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Friday, October 18, 2019

Oracle's Mark Hurd, Key Financial Backer of College Tennis, Dies at Age 62; My Recap, Videos of ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed

Sad and unexpected news today that Oracle CEO Mark Hurd has died,  a month after taking a medical leave of absence. The cause of death has not been revealed. The 62-year-old Hurd, who played college tennis at Baylor, has been one of the college games's most significant advocates, with his love for the game and his financial support obvious to anyone who follows the sport. I never met Hurd, meaning these comments are based on what I have observed, but from his funding of the fantastic facility at his alma mater to his support and promotion of the Oracle Collegiate Series, the Oracle US Tennis Award and the Oracle Challenger Series, his commitment to elevating American tennis could not be ignored. Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, who owns the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and has taken that to new heights as an ATP/WTA event, no doubt encouraged Hurd's interest in the sport, but those who have had to work their way up to that level know how important it is to have someone championing the steps below, and for many, that someone was Hurd.  Rhiannon Potkey of the Tennis Recruiting Network spoke to Hurd about his and Oracle's investment in tennis for this article back in March.

My recap of last week's ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, with the background of how Robin Montgomery and Welsh Hotard claimed their first Grade 1 titles.  I'm not a big fan of indoor tennis, but I agree that at least one major ITF tournament in the United States should be held indoors given that is a regular feature of college tennis. The Top Seed Tennis Club, where the tournament was held this year, is an outstanding facility for the event, with excellent viewing on all 12 indoor courts, good lighting, outdoor courts for practice and a gym available for player use. The downsides were few, with expensive hotel prices, which isn't too much of a factor once a player is the main draw, and spotty wifi/4G signal inside the building about all that come to mind. My understanding that this was a one-year trial, but I didn't talk to anyone who would be disappointed if the tournament returned there next year.

Below are the videos of the finals. The perspective may take a little getting used to (it's not as conducive to videos as the Tulsa site was), but it is a chance to see the four finalists.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

USTA Names Dowse to Succeed Smith as USTA CEO; Top Seeds Reach Quarterfinals at Osaka Grade A; ITA Cup, Division I Regionals Underway

The USTA today announced that Michael Dowse is their choice to succeed Gordon Smith as Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director. Smith announced his retirement earlier this year. Dowse, who has been president of Wilson Sporting Goods since 2013, was not one of the names I heard mentioned as a contender when I spoke with several people about Smith's replacement at the US Open, but it is reassuring to me that he has a tennis background, including an earlier position as Director of Tennis Footwear at Nike. Dowse will officially begin on January 1, 2020 and will be based in Lake Nona.  For more on Dowse's background and responsibilities, see this article from usta.com.

The quarterfinals will be played in the next few hours at the ITF Grade A in Osaka Japan, with top seeds Diane Parry and Harold Mayot, both of France, in action. No Americans remain in singles or doubles. Below are the quarterfinal matchups:

Diane Parry(FRA)[1] v Ya Yi Yang(TPE)
Erika Andreeva(RUS)[13] v Mai Nirundorn(THA)[7]
Punnin Kovapitukted(THA) v Alexandra Eala(PHI)[4]
Maria Bondarenko(RUS)[9] v Mara Guth(GER)[15]

Guth defeated No. 2 seed Natsumi Kawaguchi of Japan in the third round.

Harold Mayot(FRA)[1] v Jerome Kym(SUI)
Keisuke Saitoh(JPN)[4] v Dominic Stricker[5](SUI)
Jeffrey Von Der Schulenburg(SUI)[10] v Shunsuke Mitsui(JPN)[3]
Leandro Riedi(SUI)[7] v Bu Yunchaokete(CHN)[2]

I can't recall ever seeing four Swiss boys in the quarterfinals of a Grade A before; it's rare to see two.

