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The Player of the Day at the USTA Boys’ 18 & 16 National Clay Court Championships [Day 1]

The Player of the Day at the USTA Boys’ 18 & 16 National Clay Court Championships [Day 1]

Marci Klein readily admits she is not your typical so-called “tennis mom,” particularly when it came to pushing her youngest son Theo Murphy into playing countless tournaments when he was young and just getting into the sport. But she recognized soon enough that Theo had a special talent, so she wasn’t about to hold him back, and decided to enroll him in lessons.

By the time Murphy was 9 or 10, he was the No. 3-ranked Junior in the Eastern Section when his parents decided to enter him in the tryouts for the USTA Player Development Program at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York, a prestigious program that selects only a few players per age group. He became the youngest player to be accepted into the program. 

Murphy, who lives in New York City, also liked playing baseball and soccer as a youngster, but eventually he realized that becoming an accomplished tennis player was the avenue he wanted to take toward a possible college scholarship.

“When I was 8 and 9 years old, I’d play baseball for my school and then go to tennis practice, and it kind of took a toll (physically) on my body,” Murphy said Sunday after registering a straight-sets (6-1, 6-4) win in his first-round match of the Boys 16s USTA Clay Courts National Championships in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “My game really progressed after giving up baseball and soccer (in eighth grade).

I just skyrocketed, started liking it more and I was just more energized on the court and I haven’t looked back since.”

Murphy, who was selected the Day 1 South Florida BMW Centers Boys 16s Player of the Day on Sunday, has also benefitted from the opportunity to train at times at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York. He said he often gets a chance to hit or play a set with McEnroe, whom he and his family have known for several years. Murphy also credits his older brother, Nicholas, also an accomplished tennis player who will begin his college career at Yale this fall, for being an inspiration to him and helping to drive him to be his best both academically and on the tennis court. 

And of course, he owes his mom for not holding him back after realizing his potential at such a young age.

“He was very, very good when he was little, but he was always playing older kids and getting horrible draws, so he’s kind of having a comeback of sorts,” Klein said. “He was the little brother who I kept out of tournaments, but the tryouts at the (USTA) Player Development program is where things changed.”

Added Murphy: “To be honest, when I first picked up a racket when I was 3, my mom wasn’t really thinking much about it, but I had this competitiveness to really win.”

Murphy attends the Professional Children’s School in New York where he’s allowed to tweak his academic studies around his tennis tournaments during the year. He had a 4.0 GPA his sophomore year and remains on track to graduate on time. His goal this week is to hoist the Gold Ball given to the 16s champion, which would be his first USTA Juniors Level 1 title after having to miss last year’s tournament after fracturing his thumb in a freak fall a day before he was scheduled to leave for Florida.

“I’m feeling really good right now,” Murphy said of his game. “My body’s feeling great, so that’s a really good sign. I kind of like the grind of playing in the heat here.”

And he’s not looking past any opponent, and said he doesn’t even look the draw during a tournament.

“I just take it one match at a time,” he said. And so far, so good.

It was also a positive start for Cole Henceroth, who won his first-round singles match Sunday in straight sets (6-2, 6-1) to earn the Baptist Health Boys 18s Player of the Day.

“Even though the score might indicate it was a pretty quick match, it was still about an hour and a half or more,” Henceroth, of Midlothian, Va., said. “I just tried to keep the rallies long and outlast my opponent.”

Henceroth, 17, has been playing in clay court tournaments since he was 12 and said he likes the surface because it affords him “more time to set up for my shots and mix up things.”

Henceroth, a rising home-schooled senior who has yet to make a college decision, has been playing tennis since he was 6, but also enjoyed playing on his travel basketball team as a kind of cross-training regimen, but last year decided to give that up to concentrate solely on tennis. He made the doubles final in the 16s here last year, and his goal is to reach the 18s singles final this year in Delray Beach.

“I definitely know I’m good enough to get to finals,” said Henceroth, who lists one of his friends as Frances Tiafoe, a former ATP Tour Delray Beach Open champion in 2018. “If I keep competing well and just give it all I’ve got, and if I just put my head down, compete and grind, I can definitely do it, so my expectations are there.”

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 Steve Dorsey. Source/Photo Collage: Top Photo: City of Delray Beach. For complete draws, including match times, locations and results, click here.

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