WESTBOROUGH, MA- Top New England juniors put their holiday shopping on hold but still woke up at the crack of dawn on Black Friday to compete in one of the biggest tournaments of the winter.
Twenty-eight of New England’s elite played across eight sites between November 29 and December 2 looking to cement their place in the USTA Indoor National Championship record book.
Weston, MA’s Walker Oberg headlined the field for New England, as he earned a Silver Ball in Boys’ 16s singles. The host site, Longfellow Tennis Club in Wayland, MA, is situated less than five miles from Oberg’s hometown of Weston and was one of two New England sites in 2019. The other was the Manchester Athletic Club (MAC) in Manchester, MA, which hosted the Girls’ 12s.
Phil Parrish served as the Tournament Director in Wayland while Claudine Watson ran the tournament at the MAC.
The No. 11 seeded Oberg won five matches in the 64-player draw to reach the finals in just his second-ever Indoor Nationals appearance.
“I have only played Indoor Nationals one year previously (last year), and I played well, but had some tough losses. That was a learning experience and I was determined to do better this year. I believe the biggest difference year over year has been my ability to transition into a more offensive player,” Oberg said.
Oberg’s offensive transition has paid off big in recent months, as he reached the Boys’ 18s semifinals at Junior Sectionals in June and won New England L4 Championships in August and November, both in the18s.
At Indoor Nationals, he was able to outlast nationally ranked players, including No. 4 seed Sebastian Gorzny (California) in the quarterfinals, 7-5, 6-1, and No. 8 seed yespornplease Ansh Shah (Illinois) in the semis, 6-2, 6-1.
“The road to the finals included several players who were ranked higher than me on various ranking platforms, so I was pleased with how I competed against these opponents and fought to win,” Oberg said.
In the finals, Oberg faced the red hot Michael Zheng (New Jersey), who had previously knocked off the Nos. 1 and 5 seeds. Oberg dropped the first set to the No. 7 seeded Zheng, 3-6, but battled back to take the second, 6-3.
Just as it appeared Oberg had Zheng right where he wanted him, the New Englander relied too heavily on his offense early in the third, re-opening the door for Zheng.
“After winning the second set, I felt like I had a lot of momentum. Usually, I embrace third sets because I know that my fitness and stamina are of a caliber necessary to finish out a long match,” Oberg said. “However, the difference in this third set was that I felt like I played a little too aggressively in the opening few games. I wanted the win and was willing to go after it, but perhaps a little too much. When Michael broke me after a long game at 1-2, the momentum shifted once again. After that, Michael served very well and closed out points quickly. It was hard to counter his aggressive style once he got confidence.”
Oberg dropped the set and the match, 3-6, 6-3, 1-6.
Following the tournament, it was all positive for Oberg, who plans on using the run as a learning experience.
“Reaching the finals of a National L1 was a very gratifying and exciting experience for me and one that I am very proud of. I was fortunate enough to have my coaches, Laury Hammel and Alex Johansson, with me throughout the tournament and we all learned so much about my game,” he said. “With this behind us, we have a game plan to keep working hard and improving the areas where I fell short. So, it is back to the drawing board and more hard work ahead. This is the part I like the best.”
Oberg also competed in doubles with partner Zachary Schwartz (Newton, MA), but the pair dropped their opening-round match against the top seeds Jameson Corsillo (Florida) and Alexander Karman (New York), 4-8.
Also at Longfellow, New England Junior Sectional Boys’ 16s Champion, Alex Visser, was at the top of his game. He partnered with Zheng in doubles, where the two earned a Bronze Ball. They fell in the semifinals to the eventual champions and bounced back to win the third-place match, 8-6.
In singles, Visser reached the quarterfinals. He defeated fellow New Englander Zachary Schwartz in the round of 32 and outlasted Peter Hatton (New York), 6-4, 6-2, in the round of 16.
Straight up Route 128 in Manchester, Lauren Zhang (Darien, CT) and Sydney Jara (Wenham, MA) excelled for New England in the Girls’ 12s division. Both reached the quarterfinals, with Zhang winning the bronze draw for fifth place overall. Lillian Santos (Scituate, MA) earned the site’s sportsmanship award.
In Boys’ 12s in Flushing, NY, Joseph Oyebog (Westport, CT) earned a signature win against No. 9 seed, Nischal Spurling, 6-1, 6-0 in the second round. Oyebog went on to reach the quarterfinals and take home sixth overall.
New England players also competed in Overland Park, KS (Boys’ 18s), Minneapolis, MN (Girls’ 16s), Toledo, OH (Girls’ 14s), Chicago, IL (Boys’ 14s) and Indianapolis, IN (Girls’ 18s).