The Battle of the Beach: USTA Boys’ 18 & 16 National Clay Court Championships [Day 5]
Jul 14, 2023
Suffice it to say that Anirudh Dhanwada definitely has earned his berth in the 16s quarterfinals of the USTA National Clay Courts Championships being staged this week in Palm Beach County, Fla.
The unseeded Dhanwada, from Tenafly, N.J., was extended to three sets in three consecutive matches after winning his first-round match in straight sets on Sunday in Palm Beach Gardens. He had a particularly grueling day on Tuesday in the round of 32 when he outlasted No. 8 seed Jon Gamble of Las Vegas, one of his best friends and a training partner, in a third-set tiebreaker to win the grueling four-hour match.
So, after exiting the doubles competition in a heartbreaking 12-10 tiebreaker loss on Wednesday, Dhanwada welcomed a shorter day on Thursday when he defeated No. 15 seed Benjamin Saltman of Winter Haven, Fla., in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. His performance deservingly earned him recognition as the 16s Player of the Day sponsored by the South Florida BMW Centers.
Dhanwada also avenged a loss from last year here at the National Clay Courts when battled back from down a set to beat Roman Sancilio, a No. 33 seed from Henrico, Va., 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the round of 32 on Wednesday. The scores of those final two sets are exactly the scores that Sancilio registered in his win against Dhanwada here on the same day at last year’s tournament.
“I don’t think he remembered, but I did because I got destroyed (by him last year),” Dhanwada said. “I didn’t really remember that until after the match. When I got back to the hotel, I was thinking, ‘it was the exact day a year ago.’”
Next up in Friday’s quarterfinals for Dhanwada is a matchup against No. 1 seed Cooper Han of Los Altos, Calif., who has won all four of his matches here this week in straight sets. Dhanwada knows he will need to be at the top of his game to beat Han, but regardless of the outcome, it’s been a successful week for him, having reached the farthest round in a Level 1 tournament in his Junior’s playing career.
“I played him and lost about two-and-a-half years ago in 14s,” Dhanwada, a rising high school junior, said of Han. “It was a while ago, and I think my game has improved a lot, especially mentally. I’ve been playing well the last three days and today I had a good win.”
Dhanwada sustained a pinched nerve in his lower back about three months ago that curtailed his training, but he said now he’s fully healthy. He’s been training with Gamble in Orlando in recent weeks to adjust to the sweltering Florida summer heat and is looking forward to taking another step up the ladder in hopes of hoisting the coveted 16s Gold Ball on Sunday in Delray Beach. Regardless of the outcome against Han, he said he would “consider this to be a really successful tournament.”
Zhengqing Ji of La Jolla, Calif., also will be facing the top seed in the quarterfinals Friday of the boys 18s in Delray Beach. Zhengqing, whom his friends call Jim, has won three of his four matches in straight sets this week. The No. 8 seed here, he advanced with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against No. 17 seed Brendan Boland of Little Rock, Ark., on Thursday and was selected the 18s Player of the Day sponsored by Baptist Health.
Zhengqing was coming off a grueling four-hour three-set win in the round of 32, but since he opted not to enter the doubles competition here, he was able to recover nicely and take down Boland on Thursday in a rather pedestrian manner.
“I feel like I’ve played pretty solid,” Zhengqing, who turns 18 next month before heading off to Yale for college, said of his matches this week. “I like the conditions here and I like playing on clay. Considering how little I train on clay, I think I’m actually pretty good on it, and I like coming to Florida and competing on clay.”
Zhengqing will face No. 1 seed Cassius Chinlund of Los Angeles in Friday’s quarterfinals at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.
“I think the last time we played each other was about three years ago and he took me out, but I think it’s going to be a really good match,” Zhengqing said Friday’s match against his fellow Californian. “I’ve made a pretty good run here and I just hope to keep it going. I won’t go down without a fight, that’s the plan.”
The 18s winner here will receive a Wildcard entry into the 2023 U. S. Open Junior Championships in addition to being awarded the Gold Ball presented for winning the title. Players also have benefitted from being seen by an estimated 75-plus college coaches who have been in attendance to scout players. A 30-minute highlight show will be televised on the Tennis Channel at a date to be announced later. Entry is free to all matches this weekend at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.
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)