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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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Grant and Leach Celebrate Junior Davis Cup and Junior Billie Jean King Cup Selections with Third Round Victories at ITF J300 Pan American Closed

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

On Tuesday, the International Tennis Federation announced the teams for the 2023 Junior Davis Cup and Junior Billie Jean King Cup in Spain later this fall; on Wednesday two of the players named to the United States teams who recorded victories at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed at the Giammalva Racquet Club expressed their excitement in representing the United States in the ITF's competition.

Top seed Tyra Grant is only 15, so she will be a year younger than most of the competitors representing their countries in Cordoba for the 16 and under team competition. Due to injury, Grant was unable to compete in the ITF's 14 and under World Junior Tennis competition last year, so she is especially eager to be a part of the team this year, along with Iva Jovic and Alanis Hamilton.

"I really like playing team competitions, you can really bring your energy out there," said Grant, who played Tennis Europe tournaments when she was younger but has never been to Spain. "It's all about having fun and showing your best tennis. Last year I played 14s and I should have played in the Czech Republic, but I got injured, so I just played the qualies in Mexico. I'm really, really looking forward to it. It's going to be so much fun, I can't wait."

In previous years the boys and girls competitions were held at the same venues on the same dates, but this year, the boys will play first in Cordoba, October 30-November 5, and the girls will follow November 6-12.

"We're playing a different week from the boys, but we'll be there the week before, so we'll be able to cheer them anyway," Grant said. 

Grant injured her knee in a first round victory at Wimbledon Junior Championships this year, and is just getting back to competition, with a 7-5, 6-3 first round loss to No. 6 seed Ena Koike of Japan in the US Open Junior Championships her first match since Wimbledon.

"It was a bone bruise, maybe a fracture, but we're happy it healed quickly," Grant said. "I wasn't ready probably to compete yet at the US Open, but I felt like, it's a slam, I'm not going to skip it. It didn't work out the way I wanted it to because I had a tough draw and she was a really good player. I didn't play my best, but I'm happy I got to play and had no pain."

Grant defeated No. 16 seed Riley Crowder 6-2, 6-3 in today's third round, a scoreline that she said didn't indicate the quality of the match.

"Riley's one of my closest friends," Grant said. "It was 6-2, 6-3 and I was up 5-1 in the second, but the match was really close. I had to play really well to bring it home. I'm really happy I got another match under my belt, and that's just more experience, you know."

Grant will play wild card Alexis Nguyen in Thursday's quarterfinals, after Nguyen fought back to defeat No. 11 seed Shannon Lam 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the last girls match to be completed Wednesday. Grant and Nguyen played this spring on clay at the ITF J100 in Delray Beach with Grant taking the second round match 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Leach, the No. 7 seed, found himself in a third set after relinquishing control of second to unseeded Xavier Cavelo, but saved himself from drama in the third set of his 6-4, 6-7(8), 6-0 victory.

"Toward the end of the first set, he was dictating play, he was just making a few more errors," Leach said. "I thought that might be a winning solution if he was missing a few more balls. But toward the end of the second, he started to find his groove, hit a lot of big winners and I said, ok, I need to be the one dictating play in this third set. I need to be pushing him, he can't be pushing me around. So every point I focused on moving him around the court and building points and that seemed to work really well in the third set."

The 16-year-old Leach, who will be playing his first J300 quarterfinal against No. 16 seed Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala, said he never dreamed that at the start of 2023 he would compete for the United States in Junior Davis Cup, with Darwin Blanch and Maxwell Exsted the other two members of the team.

"It's one of the biggest honors," Leach said. "Before the year started I couldn't even imagine that goal, and now I've achieved a goal I didn't even think about. I'm so happy to be able represent my country, and I believe we can do really well there. I'm so excited for the opportunity."

Leach has followed in the footsteps of both his parents, who played in the competition when it was known as the World Youth Cup.

Leach's mother Lindsay Davenport said she remembers losing in to Paraguay on the Barcelona clay, while Leach's father Jon was on the team that reached the finals in Australia.

"I've heard stories about it since I was seven or eight years old," Leach said. "They would always talk about it. My dad and his team lost in the finals and he's still bummed about it, 'aw man we could have had it'. I'm so excited to be the third family member to play it."

The complete list of competitors for each of the 16 teams are available at the ITF website. The girls teams announcement is here; the boys teams announcement is here.

