Thursday, September 24, 2020

Thirteen-year-old Fruhvirtova Receives French Open Junior Wild Card; 10 US Men, 18 US Women in Singles Main Draws; Ginsberg's Tennis Connection

The wild cards for the French Open Junior Championships were released today by the French Tennis Federation, with 15 of the 16 going to French juniors. The one exception was a wild card granted to 13-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, who won the only ITF junior tournament she's played since becoming eligible in April, earlier this month at the Grade 2 in Egypt. It's not unheard of for a player outside of France to receive a wild card--Alexandra Eala, who won Les Petits As in 2018 received a qualifying wild card to the French Open that year, but it is unusual. Whether she would have received a wild card without her performance in Czech exhibitions this summer, which included a win over WTA No. 62 Katerina Siniakova, is hard to say, but it certainly bolstered her case.

ITF Junior World No. 5 Robin Montgomery has withdrawn, leaving four US girls and four US boys in the French Open junior fields.

Roland Garros girls singles wild cards:

Océane Babel (FRA)                    

Flavie Brugnone (FRA)                                

Brenda Fruhvirtova (CZE)                          

Sarah Iliev (FRA)                       

Anaëlle Leclercq (FRA)                               

Laia Petretic (FRA)                   

Shanice Roignot (FRA)                       

Winner of the Roland-Garros Wild Card Series by OPPO  

Roland Garros boys singles wild cards:

Sean Cuenin (FRA)                     

Arthur Fils (FRA)                                 

Axel Garcian (FRA) 

Antoine Ghibaudo (FRA)                               

Mehdi Sadaoui (FRA)                               

Luca Van Assche (FRA)                                           

Max Westphal (FRA)

Winner of the Roland-Garros Wild Card Series by OPPO

The men's and women's doubles wild cards were also announced, with all players from France, except Leylah Fernandez of Canada, last year's girls champion, who received entry with fellow 18-year-old Diane Parry. The list of wild cards can be found here.

Day four of French Open qualifying didn't go well for the Americans on the schedule, with top seed Ann Li, No. 3 seed Caty McNally and Asia Muhammad all losing their second round matches. Varvara Lepchenko, who beat Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine 6-2, 7-5, is the only American woman remaining with a chance to reach the main draw. The 34-year-old will take on 2015 US Open girls champion Dalma Galfi of Hungary in Friday's third and final round

Ulises Blanch was the only American man who played his third round match Thursday. He lost to No. 2 seed Pedro Martinez of Spain 6-2, 6-3, but will take home 25,600 for making the third round of qualifying.

The three remaining American men will play on Friday, with Michael Mmoh playing Renzo Olivo of Argentina, Sebastian Korda facing No. 7 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia and Jack Sock taking on Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia. 

Two former college players will be making their slam main draw debuts at Roland Garros after picking up wins today. Former Illinois star Aleks Vukic of Australia defeated former Michigan star Jason Jung 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to qualify, while former USC standout Emilio Gomez of Ecuador saved two match points and beat Dmitry Popko of Kazakhstan 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(1) to earn his place in the main draw. Gomez, who had taken out top seed Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil in the first round, qualified for Roland Garros for the first time 30 years after his father Andres won the men's singles title in Paris over Andre Agassi. 

The qualifying draws can be found here.

The men's and women's singles draws were released today, with 18 US women and 10 US men competing for the title. 

I'll have the first round matchups for them this weekend, but these are the women: Cici Bellis, Bernarda Pera, Amanda Anisimova[25], Coco Gauff, Shelby Rogers, Lauren Davis, Venus Williams, Serena Williams[6], Kristie Ahn, Jessica Pegula, Jennifer Brady[21], Danielle Collins, Christina McHale, Sofia Kenin[4], Madison Keys[12], Alison Riske[19], Sloane Stephens[29], Madison Brengle.  Bellis and Bernard will play each other, with Ahn drawing Serena in the first round for the second straight slam. Simona Halep, who did not play the US Open, is the top women's seed.

