The Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center at Pepperdine University “served up” some exciting tennis this past week, playing host to the Oracle Pro Series. It was a terrific opportunity for Malibu residents to see professional tennis locally—and the first such opportunity in many years.
Sixty-four men and 64 women, including some international players, and eight Pepperdine students competed all week with final singles matches held Sunday. The goal of the players is to accumulate prize money and ranking points so they can move up the ATP and WTA rankings to get to higher level tournaments.
“This is a stepping stone for these players,” Pepperdine women’s tennis coach Per Nilsson described. “There are a lot of college players, professionals and even a few high schoolers who are trying to make a living playing tennis and starting with the hopes they can do well and move up the ranks.”
Nilsson was proud of one of his players—Pepperdine’s No. 1 women’s player Ashley Lahey, who took out the tournament’s top seed and pro player Olga Danilovic from Serbia. Lahey, a top collegiate player, beat Danilovic in the second round.
“It was fun for her,” Nilsson boasted.
Some of the players at the Oracle Series were young up-and-comers including local girl Katrina Scott, only 15, from Woodland Hills. She trains at the Crest facilities at Pepperdine.
“She’s about to turn professional,” according to Nilsson.
Junior player Katie Volynets was feeling good while preparing for the semi-finals Saturday. At only 17, the ranked phenom from Walnut Creek and her dad were hosted by local family Marie and Alan Wexler.
“We got so lucky,” the high schooler raved. “We’ve enjoyed it here so much. I’m excited to be here. I love it here in Malibu.”
Her hosts were just as enthusiastic.
“She’s an amazing player,” added Marie Wexler.
The Oracle series started in October with 12 events in 2019 according to organizer Zach Gallin, vice-president of Inside Out Sports and Entertainment. Prize money ranges from $25,000 to $100,000. Oracle founder and Malibu resident Larry Ellison owns the Malibu Racquet Club and is a big tennis supporter. By 2020, there will be more than 35 tournaments with prize money including a women’s-only event Jan. 13 at Pepperdine.
Malibu hasn’t hosted professional tennis in nearly two decades.
“Now, we have men and women here—a bunch of elite college players, the top world juniors that are thriving to be on the pro tour playing this week. We also have a few that are really close to being at the big events like the U.S. Open,” Nilsson commented. “One seed here this week already is in the top 100 in the world. It’s exciting to have some of the future stars playing on campus this week.”
Plus, on Saturday, 100 children ages eight to 14 got their first exposure to tennis as part of kids’ day at the tournament. It was organized by the USTA in partnership with Oracle. Underserved children were bused in from parts of Los Angeles, served lunch and allowed to play on the championship court in addition to interacting with and watching some of the best players.
“It’s something we do in different cities,” Gallin, the director of the Oracle Pro Series, said. “We try to find local charities and find kids to bring out to the courts. This was the best attended one we’ve ever had.” He reminded the tournaments are open to the public at no charge. “It’s a pretty unique event and well-attended this week,” he said. “The facilities at Pepperdine are amazing. We’re excited to come back again in January and hopefully in years to come.”
Heidi Bernard, Executive Director of Crest Associates, a donor group that supports Pepperdine students with financial scholarships, commented that along with bringing the exciting tournament to campus, “We’re getting national recognition for our tennis programs.”
Malibu resident, tennis player and fan Fiona Corrigan explained why she came out to see the tournament: “You get to watch up-and-coming players compete at a high level. Plus, it’s fun and humbling to compare their playing to yours.”