getting formal tennis lessons from Steve Futchko at the Upland Tennis Center.” Unusual but most refreshing to see was her serve and volley style, coming in after a very powerful serve. Toby seems like a breath of fresh air in Southern Cal women’s tennis. She won the title over the number 2 seed Brianna Morgan 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2).
On the men’s side it was 26 year old Robert Yim, the number 5 seed, winning the Open title beating Dennis Mkrtchian from Reseda 6-3, 6-0. Yim, a left-handed baseliner who is not afraid to come to the net, displayed some incredible racquet speed during his match with the number 6 seeded Mkrtchian. He attributed his win to his fast and steady game. Yim coaches tennis in Orange County for the Advantage Tennis Academy at the Racquet Club of Irvine. He moved there from San Francisco, where he coached at The Claremont Club.
In the Men’s Open Doubles division it was John Letts and Andy Chang clinching the title with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Alan Chang and Tim Kpulun. Alan Chang is Andy’s brother, who drove here from San Diego where he teaches tennis at the Becky Kuba’s Carmel Valley Tennis.
Andy Chang, 27, has been WNTC’s Tennis Director since August of 2010. Originally from Torrance where his dad took him to the West End Racquet Club, Andy’s competitive tennis life started with a tennis scholarship to play at Cal State L.A. in 2001. When that tennis program was dropped because of title 9, he transfered to Cal Poly Pomona playing Division II College. At Cal Poly he became no. 1 Singles player, and no. 1 Doubles player teaming up with his brother Alan. His teaching career took him from Cypress College (Assistant Coach) to Anaheim’s Fairmont Prep Academy (Head Varsity Coach for Boys and Girls), Pheasant Ridge Apartments in Rowland Heights (Head Resident Pro), and La Habra Tennis Club (teaching professional).
Chang’s plans for WNTC are ambitious. He wants to bring back all level USTA tournaments and thinks ATP Futures and WTA Satellite events are not out of reach for the facility. He says “I had lots of fun running the tournament and was impressed with the number of high caliber ATP and former ATP players who competed in the 1st Annual Whittier Narrows Open.”
He is also looking forward to a junior event at his club. May 7 and 8 they will hold the first Southern California 10 and Under Novice Tournament. The club is also hosting a 10 and Under Workshop for parents and coaches on May 7.
The Chang family was completed by dad Edward Chang, 63. He played in the Father and Son division and won it with Andy. Edward played tennis since college and enjoys USTA mixed doubles leagues. The 1997 Player of the Year for the Southern California Tennis Association also plays mixed doubles tournaments and says he wins many of those.
Morisa Yang, 29, is one of the tennis professionals working at WNTC. Originally from Torrance, she played tennis since the age of 8, became the no. 1 player in Southern Cal’s 16’s at age 14, and the #2 in the 18’s when she was 15. Being plagued by life changing injuries to the back and the shoulder, she had given up competitive tournament play a few years ago and loves working at the Whittier Narrows Tennis Center. Morisa says: “I love the feel of WNTC, it’s very much like a neighborhood club.”
John Letts seemed delighted with the event and said “I was extremely happy with the success of our first annual prize money event. Getting tour level players competing like Robert Yim, Jamie Gresh, and Alessandro Ventre was a treat.” He added “We are excited to get Whittier Narrows Tennis Center back on the map.”
NTRP Men’s 3.0 Sgls: Arnold San Diego def. Simon Tang
6-4, 2-6, 6-3
NTRP Men’s 3.5 Sgls: Dave Mathison def. Alfred Martinez
6-0, 2-6, 6-2
NTRP men’s 4.0 Sgls: David Steinhart def. Byron Leung
NTRP Men’s 4.5 Sgls: Stephan Marman def. Geoffrey Rauen
NTRP Women’s 3.5 Sgls: Carola Goodman def. Olga Panasenco
4-6, 6-4, 6-3
NTRP Mixed 4.0 Dbls: Estioko/Woo def. Cheung/Yoo
Men’s Open Sgls: Robert Yim def. Dennis Mkrtchian
Women’s Open Sgls: Toby Miclat def. Brianna Morgan
3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2)
Men’s Open Dbls: Chang/Letts def. Chang/Kpulun
Mixed Open Dbls: Chang/Miclat def. Tang/Yeh
Father-Son Dbls: Chang/Chang def. Herrera/Herrera