Zamora Defeats Ayeni in All-San Diego Showdown, Reaches First SoCal Pro Series Quarterfinal - USTA Southern California



MAY 31, 2024  |  DAMIAN SECORE

SoCal Pro Series San Diego



MAY 31, 2024

SoCal Pro Series San Diego
SoCal Pro Series San Diego

Top: San Diego’s Noah Zamora reached his first quarterfinal on the SoCal Pro Series by defeating fellow San Diego native Alafia Ayeni.

Bottom: UCLA freshman and Ladera Ranch resident Spencer Johnson earned his first ATP Tour point with a first round win.

(Photos – Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)


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Noah Zamora began the 2024 SoCal Pro Series with tempered expectations, based on the rude awakening he received in last year’s series. Two rounds into this opening week, he finds himself resetting his goals.

In Thursday’s second-round matchup between two native San Diegans at the city’s iconic Barnes Tennis Center, the UC Irvine senior-to-be and 2022 Big West Conference co-Freshman of the Year powered through third-seeded Alafia Ayeni, 6-2, 6-3.

Zamora has reached his first men’s singles quarterfinal – versus Mexico’s eighth-seeded Alan Fernando Rubio Fierros on Friday – in what is his eighth $15,000-purse ITF World Tour/USTA Pro Circuit event on the SoCal Pro Series.

“A week ago, I was like, ‘If I make quarters in this tournament, I’m good. I’ve successfully improved from last year.’ We got it done in Week 1, but I’m hungry for more now. I want to win the tournament now. I wanted to play to my strengths, on my terms, and I’ll do the same (Friday). Hopefully not play as big a server as (Ayeni); that was a joke.”

The St. Augustine High School graduate played all seven events on the 2023 SoCal Pro Series, either in the qualifying stage or the main draw, and is signed up to play all seven events on the current series.

Said Zamora: “Last year was my first exposure to this whole thing and, for me, it was kind of a culture shock, seeing how everyone is just absolutely ripping the ball, and they were so smart on court. Those were kind of things I hadn’t really developed. So I used this past (college) season to really sharpen my forehand, backhand, serve especially. Not to disrespect anyone I’ve played in the Big West but it’s very different (here). Every point matters.

“Confidence is also a big part of it because, last year, I really didn’t think I belonged on court even though I got a couple (ATP world ranking) points. This year, there’s kind of a new pep in my step. I’m a wild card for this tournament and I am honored to be able to represent (Southern California). I thank everyone who made this possible.”

Playing in his 18th ITF event of the year this week, Ayeni is glad to be home to play the first three tournaments on this SoCal Pro Series after spending the past three weeks, consecutively, in three different countries – Georgia last week, and Chinese Taipei and China before that. His 2024 global whirlwind tour has already taken him to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and Mexico this year.

Ayeni ran into a buzzsaw in Zamora but is bullish on his upcoming SoCal Pro Series prospects.

“I actually thought I played a solid match,” Ayeni said. “He (Zamora) hit, like, 45 winners. He was on fire. There was nothing I could do. As today comprehensively showed, the seeding doesn’t really matter that much. Everyone here is good. It’s a deceptive $15K (event). It’s a very difficult tournament. There’s a lot of good college guys, motivated guys, out here ready to play.

“I always believe that I can win, but especially with these tournaments playing at home, sleeping in my own bed at night, it gives me a little bit of an edge. This week was a bit tough, but we’ll bounce back, and I think the next two weeks will be a great opportunity for me.”

Both top seeds advanced to Friday’s singles quarterfinals. On the women’s side, San Diegan Haley Giavara (No. 451 WTA ranking) made quick work of 16-year-old Ute Anna Frey, 6-3, 6-2, and will face another 16-year-old in Friday’s quarterfinals in Northern California’s Aspen Schuman, who was a runner-up last year at the Easter Bowl (Girls’ 18s singles) and the SoCal Pro Series event at the University of San Diego.

No. 1 men’s seed Learner Tien (No. 434 ATP ranking) outlasted Matt Kuhar, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, and will face off in the quarterfinals against sixth-seeded Arizona State product Nathan Ponwith, 26, who was a two-time runner-up on the 2022 SoCal Pro Series.

