Junior Team Tennis: 2022 Eastern Sectional Championships
150 juniors from 24 teams converged upon the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on June 18-19 to battle each other—and the blustery conditions—at USTA Eastern’s 2022 Junior Team Tennis (JTT) Sectional Championships.
By weekend’s end, four teams emerged victorious: Team Gritty—representing USTA Eastern’s Southern Region—defeated a group from Sportime Lynbrook, of the Long Island Region, to capture the title in the 14 & Under (14U) Intermediate Division; a contingent from CourtSense, of the New Jersey Region, claimed victory in the 14U Advanced Division over a squad from the Cary Leeds Center, which represented the Metro Region; the Maximum Tennis Development Zone team, from the Southern Region, captured the 18 & Under (18U) Intermediate Division title, overcoming a group from the Western Region’s Binghamton Tennis Center; and World Gym, of the Long Island Region, edged out the Metro Region’s National Tennis Center to lift the trophy in the 18U Advanced Division. The winners will next head to the 2022 USTA JTT National Championships, to be held this fall at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.
It was the second consecutive win for a CourtSense team in the 14U Advanced Division. While the 2021 squad didn’t get the chance to travel to the National tournament due to the event’s cancellation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 group was already looking forward to hitting the road.
“I just wanted to win so that we could fly [to Florida] and go play another tournament together,” said CourtSense’s Sylvie Yao after lifting the championship plaque. “I like [that we got to play] as a team—I feel like I’ve known [my teammates] since I was in kindergarten. We were able to keep each other happy and not get too down on ourselves.”
Yao’s teammate Jaime Carlin added that it was precisely that camaraderie and familiarity with each other that made the event so much fun—and ultimately propelled CourtSense past the finish line for the second year in a row.
“A big thing was teamwork, and just a lot of hyping each other up,” she said. “I think that the most important aspect of tennis is the mental game, and if you can stay in it mentally and keep a positive attitude, you’re more likely to win than not. Sometimes we had energy dips, sometimes we were losing. The way we were able to come back—again tying it into teamwork—was just everybody clapping and cheering for each other.”
Such is the draw of JTT, which gives athletes in a primarily individual sport the opportunity to compete together to achieve a collective result. In JTT competition, one or two members of each team face off in five one-set matches: boys’ and girls’ singles, boys’ and girls’ doubles, as well as one mixed doubles match. Although one team wins each match, every game earned is what ultimately counts toward the final score. The format provided no shortage of drama in the 18U Advanced final, with both the World Gym and National Tennis Center squads completely tied heading into a decisive mixed doubles bout. World Gym’s Aron Bursztyn and Victoria Matos, who ended up competing in that match for their team, said they definitely felt the pressure heading down the stretch, as every game carried sudden-death stakes.
“I had a little trouble there trying to close out my serve,” Bursztyn said with a laugh. “But then I put a serve in and Victoria was able to put [the return] away [for the win].”
Matos noted that the extra pressure made the final result even sweeter—and the event itself more exciting.
“It felt incredible,” said Matos. “It was totally nerve wrecking and intense, but super fun. I’m glad we pulled through in the end.”
Overall, they were both happy to get the win for their team; World Gym had finished as finalists (in the 18U Intermediate Division) in 2021.
“The whole team environment is great,” Bursztyn said. “We just finished up the high school season and went straight into this, so it’s been all team events for the last couple months. Team tennis is definitely my favorite way to play.”
The pair has trained at the same facility for several years but took the court for the first time ever as doubles partners. They found it easy to get into a rhythm and enjoyed getting the opportunity to compete together in the mixed discipline, a unique aspect of JTT competition. So too, did brother and sister Ethan and Olivia De Los Reyes of the victorious Team Gritty. The sibling duo teamed up to help defeat the New Jersey Region’s Warwick squad in the semifinals.
“It was just very fun to play together,” Ethan said. “We don’t really need a lot of practice because we know how the other one plays.”
Ethan and Olivia happened to be paired by their mother, Vania Yui, who also served as Team Gritty’s coach.
“The best thing was watching them grow,” Yui said. “I paired them for the very first time [at the 2021 JTT Sectional Championships] when they were younger. Since then, they’ve competed in two tournaments together. This time it seemed like there was less getting mad at each other and more pumping each other up, which was great to see.”
Yui enjoyed being a parent-coach and liked seeing all her players persevere and problem-solve throughout the course of the weekend. Her daughter faced an especially tough challenge in the girls’ singles match of the final against Sportime Lynbrook. Up 5-2, Olivia then lost four games in a row; her opponent served for the win before Olivia battled back to claim victory in a tiebreak.
“When I was up 5-2, I thought I could win right away, so I just kept on overhitting,” she said. “After losing a game, I think I became unfocused, and I got kind of mad…I kept overhitting. When I got it back to 6-all, I just reset [for the tiebreak] and played how I played to get to 5-2.”
Another factor in that up-and-down scoreline may have been the conditions, with wind gusts reaching 35 miles per hour in Flushing Meadows throughout the weekend and forcing participants to adjust on the fly. Olivia said she made an effort to move her feet more, and Yao said she didn't go for too much on her serve, while Carlin tried to think about the bigger picture.
“Something that helped me a lot mentally was that I knew my opponent was going through the same thing,” Carlin said. “If I made a double fault because of the wind, I knew that my opponent had just as likely of a chance to do that later. So that kept me in better spirits about it.”
Even with the wind, players relished the opportunity to compete at the same facility that hosts the US Open. This year, a few lucky competitors even got to contest their matches on fan-favorite Court 17, which boasts a 3000-seat capacity and a jumbotron.
“It was so good,” said Maximum Tennis Development Zone’s Katie Kendall. “It’s really motivating to be on a court like Court 17.”
Added her teammate Yume Abdel-Ramen, “Official tennis players play there. Like, really, really good tennis players play there. And never would I have ever expected to play on the same courts that they’ve played on.”
Beyond the location of their matches, Kendall and Abdel-Ramen were excited to score the first big JTT Sectional win for Maximum Tennis Development Zone. They credited their success as first-timers at the event to—like CourtSense—teamwork, camaraderie and enjoying the process.
“Communication was really important,” said Kendall, who played a critical role in her team’s victory, winning her singles match in the final by a score of 6-0. “Especially developing connections between our coach and the kids, as well as having practices with the entire team. And just being friends and having fun. I was really scared, because all these kids are so much older than me. I think having my team here, as well as all their support, really helped.”
USTA Eastern 2021 Junior Team Tennis Sectional Results:
Champions: Team Gritty (Southern Region)
Finalists: Sportime Lynbrook (Long Island Region)
Champions: CourtSense (New Jersey Region)
Finalists: Cary Leeds Center (Metro Region)
Champions: Maximum Tennis Development Zone (Southern Region)
Finalists: Binghamton Tennis Center (Western Region)
Champions: World Gym (Long Island Region)
Finalists: National Tennis Center (Metro Region)