Tennis captures Michelutti's gaze


BELLINGHAM - Catherine Michelutti bobbed and fidgeted in the confines of the dark brown wicker chair in the lounge area of the Bellingham Tennis Club.

She couldn't help it - her attention was elsewhere, fixated on the tennis courts to her right where she would soon be returning serves and lofting forehands.

After winning her quarterfinal match in the girls' 12-Under age group at the Bellingham Open Junior Challenger in straight sets, Michelutti, 11, awaited her semifinal matchup with Tessa Tapmongkol. It was a rematch of the finals from last year's 12-U girls' Junior Challenger, where Michelutti got the better of Tapmongkol.

With the two coursing up and down the halls, carefully avoiding every adult who passed by, it was clear they weren't rivals. Nothing was made of their rematch, except Michelutti recalling how excited she was to have won last year's Junior Challenger.

"I was really happy because I worked really hard to get this tournament," Michelutti said. "I was so happy to get my reward."

It was the first time Michelutti had won a tennis tournament, winning a hat that proclaimed her the "Bellingham City Open Champion."

This year, though, her fortune would not be the same, losing in straight sets to Papmongkol in the semifinals. Papmongkol will play in the finals at 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 9, while Michelutti will try to play her way to the consolation final.

The hat was a launching pad for Michelutti, reminding her that she could do more. Despite her small frame, lugging around a racquet that often times looked larger than herself, tennis fortune could be had if she wanted it bad enough.

"I was inspired to win more," she said.

During the summers, Michelutti doesn't pass on the opportunity to play the game that brings a wide, toothy smile to her face merely upon referencing it. It's the only word that could steal her away from looking out onto the courts.

At 7:30 p.m. nearly every night, she grabs her father and brings him down to the tennis club for an hour and half of hitting practice.

While her mother, Somruthai Michelutti, said her father would prefer her to play the violin more, tennis is her fixation of choice. And she doesn't even wait for her father to book the courts.

"I'm usually the one that books the court," she said. "I have my own account."

She is the master of her tennis future, and her mother, who watched her daughter play in the semifinals from a distance, prefers it that way.

"We're not players," Somruthai Michelutti said of her daughter playing a sport neither of her parents knows too well. "We let her decided."

Somruthai Michelutti has seen the parents that push their children beyond the point of breaking. Just recently, Michelutti placed second in a regional tennis tournament that earned her a bid to a national tournament in Sacramento, Calif.

Michelutti faced extremely talented young players like herself in the sweltering California heat, but while she was forging relationships with other players, her mother noticed something else. Something she had rarely seen up here.

"When we went down to California, they bring their own coaches," she said.

She was taken aback at seeing 11-year-olds with personal tennis coaches. She loves her daughter, but at the same time, she wants her to still be a kid. Getting a personal coach crossed a boundary she doesn't want to cross.

Despite the hands-off approach by her parents, Michelutti has ideas of grandeur in terms of her tennis career.

Far be it from an 11-year-old to envision a life beyond today or tomorrow, but Michelutti arranges her four tennis trophies on her desk so that when she gets up, they are the first things that catch her barely-awakened attention. Like the hat, they work as a way to motivate her, both athletically and academically.

"I want to play in high school and college and the rest of my life," Michelutti said.

Bellingham City Junior Challenger Tournament

Boys' 12 Singles (Round Robin)

Jacobsen, Sam Bellingham def. Sorenson, Zachary Ferndale 6-0; 6-2

Jacobsen, Sam Bellingham def. Guo, Ethan Cupertino, Calif. 6-0; 6-1

Boys' 16 Singles (Quarterfinal Round)

Shmotolokha, Maxim Bellingham def. Segren, Andrew Bellingham 6-2; 6-0

Edson, Ryan Sedro Woolley def. Rose, Nicolas Bellingham 2-6; 6-1; 10-5

Smiley, Kevin Bellingham def. Wolf, Michael Camano Island 0-6; 6-3; 10-8

Boys' 16 Singles (Semifinal Round)

Miszczak, Liam (1) Blaine def. Edson, Ryan Sedro Woolley 6-3; 6-2

Shmotolokha, Maxim Bellingham def. Smiley, Kevin Bellingham 6-0; 6-1

Girls' 12 Singles (Quarterfinal Round)

Eklund, Adeline (1) Bellevue def. Gill, Angela San Jose, Calif. 6-3; 6-0

Hodges, Cameron Bellingham def. Tapmongkol, Sofia Bellingham 6-0; 6-0

Tapmongkol, Tessa Bellingham def. Miszczak, Petra Blaine 6-3; 6-2

Michelutti, Catherine (2) Bellingham def. Eklund, Sylvia Bellevue 6-1; 6-0

Girls' 12 Singles (Semifinal Round)

Eklund, Adeline (1) Bellevue def. Hodges, Cameron Bellingham 6-7; 6-3; 10-8

Tapmongkol, Tessa Bellingham def. Michelutti, Catherine (2) Bellingham 6-1; 6-1

Girls' 12 Singles Consolation (Quarterfinal Round)

Gill, Angela San Jose, Calif. def. Tapmongkol, Sofia Bellingham 7-6; 6-1

Miszczak, Petra Blaine def. Eklund, Sylvia Bellevue 6-0; 7-5

Girls' 14 Doubles (Round Robin)

Eklund, Adeline/Hodges, Cameron def. Gill, Angela/ Gill, Jacqueline 6-1; 6-0

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