Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Interview with Blaz Rola; Mmoh, Blumberg Reach ITF Grade A Quarterfinals; Paul, Giron and Dome Advance to Futures Quarterfinals

Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with 2013 NCAA champion Blaz Rola, who was playing in the Champaign Challenger. I had not spoken to Rola since May of 2013, when he won the singles title at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois, so I was eager to hear about his 18 months as a professional, and this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network is the result.

He was looking forward to his trip to Sao Paolo Brazil for the ATP Challenger Finals, an eight-player year-end event. The tournament, which is similar to the ATP World Tour final in format, has two round robin groups, with the top two finishers in each moving into the knockout semifinals. Rola, the No. 4 seed, has won his first two matches, beating No. 2 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 today to move to the top of the group. I'm no expert on round robin math, but I do know if Rola beats wild card Guilherme Clezar of Brazil, he will advance to the semifinals.

Josh Meiseles of the ATP also interviewed Rola in advance of the Challenger Tour Finals. Although there is some overlap in our interviews, I think you'll find both interesting.

The quarterfinals are set at the ITF Grade A in Mexico, with only two of the 34 US juniors in the main draw still remaining.  No. 3 seed Michael Mmoh beat unseeded Nathan Ponwith 6-4, 6-1, and No. 12 seed William Blumberg defeated unseeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.  Blumberg earns a meeting with top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who downed Liam Caruana 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, with Rublev looking to beat an American for the third consecutive day.  Mmoh will play No. 10 seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary, who defeated No. 8 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-4.

All four US girls remaining lost in straight sets.  No. 12 seed Michaela Gordon was defeated by No. 6 seed Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia 6-1, 6-0 and No. 4 seed Usue Arconada went out to No. 16 seed Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia 6-2, 7-6(0). Qualifier Alexandra Sanford fell to No. 5 seed Renata Zarazua of Mexico 6-4, 7-5 and unseeded Raquel Pedraza was beaten by No. 10 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary 6-0, 6-1.

Rain kept the quarterfinals in doubles from finishing. Updated draws and Friday's order of play can be found at the tournament website.

Tommy Paul, who is entered in the Eddie Herr, has been playing Futures since the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed, and after reaching the semifinals last week in Niceville, he has advanced to the quarterfinals at the $10,000 Futures tournament in Pensacola.  Paul, who has reached four Futures quarterfinals this year, beat top seed Peter Heller of Germany 6-2, 6-4 in today's second round and will play fellow 17-year-old Theo Fournerie of France, the No. 6 seed, on Friday. Fournerie has only played one important junior tournament in each of the past two years--Roland Garros--and he lost in the first round both times.  He has reached one Futures final and two semifinals this year.

Four former collegians have also advanced to the quarterfinals: Virginia's Justin Shane and Michael Shabaz, Virginia Tech's Patrick Daciek, a qualifier, and Cal's Ben McLachlan.  McLachlan and Shane are into the doubles final, where they will play current Mississippi State teammates Julian Cash and Florian Lakat.

At the $15,000 Futures in Mexico, Californians Andre Dome and Marcos Giron set up a quarterfinal meeting with wins today.  Former Cal Poly All-American Dome defeated top seed Agustin Velotti of Argentina 6-3, 7-6(4), while Giron topped former University of Washington standout and fellow Thousand Oaks, California resident Kyle McMorrow 6-2, 6-3. Two more Southern Californians, Oscar Fabian Matthews (UC-Irvine) and Daniel Nguyen(USC), had advanced to the quarterfinals with wins Wednesday.  Matthews advanced with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(6) win over No. 2 seed Dimitar Kutrovsky of Bulgaria, who only a week earlier was serving for the match against ATP Top 50 player Adrian Mannarino of France at the Champaign Challenger.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fritz Out, but Eight US Juniors Reach Third Round in Mexico Grade A; Prize Money Restrictions Remain at NCAA; Is Do-It-For-Me Culture Responsible for Decline in US Tennis?