Unlike Grant, Leach and Hamilton, a fourth USA team member playing here in Houston wasn't able to advance to the quarterfinals. No. 4 seed Exsted lost to No. 13 seed Kuang Qing Xu of Canada 7-6(5), 6-4. The first set, 90 minutes in length, was followed by a quick 4-1 lead for Exsted in the second, but Xu roared back to take the last five games and the match. Xu will face unseeded Jordan Reznick, who defeated No. 8 seed Stiles Brockett 6-1, 6-4.

Top seed Alex Frusina defeated No. 15 seed Maximus Dussault 6-2, 6-3 and will play No. 10 seed Matthias Uwe Kask of Canada, after Kask posted a marathon of a win, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 over unseeded Matisse Farzam; No. 2 seed Alex Razeghi took out No. 14 seed Kase Schinnerer 7-6(4), 6-2 and will play wild card Ian Mayew, who beat No. 6 seed Nikita Filin 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7) in three hours and 15 minutes.  Filin had a match point at 6-3, 5-3 but missed a volley and didn't get another until 6-5 and 7-6 in the final set tiebreaker. Mayew saved both with volley winners, and after forcing an error to go up 8-7, Mayew converted his first match point when Filin's forehand approach flew long.

Girls No. 2 seed Maya Joint eliminated wild card Anita Tu 6-2, 6-4 and will play unseeded Tianmei Wang, who beat qualifier Hadley Appling, 6-3, 6-3.

No. 10 seed Aspen Schuman defeated No. 6 seed Katie Rolls 6-1, 6-2 and will take on unseeded Monika Ekstrand, who ran her ITF Junior Circuit winning streak to ten matches with a 6-1, 6-2 win over qualifier Kori Montoya.

No. 12 seed Victoria Osuigwe defeated No. 7 seed Kate Fakih 6-3, 6-4 and will play No. 4 seed Hamilton, who won the rematch of this spring's Easter Bowl Girls 16s final 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 over No. 14 seed and doubles partner Claire An.  An had beaten Hamilton in three long sets to take the Easter Bowl title and today's match was equally as taxing for both; they later teamed up to take their doubles match and advance to Thursday's quarterfinals.

The seeded doubles teams took the court today for the first time and just one Top 4 seed fell, with Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth defeating No. 3 seeds Rohan Belday and Matthew Forbes 6-4, 6-7(5), 10-5.  Boys top seeds Exsted and Cooper Woestendick and No. 2 seeds Brockett and Filin won in match tiebreakers. Girls top seeds Ariana Pursoo and Joint and Kaitlyn Rolls and Schuman won in straight sets.

All eight quarterfinals in singles are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, with doubles quarterfinals set to begin not before 1:30 p.m.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Eleven Seeds, Including Both No. 3s, Fall in ITF J300 Pan American Closed Second Round Tuesday; US Open Junior Championships Photo Gallery at Tennis Recruiting Network

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

Nearly all of the top seeds were challenged in their first matches Tuesday in the second round of the ITF J300 Pan American Closed at the Giammalva Racquet Club in Houston, and 11 of them failed to advance, including both No. 3 seeds.

Monika Ekstrand, who won the J200 last week in Montreal Canada, extended her winning streak to nine matches today, beating No. 3 seed Ariana Pursoo 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Ekstrand had never played Pursoo before, but the 16-year-old found ways to adjust after dropping the first set to the University of Texas recruit.

“I didn’t come into the match with the best rhythm and she hit the ball hard and I wasn’t used to it as much," said Ekstrand, who lives in Delray Beach Florida. "I got used to her ball and where to stand on the returns and found a rhythm, but a lot of it was just believing I could win, that I could beat her, especially going into the second set."

Ekstrand, who broke Pursoo serving at 4-5 in both the second and third sets, said her recent success can be attributed more to her mental approach than anything specific in her game.

“I think my mentality clicked, that I could go out and play my game and don’t have to do more to beat an opponent, that I can figure it out," Ekstrand said.

The final in Montreal was on Friday, so Ekstrand had two days before she was due on court in Houston, but the 90 degree heat in Texas did require some getting used to.

“Going from Canada to here was difficult because of the weather change,” said Ekstand. “There it was like 60 degrees, so my fitness has been helping me in believing that I can figure it out.”

