The second day of action at the USTA Boys 18 & 16 National Clay Court Championships delivered more bright sunshine and temperatures in the 90s, adding to the elements all the players face daily playing against other elite opponents in a Tier 1 national tournament.
Dylan Atkinson has especially been tested the first two days, needing to rally from down a set to claim victory each day. Atkinson, who lives in Old Greenwich, Conn., has overcome all obstacles presented to him the first two days to advance to the third round of the Boys 18-and-under bracket. He followed up a three-set win on Sunday with another come-from-behind three-hour endurance test Monday, beating Hayze Loop of Tucson, Ariz., 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 at the Delray Beach Tennis Center. It earned him the Baptist Health Orthopedic Care Boys 18s Player of the Day.
The 17-year-old rising high school senior was down 5-4 in the second set and held off two match points to take the set and keep his hopes alive for a possible march to Sunday’s final. Perseverance, however, seems to be in Atkinson’s tennis DNA. It took him several matches to get his first taste of victory when he started playing competitive tennis several years ago, and he disappointingly failed to win a match here at the National Clay Court Championships last year. But after some encouragement from his mother Julie, who played collegiately at Amherst, and his coach, he continued to press on.
“After I lost (here last year) I was a little upset and kind of wanted to give up, but I kept pushing,” Atkinson said, acknowledging that the road to success often is filled with some road blocks. “And at the very beginning when I first started playing tournaments I think I lost eight matches in a row, so I was definitely a little hesitant in continuing to play. (But) I just like competing with myself and my mom encouraged me to stick with it. She started off struggling at first, too.”
Atkinson said winning his first-round match here Sunday helped boost his confidence, too.
“I was super happy and super motivated to win that first one,” he said.
Atkinson’s next opponent is Aaron Sandler of Huntington Valley, Pa., who beat Atkinson last year in their only previous meeting and has won both of his matches here in straight sets.
“I lost pretty badly to him about a year ago, but I’m looking forward to it,” Atkinson said. “I want to keep pushing in this tournament, and I’ve improved a lot in the past year.”
Jordan Chang, on the other hand, has recorded straight-set wins in both of his matches so far this week. He defeated Benjamin Willwerth of nearby Jupiter, Fla., 6-4, 6-2 on Monday at the Palm Beach Gardens Tennis Center and has been named the South Florida BMW Centers Boys 16s Player of the Day.
The 16-year-old Chang, from Queens, N.Y., reached the semifinals of a tournament in Virginia Beach last month, his best performance so far on a clay surface that he said really boosted his confidence on the slower surface. He said he’s pleased that he has so far been able to dispose of both his opponents in straight sets.
“Those three-hour matches are tough,” Chang said of the three-setters that Atkinson has had to endure his first two matches here. “Both matches I’ve been up 3-0 in second set and then the heat kind of got to me, so I had to refocus.”
Chang lives only about 20 minutes from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, site of the U. S. Open later this summer. He trains at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Long Island, and one of the most memorable moments of his young tennis career happened a couple years ago when he and some others were awarded time to play a few points against the Hall of Famer.
“(McEnroe) hit me with a drop shot and then he came to the net and I hit him with a sliding ankle drop shot and he applauded,” Chang said, adding that he was proud of that gesture from McEnroe. “He’s always serious even playing with us babies, so he was trying. I was thinking as I was about to hit with him, ‘oh my god this is my chance to prove (something),’ and I hit him with a winner. I have that video saved.”
Chang often is asked when first meeting someone if he is related to former ATP Tour star Michael Chang, who was the youngest male player to win a Grand Slam tournament when he captured the 1989 French Open title on the clay at Roland Garros.
“I have seen him on film, YouTube, and he’s fast on the court, and I’m pretty fast too,” Chang said of the former pro whose last name he shares. “My quickness is somewhat like him.”
Quick work is what Jordan Chang has made of his first two opponents so far this week. He next faces a well-rested Abhinav Chunduro of Plano, Tex., who received a first-round bye as a No. 15 seed and won his only match so far in straight sets Monday. So Jordan Chang might have to channel his best inner-Michael Chang on Tuesday. And maybe even drop in a little magical shot he used against John McEnroe not long ago.