Schedule a training visit to the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD by clicking on the banner above

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Two $15Ks, Women's $60K in California, Plus Charleston Challenger Make for Busy Week on USTA Pro Circuit

For the first time since mid-July, this week features four USTA Pro Circuit events in the same week. No women's $15,000 level tournaments have been on the schedule since the July 10th SoCal Pro Series event in Lakewood, which has meant many college and national level juniors have turned to UTR's Pro Tennis Tour events for opportunities this summer.

Today the qualifying concluded at the women's $15,000 tournament in Hilton Head South Carolina, with two American high school seniors, Mary Boyce Deatherage and Pepperdine recruit Alexia Harmon, advancing to the main draw. 

Wild cards went to Columbia freshman Gayathri Krishnan, Salma Ewing(USC/Texas A&M), Duke sophomore Katie Codd and Jada Robinson. Wakana Sonobe of Japan was one of three juniors to receive a main draw spot via the ITF Junior Reserved program and won her first round match today. The other two--Texas A&M freshman Lucciana Perez Alarcon of Peru and Pan American Closed finalist Tyra Grant--will play their first round matches Wednesday.

Lauren Proctor(Winthrop) is the top seed.

The men's $15,000 tournament is in Albuquerque New Mexico, with the qualifying not yet complete, but five Americans have advanced to the main draw: Axel Nefve(Notre Dame/Florida), Will Grant(Florida), Ryan Dickerson(Duke/Baylor), Felix Corwin(Minnesota) and Andrew Fenty(Michigan).

Junior reserved spots in the main draw went to Roy Horovitz, Pan American Closed finalist Alex Razeghi and Rei Sakamoto of Japan. Maxwell Exsted received a main draw wild card and was scheduled to play No. 2 seed Liam Draxl(Kentucky) of Canada today, with that match pushed back to this evening.

The other three wild cards were given to University of New Mexico juniors: Georgio Samaha, Arda Azkara of Turkey and Aram Noroozian of Canada.

Alfredo Perez(Florida) is the top seed.

Qualifying for the women's $60,000 tournament in Templeton California is complete with three Americans advancing to the main draw: Hanna Chang, Carmen Corley(Oklahoma) and Catherine Harrison(UCLA). It's good to see Harrison back competing after a foot injury sidelined her for the first eight months of 2023.

Also qualifying for the main draw is Oklahoma State sophomore Lucia Peyre. The 18-year-old from Argentina is still eligible for ITF junior events this year, but has played ITF World Tennis Tour women's events all summer after being named to the Big-12 All-Conference first team in her freshman year. She defeated No. 4 seed Maria Mateas(Duke) in the first round and Marine Partaud of France in the second, both in straight sets, to advance to the main draw, where she'll play Makenna Jones(UNC).

The wild cards were given to Robin Anderson(UCLA), Whitney Osuigwe and Sophie Chang, with 18-year-old Marina Stakusic of Canada, last week's champion at the $60K in Berkeley, receiving a special exemption into the main draw.

Taylor Townsend is the top seed; Katie Volynets the No. 2 seed.

Ken Thomas is providing coverage of the Templeton tournament at radiotennis.com.

Rain at the ATP Challenger 75 in Charleston South Carolina forced eight of the first round matches on Tuesday's schedule to be postponed to Wednesday, but five matches were completed, with four Americans advancing to the round of 16, including qualifiers Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern), Aidan Mayo and Stefan Dostanic(USC). Kirchheimer advanced when wild card Toby Kodat retired trailing 6-7(4), 6-3, 4-1; Mayo defeated Michael Geerts(Arizona State) of Belgium 6-4, 7-6(6) and Dostanic beat No. 8 seed Alexander Ritschard(Virginia) of Switzerland 6-4, 6-4. Dostanic and Kirchheimer will meet in the round of 16 on Thursday.  

NCAA champion Ethan Quinn(Georgia) defeated No. 5 seed Alexis Galarneau(NC State) of Canada 6-2, 7-6(5) and will face Mayo in the next round.  The fifth player to advance today is No. 6 seed Adam Walton(Tennessee) of Australia, who beat lucky loser Skander Mansouri(Wake Forest) of Tunisia 7-6(5), 6-2.

