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Saturday, April 4, 2020

ITF Names Top Ranking Climbers for 2020; New ITF Rules of Tennis App; Did USTA Do Enough to Stop Abusive Tennis Coach?

Last week the ITF posted articles on the men and women players who have made the biggest jumps in the Top 500 for men and the Top 300 for women so far this year. Because it's not clear when tennis will resume, the players listed below could hold those positions for many, many months. For the articles, which include the results that boosted each ranking, click on the headers below.

The men:
Harold Mayot(FRA), 18, +234 to 454
Raymond Sarmiento(USA, USC), 27, +178 to 381
Ulises Blanch(USA), 22, +177 to 242
Carlos Alcaraz(ESP), 16, +172 to 318
Arthur Rinderknech(FRA, Texas A&M), 24, +162 to 161
Jurij Rodionov(AUT), 21, +161 to 166
Brandon Nakashima(USA, Virginia), 18, +144 to 220
Kacper Zuk(POL), 21, +143 to 305
Thomas Laurent(FRA, Oregon), 22, +142 to 477
Benjamin Bonzi(FRA), 23, +138 to 218

The women:
Leylah Annie Fernandez(CAN), 17, +91 to 118
Nadia Podoroska(ARG), 23, +83 to 175
Gabriela Talaba(ROU, Texas Tech), 24, +78 to 232
Renata Zarazua(MEX), 22, +71 to 191
Fang Ying Xun(CHN), 25, +68 to 172
Destanee Aiava(AUS), 19, +67 to 198
Shelby Rogers(USA), 27, +61 to 113
Clara Tauson(DEN), 17, +59 to 211
Anastasia Zakharova(RUS), 18, +56 to 242
Olga Govortsova(BLR), 31, +55 to 135

The ITF also announced that their Rules of Tennis app is now available at Google Play and in Apple's App store. I haven't been able to get the search function to work on it, but it's worth downloading just for browsing through the ITF rules and having links to the rules for grand slams, Davis and Fed Cup and the ATP and WTA.

The New York Times today published a disturbing article about a Northern California junior coach who sexually abused the boys he was coaching over a period of years. The coach Normandie Burgos, who is now in jail, was fired from his teaching job in 2006, and was tried once in 2010 with a mistrial declared when a jury could not come to a decision. He continued to coach during that time, and it was not until 2017 that he was finally arrested, and he was convicted last August. The article centers on the role the USTA may have had in allowing him to continue to coach, and a lawsuit was filed earlier this year contending the USTA knew of Burgos' history.  This is obviously a matter for the courts to decide, and from the article, I am not clear on the timeline, but regardless of how the lawsuit turns out, it's an important reminder that young tennis players are just as vulnerable to abuse as gymnasts, wrestlers and all the other victims that have been in the news for the past several years.

Friday, April 3, 2020

USTA Statement Recommends No Conventional Tennis Competition; College Coaches Give Advice on Continuing Recruiting Process During COVID-19, Discuss Implications of Extra Year of Eligibility

The USTA provided a statement today recommending no tennis competition while Stay at Home orders continue throughout the country. While some states are allowing golf courses to remain open (with a few modifications to cups and flags and social distancing), tennis is more problematical, given its joint use of a few balls. Here is the USTA statement:

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating challenges for everyone across the globe. American tennis players are asking for guidance regarding the safety of playing tennis, especially when social distancing and space sharing issues are now paramount.

Based on the recommendations of the USTA COVID-19 Advisory Group, the USTA believes that it is in the best interest of society to take a collective pause from playing the sport we love.

Although there are no specific studies on tennis and COVID-19, medical advisors believe there is the possibility that the virus responsible for COVID-19 could be transmitted through common sharing and handling of tennis balls, gate handles, benches, net posts and even court surfaces.

As a result of this, the USTA asks that as tennis players we need to be patient in our return to the courts and consider how our decisions will not only affect ourselves, but how our decisions can impact our broader communities. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to stay active and healthy with at-home exercise and creative “tennis-at-home” variations.

We look forward to our return to tennis in a safe manner and will provide updates as new information becomes available. By practicing all the recommended guidelines presently put forth by our medical experts, that return will happen in the soonest possible timeframe.

