Is stature overrated? For Midori Castillo, it’s a non-issue – and sometimes, a benefit.
Undoubtedly, some of Castillo's loftier opponents might see a player short in stature and adopt a false sense of confidence, but that usually comes back to haunt them. That’s because Castillo, the 16-year old from Bonita, plays a really big game that ranks her among the best junior players in the nation.
Those who follow junior tennis in Southern California are familiar with Castillo’s athletic prowess. Her performance as the top seed at the 2019 Junior Sectionals cemented that pristine reputation, when she captured the Girls 16s title by dropping only one set in six matches. Months later at Girls Nationals, the unseeded Castillo dispatched the #13 seed and nearly upended #17. For good measure, she beat six – six! - seeded players in the consolation bracket before bowing out.
Singing her competitive praise comes with ease, but Castillo’s on court fire is quite a contrast to the exceedingly polite and quiet player we meet on the sidelines. Her extraordinary talent and ideal temperament make Castillo a prime target for college coaches, with interest brewing from top schools like UCLA and Pepperdine.
“My number one goal in life is to be a professional tennis player,” she says, her sights set firmly on the world’s top 30. “The moment I wake up, all I think about is my goal. I’ve had the same dream (since starting to play tennis at age 8), and it won’t change until I achieve it.”
During this Hispanic Heritage Month, Castillo looks back on her young life and easily identifies those who’ve had the most profound effect on her growth not just as an athlete, but as a woman.
“My first role model is my mom,” Castillo says. “She is one of the toughest, if not the toughest woman I know. You cannot tell her ‘can’t do it,’ because she will always find a way to do it, and show you that everything is possible.”
In the tennis world, Castillo credits former WTA Top 40 and Australian Open quarterfinalist Angelica Gavaldo as an inspiration. Gavaldo, herself only 5’3” tall, played for Mexico’s Fed Cup team and competed in two Olympic Games. She also coached Castillo for four years.
“It always impressed me how she played on the tour,” Castillo says. “One of the things that people always ask me is, ‘how do you compete against girls if they are so much bigger than you?’ I always get that question. Angelica showed me that height does not matter.”
Heritage plays an important role in Castillo’s life. Both of her parents are Mexican, and her love for the culture is evident. “If I could choose one thing that being Mexican has changed in me as a person and as a tennis player, it would be grit,” she says. “When I walk on a tennis court everything just erases from my mind and all I think about is what I need to do in order to win. I am really competitive and I learned this in Mexico.”
As for the growth of tennis in the Hispanic community, Castillo realizes that access points are limited for some players who might otherwise thrive in the world of tennis.
“There are so many so many kids that want to play tennis," she agrees, acknowledging that the expense of buying racquets, shoes, and other equipment is a limiting factor. “I think the best way to get more kids to play tennis would be doing a foundation and raising money to buy them racquets. And I think that the kids would see what I see - that tennis is a wonderful sport that will bring smiles to everyone.”