Boys Youth Tennis Players Find Ways To Improve Their Play On Boca, Delray Clay


By: David DiPino Contributing Writer

Win or lose, local youth tennis players learn life skills and ways to balance an academic and athletic life at tournaments like the USTA Florida Level 4 “Boys and Girls 12-18” Summer Smash Sectional Championships held at main host site Delray Beach Tennis Center, Delray Swim & Tennis Club, The Polo Club, South County Regional Park and Boca West Country Club.

Boca Raton resident Carter McKinnon, playing in the Boys’ 16 USTA youth tennis tournaments, plays about 35 tournaments a year in USTA Boys 16 tournaments across the U.S.

Recently in Georgia, McKinnon lost a 10-point tiebreaker during his main draw match but wound up coming back and winning the first match of the consolation back draw to advance in the tournament.

That’s just McKinnon fighting back from adversity, his Dad said, while on the sideline of a recent match at Delray Tennis Center. At the Summer Smash, McKinnon, whose come to find most of his tournament play tied to long, tie-breaker matches, has learned about the elements thanks to early morning rain followed by sticky, humid conditions. On clay court matches at the Summer Smash, players like McKinnon gain experience playing in the rain in South Florida which often switches to blazing sunny and dry conditions in just a matter of an hour to two.

“Actually if it’s really dry… Yes, the ball does spin and play is faster. When it rains it (the wet court) affects how fast you can move and whether you slide (dry clay court) or stick (wet clay court) on the court,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon has developed his own style of game play for both conditions playing on clay courts. He played for the Spanish River Sharks high school tennis team in 2018. McKinnon earned Honorable Mention and helped the Sharks to a Conference title as well as being chosen for the 2018 High School Spring Sports All-Conference Team, a distinction chosen by high school tennis coaches from county schools.

“On clay I probably focus more on my backhand and spin,” he said.

McKinnon’s favorite part about playing tennis is the competition.

“It’s probably the tournaments. I really love competing. I play about 35 tournaments a year. I played up in Georgia recently so that was nice to get out of my home state,” McKinnon said. “I have to add that I love playing tournaments in Boca Raton and Delray Beach because I don’t have to wake up so early compared with traveling to tourneys on the road.”

Jack Sock, an ATP 250 pro tennis player and regular at the men’s professional tennis tournament, The Delray Open, is McKinnon’s favorite player.

“This February will be my fourth straight year volunteering as a ball boy at The Delray Open,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon was one of 17 Boca Raton residents to compete at the Summer Smash. Five players from Delray Beach served it up at the tournament.

McKinnon played an epic match early in the tournament against Diego Belfort of Doral. The up and coming USTA players dueled 6-2; 4-6; 1-0(3) with Belfort prevailing. Belfort prevailed, but, Belfort lost in the round of 32.

The Boys’ 16 Summer Smash tournament champion, was No. 2 seed Mekhi Gbedey of Wellington. Belfort, like his peer, McKinnon, learned a lot about adversity and extended his knowledge and life skills.

“When the clay is wet, the play definitely slows down and the ball bounces less,” Belfort said.

“On clay, my game has evolved. I use a cross-court forehand because on clay it’s the hardest ball to get to on the court. I use my cross-court forehand to wear down my opponent because it takes the toughest toll on their body. I definitely thrive with my stamina and the cross-court forehand. That’s how I beat him (McKinnon) in the tie-breaker.

Belfort’s favorite player is Rafael Nadal. He really enjoys playing in tournaments when not watching and studying the play of his favorite player.

“I really enjoy the competiveness of everyone. There are so many good players here (at the tournaments in Delray Beach and Boca Raton). It’s nice to make friends and everyone is positive.”

Belfort plays tennis for Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami and plays about 25 USTA tournaments a year besides playing competitively for his school.

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