MIKA IKEMORI LOOKS TO THE FUTURE AFTERJUNIOR TENNIS | USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
A STELLAR SOCAL JUNIOR CAREER
A STELLAR SOCAL JUNIOR CAREER
JUNE 15, 2023 | STEVE PRATT
MIKA IKEMORI LOOKS TO THE FUTURE AFTER A STELLAR SOCAL JUNIOR CAREERUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
JUNE 15, 2023
Top: Mika Ikemori competes at the 2023 Southern California Junior Sectional Championships in Costa Mesa; Bottom: Ikemori embraces opponent Lexie Flores at the net after their Girls’ 18s Round of 32 match.
(Photos – Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)
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You won’t find a tighter bond in all of junior tennis between player and coach than the one Mika Ikemori shares with Debbie Graham.
An 18-year-old Marina High junior from Huntington Beach, Ikemori has spent more than half her young life learning the game of tennis from the former WTA star Graham, who reached a career-high of No. 28 in the world rankings in 1992.
“She’s been like a second mom to me,” said Ikemori, who first started taking lessons from Graham when she was just six years old. “She’s amazing. She’s always been so supportive of me. She’s incredibly understanding and doesn’t put too much pressure on me. She stresses sportsmanship and has always been there for me.”
After every match Ikemori, who serves on the USTA Southern California Youth Leadership Council, will send Graham a long text message detailing every aspect of the match. “And she always responds,” Ikemori said.
It wasn’t a text, but in person when Ikemori let Graham know she had made her decision on where she would spend her next four years playing college tennis. After official visits to Iowa State, UCLA and Arizona, Ikemori chose UC Davis.
“It was so hard, because I’m not the most decisive person,” Ikemori said. “Ever since I’ve been 8 years old I’ve wanted to be part of a team and play college tennis. These people are going to be your friends for life. So, it’s an important decision.”
Ikemori said her summer plans include various tournaments, including playing in her first ITF pro-level main draw singles event having won the pre-qualifying tournament for the SoCal Pro Series event at Jack Kramer Club this month.
Ikemori said the highlights of her junior career mostly centered around team events.
“Zonals, all Intersectional events. I just love being part of a team,” she said. “I remember we were in Alabama for 14s Intersectionals and we would play, and then hit the pool. It was just so much fun.”
Coached by Chuck Kingman at Marina High, Ikemori and her team didn’t fare so well in the Wave League during her four years, but Ikemori did win the league singles title her junior and senior years and advanced all the way to the CIF-Southern Section Individuals girls’ final both years, as well, only the second player in school history to accomplish that feat. For her exploits, Ikemori was named the newspaper Costa Mesa Daily Pilot Player of the Year for girls’ tennis.
Ikemori – who will graduate on June 15 – finished her senior season with a 46-1 record. “I loved high school tennis,” she said. “I would recommend all juniors play high school tennis.”
Ikemori said she never considered being home-schooled, especially with all she has been able to accomplish in high school tennis. “There’s a fine line between too much tennis and not enough schooling,” she said. “I don’t have anything against home schooling, but for me I would prefer being in the classroom. I think it’s a better learning environment.”
She continued: “The ultimate goal for me is not to play professional tennis. I want to have an amazing time in school. Sure, I want to become a better player and I definitely see myself playing tennis when I’m older. Sometimes I see two older ladies at the park where I play having a great time playing doubles and I say, ‘That’s me. That’s going to be me someday.’ ”
Ikemori donates her time to Second Serve, a non-profit organization based in San Diego started by Ikemori’s good friends and sisters Amani and Ayanna Shah. Second Serve donates used tennis shoes, rackets and bags to the under-served.
Things haven’t always come easy for Ikemori, who at just the age of 9-years-old was diagnosed with a seizure disorder. “Two years ago I had surgery that we think corrected the problem,” said Ikemori, who said she has experienced the small seizures while playing in tournament matches. “I still have tiny seizures consistently, but they are more controlled and less potent. With my procedure and the medicine my head feels much clearer and I feel more like myself.
“While I still have seizures almost every day, things have tremendously improved. I definitely don’t have it as bad as others and feel fortunate it hasn’t really affected me too much.”
Mika Ikemori is the recipient of the 2023 Evelyn Houseman Sportsmanship Award, which will be presented to her at Junior Sectionals.