The men are Tennys Sandgren, Frances Tiafoe, Marcos Giron, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Taylor Fritz[27], Tommy Paul, Reilly Opelka, John Isner[21], Mackenzie McDonald. Novak Djokovic is the top men's seed.

As the country mourns the death last week of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, hundreds of stories of her impact have been recounted, including this one, from the New York Times, involving tennis in the pre-Title IX era. Abbe Seldin, a high school girl from New Jersey, had no girls tennis team to compete on, so she sued, with Ginsberg as one of her attorneys, to join the boys team. Although the lawsuit was decided in her favor, a change in coaches and less than a warm welcome from the boys on the team resulted in Seldin never playing on the team, but she had earned the opportunity thanks in no small part to Ginsberg.

This is the second time in two days I've referenced Roberta Alison Baumgardner, who played on the men's team at Alabama in the 1960s, but the opening of the article on Seldin struck me as similar to what I learned about Alison.
Abbe Seldin didn’t know or care too much about gender discrimination or equal rights or other weighty subjects.

She just wanted to play tennis.
That was the same impression I got from talking to those who knew Alison; the chance to compete was the motive, not any desire to pursue the cause of equal opportunity for all women. Alison had the good fortune to have a supportive coach, who had in fact recruited her to join the team, and accepting teammates, although she certainly encountered her share of sexism from opposing teams. For more on Alison Baumgardner, see my article for Tennis Recruiting Network.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Four US Men Advance to Final Round of Qualifying at French Open; ITA Announces Women's Hall of Fame Inductees; Iowa Rejects Attempts to Restore Men's Tennis; Stanford's Gould Talks College Tennis

Four of the five American men remaining of the 13 that began qualifying at Roland Garros, won their second round matches today to advance to the final round Thursday or Friday.

2016 Kalamazoo champion Michael Mmoh advanced when Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic retired trailing 7-6(3), 3-1; 19-year-old Sebastian Korda defeated former UNC star Brayden Schnur of Canada 6-4, 6-4; Jack Sock came back to win a tight one with No. 24 seed Facundo Bagnis of Argentina 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(1), and Ulises Blanch beat Gian Marco Moroni of Italy 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-3. This is just the third slam of the 22-year-old Blanch's career, and he had lost his first match in qualifying at the US Open in 2018 and dropped a five-set battle in the first round of the just-completed US Open, but he has plenty of experience on red clay, with a substantial amount of his development taking place in Argentina.

Blanch is the only one of the four Americans on Thursday's schedule; he plays No. 2 seed Pedro Martinez of Spain for a place in the main draw. Mmoh will play Renzo Olivo of Argentina; Korda faces No. 7 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia and Sock takes on Andrey Kuznetsov, also from Russia. 

Three of the four US women playing their first round qualifying matches advanced, with No. 3 seed Caty McNally, Asia Muhammad and Varvara Lepchenko picking up victories. They will join Ann Li[1] and Francesca Di Lorenzo, who won matches yesterday, in Thursday's second round. Li plays Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia; Muhammad faces Martina Trevisan of Italy; McNally plays former Pepperdine star Mayar Sherif of Egypt; Di Lorenzo takes on Elena-Gabriela Ruse of Romania and Lepchenko faces Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine. 

The qualifying draws are here. The main draw is scheduled for release on Thursday at noon Eastern time. 

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association announced its recent class of inductees in the Women's Collegiate Hall of Fame yesterday, with former Georgia star Lisa Spain Short, former Northwestern star Diane Donnelly Stone, former USC star AnnaMaria Fernandez-Ruffels and former University of Indiana women's coach Lin Loring. Donnelly Stone is the daughter of longtime Kalamazoo National Championship volunteers Bud and Carol Donnelly, and the aunt of USTA Winter Nationals 14s Champion Susanna Maltby.  

They will be honored at the induction ceremony in Williamsburg Virginia on September 18, 2021.  

I hope that Alabama's Roberta Alison Baumgardner, who I wrote about this spring for the Tennis Recruiting Network, will be considered for posthumous indiction into the Collegiate Hall of Fame when the next class is selected.

