Sean Berman, 6 December 2010 | Tim Rose

Sean Berman begins this week’s Optus 18s National Championships as the second-seeded player after a year of success in 2010.

But Australian tennis fans can count themselves lucky to have his services at all. As with two of Australian women’s tennis brightest lights in Jarmila Groth and Anastasia Rodionova, Berman found himself with a choice to make as to whom he would represent early in his career. Yet Berman’s dilemma was even more complex than those other two, who left their home countries to base themselves in Australia.

Born in South Africa, he spent most of his time growing up in New Zealand. At age 13 the Bermans moved over to the United States, where Sean began a college tennis career, playing under the American flag in junior events. A family decision to move to Australia in mid-2009 further complicated the issue, before it was decided that the young talent would represent his new country of residence.

Not long after, Berman entered and won the Optus 16s National Championships at Melbourne Park, crowned national champion as a new Australian.

He took this form to the Australian Open Juniors where, as a wildcard, he carved through the draw to reach the final. On the way, he dumped four seeds from the tournament, including Australia’s top ranked junior at the time, Jason Kubler.

Impressively, Berman keeps a level head despite his success.

“It was great to get on a run; all players have their ups and downs so it was good to hit some form then,” the quiet Berman says.

A tough baseliner in the mould of his hero, Lleyton Hewitt, Berman today won his opening match of the Optus 18s, defeating Jordan Thompson in straight sets.

After taking the first set and racing to a 5-1 lead, Thompson fought back with some gritty retrieving to push the match deep into the second set. Berman hung on, edging his opponent by staying cooler under pressure and using his dominant forehand to close out a 6-4 7-5 win.

After the match, the now Melbourne-based Berman was pleased to have won but acknowledged his lapse in the second set.

“I was reasonably happy with how I played; I thought I lost my cool in the second set. He’s a good competitor; he’s always in your face,” he said of the match in which both players had animated discussions with the chair umpire over their own – and each other’s – on-court behaviour.

Of his unusual upbringing, Berman says that the moves overseas were no hindrance to his game, giving him some life experiences outside of tennis.

“It didn’t affect my tennis at all.  I got to see some great places. If anything, it actually helped me, competing against the best players in the world,” he says.

Berman is one the favourites in a weakened Optus 18s field.  Last year’s winner Jason Kubler is focusing on next week’s Australian Open Play-offs with the goal of winning a wildcard into the first Grand Slam of the year, and Junior Wimbledon finalist Ben Mitchell is resting after reaching the final of the Pro Tour event in Bendigo over the weekend.

Nevertheless, the 17-year-old Berman admits he will need to play well to find success at Melbourne Park this year. He headlines Group B, which also features a former Winter National Champion in Jack Schipanski and local boy Andrew Whittington.

“I’m reasonably confident for the week. There’s some tough matches to come – starting tomorrow – but I think I can go OK,” he said.

“It’s a really important tournament; I’m just looking forward to getting out there and the rest of the Australian summer.”

It’s fitting that he names Hewitt as his hero, as the tenacious Berman looks to have some of the fire that the dual-Grand Slam winner is renowned for. The next step is, like Hewitt, to turn junior success into an imposing senior career. From what we’ve seen so far, Berman looks in good stead to do so.

Draws and scores
18s boys’ singles draws and scores
18s girls’ singles draws and scores
18s boys’ doubles draws and scores
18s girls’ doubles draws and scores