The closest they’ll come to smelling the grass at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, touching the red clay at Stade Roland Garros or hearing the crowd at the U.S. Tennis Center is by scoring tickets.
But make no mistake about it, Leslie Whitten and Amy Fong, former Greater Spokane League tennis rivals and current Whitman College teammates, have game.
Theirs is a game that looks great on a college court, or perhaps at Mission Park. Everyday hackers wouldn’t stand a chance.
“There’s just so much that has to be on at the same time,” said Fong, a 1996 Mead High graduate, commenting on the world-class skills of a Hingis, a Novotna, a Kournikova.
“Like constancy, pace and where you place the ball,” added Whitten, a 1996 University High graduate.
Although Whitten and Fong, both 19, are the first to admit it’s unlikely they’ll reach the professional ranks, their accomplishments have been abundant.
In high school they developed into fierce rivals, both earning state bids each year.
During their senior seasons, Whitten recorded her highest finish in three state tournaments (sixth). To get there, she rallied past Fong in an earlier match.
“We’ve played against each other since we were about 12, or younger,” Whitten said.
This past season the two continued to play singles (flip-flopping between No. 1 and No. 2 seeds), and also teamed as doubles partners for the Missionaries.
“We didn’t like it (doubles) in the beginning of the year,” Whitten said.
“We were bad,” Fong added.
But by tournament time, the two had gelled.
The combination of Fong’s exceptional serve (clocked at 90 mph) and improved net game, along with Whitten’s quickness around the baseline, paved the way to the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges (NCIC) doubles title.
Off they went to the NAIA National Tennis Tournament in Tulsa, Okla., where they played singles and doubles.
Both won their first-round singles matches, but lost in the first round of doubles play. The luck of the 128-team doubles draw wasn’t with them as they met the No. 16-seeded team in the first round.
Since their time in Tulsa, the twosome hasn’t seen much of each other. Fong lives on the North Side and is coaching basketball at the Skyhawks Sports Academy. Whitten, a Valley resident, is working at a medical laboratory near home.
But when they return to Walla Walla, things will change.
“Now, we live about 30 minutes away,” Whitten said. “At college, we live about 30 seconds away.”
Their tennis goals for their sophomore year?
“Maybe we’ll go to nationals again,” Whitten said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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