When the Big Ten decided to play football this fall, after previously postponing the season, there was hope that the decision to drop four sports, including men's tennis, would be re-examined, but that appears to have been dashed with this statement. The student-athletes affected have been critical of the administration's handling of the cuts, according to this The Gazette article, with men's tennis Jason Kerst saying: 

“We have received no adequate follow-up since August 21st, The decision itself is very disappointing, but the lack of communication and transparency from our own administration is probably the most frustrating.”

Meanwhile, a Save Iowa Sports fundraising campaign has been launched, with 1.65 million pledged in the early going. 

That number may sound impressive, but one of many things I learned from a recent conversation that Andy Katz had with former Stanford men's tennis coach Dick Gould, is that that would be nowhere near enough to convince the athletic department to save a sport.

In this wide-ranging interview in the USTA ITA College Tennis Chats series, embedded below, Gould says it took him years to understand the necessity for the endowments and decades to work toward financial independence for Stanford tennis. Gould talks about how tennis has changed, where American tennis might be heading, the prevalence of international players in Division I, how he connected the Palo Alto community to the tennis programs, and how a coach should be dividing his working hours between his team and outreach. All in all, it's an interesting behind the scenes look at what is necessary to build a successful Division I program.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Updated Schedule for 2020 ITF USA Junior Circuit and USTA Pro Circuit Events; Just Two Wins for Americans Today in French Open Qualifying; Week 1 ITA Fall Tour Winners

I've received an update today from the USTA on the calendar of events in the United States for the rest of the year for the ITF Junior Circuit and USTA Pro Circuit. Obviously, this is tentative, with changes in health and safety protocols, whether by governments, governing bodies or facilities themselves, always possible.

I also want to make sure to point out that the USTA told me, counter to what the Tyler Texas women's tournament stated on their website yesterday, that there will not be an Australian Open Wild Card Challenge this fall for the 2021 tournament in Melbourne. 

I'm excited about the news that the Orange Bowl 16s and 18s is on for December, and will be a Grade A. The Eddie Herr website, which had initially given September 18 as the decision date for its tournament, has now pushed that back to September 30. 

ITF Junior Circuit:

Oct 17-23 J4 Atlanta 

Oct 24-30 J4 Lexington - relocated to USTA National Campus (Orlando)

Oct 31- Nov 5 J4 Boca Raton - relocated to Florida Tennis Center (Daytona Beach)

Nov 30- Dec 6 J1 Bradenton Eddie Herr - details still TBD

Dec 6 - 13 GA Plantation Orange Bowl: 

B/G 16s and 18s scheduled as planned

MDS/QS draws reduced to 48, MDD reduced to 24

Will remain a Grade A tournament

Pro Circuit, Men's and Women's Events:

Week of:

October 19: M15 Vero Beach FL,  W80 Macon GA 

October 26: M25 Harlingen TX,  W80 Tyler TX

November 2: M15 Fayetteville AR, W100 Charleston SC

November 9: ATP 80 Cary NC

November 16: ATP 80 National Campus Orlando

Not much to report from Roland Garros qualifying today, with just two Americans picking up victories. Ann Li, the top seed, defeated Indy de Vroome of the Netherlands 7-6(6), 6-4 and No. 10 seed Francesca Di Lorenzo beat Marina Melnikova of Russia 6-4, 6-0 to advance to the second round. Five other US women lost today, with four others playing their first round matches on Wednesday: Asia Muhammad, Varvara Lepchenko, Caty McNally[3] and Allie Kiick.

Both Thai Kwiatkowski and Bradley Klahn[22] lost their first round matches today, meaning five US men have advanced to Wednesday's second round.

Michael Mmoh will play Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, Sebastian Korda plays former North Carolina star Brayden Schnur of Canada, Jack Sock faces No. 24 seed Facundo Bagnis of Argentina, Ulises Blanch takes on Gian Marco Moroni of Italy and Christopher Eubanks(Georgia Tech) plays Steven Diez of Canada. 

Qualifying draws are here.

Week 1 of the ITA Fall Tour by UTR is in the books, with the names of the champions at the 11 events across the country below. The ITA has posted its recap here, which includes an update on the top two seeds at the Nebraska-Kearney tournament having to be withdrawn due to a Covid-19 situation. Registration is open for many of the events scheduled for October.