The ITA Cup is underway in Rome Georgia, with Division II, Division III, Junior College and NAIA players competing for places in the main draw of next month's Oracle ITA National Fall Championships in Newport Beach, California. The singles champions of each division will compete against Division I players in one of the Division I major individual championships, formerly the National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships. 
The following players are seeded No. 1 in their respective ITA Cup draws (via the ITA release):

NCAA Division II Men
Alvaro Regalado (Columbus State)

NCAA Division II Women
Kim Moosbacher (Oklahoma Baptist)

NCAA Division III Men
Leo Vithoontien (Carleton)

NCAA Division III Women
Danna Taylor (Carnegie Mellon)

Jose Dugo (Georgia Gwinnett)

NAIA Women
Maria Genovese (Georgia Gwinnett)

Junior College Men
Yassir Kilani (ASA Miami)

Junior College Women
Tatiana Simova (ASA Miami)

The ITA Division I Regionals, which will help determine many of the participants in the National Fall Championships, have begun at several locations across the country. I haven't seen any draws posted on the ITA site, but some results are being posted by individual schools on twitter, with the hashtag #ITARegionals

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

USTA Announces Annual Australian Open Wild Card Challenge Events; Nakashima, Zhu and Stewart Beat Top Seeds in First Round of $25K Events; Varsity Blues Articles Explore Fallout of College Admission Scandal

The USTA's annual Australian Wild Card Challenge begins next week for the women and on October 28th for the men, with the tournaments included in the race for the most ATP and WTA points announced today.

The women's events, with the best THREE results counting in the race, are:

  • Week of October 21: USTA Pro Circuit / ITF World Tennis Tour W80s: Macon, Ga.; Poitiers, France; ITF World Tennis Tour W60s: Saguenay, Canada.
  • Week of October 28: USTA Pro Circuit W80: Tyler, Texas; ITF World Tennis Tour W60s: Toronto, Canada; Liuzhou, China; Nantes, France.
  • Week of November 4: USTA Pro Circuit W60 Event: Las Vegas; ITF World Tennis Tour W100: Shenzhen, China.
  • Week of November 11: WTA $125,000 Series Events: Houston, Texas; Taipei; ITF World Tennis Tour W100: Tokyo.
I'm sure the USTA is as happy as anyone that Coco Gauff has recently moved her ranking into the Top 100 (she's currently 71) and will not need a wild card into the Australian Open.

The men's events, with the best TWO results counting in the race are:

  • Week of October 28: ATP Masters 1000 Paris; ATP Challenger 110: Shenzhen, China; USTA Pro Circuit / ATP Challenger 80s: Charlottesville, Va.; Playford, Australia.
  • Week of November 4: ATP Challenger 110: Bratislava, Slovakia; USTA Pro Circuit / ATP Challenger 80s: Knoxville, Tenn.; Kobe, Japan.
  • Week of November 11: ATP Challenger 125: Houston; USTA Pro Circuit / ATP Challenger 80s: Champaign, Ill.; Helsinki, Finland; Ortisei, Italy; Pune, India.
Last year's winners were Jack Sock, who earned all his points at the Masters in Paris, and Whitney Osuigwe, who won the Tyler Texas $80K and reached the quarterfinals at the WTA 125 in Houston.

For more, see this article from usta.com.
The top seeds all went out in the first round today at the $25,000 men's and women's tournament in Waco Texas and the $25,000 women's tournament in Florence South Carolina.  In Texas, 18-year-old wild card Brandon Nakashima(Virginia) needed just 55 minutes to roll past No. 1 seed Gijs Brouwer of the Netherlands 6-0, 6-2 and Amy Zhu(Michigan) took out No. 1 seed Katherine Sebov of Canada 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.   In South Carolina Katarina Stewart defeated top seed and former WTA Top 50 player Johanna Larsson of Sweden 6-3, 6-4 and wild card Kennedy Shaffer(Georgia) ousted No. 3 seed Ellie Halbauer 6-3, 6-3.

Former Texas men's coach Michael Center is scheduled to be sentenced and the end of this month for his involvement in the Varsity Blues scandal that shook Division I athletics this spring. When the story of Rick Singer's scheme to get his clients' children into prestigious schools while representing them as potential student-athletes first broke, there was wide agreement that other misconduct would be discovered, as those charged would cooperate in a continuing investigation.

Nothing on the scale of the first revelations has surfaced, but there was another arrest of a parent last month, with tennis at least on the periphery of Xiaoning Sui's quest to get her son into UCLA. This lengthy article by ProPublica focuses on two Southern California high school teammates, one a viable college prospect and the other not, with the latter ending up at Georgetown. Although it centers on these two boys and their families, the article also provides a great deal of background on how the process worked, as well as explanations of how wealthy families often raise their odds of gaining admission, without resorting to hiring someone as dubious as Singer.  The University of Texas also released a report last month about how their admission process failed to prevent an unqualified student-athlete from getting a books scholarship and then quitting the team but remaining as a student at the university.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

ATP Challenger, Three $25,000 Events Highlight USTA Pro Circuit This Week

Qualifying is now complete at the three $25,000 events on the USTA Pro Circuit this week.

