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Aiming for the Gold Ball: The USTA Boys’ 18 & 16 National Clay Court Championships [Day 6]

Aiming for the Gold Ball: The USTA Boys’ 18 & 16 National Clay Court Championships [Day 6]

If Joey Phillips goes on to win a Gold Ball in the USTA National Clay Courts Championships on Sunday, he may be in line for an endorsement from Panera Bread.

For the past six days, Phillips has eaten the same turkey, avocado and bacon sandwich from nearby Panera Bread as well as chicken and pasta every night at Olive Garden for dinner. Thus far, his superstitious dining habits has paid off in a scrumptious semifinal berth in the Boys’ 18s division after his 6-3, 6-4 victory over ITF’s 141st-ranked Matthew Forbes of Raleigh, N.C. on Friday morning at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.

“At most big tournaments if I’m doing well and winning matches I have to eat at the same place for lunch and dinner every day, so I’ve been eating the same Panera sandwich every day,’’ said the 18-year-old Phillips, who moved from Alpharetta, Ga., to Boca Raton three years ago for his tennis.

“My Dad and I were laughing about it as we’re struggling to eat it six, seven days in, saying I don’t know if I can eat this sandwich again. We’ll just have to tough it out.”

The unseeded Phillips, who’s coached by Shariq Kahn and Chris Begg of Axix Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, hasn’t dropped a set yet on route to the semis against ninth-seeded Cyrus Mahjoob of Rockville, MD., on Saturday, and has been named the Boys’ 18s Player of the Day presented by Baptist Health.

The 6-foot-1 Phillips, a late bloomer who basically lost 2022 with a broken wrist, did win a Gold Ball in doubles in the National Clay Court 14s as well as an L1 14s in Raleigh. He hasn’t played many USTA national tournaments, and instead is focused on training with the goal of competing in the Junior Grand Slams, hopefully, starting with the Junior US Open this summer.

“I broke my wrist skateboarding like an idiot and am now a retired skateboarder,’’ said Phillips, who could get straight into the US Open main draw with a title on Sunday (qualies for the finalist). “That set me back. I’ve been flying under the radar this year, which is nice, just doing my thing training.”

Phillips, a southpaw, features a monstrous 130-mph serve and a high-bouncing kicker to the deuce court. He loves to attack the net even on clay ala Top 60 Americans Chris Eubanks and Max Cressy, but compares his game more to Canadian left-hander Denis Shapovalov.

On another steamy-hot day with a 104-degree heat index, Phillips was tested by the 17th-seeded Forbes, a finalist in the L1 International Orange Bowl 16s Championships last December.

“It’s crazy hot,’’ said Phillips, an early commit to Auburn University. “Even though I live here and play here all the time. It gets to you really quick. That’s why I decided not to play doubles this week. I’ve been really good about hydrating and taking ice baths every night. I’m giving it a full commit for a title run this week. That would be big for me.

“I knew I’d have to be on my A-game to beat Matt, who has a big serve and forehand, and is super athletic,’’ he added. “I was returning really well, taking it early, but today I wanted to make the returns to put pressure on him.”

Phillips got the big break at 4-3 of the first set and then nearly blew a 4-1, 40-0, double-break lead in the second set, that he blames on a sweaty, slippery grip.

“The ref wouldn’t give me time to change my grip,’’ he said. “To his credit, Matt picked it up and made me think about what I needed to do and fortunately I was able to close it out.”

If Phillips can get past Mahjoob, he won’t have to face the top-seeded Cassius Chinlund of Los Angeles, who was upset by eight-seeded Zhengqing Ji of San Diego, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3). In the other Saturday semi, Zhengqing will face Ian Mayew of Cary, NC, who dispatched fellow 33rd seed, Tanner Povey of Indian Rocks Beach, 6-4, 6-3.

If all goes well, Phillips will gladly munch on a few more Panera sandwiches. 

In the Boys’ 16s, Jack Satterfield is hoping for an early birthday present, especially if it’s a Gold Ball, as he turns 16 on Tuesday, two days after Sunday’s final. Satterfield advanced to the semifinals by pulling out a 7-6 (5), 4-0 quarterfinal victory over 17th-seeded Noah Johnston after the Anderson, S.C., teen retired with an arm injury. 

While Satterfield prefers Chicken Parmesan every night rather than Phillips’ favorite Chicken Pasta, his results have been just as delicious, as the Tampa transplant hasn’t surrendered a set on his way to the semis to earn the Boys’ 16s Player of the Day honor presented by your South Florida BMW Centers.

“That would be something,’’ said Satterfield of an early birthday present.

He recently won the 18s doubles title at the Level 3 Closed Bobby Curtis championships held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, to go with his Class 4A Individual State singles championship for Plant High School last year. He also won a bronze (third place) medal in doubles at the Winter Nationals 16s as well as an L3 18s’ singles and doubles titles at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

“At Bobby Curtis, we won a trophy and an awesome, cool WWE belt,’’ laughed Satterfield.

Satterfield, who has trained at the Eric Dobsha Tennis Academy in Tampa with coach Sukhwa Young since relocating from the San Francisco Bay Area three years ago, said the first-set tiebreaker basically determined the outcome.

He utilized a big forehand to control the court and like his Golden State Warriors basketball hero Steph Curry, Satterfield loves to attack the net. Instead of dribbling between his legs, Satterfield’s favorite shot is the ‘tweener.’

“I got off to a great start, up a double break at 4-1, but [Johnston) he took away the momentum, winning four straight games,’’ said the 5-11, 150-pound Satterfield, a right-hander with a two-hand backhand that he “loves.”

“I had a couple of tough holds at 5-4 and 6-5, and then won the tiebreaker with a good, deep return that caused him to shank a forehand.”

Johnston was clearly hampered by his arm injury and took a medical at 0-3, before calling it a day one game later. Satterfield avenged a loss to Johnston at Winter Nationals and hopes to gain more vengeance against the top-seeded Cooper Han, a boyhood rival from the Bay Area who has a winning record against him.

It has been a great tournament for New Jersey juniors as Han took out Anirudh Dhanwada of Tenafly, N.J., 6-0, 7-5. The other semifinal pits fifth-seeded Nicholas Mekhael and 10th-seed Ronit Karki, both hailing from the Garden State. 

“We played doubles together when we were like 10 or 11, but [Han] definitely beat me a couple of times, so more revenge, hopefully, that’s the plan,’’ Satterfield said of Han, who’s a speedy grinder with a high-kicking serve.

With apologies to the 16s South Florida BMW sponsor, Satterfield will get his driver’s license next month and hopes to inherit his sister’s Mercedes Benz SUV. A Gold Ball in the front seat would be a lovely accessory. 


Photos of the Day

Match Schedule

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)


By Harvey Fialkov. Source/Photos: Top photo: Delray Beach Tennis Center. For complete draws, including match times, locations and results, click here.

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