Aurora: Men, Michael Choi; Women, Belen Nevenhoven

Charlottesville: Men, Alex Kiefer; Women, Anna Rogers

Indianapolis: Men, JJ Tracy; Women, Carrie Beckman

Alpharetta: Men, Andres Martin; Women, Paula Dougherty

Stillwater: Men, Etienne Donnet; Women, Liv Hovde(pictured above)

Salt Lake City: Men, Lawrence Sciglitano; Women, Anastasia Goncharova

Medina: Men, Connor Johnston; Women, Irina Cantos Siemers

Lawrence: Women only, Tiffany Lagarde

Lexington: Men only, Maxwell Benson

Kearney: Men, Julian Kenzlers; Women, Natsumi Kurahashi

College Station: Men, Anish Sriniketh; Women, Tatiana Makarova

Monday, September 21, 2020

Five US Men Advance to Second Round Qualifying at French Open, 11 Americans in Women's Qualifying Draw; ITF Junior Grade 4 Moving to Orlando; Sieg Sweeps Grade 5 Titles in Hungary; Women's $80K on in Texas

American men went 5-6 on the first day of qualifying at the French Open, with Ulises Blanch, Michael Mmoh, Christopher Eubanks, Jack Sock and Sebastian Korda earning victories today.

Blanch defeated French wild card Rayane Roumane 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; Mmoh beat Alex Bolt of Australia 6-4, 6-3; Eubanks defeated French wild card Geoffrey Blancaneaux 6-2, 7-5; Sock downed Mikhail Torpegaard of Denmark 6-2, 6-4 and Korda defeated Mitchell Krueger 6-1, 6-4. 

The two remaining American men in qualifying, Bradley Klahn and Thai Kwiatkowski, are on Tuesday's schedule

The men's qualifying draw, with all results, is here

The women's qualifying begins on Tuesday, with 11 Americans looking for a one of the 12 qualifying spots in the main draw. Ann Li, who plays Indy De Vroome of the Netherlands in the first round, is the top seed in qualifying, with Caty McNally, who plays Pemra Ozgen of Turkey, the No. 3 seed. Five other US women are seeded: Former Ohio State star Francesca Di Lorenzo[10] plays Marina Melnikova of Russia; Caroline Dolehide faces Mayo Hibi of Japan; Usue Arconada[18] plays Martina Di Giuseppi of Italy; Sachia Vickery[21] faces Martina Trevisan of Italy and Whitney Osuigwe[23] faces wild card Carole Monnet of France. 

Robin Anderson(UCLA) will play No. 20 seed Xinyu Wang of China; Asia Muhammad faces French wild card Audrey Albie, Varvara Lephchenko plays Xiaodi You of China and Allie Kiick faces Julia Grabher of Austria.

McNally, Lepchenko, Muhammad and Kiick are not on Tuesday's schedule.

Roland Garros announced today that one woman who was set to play qualifying tested positive for the Covid-19 virus and was withdrawn from the field. The name of the player has not been released. 

The women's qualifying draw, which is for 96 players, not a 128 draw like the men's, is here

I understand that the ITF Junior Grade 4 that was scheduled to take place in Lexington South Carolina the week of October 26th will move to Orlando Florida, due to Covid-19 concerns at the Lexington facility. The ITF Junior Circuit calendar still is showing the name as Lexington, but the ITF tournament fact sheet now has the USTA's Alex Cercone as the tournament director. 

Normally players in the Top 60 like Madison Sieg and Ellie Coleman don't bother with Grade 5 tournaments, but they played one in Hungary last week (possible that it was downgraded due to the pandemic) and met again in the final, just as they had done earlier this month at a Grade 2 in Serbia. Coleman, seeded No. 2, won that encounter over top seed Sieg, but yesterday No. 1 seed Sieg defeated No. 2 seed Coleman 6-4, 6-4. The 17-year-olds also won the doubles title, as the top seeds, beating the unseeded Hungarian team of Vanesa Danko and Kitti Molnar 6-4, 7-5 in the final and getting valuable clay matches in advance of the French Junior Championships in two weeks.

