When Alyssa Tobita enrolled at Oregon in 2014, returning to Hawaii as a professional tennis player wasn’t part of the plan.
But as is often the case, priorities crystallize and plans can change over those four formative years.
So when Tobita — a three-time high school state champion and four-time OIA champ at Mililani — completed a decorated collegiate career, she wasn’t quite ready to leave the game behind when she bid farewell to Eugene, Ore.
“It’s hard when you work so hard and it just comes to an abrupt end,” Tobita said. “It was, ‘I love it too much.’ I just love to compete, and love working and love playing.”
As it happened, Tobita made her professional debut in Hawaii last summer in the inaugural Tennis Championships of Honolulu. Following a stretch of three tournaments in Cancun, Mexico, over the past month, Tobita will again have the chance to play at home this week in the International Tennis Federation World Tour’s second stop in Hawaii.
“It was never the plan,” she said of her fledgling pro career, “but I’m very grateful I’ve had this opportunity at all.”
The $60,000 event’s 32-player qualifying draw began Monday at the University of Hawaii Tennis Complex in Manoa, and the main draw, also featuring 32 players, starts today. The tournament also includes a 16-team doubles draw.
“It just feels so right and I’m so lucky to be able to play at home … that’s crazy,” said Tobita, who returned from Mexico last Wednesday and faces top-seeded Whitney Osuigwe today in a first-round match.
“It’s so inspiring to see the level of play. A lot of Hawaii players can get there, so I just hope they come and watch and hopefully it motivates them to work hard and hope to be there one day.”
Tobita made a victorious pro debut in the tournament’s qualifying draw last year with a win over Alexandra Stevenson, a former top-20 player, before falling to Michaela Gordon in three sets in the second round.
She received a wild card into the main draw for this week’s event and will also compete in doubles with former Oregon teammate Rifanty Kahfiani.
Tobita said playing in the singles main draw this time is “a little bit more intimidating.”
“These players have been playing on the circuit way longer than I have. They have way more experience, they’ve been there, done that,” she said. “But I just have to focus on myself. So I’m trying not to think about other things too much but rely on the experience I got in Cancun.”
Tobita turned pro after representing Oregon in the 2018 NCAA Singles Championship to close her college career. She was the fourth Duck to qualify for the singles tournament and first since 2006. She closed her run at Oregon with a 77-49 singles record, her win total ranking third in program history, and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors her junior and senior seasons.
Playing at No. 1 singles for most of her senior season paired Tobita against some of the nation’s best and helped nudge her toward giving pro tennis a shot. Just about a year later, Tobita went 6-3 in the main draw of the three ITF W15 events she entered during her nearly monthlong stay in Mexico in June and reached the singles quarterfinals in each. She also got to the doubles semifinals in the middle event of the series and the finals of the finale.
“I definitely think the experience gave me a lot of confidence to know I can play at a high level consistently,” she said.
Tobita opens this week’s event — which doubles as the first leg of the U.S. Open Women’s Wild Card Challenge — against the 17-year-old Osuigwe of Florida in today’s final match on UH’s center court (no earlier than 3 p.m.).
Osuigwe was named the ITF World Junior Champion in 2017 and enters this week’s tournament ranked No. 110 in the world. She has two appearances in grand slams — last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open — and already has two ITF World Tour titles to her name.
Nicole Gibbs, a two-time NCAA champion at Stanford who reached No. 68 in the world in 2016, is the second seed. Gibbs is making a comeback after surgery in May to treat a rare form of salivary gland cancer.
The U.S. Open Women’s Wild Card Challenge includes nine tournaments, starting with Honolulu, over five weeks. The American with the highest total of WTA singles ranking points in her best three results of the series will earn a wild card into the U.S. Open’s main draw.
TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS OF HONOLULU
At UH Tennis Complex
>> Draws: 32-player singles draw, 16-team doubles draw
>> When: Today-Friday, 10 a.m.; Saturday (singles semifinals), 11 a.m.; Sunday (singles and doubles finals), noon.
>> Admission: $5 at the door (cash only). Free for USTA members, UH faculty and students, youths 18 and under.
>> Note: The event will also include tennis clinics for various ages today through Friday. Details are available at ustahawaii.com.