San Diego's Alafia Ayeni Serves Up First Round Win for SoCal Pro Series' Week #2 at Barnes Tennis Center - USTA Southern California




Alafia Ayeni



JUNE 6, 2024

Alafia Ayeni

San Diego’s Alafia Ayeni reached reached the second round of the SoCal Pro Series at Barnes Tennis Center with a three set win on Wednesday.
(Photo – Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)


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One might consider Alafia Ayeni the ITF World Tour ironman of the 2024 SoCal Pro Series. He has returned to San Diego for a three-week pit stop, hopeful his homecoming includes a winning journey through the men’s singles draw before his whirlwind world tour resumes.

Ayeni advanced to Thursday’s second round with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 victory over Australian Kody Pearson on Wednesday in the SoCal Pro Series’ second $15,000-purse ITF World Tour/USTA Pro Circuit tournament at Barnes Tennis Center. He meets Turkey’s Arda Azkara in Thursday’s second round.

Playing his 148th ITF men’s tournament this week, Ayeni owns one $25,000 singles title (in 2018) and one $15,000 doubles title (in 2021). He won his first main draw match in his men’s ITF World Tour debut, as a 16-year-old in September 2015.

Amid all that activity, the Westview High School alumnus of Nigerian descent still managed to fit in five years of college tennis. The 2017 Easter Bowl Boys’ 18s singles champion and Ivy League graduate played at Cornell from 2017-22 and finished his NCAA career at Kentucky as a graduate student in 2022-23.

While he can fall back on a Cornell diploma if he’s ready to join the 8-to-5 workforce, his passion for, and pursuit of, the tennis dream at the highest level still stokes his fire.

“You really just need one good week and it can change your life, whether it’s at a Futures or a Challenger,” Ayeni said. “You know you have it in you and it increases your confidence quite a bit. I believe that I can win.”

Playing in his 19th ITF event of the year this week, Ayeni is happy, and relieved, to be home. He hopes to play one more 2024 SoCal Pro Series event next week at the University of San Diego. His past year has been a flurry of travel and tournaments.

Shortly after Ayeni, 24, finished his college tenure at Kentucky and played one SoCal Pro Series tournament in 2023 – he made the semis at the Jack Kramer Club in Rolling Hills Estates – he moved to Argentina for about nine months on the recommendation of fellow SoCal pro Tristan Boyer to train and prepare for the Challenger Tour.

His 2024 tennis schedule has taken him to Thailand for three weeks to begin the year, Uruguay, Argentina and then Rwanda over four consecutive weeks in February-March, five events in five weeks in Mexico. He spent May playing in China, Chinese Taipei and Georgia – the European country, not the U.S. state.

“I don’t hate traveling, but I don’t like it either anymore. I’ve been traveling since I was 14,” Ayeni said. “I’ve been away from home for literally over a year. I came back for Indian Wells (Challenger in January) but I was only here for about three days because I lost in the first round. Losing early, it can be very tiring on the soul.”

As a globe-trotting pro on the Challenger and Futures tours, Ayeni admitted “you kind of have to find ways to make money on the side. You have to crowd fund.” Thus far, Ayeni has pieced his travels together on the support of donors, sponsors and leftover money from his Kentucky scholarship.

Ayeni (No. 520 ATP ranking) returned to the SoCal Pro Series for the third consecutive year in last week’s 2024 series opener. This week, he checks in as the No. 2 seed in the singles draw and seeks a deep run. He’d much rather collect more ATP world ranking points at home in the SoCal Pro Series than pile on more frequent flier points.

Said Ayeni: “When you’re a guy whose No. 400 or 500, even 300, on Tour, you don’t spend a lot of time at home. You don’t get to form a lot of those core memories with your family and loved ones. Having a little bit of travel fatigue can be a detriment.

“I think that I experienced that in the past couple weeks, which is part of the reason why I am back home now, to kind of recharge the batteries. It’s more paramount on getting match wins and getting confidence, which is also part of the reason why I came here. It’s just good to be home. It’s amazing.”

No. 1 men’s seed Learner Tien (No. 434 ATP ranking), of Irvine, opened his defense of last week’s SoCal Pro Series men’s singles title at Barnes Tennis Center with a 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over San Diego’s Bryce Nakashima, who just wrapped up his freshman year at Ohio State and is the younger brother of ATP Tour pro Brandon Nakashima.

However, the SoCal Pro Series will crown a new doubles champion this week as Tien and Sebastian Gorzny, who won the doubles event on Saturday, squandered the last four points of a third-set (10-point) tiebreaker in a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 8-10 first-round defeat on Tuesday to second-seeded Jared Thompkins, a San Diego resident and past College of the Desert standout, and Noah Schachter.

Qualifier Max McKennon, a Newport Beach native who just completed his senior season at Arizona State, won first-round matches in singles and doubles on Wednesday – 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 over Alexander Chang, and he teamed with Jacob Bullard, of Calabasas, for a 6-4, 2-6, 10-8 (third-set, 10-point tiebreaker) victory over No. 4 seed Isaac Becroft and Matt Hulme.

Likewise, San Diegan and UC Irvine senior-to-be Noah Zamora rallied for a 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1 triumph over American Nikita Samuel Filin before partnering with fellow San Diegan Rohan Murali for a 6-4, 6-3 doubles win over Nigerian Christopher Bulus and Serbian Aleksa Ciric.

No. 4 seed Jacob Brumm, of Rancho Santa Fe, won an all-San Diego County first-round showdown, dispatching San Diegan and Yale rising sophomore Jim Ji, 6-3, 6-1.

San Marino resident Tianmei Wang, soon to be a senior at San Marino High School, and Irvine’s Isabella Chhiv, who finished her freshman year at Princeton, earned their first WTA Tour world ranking points in singles against seeded players in Wednesday’s first round.

Playing in her third ITF women’s event, Wang upset No. 2 seed and USC graduate Eryn Cayetano, 6-4, 6-2. Wang, 17, faces 2023-24 Pepperdine grad student Anna Campana on Thursday. Chhiv, 19, eliminated sixth-seeded Australian Stefani Webb, 7-5, 6-2.

Elsewhere in the women’s singles draw, a pair of Carlsbad residents – Katie Codd and Julieta Pareja – advanced to the second round for the second consecutive week on the SoCal Pro Series. Codd, who now plays at Duke, defeated American Tori Kinard, 6-3, 6-2. In a matchup of high schoolers, Pareja, 15, knocked out 17-year-old Fallbrook resident and wild card Emily Deming, 6-2, 6-1.

Cayetano rebounded in the afternoon in women’s doubles, teaming with 2023-24 USC teammate Lily Fairclough to form this week’s No. 1 seed, as the pair recorded a 6-3, 6-3 first-round win over Abigail Amos and Teja Tirunelveli.

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