The USTA has not publicly released a calendar for its Pro Circuit this fall, but today an $80,000 women's tournament, the Bellartorum Resources Pro Classic, announced that it is indeed happening, October 26 through November 1 in Tyler Texas. In addition, the article says the tournament is again part of the USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Challenge, which I had thought might not happen in 2021, as no Australian was extended a wild card for the 2020 US Open. In addition, the article mentions Macon and Charleston as the other tournaments that are part of the wild card competition, but does not give dates.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Thirteen US Men Poised to Begin French Open Qualifying; Five Positive Covid-19 Tests Shake Up Draw; Teens Rune, Mutavdzic and Zheng Claim ITF World Tennis Tour Titles

In the year of the crazy tennis calendar (among other things), the Italian Open is not yet complete, but qualifying for Roland Garros will begin Monday, the day of the finals in Rome

Thirteen American men are in the 128-player qualifying draw, with 11 on Monday's schedule. 

Ulises Blanch, one of the last players to get into qualifying, will face French wild card Rayane Roumane and former UCLA star Maxime Cressy, who grew up in France and represented that country until just a couple of years ago, will also play a French wild card, Kyrian Jacquet. The third American to draw a French wild card is Christopher Eubanks, the former Georgia Tech star, who will play 2016 French Open boys champion Geoffrey Blancaneaux.

Three Americans are seeded in the qualifying: No. 6 seed Denis Kudla, who plays Enose Couacaud of France; No. 10 JJ Wolf, who plays Roberto Marcora of Italy, and No. 22 Bradley Klahn, who is not on Monday's schedule, but faces Roman Safiullin of Russia in the first round.

The only American v American battle is between Mitchell Krueger and Sebastian Korda.

Jack Sock's opponent is former Ohio State star Mikhail Torpegaard of Denmark, Noah Rubin plays No. 19 seed Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, Michael Mmoh faces Alex Bolt of Australia, and Brandon Nakashima takes on Juan Pablo Ficovich of Argentina. 

2017 NCAA champion Thai Kwiatkowski, who, like Klahn, is not on Monday's schedule, will play Facundo Mena of Argentina in the first round. 

The men's qualifying draw can be found here.

Unfortunately the big news of the day was not the qualifying draw, but the fact that five players had to be withdrawn from the tournament due to positive tests for Covid-19. The statement from Roland Garros did not name the players, two of whom tested positive themselves, while three were eliminated from the qualifying due to positive tests of their coaches. But according to Stephanie Myles, one of the five was American Ernesto Escobedo. See her reporting here for more on the developing situation. 

It was a great day for teenagers on the ITF World Tennis Tour, with three of them claiming titles. Seventeen-year-old Holger Rune of Denmark won his first title at the $25,000 tournament in Klosters Switzerland, with the unseeded 2019 French Open Boys champion defeating No. 5 seed Jesper De Jong of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-2 in the final. Rune, who won all four of his previous matches in three sets, was  playing in his first ITF World Tennis Tour final. 

At the $15,000 ITF women's tournament in Spain, 16-year-old Matilda Mutavdzik of Great Britain, playing in just her third ITF World Tennis event, earned her first title. The unseeded Mutavdzik, who has a much less impressive junior resume than Rune, defeated No. 3 seed Yvonne Cavalle-Reimers of Spain 6-2, 7-5 in today's final. Mutavdzik had beaten world No. 1 junior Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals. 

Seventeen-year-old Qinwen Zheng of China has been rolling on European clay since the restart, and today she won her third title, all in the past month, at the $25,000 tournament in the Czech Republic. Zheng, who had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the main draw, overcame No. 4 seed Gabriela Talaba of Romania 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 in today's final. Zheng, a semifinalist and the French and US Open junior championships last year, has now won 19 of her last 20 matches. 

