Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Organized Regional Tennis Competition Now Worldwide Trend; ITA Division III National Award Winners; Division III Earlham Drops Men's and Women's Tennis

As tennis returns throughout the world, competition is following, with non-sanctioned regional circuits spring up everywhere.

The United States has had several exhibitions going for several weeks in Bradenton, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Southern California and Atlanta, with more such events being added, with the Grand Slam Tennis Tour's MatchPlay 120 the most recent addition.

Kamakshi Tandon at Tennis.com has a rundown of the events in Europe, with Novak Djokovic's Adria Tour leading the way, with Thiem, Zverev and Dimitrov among those committed to the two-day events, scheduled for four weekends beginning June 13. Czech men and women are currently playing in other federation events, with others scheduled or underway in Austria, Germany and Croatia.

New Zealand has established a Premier League, which begins June 3, and it will feature former Cal star Ben McLachlan and former TCU All-American Cameron Norrie, both of who do not play under the New Zealand flag, but have roots in the country.

Great Britain will have a national competition in July, with the country's top 16 players eligible to compete.

The obvious question now is whether the USTA will organize a similar competition for US players at the National Campus in July, particularly if the US Open is given the go-ahead and they may need ways to distribute some wild cards.

Results from most of the competitions now being played can be found here.

The ITA Division III virtual awards ceremony was streamed on You Tube today, with the winners listed below. The NAIA awards are next, on Thursday.

Division III Women:

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Ashley Schmitz, Randolph College

ITA Player to Watch: Erika Oku, Kenyon College

ITA Rookie of the Year: Justine Leong, CMS

ITA Most Improved Senior: Ellie Czura Sewanee

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Catherine Allen, CMS

Division III Men:

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Alexis Dimanche, Southwestern University

ITA Player to Watch: Moses Hutchinson, University of Mary Washington

ITA Rookie of the Year: James Hopper, Case Western Reserve

ITA Most Improved Senior: Jordan Brewer, Sewanee

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Nikolai Parodi, CMS

That's the good news for Division III tennis; the bad news is that Earlham College in Richmond Indiana is dropping its men's and women's tennis programs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Division I Appalachian State Drops Men's Tennis; World Team Tennis Selects Greenbrier as Site for Upcoming Season; Grand Slam Tennis Tours Offers New Pro Streaming Option; ITA Division II National Award Winners

Another day, another loss of a college tennis program, with Appalachian State, a Division I school in Boone North Carolina announcing it will discontinue three sports, including men's tennis.

The other two sports dropped--men's indoor track and field and men's soccer--leaves Appalachian State with 17 sports, which is three more than the number required to retain Division I status. The women's tennis team, one of ten sports for that gender at Appalachian State, is not impacted by today's announcement.

The Tennis Recruiting Network spoke with high school senior Christopher Johns, who had committed to East Carolina University before it dropped its men's tennis program last week, for this article. Johns will now be looking for another school, although with many seniors returning for a fifth year, that too has been complicated by recent pandemic-related events.

I hope I'm wrong, but I suspect there will be more recruits who will be scrambling to find a place on a team for 2020.

Stadium Court at the Greenbrier Resort (photo courtesy WTT)
World Team Tennis, which had announced earlier this month that it was looking for a single site where it could play its entire three-week season, has selected the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for next's month competition.  A total of 63 matches will be played by the nine teams from July 12-30 to determine the four advancing to the playoffs, scheduled for August 1st and 2nd. CBS will be televising a match on July 19 and the final on August 2. CBS Sport Network will broadcast 13 other regular season matches, as well as both semifinals on August 1, while all the other matches will be available via streaming, with that schedule to be released later.

Unlike most of the tennis exhibitions happening now, fans will be allowed, with up to 500 fans allowed in the stadium court there, which seats 2500.  Among the players expected to compete are: Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey, Bob and Mike Bryan(Stanford), Tennys Sandgren(Tennessee), Rajeev Ram(Illinois), Jean-Julien Rojer(UCLA) and Neal Skupski(LSU).

Today's complete announcement from World Team Tennis is here.