No. 2 seed Taylor Fritz was the day's major upset victim in the second round of the ITF Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, losing to Jack Lin of Canada 1-6, 7-6, 7-6(5).  Fritz was rarely challenged on serve in the games I watched, and he led 4-1 in the final set tiebreaker, but Lin, ranked 279 in the ITF junior rankings compared to Fritz's 13, made fewer errors and played more aggressively in the final few points of the match.

Fritz was the highest, but not the only seed to go out.  Liam Caruana defeated No. 13 seed Aziz Dougaz of Tunisia 6-0, 6-4, Tim Sandkaulen of Germany eliminated No. 7 seed Sameer Kumar 6-4, 6-4 and Fabian Fallert of Germany beat No. 15 seed Gabriel Roveri Sidney of Brazil 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.
In addition to Caruana, the other three US boys into the third round are No. 12 seed William Blumberg, who beat Oscar Janglin of Sweden 6-2. 7-5, No. 3 seed Michael Mmoh, a 7-6, 6-0 winner over Brazil's  Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves, and Nathan Ponwith, who beat Mexican wild card Pedro Fernandez Del Valle 6-1, 6-2. All four US boys remaining are in the top half of the draw, with Caruana playing top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia next.

The four US girls still in the draw are each in a separate quarter.  No. 12 seed Michaela Gordon, who beat Ariana Rahmanparast of Costa Rica 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 today is in the top quarter with US Open girls champion Maria Bouzkova.  Qualifier Alexandra Sanford is alive in the second quarter after her 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 11 seed Adeliya Sabirova of Russia and No. 4 seed Usue Arconada has advanced to the third round in her quarter, defeating Juliana Valero of Colombia 6-1, 6-2.  In the bottom quarter, Raquel Pedraza beat No. 7 seed Katie Swan 6-1, 6-4, avenging her third round Easter Bowl lost to Swan back in April.

Live streaming will continue on the main court Thursday.  A link can be found to the stream on the tournament's website.

Lisa Stone at Parenting Aces linked to this article about college student-athletes maintaining their amateur status, which centers on Wake Forest's Noah Rubin. With the NCAA facing ever louder judicial and media criticism for the profits generated by college sports, almost none of witch goes to the student-athletes, this topic will not be going away any time soon, even if, in the case of Rubin, he is not generating any profits for the Wake Forest athletic department.  The concept of amateur athletic competition seems increasingly outdated, with the International Olympic Committee abandoning it decades ago without any noticeable effect on the viability of the competition. Whether the NCAA will eventually abandon its position remains to be seen, but for now, Rubin cannot keep the money he earns at tournaments without risking his eligibility.

Barry Buss has been attending Team USA Player Development sessions in Carson and posting his thoughts on his blog. His latest (there are a couple of f-bombs included), addresses a mindset that I am all too familiar with--the expectation that coaches and parents will 'take care' of everything so their player can focus on his or her tennis. (I do want to add that this is by no means a uniquely American problem).  Buss makes many good points about where this leads and why the USTA is powerless to change it. "You need to fix this" has developed into creed, and it's not one that does much for the believer or the society around him or her. What are your thoughts on Buss's post? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Round Complete at ITF Grade A in Mexico; Katrina Adams Assumes USTA President's Role in January; James Blake to Join USTA?

The ITF Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, which was moved from its calendar position at the first of the year for the first time, is underway in Mexico City, with the first round of singles now complete.

US juniors make up a large percentage of the participants, with 20 US girls (including six qualifiers) and 14 US boys in the 64-player main draws.  Unfortunately 12 of the girls lost in the first round, including No. 15 seed Mia Horvit. Those reaching the second round are Usue Arconada(4), Michaela Gordon(12), Jessica Ho(14), Alexandra Sabe, Ingrid Neel, Raquel Pedraza and qualifiers Alexandra Sanford and Hanna Chang.   CiCi Bellis, who was entered, withdrew recently. US Open girls champion Maria Bouzkova of the Czech Republic is the top seed.