Five college coaches from all three NCAA divisions participated in a discussion posted yesterday on the USTA's collegiate section, with advice on how those still seeking a place on a college team should handle the next two months, with on-campus visits prohibited, and no visits by coaches to recruits allowed during this extended dead period. They also provided their thoughts on the impact the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted to seniors competing in spring sports. I wasn't aware that some conferences do not allow fifth year or graduate students to compete, which Bucknell's Bruce Myers mentions here:

With the Patriot League and Ivy League not allowing fifth years or graduate student-athletes, unless under unique or relatively unusual circumstances, the only impact upon our student-athletes is they might have the opportunity to transfer to finish their final year of eligibility.

I would think that this would qualify as a relatively unusual circumstance, but I assume this is the kind of question that will be resolved by each conference once coaches and administrators begin grappling with who and how many express interest in that extra year.

UPDATE: Ivy League affirms above policy:

via College AD-The Nightcap
As NC State's Simon Earnshaw says:

There are many perspectives, as there’s a huge ripple effect that every athletic department, program, student-athlete, recruit and their families are feeling. I’m still trying to grasp all the ins and outs, and with most everything there seem to be more questions than answers currently.

The USTA also has an COVID-19-updated resource page for college tennis, which includes links to NCAA updates, articles from newspapers around the country on the impact of the season's cancellation, and even links to the SAT and ACT testing sites. 

Tennis Recruiting Network also recently provided a primer on how to make the best use of this down time as a member of their site, including how a recruit can improve the likelihood college coaches will visit his or her profile.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Look Back at Sam Querrey's "Sunshine Double" at 2005 Carson and Easter Bowl; Querrey's UTR All Access Chat Today Now Available on YouTube

After an initial glitch (I received an email that it had been cancelled), Sam Querrey kicked off the UTR All Access Series today, and provided comments on a variety of topics in the 45-minute interview. Prakash Amritraj was the host of the event, and Querrey appeared relaxed and comfortable in talking about his career. Querrey was candid in saying that he was comfortable skipping college, and that his parents supported that decision, with the early success he had in Challengers providing all the confirmation he needed that turning pro was right for him. He said that extensive international travel was the most difficult adjustment he had when he began his pro career, and he also said he would be fine with his son Ford, just over a month old now, playing an entirely different sport, or excelling in another non-athletic pursuit.  Querrey revealed he hates to stretch, and indulges in ice cream during some ATP tournaments, but is much more careful about his physical and nutritional requirements during slams.  Now 32, he also revealed he can see himself playing for four or five more years.

The video of today's event is available at YouTube. The next All Access event, on Tuesday April 7, will feature Alison Riske. Registration is required, and you'll need the link UTR sends you in response to signing up, but there is no charge for any of this content.

Sam Querrey is one of the first players I covered extensively who made an impact on professional tennis, with my initial encounter with him coming when he won the Kalamazoo 16s title in 2004. Unfamiliar with the entire ITF Junior Circuit structure, Querrey had no experience in international level tournaments, so the US Open junior wild card he received for winning the Kalamazoo 16s was bound to put him in an unfamiliar situation. As it happens, the 2004 US Open was also my first junior slam, and it was memorable for a lot of reasons, including the end of the quest for the Junior Grand Slam, when Viktor Troicki defeated Gael Monfils, who had won the three previous junior slams, in the third round. But for me, it was particularly exciting to see Querrey hold his own in that company, in spite of his inexperience, and he went on to reach the quarterfinals that week, losing to eventual champion Andy Murray 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-1.

Querrey had one more year of junior slam eligibility left, so to play the French and Wimbledon juniors in 2005, he had to make the most of the two big tournaments in Southern California that spring, after not making the trip to Australia.  Querrey won the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson in the tournament's debut that year and then went on to take the ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl title the following week in Palm Springs. With those two titles, Querrey secured his place in the main draw of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, where he reached the quarterfinals (lost to Lukas Lacko) and the third round (lost to Marin Cilic).

