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Friday, February 21, 2020

My Conversation with Former Texas Tech Star, Current WTA 230 Gabriela Talaba; Top Seeds Advance at Men's D-III Team Indoor; Opelka Reaches Semifinals in Delray Beach

I'm at a wedding on the west coast this weekend, so posts will be shorter and later than usual, as I won't have time to follow much of what's going on in the tennis world.

Earlier this month at the Dow Tennis Classic in Midland, I had an opportunity to talk with Gabriela Talaba, the former Texas Tech star who has been moving up the WTA rankings since her graduation in 2018. Talaba explained to me why college tennis was so attractive to her and so many other international players who don't have the means to fund their careers on their own or the financial backing of a wealthy federation. Talaba still faced a difficult decision after college, but thanks to connections she made while at Texas Tech, she obtained sponsorship from three families that gave her the funds to start building her ranking, which has gone from 755 when she graduated to 230 now.  Talaba told me why she decided to go to college, how she improved there and what her plans are for the next several years in this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network.

At the ITA Division III Men's Team Indoor Championships in Minnesota, the top four seeds advanced to Saturday's semifinals.

Chicago[3] d. Kenyon[6], 5-4
CMS[2] d. Case Western[7] 6-3
Brandeis[4] d. Washington-St. Louis[5] 7-2
Emory[1] d. Gustavus Aldophus[8] 7-2

Saturday's schedule:
Chicago[3] v. CMS[2], 8:30 a.m.
Brandeis[4] v. Emory[1] noon

Box scores are available at host Gustavus Aldophus' tournament page.

Three of the four Americans in action today at the ATP Delray Beach tournament lost today, with No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka the only one to advance to Saturday's semifinal.  Opelka defeated Soonwoo Kwon 6-3, 6-4. He will face No. 2 seed Milos Raonic of Canada, who beat Steve Johnson tonight 7-6(6), 6-3.  Frances Tiafoe lost to Ugo Humbert of France 6-1, 6-2 and Brandon Nakashima's impressive run came to an end at the hands of Yoshihito Nishioki of Japan 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.  For more on Nishioki's win, see this article from the ATP website.

Former UCLA star Jennifer Brady lost to top seed Simona Halep 6-2, 6-0 at the WTA tournament in Dubai.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

ITA Men's Division III Team Indoor Begins Friday; Division I Team Indoor All-Tournament Team Announced; Brady Reaches WTA Dubai Semifinals

The ITA Men's Division III Team Indoor Championships begins Friday at Gustavus Aldophus in St. Peter Minnesota. 2019 NCAA team champions Emory are the No. 1 seed, with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps seeded No. 2.  Unlike the Division I Team Indoor Championships, just eight teams participate in the Division III version. Also unlike the Division I events, many of the top teams in the country do not participate, with none of the teams in the New England Small College Athletic Conference in the fields. The University of Chicago is defending champion.

Friday's quarterfinal matches:
(draw)
Chicago[3] v. Kenyon[6], 8:30 a.m.
CMS[2] v. Case Western[7], noon
Brandeis[4] v. Washington-St. Louis[5], 3:30
Emory[1] v. Gustavus Aldophus[8], 7 p.m.

Links to live streaming and scoring are available at the Gustavus tournament page. The Division III Tennis blog has previews of all four matches, predictions and plenty of other coverage of Division III tennis, so check it out.

The Division I National Indoor All-Tournament team was announced today, with players from champion USC, finalist North Carolina and quarterfinalist Texas. Daniel Cukierman of USC was named Most Outstanding Player.

No. 1 singles: William Blumberg, North Carolina
No. 2 singles: Daniel Cukierman, USC, Most Outstanding Player
No. 3 singles: Rinky Hijikata, North Carolina
No. 4 singles: Mor Bulis, USC
No. 5 singles: Stefan Dostanic, USC
No. 6 singles: Cleeve Harper, Texas

No. 1 doubles: Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith, USC
No. 2 doubles: Jacob Bullard and Eliot Spizzirri, Texas
No. 3 doubles: Rinky Hijikata and Benjamin Sigouin, North Carolina

Records for all those named above are available in this ITA release.

Jennifer Brady advanced to the semifinals of a WTA Premier event for the first time in her career today in Dubai, defeating Australian Open finalist and two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4. The 24-year-old, who qualified for this event, beat No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina in the first round and French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the second round. With her victory over No. 9 seed Muguruza today, the former UCLA star will play in the third WTA semifinal of career, with top seed Simona Halep standing in the way of her first WTA final.  For more on Brady's win today, see this article from the WTA website.

At the ATP 250 in Delray Beach, Steve Johnson and Frances Tiafoe advanced to the quarterfinals, with wins over their American opponents. Johnson defeated wild card Jack Sock 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 and Tiafoe beat Tommy Paul 7-5, 7-6(4).  Johnson and Tiafoe now join Brandon Nakashima and Reilly Opelka in Friday's quarterfinals.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

USC's National Indoor Title Keeps Them Atop First ITA Computer Rankings; USC's Cukierman, Miami's Perez-Somarriba No. 1 in Singles; Nakashima Beats Norrie to Reach ATP Delray Beach Quarterfinals

The first ITA Division I team rankings done by computer were released last night and USC stays on top of the men's rankings, thanks to their title Monday at the Team Indoor Championships. Because no rankings were released the week of the Indoors, USC never officially vacated the No. 1 position they had prior to losing to Ohio State in Columbus, but they were the No. 2 seed in Madison, so the unpublished rankings obviously had top seed Ohio State at No. 1.  Michigan made a big jump, going from 13 to 4 after their semifinal showing at the Indoors, while Tennessee, which didn't qualify for the Indoor field, moved into the Top 10. Links to the full ranking lists can be found by clicking on the headers.


ITA Men's Division I Team Rankings,
February 18, 2019 (previous ranking in parentheses)

1. USC (1)
2. Ohio State (2)
3. North Carolina (5)
4. Michigan (13)
5. Texas (4)
6. Florida (3)
7. Columbia (9)
8. Stanford (8)
9. NC State (10)
10. Tennessee (17)

USC's Daniel Cukierman, who plays No. 2 for USC, continues as the No. 1 player in singles. Stanford sophomore Alex Rotsaert made a big jump from 21 to 5, while John McNally of Ohio State and Alex Brown of Illinois also moved into the Top 10. North Carolina's Will Blumberg, who was not ranked prior to this week, is up to 11.

Singles:
1. Daniel Cukierman, USC (1)
2. Yuya Ito, Texas (2)
3. Valentin Vacherot, Texas A&M (3)
4. Sam Riffice, Florida (4)
5. Alexandre Rotsaert, Stanford (21)
6. Christian Sigsgaard, Texas (12)
7. John McNally, Ohio State (19)
8. Keegan Smith, UCLA (6)
9. Alex Brown, Illinois (18)
10. Richard Ciamarra, Notre Dame (5)

Doubles:
1. Matej Vocel and Dominik Kellovsky, Oklahoma State (2)
2. Andrew Fenty and Mattias Siimar, Michigan (4)
3. Robert Cash and John McNally, Ohio State (1)
4. Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard, North Carolina (3)
5. Sean Sculley and Nick Stachowiak, Duke (6)

The first women's computer rankings also didn't dislodge the previous No. 1, with North Carolina having a substantial lead over the second place team, which is something of a surprise. Florida State moved to No. 2, while UCLA, who was runner-up to UNC at the Team Indoor, dropping all the way down to No. 7.  Virginia moved into the Top 10, while defending NCAA champion Stanford fell to No. 12.

ITA Women's Division I Team Rankings:

1. North Carolina (1)
2. Florida State (4)
3. Texas (7)
4. NC State (5)
5. Princeton (9)
6. Ohio State (10)
7. UCLA (2)
8. Georgia (8)
9. Virginia (13)
10. Duke (6)
In the singles rankings, NCAA champion Estela Perez-Somarriba has moved to No. 1, dislodging Pepperdine's Ashley Lahey. North Carolina has three Top 10 players and two of the Top 5 doubles teams.

Singles:
1. Estela Perez-Somarriba, Miami (3)
2. Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine (1)
3. Anna Turati, Texas (2)
4. Cameron Morra, North Carolina (9)
5. Alexa Graham, North Carolina (7)
6. Sara Daavettila, North Carolina (4)
7. Kelly Chen, Duke (10)
8. Abigail Forbes, UCLA (5)
9. Michaela Gordon, Stanford (6)
10. Iuliia Bryzgalova, Penn (11)

Doubles:
1. Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart, UCLA (2)
2. Alana Smith and Anna Rogers, NC State (1)
3. Jessie Gong and Samantha Martinelli, Yale (3)
4. Sara Daavettila and Alexa Graham, North Carolina (6)
5. Cameron Morra and Makenna Jones, North Carolina (4)

The USTA rankings continue to be by poll, so they do differ frequently from the computer generated rankings, although they agree this week on the No. 1 teams.

The USTA Division I Top 10, February 19, 2020
MEN:
1. USC (5)
2. North Carolina (2)
3. Ohio State (1)
4. Florida (4)
5. Texas (3)
6. Michigan (11)
7. Wake Forest (8)
8. Stanford (10)
9. Columbia (12)
10. Texas A&M (6)

WOMEN:
1. North Carolina (1)
2. UCLA (2)
3. Stanford (3)
4. Duke (4)
5. NC State (5)
6. Florida State (7)
7. Georgia  (6)
8. Texas (8)
9. Princeton (9)
10. Virginia (12)

The full Top 25 list for this week is available at usta.com.  There is also a new landing page for college tennis at usta.com here.

Brandon Nakashima is having an impressive debut at the ATP level this week in Delray Beach. After earning his first Top 100 win Monday over Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic, the 18-year-old wild card from San Diego got his second today, beating qualifier Cameron Norrie (TCU) of Great Britain 7-5, 6-2.  Norrie, current ATP No. 60, is Nakashima's best win. The former Virginia Cavalier will face unseeded Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in Friday's quarterfinals. Nakashima has apparently hired a new coach since I spoke with him last month in Ann Arbor, with Pat Cash now named in that capacity in this ATP article about Nakashima's win today. Cash spoke about his new partnership with Nakashima in this article.

Two all-US second round matches are on the docket for Thursday, with wild card Jack Sock taking on Steve Johnson and Frances Tiafoe facing off against Tommy Paul.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Shick Wins First ITF Junior Title in Mexico; Next Month's Grade 4 Moves From SoCal to Las Vegas; A Look at ITF Junior Rankings After 2020's Second Grade A

With all the problems that I've encountered trying to navigate the ITF's new website, it's been difficult to track what's going on throughout the Junior Circuit. In addition to the technical problems with the website, the news coverage has dropped off as well, and there was nothing posted on last week's Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil. In addition to Elvina Kalieva's title there, four other Americans claimed titles last week, all at the Grade 4 in Mexico, with 16-year-old Braden Shick sweeping singles and doubles (with Samir Banerjee) and 17-year-olds Minorka Miranda and Grace O'Donnell taking the girls doubles title.

Shick, the No. 8 seed, defeated doubles partner Banerjee, the No. 2 seed, 6-3, 6-4 for his first ITF Junior Circuit singles title. A frequent quarterfinalist at ITF Grade 4s, Shick got his third win over Banerjee in the past six months in his first ITF singles final. Shick and Banerjee, the No. 2 seeds, defeated No. 3 seeds Ozan Colak and Aidan Kim 7-5, 4-6, 10-6 in the all-American doubles final.  Miranda and O'Donnell, the No. 5 seeds, defeated No. 8 seeds Ana Paula Chavez Sanchez of Mexico and Vanesa Suarez of Venezuela 6-3, 6-3 in the girls doubles final. Miranda, the third seed, lost in the singles final to top seed Ana Paula Naranjo Martinez Kobashi of Mexico 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-3.

There are two Grade 4s this week that have large numbers of Americans. In Jalisco Mexico, Colak is the top boys seed, with Kim, Lucas Brown and Evan Wen also seeded. O'Donnell, Cecilia Alcobe Garibay, Nicole Kiefer and Leyden Games are the American girls seeded this week.

In Guatemala, Adam Duan has beaten top seed Alvin Tudorica of Canada in the first round and Ty Switzer took out No. 2 seed Carlos Solares Midence of Bolivia. Sam Scherer and Jakub Ostajewski are the two American boys seeded. Fourteen-year-old Madison Smith defeated top seed Tanisha Kashyap of India in the opening round. Brooklyn Olson is the only seeded American girl in the draw.

The last time I checked the ITF Junior calendar, not too long ago, the location of the Grade 4 that is scheduled the week before the Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson was still reading TBD. In looking today, I see that the tournament will be held outside of Southern California for the first time, with this year's event in Las Vegas.  The tournament has moved around Southern California a lot, with Claremont, Newport Beach and Irvine all hosting the event. I'm not sure why it was moved, and although Las Vegas is within driving distance of Los Angeles, about four hours, it obviously will not draw as many Southern Californians, which strengthened the fields considerably.

With the second Grade A of 2020 complete, it's a good time to look at the ITF Junior rankings. There was no change in the girls Top 10, but  with Kalieva's victory at the Banana Bowl, the 16-year-old has taken a huge jump and is into the Top 30 for the first time, at 29. With the bulk of her points earned in the past six months, she doesn't have much to defend this spring and summer, meaning that she is in good position for the summer junior slams. She has only played the US Open, and she did that via qualifying last year.  Madison Sieg with her semifinal result in Brazil, has moved to 45, and the 16-year-old also has little to defend prior to the junior slam cutoffs.

Although Matilde Paoletti of Italy moved up only 2 spots this week, to 39, she has a huge jump since the beginning of the year, having ended 2019 ranked 265. Paoletti, 16, has won a Grade 1 and made the quarterfinals and semifinals in two others in South America since mid-January to secure her place in the slams this summer.

Luciano Darderi, also of Italy, has had a similar rise in the boys rankings, with the 18-year-old winning three consecutive Grade 1s in South America to move from 208 at the end of last year to the Top 20. After making the Grade A quarterfinals and winning the doubles last week, Darderi is now sitting at No. 8 in the rankings.

The American boys who helped themselves the most in South America are Dali Blanch, 16, and Bruno Kuzuhara, 15. After reaching the semifinals last week at the Banana Bowl, Blanch is up to 24, a career high for him.  Kuzuhara has gained more than 266 places in the rankings this year, and after reaching the quarterfinals last week in Brazil, he now is at 45, with nothing to defend until the fall.

Obviously a lot can happen between now and the first of May, when the acceptances for the French will be posted, but moving into the Top 50 six weeks into the year is a good start if the goal is junior slams.

Monday, February 17, 2020

USC Drops North Carolina 4-1 to Claim ITA Men's Team Indoor Title; Nakashima Posts First ATP Top 100 Win at Delray Beach

The University of Southern California 2020 Indoor Champions

The ITA Division I Men's Team Indoor Championships provided plenty of thrills and drama over the weekend, but that did not extend to today's final between No. 2 seed Southern Cal and No. 4 seed North Carolina.

USC had somehow overcome No. 11 seed Michigan 4-3 in the semifinals after losing the doubles point and five first sets in singles, while North Carolina had blanked both No. 5 Florida and No. 1 Ohio State in the quarterfinals and semifinals, but it was the Trojans who dominated in the final, taking it 4-1.

USC had lost the doubles point to both Michigan and TCU, but today they secured what was expected to be a crucial point with a win at line 1, with Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith taking a tiebreaker from Will Blumberg and Brian Cernoch 7-6(5) after trailing 5-2 in that tiebreaker.
Rinky Hijikata and Benjamin Sigouin of UNC won at line 3, beating Stefan Dostancic and Bradley Frye 6-2, while USC quickly sent all attention to court 1 with Mor Bulis and Brandon Holt downing Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard by the same score at line 2.

USC picked up two quick first sets, with Cukierman getting one from Sigouin at line 2 and Dostanic one from Cernoch at line 5. But the Tar Heels had two quick first sets of their own, from Blumberg over Holt at line 1 and Soendergaard over Frye at line 6.  North Carolina got on the board when Holt, who had been ill all weekend and didn't play in the quarterfinals, retired after losing the first set 6-0. But Bulis took the first set from Joshua Peck at line 4, giving the Trojans a clear path to the title.  At line 3, Hijikata served for the first set against Smith at 5-4, but he was broken at 30-40, and when Smith went on to take the tiebreaker, USC had four first sets. By then, Cukierman had made it 2-1 with his 6-2, 6-1 win over Sigouin and, just a few minutes later, Dostanic closed out Cernoch 6-1, 6-4 to give USC a 3-1 lead.

Bulis had a big lead on Peck and served for the match and the championships at 6-3, 5-0, but was broken. Peck went up 40-0 in his next service game, but lost it on the deuce point, giving the Trojans a 4-1 victory in almost exactly two hours.

It's the fourth Team Indoor title for Southern California, whose previous three came in 1987, 1988 and 2012.

The ITA's recap of the final is here. USC's recap of the final is here.

ITA Men's Division I Team Indoor Championships
Final
February 17, 2020

USC 4, North Carolina 1

DOUBLES
(1) Cukierman/R. Smith (USC) vs. Blumberg/Cernoch 7-6(5)
(2) Bulis/Holt (USC) def. Kiger/Soendergaard (UNC) 6-2
(3) Hijikata/Sigouin (UNC) def. Dostanic/Frye (USC) 6-2

Order of finish: 3, 2, 1*

SINGLES
(1) William Blumberg (UNC) def. #24 Brandon Holt (USC) 6-0 ret.
(2) Daniel Cukierman (USC) def. #60 Ben Sigouin (UNC) 6-2, 6-1
(3) Riley Smith (USC) vs. Rinky Hijikata (UNC) 7-6(2), 2-3 susp.
(4) Mor Bulis (USC) def. #80 Josh Peck 6-3, 6-1*
(5) Stefan Dostanic (USC) def. Brian Cernoch (UNC) 6-1, 6-4
(6) Bradley Frye (USC) vs. Simon Soendergaard (UNC) 0-6, 6-3, 0-1 susp.

Order of finish: 1, 2, 5, 4*

There are no USTA Pro Circuit events this week for men or women, so the focus of US tennis is on the ATP 250 Delray Beach Open in Florida. Today 18-year-old wild card Brandon Nakashima made his ATP main draw debut there and got his first Top 100 win, beating Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 7-6(4), 6-1. Nakashima, who has competed in qualifying at both the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and at the US Open, had previously played four other players in the ATP Top 100 before he took out No. 74 Vesely today. He will play the winner of the match between Taylor Fritz[3] and qualifier Cameron Norrie(TCU) of Great Britain.  Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic are the top two seeds in Delray Beach.

The ATP has a 5 Things to Know series about those having breakthroughs, and Nakashima is featured today.

If you are a Tennis Recruiting Network member, you can read my entire article on Nakashima from last month, when I spoke with him at the Ann Arbor Challenger. One update from that conversation is that Nakashima has in the past few weeks signed an endorsement agreement with Fila. At Ann Arbor, he was still wearing Lacoste, which had sponsored him as a junior, but he told me there were deals in the works, so I am not surprised by the switch.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Kalieva Claims Banana Bowl Title; North Carolina Downs Ohio State, Faces Southern Cal in ITA Men's Team Indoor Final Monday; Torpegaard Wins Cleveland Challenger

Although the ITF website has been down all day, I was able to discover the winners of today's singles finals at the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil thanks to some help from a twitter follower.

Sixteen-year-old Elvina Kalieva won the girls title, beating unseeded Leyre Romero Gormaz of Spain 6-1, 1-6, 6-2.  Kalieva, the No. 8 seed, had not dropped a set all week, so that middle set is something of a surprise, but she recovered for her first Grade A title. Her previous best showing at that level was a quarterfinal at the South African tournament last fall.

The boys title went to No. 3 seed Hanwen Li of China, who earned the title when top seed Natan Rodrigues of Brazil retired after losing the first set 6-4. The 17-year-old Li had not been past the third round at a Grade A before this week.

The finals are set for the ITA Division I Men's Team Indoor Championships, and a new champion will be crowned, after No. 4 North Carolina defeated top seed and defending champion Ohio State 4-0 in this evening's match.  The Tar Heels took the doubles point with little difficulty and then grabbed five first sets, with the singles points coming from Rinky Hijikata at line 3, Simon Soendergaard at line 6 and, with the clinch, Brian Cernoch at line 5. Ohio State's battle with Wake Forest Saturday night probably had some impact on their slow start today, and they were up in the three unfinished singles matches, but the Tar Heels definitely earned their shot at their first Indoor title since 2016.

North Carolina will take on No. 2 seed Southern California, who mounted an incredible comeback to defeat No. 11 seed Michigan 4-3. After losing the doubles point in a tiebreaker at line 3, USC lost five first sets, but the Trojans fought back to take three of those matches to a third set and won them all. Riley Smith got USC on the board with a win at line 3, but Michigan made it 3-1 with wins by Andrew Fenty at line 1 and Connor Johnston at line 4. USC made it 3-2 with Stefan Dostanic beating Nick Beaty 2-6 6-4, 6-3 at line 5, and the Trojans were up in the third set of the remaining two matches, but more drama remained. USC's Daniel Cukierman, the top-ranked player in the country, led Ondrej Styler 5-2 in the third at line 2, but couldn't close it out serving for it at 5-3. Styler saved two match points serving at 5-4, and with two more holds, they moved into a tiebreaker. Ryder Jackson saw his break over Patrick Maloney slip away at line 6, but he quickly regained the lead and when he earned his 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-3 win, Cukierman was up 5-1 in the tiebreaker, and three points later, USC completed the comeback.

USC last won an Indoor title in 2012 and made the Indoor finals the following three years, but this is their first final since 2015.

The final is scheduled for noon on Monday, with links to live streaming and live scoring available at the ITA tournament page. The score links in the above paragraphs go to the TennisTicker results pages for the two semifinal matches.

Americans were shut out as far as singles titles go at the three USTA Pro Circuit tournaments this week.

At the women's $100,000 tournament in Lexington Kentucky, wild card Claire Liu lost to Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-4, 6-4.

photo courtesy Scott Gerber©2019
The Buckeyes did get a win today at the ATP 80 Challenger in Cleveland, with former Ohio State Mikael Torpegaard claiming his third Challenger title and first not in Columbus. The 25-year-old from Denmark, seeded No. 12 seed, beat unseeded Yosuke Watanuki of Japan 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in today's final.

Unseeded Treat Huey(Virginia) and Nate Lammons(SMU) won the doubles title, beating top seeds JP Smith(Tennessee) and Luke Saville of Australia 7-5, 6-2.

Another former SMU standout came out on top at the $25,000 men's tournament in Naples Florida, with No. 8 seed Ronald Slobodchikov of Russia beating qualifier Alejandro Gomez(Kentucky) of Colombia 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in the final. It's the sixth title for the 26-year-old, but the first above the $15K level.