Rebecca Kong keeps Torrey Pines High tennis legacy going with CIF individual crown

Rebecca Kong
(Charlenne Falcis-Stevens)

Rebecca Kong beats Otay Ranch senior Emely Valencia in straight sets at Balboa Tennis Club to garner CIF title


On the eve of the girls tennis singles championship, Torrey Pines’ Rebecca Kong had trouble sleeping. She’d wake up, look at the clock, fall asleep, wake up again and stare at the clock some more.

“I guess it was butterflies,” said Kong, a junior. “I told myself, ‘Yes, you’re excited, but you’ve got to get some rest.’ ”

Once Kong showed up at the Balboa Tennis Club on Saturday morning, Nov. 5, her nerves were settled and she rolled to a 6-2, 6-4 win over Otay Ranch senior Emely Valencia. It’s the second year in a row that a Falcon won the crown.

A year ago, freshman Alyssa Ahn took home the trophy. Focusing on national and pro tournaments, Ahn did not return to defend her title.

“I’m glad that I could hold onto the Torrey Pines legacy,” said Kong.

The match was more of a tactical affair than a slugfest. The players traded backhand slices from the baseline, soft forehand push shots, with Kong throwing in high-bouncing looping forehands.

“She played a good tactical game,” said Angel Lopez, head teaching pro at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club, who coaches Kong. “It was not your typical bang-bang, academy (tennis). They were both mixing the ball up a lot. It was almost like watching two wood-racket players.”

Lopez has coached boys and girls to more than 20 San Diego Section singles titles, dating back to La Jolla’s Sara Papplebaum in 1980.

Both players came in undefeated. Kong was seeded No. 1, Valencia fifth. Kong owned the much higher Universal Tennis Rating, the metric to measure players worldwide. Kong was rated at 8.81, Valencia at 7.25.

Kong had one other advantage. She was more well rested, not having to play a semifinal match on Friday, Nov. 4. Kong was awarded a walkover win when Del Norte’s Ayanna Shah pulled out with an injured neck.

By comparison, Valencia required three sets to defeat Canyon Crest Academy’s Chaeyule Kang in her semi.

“She came in more fresh,” said Valencia.

Valencia, who has verbally committed to UC Santa Cruz, is an interesting player. She resembles Gabriela Sabatini, hitting one-handed backhands, mixing slices with bombs from the baseline.

“There’s not a lot of one-handed backhand players,” said Kong. “Her slices are good. I wasn’t expecting how she played. (Her groundstrokes) are real sudden and catch you by surprise.”

Kong broke Valencia’s serve twice to easily take the first set 6-2. Valencia tightened her game in the second set and led 4-3 before Kong swept the final three games, twice breaking Valencia’s serve.

On the game’s final point, Valencia cut another backhand slice from the baseline. But this one sailed and sailed, landing inches beyond the baseline.

Asked her reaction when the ball landed long, Kong said, “Probably relief, honestly.”

Kong kept a busy schedule Saturday, Nov. 5. After taking care of business at Morley Field, she headed to Orange County to play in a USTA semifinal doubles match.

In the section doubles final, Patrick Henry’s Anna Pallencaoe and Kate Prichard defeated Del Norte’s Arushi Rai and Emma Shen 7-5, 6-2.

Norcross is a freelance writer. for The San Diego Union-Tribune