Heat, Hydration, Repeat: USTA Boys’ 18 & 16 National Clay Court Championships [Day 3]
Jul 12, 2023
Roberto Ferrer Guimaraes is nearing the end of his playing days in Junior’s competition, so his participation this week in the USTA Boys Clay Courts National Championships in Delray Beach, Fla., is a farewell stop of sorts for the 18-year-old high school graduate. This time next year he will have completed his freshman year playing for Mississippi State.
Winning the 18s title and the coveted Gold Ball that goes with it would be the ultimate farewell gift for Guimaraes should he continue his winning ways in South Florida this week.
“It would be an amazing way to go out,” Guimaraes said Tuesday after winning his second consecutive match to reach the round of 32. He received a first-round bye as a No. 17 seed here and his 7-6(4), 6-4 win Tuesday afternoon was his second consecutive straight-sets victory this week. It earned him the Baptist Health Boys 18s Player of the Day.
Guimaraes had to battle back to win the first set of his match against Georgian Augustin Miramontes, who Guimaraes said pushed him to the limit in the match.
“I gave it my all and I just want to leave it all out there,” said Guimaraes, who was ousted in the first round of the 18s here last year after making it to the fourth round of the 16s two years ago. “I want to make a deep run in this tournament, so I’m going to have to try to keep it away from the third set early on so I have energy toward the end.”
Guimaraes said he arrived in Palm Beach County each of the past two years having just played in a hard-court tournament and had not had any time to practice and adjust to the clay surface. He changed his routine this year and spent much more time practicing and playing on clay leading up to this year’s National Clay Courts tournament and had an extra day to adjust to the clay at the Delray Beach Tennis Center thanks to the bye he received for Sunday’s first round. He said he’s seeing positive signs of improvement because of that strategy and extra time on the surface.
“It’s a pretty brutal tournament, from the first round on,” Guimaraes said of the Level 1 tournament, the only one of the five in the U.S. that is played on clay. “Everybody’s intrigued by this tournament. All the best players come here and want to win it, so this tournament brings out some extra energy because of the prize if you win the tournament. In other tournaments some players might not give it their all, and it doesn’t really matter, but in this tournament they for sure want that Junior U.S. Open wild card, so they have the motivation to win it all and everyone brings out their best.”
Guimaraes’ entire family – parents, grandparents and siblings – made the trip from Tennessee to watch him perform this week and rented a house only about a 3-minute walk from the Delray Beach Tennis Center. Regardless how the rest of the week plays out for him, he said they’ll all be here for the entire week. If he falls short of his goal to reach Sunday’s championship match, he’ll just treat it as a vacation, something he said he has not had much chance to enjoy while balancing school academics and playing tournaments over the past several years. However, he’d happily give up a few days at the beach for the chance to hoist the 18s Gold Ball on Sunday.
“It’s a great experience,” he said.
Noah Johnston of Anderson, S.C., like most of the players here this week, said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make is how to deal with the formidable heat and humidity of mid-July in South Florida. So far, so good, for the 15-year-old who like Guimaraes has won back-to-back straight-set matches after receiving a first-round bye.
“It hasn’t been easy, because this heat in Florida is really hot and everybody here is an excellent player, so I’m just happy to get through the first two rounds,” said Johnston, who was named the South Florida BMW Centers Boys 16s Player of the Day following his 6-2, 6-1 victory Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens.
Despite the challenges of playing in sweltering conditions, Johnston said he’s a big fan of the tournament.
“It’s always a great tournament,” said Johnston, who made it to the third round here last year as a 14-year-old. “Clay courts in Florida in summer, it doesn’t get much better than that. . . . I was mainly concerned about the heat today because it bothered me a lot (on Monday). So I hydrated more and ate really healthy prior to the match. Because I did those things, I didn’t have to worry as much about the heat, so I could just focus on my game, and I was very happy with the way I played today.”
A win Wednesday in singles would send him to the round of 32, something he has not accomplished before in the National Clays. His opponent is a friend – Lukas Phimvongsa.
“I’m 2-for-3 against him, so it’s going to be fun,” Johnston said.
Johnston and his playing partner Benjamin Willwerth of nearby Jupiter, Fla., already have advanced to the round of 32 at the No. 6 seed, and Johnston said he puts as much effort into his doubles matches as he does singles.
“I love doubles, it’s probably my favorite thing,” said Johnston, who made it to the doubles quarterfinals in the 16s tournament here last year. “It’s just fun for me. We’re playing another friend of mine from South Carolina (in doubles) tomorrow, so it’s a big day.”
Sunday, July 9 – Wednesday, July 12: Delray Beach Tennis Center (B18), Boca Raton Racquet Center (B18), Palm Beach Gardens Tennis Center (B16) and BallenIsles Country Club (B16)
Thursday, July 13: Delray Beach Tennis Center (B18), Palm Beach Gardens Tennis Center (B16)
Friday, July 14 – Sunday, July 16: Delray Beach Tennis Center (B18 & B16)