Talent flocking to Lowcountry for USTA junior championship

Provided Wimbledon white attire event.

What does a national top seed in boys 12 look like?

“He’s big and strong. You’d think he’d be in the 16s. He stands apart with his height (6-1),” is the way LTP Tennis and Swim Club pro Jerry Albrikes described Evan Wen of Morristown, N.J., on Saturday after hitting with the youngster in a clinic.

Such a powerful player can dominate in 12-and-under. The next Pete Sampras?

The best young tennis players in the nation are here for at least five days, probably eight days in the case of Wen, to participate in the first USTA national junior championship ever held in South Carolina.

The next Andre Agassi? Maybe fourth seed Phillip Deaton of the Seattle area.

“Just looking at him (Deaton), he looks like just another player. But when you hit with him, you can see why he’s the No. 4 seed. He doesn’t miss,” Albrikes said about Deaton, who finished fifth a year ago in the USTA Boys 12 National Clay Court Championships.

The Charleston tennis community has never seen such outstanding young talent on display locally. That’s why Albrikes is encouraging the huge local tennis base to come out to see these type kids play the game, especially in the later rounds Thursday through Saturday at LTP Tennis off Mathis Ferry Road in Mount Pleasant.

The 128-draw tournament will start 8 a.m. on Sunday at LTP, the Daniel Island Club and the Country Club of Charleston.

“There will be plenty of support and energy the first four days since every player is guaranteed a minimum of four matches, but then people start leaving,” Albrikes said. “That’s when the highest level matches start.

“It’s important to the tennis community that members, players and tennis fans get out and see the best boys 12 players in the nation play. That’s what the tournament will be Thursday through Saturday.

“There’s no charge to come out. We have a stadium set up for the fans. Anyone can just call the club and find out the times of the matches.”

How big is junior tennis? There are approximately 4,300 juniors in South Carolina who have active USTA memberships, 45,000 in the nine-state Southern Region and 193,711 nationally.

Players are here from all over the country for the nationals. California has 12 participants and Florida has 14. But North Carolina has the most with 15 entrants. South Carolina, which has a strong local contingent in several age groups such as boys 16 and girls 12 at other national tournament sites, has only two players in the National Boys 12 Clay Courts, one from Hilton Head Island and one from Simpsonville.

Saturday was check-in time for the entire boys 12 national field. “All nine clay courts are busy. They’ll all practicing,” Albrikes said.

The player party and a ping-pong tournament also were popular events on Saturday’s agenda.

National clay courts are being held all over the nation for the next week. For instance, LTP Tennis has five players participating in the girls 12 nationals in Boca Raton, Fla. (Maggie Navarro, Whitley Pate, Sophie Williams, Saige Severance and Logan Voeks), while at least two other locals (Maggie Dermody and Carri Hayes) also are in Boca Raton.

Five locals are participating in the current boys 16 nationals in Delray Beach, Fla. (Jared Pratt, Jacob Jahn, Sam Kavarana, Chad Nash and Brant Fenno). Former Wando ace Scotty Cameron and Mark Militzer are on the player list for the boys 18 nationals, also in Delray Beach.

Charleston’s Shelby Rogers and former resident Samantha Crawford are entered in the main draw of Washington’s Citi Open this coming week. Rogers is currently ranked 59th in the world and Crawford has broken into the top 100 at No. 98.

Former Charleston junior Ellie Halbauer has jumped into the world’s top 400 for the first time at No. 392.

Pine Forest Country Club tennis director Andy Steingold was pleased with the turnout of 70 players for the club’s recent “Wimbledon White” attire tennis party.

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his latest columns on the French Open and Grand Slam tennis at ubitennis.net/blog/author/james-beck