Note: Additional event photos can be viewed by clicking here
The 28th edition of the Florida Open the USTA National Level 3 hosted by the Lee County Community Tennis Association (LCCTA) and headquartered at Lexington Country Club is now in the history books, and the members of the 239Tennis community that out to Lexington, Cypress Lake Country Club, Gulf Harbour Yacht & Country Club and Heritage Palms Country Club were treated to the future of our game. Although the event was billed as a 16 and Under and 18 and Under event, we had 13 and 14-year-olds competing in the 18s. Almost all of the top entries in the Florida Open will be participating in the USTA National Clay Court Championships in Delray Beach next week. On to the event…
So you’re up 6-1, 4-1 and you think it’s over, right? Not in the Boys’ 16s Final of the 2017 Florida Open USTA National Level 3, with No.1 Seed Reed Crocker of Kalamazoo, Michigan and unseeded Micah Braswell of Sarasota, Florida going at it. Crocker, who frequently had been misfiring with his first serve and his lethal weapons off both wings, suddenly caught fire as the prospect of defeat loomed, and he roared back to win five consecutive games to win the second set and rolled on to a 6-3 victory in the third set.
Although Braswell had a terrific tourney, reaching the Singles Final and winning the Doubles, he was not a happy camper at tourney’s end. Having a set and two-break lead can do that to you, especially against the player who took out your baby brother in the previous round. Hopefully, Braswell will eventually realize that he played well against a quality opponent who caught fire and that he had a great tournament.
No.2 Seed Brooke Theis eliminated No.3 Seed Emily de Oliveira of Bradenton in the Semis and had to take on big sister Sara in the Final. Watching the match, I wondered if Theis realized that de Oliveira is a lefty. de Oliveira’s huge forehand turned out to be the dominant factor in that first set, particularly in her domination of the first-set tiebreak. However, in tennis, you have at least two sets to figure things out and figure it out Theis did.
de Oliveira came out firing early with that big forehand, hitting countless winners, but Theis just refused to go away and kept the pressure up. Yet, de Oliveira showed some resolve of her own and took the first-set tiebreak. By late in the second set, it was pretty clear that de Oliveira’s confidence had waned some
and she was far more tentative that earlier in the match. After losing the second set 4-6, it appeared that a chat with her dad had righted the ship for de Oliveira. But, after de Oliveira jumped out to a 4-1 lead, Theis’ “never say die” attitude brought her back to claim the victory and the Championship 7-5.
Soon to be a high school senior, Viva Laas of Bonita Springs, Florida, who trains at the Naples Tennis Academy, represented “The 239” well during her semifinal run, finishing fourth overall in the Girls’ 18s. Seeded No.8, Viva survived tough challenges in her first two matches, including a three-setter in her first match and a tiebreak second set in her second. In her semifinal loss to eventual Finalist, 17-year-old Nicole Conard of Boca Raton, Florida, Laas fought back from down a break in the second set to force a tiebreak but couldn’t quite get over the hump. She made The 239 proud with her effort and she’s to be commended for accomplishment.
Yet, the Girls’ 18s appeared to belong to 16-year-old (17 next month) Melissa Sakar of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida from the beginning. In our preview, we noted that Melissa was a player to watch given her recent results, and was she ever! In our recap of Day 3/Preview of Day 4, we noted that Melissa had been business-like from Day 1, and we expected her to stay that way until the end.
From the opening toss, Melissa had her game face on, quietly, unassumingly going about her business without much fanfare. Watching her matches you may not have been wowed by anything flashy, but a student of the game would have noticed her steely resolve, her consistency, and the fine-tuned balance between patience and aggression. Had Nicole asked her for more in the Final I suspect that Melissa would have delivered. Instead, she produced a routine 6-2, 6-1 victory to claim the title.
Players to watch for future impact would include 14-year-old Emma Jackson of La Grange Park, Illinois, who finished third in the event despite playing opponents with experience and height advantages. Sophie Edwards of Nokomis, Florida who recently turned 16, is growing into her power game and should wreak some havoc as her court mobility improves. Elvina Kalieva of Pembroke Pines, Florida hasn’t yet turned 14-years-old (later this month), but she gave the Tournament Champion the toughest set she played and knocked The 239’s Emma Heiderscheit out of the tourney in Round 1.
