Connor Waybright was so pumped to start playing in the Public Courts tennis tournament, he got himself a head start. The tournament’s youngest categories are the boys and girls 12 singles. Waybright is a 12-year-old this year, but this isn’t his first Public Courts experience.
“This is my fourth tournament,” he said.
Public Courts isn’t just an opportunity for players in their prime or older players to get their competitive juices flowing. The tournament also is a chance for younger players to get their first taste of a large-scale tournament.
Ethan Bastin and Kellen Pauley, both 12, were warming up on the sweltering Schoenbaum courts Tuesday afternoon. This is Bastin’s second Public Courts tournament and Pauley’s first. Yet they had known plenty about the event before they entered.
“A lot of my friends play in this tournament, so I thought it would be fun to play,” Pauley said.
Bastin has some motivation from his family to be a part of the action.
“My sister [Evie Bastin] usually plays,” he said. “So she got me into it.”
The tournament is an opportunity to grow as a tennis competitor without needing a long road trip to do it. Bastin and Pauley have been as far as Cincinnati so far to play tournaments. Waybright’s Tuesday opponent, Nick Giatras, has competed as far away as Columbus, Ohio. Waybright has been as far as California.
All those young players appreciate being able to get quality competition either up the interstate — Pauley is a student at Hurricane Middle School — or just down the street — Bastin, Giatras and Waybright all attend Charleston Catholic. It’s also a chance to expand their tennis games against unfamiliar players with unfamiliar styles.
“It’s really cool getting experience against players you might not play normally,” Giatras said.
Nine-time men’s open champion Patrick Walker, who is now teaching tennis at the South Carolina Yacht Club in Hilton Head, has coached many of the younger players in the Public Courts tournament. From a coach’s perspective, tournaments like this are crucial to those players’ development.
Young players who want to advance in the game need to learn how to play in front of larger crowds, which they’ll likely see as they get older. They may end up playing against their friends, and need to learn how to negotiate that in a high-intensity match. And they may match up against someone who just wants it more than they do, and it’s necessary to learn how to deal with that.
“They’ve got to learn to tune out all the distractions,” he said. “And they need to feel the emotions.”
It’s also an opportunity for those young players to see how those competitors in their prime put in the work for their matches. Players like Walker, 10-time men’s open champion James Kent and 16-time doubles champ Scott Zent are mainstays in the tournament.
“I want to come to all their matches,” Waybright said. “Last night there were four open matches and I watched all of them.”
Walker loves that the Public Courts tournament gives those young players the opportunity not just to compete, but to observe so that they’ll be ready for their turn in the open categories.
“They’re our future,” Walker said. “So we’ve got to take care of them.”