If you are hungry for tennis exhibitions NOT being contested in the Fast 4 format, Grand Slam Tennis Tours and Topnotch Management has put together live streaming of matches between pro players using regular scoring. Starting today, three matches were contested, with two in Orlando and one in Columbus Ohio. Dmitri Popko defeated Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-3, JJ Wolf defeated former Ohio State teammate Mikael Torpegaard 6-4, 6-2 and Bjorn Fratangelo defeated Ulises Blanch 7-6(5), 6-1. Matches in various locations across the country are scheduled, and while there is no commentary, there is sound and a chair umpire, so following along is not difficult. Although you must sign up, there is no charge for accessing these streams, and this week's matches include all of the above players, as well as Ernesto Escobedo, Bradley Klahn, Jamie Loeb, Laura Siegemund, Jennifer Brady and Caroline Dolehide, among others.  For more information and to sign up to view the streams, click here.

Today's ITA virtual national awards ceremony for Division II produced the following winners:

Division II Men:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Jeremiah Sanchez, St. Mary’s University

ITA Player to Watch: Anish Sriniketh, St. Edward’s University

ITA Rookie of the Year:  Samuel Sippel, Azusa Pacific University

ITA Most Improved Senior: Bas Van Biezen, Southern New Hampshire University

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Chase Bartlett, St. Edward’s University

Division II Women:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Ashley Jonathan, Bellarmine University

ITA Player to Watch: Anna Novikova, University of Indianapolis

ITA Rookie of the Year: Ebba Rosberg, Concordia College NY

ITA Most Improved Senior: Kristyna Jurkova, Saint Leo University

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Kim Moosbacher, Oklahoma Baptist University

It's poignant that St. Edward's Anish Sriniketh will have to transfer to another school to be "watched," with St. Edward's eliminating their men's and women's tennis teams last month. St. Edward's senior Chase Barlett, who spearheaded the attempt to save the program, was named Senior Play of the Year. 

The ceremony is available on YouTube. The Division III virtual ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. EDT. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Stanford Men Top Tennis Recruiting Network's 2020 Rankings; Seniors Blumberg, Lahey Among ITA Division I National Award Winners

The task of ranking recruiting classes can be a minefield, with top players changing their minds about attending college, or refocusing their efforts more to academics, or developing from a solid junior to an outstanding collegian with the right coach and better competition. So attempting to determine how a class of players will impact a team is always an exercise of subjective speculation. With this year's Covid-19 pandemic leading to the NCAA authorizing an extra year of competition, rosters are in an unprecedented state of flux, and because graduate transfers and fifth-year seniors don't figure into today's Tennis Recruiting Network men's rankings, they are probably even less reliable than usual. But with all that said, it's important that a non-revenue sport find a way to generate interest and content for a school's athletic department and casual fans. I've been ranking recruiting classes for more than a decade now, and while I've seen how little correlation there is between these rankings and eventual NCAA title contenders, it still strikes me as a useful exercise.

This year's No. 1 class is Stanford's, with Tristan Boyer, Alex Lee, Arthur Fery and Aryan Chaudhary coming in for 2020.  Stanford is followed by Clemson, which has rarely been made the top rankings list in the past, and Virginia, Columbia, and Texas. Arizona, Harvard, Illinois, Arizona State and South Carolina round out the Top 10. The complete Top 25 list is here, along with a look at the history of the rankings and the names of the 20 voters who participated this year. The Division I women's list will be revealed next Monday, June 1.

The ITA's first in a series of virtual award ceremonies was launched today, with the National Division I 2019-2020 winners revealed. I've been to many of these actual events in the past, during the NCAA championships, and although a ceremony that brings all the top players together for one luncheon is obviously preferable, there wasn't much time to actually focus on the winners, with the team finals and the upcoming individual tournaments sucking up most of the oxygen in the room. That is not a problem this year. Below are the national winners; click here to see the Division I regional award winners from which the national winners were selected.

Division I Women:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Meible Chi, Duke
ITA Cissie Leary Sportsmanship:  Jordan Strickland, Western Carolina
ITA Rookie of the Year: Natasha Subhash, Virginia
ITA Player to Watch: Elysia Bolton, UCLA
ITA Most Improved Senior: Katarina Kozarov, Furman
ITA Senior Player of the Year: Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine

Division I Men:
Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship: Paul Jubb, South Carolina
ITA Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award: Vilhelm Fridell, Buffalo
ITA Rookie of the Year: Cannon Kingsley, Ohio State
ITA Player to Watch: Sam Riffice, Florida
ITA Most Improved Senior: Athell Bennett, Purdue
ITA Senior Player of the Year: William Blumberg, North Carolina

The athletic directors from Pepperdine and North Carolina provided comments on Lahey and Blumberg, and while Lahey has already announced she will return for a second senior year, UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham took the opportunity to invite Blumberg to do the same.

