Local high school star Treat Huey has experienced the best the USTA boys' Clay Court Championships has to offer, winning the boys' 16 doubles two years ago with Jason Pinsky. But he's also experienced the worst, breaking his ankle in the first round of the singles tournament last year.
"It's definitely a test of fitness," said Huey, the top-ranked boys' 18s player in the country. "The points are a lot longer. You can't get many free points by hitting it harder than everybody else. It's harder to practice on, not many people are used to it."
Playing on the unpredictable and often unwieldy surface, something that's foreign to many American players, helps make the Clay Court Championships both one of the best junior tennis tournaments of the year -- along with the USTA boys' Super National Hard Court Championships -- and one of the most difficult.
"I've played two warmup tournaments prior to this week," Potomac native Pinsky said. "I've been hitting on clay for two months now. You have to be physically fit. You have to stay out there longer on the courts, it's more of a battle."
Huey, a recent graduate of St. Stephen's/St. Agnes High School in Alexandria, joins fellow local talent Pinsky (Churchill) in trying to battle the elements at the Clay Court Championships, which start today at five Washington area tennis clubs. After hosting the boys' 16s since 1997, the five clubs gained the boys' 18s for the first time this year. Matches for both ages will be contested at Woodmont Country Club, Congressional Country Club, Indian Springs Country Club, Columbia Country Club and Potomac Tennis Club during the next week.
Pinsky, the third-ranked boys' 18s player nationally, again joins Huey both in the singles tournament and as his partner on the doubles court. The pair, who won the first tournament they entered together three years ago, will be playing one of their last before heading off to college in the fall -- Huey to Virginia and Pinsky to Vanderbilt.
With different strengths on the court, Huey and Pinsky balance each other out. Huey brings the big serve-and-volley game; his partner prides himself on returns and his baseline play.
"I guess the fact that we're both at the same level pushes us to get better," Huey said.
While the two have spent a lot of time on the same side of the net playing doubles, Huey and Pinsky haven't really been foes on the singles court. There is certainly no animosity or strong competitive feeling between them. They are tennis friends, a relationship that doesn't extend too far off the court, forged through endless hours of travel around the country.
As two of the top three singles seeds in the boys' 18s, Huey and Pinsky could ride a home-court singles or doubles winning streak all the way to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in August.
The winner of the boys' 18 receives a wild-card slot into the 32-player main draw of the Legg Mason. Wild-card qualifying spots are given to the boys' 18 doubles winner and finalist. The boys' 16s singles and doubles champions also get into the Legg Mason qualifier.
"[The Clays are] probably the second biggest tournament of the year, besides the hard court," Huey said. "Because I live in town, it's probably the most important to me.
"Legg Mason is huge in American tennis. Just to win this tournament and get into the Legg Mason . . . that's more than anything you could think of. It's great."