Ekstand will face qualifier Kori Montoya in the third round, after Montoya defeated No. 15 seed Taylor Goetz 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5) in a contentious match that lasted nearly four hours. Montoya led 5-2 in the third set before Goetz mounted her comeback, and Goetz led 5-3 in the final tiebreaker, but Montoya won the final four points to secure the win.

Five of the six seeds who lost were in the bottom half with Ekstrand and Montoya. Wild card Anita Tu defeated No. 13 seed Jessica Bernales 7-6(7), 6-2 to set up a meeting with No. 2 seed Maya Joint of Australia, who won a long, tough battle with Nadia Lagaev of Canada 7-6(4), 7-5. The other two unseeded players in the bottom half are qualifier Hadley Appling, a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 winner over No. 9 seed Olivia Center, and Tianmei Wang, who beat No. 5 seed Mia Slama 7-5, 6-3. Wild card Alexis Nguyen took out No. 8 seed Maya Iyengar 7-6(1), 6-4 in the only upset in the top half.

Wang, who hadn’t dropped a game in her first round win Monday over Mexico’s Natalia Fantini, knew she would need her patented patience when it came to facing Slama.

“That’s what I do,” said Wang, a 16-year-old from San Marino California. “I don’t think I’m ever impatient. I just grind a lot.”

Grinding with Slama can be a challenge, with Slama’s array of slices, angles and drop shots.

“In the first set, she was slicing a lot on her forehand, hitting a lot of drop shots, so I tried to avoid hitting to her forehand,” Wang said. “If I did hit it to her forehand I tried to get it deeper and spinny-er so she couldn’t slice it so easily. But I’d seen her play before, so I was prepared for the slices and the drop shots.”

Wang said the courts at the Giammalva Racquet Club are perfect for her, and her recent commitment to improving her fitness has helped her negotiate the heat this week.

“It’s the perfect speed for me to take the ball early,” Wang said. “The heat has made me tired during the match, but I’ve been doing a lot fitness recently, like six hours a week, so I think my endurance is a lot better than before.

Girls top seed Tyra Grant was one of the few seeds who posted a routine win Tuesday, beating qualifier Georgia Crankford 6-0, 6-3, but boys top seed Alex Frusina needed two hours to close out Abishek Thorat 7-6(8), 6-2.

Frusina, who has seen his ITF ranking go from 65 to a career-high 24 in the past month, decided to play the Pan American Closed, not with a view to next year, when he will no longer be eligible for ITF junior events, but for the opportunity to compete at a major tournament where he grew up.

“I originally wasn’t planning to play this tournament if it was still in Kentucky,” said Frusina, who turns 18 in December. “But this made a lot of sense for me, because I live about 30 minutes away and it’s really nice to come back.”

Frusina trained at the Giammalva Racquet Club from age 9 to 12, so he was eager to return, although admitted that comes with distractions.

“It’s fun, and there are extra challenges I think on top of it,” said Frusina, who is still undecided on where he will be playing college tennis a year from now. “But at the end of the day I’m excited to be here, and just doing my best to keep it going.”

Another nearly local player is Humble’s Alexander Razeghi, the No. 2 seed, who was able to advance with a 6-3, 6-3 win over qualifier Gabriel Porras of Guatemala. No. 4 seed Maxwell Exsted needed three sets, but did move into the third round, beating Benjamin Willwerth 3-6, 6-2, 6-1. No. 3 seed Cooper Woestendick and No. 5 seed Matthew Forbes were ousted, with Junghee You of Canada saving a match point in his 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win over Woestendick and Matisse Farzam defeating Forbes 6-0, 6-4.

Woestendick broke You at 4-all in the third set and got to 40-30 in his attempt to serve out the match, but You forced an error to save the match point and took the final three games, completely eliminating any mistakes in that crucial stretch.

Wild card Ian Mayew defeated No. 9 seed Cesar Cruz of El Salvador 6-2, 6-3; Jordan Resnik beat No. 11 seed Calvin Baierl 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 and Xavier Calvelo defeated No. 12 seed Francesco Cordova 6-4, 7-6(5).

The first round of doubles was played this afternoon, with the seeded teams playing their first matches in the second round Wednesday.

