Mason Caldwell’s commitment to the sport of tennis and his hard work over the years earned him an opportunity envied by several thousand youth athletes in the Oceania region – a scholarship for elite level training during the summer at the ITF/OTF Pacific Training Centre in Fiji.
Caldwell recently traveled to Fiji to begin three months of training, which also includes entry to compete in three ITF junior events and two other tournaments – the Punjas Oceania Tennis Championships and the Pacific Oceania Junior Championships. Only about a dozen athletes from the entire Oceania region were handpicked for the summer program.
“When my mom first sent me a picture of the letter from ITF and OTF, I didn’t really understand what it was at first,” Caldwell said. “As I continued to read the letter to the very end, I remembered a couple of my friends staying in Fiji full time training at the training center – I asked my mom, ‘is it this – staying in Fiji for tennis training for the summer?’ When she confirmed – I was in shock, I was surprised. I was so excited about the opportunity and really couldn’t think about anything else the entire day.”
Caldwell was selected by the ITF and OTF for the summer scholarship based on three criteria: featured as one of the top six players in the 2015 Pacific Oceania Junior Championships, was offered a place on a Pacific Oceania ITF/GSDF Touring Team program (GSDF Team Tour), and during a GSDF Team Tour “(has) proven through his results and his attitude that he is at the level where he will benefit from entering ITF Junior Circuit events and has a realistic chance of gaining or improving on an ITF junior world ranking,” the letter states.
The summer scholarship covers accommodation and living costs at the ITF/OTF Pacific Training Centre in Fiji as well as in New Caledonia for an ITF Junior Circuit tournament, entry fees for ITF events and local tournaments, re-strings and overgrips for rackets, full-time training program incorporating physical conditioning and daily on-court sessions with training center players (morning and afternoon sessions) and travel costs between Fiji and New Caledonia.
“I look forward to gaining a whole lot of experience playing at a high level and at a faster pace constantly,” Caldwell, 15, said. “I hope to also get some ITF Junior World Ranking points from the tournaments.
“From this, I hope to eventually land a college scholarship after high school, but I know it will take a lot of hard work to earn one,” added the incoming sophomore at Harvest Christian Academy.
Caldwell first picked up a tennis racket when he was eight years old. He originally was participating in a Hilton Guam Resort & Spa youth camp and was at the hotel’s basketball court when he saw other kids playing tennis at the nearby tennis courts. He said that he noticed they were having fun and was intrigued by the sport, enough to take a few lessons with Tennis Academy of Guam coaches Joe Cepeda and Pete Cepeda. After taking group lessons, the coaches recommended private lessons, which aided in Caldwell’s success in local and international leagues and tournaments. He also is training under Torgun Smith with Guam’s junior national players.
In his first year in the IIAAG High School Tennis League, he was named All-Island MVP as a freshman representing the Harvest Christian Academy Eagles. Internationally, he has competed in the North Pacific Regional Championships, Pacific Oceania Junior Championships, and ITF Junior Circuit events in Guam, including the 2016 Chuck E. Cheese’s ITF Junior Championships held in May. Currently, he is playing in the 2016 Punjas Oceania Tennis Championships in Fiji in three events – singles, doubles with Guam’s Daniel Llarenas, a member of Pacific Oceania’s Davis Cup team, and mixed doubles with Isabel Heras from the Northern Mariana Islands.
Caldwell won his first singles main draw match against Fiji’s Deverath Narayan 6-1, 6-7(9), 10-7 before falling to No. 8 William Bruchard of New Caledonia 6-1, 6-3.
“We are very proud of Mason and his accomplishments so far,” said Torgun Smith, president of the Guam National Tennis Federation. “He’s worked so hard over the years to become one of Guam’s top junior tennis players and has the potential to achieve even more. This is certainly a great opportunity for Mason and one that he has truly earned.
“I hope that more youth tennis athletes in Guam see the endless amount of opportunities available to them if they work hard enough like Mason has,” Smith added.
After the Oceania Championships in Fiji, Caldwell will travel to New Caledonia for the Open Junior BNP Paribas de Nouvelle-Caledonie, with main draw play beginning June 13. Next, he will play in back-to-back ITF Junior Circuit events in Fiji – the South Pacific Open Junior Championships and the Oceania Open Junior Championships. Before returning to Guam in late August, he also will play in the Pacific Oceania Junior Championships set to begin August 15 in Fiji.
“My mom (Mika Gibson) has been so supportive of me – arranging my travel to Fiji, taking me to practices (while still in Guam) – and I can’t thank her enough,” Caldwell said. “I think she was feeling really stressed out as it was getting closer to me leaving Guam for the summer, but she knows, and she also has told me, what a great opportunity this is for me.”
Caldwell also has one younger sister, Mayumi.