The SoCal Pro Series comes along at just the right time for Tien, the 18-year-old left-hander from Irvine, to work on regaining his match sharpness and fitness. The left-hander recently recovered from a fractured rib high on his left side that he says he suffered from before the first January Challenger tournament in Indian Wells.

He played with the injury through mid-February before the pain became too much and he shut it down. This week is only his fourth ITF tournament of the year, and he had not played a competitive match in over three months until this week. He claims to be “pretty much 100 percent.”

“The goal of me playing these (SoCal Pro Series) tournaments is just to get matches in,” said Tien, who has registered for all seven SoCal Pro Series matches over the next two months in order to give himself scheduling flexibility. “Before this tournament, I’ve played seven matches since November. My fitness level was pretty low when I came back (to practice). I played a pretty long match today and I feel pretty good, surprisingly, since I haven’t played a match, or even practices, this long in a long time.

“I was pretty cautious with (the injury) just because I was a bit paranoid when I started playing again. It was hurting really bad on my serve before I stopped playing. I was almost scared to hit serves, even when it had been long enough for it to have been healed. I haven’t played really that much – points, sets or matches – even during practice leading up to this tournament. So my main goal is to get out there, compete, and just kind of get myself back in the rhythm of playing.”

Other men’s quarterfinalists include 30-year-old UCLA product and No. 2 seed Karue Sell – a 6-4, 6-2 winner over former Orange County resident Sebastian Gorzny – and No. 5 seed and Rancho Santa Fe resident Jacob Brumm – a 6-3, 6-1 victor over UCLA freshman Spencer Johnson.

The men’s and women’s doubles semifinals are set for Friday. Tien and Gorzny, who won the decisive singles match to clinch the NCAA Division I national championship for Texas Christian University earlier in May, are matched up against Newbury Park’s Wally Thayne and Johannes Seeman. No. 3 seed Isaac Becroft-Matt Hulme face Robin Catry-Braden Shick in the other men’s semifinal.

On the women’s front, Giavara and Kelly Keller (the No. 3 seed) will play Sarah Rokusek and Stefani Webb, while No. 1 seed Dasha Ivanova-Lisa Zaar will encounter Carlsbad resident Katie Codd and Elyse Tse in another semifinal.

The SoCal Pro Series gives Southern California players the chance to earn valuable ATP and WTA world ranking points. Main draw and qualifying wild cards are made available to U.S. citizens who are Southern California residents or full-time Southern California college students.

Although Johnson and Julieta Pareja were eliminated from their respective singles draws in Thursday’s second round, the week did not come without the achievement of both earning their first world ranking points that came with their first main draw victories on the ITF World Tour on Wednesday.

Ladera Ranch resident Johnson, the 2024 Pac-12 Conference Freshman of the Year at UCLA who is playing in his first pro tournament, endured through two rounds of qualifying as a wild card and then downed Turkey’s Arda Azkara, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

“During my match, I wasn’t thinking about it. But I think it was there in the back of my head a little bit,” Johnson said of earning his first ATP Tour ranking point. “It feels good to get on the board. I was super grateful for the opportunity. It’s as convenient as it gets because I live between San Diego and LA. I’m really grateful to get a wild card and just be here. It’s fun to finally be able to play higher level tennis. Everyone’s good here and it’s fun that way.”

Carlsbad resident Pareja, 15, is a returning player from the 2023 SoCal Pro Series and just completed her freshman year at Carlsbad High School/Carlsbad Seaside Academy. She took advantage of her main draw wild card by defeating Taylor Goetz, 6-2, 6-3.

Said Pareja: “It was very exciting. I played a good match. I was focused and I wasn’t really trying to think about the outcome. I was just trying to solve the problem on court, and I was really happy. It’s a really good opportunity. It’s such good competition. I was expecting a tough match, so I was ready.”

The opening week of the 2024 SoCal Pro Series schedule coincides with the final days of USTA’s National Tennis Month of May. Tennis fans are encouraged to attend SoCal Pro Series events (free admission) and get a sneak peek of Southern California’s elite junior and collegiate talent before they potentially jump on the fast track toward future stardom on the ATP and WTA Tours.

Follow along with the SoCal Pro Series on Instagram and Facebook.


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