Former ATP Touring pro Carsten Ball must feel like he’s looking at a mini version of himself every time he steps onto the court to teach his young student Max McKennon.
The similarities don’t end with the two having been raised in Newport Beach. Ball is a 6-foot-6 lefty with a booming serve who is a teaching professional at Advantage Academy in Irvine. While he’s not finished growing yet having just turned 14-years-old in May, McKennon is tall for his age, and considers his serve a weapon he’s been using in racking up wins on the Southern California Junior Circuit recently.
“He really is a mini Carson,” said Max’s mother, Donna McKennon. “It’s nice to have another lefty teaching him.”
McKennon’s breakthrough tournament win at the recent Orange County / J.P. Yamasaki Level 2 Closed Junior Tournament played at the Anaheim Tennis Center has made people stand up and take notice of the young McKennon.
Playing up in the 16s, McKennon came back to beat top-seeded Harry Yang, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0, to capture the singles title, and then teamed with Matthew Sah as the top-seeded team to win the doubles crown.
The win in singles wasn’t only remarkable in that McKennon was one of the youngest players in the draw, but how he won it. In his final three matches, he came back to win each after losing the first set.
And all with Ball watching and coaching him through each match.
“I do think I’m a younger version of him,” said McKennon, who was previously coached by Brett Hansen-Dent before he moved to the San Diego area. “It’s been great. We get along so well and he really helped me with the mental side of the game. He tells me what to do and it usually works out.”
Donna said she thinks something clicked during the tournament, and that Max has turned a corner in his game. “It was so exciting,” Donna said. “Just seeing him out there and battling and coming through. We were so proud of him.”
McKennon admits that moving up to the 16s was tough as first back in May when he made the decision around his 14th birthday to play 16s on the sectional level, and 14s nationally. The Newport Harbor High freshman is currently ranked in the USTA top 20 nationally with his combined ranking in the 14s.
“Winning the JP Yamasaki was tough,” he said. “I fought pretty hard and got the job done. It was a cool experience since I have never won a singles tournament of that size.”
On playing the 16s, he commented, “at the start it was tough but I’ve acclimated to it, but overall it’s been an easy transition.”
McKennon loves playing for a team, and is looking forward to the Newport Harbor season and playing for Coach Kristen Case, who he has known for a while.
Next up is the SCTA Sectional Doubles (16s), and then a national selection tournament in Irvine (14s). He plans to play a few national 14s events like he did this past summer at the clay courts and hardcourts.
It’s still early to think about college, but McKennon says he thinks he might want to “stay close to home and maybe play for a Pac-12 team” like USC or UCLA.
There is still one thing McKennon hopes to accomplish in 2016, which has been so successful this far. Breaking Coach Ball’s sever. “Nah, I haven’t done that yet,” he said. “He still bangs it at me pretty hard.”