Young tennis phenom gets taste of center court

Young tennis phenom gets taste of center court
La Costa Canyon High School junior Brett Berger prepares to receive a serve during her first round loss to Maria Sakkari of Greece at the WTA’s Carlsbad Classic on Tuesday at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. Beger lost, 6-0, 6-0. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — It was not the desired outcome, but the experience was priceless for a Carlsbad teenager.

Local tennis phenom Brett Berger, 16, made her debut Tuesday in the first round of the Women’s Tennis Association’s Carlsbad Classic at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. Berger, who received a wildcard entry to the tournament, fell to Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-0, 6-0.

The tournament concludes Sunday.

Despite failing to win a game, Berger said it was a surreal moment playing on center court in a professional tournament in front of friends and family.

“It was really cool,” she said. “I was just trying to go out there and have fun with it and do my best. Even though I didn’t get any games, it was really cool to be out there on center court.”

Berger struggled early to find her footing, and her swing, as she managed only a couple of points throughout the first set.

Sakkari, meanwhile, kept the La Costa Canyon High School junior on tilt spraying the ball from side to side and using her power to blast forehands past Berger.

“The first game … I was still a little tense,” Berger said. “The second set I wasn’t nervous at all. She was the better player.”

In the second set, Berger settled down mentally and was able to engage in several long rallies. But the difference between pro and junior players, as Berger found out, is immense.

Still, Berger said she will take away several lessons from her match. Notably, ball placement and footwork, as she complimented Sakkari’s skills in both areas.

In addition, Berger said calming her mind and thinking points through will benefit her as she continues competing in junior tournaments.

“She played really well,” Berger said of Sakkari. “Her serves were spot on with her targets and there down the line and you didn’t know where they were going.”

As for the future, Berger said she will take a few days off to enjoy Thanksgiving and will return in full swing to the junior circuit after the New Year.

Eventually, though, she is aiming for a tennis scholarship after high school. Although the thought of turning pro is enticing, Berger said she wants a college education to fall back on in case her professional career doesn’t pan out.

“I definitely want to go to college first,” she added. “I don’t want to be able not to make it in professional tennis and not have a college education to fall back on.”

Another rising teenage star, CiCi Bellis, also made her Carlsbad debut against sixth-seeded Julia Glushko of Greece.

CiCi Bellis, 16, smashes a forehand during her 6-3, 6-4 win over Julia Glushko during the first round of the WTA Carlsbad Classic on Tuesday at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. Photo by Steve Puterski

CiCi Bellis, 16, smashes a forehand during her 6-3, 6-4 win over Julia Glushko during the first round of the WTA Carlsbad Classic on Tuesday at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. Photo by Steve Puterski

Bellis started slow, but pulled away for a 6-3, 6-4 victory to advance to the second round.

Bellis, though, trailed 2-1 in the first set, but rallied as she used a powerful forehand and her aggressive style to counter Glushko.

Leading 5-3 in the second set, Bellis stumbled to close the door as she missed several chances at match point. Glushko took advantage, won the game and pushed Bellis to deuce at 5-4 before Bellis secured the win.

“She hit a couple good serves at the match points,” Bellis said. “I haven’t played tournaments in awhile, so I was a little bit nervous. I started playing better when I calmed down and started playing my game.”

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