Although the US boys did not have any qualifiers, with only one American in the qualifying draw, their success rate in the first round was much better, with 10 of the 14 advancing to the second round.  First round winners: Taylor Fritz(2), Michael Mmoh(3), Sameer Kumar(7), William Blumberg(12), Kalman Boyd, Liam Caruana, Nathan Ponwith, Mwendwa Mbithi, Catalin Mateas and Anudeep Kodali. Ponwith defeated No. 16 seed Benjamin Hannestad of Denmark 6-4, 6-4. Hannestad was one of only two boys seeds to lose in the first round. Sora Fuduka of Japan, the No. 6 seed, was the other, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 7-5, 7-6(9).  That was a tough draw for both players, as Tsitsipas is coming off two Futures quarterfinal appearances in Greece the two weeks prior to this tournament.

Doubles play began today, and Mmoh and Fritz, the Pan American Closed champions, are not playing together. Fritz is playing with top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, and they are the No. 1 seeds.  Mmoh is playing with Blumberg, and they are the No. 2 seeds. Arconada and Renata Zarazua of Mexico are the top girls seeds.

There is live streaming of center court available all day, with a link available at the tournament website. The website also posts results throughout the day and has the standard ITF order of play.

The USTA announced yesterday the incoming board for the January 1, 2015-December 31, 2016 term. The new chairman, president and chief executive officer is Katrina Adams, a former Northwestern star who has served on the USTA board for ten years. Adams becomes the first former professional player and the first African-American to be elected to the USTA's top position. Adams was inducted into the ITA Women's Collegiate Hall of Fame last weekend and this article from the Northwestern website details her many accomplishments, including the 1987 NCAA doubles title.

Three current USTA board members were not nominated again: Jeff Williams of the Tennis Media Company, Ray Benton of the Junior Tennis Champions Center and former professional player Brian Vahaly.  The four new board members are Fabrizio Alcobe-Fierro(Florida), Michael J. McNulty III(Southern), Kathleen J. Wu(Texas) and Lauren Barkinow(Northern Californa) in the elite athlete category.  The USTA release on Adams and a list of the incoming board members is here.

Last week James Blake held his charity event in New York, which was covered by Karen Pestaina of Tennis Panorama News. Blake, who has been rumored to be the first choice of the USTA for its soon-to-be-vacated General Manager of Player Development position, made a comment that does nothing to quash that rumor.  Blake clarified his role as a mentor/coach for Jack Sock, and also said:

“I also have stayed close with the USTA and with Katrina Adams becoming the new president. I’m proud of her and hopefully I’ll be able to be part of the staff soon if that comes to be we’ll see. But right now I’m mainly focusing on my family, being at home and spending a lot of time with two little girls, that definitely keeps me pretty busy.”

On the possibility of coaching more regularly Blake said:

“I like it but I don’t like to travel, I don’t like being on the road 30 weeks out of the year like I was when I was playing,” he said.

That doesn't sound like someone who would be on the road working with private coaches in a Player Development role, but if the world beats a path to the new Orlando facility, as the USTA hopes, perhaps that wouldn't be necessary.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sean Karl 1994-2014

This photo, by Lloyd Clayton of, was taken after a second round  Kalamazoo match in 2012, a few months before Karl received his diagnosis.
Just over two years ago, at the age of 18, Brentwood Tennessee's Sean Karl was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare bone and tissue cancer. Yesterday Sean died, engulfing the entire junior and college tennis community in sadness.

Shortly after his diagnosis in 2012, Sean, one of the top juniors in the country, signed with the University of Tennessee. Although knowing he faced a lengthy regimen of treatment, Sean did not give up on tennis. That he was able to put on an orange Tennessee uniform in the fall of 2013 and play three tournaments, recording five wins, shows the depth of his courage and resolve. 

The cancer returned, and Sean was no longer able to play, but he continued to be a part of the team, supporting them when possible and even traveling to Athens in May to see teammates Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese win the NCAA doubles title.

There are few words that can convey the tragedy of a cruel disease taking a life so prematurely. Sean and his family have been an inspiration to all those who have known them, with the grace, the determination and the optimism they have shown in these past two years. He touched so many lives, had so many friends, had such passion for life, that his legacy will be a lasting one.  His death is a profound loss to everyone, with expressions of sympathy and sorrow appearing on all forms of social media as the news of his death became known.

