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Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day at International Spring Championships



©Colette Lewis 2008--
Carson, CA--

Although the temperature didn't climb much past the lower 60s, the calm winds and blue skies made for great playing conditions at the ITF International Spring Championships at the Home Depot Center--at least in the morning.

The winds picked up in the afternoon, and a jacket was never inappropriate, but there was very little to complain about with so much tennis to watch.

The USTA High Performance department was out in force, with Jean Nachand, Rodney Harmon and Paul Roetert all watching matches throughout the day. High Performance coaches Martin VanDaalen, David Roditi, Mike Sell, Jean Desdunes were just a few of a host of coaches on hand to evaluate, and college coaches were also present to do some scouting in advance of next week's signing date.

I stayed in the vicinity of the eight main courts, although seven others, including the stadium, were also used today. Shaun Bernstein, who had been out with shoulder problems for three months, was back on the courts again, and I watched a few games between he and Daniel Weingarten in the 16s. Both players have one-handed backhands, although neither hit very many of them in the points I saw; running around to a forehand was the preferred method of winning points, and Bernstein did it best, taking a 6-2, 6-3 victory. One of the big upsets of the day came in boys 16s, where No. 3 seed Nathan Pasha lost to Gregory Scott 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Court 4, the stadium court, began to draw a crowd when top seed and the world's third ranked junior Melanie Oudin faced Katarena Paliivets of Canada in the 18s. (See video below). Oudin was down a break twice in the first set, but managed to squeak past the 16s Orange Bowl finalist in a tiebreaker, and then picked up the pace in the second set to record a 7-6 (6), 6-1 win. Paliivets hit the ball very cleanly, especially from the backhand side, and kept the errors and the dramatics she can often indulge in to a minimum. It wasn't quite enough to topple the No. 1 seed Monday, but it did signal an increasing maturity to her game for the future.

The top half of the girls 18s draw is loaded--all eight wild cards ended up there, which would seem to be mathematically impossible in a random draw. Oudin will meet the winner of the Kristie Ahn - Nicole Gibbs match, which I'm looking forward to seeing Tuesday. Winter National 18s champion Alexandra Cercone took out No. 8 seed Nadja Gilchrist 6-1, 6-4, and Missy Clayton outlasted No. 13 seed Nicole Bartnik 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 to account for the upsets of the day in that division.

Top seeds Alexei Grigorov and Bradley Klahn had quick matches Monday afternoon in the boys 18s, and No. 5 seed Jarmere Jenkins had an abbreviated workout when Jordon Cox was forced to retire with back spasms after losing the first set 6-1.

I watched most of the match between No. 10 seed Chase Buchanan and Filipp Pogostkin, with Buchanan taking that 6-1, 6-3. Buchanan trailed 3-0 in the second set, but once he got his concentration back, Pogostkin was unable to counter the pace and consistency Buchanan demonstrated. Several times Buchanan made delicate drop volleys or difficult backhand volleys to finish a point, but more as a reaction than a strategy or game style. If he came in more often, he might find those talents and instincts would shorten points considerably.

The girls 16s were still out on court after 7 p.m., so please see the usta.com site for that draw, and the results of other matches played today.

Melanie Oudin Video

©Colette Lewis 2008--

This video is Melanie Oudin in the first set tiebreaker against Katarena Paliivets of Canada in the first round of the International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif. This is Oudin's third set point, at 7-6 in the tiebreaker. Oudin won the match 7-6 (6), 6-1. video

Sunday, March 30, 2008

International Spring Championships Begin Monday

We're on our way to Southern California for the ITF Grade 1 in Carson and the Easter Bowl. Qualifying at the International Spring Championships will be completed today and main draw will begin on Monday. The qualifying draws and match schedule can be found here.

Several of the girls who might have played the ISCs are in Pelham, Alabama instead, at the $25,000 Pro Circuit there. Alison Riske, Christina McHale, Brittany Augustine and Irina Falconi are in the qualifying, and Chelsey Gullickson, who reached the singles semifinals and doubles finals in Hammond, La. will be playing in the main draw, according to this Birmingham News story.
For complete draws, visit usta.com.

A reminder that tournament updates in the next two weeks are likely to be very late at night given the three hour time difference.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Inside Junior Tennis Podcast; Anderson and Larcher de Brito the Talk of Key Biscayne


Kevin McClure and I talk about Mobile, the success of Muhammad and Oudin, the U.S. juniors' problems on clay and the New York Times series on college athletic scholarships, among other things, in the most recent edition of Inside Junior Tennis.

Yesterday at the Sony Ericsson Open, qualifier Kevin Anderson (photo courtesy of Sony Ericsson Open) set the pro tennis world buzzing with his three-set win over Australian Open champion and defending SEO champion Novak Djokovic. As with Jesse Levine and John Isner, Anderson is proud of his college background, and in this interview after his win, the former Illinois star talks about how he benefited from his years in Champaign. Marcia Frost did a wrap-up of all of the collegians excelling at Key Biscayne for Tennis.com.

Overshadowed somewhat by Anderson's stunner was fifteen-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito, who again came from a set down, this time taking out No. 17 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland to advance to the third round against Shahar Peer, the 16th seed. Nick Bollettieri reports on the match on his new Nick's Picks blog.

In ITF junior play, Spring National champion Kristie Ahn won the Grade 4 in College Station today, with Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia taking the boys title over Raymond Sarmiento of the U.S. For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Monica Puig has reached the final of the ITF Grade 4 in Trinidad & Tobago. Although the ITF website isn't up-to-date, the local newspaper has been covering the event. The four-hour win by Puig that they allude to was over Elizabeth Begley of the U.S.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Coaches Q and A: How Important is Winning?



In this edition of Coaches Q an A, Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida responds to a question on the importance of winning on the junior level.

Q.Many coaches tell their students that focusing on winning is not in their long term best interests; what do you think?

A. I have a different perspective on winning than some other people in our profession. In my opinion it is ridiculous to ignore that the intention of tennis players when they compete in tournament play is to win. I don't see anything wrong with having that intention every time you walk on the court if you are thinking correctly about winning.
Questions to ask while on the court
I think that every player's job when they walk on the court is to figure out how they can use the various parts of their game in order to be successful on the court against each and every opponent. In order to do that each player must constantly ask themselves questions. I am always in a dialogue with myself asking what's working and what's not working.
What does my opponent like and what doesn't he like?
How is he hurting me?
Does he like high balls, does he like slices, how is he at the net?
Am I effective when I go behind him, does he like pace, does he have a serving pattern?
Am I varying my serves, how is the depth of my shots, how can I use the wind to my advantage?
Is he slow, are drop shots effective?
The love of competition
I ask all of these questions so that I can be effective and so that I can come out the winner at the end of the match. Some matches I may have to resort to just moon balling to be effective, some matches I might come in on everything; my job out there is to do whatever I have to do within the rules of the game to be effective. Most importantly, I have to love the competition, I have to thrive in that environment. I am not afraid of competing, it's what I live for. My job is to push myself, to test myself, to challenge myself. On the other hand, if I incapacitate myself with the fear of losing, then I am not focused on winning. I am trying to avoid losing, which is a whole different way of thinking and one that will set me back, not push me ahead.
Finding the right level
Winning breeds winning; learning how to win is a skill that has to be developed with success. Too often I find parents or coaches have their children or students play the majority of their matches in age groups where they have little or no chance of being successful, under the theory that playing older and better players is the best thing for their development. I have personally seen too many of these players forget how to win, forget what it takes to win seven matches in a row to win a tournament. Learning to win is the process of taking your skills and resources no matter what they might be and finding a way to use them successfully against whoever is on the other side of the court and then have the character to be able to walk off the court and objectively look at your performance (no matter if you were successful or not) and make the appropriate decisions about what work needs to get done to take your game to the next level. What do you think?
Do you have a question for Andy Brandi or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lipman Profile; Sony Ericsson Update; No. 1 Northwestern Beats No. 2 Baylor