The men's and women's events in Waco Texas, part of the new Oracle Pro Series, have attracted many current collegians, as well as several juniors. Brandon Nakashima(Virginia), who reached the semifinals of the ATP 100 Challenger last week in California, received a wild card and has drawn No. 1 seed Gijs Brouwer of the Netherlands as his first round opponent. Other wild cards went to 2019 Kalamazoo champion Zachary Svajda and two Baylor players: sophomore Adrian Boitan of Romania and junior Matias Soto of Chile. 2019 NCAA champion Paul Jubb of Great Britain is in the draw, with the South Carolina Gamecock taking the fall off to play the Pro Circuit, but expected to return to Columbia for the dual match season.

The six men's qualifiers are Alexander Lebedev(Notre Dame), Barnaby Smith of Great Britain(Texas A&M), Rinky Hijikata(North Carolina) of Australia, Vasil Kirkov, George Goldhoff(Texas) and Tadeus Paroulek(TCU) of the Czech Republic.

The six women's qualifiers in Waco include two US juniors: Alexa Noel and Charlotte Chavatipon. Other qualifiers are Dominique Schaefer of Peru, Chanelle Van Nguyen(UCLA), Fernanda Contreras(Vanderbilt) of Mexico and Alyssa Tobita(Oregon). The top two seeds are both Canadians: Katherine Sebov and 2019 French Open girls champion Leylah Fernandez, 17.  Wild cards were awarded to Texas juniors Savannah Broadus and Tennessee recruit Hadley Doyle, and Baylor juniors Alicia Herrero Linana of Spain and Mel Krywoj of Argentina.

At the other $25,000 women's tournament this week, in Florence South Carolina, the six women qualifying are high school senior Carly Briggs, a Tennessee recruit, Louise Kwong(Illinois) of Canada, Andie Daniell(Alabama), Katarina Jokic(Georgia) of Serbia, Shahar Biran(Old Dominion) of Israel and Joelle Kissell(NC State). The 17-year-old Briggs, playing in just her third Pro Circuit event, beat No. 5 seed Victoria Emma(Florida) and Alexis Keberle(Wisconsin) to qualify into the main draw of a Pro Circuit tournament for the first time.

Wild cards were given to Peyton Stearns, Georgia recruit Lea Ma, Charleston Southern freshman Zoe Cauthen and Kennedy Shaffer(Georgia). Former WTA Top 50 player Johanna Larsson of Sweden is the top seed.

The ATP Challenger in the United States this week is an 80 level tournament in Las Vegas. Steve Johnson, USC's two-time NCAA singles champion, has again taken a wild card this week and is the top seed. Johnson, who reached the final last week in Fairfield California as the No. 1 seed and a wild card, is currently 86 in the ATP rankings.  In addition to Johnson, the other four wild cards went to two players with UNLV ties, senior Alex Kobelt and former player Alexandr Cozbinov of Moldova, Nevada native Evan Song and Stefan Kozlov. Kozlov and Song met in the first round yesterday, with Kozlov earning a 6-4, 6-3 win and the 2015 Kalamazoo 18s finalist took out 2013 NCAA champion and No. 4 seed Blaz Rola of Slovenia by the same score today.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Harmon, Smith Win ITF Grade 5 Titles; Osaka Grade A Underway; ITF Junior Finals Fields Set; Ngounoue Wins USA Les Petits As Playoff, Spot in WTA Future Stars Event

While I was covering the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed last week, there were no fewer than 18 other tournaments scheduled on the ITF Junior Circuit and despite most of the Americans being in Nicholasville Kentucky for the Grade B1, American juniors captured four titles elsewhere.

At the ITF Grade 5 in the Dominican Republic, 13-year-old Alexia Harmon of Las Vegas won her first title, with the No. 8 seed winning all five of her matches in straight sets. In the final, Harmon defeated No. 2 seed Tanisha Kashyap of India 6-3, 6-0.

Colton Smith swept the titles at the Grade 5 in British Columbia, with the unseeded 16-year-old from Washington beating No. 2 seed Noah Gampel 6-4, 7-6(4) in the all-USA singles final. Smith and Nate Bonetto won the doubles title, with the unseeded pair beating top seeds Hanamichi Carvajal Suazo of Chile and Keita Duclos of Canada 6-4, 6-2 in the final. Smith was playing in only his second ITF event after reaching the singles semifinals of his first, also a Grade 5 in Canada, in June.

