Whitaker returns home to win City singles crown

By John Packett, Richmond Tennis Contributor

Whitaker returns home to win City singles crown

Three years ago, Spencer Whitaker and his family made the choice for him to leave Richmond and accept an invitation to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he could expand his tennis horizon and mix it up with some of the top juniors in the world.

         “It was a very tough decision for me and my family, because I haven’t really lived at home for three years,” Whitaker said recently. “But we all understood that this was the best chance that I would have to progress. It really was a no-brainer.”

          Whitaker is now ranked in the International Tennis Federation’s top 200 for all juniors in the world entering his senior year of high school at the academy. He has verbally committed to play college ball at the University of Alabama.

         “I’ve made tremendous efforts in furthering my tennis game,” he said. “It definitely turned out to be the right decision.”

         Whitaker had the opportunity to return home this summer and play in the Mercedes-Benz Greater Richmond Open (aka annual city tournament) at Salisbury Country Club, which enabled him to showcase his considerable talents to the local tennis crowd.

         As the top seed, the 17-year-old didn’t drop a set in the tournament, knocking off No. 2 Matt Fernandez in the final in June.

         “My schedule allowed for It this year, which I was very excited about because I’ve always wanted to play in it,” he said. “In the past, I was always playing in another tournament and traveling, so I could never play in it. I was [in Richmond] for the summer.”

         Whitaker defeated former state champion (2003) Saber Kadri in the semifinals before taking on Fernandez, who played mostly No. 1 singles for the University of Richmond last season. Whitaker needed all of his skills to edge Fernandez 7-5, 6-4 in a tight match.

         “Both of us were giving it our all to win, so it was very exciting, very close,” said Whitaker.

         Since he went to IMG, Whitaker’s game has changed from a baseline affair to a more aggressive approach. And he’s also gotten bigger.

         “He’s huge,” said Pat Anderson, a local teaching pro who worked with Whitaker in his early development. “He’s built like a linebacker. Physically, he’s like a different person because of [the training at] IMG. He hits a way bigger ball. He serves a way bigger ball.

         “He’s way more all-court now, no question. That’s the way he needs to be.”

         Winning the city tournament meant a lot to Whitaker, who was awarded the Einwick trophy.

         “It was very cool,” he said, “because I’ve heard of all the people that have won it in the past. Even some of my old coaches have won it. It was kind of cool to see myself with my name on the trophy, joining a group of people who have won it.

         “It was very fun to come back to Richmond and play in front of my family, who normally never gets to see me play because I’m always traveling. I think I was thinking more about showing the people who care about me the most what I’ve been able to achieve.”

         Whitaker said Salisbury’s clay courts suited his game just fine.

         “I like clay a lot,” he said. “I think it complements my game well. I’m a good mover, and I think I’m able to use that movement to the fullest on clay. I also like how the clay forces you to think about how you’re going to construct the point, how you’re going to win the point.”

A groin injury slowed Whitaker this summer and forced him to miss the USTA National 18 Juniors at Kalamazoo, Mich., but he plans to return to the ITF Junior circuit as soon as school begins in late August.

         Whitaker is planning to complete his college career before joining the pro circuit.

         “The goal is to play in the pros after I finish college,” said Whitaker, who was previously ranked No. 1 in the USTA Boys 14s division.

         On the women’s side, there were only three entries, so a round-robin ensued. Nina Sorkin won both of her matches to claim her third city title in six years. The former Deep Run High School ace has played as high as No. 2 singles for Virginia Tech (where she will be a junior this fall).

         In the men’s 40-over division, Chris Wallace emerged the winner, beating Sung Kang in the final 6-1, 6-3.

         In the men’s doubles title match, Fernandez and Kyle Parker defeated Eric Shulman and Tate Steinour 6-4, 6-3.

         Sorkin and Whitaker teamed up to capture the mixed doubles crown, topping Mason Davis Wright and Parker 6-3, 6-3 in the final.

         Kevin Long and Travis Miller won the men’s 40-over doubles championship.