I always enjoy talking to a junior who has been coached by the same person for years, who has learned the game from one consistent voice. Ryan Lipman, whom I spoke with in Mobile for today's article on The Tennis Recruiting Network certainly qualifies, with Bill Tym having coached him for over ten years. Tym also coached Georgia Tech women's head coach Bryan Shelton, so while in Mobile I had an opportunity to talk with members of two generations who benefited from Tym's coaching wisdom. When you think of Shelton's influence as a college coach, you begin to realize just how a big an impact one great coach can have.

Speaking of great coaches, Nick Bollettieri has a new blog now, called Nick's Picks and he is making predictions daily of selected matches at the Sony Ericsson. He's also using Twitter while he's not at his computer and if there's a Bollettieri protege in a match, he's likely to be following it. He posted Twitter updates on Sabine Lisicki's 6-4, 7-5 win over fellow wild card Coco Vandeweghe (who was up 4-0 in the second set) and provided the only coverage I'm aware of on Michelle Larcher de Brito's stunning comeback last night to defeat Ekaterina Makarova of Russia. Larcher de Brito was down 6-3, 5-1 but saved match points at 5-2 and won in three sets to advance to play Agnieszka Radwanska Friday. Nick picked both of those matches correctly, but his upset of Tathiana Garbin by Melanie Oudin didn't come to pass. Oudin lost 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 today to the Italian 30-year-old.

Tomorrow former Illinois star Kevin Anderson (whom I'm told was actually 13 spots out of qualifying originally) gets Australian Open, Pacific Life and defending Sony Ericsson champion Novak Djokovic. Former Florida Gator Ryan Sweeting, who received a wild card into qualifying, won his main draw match today in straight sets over Filippo Volandri and will play No. 18 seed Juan Monaco of Argentina in the second round. For complete draws, see the Sony Ericsson Open website.

John Isner, pictured below at the Key Biscayne Toll Booth yesterday (photo courtesy of the Sony Ericsson Open) meets Gael Monfils tonight for the right to play Roger Federer. I remember reading a question on a message board last year, when Monfils was deep in the throes of his still-continuing slump asking whether Monfils could win the NCAAs. It's a question that will forever go unanswered, but tonight's match might provide some ammunition for those debating it.


And finally, the Northwestern women defeated No. 2 Baylor 5-2 last night to solidify their No. 1 ranking. The details are here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Oudin Decides on the Pro Route


When I interviewed Melanie Oudin after the Orange Bowl final last year, she told me that although she had always wanted to be a professional tennis player, she had not yet relinquished her amateur status. But she said then, after winning 27 high-level ITF junior matches in a row, that "pretty soon, I think I'll make a decision, but not yet. I'll do some more pro tournaments and see how I'm doing."

Oudin has been doing well, making the semifinals of her first 2008 tournament, a $25,000 Pro Circuit event last month and following the next week with an appearance in the finals of another $25,000 tournament. She won a round at Indian Wells, defeating Estonian Maret Ani, ranked 123, and has now risen to 271 in the WTA rankings, up over 100 spots in just three events this year.

So she has decided to compete as a professional, although that doesn't mean she is done with junior events. Due to the restrictions placed on teenage girls, Oudin, who turned 16 last September, is allowed to play only 13 pro events until she turns 17, and the Sony Ericsson her seventh. She will need to play junior events to keep match tough in the next six months, so the next two junior slams are likely. And, should she lose tomorrow in Key Biscayne, where she plays 46th-ranked Italian Tathiana Garbin, who at 30, is 14 years her senior, Oudin will compete in the ITF International Spring Championships in Carson next week, and in the Easter Bowl regardless of her performance at the Sony Ericsson.

And speaking of the Easter Bowl, I don't think I've linked to the TennisLink sites, where the competitors have been displayed, although the fields are not complete in the 18s. For the ITF B1 event, click here. For the 14s and 16s, click here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New College Team Rankings; Checking in with Former Collegians Levine and Anderson

The latest college rankings were released today (team only) with the Northwestern women and Virginia men retaining the top spots. But with Georgia Tech's women losing to Duke last weekend, the No. 2 position was up for grabs, and Baylor nabbed it. The Bears are setting new records for highest ranking nearly every week now, and they are 17-1, with their only loss to Stanford at the Team Indoor last month. Northwestern also suffered its only loss in Madison, in the finals to Georgia Tech, but something is going to give tomorrow in Waco when No. 1 and No. 2 meet in a non-conference dual match. I would expect the Wildcats, who beat Texas 5-2 today, to get past Baylor, but as wacky as the women's results have been this season, it's hard to bet against the underdog.

For complete rankings, see the ITA website.

Last year at this time, Jesse Levine and Kevin Anderson were competing for Florida and Illinois; this year they are preparing for their opening round matches at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne. Charlie Bricker of the Sun-Sentinel talked with Anderson after the 21-year-old South African had qualified, and unearthed the news that Anderson had needed two withdrawals to even get into the qualifying. Such is the fate of a non-U.S. citizen without IMG backing, I guess.

There were no such roadblocks for Jesse Levine, who received a main draw wild card, although this story from the Miami Herald reveals that he has neither racquet nor clothing endorsement contracts. But access to the Bollettieri facilities and influence is an enormous advantage, and Levine is taking it. This long feature provides an interesting look at the training and practice regime at the IMG facility.

And speaking of endorsements, John Isner has signed on with Olympus, according to this piece on TennisWeek.

Finally, Ashley Weinhold earned one of her biggest wins today, taking out the Hammond La.'s top seed Shuai Zhang of China in straight sets. Zhang's WTA ranking is 141. Madison Brengle, Chelsey Gullickson and Jamie Hampton also posted first round wins. For complete results, see the Pro Circuit home page.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sony Ericsson Open Qualifying Underway


Due to its placement on the calendar and the demise of the Luxilon Cup, I won't be at the Sony Ericsson this year. But I always follow the qualifying and the wild cards very closely, to see who's in IMG's good graces. The main draws were released today, and although there were no changes from the recent announcement of the men's main draw wild cards (Ancic, Isner, Levine, Kuerten, Nishikori), there are two women with main draw wild cards that weren't previously announced--Melanie Oudin (UPDATE: I'm told Oudin earned her wildcard in a tournament for that purpose against Nicole Gibbs, Lauren Albanese and Gail Brodsky) and New Zealand's Marina Erakovic, who had previously been given a qualifying wild card.

