SoCal League Tennis

Junior Spotlight: Riley Smith

One of Riley Smith’s favorite doubles partners happens to be both his father and his future college tennis coach. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s fun to play tennis with the man who has taught me everything,” said Riley Smith, who teamed with his father to win the USTA National Father-Son tournament played at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club the first week of December. “It was a blast and I’m so close to him.”

Brandon Holt-Riley Smith 3

The top-seeded Smiths of Long Beach beat No. 3-seeded Brett and Brian Joelson, 6-4, 6-4, to capture their fourth USTA National gold ball together.

The pair have played together in seven or eight tournaments and won two over the summer. Riley and Peter almost didn’t get a chance to win at La Jolla as it was Colter’s turn to play with dad. But an injury allowed Riley to step in and take the title. “We have to take turns,” said Riley, whose older brother Tanner is a USC student and part of the Trojans’ program. “We have like a rotation thing going.”

Smith is currently a senior at Los Alamitos High School and will team with another one of his favorite doubles partners, Brandon Holt, come September when they both will play for Peter’s USC Trojans. The fact that Peter has led USC to four NCAA team titles in recent years is the reason the decision to play there was such an easy on.

“It was a no-brainer,” Smith, 18, said. “It’s hard to pass up the best opportunity in the nation at USC. I’m just counting down the days till I get to go there with Brandon and play for such a great university.

“It is a dream come true. I always dreamed of going to USC, it’s crazy.”

Smith and Holt made headlines back in September when the pair were given wild cards to play in the U.S. Open Junior event as a doubles team, where they eventually made it all the way to the final.

Smith had one day to prepare his first U.S. Open.

Bradon and Riley Smith

“On a Tuesday my Dad said, ‘Hey, they’re talking and it looks like you’re going to get the wild card for the junior doubles,’ Smith recalled. “And we were like, ‘Oh, really.’ And then at tennis practice he was like, ‘Yeah, you got the wild card. We’re going to fly out tomorrow.’ ”

Smith said the first-round win was special, and the only one that went straight sets. “Then we kind of fell in love with the 10-point tiebreaker,” as the pair went on to win the next three matches after splitting sets.

“We just found our groove,” Smith said. “I guess Brandon and I kind of feed off of each other. He’s more calm. I get a little more pumped up. He was really clutch in the tiebreakers. He returned better than me and I served a little better. It was just a perfect combo.”

Smith’s run at the Open in doubles really helped his singles game. “I play better in doubles because I’m tall and I don’t have to move as much,” he said. “When I got back I was returning amazing and serving amazing.”

Smith will play in the two upcoming USTA Pro Circuit Futures events at USC and in Long Beach. He will play qualifying in singles, and with Holt as a wild card in doubles.

He is looking forward to playing one last year of high school tennis. Last Spring, Smith led Los Alamitos High to a CIF-Southern Section Division I title as they beat Harvard-Westlake in the final, 14-4. In that match, Smith avenged a tough loss against Michael Genender, who beat him in three sets in the semifinals at Ojai.

Smith said his goals for 2016 regarding high school tennis mostly center around his team, but he wants to win Ojai and a CIF individual title.

It’s not all tennis at the Smith household every day. “I went to a bunch of USC football games and like going to the movies, just normal stuff,” Smith said of his interests off the court. “I play some video games with friends. I definitely like to relax when I’m off the court.”

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