Tennis and the Tennessee Volunteers were a huge part of Sean's life, and his memory will continue to be honored by those communities.  The athletic department has provided a moving tribute to Karl, which can be found here.

For background on the Karl family's remarkable courage during the past two years, see this article from the Brentwood, Tennessee homepage.

Lisa Stone of Parenting Aces wrote this beautiful eulogy for Sean today.
Information on the two services planned for this week, and the opportunity to donate in Sean's memory, are provided at the bottom of that page.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spencer Wins Niceville Futures; Top Seeds Xu and Chung Take ITF Asia Oceania Grade B1 Titles; Bryans Win World Tour Finals

It was by no means easy, but Wil Spencer would not be denied the fairy tale ending.  After winning four matches in a wild card tournament to get into the main draw of the $10,000 Niceville Futures, the 25-year-old from nearby Ponce de Leon kept collecting win after win in the main draw.  When, after nearly three hours of play Sunday, he put away Texas A&M-Corpus Christi senior Peter Nagy 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, the former Georgia star had collected the first Futures title of his career.

Prior to this week, Spencer had never won a Futures match, although he hadn't even played in an ITF Men's Circuit tournament since 2008. He went to Texas A&M that year and then after his sophomore year, transferred to Georgia, where he was an All-American in his junior and senior years, finishing in 2012.  Spencer played the qualifying of the ATP Atlanta tournament those years, picking up one win in 2011, but after that, he worked at a club in North Carolina, and didn't play any sanctioned events until this week.  What prompted him to come back isn't clear, but he couldn't have picked a better place, with a less than star-studded field and the huge support he received from local fans all week.

Against Nagy, Spencer fell behind 3-1 in the first set, won four straight games but then got broken serving for the set.  He broke Nagy however, and went up 2-0 in the second set, only to lose the next six games.

The many fans in attendance, highly unusual for a Futures tournament, were subdued when Spencer was broken in the first game of the third set, making that seven straight games lost, but he broke back in the second game, then went ahead 4-2.  The seventh game was a long and tense affair, with nine deuces and Spencer saving three break points to make it 5-2.  Serving for the match at 5-3, Spencer had two match points, but Nagy fought those off and broke for 5-4. It was only then that Nagy, a 22-year-old from Hungary, cracked, going down 0-40.  He saved one more match point, but Spencer converted his fourth chance to set off an exuberant celebration by the fans.

Ken Thomas, who called the match for, pronounced it the best Pro Circuit match he's called all year, and given the circumstances, it's hard to argue. Although I could only listen, Ken made it clear that the level of play and the competitive spirit of both players was extraordinary, and he was obviously enjoying the chance to witness and comment on such a match.  All credit to Nagy, but a Spencer victory was the most satisfying end to the story.

Nagy is in the draw in next week's Futures in Pensacola.  Spencer did not receive a wild card--those went to Alex Rybakov, Quinton Vega and former Florida State players Anderson Reed and Dominic Cotrone--but after nine matches in eleven days, that may be for the best.

At the ITF Asia Oceania Grade B1 in Korea, top seeds Shilin Xu of China and Yunseong Chung of Korea, both 16, won the singles championships.  Xu, defending the singles and doubles titles from 2013, again swept both, defeating No. 3 seed Wushuang Zheng of China 7-6(4), 6-2 in the singles final and teaming with Sara Tomic of Australia to take the doubles title. The No. 1 seeds defeated No. 7 seeds Mayka Aikawa and Chihiro Muramatsu of Japan 6-4, 7-5 in the final.  By defending both titles, Xu will return to the top of the ITF girls rankings after losing that spot to CiCi Bellis when last year's points from the B1 came off a week earlier.

Chung, also the defending champion, will move up in the rankings from his current position of 16 after his 6-1, 7-5 victory in the final over unseeded Naoto Kai of Japan.