There were a couple of previously unannounced qualifying wild cards on the women's side in Anna Fitzpatrick of Great Britain and Gail Brodsky of the U.S. (Anyone else surprised that Asia Muhammad didn't get a qualifying wild card?) Both lost today, as did Sloane Stephens of the U.S. and 18-year-old Anna Tatishvili of Georgia, who created a stir two years ago when she upended Sania Mirza. Fifteen-year-old Tammy Hendler of Belgium did win her first round qualifying match, 4-6, 7-5, 6-0 over Ayumi Morita of Japan. NCAA Champion Audra Cohen, the sixth qualifying wild card, just finished off Olga Poutchkova of Russia in a late match.

In the men's qualifying, the only change was, as David mentioned in his comment, Ryan Harrison taking the wild card previously announced as going to Rhyne Williams. As with the women's qualifying wild cards, there was limited success, with only Ryan Sweeting's 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Robert Kendrick keeping them from being shut out. Gastao Elias, Ricardas Berankis, Philip Bester and Harrison all lost in straight sets today.

For complete results, visit sonyericssonopen.com.

The women's Pro Circuit is in Louisiana this week for a $25,000 event. Both the Gullickson sisters, Chelsey and Carly, qualified, as did Ashley Weinhold. Jamie Hampton got in as a lucky loser. Other U.S. juniors in the main draw are wild cards Kristy Frilling and Stacey Tan, as well as Madison Brengle. For complete draws, see the Pro Circuit home page.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Drucker Reflects on the Life and Death of a Fellow Junior

If you've been reading zootennis for any length of time, you know I'm a huge fan of Joel Drucker, both as a writer and a person. We first connected over three years ago after I read his book Jimmy Connors Saved My Life.

In addition to working for the Tennis Channel, Drucker writes for espn.com and TennisOne, so his sometimes contrarian but always thoughtful writing is available regularly online. He now has a new online column for the Tennis Channel called Tenniscope, and the current installment is about Seth Grinberg, a top Southern Californian junior back when Drucker was also playing sectional tennis. Grinberg died recently, and this memoir/eulogy captures (as does Drucker's book), the competitive milieu of SoCal junior tennis. Although this was many years ago, much of the human dynamics remain the same, and I was particularly struck by Drucker's plea for more humane interaction between the elite and the average player.

Easter Sunday seems like an appropriate time to reflect, as Drucker does, on what it means to be in the tennis community. He closes, not very optimistically, with this:

Maybe when I think of what tennis gave and took from Seth it would be better if the lesser and the better players could put the tennis in perspective and simply value one another's company as adolescents enjoying a healthy activity with tons of physical and mental benefits.

Maybe.

Ten years ago, pondering the idea of writing a story where I'd hunt down Seth, I called his mother. Naturally we turned to tennis, and I told her how envious I was of Seth's skill and the way he and that special troupe of ranked players could play so well. "I always thought it was nice that he had made so many friends through tennis," said Mrs. Grinspan. "But do you know what he said to me? He said, "˜Mom, those guys aren't my friends at all. They'd walk right over me if I couldn't beat them.'"

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Catching up with College Tennis: Not All Duke Teams Disappoint Saturday


With No. 2 seed Duke losing today in college basketball, students on the Durham campus may need a little cheering up, so the women's tennis team's 4-3 win over second-ranked Georgia Tech, winners of the last three national team titles, is there to ease the pain.

Ninth-ranked Duke, not invited to the Team Indoor, has two of the best freshmen in the country in Reka Zsilinszka and Ellah Nze, and it was the latter, ranked 14th in the country, who clinched the win with a 7-6(6), 6-3 victory over No. 4 Amanda McDowell at the No. 2 position. Now 11-1, with their only loss to No. 1 Northwestern, Duke is certain to rise in the next rankings.

The USC men will also be moving up after taking down No. 4 Texas 4-3 in Austin Thursday and No. 8 Tulsa 6-1 today.

As several commenters noted, the 18th-ranked Florida men had a big 5-2 win at No. 5 Ole Miss Friday and No. 3 Georgia took out No. 26 LSU 4-2. It marked the return of senior Luis Flores, who had been sidelined since late January with a stress fracture. No. 13 North Carolina dropped No. 7 Florida State 4-3 in Tallahassee, in another result that will lead to ranking changes. All this is just an appetizer for the entree that is the NCAAs, of course, but it bodes well for a very exciting week in Tulsa.

And Florida Gator Julia Cohen, who helped her father win his second consecutive USTA gold ball last fall prior to her joining the Florida team in January, did it again last weekend at the Senior Father-Daughter Indoor in suburban Chicago.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Harper-Griffith Aims to Help Juniors with New Foundation

Richard Pagliaro's blog at Tennis Week yesterday contained this story about Levar Harper-Griffith and the new foundation, called Global Tennis, that he and two other partners have formed to assist juniors who lack the financial resources necessary to pursue the sport.

“Our goal with the Global Tennis Foundation is to try to fill a gap so to speak in that a lot of these kids get into tennis and have the ability to achieve but tennis, in this country, is so expensive it’s difficult to try to play the game at a high level,” Harper-Griffith says. “The training, the travel, the coaching, the equipment, the masseuse, the stringing, the physical therapy - it can be an enormous expense. I know from experience: my mom was unbelievable and she worked so hard and sacrificed so much to give me a fighting chance, but some kids don’t get that chance. There’s got to be a way to help these kids at the grass roots level and that’s what we aim to do," Harper-Griffith tells Pagliaro.

The foundation's website is the vehicle the trio would like to use to get in touch with juniors in need. It also includes a list of donation requests, which range from equipment to housing to frequent flyer miles. Harper-Griffith expresses no bitterness when talking about the USTA and their role in player development, he just sees an opportunity to make a difference in his own way.

And speaking of the USTA, James Blake did a mailbag for tennis.com this week. Here is the final question:

Q. What do you think needs to be done in order to ensure a good future for American tennis? – Kristen

A. I think the UTA (sic) can help younger players and work in harmony with the player's coach. It's difficult to get them all together in such a large country geographically. So they may have to be more trusting of the junior coaches that have helped the talents already get to where they are.
For the complete mailbag, click here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mobile Wrap; Illinois High School Tennis Minus Evan King


My weekly post for The Tennis Recruiting Network wraps up the USTA 18s Spring Nationals in Mobile. It was interesting to hear, late in the tournament, how many players feel that they are not able to play both Mobile and the Easter Bowl, due to the amount of school they miss. Mobile finalist Lauren Embree will be playing the Easter Bowl this year, but last year she did not, in order to play high school tennis (unsurprisingly, she won the state championships). This year, she is not playing high school tennis, because the Easter Bowl conflicts with the district competition. The word from the LA Times is that Ryan Thacher (who is not eligible for the Easter Bowl) is once again playing on Harvard-Westlake's team.