The entire video, available on YouTube, is less than 15 minutes long, with ITA CEO Tim Russell hosting and the ITA staff putting together an impressive production. Four more such shows are coming this week, with the schedule below.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Women's UTR Pro Match Series Washed Out; 16-Player Women's Event Set for Charleston in June; Midwest NCAA Webinar Set for Friday; USTA Pro Circuit Records

It's been a quiet news day on this middle Sunday of a holiday weekend. In an alternate universe, the French Open would have begun today, but the only televised live tennis actually being played never began, with the final day of the women's UTR Pro Match Series rained out in West Palm Beach Florida.  After rain moved in prior to the third set between Danielle Collins and Ajla Tomljanovic yesterday, that match was to be completed this morning, with the winner facing Alison Riske in the final. Heavy rain kept any tennis from being played, and the event was canceled in mid-afternoon, without a winner being declared.

Another women's event, the Credit One Bank Invitational, has been announced for next month, in Charleston South Carolina. The 16-player field will feature some of the biggest names in women's tennis, particularly from North America, with Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and Viktoria Azarenka scheduled to compete in the two-team event. Others scheduled to play include all four of the UTR Match Series participants Riske, Collins and Tomljanovic and Amanda Anisimova, as well as Jennifer Brady, Virginia recruit Emma Navarro, Shelby Rogers, Eugenie Bouchard, Monica Puig, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Leylah Fernandez.

The format of the tournament, which is set to run June 23-28, is not currently known, but I would not be surprised if it is Fast 4, as the Pro Match Series was. This local TV channel article, which features quotes from both Ben Navarro and Bob Moran, says that players will call their own lines, there will be one official and each player will have a ball person to assist them. Tennis Channel will be providing 40 hours of live broadcasting.

There is still time to register for the USTA Midwest webinar featuring former Division III tennis player Lorne McManile, Coordinator of Academic Review, NCAA Eligibility Center, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday May 29th. Registration for that webinar, the last in the Midwest section's series of college information webinars this month, is available through this link.

The graphic below appeared in the program that was distributed at the Dow Tennis Classic this winter, and I'm sure the same page was part of the programs of all the USTA Pro Circuit events this year. Recognition for those who often spend years at this level is important, and for me, it's always fun to see the names and accomplishments of those players I've gotten to know while covering the junior and college game.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Division II Alabama-Huntsville Drops Men's and Women's Tennis; Georgia's Jokic Wins Atlanta Exhibition; Riske Reaches UTR Pro Series Final, but Opponent Unknown; More Varsity Blues for Georgetown; Miller Loses Chance at Third High School Title

Just two days after Division I East Carolina announced it was dropping its men's and women's tennis programs, Division II Alabama-Huntsville has done the same. As with East Carolina, scholarships will be honored for those students who wish to continue at the school, rather than transfer to play elsewhere.  Alabama-Huntsville also is cutting its men's hockey team (which competes in Division I). The school's announcement, which frames the decision solely as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, is here.  There is no telling which school will be next, but apparently Division I University of Connecticut, which has both men's and women's tennis teams, is facing pressure to discontinue some sports, as they currently have a huge deficit that preceded the pandemic.

There are a number of tournaments going on around the country that are not exactly exhibitions, but are providing a way for pro and college players to stay sharp while they wait for the ITF, WTA and ATP tours to resume this summer. One such event last week, in Atlanta, drew WTA Top 100 player Taylor Townsend, but it was University of Georgia junior Katarina Jokic who took the title, beating former Georgia Tech star Paige Hourigan 3-6, 7-6(6), 10-6 in the final. Hourigan had beaten Jokic earlier in the tournament, the only loss that the 2019 NCAA singles finalist suffered in eight matches. The format was not Fast 4, which has been the most popular scoring system for these events, but rather no-ad in standard sets, with a tiebreaker in lieu of a third set. For more on the eight-player event and Jokic's win, see this article from The Red & Black.

