FINAL 8: A WEEKEND-LONG BATTLE BETWEEN THE TOPUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
JUNIOR TALENT IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
JUNIOR TALENT IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
NOVEMBER 28, 2023 | BRENDEN FISHER
FINAL 8: A WEEKEND-LONG BATTLE BETWEEN THE TOP JUNIOR TALENT IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
NOVEMBER 28, 2023
Top: Final 8 Girls’ 18s champion Sophie Suh and runner-up Emily Ing; Bottom: Final 8 Boys’ 18s champion Jack Cross and runner-up Lorenzo Brunkow.
(Photos – Lexie Wanninger/USTA SoCal)
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After months of build up and anticipation, the Final 8 Junior Masters Championships wrapped up Sunday, November 19th at the Racquet Club of Irvine. This prestigious event highlighted the top eight boys and girls players throughout Southern California within the age divisions of 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s.
In order to qualify for the Final 8, juniors competed throughout Southern California in ten Level 3 and Level 4 tournaments between January and October. Players were awarded points based on tournament finish as well as tournament level. At the end of all ten tournaments, the top six points leaders in each age division automatically qualified for the Final 8. The last two spots were then awarded to the top two remaining players, as per High Reliability WTN. In order to be eligible, these players must have competed in a minimum of one Grand Prix event in addition to earning at least one Grand Prix point.
Kicking off the festivities, the Final 8 began on Friday, November 17th with an official warm-up session available to qualified players. Following the action, a welcome reception for players and their families commenced. The reception featured food, drinks and the distribution of player gifts, with the main attraction being the announcement of the round robin matchups that would take place the following day. Dividing the competition, the eight players in each age division were separated into two pools.
As the first matches were scheduled to kick off early Saturday morning, the weather had other plans, delaying matches until 1 p.m. due to rain. Once the rain had passed, the four players in each pool battled it out, competing in two matches throughout the day. To ensure that they would be active on both days of play, participants would then compete in their third and final round robin match Sunday morning. Matches on Sunday were once again pushed back approximately two hours due to dampness on the courts from the rain. After every player had finished their three matches, the order of finish was determined based on match record, then head to head match wins, then sets won winning percentage as a tiebreaker. The top-seeded players from each pool advanced from their brackets and duked it out Sunday afternoon in a division championship final.
Prizes were of no shortage, as each winner and finalist of the Final 8 Masters received a quota wild card for the Level 1 USTA National Winter Championships in the division where they earned it. Amongst all divisions, winners were awarded with a $500 travel stipend for a future tournament, with the finalists receiving a $300 stipend. In addition, the winners of the Boys’ and Girls’ 18s were awarded with a Main Draw Wild Card to a 2024 SoCal Pro Series Summer event. Victors of the Boys’ and Girls’ 16s were awarded with a Qualifying Wild Card to a 2024 SoCal Pro Series Summer event, while winners of Boys’ and Girls’ 12s and 14s received a $125 gift card to Disneyland.
GIRLS’ 18s – After an incredible run in round robin play, Orange County’s Sophie Suh found herself in the Girls’ 18s Championship. Only in eighth grade, Suh showed no fear playing older competition, going undefeated in her first three matches without conceding a set. In the finale, Suh capped off her weekend by defeating Hacienda Heights’ Emily Ing by a score of 6-1, 6-1, taking home the hardware.
Following the match, Sophie spoke on the significance of this event and her excitement over qualifying for the SoCal Pro Series. “I’m feeling really good and it feels great to win,” Suh stated. “I think I was playing great tennis and I was really happy with how the tournament went. I am really excited for the SoCal Pro Series as this will be my first pro tournament and I could get my first WTA point.”
BOYS’ 18s – The Boys’ 18s championship showcased a battle of four-star recruits as Topanga’s Lorenzo Brunkow faced off against Newport Beach’s Jack Cross. Cross would hand Brunkow his first loss of the tournament to claim victory, besting the junior by a score of 6-4, 7-5.
With only a handful of months left competing at the junior level, securing a monumental victory means so much to Cross, especially being able to do so in his hometown. “I’m pretty excited, but also tired from the weekend. I’m very happy about this win because when I saw the draws come out, I knew how tough the competition was going to be,” Cross added. “Being able to win it on my home courts was really special to me.” The senior at Corona Del Mar high school, Cross is excited for what lies ahead as he will attend Cal Poly to further his academic and athletic pursuits next fall. “I am super excited for the team aspect [in college] and that it’s going to be a whole new journey where I will be starting fresh.”