You can read my coverage of Querrey's win over Carsten Ball in the Easter Bowl final, as well as Alexa Glatch's title in the girls draw here.
I apologize for the awkward photo display, but it was the early days of the site, and many of the photos I put up in the first couple of years have been lost to Flickr's change of hosts.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Wimbledon Canceled for 2020; ATP, WTA and ITF Announce Suspension of Events Through July 13; NCAA Extends Dead Period Through May 31

The expected but unwelcome news came today, with Wimbledon officially announcing the cancellation of its event in 2020, due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 global pandemic. This is the first time the tournament has been canceled since World War II and the first time that the cancellation was not due to war.

Ian Hewitt, AELTC Chairman, commented: “This is a decision that we have not taken lightly, and we have done so with the highest regard for public health and the wellbeing of all those who come together to make Wimbledon happen. It has weighed heavily on our minds that the staging of The Championships has only been interrupted previously by World Wars but, following thorough and extensive consideration of all scenarios, we believe that it is a measure of this global crisis that it is ultimately the right decision to cancel this year’s Championships, and instead concentrate on how we can use the breadth of Wimbledon’s resources to help those in our local communities and beyond. Our thoughts are with all those who have been and continue to be affected by these unprecedented times.”
With the US Open now the next slam on the docket, after the French Open announced that it would move from June to September, the USTA put out a statement immediately following Wimbledon's notice of cancellation:

We understand the unique circumstances facing the All England Lawn and Tennis Club and the reasoning behind the decision to cancel the 2020 Wimbledon Championships. At this time the USTA still plans to host the US Open as scheduled, and we continue to hone plans to stage the tournament. The USTA is carefully monitoring the rapidly-changing environment surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, and is preparing for all contingencies. We also rely on the USTA’s Medical Advisory Group as well as governmental and security officials to ensure that we have the broadest understanding of this fluid situation. In all instances, all decisions made by the USTA regarding the US Open will be made with the health and well-being of our players, fans, and all others involved in the tournament.

Immediately after Wimbledon's announcement, the ATP and WTA followed with their joint statement that all pro tour events were canceled through July 13.

The ITF issued a similar statement, with all its events, including all those on the junior circuit, canceled until July 13.  That means the next Grade A event on the Junior Circuit will be the US Open, in September, with the Grade A in Milan in May and Wimbledon Junior Championships in July now canceled. 

The ITF World Junior Championships, the team event in August for 14-and-under players, has not been canceled, but qualifying for that event, which is generally held in April and May, is off, so it remains to be seen whether that tournament, in the Czech Republic, will be played. The Junior Fed Cup and Junior Davis Cup is set for the end of September at the National Campus in Lake Nona, and the qualifying for that competition may again prove to be a problem, not to mention the fact that the date for that 16-and-under ITF team competition now conflicts with the second week of the French Open, which is the same week the junior championships would take place in Paris.

So far the USTA has not announced any cancellations beyond May 3rd, but I would not be surprised to hear in the next several weeks that they have adopted a similar timeline to that of the ITF.

The NCAA has extended its dead period for recruiting until May 31st for Division I and Division II after previously announcing that no in-person recruiting on or off campus would be prohibited through April 15. The NCAA did lift its earlier restriction on issuing financial aid agreements, which will now be allowed after April 16.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Miami's NCAA Champion Perez-Somarriba Will Return for Another Year; McEnroe, Adams Test Positive for COVID-19; ITF Academy Increases Free Offerings on its Educational Platform

University of Miami senior Estela Perez-Somarriba didn't wait until yesterday's meeting of the NCAA Division I committee to make her decision. In a conversation with head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews last Friday, the 2019 NCAA singles champion announced she would return to the Hurricanes for a fifth year.

Perez-Somarriba, a 21-year-old from Spain, wrote in her own words her reasons for coming back on the Miami website, and it's hard to imagine a more eloquent account of what college tennis means to many of the student-athletes that participate in it.

The NCAA will no doubt be answering many questions about the decision to allow that extra year of eligibility in the weeks and months to come, but below is the key passage from the article published on NCAA.org last night:

The Division I Council on Monday voted to allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.