Evan King is another high school junior that is not playing for his school, now that he has taken up residence at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton. This story, from the Chicago Tribune, discusses King's possible successor at the top of the Illinois high school heap, Denis Bogatov. Although there are some errors, (since when is the USTA academy in Coral Gables, Fla?) the discussion of Bogatov's year at an academy and his future ambitions is worth reading.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What's Happening at Tennis Tournaments Without Whale Logos

It's been nice to watch tennis on TV again (no, still no Tennis Channel in Kalamazoo), even if Fox Sports Detroit did cut away from today's Tsonga/Nadal match with Tsonga leading 5-2 in the third, in order to do the Red Wings pregame. It was back to the computer to watch the Pacific Life Live Scoreboard as Nadal won the match's final five games.

But in addition to Indian Wells, there is tennis being played in other parts of the Americas and we have the Sun-Sentinel, the Redding, Calif. Record Searchlight and the ITF Junior site to keep us informed.

At the $25,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Redding, Madison Brengle qualified and yesterday advanced to the second round. The Record Searchlight talked with Brengle about her three-set win over Maria-Fernanda Alves of Brazil. Since their photos don't include one of Brengle, I'll post my most recent one. For complete draws and results, see the Pro Circuit homepage.

Charlie Bricker has been posting early and often from the $100,000 BMW Challenger in Sunrise, Fla. and today weighed in with his estimation of the prospects of Ricardas Berankis, who lost in the final round of qualifying. (For complete results, see the tournament's website).

Bricker also revealed an imminent announcement from the French, which will next year go to the Super Tiebreak in lieu of playing out a third set. And finally, he makes public the unfortunate news, which I had heard a month or so ago, that the Luxilon Cup is no more, or at least will not be held this year at the Sony Ericsson.

The Grade A Copa Gerdau in Brazil is the big event this week in ITF junior tennis, and the American juniors there fared so poorly that even the ITF junior website used it as a basis for their wrap-up story. Last year's foray into South American clay also produced very few wins, and given the relative U.S. success on the European clay last summer and fall in the team events, I'm at a loss to explain it.

And finally, I would be remiss in not mentioning the results of the Blue Gray Tennis Classic, which was held last week in Montgomery, Alabama. Sixteen teams vie for the title at the prestigious event, with the surging Tulsa Golden Hurricanes emerging with the championship this year. Now at No. 8 in the current ITA rankings, the Tulsa men are making a push to be more than just hosts for the 2008 NCAAs. No. 9 USC visits the Michael Case Tennis Center on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In-Depth Look at College Scholarships in Non-Revenue Sports

The New York Times last week published a series of articles over the course of three days with the overall title of "The Scholarship Divide." According to the brief synopsis given by the NYT, they are "exploring the chase for N.C.A.A. scholarships, the scarcity of athletic aid, and the challenges facing coaches and scholarship athletes."

Although tennis is mentioned only in the two charts detailing the average scholarship amounts by sport and the number of scholarships by sport, the sports that do get examination at the two Division 1 schools investigated--field hockey, swimming, baseball, soccer, softball, lacrosse--differ very little from tennis on the collegiate level.

It's difficult to overemphasize the importance of this series for junior tennis players and their families. I've heard from many that the recruiting process is traumatic and seeing these numbers, I can understand why. The disparity between men's and women's scholarships, 4.5 to 8.0, had always left me to surmise that women were nearly assured of a full scholarship, but as the chart shows, the percentage is a much less: 65%. For the men, it is 43%, which is higher than I had supposed. (Who would have guessed that ice hockey outstrips football and basketball for scholarship value per recipient, for men and women?).

Not only are the numbers enlightening, but the final two stories explore the challenges that arise once the student-athlete begins competing. I've probably been guilty myself of romanticizing the college experience; for a student-athlete, it is a very demanding four years, especially when your "play" has become your "work."

Free registration is required to access these stories, but if you are a junior tennis player (or any high school athlete) or the parent of one, (or a college coach, for that matter), please take the time to read them.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring National 18s Slide Show

Lorraine and Scott Novak, the tournament directors of the USTA Spring Nationals, have turned Mobile into one of the highlights of the junior tournament schedule. It has only existed for four years, but ask any of the several dozen players pictured in this slide show and they will tell you that it is quickly developing into one of the best USTA events.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bricker Floats More High Performance Names; New York Times Profiles Academy Life of Kudla and Ore; International Spring Acceptances

The trip from Mobile back home to Kalamazoo was the flip side of the experience last Friday. Perfect flying weather, ideal connection, upgrade to first class--it was as if Northwest knew we couldn't handle another "adventure."

While I'm at a tournament, I tend to cocoon. I don't have the time to keep up with the news when I'm watching live tennis 12 hours a day and then writing about it, but a few items broke through the tournament shield in the past couple of days. A friend mentioned this New York Times story about Denis Kudla and Junior Ore's daily training routine at Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland.

Charlie Bricker of the Sun-Sentinel is following the prospects of the still vacant High Performance position very closely, and with Craig Tiley, Patrick McEnroe and now, according to Bricker, Todd Martin no longer in the running, he assesses some additional candidates. Bricker did not mention Tiley as a possible candidate when he first put forth some names last fall, (the link to that story is no longer available), but in today's column, he now seems convinced Tiley would have been ideal, even though he was not a former pro star.

The acceptances for the next tournament on my schedule, the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif., which begins in two weeks, are out. See usta.com for the tournament fields and other information.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nevolo and Ahn Victorious at USTA Spring Championships




©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL--

Second seed Lauren Embree and No. 1 seed Bradley Klahn had not lost a set in reaching the finals of the USTA 18s Spring Championships, but those streaks ended Saturday morning, when Kristie Ahn and Dennis Nevolo took 6-4, 6-3 victories from them to capture titles at the Mobile Tennis Center.

Nevolo's win over Klahn, the USTA Winter champion, gave the Fighting Illini recruit 14 straight sets won during a dominant week of tennis. The return of serve has always been one of Nevolo's strengths, and Saturday was no exception. Entering the final, Klahn had only been broken three times in his previous six matches; Nevolo had earned four breaks by the opening game of the second set.

"He returns so well," said the 17-year-old Klahn, who will attend Stanford this fall. "He put a lot of pressure on me to make first serves. When I missed them, I knew I had to hit a decent second serve or he was going to step up and attack it and get me on the defense right away."

Klahn was unable to draw even in the opening set after surrendering two breaks to fall behind 3-0. The gusty winds resulted in unforced errors from both players, but Klahn seemed to be more affected by the unpredictability. Nevolo's strategy also forced Klahn into uncomfortable positions on the court.

"With the wind today it was very tough to play like I have been most of the tournament," said Nevolo, 18. "I had to roll a few balls until I got the one ball that I needed, and then I was able to hit out. I went high to his backhand and tried to pull him off the court. He's got a really good forehand, so you can't leave a lot of balls just sitting. You have to hurt him."

