Kaori Tsuda: Uncharted territory
The journey from Tokyo to Los Angeles was a necessary one for Kaori Tsuda, to chart a course that led to Santa Monica College and a historic win for the Lady Corsairs tennis team.
For the first time in team history, SMC won the doubles competition of the Western State Conference Championships, highlighted by Kaori Tsuda, and her teammate Juliana Nelkin.
Add that to Tsuda's current singles ranking, 13th in Southern California, and she was beaming at the win-win situation.
"She's got a killer forehand," said Nelkin. "And she poaches well."
In Japan, Tsuda's parents played tennis as a hobby and she played the sport throughout her grade school years.
"My family was very active. They liked sports," said Tsuda.
Tsuda had a constant diet of tennis and competitive tournaments. She went to the nationals in Japan, twice. She also served as an instructor at a tennis club for men and women over forty.
After graduating high school, Tsuda took a break from tennis and studied tourism, ending up with a job at the Japanese Travel Agency for four years.
"I didn't have time to play tennis while working," said Tsuda. "I didn't want to stay in tourism, so I decided to leave Japan and come to the US."
After a discussion with her parents, Tsuda came to Los Angeles at the age of 24. She started work at a publishing company in Torrance.
"I was adjusting to life here [in Los Angeles] and I played tennis with some friends I met at work," said Tsuda.
One of her friends from work asked her to play with her on a United States Tennis Association team.
"I played on the team and realized how much tennis was a part of me," said Tsuda. "It was something I was missing."
Her passion led her to enroll in SMC's tennis class.
"The fall semester I took the [tennis] class and Richard [Goldenson] asked me to join the team," said Tsuda.
She began training and preparing for her first season in college sports.
"I started practicing in January and by March I noticed my mind was fixed, my muscles got bigger and I was playing better," Tsuda said.
In February, she earned a number-two ranking amongst her teammates in singles play.
"With more practice, my tennis improved, my style of playing got better too," she said. "My trainer helped me. My back muscles were weak and she told me how to strengthen it with push ups, sit ups and using a machine that massages my back."
Her improvement and increased conditioning has come much to the delight of SMC head coach Richard Goldenson.
"She is becoming more fit because of training. She's doing the exercises and becoming a much stronger player," said Goldenson.
Goldenson attributed the WSC doubles championship win for Tsuda and Nelkin to Tsuda's increased training and practice.
"The win for me and Juliana was a good one, but I still want to get stronger and better," said Tsuda.
The State Championships for tennis are scheduled for April 25-28 in Ojai, where Tsuda will be representing SMC along with the rest of her teammates.