Given their college background, I probably should devote more coverage to the Bryan twins than I usually do, but it's true they don't lack for recognition.  Today the 1998 NCAA champions at Stanford won the World Tour Finals doubles championship, beating Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil. The Bryans had not had great success at this tournament in the past, last winning it in 2009, and they started off with a loss in the round robin competition, but they finished well, beating Dodig and Melo 6-7(5), 6-2, 10-7 in the final.  For more from the Bryans, see this article from the ATP.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

University of Illinois Team of Guignon and Kopinski Win Champaign Challenger Title; Spencer Reaches Futures Final; Branstine, Storrie Claim ITF Grade 4 Titles at Everts

For the second time in two weeks, a collegiate team has taken home the doubles title at the $50,000 Pro Circuit Challenger held on its campus.  After Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese took last week's title at the Knoxville Challenger, University of Illinois wild cards Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski followed suit in Champaign, defeating unseeded Frank Dancevic and Adil Shamasdin of Canada 7-6(2), 6-2 in the final.

A loud post-football game crowd urged on the pair of seniors, but unlike Guignon and Kopinski's previous two opponents, the college atmosphere didn't seem to both Dancevic and Shamasdin.  After Guignon and Kopinski got off to a great start, both holding at love then breaking Shamasdin for a 3-1 first set lead, Dancevic and Shamasdin recovered to 3-3.  The Illini pair, who reached the National Indoor finals last weekend but have not won a collegiate major, had two set points on deciding points at 4-5 and 5-6, but the Canadians took both forcing a tiebreaker.  A double fault by Shamasdin at 2-4 gave Guignon and Kopinski some breathing room and Guignon served out the set.

The second set was much easier, with the Illinois pair taking a 4-0 lead, as Dancevic and Shamasdin made too many unforced errors to threaten to come back. Again it was up to Guignon to serve it out, and he did, at love, to give them the title.

According to the USTA's live stream announcer Mike Cation, the $3100 check they received can only be used for expenses but those are not confined to the expenses (or in this case, the lack thereof) of the current tournament. With the 80 points, they will both move up into the 600s in the ATP doubles rankings, which would get them seeded in Futures doubles competition should they try that in January.

In the Champaign singles final, top seed Adrian Mannarino of France won his second consecutive Pro Circuit Challenger, with the Knoxville champion defeating qualifier Fredrik Nielsen of Denmark 6-2, 6-2. With the two titles, the 26-year-old Mannarino will now move to a career high in the ATP rankings, beating his previous best of 49.

Wil Spencer continued his surprising run today at the Niceville Futures, beating No. 3 seed Jean Yves Aubone 6-3, 6-1 to reach the final of the $10,000 event.  The former Georgia All-American will face No. 7 seed Peter Nagy of Hungary in the final, after Nagy defeated 17-year-old Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-3.  Nagy is a senior on the Texas A&M-Corpus Christie team. Ken Thomas of has been providing play-by-play coverage of the tournament.

At the ITF Grade 4 at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Florida 14-year-old wild card Carson Branstine won her first ITF title. The Southern Californian, who won the 12s Clay Courts last year and was a finalist at the 12s Hard Courts, beat her first seed in today's final, downing No. 3 seed Jade Lewis of New Zealand 7-6(4), 6-3.  Branstine has only played in three ITF tournaments, all in the past three weeks, so it didn't take her long to break through.

The boys title went to No. 9 seed Ryan Storrie, a 16-year-old from Great Britain, who defeated unseeded 15-year-old Kyrylo Tsygura 6-1, 6-2 in the final.  Tsygura had stopped the winning streak of top seed Sam Riffice in the semifinals, beating the winner of the past two ITF Grade 4s in the US 6-7(9), 6-4, 7-5.   The title was Storrie's second, both this fall. He also made the final in Wichita Falls, losing to Riffice.

Branstine made it a sweep, winning the doubles title with Taylor Johnson. Branstine and Johnson, unseeded, beat Emma Decoste and Kariann Pierre-Louis, also unseeded, 2-6, 7-5, 11-9 in the final. Johnson and Branstine also won the Atlanta ITF doubles title two weeks ago.

William Howells also picked up his second doubles title in three weeks. Howells, who won Atlanta with Johnathan Small, partnered Sami Kirberg this week and the pair defeated Jacob Hansen and Robert Loeb 6-2, 4-6, 10-7 in the final.  Both teams were unseeded.