Serves that Klahn's previous opponents couldn't handle came back from Nevolo, and forehands that were outright winners earlier in the week were not Saturday morning. One such blast from Klahn landed at Nevolo's feet within inches of the baseline, but somehow he directed it back with equal force past the approaching Klahn. It was one of several jaw-dropping reflex shots Nevolo pulled out, like rabbits out of a magician's hat. After another such shot, when an out-of-position Nevolo dipped a pass by Klahn, who though he had the net covered, Klahn could only shake his head and mutter "yeah, right."

After losing in last year's final to Brennan Boyajian, Gurnee, Ill.'s Nevolo credits his court positioning for his success in both last month's National Open tournament title and in Mobile.

"I'm not backing up as much, I'm holding my ground a lot better this year, dictating play inside the baseline," said Nevolo, who also mentioned his more stoic mental state recently. "I've been working on that for a long time, to try to stay composed as much as possible. I don't want to wear myself out by screaming at myself."

Nevolo broke Klahn in the first game of the second set, when the left-hander from Poway, Calif., chipped in with three unforced errors. Klahn had only two break chances in the second set, both with Nevolo serving at 3-2, but he capitalized on neither, and Nevolo wasn't challenged in his next service game. In the final game, Klahn held off one break point with a service winner, but he sent a forehand wide two points later to give Nevolo the victory.

The score of the girls' final may have been the same, but the similarities end there. Embree, last year's finalist, and Ahn, a 15-year-old playing for the first time in Mobile, battled from the baseline for over two hours before deciding the winner of the gold ball.

Embree had won their last three meetings, so Ahn was determined to make some changes in her approach.

"I had to really stick to my game plan--no matter what, just keep hitting the ball, even if I was missing a bit," said Ahn, who is from Upper Saddle River, NJ. "I knew I couldn't play long points with her, because she's really good at that. And she's such a fighter, so at no point in the match, could I loosen up or anything."

Down 4-0 in the second set, Embree showed what Ahn meant, holding and breaking to get back into the match. But when she lost her serve again, for the fifth time, in the next game to give Ahn a 5-2 lead, the glimmer of hope she had to reach a third set expired.

Ahn, who admits to being less-than-comfortable at the net, was quick to move in if she got a short ball, although her putaways were not volleys, but rather blasts to the corners. Ahn also attacked Embree's second serve with increasing frequency and used her pace to produce floaters she could finish.

"She was definitely more aggressive than I was," said Embree, 17, of Marco Island, Fla. "And her forehand was on today. She played really well; she's an awesome player."

Ahn was the first to admit that the score was no indication of the breadth and depth of the battle.

"The score doesn't really matter," said Ahn. "If you were there, you would know we played our hearts out. I think we both know we tried our best."

The consolation and bronze ball matches were also played on Saturday morning. No. 5 seed Alex Domijan repeated as boys' consolation champion with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 9 seed Kevin King. Fifth place in the girls' division went to No. 3 seed Keri Wong, who defeated No. 1 seed Christina McHale 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5. The boys' bronze ball went to No. 3 seed Brennan Boyajian a 7-5, 6-3 winner over Drew Courtney. Eleventh seed Lilly Kimbell took third place in the girls' division with a 6-2, 6-1 decision over No. 16 seed Hanna Mar.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage, visit collegeandjuniortennis.com

Friday, March 14, 2008

Embree and Nevolo Return to Spring National Finals; Doubles Champions Crowned


©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL--

No. 2 seeds Lauren Embree and Dennis Nevolo have some unfinished business at the USTA Spring Nationals in Mobile. The 2007 finalists earned themselves another shot at titles with straight set victories Friday-- Embree with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over No. 16 seed Hanna Mar and Nevolo with an equally impressive 6-3, 6-1 rout of No. 7 seed Drew Courtney.

Both Embree, who lost to Melanie Oudin in last year's final, and Nevolo, who fell to Brennan Boyajian, were pleased with their level of play during the warm and humid afternoon that followed the morning's showers.

"I played really well today," said Nevolo, who had recently beaten Courtney in the final of a National Open. "I transitioned well, I moved him around early, and was able to dictate play from there."

Embree was equally satisfied.

"I played the best I have so far in the tournament," said Embree, of Marco Island, Fla. "Staying aggressive; I haven't done that in many of my matches."

Embree's opponent in the finals is No. 6 seed Kristie Ahn, who won the only three-setter of the four semifinal contests, taking a strange 6-0, 3-6, 6-0 win from No. 11 seed Lilly Kimbell. In the first set, the 15-year-old from New Jersey had no difficulty with Kimbell's crafty combination of offense and defense, primarily because Kimbell was committing unforced errors in bunches. But the second set turned quickly in Kimbell's favor, when she broke Ahn to even it at 3-3, then reeled off three straight games. Ahn then requested a bathroom break, which turned into a medical timeout.

"Before that, on the court, I couldn't breathe, and I told my mom I need my inhaler," Ahn said. "But she didn't have it here, so it only got worse. That made me throw up."

Ahn returned to the court after seeing the trainer and having ice applied to her neck, but she wasn't expecting to perform as she had in the first nine games.

"I didn't expect to win the third set at all," said Ahn, whose mother arrived with the inhaler just as the match was finishing. "I had to tell myself to breathe, but I was just going out there to give it my best."

Although Ahn was much more subdued than usual on the court, her game showed no effects of her physical problems as she hit out from the baseline and made very few errors, while Kimbell could not recapture the momentum she had achieved to close out the second set.

"I felt really bad for her," Ahn said. "In a way, it's kind of not fair; I took what, a 20-minute break? But we're still friends--I hope this doesn't really change much."

Finalists Embree and Ahn have played often, with Embree holding a 3-1 advantage, having taken the last three encounters. "The first three were close," said Ahn. "The last one was not as close, but I was injured at that time. Hopefully it will be a good match."

Embree is looking to keep the match close by avoiding what she calls Ahn's "awesome" backhand. "She has a really powerful backhand," Embree said. "I tried playing her forehand last time. She's very good; it should be a really good match."



In the boys' final, top seed Bradley Klahn of Poway, Calif. earned an opportunity for his second consecutive USTA National singles title and his fourth gold ball this year. The USTA Winter champion dethroned defending champion and No. 3 seed Brennan Boyajian 6-4, 6-0 in Friday's semifinal, using his power and consistency wear down the Floridian.

Klahn, who has been broken only three times in his six straight-set wins, admits that he has been serving well, but not spectacularly so.

"I've saved a lot of break points, a lot of kids have had chances, and I've been lucky to come up bigger on the bigger points," Klahn said.

In Nevolo, Klahn will face an excellent return, as he knows from their meeting in last year's International Grass Court semifinal, which Klahn won 7-6 (7), 6-2.

"It's going to be a tough match, definitely," said the left-handed Klahn. "He's been cruising through the draw and he feels comfortable here. Last time we played it was grass, and that's completely different. So I'm definitely getting prepared for a battle."


Regardless of the outcome of Saturday's final, Klahn will take home one gold ball, as he and partner Steve Johnson got the better of Nevolo and Evan King 7-5, 6-1 in the doubles final.