Mike Cation is back providing commentary for the US Challengers this week; see the ATP Challenger TV page for the free live streams.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Four Americans Qualify for Charleston Challenger; Les Petits As Regional Qualifying Underway; Career High Junior Rankings for Pan Am Closed Finalists; USTA Girls 18s and 16s Nationals Highlight Show Now Available for Viewing

Qualifying for the ATP Challenger 75 in Charleston South Carolina was completed today, with four Americans advancing to the main draw.

Stefan Dostanic, in his fifth year at USC, posted two wins today, with his first round match Sunday with Evan Zhu(UCLA) interrupted. Dostanic won that match 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, then beat Stefan Kozlov 6-2, 6-1 to qualify for the main draw, where he'll play No. 8 seed Alexander Ritschard(Virginia) of Switzerland. Another Kalamazoo 16s finalist, Aidan Mayo, reached the main draw with a 6-2, 6-4 victory of Darian King of Barbados. Twenty-eight-year-old Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern), who has been toiling away in Futures and, lately, Challenger qualifying for six years now, defeated Elmer Moller of Denmark 6-1, 6-3 to reach the main draw at a Challenger for the eighth time this year. 2017 NCAA champion Thai Kwiatkowski(Virginia) qualified with a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Skander Mansouri(Wake Forest) of Tunisia, who also made the main draw as a lucky loser, with No. 2 seed Emilio Gomez(USC) a late withdrawal.

The other two qualifiers are Ernesto Escobedo of Mexico and 2022 NCAA singles finalist August Holmgren(San Diego) of Denmark.

Wild cards were given to Duke's Garrett Johns, who won his first round match today, Oliver Crawford(Florida) and Toby Kodat. 

Enzo Couacaud of France is again the top seed, as he was in Columbus; Denis Kudla, the Columbus champion as the No. 2 seed, is No. 7 this week. 2023 NCAA singles champion Ethan Quinn(Georgia) received entry via the ATP Accelerator Program and will face No. 5 seed Alexis Galarneau(NC State) of Canada, the finalist in Columbus last week.

The USA Playoffs for the January 2024 Les Petits 14-and-under tournament in France began this week with Regional Qualifying. UTR has partnered with Lacoste Le Mondial and Top Five Management for the five regionals, the first of which was scheduled to finish today in Houston, followed by regionals in Bradenton Florida, Fullerton California, Norfolk Virginia and Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The winners of the regionals will be among the entrants in the USA National Playoff, which begins October 30th at Tropical Park in Coral Gables Florida.

The Les Petits As website has the list of the direct acceptances into the USA National Playoffs, currently including eight girls and six boys. Two of the top 2010 boys, Michael Antonius, who won the Les Petits As consolation tournament last year, and Jordan Lee currently are among the top five 2010s in the Tennis Europe 14s rankings so they probably don't need to compete in the National Playoffs to earn spots in Tarbes.

All four of the finalists at last week's ITF J300 Pan American Closed reached new career highs in the ITF junior rankings released today.

Boys champion Alex Frusina is up to 17, with his previous high 24 just two weeks ago.  Boys finalist Alex Razeghi is now at 23, with his previous high 34.

Girls finalist Tyra Grant moved to 21, with her previous career high 22; singles and doubles champion Maya Joint is up to 31, with her previous best ranking 43.

There is no change at the top of the rankings, with Alina Korneeva of Russia and Joao Fonseca of Brazil continuing as No. 1s.

The highlight show produced about the USTA Billie Jean King Girls 18s and 16s National Championships last month in San Diego, which appeared during the US Open on Tennis Channel, is now available for viewing via the ustagirlsnationals.com website. Click on the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation ad to the left to go to the website, and you'll see a button to click to watch "Breaking Barriers." The show not only features current players and champions, but also delves into the history of the event, including interviews with Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin, Pam Shriver and Kathy Rinaldi.

Make sure to enter the password BB (upper case) to view the 45-minute program.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Kennedy and McNeil Claim ITF J100 Titles in Canada; Kudla Wins Columbus Challenger; Stakusic's Streak Continues with Berkeley $60K Title; Three Titles for Young Americans on ITF Men's Circuit; Team World Defends Laver Cup

Several players who competed in the J200 in Canada two weeks ago made the trip south to Houston for the ITF J300 Pan American Closed, but with a J100 in Quebec City this past week, others opted to stay closer to home, including the champions Jack Kennedy and Christasha McNeil, both from New York.