Members also adjusted financial aid rules to allow teams to carry more members on scholarship to account for incoming recruits and student-athletes who had been in their last year of eligibility who decide to stay. In a nod to the financial uncertainty faced by higher education, the Council vote also provided schools with the flexibility to give students the opportunity to return for 2020-21 without requiring that athletics aid be provided at the same level awarded for 2019-20. This flexibility applies only to student-athletes who would have exhausted eligibility in 2019-20.

Schools also will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility flexibility in 2020-21.

Division I rules limit student-athletes to four seasons of competition in a five-year period. The Council’s decision allows schools to self-apply waivers to restore one of those seasons of competition for student-athletes who had competed while eligible in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 spring season

The Council also will allow schools to self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes, effectively extending each student’s five-year “clock” by a year. This decision was especially important for student-athletes who had reached the end of their five-year clock in 2020 and saw their seasons end abruptly.

Dan Wolken of USA Today discusses some of the issues that could surface when it comes to funding scholarships for these seniors, but agrees that the NCAA has done the best it could for the student-athletes given this unprecedented situation.

The tennis world is still reporting just one active player with the COVID-19 virus, 20-year-old Thiago Seyboth-Wild of Brazil, but today it learned that two major figures in the sport in the United States have contracted it: ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe and USTA immediate past president Katrina Adams. McEnroe, who was the General Manager of USTA Player Development from 2008-2016, posted a video explaining his health situation today from the basement of his home in New York. That video can be found in this USA Today article.

Adams divulged her recent bout with the virus in this podcast from Champions of Change. At the beginning of the podcast, Adams goes into detail about her symptoms and her quarantine once she was told she had been in contact with someone who had tested positive. 

The good news is that both McEnroe and Adams appear to have recovered without needing hospitalization and are well enough to speak about their illness and recovery.

The ITF has opened up more of its Academy resources for free and is also announcing several new online courses, which are available not only to coaches, but to parents, players and those looking to understand more about the sport.

Interactive online courses have recently been added to the platform for the first time, with 18 courses currently available in English and a further 6 in Spanish and 6 in French. The courses cover a variety of subjects, from an ‘Introduction to Strategy & Tactics’ to ‘Ethics in Coaching’. New courses will be added each week, with ‘Goal setting’, ‘Tennis Parents’ and ‘Teaching Methodology’ among the upcoming topics to be covered.

Registration for the ITF Academy can be found here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Orange Bowl Remains in Plantation for 2020; NCAA Approves Division I Eligibility Extension for All Spring Athletes; UTR Introduces Free Live All Access Sessions with Top Pros, Coaches

I've learned today that the ITF Grade A Orange Bowl, arguably the most important junior event in the world outside the slams, will once again be held at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation Florida in 2020, but there has been no determination regarding the venue beyond this year. This answers one of my Eight Intriguing Questions for 2020, but it looks as if I'll be asking the same question again in my 2021 column.

The NCAA Division I committee will allow an extra year of eligibility for all spring sport athletes according to Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic. This is breaking news, so it will be Tuesday before most of the implications of this decision will be explored, but it appears that extra scholarships will be allowed, although paying for them is up to individual schools.
I was unable to join the first USTA Player Development Learning Series webinar today due to it being oversubscribed, but I assume that the USTA will expand the capacity for next Monday's webinar to accommodate all that would like to participate. The question and answer segment is the component that requires live participation, but access to the webinar is available now through this link, which also contains other resources mentioned in the webinar.

UTR is enhancing and expanding its webinar feature, with two new products: an All Access Series, twice a week, featuring top coaches and pros and a Host Your Own Webinar program that provides a way for coaches and players to connect. Sam Querrey leads off the All Access Series Thursday April 2 at 2 p.m. PDT. To register for this, and the forthcoming editions of the All Access series*, set for Tuesdays and Thursdays, go to this UTR page. Webinars on using UTR are also available; some can be watched now, with others requiring registration for upcoming webinars, beginning Thursday.

March 30, 2020 (Palo Alto, CA) - Universal Tennis (MyUTR.com ) today announced the launch of two new initiatives, UTR All Access Series and Host Your Own Webinar For Coaches program, to provide free, virtual opportunities for players, coaches and organizers to stay safely connected to tennis and to each other throughout the global crisis.

