This past week, 900 of the best junior tennis players in the country took to the courts in Southern California with hopes of etching their names into a history book of champions.
Connors. Austin. Chang. Williams. The list of past champions at the Southern California Junior Sectional Championships is as impressive as it is long, and this weekend, the future stars of the game emerged at what is widely considered one of the region’s largest and most competitive junior tennis tournaments of the year.
For decades, Southern California has produced some of the world’s breakthrough players. Tennis pioneer Jimmy Connors was a frequent participant at the Junior Sectional Championships, where he won the Boys' 18s title in 1970, just years prior to his meteoric rise to World No. 1, in 1974. He would finish his career with eight Grand Slam titles and an impressive 268 combined weeks as world No. 1.
Palos Verdes native and three-time Grand Slam champion Tracy Austin soon followed Connors, flashing her own brilliance by becoming the youngest US Open champion in history in 1979, at just 16 years and 9 months. Austin captured titles at the Junior Sectional Championships just years before, winning the Girls' 12s in 1974 and Girls' 14s titles in 1975 and 1976.
A decade later, American Michael Chang introduced himself to the tennis world in a big way. At 17 years old—and just a few short years removed from winning the SoCal Boys' 12s in 1983-1984—Chang won the 1989 French Open, becoming the youngest male to ever win a Grand Slam title.
Of course, the honor roll would not be complete without the legendary Williams sisters and their combined 30 Grand Slam singles titles. Southern California products Venus and Serena won the SoCal Junior Sectional 10s titles in 1990 and 1991, respectively, with Venus also capturing the Girls' 12s championship in 1991.
The future of the spot was once again on display last week, at the Los Caballeros Racquet and Sports Club in Orange County, with the best junior players in the country competing for bragging rights in one of the nation’s preeminent organized youth events. Juniors from five different age groups (10s, 12s, 14s, 16s, 18s) competed in knock-out stage format in singles over the course of the week, along with doubles action at the 18-year-old level.
The Boys' and Girs' 18s draws stole the headlines and much of the attention during the week; crowning first-time champions Alexander Petrov (pictured above) and Maya Pitts (pictured below).
Petrov, a five-star recruit from Irvine, defeated close friend Matthew Mu, 6-2, 6-3, after battling through severe cramps in the second set; Pitts, a four-star Los Angeles native, battled through sickness all week and survived three intense sets with Leyden Games to secure the title, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.
“Amazing,” said Petrov on his emotions after joining the ranks of legendary Southern California juniors to triumph in Orange County. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. I just have to keep working hard and hopefully I can keeping going [further].”
In doubles, Tim Dzhurinzkiy and partner Bryan Kulikov defeated stiff challengers Nabeel Kahn and Kai Brady, 6-2, 1-6, 1-0 (6), to take home the Boys' 18s title. On the girl’s side of the 18s doubles draw, unseeded Delanie Dunkle and Maia Sung grinded past Carly Scwartzberg and Winta Woldeab, 2-6, 6-1, 1-0(8), for the championship victory.
But the biggest show-stopper of the week may have been last year’s Girls' 12s champion and rising high school freshman Carla Pacot (pictured above), who steamrolled her way through the Girls 14s draw without dropping a set en route to the final. Pacot dismissed No. 9 seed Krisha Mahendran in a tense championship match 6-0, 3-6, 6-2.
When asked about her mentality coming into the week as the 14s No. 1 overall seed, the Rancho Cucamonga native eloquently reflected, “I told myself to treat everyone with respect and go out there and play my best game…if I play my best game, I should do well no matter what the result is, win or lose.”
Spoken like a champion—now and, given the history of this event, for years to come.