Capturing the Freeman Memorial Championship title was a confidence builder for Fukuda
By McKenzie Jackson
Special to The Malibu Times
Pepperdine Waves women’s tennis player Shiori Fukuda was challenged last October.
However, the challenge didn’t come from an opponent on the other side of the net. Instead, it was volleyed by Waves head coach Per Nilsson and his staff after Pepperdine competed in the ITA All-American in Charleston, S.C.
Fukuda, a graduate student, advanced to the semifinals of the event’s consolation bracket. Nilsson, though asked the player, a top player at Ohio State before transferring to Pepperdine, if she wanted to be an above-average player or one so good people talk about for years, recalled Fukuda.
“That hit me and made me think,” she said. “I don’t want to end my college career by just being average. I want to be more than that.”
So Fukuda began to push herself more in practice and took steps off the court—eating better, getting more sleep, taking ice baths—that would improve her play on the court.
“I am in the best shape of my life,” she said. “I am really enjoying this whole process because I have never had this feeling before. The meeting I had with coaches in October really changed me.”
The 24-year-old’s transformation bore fruit earlier this month.
Fukuda, the 31st ranked player in college tennis, won the three-day Freeman Memorial Championship in Las Vegas on Jan. 16. She defeated Oklahoma State’s Mananchaya Sawangkaew, ranked 86th, 7-5, 6-4 to capture the title.
Winning the spectacle, said Fukuda, was amazing and a great way to start the spring season.
“It just helps me tell myself, ‘I have to keep doing what I have been doing,’” she said. “I’m really happy with the win.”
Fukuda began the event with a victory over UNLV’s Aura Fang. She then downed Sofia Rojas of Oklahoma State. Fukuda beat UCLA’s Elysia Bolton in the quarterfinals before beating her Pepperdine teammate Lisa Zaar before the championship match.
Fukuda was one of six Waves players to compete in the event’s singles or doubles competition. She is the first Pepperdine player to ever to win the tennis showcase’s singles or doubles title.
Last weekend, the Waves, ranked second in national polls on Monday, were defeated 4-3 by ninth-ranked California at Pepperdine’s Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center on Jan. 22.
Fukuda and her doubles partner, Anastasia Iamachkine, won their match against Cal, as did the Waves pair of Savannah Broadus and Janice Tjen.
Fukuda and Zaar nabbed wins for Pepperdine in singles matches.
Fukuda began playing tennis when she was 7. As a junior tennis player in Japan, she won events such as the Dunlop Srixon Japan Open Junior Doubles, the 013 PHINMA International Junior Singles and Doubles, and the MUFG Singles Junior Tennis Tournament.
Fukuda redshirted the 2016-2017 season at Ohio State but then tallied up a litany of wins and honors the next three seasons, including Big Ten Freshman of the Year, ITA Midwest Region Rookie of the Year, and First Team All-BIG. She was named an ITA All-American and the Big Ten Athlete of the Year in 2020.
Fukuda had to quarantine for two weeks when she arrived at Pepperdine in the fall of 2020. She trained in her room during that time, but that didn’t prepare her first Waves practice. Fukuda said it was the hardest practice she had ever experienced.
“I said, ‘Wow. I did not sign up for this,’” she said. “I just wanted to have a good time the last two years of my college career. I said I was going to go back to Japan during Thanksgiving break and never come back to Pepperdine. That first day was pretty hard.”
Fukuda didn’t leave and had a successful first season with Pepperdine. She made the All-West Coast Conference’s singles first team and doubles first team. She was also a WCC-All-Academic honorable mention.
Last May, Fukuda’s clinch point over UCLA’s Vivian Wolff propelled Pepperdine to the NCAA tournament’s semifinals for the first time ever. The Waves then defeated North Carolina before falling to Texas in the championship.
Pepperdine hosts the ITA Kick-off Weekend this Saturday and Sunday. The Waves play Columbia the first day of the event at 10 a.m. Colorado will take on Notre Dame at 1 p.m. A consolation match and second-round match will be held on the event’s final day.
Fukuda said because of she and her teammates’ skills and experience, winning a national championship is within their sights.
“We want to win this year,” she said. “We know what is coming; we know what to expect. Our goal is winning the championship. We are all on the same page. We just want to do well for each other.”
Fukuda is excited about every match this season. She said capturing the Freeman Memorial Championship title was a confidence builder.
“I won the tournament because I pushed myself,” she said. “I trained really hard. I know if I continue to push myself, there is a good chance I will do well. This is time I will never get back.”