Mikel Anderson Continues Magical Run At USTA National Clay Courts Championships

Mikel Anderson (photo: YourGameFace.com)

DELRAY BEACH, Fla., July 16, 2022 (USTA Press Release by Steve Dorsey)

The local kid is holding serve, folks, and he’s focused on fulfilling a dream of winning an elite tournament in his hometown.

Delray Beach native Mikel Anderson, a rising high school junior, continued his magical run at the USTA National Clay Courts Championships, rallying from down a set to defeat Cassius Chinlund of Los Angeles 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 Friday afternoon in the 16-and-under quarterfinals. The victory earned Anderson a berth in Saturday’s semifinals at the Delray Beach Tennis Center – the farthest he’s ever advanced at an elite Level 1 clay courts tournament – and also recognition as the South Florida BMW 16s Player of the Day.

Anderson received a first-round bye on Sunday and has reeled off five consecutive wins, including taking down the Nos. 7, 9 and 12 seeds his past three matches. Anderson said he’s won a couple other lower-level tournaments, but capturing the USTA National Clays title here this weekend would be a big thrill.

“It would mean a lot because it’s local,” Anderson said. “It’s been kind of a dream to get to the finals of a local tournament, plus it’s the Level 1 National Clay Courts and a lot of well-known players have played this before.”

Anderson, who will face Aidan Atwood of Suwanee, Ga., in the semifinals Saturday morning, said he had to make a couple different strategic changes during his three-set win Friday. The match began at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, but rain and lightning forced tournament officials to switch gears and move to the venue at One Tennis Academy in nearby Boca Raton. He was down 3-1 when the delay occurred.

“I tried to switching my strategy in between the changeover from the delay and it did not work because I then lost three straight games,” Anderson said. “So I had to come up with a new strategy and tried to hit safer targets, but (Chinlund) didn’t miss a single ball in the first set. The second set, I eventually cracked him, finally. I started hitting about six feet over the net compared to the first set where I was hitting about three or four feet over the net. I was making it uncomfortable for him to hit the ball, and I knew the bounces were really horrible toward the baseline. That turned everything around.”

Anderson said he has grown almost four inches in the past year – he now is 6-feet-2 in height – and that the growth spurt affected his knees for several months. He’s now pain-free and winning.

“During the growing pain, it hurt really bad on my serve and backing up, but now I feel I can chase down almost everything,” Anderson said. “I had a pretty good feeling coming in (to this week) because all my knee pain went away and I was feeling 100 percent (healthy).”

He said it’s also been advantageous being able to be playing in his hometown on courts he’s familiar with. As he put it, “I’m in my own bed, my own shower, my own car, my own everything.” He also said living and training in the South Florida heat and humidity gives him an advantage against some other players, particularly in third sets because he’s “so used to the heat here.”

Anderson said he annually attends some matches here during the ATP Tour Delray Beach Open each winter at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, and hopes that one day he might be able to play in the professional tournament, should he eventually turn pro. But right now, his focus is on the task at hand, winning the National Clay Courts title this weekend. Ironically, Anderson said he used to think that his game style was better suited to hard courts, but he’s gradually changing his mind, especially after the way he’s performed here this week.

“I thought I was better on hard courts, but it’s been proven not so, I guess, so I guess I like clay better,” Anderson said.

Like Anderson, Adhithya Ganesan of Clarksburg, Md., also is 16 years of age but opted to enter the 18-and-under bracket here this year. And like Anderson, he’s had an outstanding run this week despite recently having to deal with a rotator cuff strain that required rest prior to arriving in Delray Beach. Ganesan, a No. 33 seed, has won six consecutive matches to reach the singles semifinals in 18s following a 6-2, 7-5 win against No. 3 seed Alex Visser of Westport, Conn., Friday afternoon at Boca West. That earned him the nod for Baptist Health Orthopedic Care 18s Player of the Day.

Despite being one of the youngest players in the 18s draw, Ganesan has proven he can hold his own at this level.

“I just wanted to have higher competition against tougher guys, and I know my level’s there,” Ganesan said of his decision to enter the 18s competition this week. “I feel like I play better against better players.”

Testament to that is apparent based on his results, which have included wins against the Nos. 8 and 17 seeds this week in addition to Friday’s straight-sets victory against Visser. Ganesan will square off against another high seed Saturday in the semifinals when he takes on a familiar face in No. 2 seed Jelani Sarr of Pooler, Ga.

“We practice a lot during tournaments,” Ganesan said of Sarr. “He used to live in Maryland where I’m from, so we’ve known each other for a while. We play a lot of practice sets, too. I also played him last year at a Grade 5 tournament in Daytona Beach. I won in three sets. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”

Also like Anderson, this is the farthest that Ganesan has advanced in a high-level tournament. He needed to hold off two set points, trailing 5-4 against Visser, to tie the second set and then won the next two games to clinch the match and a berth in the semifinals.

“Toward the end of the match I played a little more aggressive,” Ganesan said. “I was pretty confident in my game and practice (upon arriving here).”

Based on his run this week, that has become an accurate assessment.

And the co-Players of the Day go to…

All the other players, parents, coaches, officials and court crews – all of whom were incredibly understanding and cooperative in handling the unforeseen venue changes after rain and lightning delays forced the switch from the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Friday. So a big-time ‘thank you’ to everyone for their commitment to making the switches so seamlessly and without complaints.