Johnson and Klahn got an early 5-2 lead in the opening set, but Klahn was broken at 5-4, only the second time in the tournament they had dropped serve. As rare as a close set was for the pair, neither was concerned.

"We played a good game," said Klahn. "Dennis hit two inside-out angle forehands. Sometimes there is nothing you can do."

"Dennis hit two really good shots and Evan hit a couple of good returns," echoed Johnson. "Sometimes you just have to give it to them, they played too well."

But the brief hope that King and Nevolo had from that game didn't last, as Johnson held and Nevolo was broken when he missed an overhead at 30-40 to give the Californians the first set. They carried the momentum through the second set, and the Winter Champions had their second gold balls in doubles in 2008.


Lauren Herring and Grace Min were also able to duplicate their Winter National championship in the next season, as the unseeded pairing dropped No. 2 seeds Kathryn Talbert and Keri Wong 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in a match that concluded under the lights.

Min, who had played two consolation singles matches Friday, and had been on the court over six hours on Thursday with two singles and one doubles match, should have been tired, but as the match wore on, both the 13-year-old and her 14-year-old partner seemed to get stronger.

The third set started with six breaks of serve, then each girl held once for 5-5. But Talbert was broken to give Herring an opportunity to serve out the championship, and after saving one break point, she did. Unlike their semifinal win against top seeds Lauren Embree and Rachel Saiontz, when they needed seven match points to seal the victory, Herring and Min required only one to collect the title.

"We played two really tough matches," said Min, from Lawrenceville, Ga. "The one and two seeds, but today it was harder to take control."

"With Kathryn dominating the baseline and Keri a presence at the net, it was harder to be the aggressor," Herring, from Greenville, NC, said. "It was difficult to find a rhythm in this match."

But as they had in Thursday's match, when they saved three match points, Herring and Min found a way to hit the right shot at the right time to pull through, and share another national championship.

The third place doubles matches were played on Friday, with No. 8 seeds Charlie Jones and Ryan Lipman earning the bronze ball over unseeded Ian Chadwell and Patrick Whitner 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. The girls third place went to No. 1 seeds Embree and Saiontz, who defeated unseeded Nida Hamilton and Jaime Yapp-Shing 6-1, 6-4.

The USTA Sportsmanship awards were presented to Lipman and Christina McHale.

For complete results, visit the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Friday Rain Delay

Although consolation matches were begun this morning, two separate rain showers have delayed the start of main draw competition at the USTA 18s Spring Nationals Friday. If no more rain falls, play is scheduled to resume at 12:30 PM CDT.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Third set Tiebreakers Spice Up Spring Nationals



©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL--

After Wednesday's routine boys' results at the Spring Nationals, Mobile was due for some excitement, and two third-set tiebreakers, one in the boys' quarterfinals and one in the girls' doubles semifinals, provided it.

Seventh seed Drew Courtney squeezed past No. 4 seed Steve Johnson 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (3) to reach the semifinals, and unseeded Lauren Herring and Grace Min saved three match points to oust No. 2 seeds Lauren Embree and Rachel Saiontz 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(9).

Courtney and Johnson played some outstanding tennis in the final set, but it was Courtney, from Virginia, who sustained that level in the tiebreaker. The future Cavalier kept his big serve and forehand under control in the decider, hitting three winners off that side, while California's Johnson, a USC recruit, couldn't find the court with his forehand.

Courtney will meet No. 2 seed and 2007 finalist Dennis Nevolo, who repeated his quarterfinal victory of a year ago over No. 5 seed Alex Domijan 7-5, 6-3. Domijan served for the first set at 5-4, but Illinois' Nevolo broke the Floridian for the first time at that crucial juncture. Domijan was unable to hit through Nevolo, who was comfortable in the many forehand-to-backhand exchanges, and Domijan also didn't get the usual number of free points on his first serve.

At 3-3 in the second set, Nevolo saved several break points to hold, then broke Domijan for 5-3. In the always nerve-wracking serve-it-out game, Nevolo saved a couple more break points, and Domijan brushed away two match points, but the shot of the day came at fourth deuce.

With Domijan lining up an easy overhead putaway, Nevolo saw Domijan was going for an angle and ran to the vacant adjacent court where he caught up with overhead, then sent a backhand winner past a stunned Domijan.

"All he had to do was go down the line," Nevolo said, "but he tried to make a perfect angle. I was in the alley of the other court, and he hit it right to me basically, so I just hit it down the line for a winner."

On his fourth match point, Nevolo, who had been matching pace with the hard-hitting Domijan, kept it deep and coaxed a backhand error from Domijan, giving Nevolo his third win over the 16-year-old in their three meetings.

The other boys semifinal will feature No. 1 seed Bradley Klahn against No. 3 seed and defending champion Brennan Boyajian. Both have been cruising through the draw all week, and that continued Thursday. Klahn stopped the run of unseeded Alex Brigham 6-1, 6-3, and Boyajian handled alphabetical seed (17-32) David Nguyen 6-1, 6-2.

The girls semifinals have only one of the top four seeds remaining, that being No. 2 seed and 2007 finalist Lauren Embree, a 6-1, 6-4 winner Thursday over fellow Floridian Monica Chow, the seventh seed. Embree will meet Hanna Mar, who followed her upset of No. 3 Keri Wong on Wednesday with another in Thursday's quarterfinal, taking out No. 5 seed Jacqueline Cako 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-1.

Lilly Kimbell, the No. 11 seed, rolled past alphabetical seed Blair Seideman 6-2, 6-1 to set up a clash with No. 6 seed Kristie Ahn. Ahn upended No. 4 seed Catherine Isip 6-0, 6-2.

The doubles finalists were decided on Thursday afternoon--or in the case of the girls--Thursday evening.

For nearly three hours Winter National 18s doubles champions Herring and Min battled Embree and Saiontz, in as unpredictable a tennis match as can be imagined. After dropping the second set, Herring, 14, and Min, 13, looked as if they had lost their edge, falling behind two breaks and facing 4-1 and 5-2 deficits. With Min serving at 3-5, they saved two match points to make it 5-4, but Saiontz had another opportunity to close the door. She couldn't do it, and when Herring held at love to take a 6-5 lead, all the momentum had swung back to them. Embree fell behind 15-40, but she and Saiontz saved those two match points, assuring that whichever team won, match points would be saved.

Herring and Min raced out to a 6-2 lead in the tiebreaker, but Embree and Saiontz won the next five points, giving them their third match point. But Embree netted a volley to make it 7-7, and they wouldn't get another chance. Herring stuck a backhand volley winner with Min serving at 8-7, and the roller coaster of a match finally came to a halt.

Herring and Min face the No. 2 seed team of Kathryn Talbert and Keri Wong, who defeated the unseeded team of Nida Hamilton and Jamie Yapp-Shing 6-1, 6-1.