Jennifer Kida won the doubles title at the Grade 3 in New Zealand last week, partnering with Manami Ukita of Japan, who also won the singles title. Kida and Ukita, the No. 2 seeds, beat top seeds Roopa Bains and Mia Repac of Australia 6-1, 6-2 in the final.

Kida is on the other side of the international date line again this week, at the ITF Grade A Osaka Mayor's Cup in Japan. One of only three US girls in the draw, Kida will play her first round match on Tuesday.  Rebecca Lynn lost her first round match to Talia Gibson of Australia 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, and Skyler Grishuk, the No. 12 seed, won her first round match, beating Ai Yamaguchi of Japan 3-6, 6-0, 6-1. The only US boy in the draw was qualifier Karl Kazuma Lee, and he lost his first round match to No. 14 seed Ryuhei Azuma of Japan 7-6(5), 7-5.

The top seeds in Osaka are France's Diane Parry and Valentin Royer, both of whom are playing the tournament in advance of the ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Finals, formerly known as the Junior Masters, which takes place from October 23-27 in Chengdu China. Although four American boys--Martin Damm, Emilio Nava, Toby Kodat and defending champion Brandon Nakashima--qualified as participants, none elected to make the trip, which allowed No. 12 Royer to gain entry. (No. 14 Bu Yunchaokete of China received a wild card, meeting the Top 25, no other Chinese player ahead of him criteria). Also participating are three of the four boys 2019 slam champions, with Wimbledon's Shinto Mochizuki of Japan, French Open's Holger Rune of Denmark and US Open's Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic leading the field. Thiago Tirante of Argentina, Liam Draxl of Canada and Harold Moyer of France complete the boys field.

The US does have a girls representative, with Hurricane Tyra Black receiving entry with an ITF ranking of 12.  Unlike the boys, only one 2019 girls slam champion is participating: Wimbledon's Daria Snigur of Ukraine. Parry, Qinwen Zheng of China, Kamilla Bartone of Latvia, Natsumi Kawaguchi of Japan, Elsa Jacquemot of France and Oksana Selekhmeteva of Russia complete the girls field.  The ITF Junior website is publishing features of each of the 16 participants leading up to the event, with five articles already up.

The USA Playoffs for January's Les Petits As were held last week in Delray Beach Florida, with four girls and four boys earning their places in the prestigious 14-and-under tournament in Tarbes France (top three are in main, fourth place player is in qualifying). The US girls who advanced are: Clervie Ngounoue, Maya Joint, Brooklyn Olson and Lexington Reed. The US boys who advanced are: Alexander Razeghi, Mitchell Lee, Nikita Filin and Kaylan Bigun. Ngounoue was the overall winner in the girls draw (unfortunately, only round robin results are available on the Les Petits As website NOTE: quarterfinal draws and results now available), so she will be included in the upcoming WTA Future Stars event at the end of this month in China, in conjunction with the WTA Finals.

I've heard that the boys did not finish their tournament due to rain, so the USTA will need to bring them together again in January to determine which three of the four qualifiers will make the main draw. The USTA used to organize these playoffs, but for the past several years they have been handled by a French company.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Lahey and Ito Claim ITA All-American Singles Championships; Gauff Wins WTA Title in Austria; Pro Circuit Update

Pepperdine senior Ashley Lahey and Texas senior Yuya Ito captured the Saint Francis Health System ITA All-American singles titles tonight in Tulsa Oklahoma, with Lahey defeating North Carolina's Alexa Graham 6-4, 7-5 and Ito taking out Sam Riffice of Florida 6-4, 6-4 in matches televised on ESPNU.

Lahey, seeded No. 12, started the match on fire, rushing out to a 4-0 lead, but Graham worked her way into the set by virtue of winning four deciding points in the next five games. Lahey had set points on deciding points with Graham serving at 2-5 and when she served at 5-3, but Graham won both, only to get broken serving a 4-5.

