NYC's Premier Junior Program
  | By New York Tennis Magazine Staff

On the weekend of July 10-11, the fast-growing sport of beach tennis held its first ever U.S. National Championships, as the sport's top players converged in Chicago to compete for $3,000 in prize money and to vie to see who is the best of the best in the world of beach tennis. Top players from Long Island to California teamed up for this first-ever national showdown amongst the Americans.

The sun was out, the beach was crowded, the music was playing and the players were ready, as the scene was set for the National Championships. Players knew they were going to have to brave the 90-degree temperatures, in addition to stiff competition, to win on this day.

In the Men's Pro draw, the top seeds based on ITF World Ranking Points were David "The Iceman" Sickmen and Devin "The Wonder" Wakeford. Sickmen & Wakeford came in as the top seeds, but also with a question mark as they had never teamed up before and now had to quickly find teamwork against top competition. Play got underway with two separate pools, with the top four teams from each pool advancing to the quarterfinals. When that was all complete, the top four seeds were still alive and ready to square off in the semifinals.

In one semifinal match, the top team from California of Marty Salokas & Donny Young, who are veterans of the BTUSA tour and long-time successful beach tennis partners, wasted no time in moving on to the finals as they quickly disposed of Javier Llanos & Ernesto Faisal, 6-0, 6-2 in straight sets.They would now await the winner of the other semifinal match, where the top seeds Sickmen & Wakeford went up against Matt Garavaglia & Stephen Sayoc in what was later described as "The match of the tournament" by those in attendance. As play got underway, fellow players and beach-goers quickly made their way over to this match, as the points were played at a very high level. Long rallies and a deft touch were common in this match, as Sickmen & Wakeford got out to an early 5-1 lead, but Garavaglia & Sayoc responded and the first set would up in a tie-break. Sickmen & Wakeford pulled out the breaker 10-8, after fighting off two set points and used that momentum in the second set in finishing the match off and claiming a 7-6, 6-3 straight-set victory.

This set up a finals match between the top two teams and an intriguing one, as it pitted the East Coast New Yorkers Sickmen & Wakeford against the West Coast Californians, Salokas & Young. In the finals, the level of play was as high as expected, and each point was earned. Both teams made difficult shots look easy and displayed the on-court skill that made them finalists. Over the course of the match, Salokas & Young, with their longtime teamwork evident, used an array of touch mixed with power to wear down a tired team and secure a victory. The win made Salokas & Young the first ever BTUSA National Champs.

In the Women's Pro Doubles bracket, who the top seed was awarded to came as no surprise, as Nadia Johnston & Nicole Melch, who have dominated the womens circuit in the U.S. over the past few years, made the trip to the Windy City. They were the heavy favorites going in, but that didn't mean the other teams were going to back down.

In the semifinals, Johnston & Melch took on Marina Ohlmuller & Suzanne Lemery and they showed why they were the favorites as they won convincingly 6-1, 6-1. The other semi-final was a battle between Leanne Baker & Corina Kealy, taking on Elisa Ryan & Nana Liu. Baker & Kealy marched on to the finals with a 6-3 6-3 straight set win. They were now set to try and pull the upset in the final. There was going to be no upset on this day though as Johnston & Melch showed they weren't about to give up their top U.S. ranking or this first National Championship opportunity. They finished off the tourney with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Leanne Baker & Corina Kealy to take home the championship.

While the competition was fierce throughout the tournament, beach tennis players, more than in most sports, have a way of coming together afterwards. Maybe it is the good sportsmanship exhibited during play, or the atmosphere that surrounds a competition complete with music and food or that play take place at the beach, but regardless, the players know how to have some fun. Before and after play, the players enjoyed the sights and sounds of Chicago at dinners, boat tours and player parties. Let's hope the 2011 Beach Tennis National Championship is just the first of many.