I am frankly surprised at the success of these younger players during this restart; I had expected that they would struggle as higher ranked and more experienced players filled all these draws. But the ITF's expanded junior exemption program, a part of the much-maligned World Tennis Tour restructuring, has proven to be extremely valuable in giving them a chance to compete at the higher levels. And to their credit, they have taken full advantage of those opportunities.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Does Tennis Owe Its Players a Living? Nava Brothers Win Doubles Title in Portugal; Koepfer's Journey from 'Pretty Terrible' in College to ATP Top 70; Zheng Reaches Another $25K Final

Early this month The Ringer published a lengthy look at the financial struggles of lower ranked professional tennis players, focusing on former Tennessee star Hunter Reese. Paul Wachter, who wrote the article Does Tennis Owe Its Players a Living?, played at Division III Swarthmore in the 1990s, so he knows enough about the the structure of the sport and the level necessary to succeed to explore the nuances involved. (He is wrong about Reese getting an "automatic" US Open doubles wild card in 2014; no NCAA wild cards are automatic, and because his partner Mikelis Libietis was from Latvia, Reese was offered a wild card with another American. Also, the US Open and French Open are not ATP Masters events).

Earlier this summer, I published an article from high school senior Nicholas Wernink that looked into the financial inequities in pro tennis, particularly on the Challenger Tour. Those issues are also explored by Wachter, with 2017 NCAA champion Thai Kwiatkowski also weighing in on the perils of being outside the Top 100. The lack of work available for the past six months, particularly in the United States, has just added to the stress; the entire sport of tennis is going to have to continue to deal with the fallout from the pandemic and finding solutions to this decade-old problem is not going to be a high priority. 

Reese did find his way to Europe for Challengers this month, playing in France last week and reaching the semifinals of the Challenger in Romania this week with former Notre Dame star Alex Lawson. Whether those paychecks will cover his expenses is another question, but I'm sure he is happy to just be back playing. 

I hope the USTA is able to figure out a way to schedule some Pro Circuit and Challenger tournaments yet this year; it's tough enough to try to stay afloat as a player when you have opportunities to earn income. Without that, it's impossible.

Emilio Nava lost his quarterfinal singles match to qualifier Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain Friday, but he and his older brother Eduardo won their first professional doubles title at the $15,000 tournament in Portugal today. The Navas, who beat the No. 2 seeds in the semifinals, defeated the unseeded German team of Sebastian Fanselow and Maik Steiner 6-3, 6-4 in today's final. Fanselow, the former Pepperdine star, has reached the singles final, where he'll play 2019 Wimbledon boys finalist Carlos Gimeno Valero of Spain. 

Former Tulane star Dominik Koepfer of Germany lost to ATP No. 1 Novak Djokovic today in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open, but he managed to come back from a set and a break down to force a third set before falling 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Koepfer, who will move into the ATP Top 70 with his showing in Rome, was featured in this ATP website article, which quotes him as saying he was a "pretty terrible" college player at the beginning of his career.

Dominik Koepfer says attending Tulane University beginning in Fall 2012 was an easy choice because he, “didn’t really have one”. It was the only Division I institution to offer him a spot on its team.

"I went to college, but wasn't very good. I would say I was pretty terrible the first year,” Koepfer said. “But I started to work my way up."
Koepfer may not have been impressive early in his Tulane career, but he won one of the collegiate majors, the Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in 2015, and was No. 1 in the country most of his senior year of 2015-16, before finishing at No. 4. He certainly should serve as an inspiration to any player who might have had a late start in the sport and didn't receive a lot of recruiting attention.
China's Qinwen Zheng, who turns 18 in a couple of weeks, has been extraordinarily busy since the end of the shutdown, playing five consecutive weeks on the European clay. After a quarterfinal appearance in her first tournament, Zheng won back-to-back events, a $15K and a 25K, before falling in the second round of a $25K last week. Although her WTA ranking rose more than 200 places, to 410, with those results, Zheng had to qualify at the $25,000 tournament this week in the Czech Republic, but after three qualifying victories and four main draw victories, she has reached another final. She swamped No. 2 seed Victoria Kan of Russia 6-0, 6-1 in the first round and surrendered just two games to Katie Volynets in the second round. In Sunday's final, she will face No. 4 seed Gabriela Talaba of Romania, the former Texas Tech star.