The 15-year-old Kennedy, seeded No. 3, won his third career ITF Junior Circuit singles title and the biggest to date, defeating No. 4 seed David Ekpenyong of Nigeria 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final. Kennedy and Keaton Hance also reached the finals in boys doubles.

The 16-year-old McNeil, the reigning USTA 18s Clay Courts champion, won an all-USA girls final, with the No. 4 seed beating No. 2 seed Thea Frodin 6-4, 6-3.  Like Kennedy, McNeil now has three ITF Junior Circuit singles titles, with the two she's won this year coming at the J100 level.

The ITF Junior Circuit in the United States stays in Texas, with a J60 in Corpus Christi this coming week. A few of the players from Houston are competing there, including boys top seed Abishek Thorat. The girl's top seed is Jane Dunyon. The tournament runs through Saturday, with 64-player draws in singles.

No. 2 seed Denis Kudla won the title at the ATP Challenger 75 in Columbus Ohio, with the 31-year-old beating Canadian Davis Cup star Alexis Galarneau(NC State), the No. 6 seed, 6-1, 6-2 in today's final. It's the first Challenger title for Kudla in over a year and puts him back in the ATP Top 200.  Wild cards Robert Cash and James Trotter, teammates at Ohio State last year, won the doubles title in Columbus, defeating top seeds Hans Hach Verdugo(Abilene Christian) of Mexico and Guido Andreozzi of Argentina 6-4, 2-6, 10-7 in the final. They defeated the No. 2 seeds in the quarterfinals and the No. 4 seeds in the semifinals.

Tristan Boyer(Stanford) reached his second ATP Challenger final this week at the 100 level event in Chile, with the unseeded 22-year-old falling to unseeded Camilo Ugo Carabelli of Argentina 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. Boyer is now inside the Top 300 in the ATP rankings, after starting the year at 1496.

The title at the women's $60,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Berkeley California went to 18-year-old Marina Stakusic of Canada, who won her first tournament earlier this month at a $25,000 ITF World Tennis Tour women's event in Spain. Stakusic, who reached the ITF Pan American Closed final in 2021, falling to Liv Hovde, avenged that loss in the first round in Berkeley and went on to beat top seed Madison Brengle in the quarterfinals, qualifier Ellie Douglas(TCU) in the semifinals and qualifier Allie Kiick in the final. Stakusic, now up to 301 in the WTA live rankings, defeated Kiick 6-3, 6-4 for her fifth straight-sets win of the week.

No. 2 seeds Jessie Aney(UNC) and Maria Fernandez Herazo Gonzalez of Colombia won the doubles title in Berkeley, beating the third-seeded Australian team of Elysia Bolton(UCLA) and Alexandra Bozovic.

Elsewhere on the ITF Men's Pro Circuit, Georgia Tech's Andres Martin won his first singles title on the Circuit at the $15,000 tournament in Monastir Tunisia. The unseeded 22-year-old senior defeated top seed Constantin Bittoun Kouzmine of France 6-2, 6-4 for the singles title, while also partnering with Georgia Tech teammate Keshav Chopra for the doubles title. 

Nineteen-year-old Bruno Kuzuhara won his first ITF men's World Tennis Tour tournament today at a $15,000 tournament on clay in Uruguay. The 2022 Australian Open boys singles and doubles champion, seeded No. 3, defeated top seed Alvaro Guillen Meza of Ecuador 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-3 in the final. 

Martin Damm, who turns 20 next Saturday, won an all-American ITF WTT men's final at the $25,000 tournament in Portugal, with Damm defeating unseeded 20-year-old Dali Blanch 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3 in the final. It was the first final on the Pro Circuit for Blanch, Darwin and Ulises's brother, while Damm, the No. 6 seed, now has won four $25,000 level titles, including two this year.

The Laver Cup was played this weekend in Vancouver, with Team World rolling over Team Europe 13-2 to claim their second straight title. Ben Shelton(Florida) and Frances Tiafoe clinched the victory for Team World with a 7-6(4), 7-6(5) doubles victory over Hubert Hurkacz and Andrey Rublev. Team World also got singles victories from Shelton, Tiafoe, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz and Francisco Cerundolo(South Carolina). For more on the Team World title, see this article from the Laver Cup website.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Joint Sweeps ITF J300 Pan American Closed Titles with Comebacks in Singles and Doubles; Frusina Claims First J300 Title at Home

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

Alex Frusina was surrounded by friends and family all week at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed Championships at the Giammalva Racquet Club, as was his opponent in Saturday's final, Alex Razeghi, with both at home for a tournament for the first time in many years. All those supporters, and many other interested spectators who knew the two 17-year-olds when they trained at the club as novices, were on hand again on a hot and steamy morning to see who would take the title.

Top seed Frusina prevailed, defeating No. 2 seed Razeghi 7-5, 6-2, to cap an impressive run in his last three tournaments with his first J300 title.

"This tournament was just like a dream, being able to play at home," said Frusina, who reached the semifinals of the J300 in College Park last month and the quarterfinals of the US Open earlier this month. "I know in my lifetime we haven't had such a big scale tournament in our city here, and for them to be able to get this tournament, and to play in it, it was a privilege and really exciting."

The first set started with nerves from both, with back-to-back breaks, but after that, neither had a break point until 5-all, with Frusina converting his second opportunity that game with what he called "good fortune."

"I hit a passing shot as he came to the net, and he stumbled a bit because it bounced off the top," said Frusina. "But I was pretty elated with the way I dealt with the situations today. I think it was a really good bounce back match for me after yesterday."

Razeghi had a visit from the trainer in the first set for his leg, which he said had begun bothering him a few days ago.

"I felt fine, but in the middle of the first set my leg started to get painful," Razeghi said. "Not taking anything away from him, he played really well, was the better player and deserved to win. I feel like if I took that first set maybe it would have been different. At that point I wasn't feeling too good, but I told myself I had to fight to the last point, and I did that, but he came out on top."

Razeghi was broken to start the second set, but managed to hold from break points down in his next service game to keep within range. Yet Frusina, who was not happy about his serving performance in the his three-set semifinal win over Jagger Leach, had found that part of his game today, giving Razeghi little hope of a comeback.

"I definitely served much better today," Frusina said. "I was honestly taking a lot more of my pace off; it was a little bit strategic also. I put a lot of first serves in today and that gave me the confidence to open up and go for a few more lower percentage serves in some moments, which still ended up working out."

Frusina broke Razeghi to go up 4-1 and with his serve working had no trouble closing it out, hitting two aces, including on match point.

Frusina, who turns 18 in December, will turn his attention to the USTA Pro Circuit in the months ahead, beginning with a tournament in Ithaca New York the first week of October, although he will spend next week taking campus visits to gather information for his college choice.

"I have some availability to boost my pro ranking before college, and that's always been my goal, to play pro tennis," Frusina said. "I know the ITF has a junior exemption program, and in terms of these next couple of months, I'm going to focus on smaller pro events, the $15Ks. I'm definitely in quite a good rhythm right now and we'll see how long it lasts."

Razeghi is heading to the $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Albuquerque New Mexico next week, along with Roy Horovitz and Maxwell Exsted and then he will begin setting up his college visits, with trips to Texas, USC, Virginia and Georgia on his list of prospective schools.

Like Frusina, girls champion Maya Joint of Australia earned her first ITF J300 singles title, but unlike the boys champion, she earned it with an improbable comeback.

Trailing top seed Tyra Grant 6-1, 5-3, Joint kept her composure in the blazing midday sun, rebounding for a 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 victory.

Several hours later, No. 2 seed Joint was still at a loss to explain how she turned the match around.

"I don't really know myself," said the 17-year-old Joint, who changed her country affiliation from the United States to Australia earlier this year.  "The whole time in the first set and kind of in the second, I didn't feel like I had a foot in the match. The points were very short, I wasn't really on top of the point, I wasn't in control. In the second set, I started to win my service games more and started to get a little bit more confident."

Grant, whose serve is one of her biggest strengths, lost touch with that shot when she needed it most. Serving for the match at 5-4 and again at 6-5 the 15-year-old from Florida couldn't get to a match point after leading 30-0 in both games, and she put the blame squarely on her serve.

"Those two games I served really bad," said Grant, who was playing in her second tournament after being forced to withdraw prior to her second round match at the Wimbledon Junior Championships with a bone bruise. "I hit a few double faults and she took advantage of my bad serves and stepped up."

Joint began to find her rhythm as Grant began playing more tentatively, although the match was very much up for grabs at 4-4 in the final set.

As in the previous two games in the second set when Grant was serving for the match, Grant went up 30-0 serving at 4-all, but then double faulted twice and two points later, Joint was serving for the match and her first J300 title.

"I was just trying to get a start in the game, make my first serves," Joint said. "Once I got up 30-0, I could see Tyra lose a little bit of energy and I could feel myself getting a little more confident, so I stayed aggressive kept my foot on the gas, so she couldn't get back in it."

Joint got an error on match point, and admitted her satisfaction in fighting through a subpar first half of the match.

"I started off without my A game," said Joint. "But that's part of tennis, trying to get through the tough matches when you're not playing your best and hope that your A game does come out at the end. And I think it did today."

Joint is heading to Australia to train and compete over the country's spring and summer, and said she is playing the J500 in Osaka next month. She will be back in the United States next year, certainly in advance of joining the University of Texas in the fall of 2024.

Grant expressed disappointment with her performance in today's final, but hopes with time, she'll look at the week differently.

"Obviously it's hard to see the positives after today," said Grant, who is planning to play two $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournaments next month. "But I think I'll be looking back at this tournament in a few weeks or a few months really understand that it was a positive tournament for me."

Joint added her second ITF J300 title several hours later, partnering with Ariana Pursoo to take the girls doubles championship, again coming from behind. The top seeds defeated No. 4 seeds Alanis Hamilton and Claire An 6-7(3), 7-5, 10-7 in a two-hour contest that hinged on a handful of points.

At 4-4 in the second set, Joint and Pursoo fell behind 15-40 with Joint serving, but they saved all three break points, then grabbed the set with An serving at 5-6, 30-40.

Joint and Pursoo led throughout the tiebreaker, but Hamilton and An kept in range, and at 9-6 Hamilton hit a volley winner to save their first match point. But Joint, after nearly five hours on court in the 95 degree heat, hit a great first serve claim the championship, one that didn't come easy.

Down a set and a break to No. 3 seeds Victoria Osuigwe and Mia Slama in the semifinals, Joint and Pursoo pulled out another 7-5 second set and a match tiebreaker, so the pressure of trailing today was nothing new.

"I think that's what comes from trusting each other," said Pursoo, who will also be joining the Texas Longhorns in the fall of 2024. "We trust each other's games and our ability to find a way to come back and problem solve in the match. We're constantly pumping each other up, staying positive, trusting each other's abilities."

While Pursoo and Joint have played together often and have an ITF J200 title as a team, the boys champions were just in their third tournament together.

No. 5 seeds Jagger Leach and Matisse Farzam played the 16s Orange Bowl last December and the Junior Davis Cup qualifying in Lake Nona this spring, but everything clicked for the two 16-year-olds this week, with a 1-6, 6-2, 10-8 win over unseeded Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth in the championship match.

Leach and Farzam won three of their four matches in match tiebreakers, but it was their 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal win over No. 4 seeds Frusina and Mitchell Lee that convinced them they were contenders for the title.

"It was tough at first, but we gradually found it," said Farzam, who hadn't won an ITF Junior Circuit doubles title at any level until today. "Our quarterfinal match was a huge confidence booster, big win against Frusina and Mitchell, and we thought we definitely have a shot at winning this. Yesterday we were out there for two hours, and today was a little quicker, but it could have gone either way, so we're happy to have gotten it done."

After a slow start in the final, Farzam and Leach rebounded in the second set, then took control of the match tiebreaker, leading 9-4. But four of those match points came and went, two on Leach's serve, and they hung on for the win.

"Things almost got away from us," said Leach, who won an ITF J300 doubles title in Indian Wells with Joseph Oyebog this spring. "Returning at 9-8 I couldn't move, I was so nervous. We ended up winning that point and it was just pure relief and happiness."

Friday, September 22, 2023

Locals Razeghi and Frusina Reach ITF J300 Pan American Closed Final; Top Seeds Grant and Joint Vie for Girls Title; Dolehide Reaches WTA Guadalajara 1000 Final

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

The heat and humidity have been building all week at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed and Friday's semifinals but the conditions hardly came as a surprise to top seed Alex Frusina and No. 2 seed Alex Razeghi, who are both sleeping in their own beds during a tournament for the first time in a long time this week. Frusina, from Conroe, and Razeghi, from Humble, who trained together as youngsters at the host Giammalva Racquet Club, will test their endurance one more day Saturday, after Frusina defeated No. 7 seed Jagger Leach 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 and Razeghi beat No. 13 seed Kuang Qing Xu of Canada 6-4, 6-2 to reach the final.

Frusina breezed through the first set in just 33 minutes, but was aware that the one break he earned and held onto was no indication of the trajectory of the match.

"It might have seemed like I won it comfortably, but I don't think it told the whole story," Frusina said. "I think I was just able to hold onto that lead the way that I did because I was making a few more first serves, that was bailing me out. But the second that started to dip, I had a tough time finding my first serves."

Leach ran out to a 5-0 lead in the second set, and although he failed to serve it out at 5-1, he got a double fault from Frusina to end the set. 

The heat rule was in effect, with temperatures in the mid 90s and the heat index over 100, so Frusina had ten minutes to collect himself and he started the third with a break, only to give in back in the fourth game. He broke Leach again at 3-all and held onto that break, although Frusina still wasn't comfortable.

"He was just doing a really good job of pushing me back and hitting superfast, compact balls that were getting up on me quickly," Frusina said. "For my game, that does tend to be a challenge, and although I can absorb and move fairly well, today I just wasn't on it for the whole match. He was also serving really great, and that was getting me off my return game."

Serving out the match at 5-4, Frusina got only one of his five first serves in, and Leach hit one return winner for 30-15, but Leach's forehand let him down, with two unforced errors on that side after the return winner, sending Frusina to his second J300 final of the year.

Razeghi had an easier time in his semifinal, wearing down Xu with his depth and defense, a position aided by getting an early break in both sets.

"I watched him play a couple of times, he has a big serve and he's a forehand dominant player," said Razeghi, who won a J300 in Ecuador in February and reached the College Park J300 final last month. "And he likes to come in a lot, so I kept that in mind. I just made it as physical as possible, I think I was the more fit player, and he got really tired to end the match. It took a toll on him all the long points we had in the beginning of the match."

Razeghi, who decided not to defend his doubles title at this event, has seen his level rise in each round.

"I feel like I played well, and each match I've played, I've played better and better," Razeghi said. "It's been good, to build it up before the final tomorrow."

Despite their extensive experience on the ITF Junior Circuit, each with more than 125 completed singles matches, the two 17-year-olds have not met on that circuit and Frusina was hard pressed to recall the last time they played.

"It's been a very long time since we've played a singles match," Frusina said. "If I had to say, it's been maybe four years now. It's kind of the way it's fallen, but now the stars may be aligned in the home tournament. I know he's been playing very well this week and I know I'll need to bring my A game. I'm looking forward to it."

"We trained here together from ages 9 to 11," said Razeghi, who continued training at Giammalva Racquet Club for several years after Frusina left. "We've been warming up every match together, but it's not often we get to play each other. We kind of talked about it a bit yesterday, you know, one more, and it's definitely going to be good playing a good friend like that."

The girls final will also feature the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, who will also be playing for the first time, with top seed Tyra Grant advancing with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 4 seed Alanis Hamilton, and second seed Maya Joint making her first ITF J300 final with a 6-2, 7-5 win over No. 10 seed Aspen Schuman.

The 15-year-old Grant, who has yet to drop a set, said her tennis wasn't at the top level today, but she found several strategies to compensate for that.

"I don't think today was my best tennis match of the tournament, but I definitely fought super, super hard," said Grant, who trains often with Hamilton at the USTA National Campus and knows her game well. "I had to switch a lot of balls, not play too flat or too spin-y. This is what I'm trying to do in general with any player. I'm good with playing flat and being aggressive, but a lot of times it's really useful to slice, hit a heavier ball, really change things up and so far this tournament that's worked really well."

As for playing Joint for the first time Saturday, Grant is excited about the prospect.

"I've never even practiced with her," said Grant, who won her first ITF J300 title this spring in Italy. "But I'd rather play someone I don't know. I'm really good at adapting fast, so I'd rather play someone I don't know and catch them by surprise."

Joint narrowly avoided a third set with Schuman, who served for the second set at 5-4 and had three set points. But once Joint broke for 5-all, she was able to relax, and after an easy hold, broke again to take the match.

"I was pretty nervous going into the match and throughout the match," said Joint, who lives in Michigan and played for the United States until this year, when she switched to Australia, her father's country. "I was just trying to play aggressive and after that hold I was feeling a lot more relaxed. I started hitting through my shots more, was less nervous and was playing a lot more confident."

Joint, a 17-year-old who has committed to Texas for 2024, said she also enjoys competing against players she hasn't encountered before.

"It's kind of rare in these tournaments, because it's always the same people, but I hadn't played anyone I played this week before, now that I think about it," Joint said. "I haven't really been able to scout [Grant] because she's been on court the same time as I have, but I'll just to stick to my game plan, try to play my game. I think she plays a similar style so we'll see."

Joint will also play for the doubles title Saturday, after she and Ariana Pursoo, the top seeds, came from a set and a break down to defeat No. 3 seeds Victoria Osuigwe and Mia Slama 3-6, 7-5, 10-6. Pursoo and Joint will face No. 4 seeds Hamilton and Claire An, who defeated No. 2 seeds Schuman and Kaitlyn Rolls 6-2, 6-3.

The boys final will feature the unseeded team of Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth against No. 5 seeds Leach and Matisse Farzam. Johnston and Willwerth took out top seeds Maxwell Exsted and Cooper Woestendick 6-3, 5-7, 10-8, while Leach and Farzam defeated No. 7 seeds Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala and Cesar Cruz of El Salvador 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 10-6.

I've obviously been busy covering the Pan American Closed this week, so I haven't been able to follow the ATP and WTA as closely as usual, but congratulations to Caroline Dolehide, who has advanced to the final of the WTA 1000 in Guadalajara Mexico this week, after beating Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-3. Dolehide, who turned 25 this month, had briefly broken into the WTA Top 100 back in June, but with this run, she is now at 42 in the WTA live rankings, having posted wins this week over Peyton Stearns, Sachia Vickery, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Martina Trevisan and Kenin. She will play No. 2 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in Saturday's final. 

Dolehide and partner Asia Muhammad are also in the doubles semifinals later tonight against Storm Hunter and Elise Mertens.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

ITF J300 Pan American Closed Semifinals Feature Six Americans and Top Seeds; USTA Announces Dates for Annual Australian Open Wild Card Challenge

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

After Wednesday's third round matches were mostly long and highly contested, especially among the boys draw, Thursday's quarterfinals produced no three-set matches and just one over two hours in length.

With temperatures climbing to the mid-90s and a heat index of 105, the relative brevity was a welcome development for the higher seeds, all of whom advanced.

The lowest seed remaining in the tournament in 17-year-old Kuang Qing Xu of Canada, who defeated unseeded Jordan Reznik 6-2, 7-5 to reach his first J300 semifinal. 

Xu was low on confidence entering this week's tournament, having failed to qualify at the College Park J300 in August and losing in the first round of J300 in Repentigny the following week. Things didn't improve for him last week at the J200 in his hometown of Montreal, where he lost in the first round, but things changed for him this week in Houston.

"It wasn't the weather," said the 17-year-old Xu, who is known as Chris on the ITF Junior Circuit. "I don't like to play in the heat. But I think my mindset changed and I was playing more freely, going after my shots."

Xu has used his big serve to post three wins this week, with his three-hour 7-6(5), 6-4 victory over No. 4 seed Maxwell Exsted Wednesday, where he won the last six games of the match, a breakthrough for him.

"That match gave me a lot of confidence," Xu said. "And I think I'll play with even more confidence in the semfinals."

Xu said all his previous success has been on indoor hard courts, so these results are particularly surprising, and he recognizes the challenge of playing No. 2 seed Alex Razeghi for the first time in the semifinals Friday. 

"I know he's a grinder and that he puts a lot of balls back," said Xu, who has been talking with college coaches this week about making campus visits. "I think I'll just keep playing aggressive in every game."

Razeghi was off the court quickly against wild card Ian Mayew, needing just over an hour to post a 6-1, 6-2 win.

Jagger Leach, who was playing in his first J300 quarterfinal, is now into his first J300 semifinal after defeating Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala 6-4 6-1. Leach will face top seed Alex Frusina, who won his third consecutive tough two-set match against No. 10 seed Matthias Uwe Kask of Canada 6-2, 6-4. 

The only match to exceed two hours was No. 10 seed Aspen Schuman's 7-6(4), 7-5 win over unseeded Monika Ekstrand. Ekstrand had won last week's J200 title in Canada as a qualifier; Schuman was in her fellow 16-year-old's position last month at the J300 in College Park, where she made the final after qualifying, so both have gained valuable experience on the ITF Junior Circuit in recent weeks.

