Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Division I Wright State Eliminates Men's and Women's Tennis; Recruiting Dead Period Extended Through July; Webinar Thursday: How to Get Recruited During a Pandemic

Division I Wright State, located in Dayton Ohio, announced today that it would be dropping three sports: men's tennis, women's tennis and softball. As has been the case with other Division I programs dropped in the past several months (East Carolina, Appalachian State, Wisconsin-Green Bay), scholarships will be honored for those who wish to stay on at the school, rather than transfer to play tennis elsewhere. Akron, which dropped women's tennis, is the only D-I school who did not offer to continue the scholarships.

The problem for Wright State is that they were already at the minimum of 14 sports to qualify for Division I status. Even if they remain in compliance with Title IX (which they explain here), they are now three sports short. The announcement says they will pursue a waiver from the NCAA, but when a reduction in that requirement was raised early in the NCAA's pandemic response, it was rejected, so I would be surprised if Wright State gets approval, especially because they are now three sports shy now.

An interesting contrast in sports numbers is found in this announcement from Brown, which is reducing its number of varsity sports from 38 to 29, with 11 sports now club level and two others moving up to varsity status. Fortunately tennis was not among those, but squash, golf and track and field are being downgraded, while two sailing teams are being elevated. The lack of Ivy League titles is mentioned as a factor, and Brown has not been a contender in tennis, so that is something to watch going forward.

And to follow up on Division II Alabama-Huntsville, which dropped its tennis programs last month, as well as its men's hockey program, which competed at the Division I level, there is good news for the latter. After an impressive fund raising effort, which brought in $750,000, hockey will be reinstated. Two former Huntsville players, now in the NHL, are among those contributing.

The Mountain West conference has announced it will eliminate its conference tournaments for men and women tennis as a cost-saving measure. The regular season conference champions will receive the automatic NCAA bids.

Last week the NCAA announced that the dead period for in-person recruiting, initially set to expire on June 30, has been extended to July 31. The reason given is that coaches should be focusing on the student-athletes returning to campus this summer, but those are mostly in fall sports. It would seem to make more sense to have this rule be tailored to each sport's normal recruiting patterns: once the campuses open up this summer, it would seem that it would be an ideal time for tennis coaches to host potential recruits.

In that vein, I received an email from the USTA today with a link to sign up for a Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) webinar called "Tennis Recruiting: How to Get Recruited During a Pandemic".
It is scheduled for Thursday, June 4, at 7 p.m. Central time. The link to register for the virtual event is here. Below is a brief description of the event.

The NCAA’s suspension of in-person recruiting, followed by numerous academic updates from the Eligibility Center, has left recruits with more questions than answers. 

What do these changes mean for your recruiting journey? How will they impact coaches’ recruiting plans? Will the recruiting process for every college sport be impacted?

Join us as Lindsay Milo, Director of Regional Recruiting from NCSA, present on these topics along with providing a look at what college coaches are sharing with the NCSA team.

If you are new to NCSA and do not have a free profile already, by registering for this virtual event a profile will be created and will provide you with nationwide exposure to college coaches.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

May Aces; Decision on Kalamazoo USTA Nationals Expected Later This Month; Western & Southern Open to Move to New York?

Another month without any tennis results meant going back to the archives to continue my monthly Aces column for Tennis Recruiting Network. I located 15 performances from past Mays, beginning with 16-year-old Simona Halep in 2008, though 2014's Andrey Rublev and Danielle Collins, with all the players featured going on to reach the ATP or WTA Top 100 in subsequent years. I did the same for April last month, with that column here (subscription required for full access.)