Lahey, who has played three full years of college tennis while still just 19 years old, was broken in the opening game of the first set, with an unfortunate overrule by the chair umpire overturning a Lahey winner on a deciding point, but she did not let that carry over into the next game, and she broke right back. Lahey, who reached the 2018 NCAA singles final, lost her serve at 2-2, but again broke right back, with Graham finally losing her first deciding point. The third-seeded Graham, a senior, played well in the next four games, but Lahey held on a deciding point to take a 6-5 lead, and Graham went down 15-40 in the final game. Lahey netted a forehand to make it 30-40, and a good serve by Graham sent the match to its final deciding point, which Lahey won with a forehand winner.

Lahey, who won the ITA Oracle Masters in late September and an invitational event last weekend and is undefeated this fall, now has her first major collegiate title and she is the first woman from Pepperdine to earn an All-American singles title.
Ito took a 4-1, two-break lead over Riffice in the opening set, but Riffice, a sophomore, got one back back to keep the set close. Ito, the Most Outstanding Player at this year's NCAA Team Championships, was able to close out the set with a hold, but Riffice began to find his range in the last four games, and he took a 3-0 in the second set, winning two deciding points. Then Ito won two deciding points to get it back to 3-all, and in the crucial eighth game, won another. Riffice was broken in the next game, with Ito playing some world class defense and he closed out the championship on his second match point after going up 40-0.

Ito, who is from Japan, is the first Texas man to win an All-American singles title since Chad Clark accomplished that in 1993.

Both doubles titles went to Ivy League teams, and both came through after dropping the first set to take the championships. Yale's Samantha Martinelli and Jessie Gong became the first players from Yale to win an All-American titles in singles or doubles with their 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 win over Tennessee's Tenika McGiffin and Kaitlin Staines. Neither team was seeded.

Columbia's Jackie Tang and Jack Lin, a No. 5 seed, won the men's doubles title, beating the unseeded Central Florida team of Gabriel Decamps and Juan Pablo Mazzuchi, who qualified into the main draw, 3-6, 6-2, 10-6.

Coco Gauff defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 today to claim her first WTA singles title at the International-level tournament in Linz Austria. The 15-year-old from Florida, who lost in the final round of qualifying but got into the main draw as a lucky loser and beat top seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, is the youngest WTA champion since Nicole Vaidisova won two events in 2004.  For more on Gauff's title, see this article from the WTA website. Gauff and Caty McNally also reached the doubles semifinal in Linz.

There were no American singles champion this week in the four USTA Pro Circuit events, with the two US players that reached the finals falling short of the titles.

At the ATP 100 Challenger in Fairfield California, No. 12 seed Chris O'Connell of Australia defeated top seed Steve Johnson(USC) 6-4, 6-4 in today's final. Johnson had ended the run of wild card Brandon Nakashima(Virginia) in the semifinals with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory.  In the doubles final, unseeded Peter Polansky of Canada and Darian King of Barbados defeated No. 4 seeds Sem Verbeek(Pacific) of the Netherlands and Andre Goransson(Cal) of Sweden 6-4, 3-6, 12-10.

Ellie Halbauer reached the final of the $25,000 women's tournament in Hilton Head SC, with the No. 7 seed falling to No. 2 seed Marina Melnikova of Russia 6-3, 6-4.  Former Florida teammates Ingrid Neel and Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan won their second straight USTA Pro Circuit doubles title, with last week's Charleston $60K champions and top seeds beating the unseeded team of Halbauer and Kate Fahey(Michigan) 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

Neither of the $25,000 Oracle Pro Series tournaments in Claremont California, both men's and women's, had Americans in the singles finals. Former Arizona State star Michael Geerts of Belgium, who lost in the final last week in Norman Oklahoma, won the men's title, with the No. 4 seed beating top seed Liam Broady of Great Britain 6-3, 6-2 in the championship match.  Former San Diego State Aztecs Milen Ianakiev and Hendrik Jebens of Germany won the doubles title, with the unseeded pair taking down top seeds and former Illinois standouts Ruben Gonzales of the Philippines and Ruan Roelofse of South Africa in an impressively long match tiebreaker 6-4, 3-6, 17-15.

No. 5 seed Katie Swan of Great Britain won the Claremont women's title, beating unseeded Thaisa Pedretti of Brazil 6-1, 6-3 in the final. No. 3 seeds Jacqueline Cako(Arizona State) and Angelina Gabueva of Russia won the doubles title, beating unseeded Hind Abdelouahid(St. Mary's) and Alyssa Tobita(Oregon) 6-3, 6-7(4), 10-4 in the final.