Rancho Santa Fe’s Andrew Salu recently won the Little Mo Grand Slam as the top 9-year-old tennis player in the country. For his outstanding accomplishment, he earned a towering 6-foot tall trophy, the biggest awarded in junior tennis.
“It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than my dad,” Andrew said.
To achieve the Grand Slam, Andrew had to win four tournaments in San Diego, Texas, New York and Florida. He received his giant trophy in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on Dec. 10 after taking down the No. 1-ranked 10-and-under player from Germany in the finals.
Andrew is ranked No. 2 in the 10-and-under division in the Southern California Tennis Association (SCTA), and this year he moved up to 12-and-under, where as a third-grader he competes against sixth-graders and is ranked No. 48.
Andrew has won six designated U.S. Tennis Association tournaments in the 10-and-under division, including SCTA sectional doubles, all achieved as an 8-year-old.
He won the Los Caballeros designated tournament at age 8 years, 9 months, which makes him the youngest winner of an SCTA-designated tournament in at least 10 years.
For the Little Mo national and international tournaments, Andrew doesn’t play up — he plays against all competitors born in 2005.
Little Mo is named for Maureen Connolly, the first woman to win a Grand Slam by winning the Australian, Wimbledon, French and U.S. Open Championships in 1953. At each Little Mo tournament this year, players traveled from all over the world to compete — the Florida tournament had 340 players from 41 countries.
The toughest competition Andrew faced in his Grand Slam journey was in Florida, against the top young German player.
His Grand Slam was threatened most at the national championship in Texas, where he was down 6-1, 5-4 in the finals. He was one point away from losing, but was able to close it out.
Andrew started playing tennis when he was 6 1/2 years old, introduced to the sport by his father, Eran. Since Andrew has become more involved in tennis, Eran has been encouraged to return to the game as well. He’s also involved in the business of tennis — Eran manages JAL Equity and owns the Sarasota Racquet Club in Sarasota, Fla., as well as Inside Tennis Magazine.
Tennis was the fourth sport Andrew tried. After testing out baseball, soccer and basketball, tennis was his favorite.
“It was the most fun. The competitiveness makes it the most fun,” said Andrew, who lives in Fairbanks Ranch and last year began being home-schooled.
By age 8, Andrew started taking the sport more seriously, working with Coach Derek Miller at the Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club. He is on the courts practicing most every day with the “nice” and “a little tough” Miller.
Andrew said his personal strength on the court is making balls go side to side.
“He moves very fast, and he’s very intense, competitive and focused,” said Eran of Andrew, who just turned 9 in November.
While his success has been great this year, the deeply focused young Andrew admits he still has plenty of work to do.
“I need to work on my volleys, putting them deep and to the side and to be able to put them away,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2015, his goals this year include getting into the top 50 nationally in the USTA (United States Tennis Association). He’s currently 419th. Andrew said he would also like to reach the top 10 in the SCTA under-12 division, continue to do well in tournaments and practice hard.