GIRLS’ 16s – After both players did not drop a match in the round robin format, Irvine’s Mingyue Deng took on San Diego’s Yilin Chen for the Girls’ 16s title. Chen took down Deng by a score of 6-1, 6-2, handing the blue-chip prospect her only lost sets of the tournament.
Speaking on her successful weekend, Chen shared her thoughts about her play as well as the structure of the tournament. “I feel tired and sore, but overall nice. I wasn’t sure that I would make it this far when I was playing in the first round, but I am happy that I made it through,” Chen discussed. “I feel like the draws were done really well and that this was more organized than other tournaments I have been to.”
BOYS’ 16s – In a highly anticipated matchup, the Boys’ 16s finale featured two blue-chip prospects in the recruiting class of 2027. With both players looking to stay undefeated, Tustin’s Tyler Lee squared off against San Diego’s Ilias Bouzoubaa. The action would live up to its billing and go the distance, as Lee squandered Bouzoubaa’s comeback by a final score of 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. With this victory, Tyler Lee has won the Final 8 Juniors Masters Championships for his third consecutive year. Lee claimed titles in three different age classifications. Boys’ 12s in 2021, Boys’ 14s in 2022 and now Boys’ 16s in 2023.
Discussing his victory, Tyler was ecstatic, but awarded credit to the high level of competition in the finale and throughout the entire tournament. “I’m feeling great. That match was a grind being two and a half hours long. I honestly didn’t expect myself to win it because [Bouzoubaa] was playing really well,” Lee said. “The level of play was a big difference here compared to other tournaments. Everyone was really good and it was so fun competing with everyone.”
GIRLS’ 14s – Following the round robin where neither player would concede a set, two heavyweights clashed as Cerritos’ Valerie Machikawa took on Los Angeles’ Abigail Haile to crown the Girls’ 14s champion. In an extremely competitive, back and forth match, Machikawa would secure victory over Haile by a score of 7-6(7), 7-5. Machikawa has now come away with Final 8 championships in back to back years, taking home the title a year ago in Girls’ 12s.
Commenting on her win, Valerie shared her enthusiasm to compete in the Final 8 once again and what this championship means to her. “I’m really happy to be here and I think the tournament went great for me overall. All of my matches were pretty good and I felt great the whole tournament,” Machikawa stated. “The prestige and importance of this tournament is what made it such a big event to win.”
BOYS’ 14s – After securing spots atop the Boys’ 14s Grand Prix Standings, Irvine’s JiHyuk Im and Arcadia’s Zhiyu Yuan would meet in the finale to determine the ultimate victor. Dropping a match earlier in the rounders could not hinder Im’s momentum, as he went on to defeat Yuan by a score of 6-3, 6-2. Prior to the match, Yuan had not lost a set in round robin play.
Looking back on the event, JiHyuk spoke about what encouraged him to ultimately take home the title and what he enjoyed most about playing in the Final 8. “I’m pretty happy. At the start of the tournament, I lost an early match which gave me the motivation to beat everyone else,” Im added. “It’s really nice to have a round robin tournament where you can come back after losing an early set or match.”
GIRLS’ 12s – In a showdown of highly touted recruits, Newport Beach’s Anya Arora faced off against Encino’s Agneshka Markina to determine who would walk away with the Girls’ 12s championship. Since joining the section following a relocation from San Jose at the beginning of the year, Arora has continued to make her presence felt. In the finale, Arora bested Markina by a score of 6-3, 6-0, capping off her tournament run without conceding a set.
Catching up with Anya after the match, the victor shared her thoughts regarding her level of play, as well as her biggest takeaway from the event. “I’m feeling really good. Honestly, I think I improved as the matches went by and I feel that this was one of the best tournaments I’ve played so far,” Arora stated. “Something I think I will take away from this tournament is my attitude. I think it definitely improved every match and I plan to take this level of sportsmanship with me for the future.”
BOYS’ 12s – The Boys’ 12s championship featured some of the top, young talent that Southern California tennis has to offer. Diamond Bar’s Andy Wu took on Chula Vista’s Ryan Valencia in a battle of blue-chip recruits in the class of 2029. Ultimately, Valencia would emerge victorious, defeating Wu by a final score of 6-2, 6-3.
Touching on his success, Ryan discussed what winning this tournament meant to him and how he battled his way through the early matches. “Being a champion is an amazing feeling and I’m really proud of myself. [The tournament] was tough sometimes, but I persevered through my matches and that’s what helped me through the final.”