At the UTR Pro Match Series in Florida, Alison Riske overcame an opening match loss to Ajla Tomljanovic yesterday, beating Danielle Collins today to put her record at 2-1 and assure herself a place in Sunday's final. Tomljanovic had lost to Amanda Anisimova earlier today, so the day's last match between Tomljanovic and Collins would decide the other finalist. Tomljanovic and Collins split tiebreakers, with Collins finally forcing a third set on her seventh set point, after serving for the second set up 3-2, 40-0. It then began to rain, so the third set will be played Sunday, with its winner going on to face Riske in the final, while its loser will play Anisimova for third place. For more on today's matches, see this article from tennis.com.

Two news items about last year's Varsity Blues scandal have surfaced recently. Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli have pleaded guilty, after a year of refusing to do so, and will be sentenced in August. They are accused of paying $500,000 to assist their daughters in gaining admission to USC as crew team recruits.

In a tennis-related development, another parent has been charged in the investigation into Georgetown's former coach Gordon Ernst. Peter Dameris, who has pleaded guilty, tried to gain entrance to the school for his son, who was not a competitive tennis player, but was represented as such. Ernst himself has pleaded not guilty, according to this Washington Post article about the case.

As with so many seniors this year, University of Michigan recruit Kari Miller did not get an opportunity to say goodbye to high school tennis, with the spring sports (girls play in the spring in Michigan, boys in the fall) canceled due to the pandemic. It's particularly disappointing for Miller, who won two state singles titles as a freshman and junior, because she had just this one chance to play on the same team as her younger sister Reese. And, according to this MLive article, her Ann Arbor Pioneer team had a good chance to win the state team championship this year as well.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Porter Named to Lead Men's Program at Brigham Young; Division I Signings, Transfers, Fifth Year Seniors; ITA Announces NAIA, Junior College Regional Awards

Division I coaching changes have been few during the pandemic, but the BYU men now have a new coach, with Dave Porter of Division II Brigham Young-Hawaii taking over for Brad Pearce, who resigned back in February after 16 seasons at BYU. Porter has also been named Director of Tennis at the university.

In other men's Division I tennis news:

LSU has signed Portugal's Joao Graca for this fall.

Senior Mitch Harper is returning to Virginia Tech for a fifth season in 2020-21.

Senior Connor Johnston is returning to Michigan for a fifth season in 2020-21.

USC senior Riley Smith has not decided if he will return to the Trojans for a fifth year, according to this usta.com article.

For several other notable verbal commitments and transfers, see Parsa Nemati's twitter feed @ParsaBombs, which includes this one for Jeffrey von der Schulenburg, who was one of the prize international recruits of 2019.

Here are the updates for women's Division I, a couple of which I should have found earlier, but somehow missed. Click these dates for my previous Division I roundups for April 20, May 7 and May 13.

Lexi Dewire, Katie Weber and Australia's Ameliija Swaffer-Selff will join Dartmouth this fall.

Kansas has signed Maria Titova of Russia for this fall.

Ole Miss announced the transfer of Norway's Lillian Gabrielsen who played two years at Loyola Marymount. Elysia Pool of the Netherlands, Reka Zadori of Hungary and Eesha Gudiseva of Memphis TN have signed for this fall.
Georgia Drummy is transferring to Duke after two years at Vanderbilt.

Anastasia Goncharova is transferring to Utah after two years at UC-Santa Barbara.

North Carolina State seniors Adriana Reami and Anna Rogers will return for a fifth season in 2020-21.

Kentucky seniors Lesedi Jacobs, Akvile Paražinskaite and Diana Tkachenko will return for a fifth season in 2020-21.

Senior Chiara Lommer will return for a fifth year at Michigan.

For more on the return of NCAA singles champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami, announced last month, see this ESPN article.

The ITA announced its Regional Awards for NAIA and Junior College in the past two days.

The men's NAIA regional winners are here; the women's NAIA regional winners are here.

The men's junior college regional winners are here; the women's junior college regional winners are here.

The ITA will have virtual award ceremonies for its national awards, beginning on Monday with Division I. Below is next week's schedule: