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Last weekend, Universal Tennis and the USTA teamed up to host the Final 8 Junior Masters in Palm Springs. Organizers split the players into round-robin groups, just like in the WTA and ATP year-end championships.
The Final 8 was started by USTA Southern California in 2019, though 2022 was the first year the organization partnered with Universal Tennis to elevate the event, using the event management software to run the event and relying on UTR Rating to complete the field and create the round-robin groups.
Collaborating to Elevate the Final 8
The tournament had a professional feel as players picked up quality match play and improved their UTR Ratings while spending time with their friends, on the court, and at the luxury resort. Cracked Racquets covered the finals on Sunday afternoon on their live stream.
“I followed UTR Rating from inception and became really enamored with it,” said Trevor Kronemann, USTA Southern California executive director. “It allowed me to do a lot of recruiting and not spend a bunch of money when I was the coach at UC Irvine. The development of the software just made it really easy. The live scoring, the live feeds, and all of that just add to an event like this.”
Universal Tennis played a role in managing the event as well as creating it. The top four finishers in the points race earned automatic entry into the Final 8, with the next four gaining entry by UTR Rating (as long as they had played at least one qualifying event).
How the Final 8 Works
Held at the Omni Rancho Mirage Las Palmas, the weekend featured the best players in the Southern California section after a year-long Grand Prix points race. Players in the girls’ and boys’ 12s, 14s, 16s, and 18s divisions picked up points at a series of tournaments held in the SoCal region from January to October.
“It was an innovative idea that we started with just to mirror what’s going on out there [on tour] so the kids could dream about being [Novak] Djokovic and dream about being Venus and Serena,” Kronemann said. “I think it’s worked out well so far.”
The Final 8 mimics the ATP Finals and WTA Finals, with the former occurring across the same dates. While the WTA Finals played out in Fort Worth and the ATP Finals in Turin, the Final 8 race culminated with three days of action in Palm Springs, where juniors competed for the prestige of the best player in SoCal (as well as wild cards into UTR Pro Tennis Tour and Universal Tennis Junior National Pathway events).
Handing Out the Hardware
The first day featured a welcome dinner and group clinic to set the tone for the next two match days. The competitors were quick to point out the fun they had, on the courts, and at the resort, which featured multipe pools (including a waterpark) and stunning views of the nearby mountains.
“It was really fun,” said Boys 12s winner Takuto Goh. “I got to enjoy the pool with my friends and play a lot of my friends.”
Goh defeated Stefanos Constantinides in the boys’ 12s final, while Valerie Machikawa captured the girls’ 12s title. The girls’ 14s trophy went to Brooke Kwon, and Tyler Lee beat Maxim Nekrasov in the Boys’ 14s championship match.
“My favorite part of the tournament was how nice the place is, the view,” Lee said.
The Final 8 format was a hit with both players and parents. Players were guaranteed to get matchplay across the entire weekend, and matches were spread out across the many courts, so the timing was easy to coordinate. Knowing ahead of time when matches would be made it easier for parents to manage their travel schedule.
The girls’ 16s was won by Johannah Galindo, and Adrien Abarca picked the boys’ 16s trophy. Boys’ 18s winner Nicolas Calixto won a hard-fought final over his friend Rex Harrison, finishing under the lights.
“I think the event was super fun, guaranteed three matches, four if you’re able to make it out of the group,” Calixto said. “It showed that even if you’re down in a match, you can always come back, win a set, and you could still book a spot in the finals.”
The girls’ 18s title went to 15-year-old Daniela Borruel, who dropped just seven games in four matches.
“I really like how I was able to play against various playing styles and adapt to every match,” Borruel said. “It felt great to be out here.”