Andy Pepper, a local sports announcer at WWMT, the CBS affiliate in Kalamazoo, provided an update on the status of the USTA Boys 18 and 16 National Championships in Kalamazoo in this article. Whether the 78th edition of the Kalamazoo tournament will take place this August is a decision that will be made by the USTA, and while that decision had been expected on June 8th, it now appears it will be the following week instead. Despite living here, I have no inside information on how the tournament would look or change, but I suspect the number of players mentioned in this article--450, the usual number in a normal year-- could be revised downward. I do know that, as of last week, the nets were not up at the Stowe Stadium site, so the sense of being "back-to-normal" in Kalamazoo is just not there. But with the Michigan Stay at Home order lifted now for most businesses and gatherings, there is reason to be optimistic. From the WWMT article on the new rules for physical activity:

Gyms and fitness centers can offer outdoor activities such as classes, practices, training sessions and games as long as participants, coaches and spectators stay six feet apart.

Chris Clarey of the New York Times published an exclusive today that reveals that the USTA is considering moving the Western and Southern Open, the WTA Premier and ATP Masters event in Mason Ohio in August, to New York, to be played at the National Tennis Center. Clarey also provides quite a few other details, several of which were mentioned in the recent Associated Press article, about what would and would not be a part of the US Open. Unfortunately, the junior event appears as if it would be a casualty, which isn't surprising really, but disappointing. With no fans on the ground and no television interest, there's really no reason to have the junior (or legends) tournaments, as it would just complicate all the safety protocols and logistics.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Texas Tops Women's 2020 Recruiting Class Rankings; Bryan Brothers on Their Junior, College Development; Holt Wins Money Tournament in Southern California

The Tennis Recruiting Network's rankings for the 2020 women's classes were revealed today, with the University of Texas landing in the No. 1 spot for the first time as the Longhorns welcome blue chips Charlotte Chavatipon, Peyton Stearns and Malaika Rapolu this fall. The only previous Top 10 ranking for Texas was back in 2010, and they have not had a ranked recruiting class since 2012.

Georgia Tech is No. 2 in the rankings, followed by Cal, Virginia and North Carolina. Michigan, Stanford, Harvard, USC and Georgia round out the Top 10.

The full list, which extends to 25, can be found here. I am one of 19 contributors who voted on this year's classes. The men's rankings, which came out last Monday, are here.

Today's USTA Player Development Learning Series webinar featured the Bryan brothers, who talked at length with host Johnny Parkes about how they navigated the long journey to the top of professional tennis.

Wayne and Kathy Bryan are famous for their tennis parenting, and Mike spoke about how they set the tone for the twins' development.

"They knew they had to build us up as people first," Mike Bryan said. "They did a great job of making it fun for us, so we developed that passion for the game. They didn't have to drag us out to the courts; we were pushing them to drive us over there, because we loved the game so much. They knew how to make it fun, they put us in these games and it was very stimulating. It's wasn't just a ball machine, doing hand feeds for three, four hours. It was just a fun environment."

"They did a great job," Bob said. "They made us write thank-you letters; they just wanted us to be good people. And it wasn't just about tennis. It was about the academics, the music, so there was a good balance there."

Parkes asked them who their role models were growing up, and it was Andre Agassi that made the biggest impression on them as juniors.

"Agassi was our god, our room was posterized," Bob said. "He had that flair, he was an entertainer, it was fun to watch, he had the long hair. We were members of his fan club. But he had some tough times, when he dropped to almost 200 in the world. We loved the way he dealt with the adversity, bounced back. He changed his whole tune, became an amazing professional, the way he gave back, the way he dealt with those road blocks. Because that's what is going to make you a champion, the way you deal times when you're going through a tough patch."

"We had doubles idols actually growing up," Mike said. "We went to our first Davis Cup match, in Lacosta in 1988?, and saw Ricky Leach, and going down to the court, he actually said a few words to us...and we thought wow, we can be like him maybe, be great doubles players too. The Jensens had so much passion and enthusiasm...we got the chest bump from them. They would stay an hour after every match to sign every autograph. And we took stuff from the Woodys--they were so professional, used strategy, all the tactics.

