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Zach Adkins was well aware of the importance surrounding last weekend's United States Tennis Association Northern Section Junior Tennis tournament at the University of Minnesota.
It was one of many local tournaments and was comprised of many familiar opponents, but the Level 5 Baseline Summer Championships' competition was likely the best the Maple Grove incoming junior would see in Minnesota this month.
If he could perform well, it meant more points and a better ranking.
USTA-sanctioned events are where committed tennis families spend their summers. The importance placed around this association has most youth tennis players on the court every weekend. A desire for points and a chance to compete at national-level tournaments created the need for options.
The Baseline Summer Championships was one of six sanctioned tournaments played in the Twin Cities last weekend and eight in the Northern Section, which includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Second place in the 16-and- under singles event and a semifinal loss in doubles were more than sufficient for Adkins, who saw a surge of points and a reminder he is among the top players in the metro and the section.
The boys' singles winner was Nicholas Beaty of Wayzata, who also won the doubles championship with his partner from North Dakota.
"I haven't done well in a Level 5 tournament for a while. Winning at a lower level is good, but winning at a high level is the best," Adkins said after a pair of victories on the first day of the three-day tournament at Baseline Tennis Center. "[Tennis] is the biggest thing for me right now."
Doubles partners Ally Baker, 16, of Rosemount and Lindsey Tibbles, 14, of Rapid City, S.D., said their tournament picking is done by looking at a calendar and comparing the competition level. Despite the numerous options, they have been playing long enough to know which tournament likely will attract the best talent. Baseline easily drew the cream of the crop this week.
Shakopee 14-year-old Raja Arul and his parents had their eye on the Level 5 event for months. Arul's mother, Diana Wilson, signs her son up for as many tournaments as possible and knew the Baseline tournament was a priority.
Arul won first-round matches in singles and doubles, but was defeated in each second round. But he got what he wanted out of the experience -- better opponents. The second-round singles draw was against the top-seeded player.
"I just want to get better," Arul said the evening before facing the top seed. "If you want to get better, you have to play year-round [in USTA]."
Tennis never stops at the Baseline facility. General manager and tennis director John Pratt wrapped up the Baseline Championships midday Sunday and immediately welcomed 500 more individuals for the USTA Junior Tennis Team Section Championships.
Such tournament options weren't around when Pratt played 20 years ago. There was only one division, which forced all talent levels into the same field. Pratt prefers the new format and the parity it creates.
"We're open 364 days a year, and to be honest, pretty much every day we have something going," Pratt said. "What we're trying to do in Junior Tennis is get as many competitive matches as possible."
It's a tight-knit group at USTA tournaments. Individuals from all corners of the Twin Cities and surrounding states gather at the same courts and interact like family most weekends. The athletes build a competitive friendship, while parents in the stands recap their week with one another.
Lars Scannell and his dad traveled about five hours from Grand Marais to play in the Baseline tournament, but no one was surprised to see them. They are some of the familiar faces that frequent the USTA events.
Adkins looked around the room after his final match Friday and said he knew everyone, especially Scannell -- both were top seeds in the tournament field.
"You see the same kids every week," Pratt said. "And you see them again in the high school season. Friendships do develop."
Adkins said some of his best friends are from Forest Lake, Elk River and Princeton. This outside connection created an extra element of competition during the varsity season.
A victory in a high school event is a confidence-builder for the offseason.
"If you play on your high school team, you're going to play a USTA player," Adkins said. "It's basically the same guys now as it is during the season."
An online search for Baker's assigned doubles partner unveiled impressive stats. Baker was worried she wouldn't live up to Tibbles' level of play -- someone she had never played with or even met.
The duo won its first-round match, but lost in the second round. Though initially brief, the new partnership would extend beyond one weekend.
After the second-round loss, the girls continued to chat and build up the new alliance. Any future tournaments the pair appeared in, Tibbles would welcome Baker by her side.
"When you go to these tournaments and see the same people over and over, you make a lot of friends," Baker said. "When we started to talk, I knew it would work out."
Tibbles was excited to add Baker's digits to her growing phone book of tennis friends. Though she lived nine hours away, she would eventually return to the Twin Cities, and Baker would be a proven partner to help collect points.
"I'd say the better players darn near play every weekend," Pratt said. "Some really need the points and some chase points. There are probably 50 or 60 kids that are pretty regular tournament players."