Younger age-division players took the stage during the finals of the 2019 USTA Florida “Bobby Curtis” Junior State Championships on Wednesday as a 16-year-old won the girls’ 18s title, and a 13-year-old raised the girls’ 16s trophy at Florida’s top junior tournament, contested June 8-12 at the USTA National Campus in Orlando.
Champions hailed from Bradenton (2), Hollywood, Miami, Pinecrest, Seminole, West Palm Beach and Winter Garden. Fighting through the heat and windy conditions to capture their first-ever “Bobby Curtis” titles were Miami’s Randy Wilson in the boys’ 18s division, and 16-year-old Sophia Fornaris of Pinecrest in the girls’ 18s.
“When we first started the match I was really nervous, I think we were both really nervous,” said Fornaris, the No. 3 seed, after upsetting top-seeded Stephanie Sanchez of Hollywood 7-6(4), 6-1. “My serve with the wind wasn’t going too well but I told myself just to relax and be calm. I’ve never played on a stadium court like this…At the beginning of the year I didn’t feel like my game was there, my head was there, and I’ve been really working hard these last few months…my fitness and my mental game have really improved.”
Wilson was also an upset winner as the No. 8 seed upended No. 4 Ben Shelton of Gainesville 6-2, 6-4 in the final.
“It was mental — from the first point of the match for me it was mental,” said Wilson, who was a semifinalist last year. “He broke back for 4-3 in the second set and that’s when things started getting really, really competitive. My serve was key for sure…Now maybe I’ll take a few days off and get ready for nationals.”
The top seed in the girls’ 16s was 13-year-old Brooklyn Olson of Bradenton, who held her seeding when she saw off No. 10-seeded Hope Moulin of Lithia 7-6(5), 6-1 in the final. Olson was competing in her first “Bobby Curtis” tournament after relocating to Florida from Kansas.
“I feel like I have to play aggressive against the older girls because I’m only 13 so I have to be really aggressive and have confidence in my shots,” said Olson, who will now play some junior international ITF events and is targeting the year-ending Orange Bowl in December.
The boys’ side of the 16s saw an upset in the final when No. 3-seeded Mekhi Gbedey of West Palm Beach topped No. 2 seed Yannik Rahman of Miami 6-4, 5-3, retired (illness). It was a first Florida state title for Gbedey, and stopped Rahman from a third straight “Bobby Curtis” title after he won the boys’ 14s in 2018 and the boys’ 12s in 2017.
“When I practice I practice my fitness, and I think that helped because it was really hot outside,” said Gbedey, who saw his opponent retire in the second set, and who practices at public courts in West Palm Beach. “Since he’s a lefty and I have a really topspin forehand, my strategy was to hit angles to his backhand and open up the court. This was one of my main goals to win one of these top Florida tournaments so I’m really happy to win this.”
The 14s saw two first-time winners as Bradenton’s Phillip Dell and Seminole’s Ahmani Guichard raised titles, with the No. 3-seeded Dell upsetting top seed Dylan Chang of Miami in the final. The 12s featured two first-time winners in Hollywood’s Zach Friedland and Winter Garden’s Alex Ackman. The No. 3-seeded Friedland in the championship match stopped top-seeded Yubel Ubri of Miami, the boys’ 10s winner in 2016.
Champions and finalists (seeds in parenthesis):
Boys’ 18s: (8) Randy Wilson (Miami) d. (4) Ben Shelton (Gainesville) 6-2, 6-4
Girls’ 18s: (3) Sophia Fornaris (Pinecrest) d. (1) Stephanie Sanchez (Hollywood) 7-6(4), 6-1
Boys’ 16s: (3) Mekhi Gbedey (West Palm Beach) d. (2) Yannik Rahman (Miami) 6-4, 5-3, retired (illness)
Girls’ 16s: (1) Brooklyn Olson (Bradenton) d. (10) Hope Moulin (Lithia) 7-6(5), 6-1
Boys’ 14s: (3) Phillip Dell (Bradenton) d. (1) Dylan Chang (Miami) 4-6, 7-5 retired (injury)
Girls’ 14s: (1) Ahmani Guichard (Seminole) d. (2) Sage Loudon (Delray Beach) 1-6, 6-4, 7-5
Boys 12s: (3) Zach Friedland (Hollywood) d. (1) Yubel Ubri (Miami Beach) 7-5, 6-2
Girls 12s: (2) Alex Ackman (Winter Garden) d. (1) Sahsa Kilgour (Miami) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
The 71st edition of the “Bobby Curtis” saw approximately 50 of the country’s top college tennis coaches and scouts in attendance. The tournament has seen four former champions go on to reach No. 1 in the world, the most of any USTA section. The boys’ and girls’ finals were broadcast live, and can be viewed on the USTA Florida YouTube channel or Facebook page.
“Having all age groups competing together at the USTA National Campus (Home of American Tennis) has created an electric environment for our Florida juniors,” says Director of Youth Tennis, Jason Gilbert. “This tournament has such a rich tradition of history created by Bobby Curtis and its the goal of our team to create a competitive and social environment that promotes fair play and showcases Florida’s depth of talent.”
Former “Bobby Curtis” champs who have gone on to rank No. 1 in the world on the ATP and WTA rankings are Chris Evert (1971 18s, 1970-69 16s, 1968 14s, and 1966 10s champion), Jennifer Capriati (1986 12s champion), Jim Courier (1986 18s champion) and Andy Roddick (1996 14s, 1994 12s champion).
Other notable winners over the years have been current WTA players Amanda Anisimova (2014 14s, 2011 10s champion), Sofia Kenin (2010 12s), Bethanie Mattek-Sands (1998 14s) and Danielle Collins (2011 & 2009 18s, 2006 12s); three-time Grand Slam runner-up and two-time Olympic gold medalist Mary Joe Fernandez (1983 14s, 1982 12s); former world No. 8-ranked Carling Bassett (1980 12s); former world No. 7 and current U.S. Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi (1980 14s, 1979 12s); former world No. 7 Jay Berger (1985-84 18s, 1983 16s); former world No. 3 and two-time Slam doubles winner Brian Gottfried (1970 18s, 1966 14s, 1963-64 12s); former world No. 5 and two-time French Open semifinalist Eddie Dibbs (1969 18s, 1967 16s, 1965 14s); and former ATP player and legendary tennis organizer Charlie Pasarell (1958 15s, 1957 13s).
In 2012 the tournament was renamed the USTA Florida “Bobby Curtis” Junior State Championships in honor of legendary Florida junior tennis organizer Bobby Curtis.
For full results and more info go to Tennislink.usta.com.