The 42 Americans who competed in the main draws of the US Open Junior Championships earlier this month are featured in today's Tennis Recruiting Network's photo gallery. All photos were taken by Paul Ballard for Zootennis.com. My recap of the tournament, published last Friday, is here.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Wild Cards Advance at ITF Pan American Closed J300; ITA and ITF Announce Accelerator Program for Collegiate Women; Columbus Challenger Underway with Five Buckeyes in Main Draw

The first round of singles at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed is in the books, and I'll be onsite Tuesday for my coverage, with the seeds taking the courts for the first time.

In today's first round, four of the six boys wild cards posted victories, as did three of the five girls wilds cards.  Local wild card Mahir Khurana, 17, got a victory in his first ITF Junior Circuit tournament, beating fellow Texan Jacob Golden, a qualifier, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. Mark Krupkin beat fellow wild card Cal Riggs 6-1, 6-2; Ian Mayew defeated Dominick Mosejczuk 6-4, 6-0 and Andre Alcantara downed Diego Herrera of Mexico  6-1, 6-4.

The girls wild cards picking up wins today are Alexis Nguyen, the 2022 16s Orange Bowl champion, who defeated Gianna Oboniye of Canada 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1. Seventeen-year-old Tianna Rangan of nearby Sugarland Texas, who hasn't played an ITF all year, beat Mariya Dobreva of Canada 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, and Anita Tu, the USTA 16s finalist last month in San Diego, defeated Kenzie Nguyen 6-2, 6-4.

In addition to the second round of singles tomorrow, the first round of doubles is also on the schedule, but no seeds will play until Wednesday.  Maxwell Exsted and Cooper Woestendick are the top seeds in the boys draw, with Maya Joint(AUS) and Ariana Pursoo the No. 1 seeds in the girls draw.

The ITF today announced its women's version of the Accelerator Program for Division I collegiate women, providing wild cards for the top women in several ITF Women's World Tennis Tour. The men's program, which was announced in January, has already been utilized this summer; this announcement, although retroactive to include the top five women of the 2022-23 season and the 2023 NCAA winner and finalist, starts now.

This program is much less robust that what the ATP has offered the men, which is geared at the Top 20 in the ITA rankings and is for up to eight Challenger main draw wild cards(Top 10) or eight Challenger qualifying wild cards(11-20).

For the women, the wild cards are for ITF 60K, 40K or 25K tournaments as follows:

Players returning to College in the autumn receive three main draw places to be used before the end of 2023, while those who have left College receive five main draw places to be used before the end of June 2024. Players can choose places at one W60 tournament, up to two W40 tournaments and up to two W25 tournaments. 

Obviously, with the exception of the one $60K, these are lower level events than the men's Challengers, are five, not eight wild cards, are are limited to the five to seven women, rather than 10 to 20.

I don't understand why qualifying wild cards into the 60 and 80Ks on the schedule this fall in the United States aren't part of this package, which would seem like an obvious way to expand opportunities for women.

The women qualifying for the wild cards are Fiona Crawley (North Carolina), Mary Stoiana (Texas A&M), Lea Ma (Georgia), Diana Shnaider (NC State), Maddy Sieg (USC), Fangran Tian (UCLA), and Layne Sleeth (Oklahoma). Shnaider, currently 83 in the WTA rankings, is unlikely to need any of these wild cards.

I do hope this is just the beginning, and it is, of course, better than nothing, but it's disappointing to see the women having to settle for less than the men have received via their Accelerator Program.

The ITF release for this program can be found here.

Qualifying concluded today for the ATP Challenger 75 in Columbus, with Ohio State sophomore Jack Anthrop, the 2021 ITF Pan American champion, among those reaching the main draw.  Wild card Anthrop defeated No. 5 seed Stefan Kozlov 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in yesterday's first round and and No. 12 seed Radu Papoe of Romania, a junior at Cornell, 7-5, 6-4 today.

The other qualifiers are Bernard Tomic(Australia), James Trotter(Ohio State) of Japan, Federico Agustin Gomez(Louisville) of Argentina, Aidan Mayo, and Strong Kirchheimer. 

The top seed is Enzo Couacaud of France; wild cards went to three Ohio State players: Cannon Kingsley, Justin Boulais of Canada and JJ Tracy. Boulais and Tracy play each other.  Nishesh Basavareddy(Stanford), who has returned from Croatia, where he was the hitting partner for the US Davis Cup team, is also in the draw, presumably with one of the slots from the Accelerator Program as is NCAA champion Ethan Quinn(Georgia).