FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Max McKennon showed off a complete tennis game Tuesday afternoon at Fountain Valley Tennis Center.
The 12-year-old from Newport Beach did things you might not expect a 12-year-old to do on the court. He hit drop shots with success, and also showed off an effective kick serve from the deuce court.
The tactics paid off for McKennon, who captured a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Andrew Stratton of San Diego in a boys' 14 singles round of 64 match of the 112th annual Southern California Junior Sectionals tennis tournament.
It is McKennon's first main draw win at Junior Sectionals in four years. His coach, Brett Hansen-Dent, surely liked what he saw from the No. 10 seed in the tournament, who will play either Adrian Pedroza of Rossmoor or Bodi Brannen of Rolling Hills in the round of 32 on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
"He's been trying to hit winners from the baseline, and it's just too hard against the better kids," Hansen-Dent said. "We've been working on sneaking into the net and hitting some drop volleys, and taking the ball out of the air when the other guy's in a bad spot. That's the game that's going to win at the higher level, if you can sneak in ... He's strong enough now that he can actually hit [the serve] and get some kick on it. If you can serve and have that sneak-in volley then that's pretty much the two biggest shots in the game, besides a big forehand. He's got that, too."
Hansen-Dent, the step-brother of former pro Taylor Dent, knows about playing tennis well. Hansen-Dent, himself a former pro and NCAA All-American at UC Irvine and USC, captured the CIF Individuals singles title at Newport Harbor in 1990. He remains the last Sailors player to do so.
Hansen-Dent would love to see McKennon, who will be a seventh-grader at Ensign Intermediate this fall, eventually do the same for the Sailors. He certainly had a lot of fan support for Tuesday's match, including his grandpa, Don.
They saw Max start out hot in a battle of two lefty players. He won the first four games of the match before Stratton could hold serve, and easily took the first set.
McKennon jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second set, before hitting a bit of a rough spot. Stratton again held serve, and on one of the points McKennon accidentally hit his left knee with his racquet. He grasped at the knee in pain for just a second, before continuing.
McKennon double-faulted on the first point while serving for the match, but quickly overcame that, winning four straight points to end it.
It was a more lopsided win than when McKennon played Stratton last month at the Esme Pearson tournament in San Diego. McKennon won that match, 6-3, 6-3.
"He's a really consistent player," said McKennon, who next week is headed to the United States Tennis Assn. zone team championships in Tucson, Ariz. "The only way to beat him is to overpower him and control the points, and I thought I did a good job of that."
McKennon also knows how to have fun with Hansen-Dent, whose website is http://www.tennispolice.com. He also has made a funny Youtube video, which McKennon stars in, that features the "tennis police."
"I've been teaching so long now, and I got tired of listening to all of the bad tennis coaches," Hansen-Dent said. "I decided that somebody has to go site to site, writing citations. I made Max and this little Russian girl the star of the [video]. They pretended they were really bad at first and they were getting bad advice, and then the 'tennis police' were called on the radio. We showed up, and got the pro out of there and gave them some good tips, and all of a sudden they were really good.
"It's just a spoof. It's a total funny video. I'm trying to tell everyone to look at it, because I'm going to make a second episode soon."
McKennon just hopes for a great follow-up performance on the court on Wednesday. He has been playing well lately, making the round of 16 at the prestigious Easter Bowl tournament and finishing fifth at a USTA national selection tournament in Houston.
"It's a great tournament," McKennon said of playing at Junior Sectionals. "It's tons of fun, there's lots of great players and it's the biggest tournament in Southern California. It's great competition."