Tennis in the family

Photos by Heather O'Quinn / TMT Kelly Stewart, a sophomore at Malibu High School, hustles to return the volley in the 103rd Annual Ojai Tennis Tournament.

A Malibu High sophomore competes on grounds tread by her brothers and father before her.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

Local high school standout Kelly Stewart carried on a family tradition at the 103rd Annual Ojai Tennis Tournament last weekend. As we think of athletics there are many legacies that come to mind: The Pettys and Earnhardts of NASCAR, the Mannings of football, the Griffeys of Baseball … soon there may be the Stewarts of Tennis.

Kelly Stewart, a sophomore at Malibu High School, is quickly making a name for herself as she competed in the finals for one of the most sought after trophies in the country. Stewart’s father, Forrest, competed on the same courts in 1955 and her older brothers, Scott and Doug, are well-known names around “The Ojai.” The brothers went to the finals in the CIF Doubles Division in 1999. Doug won the CIF Boy’s Singles Championship last year, is a nationally ranked player at the University of Virginia and was recently named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year. Scott is a sophomore at Princeton University and started on the tennis team last year as a freshman.

“Kelly has played tennis casually for six years,” Forrest Stewart said. “In the last six weeks she has developed a passion.”

Her passion was evident on the court as she breezed through the Girls 16-year-old Singles Division, which had 32 entrants, and earned runner-up honors in the finals.

Just as evident was Stewart’s focus and intensity during the match, which is unparalleled by most players her age. Her father said her skill was dramatically improving and she recently defeated a top 10-ranked player.

Forrest Stewart, who is also Kelly’s coach, can undoubtedly spot a champion. He played on the UCLA championship team in 1960 and ’61 and has coached tennis for 43 years. He was also the designated coach for The Ojai tournament for all the Malibu participants, which included Leif Sunderland (2002 Boy’s 14 and under Champion), Daniel Moss, Billy Moss, Chelsea Mosser and Taylor French.

“This is a fabulous tennis tournament with numerous world champs,” Stewart said. “You see your old friends show up and it’s great.”

The four-day tournament is the oldest and largest amateur tennis competition in the country. It was founded in 1900 and this year saw 1,499 entrants competing in 34 divisions on 110 tennis courts around the Ojai Valley.

Kelly Stewart was indeed playing on revered tennis ground. Some of the past players in The Ojai include Michael Chang, Billie Jean King, Lindsay Davenport, Tracy Austin and Pete Sampras, just to name a few.

Despite the success of her father and brothers, Stewart is not intimidated. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure,” Kelly said. “I really look up to my dad and brothers.”

Forrest Stewart said brothers Doug and Scott are her best friends and there is more respect than competition in the household.

Kelly said there is an advantage to sitting down to dinner every night with your coach. “Sometimes I think ‘Where do you draw the line between coach and dad?'” she said. “But it’s great because he knows me best. He’s really experienced and is a great person to emulate.”

Stewart played in the tournament finals in front of a packed stadium at Libbey Park in Ojai and seemed completely relaxed.

“Her brother played in front of the big crowd last year,” Forrest Stewart said. “I’m sure Kelly will call him and compare notes.”

In addition to her tennis prowess, Kelly is also an ace when it comes to academics. She is an A student at Malibu High School and is just as devoted to her schoolwork.

“It’s a challenge (between tennis and academics) because there’s other things that I want to do,” Stewart said. “But it’ll pay off in the future.”

With two years of high school remaining Kelly is already thinking about the future. During spring break she visited Doug at UVA. Malibu High tennis coach John McCampbell will have Kelly for two more seasons, but after that any university would be lucky to get a Stewart.