FALMOUTH — Returning to the scene of one of her tennis highlights from last summer, 15-year-old Meghan Kelley figured she might as well play some singles in addition to attempting to defend her mixed doubles title.
“I went in with really no hopes,” Kelley said of the recent U.S. Tennis Association New England sectional tournament in New Haven, Conn. “I just wanted to play some good matches.”
Kelley’s first opponent was the No. 1 singles player for Fairfield University. Her second was a hot-shot 13-year-old originally from Romania.
Both were straight-set victories.
“After my second match, I had played very well, so I was excited,” Kelley said. “It brought my confidence up.”
Majorie Carol Ondeck, who played for the University of Memphis before turning pro, was Kelley’s next victim. After a semifinal victory against a soon-to-be Princeton freshman, Kelley met Dayna Lord of Bloomfield, Conn., a rising freshman at Brown, in last Sunday’s final.
Kelley prevailed in a third-set tiebreaker, 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6). A few hours later, she teamed with partner Daniel Quiceno, a 33-year-old teaching pro from the club where she trains in Manchester, Mass., to win the mixed doubles title for the second year in a row.
They beat Ondeck and partner Benjamin Zuckerberg 6-4, 6-2, and once more will represent New England at the U.S. Open National Playoffs in August at the New Haven Open.
“She was the biggest winner here, and she did it with class,” said tournament director Todd Nicholson of Kelley. “She really impressed us down here at Yale, both on and off the court.”
Should Kelley and Quiceno emerge from the field of 13 sectional winners at the August tournament — and last year they reached the quarterfinals — they would gain entry into the main draw of the U.S. Open mixed doubles tournament.
Similarly, should Kelley prevail in the women’s singles event against the other 12 sectional winners, she would earn a berth in the U.S. Open qualifying tournament, in which a field of 128 competes for 16 slots in the main draw.
She’s not expecting either to happen, but is grateful for the opportunity to return to the New Haven Open, where as a player she will share facilities with the likes of four-time champion Caroline Wozniacki and avail herself of perks such as free ice cream.
On Wednesday morning, Kelley took a break from rallying with her younger sisters Kate and Meredith on the clay courts of the Portland Country Club to reflect back on a year that included three trips abroad, and to look forward to another busy summer. Nearby, Jennifer Kelley played doubles with three other local mothers.
A home-schooled student who recently finished her freshman year, Meghan has moved up in the tennis world since winning Maine’s biggest summer tournament, the Betty Blakeman Memorial, as a 12-year-old in 2010. Instead of playing for Falmouth High, which recently wrapped up its sixth straight Class B state title, she opted for training, traveling and higher-level tournaments including those on the junior circuit of the International Tennis Federation.
In September, Kelley played tournaments in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In November, she played in Bolivia and Peru. In February, she played in El Salvador and Guatemala.
A handful of other junior players and a coach joined her on the first two trips. The third trip was only Kelley and a coach. She won a doubles title in El Salvador and reached the singles final in Guatemala.
“You get to see different aspects of the game, see how different tournaments are run,” Kelley said. “You get to meet new people and see new players who aren’t as fortunate as we are here and yet they still manage to become very good at what they do.”
Kelley has studied French, Latin and Spanish, and was able to negotiate her way through customs and even deal with the failure of both her cellphone and her credit card while in Bolivia.
“That was a little setback,” she said, “but it didn’t really affect my tennis at all.”
While Meghan travels and takes courses online, Kate, 14, will enter Falmouth High in the fall. At 5 feet, 8-1/2 inches in height, she already has a few inches on her older sister. Kate plays field hockey in addition to tennis.
Meredith, 11, has begun training at the Manchester Athletic Club outside of Boston, just like her oldest sister. Meredith, who also plays soccer, trains one day a week. Meghan generally trains Monday through Thursday at MAC, living with the family of a coach, Francisco Montoya.
Meghan’s recent visit home was brief. She returned to Massachusetts Thursday, will play singles and doubles in an 18-and-under USTA sectional tournament in Amherst this week, and has events in Michigan, Louisiana, Virginia and California on her docket before heading to New Haven in mid-August.
Tennis Recruiting Network lists Kelley as a blue-chip recruit, tops in New England and 25th in the nation among girls in the Class of 2016. The ITF currently ranks Kelley as the 467th junior in the world.
“At this point, I want to go to the best tennis college,” she said, “and maybe pursue my professional aspirations afterward.”
More international trips are planned for the fall and winter, with the dream goal of competing in a junior Grand Slam event.
“She has great potential,” said Nicholson, the tournament director from New Haven. “As big as this is, she’s got bigger things ahead of her.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: