Sophie Whittle

Sophie Whittle strikes a ball at the Koser Challenge. 

Mental toughness is more than a cliche for Sophie Whittle.

Whittle, playing her first full season as a professional, once suffered an ankle injury in a collegiate national championship match while at Gonzaga and fought through the pain to get the win.

She’s trained her mind to handle adversity, and feels her mental strength is a potential difference maker for her at the professional level, where everyone has the physical talent to succeed.

So far at the Koser Challenge in Landisville, Whittle’s formula has worked to perfection.

A wildcard entry ranked No. 639 in the world, Whittle, an American, punched her ticket to the singles semifinals with a win over third-seeded Katarina Zavatska, 6-3, 6-3, on Friday afternoon.

“I thought I played really well,” Whittle said. “I felt like I didn’t give her many opportunities to get back into it, and that was my goal. If you let up at any point in time, you never want them to come back in and get a rhythm.”

Whittle’s mental fortitude was on display from the very onset.

Playing against an opponent 505 spots higher in the world ITF rankings, Whittle raced out to an early lead while Zavatska struggled to find her form.

With Whittle out in front, Zavatska let her frustration get the best of her. She threw her racket twice, resulting in a point penalty, and wore a look of displeasure throughout the majority of the match as she tried to play catch up.

Zavatska went out to a 2-0 lead in the second set, but Whittle battled back in a businesslike manner, taking six of the next seven games to claim her second victory over a player seeded in the top 8 of the Koser field.

For Whittle, this kind of performance in the Koser can be an important first step toward gaining a foothold on the world tour.

She’s been working with USA Tennis to try to find playing opportunities, which is how she landed the wild card for the Koser.

When Whittle has received chances, she’s made the most of them. Whittle is 9-4 in main draw singles matches this season, making her a real threat on the tour.

“You’re playing against somebody that’s really, really tough every single day,” she said. “It’s just an opportunity to get better.”

After proving herself on the court, Whittle is still trying to navigate the finer points of being a newbie on tour.

Signing up for courts, finding a practice partner and other logistical issues can be difficult to solve for a new face, but overall Whittle says she feels she’s beginning to make the adjustment.

“I didn’t set any expectations,” she said. “I’ve been taking it day by day and point by point, but I’ve had a lot of great support.”

Notes:

Victoria Duval’s run through the singles bracket continued with a win over No. 6 seed Paula Ormachea.

Coming through the qualifying draw, Duval has still yet to lose a set in five matches at the Koser. She’ll take on fellow American and top seed Madison Brengle in a semifinal match Saturday, after Brengle handled En-Shuo Liang in her quarterfinal match.

Whittle will battle the only non-American semifinalist, Lin Zhu, the tournament’s second seed.

Impressive as her singles run has been, Duval and teammate Caitlin Whoriskey bowed out of the doubles bracket, falling to Quinn Gleason and Luisa Stefani.

American duo Vania King and Claire Liu upset the topped ranked doubles group of Ellen Perez and Arina Rodionova.

Hayley Carter and Jamie Loeb beat fellow American duo Sophie Chang and Alexandra Mueller to advance to the semifinals,while Vladica Babic and Ena Shibahara claimed the final semifinal spot.