CHARLESTON, S.C. — Possibly no tennis tournament has risen more dramatically in recent years than the Credit One Charleston Open.

It’s been voted by the Hologic WTA Tour players as the best 500-level event on the calendar for the past two seasons. No fewer than 10 of the Top 20 players signed up to play this year. The sparkling Daniel Island facility has been renovated and nearly 100,000 spectators will pass through the gates this week.

Emma Navarro, too, has ascended in dizzying fashion. A year ago, the product of this charming southern town was ranked No.118 and accepted a wild card into the draw. The result was a straight-sets loss to Madison Keys.

This year, it’s been a spectacular homecoming. Navarro sits at a career-high ranking of No.20 and already has won 21 matches — a total surpassed only by Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina.

The remarkable thing? The burgeoning success of the Charleston Open and Emma Navarro are inexorably intertwined.

The 22-year-old Navarro defeated qualifier Katie Volynets 6-1, 6-1 on Wednesday night, making her deepest progression here in her fifth appearance. She’ll face Jaqueline Cristian, a three-set winner over Madison Keys, on Thursday.

“I get to play around the world, and it’s an honor to say my hometown is Charleston,” Navarro told the appreciative crowd afterward, “so thank you guys for making it that way.”

The direct connection between tournament and player is successful businessman Ben Navarro, Emma’s father — and the man most responsible for the financial infusion that has elevated the event. Ben and Emma’s mother, Kelly, were on hand Wednesday, cheering along with everyone else.

In 1998, Navarro founded the Charleston-based Sherman Financial Group, a global diversified investment services company. In 2005 — three years after Emma was born — Sherman Group bought a small bank and renamed it Credit One Bank. Today it has 12 million Visa cardholders.

Fast forward to 2018, when Navarro acquired the WTA Tour sanction for what was then called the Volvo Car Open and the Family Circle Tennis Center.

“I look forward to building on the current tournament tradition that is already 47 years in the making,” Navarro said at the time, while congratulating tournament director Bob Moran and his team for creating a tennis legacy in Charleston.

Three years ago, Credit One Bank became the title sponsor — the same year Emma won the 2021 NCAA singles title as a freshman at the University of Virginia.

By that time, her junior tennis career was well established. Navarro was a doubles finalist at the 2019 Australian Open, a doubles champion at Roland Garros and a singles finalist as well as a singles semifinalist at Wimbledon. That same year, at the age of 17, she played in her first WTA Tour main draw — as a wild card in Charleston.

Navarro has worked for everything she has in tennis today. You could see her coming at the end of 2023, when she won International Tennis Federation events in Tyler, Texas and — there’s that city again — Charleston. She began the year by reaching the semifinals in Auckland, New Zealand, then winning her first career WTA title in Hobart, New Zealand. A run to the quarterfinals (she lost to Maria Sakkari) thrust her into the Top 20.

Navarro was virtually flawless against Volynets, dropping two games in a 69-minute match. She won 20 of 23 first-serve points and broke Volynets five times — without facing a break point.

In another fortuitous connection, Navarro has become good friends with fellow professional Danielle Collins — who also won the NCAA title for Virginia. They met at a 2020 team event in Charleston during the global pandemic.

“Just watching her go from being a really high-level junior and … seeing how she’s evolved as a player and person during that time has been incredible,” Collins said after winning her first-round match over Paula Badosa. “And now seeing her do so well on tour and dominate, I mean, it just brings so much joy to my life watching Emma kick ass. I love this girl.”

Collins and Navarro played doubles at Roland Garros last year — but that was when she was only ranked No.75.

“Both of us have been doing pretty well in singles, so we’ve been kind of focusing on that, but I think we will probably [play doubles] at some point,” Collins said. “I have to ask her if she’ll play with me again because I really stunk it up at the French Open.”

What isn’t open to question is the support Navarro continues to receive from her family. After she played a late match at Indian Wells, Navarro gave her grandmother an on-court shoutout, saying she was up past 2:30 a.m., watching at home in Connecticut. On Wednesday, she was there in person.

“I don’t know what time it is, but it’s not 3 a.m.,” Navarro said after beating Volynets. “Thanks for being here, Gram, your support means the world to me.”

One of Navarro’s mantras — whether she’s winning or losing — is to think “I’m where I want to be.” That power of positive thinking comes from her father.

“He’s probably the smartest guy I know,” Navarro said in a Tennis Channel interview. “And he’s dropped a lot of knowledge and wisdom on my siblings and I over the years. He taught a class last semester at College of Charleston on mindset — the name of the class was `Intentionality.’

“He’s taught me a bunch about the perspective I want to take into things, especially on-court stuff.”

And now Navarro, a rising star, is returning the favor and all of Charleston is cheering.


Leave a Reply