emma navarro

Emma Navarro is ranked fourth in girls 18-and-under by the USTA Southern Section.

What are the odds of players from one club taking six of the 20 top five spots among boys and girls 16 and 18 players in the USTA's Southern Section rankings? That's 30 percent of the spots.

To put this into perspective, no Southern state other than South Carolina even holds six of the top five rankings. Yet, five players from LTP Tennis' Randy Pate Academy in Mount Pleasant hold six of S.C.'s eight top five rankings in the boys and girls 16s and 18s Southern rankings.

That's more than the combined total of seven of the other eight Southern Section states.

Only Georgia with five of the 20 top five rankings in 16-and-under and 18-and-under is even close to the total of this lone club on Mathis Ferry Road known as LTP Tennis.

The LTP Six group is led by Anna Ross, who holds a pair of the top five rankings, third in both 16s and 18s. Ross moved to the I'On community in Mount Pleasant from Chicago with her family last year. Her father still works in Chicago.

Emma Navarro is ranked fourth in girls 18, while Lara Schneider is fifth in girls 16. Coy Simon and Huntley Allen, both sons of LTP pros, are ranked second and fifth in boys 18.

The only other South Carolina players ranked among the top five in 16s or 18s are from Hilton Head Island (Madison Dillon, No. 5 in girls 18) and Spartanburg (Phillip Jordan, No. 4 in boys 18).

Why is LTP such a hot spot for junior tennis? Of course, the club held an $80K USTA women's pro circuit event less than two months ago, and this year's U.S. girls 18 clay court national championships will be held at LTP in a couple of weeks.

The girls 18 nationals also will use the Family Circle Tennis Center courts, with the winner earning a main draw wild card into the 2019 Volvo Car Open.

How did LTP land so many high quality juniors? The Randy Pate Academy probably is the primary reason. Or maybe it's Charleston itself.

As Randy Pate said, "It doesn't take a lot to talk someone into coming to Charleston."

EYE COACH PAYS OFF

There also may be another reason for the rise of LTP juniors. Billie Jean King's Eye Coach program has moved into the LTP complex, along with its founder, former tour player Lenny Schloss.

Just ask Randy Pate about the Eye Coach, and what it has meant to the participants in his academy.

"We have seen a giant spike in our (tournament) results in the last six months since Lenny (Schloss) and the Eye Coach have been a part of the team here," Pate said.

The lone Southern Closed championship winner this time around from LTP Tennis was Huntley Allen in boys 18. Allen apparently benefitted greatly from having an Eye Coach available to help him in hot, humid and sometimes wet Mobile, Ala.

"Huntley was one of the kids when he played in the finals of Southern that while the other kids (from other teams) were sitting over there in the bleachers, we were in a covered area working on the Eye Coach getting warmed up for the final," Pate said about his son (Allen).

"Huntley hit on them (Eye Coach) every day at Southerns. Every rainy day this year he's been in the barn (at LTP) working on the Eye Coach."

Just what is the Eye Coach, which is hailed by Billie Jean King's company as "the world's best assistant coach." Schloss, who resides in Mount Pleasant, is the president of Billie Jean's Eye Coach operations and a former pro at Family Circle Tennis Center.

Basically, the Eye Coach is a small "point of contact" focused machine (no battery or electricity) that helps teach players to put the sweet spot of a racket on the ball and complete the follow through before lifting the head and eyes to follow the ball's flight.

You're seen Roger Federer do this automatically for much of the last two decades.

P-G'S WILLIAMS NO. 1

Porter-Gaud freshman Sophie Williams actually leads all local players in the Southern rankings as the South's No. 1 girls 14 player.

The local area has five other players ranked among the top 15 in girls 14. Alice Otis is fifth in girls 14, followed by Allie Gretkowski at No. 7 (also 15th in girls 16), Whitley Pate No. 12, Meggie Navarro No. 13 and Mattie Dermody No. 15.

MWTennis Academy's Max Smith is sixth in Southern boys 16, while younger brother Jake Smith is ranked sixth in boys 12. The Charneys (Emma 10th in girls 18 and Piper 13th in girls 12) are a pair of highly ranked sisters from Prospect, Ky., who now live on Daniel Island and train at LTP Tennis while their father works back home in Kentucky.

Jared Pratt, who held the national boys 18 No. 1 ranking in May, has dropped to 12th in the South in boys 18 as he prepares to head for the University of Wisconsin to play tennis. Jacob Jahn is rated 15th in Southern boys 18 and Ashe Ray is 10th in boys 16.

Pratt recently advanced to the final round of qualifying for a $25K pro circuit event in Winston-Salem, N.C., while former Southern No. 1 Emma Navarro was a qualifying finalist in a $25K in Baton Rouge, La.

HEAT PLAYS ROLE

The heat played a major role in Lara Schneider's bid to win a Southern Closed girls 16 title in Little Rock, Ark., a couple of weeks ago.

"Lara had to play Whitley (Pate) in the quarterfinals," said Whitley's dad, Randy Pate. "They had like a three-hour battle, and Lara won, but then had to go to the hospital and pull out of the tournament."

As a result, Schneider didn't get to play in the semifinals or in the third-place match.

"It was very hot, and she (Lara) had a four and one-half hour long match spread over eight hours because of bad weather in the round of 16," said Sofia Aksentijevich, a Charleston area doctor and Lara's mother. "The next day, she started feeling ill in the quarterfinals but was amazingly able to pull that off despite being diagnosed that evening with the beginning of a heat stroke in the local emergency room. She was not medically cleared to play."

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