Schuman, who reached the third round of the US Open Junior Championships as a wild card after her College Park performance, knew Ekstrand was going to hit winners, with her serve and her first forehand keeping her in every service game.

"It's tough to string multiple points together, because she was hitting some great shots, good winners, great serving," Schuman said. "She was playing really well, so I had to roll with the punches a little bit. I just told myself to keep my head down, dig deep for every point and just compete my best, and whatever happens, happens."

Ekstrand's backhand let her down in the first set tiebreaker, and at 5-all in the second set, Schuman got an easy hold to go up 6-5. In her next service game, Ekstrand didn't get many first serves in, but had game points at both 40-30 and the next ad. She couldn't convert either as Schuman made every ball, and when Schuman earned a match point, it was Ekstrand who made the error to end the two-hour and 20-minute match.

Schuman said no switch has flipped to provide her with the mindset to compete under the pressure of tight matches like today's.

"It hasn't been all of a sudden a moment," Schuman said. "But I think over time [the experience] has definitely help me feel more confident and trust myself, really commit to how I want to play."

Next up for Schuman is No. 2 seed Maya Joint of Australia, who defeated unseeded Tianmei Wang 6-0, 6-4.

"I don't know her, I've never played her before," said Schuman, who is relatively new to the ITF Junior Circuit, about playing so many opponents now for the first time. "When I was playing USTA, it felt like I played the same people every single tournament, so it's definitely a change, but it's nice; new experiences are always fun."

No. 4 seed Alanis Hamilton, a semifinalist at this event last year, returned to the final four with the 16-year-old defeating No. 12 seed Victoria Osuigwe 6-3, 6-3. She will play Junior Billie Jean King Cup teammate Tyra Grant, the No. 1 seed, for the first time Friday, after Grant shook off a tough challenge in the first set from wild card Alexis Nguyen and went on to a 6-4, 6-1 win.

The doubles semifinals are also scheduled for Friday afternoon, with Hamilton, Schuman and Joint playing both singles and doubles, as is Jagger Leach.

Top seeds Joint and Ariana Pursoo will face No. 3 seeds Osuigwe and Mia Slama; Hamilton and Claire An, the No. 4 seeds, play No. 2 seeds Schuman and Kaitlyn Rolls. 

Unlike the girls, the boys doubles semifinals have just one team expected to reach the final four, No. 1 seeds Cooper Woestendick and Maxwell Exsted. They will play the unseeded team of Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth, who beat the No. 3 seeds Wednesday and the No. 6 seeds today. 

Leach and Matisse Farzam, the No. 5 seeds, will face No. 7 seeds Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala and Cesar Cruz of El Salvador.

The USTA announced the dates for this fall's annual Australian Open Wild Card Challenge to determine who will receive the USTA's reciprocal wild card for the 2024 Australian Open. The women's race begins the week of October 2, the men's the week of October 23.  The full release is below:

ORLANDO, Fla., September 21, 2023 – The Australian Open Wild Card Challenge, which will utilize indoor and outdoor hard-court and carpet professional tournaments to award an American man and woman a main draw wild card into the 2024 Australian Open, will begin with events the week of October 2 for the women and October 23 for the men.

The USTA and Tennis Australia have a reciprocal agreement in which main draw wild cards for the 2024 Australian Open and US Open will be exchanged.

The women's wild card will be awarded to the American with the most ranking points earned at a maximum of three tournaments during a five-week window, beginning with events starting the week of October 2 (including the China Open WTA 1000 in Beijing) and running through the week of October 30. All indoor and outdoor hard-court and carpet events at the 25 level and above, including WTA Tour events, will be included in the Challenge.

The men's wild card will be awarded to the American with the most ranking points earned from a maximum of three events during a four-week window that begins the week of October 23 and runs through the week of November 13. All indoor and outdoor hard-court and carpet events at the 25 level and above, including ATP Tour and Challenger events, will be included in the Challenge.

Ranking points earned in the main draw and qualifying will be counted toward each player's Challenge point total. Should the player with the highest number of Challenge points earn direct entry into the Australian Open, the wild card will go to the next eligible American in the Challenge points standings. In the event of a tie for the men or the women, the player with the best singles ranking on the Monday immediately following the conclusion of the Challenge will earn the wild card. Americans who otherwise earn direct entry into the Australian Open are not eligible.