"We picked up things from a lot of people and had a lot of mentors. Dick Gould was a great mentor, our coach at Stanford. We grew up so much in college because we came in there kind of punks. We really had to develop socially, mentally. If we would have turned pro at 18, we would have gotten chewed up and spit out. We needed those two years to just evolve as people and he really moved us along there. Taught us to be respectful to opponents....Jay Berger, we traveled with him to all the junior grand slams, and his work ethic was just insane....He'd take us out there and beat us with his own racquet."

After the conversation with the Bryans, the focus of the webinar turned to returning safely to the courts, with presentations from Mental Skills specialist Dr. Larry Lauer, Performance Director Brent Salazar and National Coaches Maureen Diaz and Jamea Jackson. The webinar should be available on demand by Tuesday at the Learning Series web page.

With tennis competition returning to some parts of the country, the Learning Series will now go from weekly to monthly, with the next one scheduled for Monday, July 13th. There is an open Tennis Industry United webinar on Wednesday however, with Dr. Alexis Colvin discussing the safe return of tennis. Registration for the 1 p.m. webinar Wednesday is here.

Money tournaments have been popping up across the country in the past several weeks (here's one in Indianapolis starting June 12), and one in Southern California, which concluded yesterday, had an impressive field.  Brandon Holt, the recent USC graduate (who is not returning for a fifth year), won the event, which included Brandon Nakashima, Marcos Giron and Sam Querrey, among others. Below is the report from Steve Pratt.

Holt Avenges Loss To Querrey; Captures Latest “Backyard Barnstorming Tour” Event 

Just days after announcing he had turned professional, recently graduated USC All-American Brandon Holt captured a non-sanctioned “Backyard Barnstorming Tour” tournament with three impressive wins over the weekend.

The 22-year-old Holt, who is ranked just inside the top 500 on the ATP World Tour, opened the money event at the Knollwood Tennis Club in Montecito, Calif., beating top American ATP pro Sam Querrey in Group 1, which also included Jason Jung and Masa Perera, whose father Laxman Perera sponsored the event.

Group 2 included Southern California pros Brandon Nakashima, Marcos Giron, Emilio Nava and UCLA player Govind Nanda.

Holt avenged a finals loss to Querrey from two weeks ago at the Home Court Advantage exhibition in Rolling Hills, Calif., and finished second to Jung in his group on Saturday to advance to the semifinals Sunday.

Sunday’s format was a first-to-four games, no-ad 10-point tiebreaker to decide the third set. Nanda defeated Jason Jung, 4-0, 4-3, in one semifinal on Sunday with Holt getting past Nakashima in the other semifinal, 10-5 in the tiebreaker.

In the final, Holt beat Nanda, 4-3, 4-1, to take home the $4,000 top prize with Nanda earning $2,500.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Gauff, Osaka, Tiafoe Speak Out; Allaster Provides a Look at US Open Scenarios

Those of you who read my posts regularly know I focus solely on tennis news, with an emphasis on junior and college players. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought public health conversations into the forefront recently and with very little actual tennis to cover, I've tried to provide news about how it has affected tennis. But I haven't tried to go beyond that, because that's not why you read this.

In other words, I "stick to sports", which, unfortunately, seems like a luxury now. The past few days, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, have been heart-breaking, disturbing, frightening and maddening. My memories of 1968, one of the worst years in this country's history, come flooding back, and although my despair is obviously insignificant when compared to those less privileged, those who have suffered so much, it's real to me. And ignoring that right now seems insincere. So consider this my statement in support of social justice and law enforcement accountability and against all the forces working against those fundamental principles.

Sixteen-year-old Coco Gauff and 22-year-old Naomi Osaka are using their platforms to call attention to the disheartening litany of African-American deaths, and Steve Tignor at tennis.com has written about the ways both have added to the conversation, as well as the other tennis players who have addressed topics outside the sport of tennis.

2015 Kalamazoo champion Frances Tiafoe and his girlfriend Ayan Broomfield, the 2019 NCAA doubles champion at UCLA, released this video on social media today:

As for tennis, yesterday the Associated Press talked with USTA's head of Pro Tennis Stacey Allaster about the status of the US Open, and she said that having the event in New York, during the usual two-week period this summer, is the most likely scenario. Among the issues discussed are testing, charter flights, entourage sizes, number of officials, ballrunners, and reduced sets for men. New locker rooms and procedures around that area of the tournament and practice protocols are discussed as well.

As for fans being in attendance, the AP article features several quotes from Lew Sherr, the USTA's chief revenue officer, on that topic.
[He] told the AP it is "less and less likely" spectators would be at the US Open this year. 
That, Sherr said, means "forgoing ticketing revenue, forgoing hospitality revenue, forgoing a portion of your sponsorship revenue." But TV and digital-rights fees, plus remaining sponsorship dollars, are "significant enough that it's still worth it to go forward with a no-fans-on-site US Open," he said.
As of now, according to Allaster, the USTA will make its decision regarding the US Open in mid- to late-June.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

USTA Authorizes Sections to Make Re-Opening Decisions While National Campus Remains Closed; Bryan Brothers Headline Monday's USTA Learning Series Webinar

Earlier this week, the USTA changed its policy from a blanket shutdown of all its sanctioned events nationwide to one that leaves the decision about resuming tournaments to the individual sections.  Here is the USTA's announcement:
The USTA recognizes that the coronavirus has been affecting different parts of the country in different ways and with different timing. Because of that, it will be possible for people to return to playing tennis safely in some cities and states sooner than in others.
At present, stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders have been lifted or modified in some communities, and some are phasing tennis back in as a safe, or in certain cases, an “essential,” activity.
 Beginning June 1, the suspension of USTA Sanctioned products and events noted below will now be at the discretion of the USTA Sections and local health authorities. These USTA Sanctioned products and events include:
• Adult and Junior Tournaments
• USTA League
• USTA Junior Team Tennis
• USTA Social Leagues
• Team Challenge
• Team Tournaments
• USTA School Programs
• Tennis on Campus
• Wheelchair Tennis 
Few sections are resuming tournaments however, and many have now canceled their sectional events. With the USTA now allowing only one level 3 national tournament in 2020, sections who have already had such an event are not allowed to have their summer sectional closed. That includes Texas, which had a level 3 in January, and therefore has now canceled, rather than postponed, its annual May Grand Slam. Middle States has also canceled its summer sectional. New England has officially postponed its June sectional and is not allowing play prior to July 1. Eastern is targeting July 1 as a possible return date, with Florida also not holding tournaments until after June 30.

One of the sections who is moving ahead with tournaments in June is Missouri Valley, with Oklahoma hosting an event next weekend and Junior Team Tennis restarting on the 15th.

For specific updates from a particular section, use this usta.com page.

The USTA's National Campus remains closed, but the good news is that the "closed through" date was moved from May 31st to June 7. I have heard that although there will be no tournaments there in June (due to USTA Florida canceling all events through June 30), the campus is expected to reopen at some point during the month.

After a week off for the Memorial Day holiday, the USTA Player Development Learning Series is back on Monday, June 1, with Mike and Bob Bryan the featured guests for the webinar entitled "How to be Champions On and Off the Court and Returning to Play Safely." In addition to the Bryans, presenters include Brent Salazar, Director of Performance, Dr. Larry Lauer, Mental Skills Specialist, and USTA National Coaches Jamea Jackson and Maureen Diaz.

To register for the 3 p.m. EDT webinar, go to this page.

Friday, May 29, 2020

ITA Summer Circuit Set to Start Next Month; Nakashima and Fila Give Shoes to Thank San Diego Health Workers; ITA National Junior College Awards

Almost everything I've had to report regarding tennis tournaments has been cancellations, so it was great to find a series of summer events that are still on schedule, with the ITA Summer Circuit planning to debut on June 20 at the El Dorado Tennis Center in Long Beach California. As you would expect, the Summer Circuit has been pared down considerably, with many college campuses just not prepared to hold tournaments in the next two months. But with so many playing opportunities already lost, the ITA has been able to work with tournament directors to find alternative sites, and more could be added for the final three weeks of the Circuit in July and August. For more on what the Circuit will look like this year, see this article I wrote for Tennis Recruiting Network.

Health care workers display shoes donated by Nakashima and Fila
Eighteen-year-old Brandon Nakashima of San Diego has seen his rapid rise up the ATP rankings stalled by the pandemic shutdown, but he is participating in the Grand Slam Tennis Tours Matchplay 120 competition that was recently organized, beating Ernesto Escobedo 7-6(2), 6-4 last night in Los Angeles. While preparing to return to the courts, Nakashima found time to show his appreciation those on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic in the San Diego area, teaming with his new sponsor Fila to distribute free shoes to them.

I was sent this update on Brandon and his donation last night; the video report is from a local television station:

18-year-old Brandon Nakashima was on an amazing run.  In less than 7 months beginning in September 2019 his ATP ranking moved from 900 to 218.  This ranking rise included Brandon first ATP 250 Tour event where he capitalize on a WC from TD Mark Baron, reaching the quarter finals.  His last event was in March at the Oracle Series Challenger at Indian Wells Tennis Center where he reached the semi-finals before losing to Jack Sock, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.   BNP tournament director Tommy Haas was impressed and gave Brandon a wild card into the ATP BNP 1000 starting the next week.  But just two days later the BNP was cancelled and eventually all professional tennis.  The Coronavirus had put a temporary end to Brandon’s amazing run.   

So, what would a typical 18-year-old professional tennis player do with extra time on his hands?  Spend time playing video games and checking his social media?  Not Brandon!  Both of Brandon’s parents are healthcare professionals working in the hospital and clinic.  His Dad works as an ICU Clinical Pharmacist at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla and his Mom is a Pharmacy Supervisor at Sharp Rees Stealy in Sorrento Mesa. So, Brandon was keenly aware of the sacrifices being made by healthcare professionals to fight this deadly virus. 

Just getting started on the tour Brandon did not have any money to donate but he did have Fila, his shoe and clothing sponsor.  So, Brandon came up with the Fila, “Front Line” shoe donation initiative.  Brandon saw it as an opportunity to help boost the morale of these healthcare professionals. Nothing better than a great pair of running shoes for urgent care professionals who are on their feet for 10 to 14 hours a day!!  It was a perfect way to express his appreciation and gratitude to these selfless front line workers during this Covid -19 crisis. 

Brandon ended up giving over 40 pairs of Fila shoes to the Urgent Care physicians and nurses at the Sharp Rees-Stealy Clinic in Sorrento Mesa on May 13.  

When asked why he wants to give back and what are his goals Brandon said, “Being surrounded by my parents who both are healthcare providers and contributors in serving patients, it’s just become natural for me to have a deep contribution mindset and heart of helping others and giving back to society. It’s simply so rewarding and fulfilling to help others feel good. Ultimately, I’d like to utilize my tennis skills to be an athlete philanthropist to have a positive impact to the underprivileged student athletes through education and sport initiatives.” 

Look for Brandon when the ATP tour reopens. 

The final ITA virtual National Awards Ceremony was streamed on YouTube today, with the Junior College winners listed below.

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: James McWilliams, Jones College
ITA Player to Watch: Gabriel Ortiz, Seward County Community College
ITA Rookie of the Year: Gabriel Ortiz, Seward County Community College
ITA Most Improved Sophomore: Juan David Ramirez, Laredo Community College
ITA Sophomore Player of the Year: Sander Jans, Seward County Community College

JUCO Women:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Danielle Viljoen, Jones College
ITA Player to Watch: Yu Yue, Tyler Junior College
ITA Rookie of the Year: Emelie Schwarte, Tyler Junior College
ITA Most Improved Sophomore: Ali Grace Walker, East Central Community College
ITA Senior Player of the Year: Tatiana Simova, ASA College (Miami)