The boys doubles finalists will feature the 2007 champions, but this time on opposite sides of the net. Bradley Klahn and Dennis Nevolo teamed for the gold balls last year, but this year Klahn is playing with Steve Johnson and Nevolo with Evan King. On Thursday, Klahn and Johnson, the No. 1 seeds, defeated No. 8 seeds Charlie Jones and Ryan Lipman 6-3, 6-3, while King and Nevolo, the No. 2 seeds, downed unseeded Ian Chadwell and Patrick Whitner 6-4, 6-1.

For complete draws see the TennisLink site.

For more coverage of the Spring Nationals, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Inside Junior Tennis Podcast

Kevin McClure of The Tennis Podcast and I talk about the Men's Indoor Team Championships, the new ITA Men's Hall of Fame inductees, the Pro Circuit success of Melanie Oudin and more in the latest edition of Inside Junior Tennis.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kimbell Upends Top Seed McHale in Spring Nationals Round of 16 Wednesday


©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL

It was the girls who supplied the excitement Wednesday, as No. 11 seed Lilly Kimbell upset top seed Christina McHale 6-1, 6-3 and No. 16 seed Hanna Mar eliminated No. 3 seed Keri Wong 7-6(0), 1-6, 6-2 on a warm and cloudless day at the Mobile Tennis. In addition to the two upsets, two other girls' matches went the distance while the boys eight matches produced no three-setters, with unseeded Alex Brigham producing the only win that could be deemed a surprise.

Kimbell, the 2007 girls' 16s National champion and Orange Bowl winner, quickly pounced on McHale, who had difficulty countering Kimbell's variation and willingness to finish at the net.

"I think I attacked a lot more," said Kimbell, who had lost to McHale the past several times they had played. "I played my game instead of just sitting on the baseline, hitting it back."

When Kimbell did trade ground strokes with McHale, hers were deep enough to keep McHale on the defensive, while McHale's were landing short. Kimbell, who trains at the Newcombe Tennis Academy in New Braunfels, Texas, knows what to do with a short ball, approaching the net and punching the volley, while mixing in slice and spin to keep her opponents from any rhythm.

"I just try to come into the net, finish with the volleys and I was doing that effectively today," Kimbell said.

As word of the upset began to circulate around the courts, the crowd assembled on the crest of the hill to see if Kimbell could complete the task. Serving for the match at 5-1 in the second set, however, Kimbell had a slight hiccup, dropping her serve to give McHale hope for a comeback. McHale saved two match points in the next game to make it 5-3, leaving Kimbell with just one more chance to serve it out. Facing a break point at 30-40 that would have put McHale back on serve, Kimbell put away a confident overhead to draw even, and gained her third match point when McHale sent a backhand wide. Although Kimbell once again failed to get a first serve in play, McHale's forehand hit the tape, ending the drama that was beginning to build.

"She's so steady, you know that at any time she is able to come back," said Kimbell, admitting to some nervousness at 5-3 in the second set. "If you lose momentum for like one game, she can take it and use it against you."

As big a win as it was for her, Kimbell's reaction was subdued, both immediately after the match, and even a few hours later.

"I know it's a good win, but I know she didn't play her best," said Kimbell. "I was lucky just to be playing good today. Hopefully, I can play that way tomorrow."

Kimbell will meet alphabetical (17-32) seed Blair Seideman of New York in the quarterfinals. Seideman downed unseeded Courtney Griffith of Georgia 6-2, 6-2. The other quarterfinal in the top half will see Catherine Isip, the No. 4 seed, against No. 6 seed Kristie Ahn. Isip again needed three sets to advance, taking a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 decision from No. 9 seed Rachel Saiontz, while Ahn struggled mightily before closing out unseeded 13-year-old Grace Min 6-2, 7-6(4).


No. 5 seed Jacqueline Cako had her first real test of the week, losing the first set to alpha seed Sophie Chang before earning a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory. Cako will take on Mar in one quarterfinal, while No. 2 seed and 2007 finalist Lauren Embree meets fellow Floridian and No. 7 seed Monica Chow. Embree defeated No. 10 seed Rachael White 6-1, 6-2; Chow disposed of Katie Kargl 6-0, 6-2. Neither Embree nor Chow has lost more than three games in a set in their four matches.

Six of the top eight seeds advanced to the quarterfinals in the boys' division, with the unseeded Brigham and alphabetical seed David Nguyen the only party crashers. Brigham continued to dominate with his serving and aggressive approaches, taking out alphabetical seed Ryan Noble 6-1, 6-4, while the left-handed Nguyen has been no less impressive. The future Virginia Cavalier made quick work of alphabetical seed Patrick Daciek 6-0, 6-1 to set up a contest against defending champion Brennan Boyajian. The third-seeded Boyajian eased past No. 14 seed Walker Kehrer 6-1, 6-2. Brigham's opponent is top seed Bradley Klahn, who found his form midway through the first set against No. 12 seed Marc Powers and cruised to a 6-4, 6-1 win.

In the bottom half, No. 7 seed Drew Courtney will face No. 4 seed Steve Johnson for a semifinal berth. Courtney defeated alphabetical seed Alexander Sarkissian 6-1, 6-1 and Johnson downed No. 13 seed Isamu Tachibana 6-2, 6-1.

The fourth boys' match on Thursday is a rematch of last year's quarterfinal between Dennis Nevolo and Alex Domijan. Nevolo won that encounter 6-1, 6-4 on his way to the final, and Domijan went on to take the consolation tournament after that loss. In today's matches, both beat alphabetical seeds. Fifth seeded Domijan was a 6-4, 6-4 winner over Spencer Smith, while No. 2 seed Nevolo prevailed over JT Sundling 6-4, 6-2.

The doubles semifinals are set, with the top two seeded teams in both divisions still in contention for the title. Top seeds Johnson and Klahn breezed past No. 9 seeds Ryan Noble and JT Sundling 6-0, 6-1 and will face No. 8 seeds Charlie Jones and Ryan Lipman, who defeated No. 9 seeds Kehrer and Daniel Moss 7-5, 7-5. Unseeded Ian Chadwell and Patrick Whitner take on the No. 2 seeded team of Evan King and Nevolo, who fought off a determined challenge from unseeded Adam Bernstein and Jeffrey Morris to record a 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-3 victory.

Two unseeded girls' team remain in the hunt for the gold balls. One of them, Lauren Herring and Grace Min, meet top seeds Lauren Embree and Rachel Saiontz, while the other, Nida Hamilton and Jaime Yapp-Shing will face No. 2 seeds Kathryn Talbert and Wong. Herring and Min downed unseeded Sabine Fuchs and Elizabeth Hamlin 6-2, 6-3, while Embree and Saiontz fought off Kaitlyn Christian and Kimbell 6-0, 6-4. Hamilton and Yapp-Shing were 6-4, 6-2 winner over unseeded Cierra Gaytan-Leach and Millie Nichols; Talbert and Wong came back to oust unseeded Alina Jerjomina and Amy Simidian 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-2.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage, visit collegandjuniortennis.com

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rain Makes For Long Day at Spring Nationals


©Colette Lewis 2008—
Mobile, AL—

A five-hour rain delay resulted in the 32 main draw singles matches being played in a compressed time period this afternoon at the USTA Spring championships. The sun returned by mid-afternoon and by the time it had set, four unseeded players—1 boy and 3 girls--had advanced to Wednesday's round of 16.