The new programming expands UTR Off the Court’s robust slate of free digital content:
  • ●  UTR All Access Series: UTR All Access Series is a live, hosted webinar interview series where participants can submit questions in advance to celebrity guests. The line up includes Sam Querrey, Alison Riske, Ivan Lendl, Nick Bollettieri, Dr. Jim Loehr, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Corey Gauff, Gordon Uehling, Jez Green, Vasek Pospisil, Rajeev Ram and Shelby Rogers. Prakash Amritraj, co-host of Tennis Channel Live, Kirk Spahn and Mark Leschly will serve as hosts.
  • ●  Host Your Own Webinar For Coaches: Coming in April, UTR will enable for free any tennis coach to host their own free or paid webinars on the UTR Platform and share their expertise with UTR’s global tennis community, with all proceeds from paid events going directly to the coaches. Tennis coaches who are interested can pre-register for the free program on MyUTR.com.
  • ●  UTR Webinar Series: Coaches, organizers, players and parents can access engaging live and on-demand video content offering support to organizers and coaches to develop and enhance their tennis programs, advice on how to implement UTR into their tennis communities, and guidance on how to prepare for when the tennis season picks back up.
* This is the schedule for the upcoming All Access webinars:
  • ●  Thursday, April 2 - Sam Querrey: Host Prakash Amritraj joins ATP pro and world-record service ace holder Sam Querrey (ATP #45) for a discussion on life on the tour and his journey to the top.
  • ●  Tuesday, April 7 - Alison Riske: Host Prakash Amritraj and 2019 Wimbledon semi-finalist Alison Riske (WTA #19) discuss the WTA pro’s tennis journey and what it really takes to compete on the world’s biggest stage.
  • ●  Thursday, April 9 - Nick Bollettieri: Get tips and insights from one of the most experienced coaches of all time. IMG Academy founder and the former coach of Monica Seles, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, and Jim Courier answers your questions about improving your game and what it takes to make it to the top. Hosted by Universal Tennis CEO Mark Leschly.
  • ●  Thursday, April 16 - Dr. Jim Loehr & Gordon Uehling “Inside the Mind: Making of A Champion”: Join Dr. Jim Loehr, the world renowned sports psychologist and Gordon Uehling, tennis coach, technologist and philanthropist for a discussion on developing mental fitness. Hosted by Universal Tennis CEO Mark Leschly.
  • ●  Tuesday, April 21 - Corey Gauff: Join Prakash Amritraj and Corey Gauff, father and coach of phenom Coco Gauff and 2019 PTR Touring Coach of the Year, as they answer your questions on player development, what it’s like being a tennis parent, mental fitness, and balancing tennis and teenagehood.
  • ●  Wednesday, April 22 - Vasek Pospisil : Join host Kirk Spahn and submit your questions to one of UTR’s most improved players in 2020, Vasek Pospisil (ATP #93). Get insights about Vasek's journey, breaking through, and battling to get back to the top.
  • ●  Thursday, April 23 - Ivan Lendl & Jez Green, “Maximizing Potential”: Ivan Lendl, 8x Grand Slam Champion and former ATP #1, and Jez Green, renowned movement and conditioning specialist, discuss how a player can maximize their potential to become the best. The former coaches of players like Andy Murray and Alexander Zverev join host Mark Leschly, UTR CEO.
  • ●  Tuesday, April 28 - Steve Johnson : Host Prakash Amritraj and Steve Johnson (ATP #63) discuss his journey from USC college tennis to the pros.
  • ●  Thursday, April 30 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands: The 9x Grand Slam Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist joins host Prakash Amritraj to dive into what makes a champion and how this top-20 doubles pro stays focused and fit.
  • ●  Tuesday, May 5- Rajeev Ram: The 2020 Australian Open doubles champion and Olympic Silver Medalist joins host Prakash Amritraj to dive into what makes a champion and how this top-20 doubles pro stays focused and fit.
  • Thursday, May 7 - Shelby Rogers: Host Prakash Amritraj and Shelby Rogers (WTA #113) discuss her tennis journey and what it takes to perform at the highest level.