The 239 didn’t come away with a “winner’s” medal in the Boys’ 18s, but we were treated to winning attitudes from both local players entered in the event. Jake Beasley, who trains at La Academia Sanchez-Casal (ASC-Florida) in Naples upset the No.5 Seed in his first match and went on to make it to the Consolation Final after losing in the second round to Quarterfinalist Luis Iriarte Bastidas of Weston, Florida. More importantly, Jake was presented with the Boys’ 18s Sportsmanship Award at tourney’s end.
Going into the event, JanMagnus Johnson (JJ) of Naples, who trains at Jesse Witten’s Tough Tennis Academy, came into the event as the highest seeded player from The 239 but went out in the second round to Noah Schachter of Wesley Chapel, Florida. What impressed me about JJ was the ever-present smile on his face regardless of the circumstances, even after his 6-3; 3-6; 1-0(8) to No.3 Seed Nick Oberg in the Consies. He could just as easily have received the sportsmanship award. He and his partner Matthew Fung were seeded second in Doubles and were scheduled for the Doubles Semis but that was rained out.
Not residing in The 239 but awfully close is a player that has been having one heck of a year. Unseeded Antoine Sanchez of Sarasota, who trains at Luciani Player Development under the tutelage of Lance Luciani and Heath Turpin, downed the No.8 and No.2 Seeds on his way to Final of the Boys’ 18s. Sanchez wasn’t challenged until his match with Noah Schachter in the Quarterfinals, where he triumphed 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Sanchez fought off the challenge of No.2 Seed Eliot Spizzirri of Greenwich, Connecticut in the Semis, winning a second set tiebreak to clinch the match. An epic battle appeared to be shaping up in the Final against No.1 Seed Jason Legall of Palm Coast, Florida. Legall had yet to lose a set in the event and had dominated his opponents in all but one 7-5 set against No.7 Seed Lucas Horve of Forsyth, Illinois.
The first set lived up to the expectations with both players holding serve through 4-4. Sanchez earned the break in the ninth game and held to close out the first set. Legall didn’t put up much resistance in the second set, not getting on the scoreboard until the sixth game of the set, where he saved several match points with big serves and his lethal forehand.
The match was still on Sanchez’s racquet when he stepped up to serve at 5-1, and he maintained his composure serving the match out at love. Adding another major tournament victory to his Florida High School State Championship Singles and Doubles titles should fill his confidence tank heading into the USTA National Clay Court Championships in Delray Beach next week.
Speaking of the USTA National Clay Courts, both Jake Beasley and JanMagnus Johnson will be in the draw next week. We wish the boys of The 239 good luck as they take on the challenge of a 224-player Main Draw with all of the best players in the country.
As always, we must recognize the incredible efforts of the tournament team: The LCCTA team, including Lyn Bruner and other LCCTA officials; The Lexington Country Club team, including Kimberly Jones, Christian Karlovits, other staff members and volunteers; and the tournament teams from Cypress Lake Country Club, Gulf Harbour Yacht & Country Club, and Heritage Palms Country Club. Finally, we would like to acknowledge the following contributors:
- Lee County Community Tennis Association (LCCTA)
- Lexington Country Club
- The Kitchen Magician
- Academia Sanchez-Casal
- Lee County Sports Development
- Lexington Men’s & Women’s Tennis Teams
- Alex Hermeto
- Arch Capital Advisory Group of Raymond James – Duane Chaney Certified Financial Planner
- Beavers-Rhodes Real Estate
- Fox Sports Radio
- Ft. Myers Beach Insurance Brokerage
- Genesis Tennis
- J. Webb Horton
- Jason’s Deli
- Jeff Kushner, Kushner & Kushner, Attorney’s at Law
- Leading Edge Awards
- Lee County Reprographics, Inc
- Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
- Matt Finn Real Estate
- Miromar Outlets
- Pizza Hut
- Smitty’s Sports
- Southwest Specialty Advertising
- The Gallery Salon
- The Grind
- Worthington Homes, LLC
Good luck at the Clay Courts, and The 239 is looking forward to the 29th Florida Open in 2018. Game, set, match….