State-level play brings junior tennis players to Macon

Nearly 600 youth tennis players, ranging in age from 8 to 18, have traveled to Macon -- armed with tennis racquets, sunscreen and a competitive drive -- to compete in the annual Georgia State Junior Closed Qualifying Championships.

Only the top players across the state in each age division who earned enough points were admitted into draws.

More than 500 matches were scheduled for Saturday, according to USTA referee Cheryl Helton, the head referee for the tournament. Tournament sites include the John Drew Smith and Tattnall tennis centers, Healy Point Country Club, Mercer, Wesleyan, Stratford, Westside and Howard.

The tournament opened Friday afternoon with doubles matches. It is scheduled to run through Thursday.

Jake Beasley, a 15-year-old from Cumming, started playing when he was eight because his dad played tennis. He home schools, so he is able to put in nearly 25 hours of weekly training at Harp Performance Tennis Academy.

“I love volleys,” Beasley said prior to the start of Friday’s doubles matches. “I’m a serve-and-volleyer.”

Nicolas Szabo, who was born in Chile but now resides in Cumming, had hoped for a better doubles performance.

“I want to win.” he said before his first-round doubles match. The 15-year-old added, “We’ve trained really hard. We’ve practiced everyday ... three-mile runs at 6 in the morning. Then hit the courts all day.”

Szabo and Beasley won their first-round doubles match, defeating Lawrenceville’s Alexander Chanthaphaeng and Kathleen’s Zachary Vaughn 8-1. But Szabo and Beasley lost to a seeded pair of players from metro Atlanta, Sean McKendree and Landon Ryan, 8-6.

Macon’s Lilly Jimenez made her first appearance in a state Level 1 event. She lost her first match 4-2, 4-2 to Mahika Maulik of Johns Creek.

“I moved my feet, and I made some winners,” said Jimenez, who went on to say that Maulik could return all of her balls. “I want to make my serves.”

Another first-timer to Level 1 events, Margret Hare from Columbus, won her first singles and her first doubles match.

“(It feels) good,” she said of her wins.

Hare lost her second match Saturday to Isabelle Tanjuatco.

“She made me run a lot, and I got tired.” said Hare, who has been playing serious tennis for about a year.

Hannah Skipper won her first singles match in a third-set tiebreaker against Andi Kerr of Athens.

“I lost the first set 4-5 but won the second set 4-1. Then I won the tiebreaker 7-4. I hit more to her backhand, and I hit short shots,” Skipper said. “I tried to keep the ball away from her strong shots, and I tried to hit to her weakness.”

Roswell’s Ben Grunert, who began playing tennis after watching a professional match on television, lost his first match against Michael Mercer, 6-1, 6-0.

“I was impatient with my forehand,” Grunert said. “I didn’t move him around as much as I should have.”

The event marks the Grunert’s first time playing at a Level 1 state tournament.

“I need to use my forehand to attack my opponent’s weaknesses,” he said about what he needs to do for his next match.

Cortland Grove, a 10-year-old who is a top seed, has been playing since he was three. Despite his experience, Grove had to shake off a few nerves.

“I was worried in my first match because my opponent got to everything. He has quick feet,” Grove said. “I was more patient with the ball, and I set up my points.”