The unseeded boy, future UCLA Bruin Alex Brigham, continued his stellar play, quickly disposing of No. 8 seed Kyle McMorrow 6-2, 6-3, a day after the Southern Californian had rolled over No. 17 seed Billy Federhofer, losing only three games. The other top-eight boys' seed sent to the back draw was No. 6 Ryan Lipman, who fell to alphabetical seed Patrick Daciek of Maryland 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The top seven girls' seeds moved through, but No. 3 Keri Wong was down a set to alphabetical seed Kaitlyn Christian before adjusting for a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 win.

Both Wong and Christian can slice and dice with the best of them, and in the first set, Wong chipped in with a slew of unforced errors. Christian often forces her opponent to win a point two or three times, and Wong's inconsistency cost her. But once she began to keep in play her vast repertoire of shots, Wong could work the point until she hit a winner.

The unseeded girls through to the round of 16 include Courtney Griffith of Georgia, who took out local favorite Ebie Wilson 7-6 (3), 6-2. Griffith had upset No. 8 seed Elizabeth Epstein on Monday.

Unseeded Katie Kargl of Illinois prevailed over No. 13 seed Olivia Janowicz 4-6, 6-0, 6-4. I saw only the last three games of the match, which was played on court 36, one of the new courts added this year, but during that time, I didn't see Kargl miss one ball or make a single error.

I didn't see any of unseeded 13-year-old Grace Min's 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 12 seed Stephany Chang since it was played across the street and didn't last very long. But Min admitted afterward that she had played very well in taking out her second seed in as many days.

Top seed Bradley Klahn won the battle of the lefthanders against alphabetical seed Evan King 6-3, 6-3. There were long baseline rallies in the contest, many of them forehand to forehand, but it was the more experienced Klahn who took the key points.

I watched quite a bit of contest between No. 13 seed Isamu Tachibana and alphabetical seed Jadon Phillips of Georgia. Tachibana won the first set 6-1, but as quickly as that was over, Phillips jumped out to a big advantage in the second set and took that 6-2. When I returned to the third set, Phillips had broken Tachibana to take a 4-3 lead, but he wouldn't win another game. The Texan relies on his forehand for winners, but that presented a problem for him initially, as Phillips' backhand is rock solid. In the final three games however, Tachibana stroked his forehand much more aggressively, with Phillips donating a few unforced errors to seal his fate.

Girls' top seed Christina McHale had no difficulty with unseeded Rachel Kahan, taking a 6-1, 6-1 decision, and No. 2 seed Lauren Embree also lost only two games in her match with unseeded Emily Wolf.


For complete results, including doubles, which were still being played as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, visit the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage of the Spring Nationals see collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Rain Causes Delay at Spring Nationals Tuesday

Mobile AL--
Rain has pushed back starting times for at least three hours Tuesday.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tops Seeds Mostly Unscathed at Spring Nationals Monday


©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL--

One of the matches I had circled for Monday's second round of the USTA Spring 18s Nationals was No. 1 Christina McHale versus Joanna Mather.

Although Mather was unseeded, I had seen her often enough at ITF events to know the future Florida Gator was a dangerous opponent for the top seed. The match, which was held on one of the show courts, drew a large crowd on the cool and overcast morning, but it wasn't as entertaining as expected. McHale played much steadier, and Mather was unable to get her hard-hitting game on track, losing 6-2, 6-2 to the 15-year-old from New Jersey.

If there was a lengthy rally, McHale won it, and although Mather cracked an occasional winner, she wasn't able to dictate due to so many unforced errors. When Mather withdrew from the backdraw, it was revealed that she was ill with a fever prior to the match, which might have contributed to her lackluster play. But McHale's dominant performance was impressive, regardless of the circumstances.

Boys' top seed Bradley Klahn also cruised into the third round with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Texan Will Oliver. And although three more No. 17 seeds lost on the boys' side, that was the extent of the Monday upsets. One of the most spirited battles of the day was between doubles partners and future Virginia Cavaliers Drew Courtney and Reese Milner. Courtney, the No. 7 seed, dropped the first set 6-1, but came back to take the second 6-3, and escape with the win 7-5 in the third. Milner, from Los Angeles, California, couldn't seem to forgive himself for two double faults late in the third set, loudly berating himself when he lost the game, although cries of anguish were commonplace throughout the match from the demonstrative Milner.

Although No. 4 seed Catherine Isip was once again extended to three sets and No. 6 seed Kristie Ahn was given a stern test in her 7-6(8), 6-4 victory over Alina Jerjomina, the only top 16 girls seed to fall was No. 8 seed Elizabeth Epstein. Courtney Griffith of Georgia eliminated the Chicagoan 7-6(4), 6-3. Five alphabetical (17-32) seeds dropped into the backdraw Monday.

The second round of doubles did see two highly seeded pairs exit, one in each division. The No. 3 seeded team of Joey Burkhardt and Isamu Tachibana were defeated by Ian Chadwell and Patrick Whitner 7-6(1), 6-4; No. 4 seeds Stephany Chang and Zoe De Bruycker lost 7-6(5), 0-6, 6-3 to Gabrielle Steele and Monica Yajima in girls' second round action.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage, see Marcia Frost's collegeandjuniortennis.com website.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

First Day of Spring Nationals Produces Few Upsets

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Mobile, AL--

It's unusual for a USTA National Championship to go by the book on the first day, but that's what happened today, when all of the top eight boys and top 16 girls seeds advanced to the second round, most of them with little trouble at the Spring 18s.

The 37 courts used at the recently expanded Mobile Tennis Center were brimming with action all day, and although the morning was chilly, with temperatures near 40 degrees at the 8:30 start time, the warm sun and very light breezes made for perfect conditions in a few short hours.

I caught several games of defending champion and No. 3 seed Brennan Boyajian's straight set win over California Alan Shin, and later on the same court 2007 finalist and No. 2 seed Dennis Nevolo also quickly dismissed Drake Kakar of Arizona. No. 5 seed Alex Domijan, who is now working with Pat Etcheberry at Saddlebrook, defeated John Kelly in straight sets, and top seed Bradley Klahn lost only three games in his win over Sidarth Balaji of Virginia.

Not all seeds had it quite so comfortable, however. No. 10 seed Joey Burkhardt, who spent the winter playing high school basketball, lost to Haig Schneiderman of New York 6-1, 6-2 and No. 15 seed Andrew Kells fell to Andrew Mellow of Missouri 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
Of the alphabetical seeds (17-32), Sekou Bangoura Jr. lost in three sets to Jordan Dyke of Virginia 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3 and Steven Williams was beaten by Spencer Wolf of Florida in straight sets.

The girls seeds followed a similar pattern with Christina McHale (1), 2007 finalist Lauren Embree (2) and Keri Wong (3) losing four games between them.

But No. 4 Catherine Isip had her hands full with Elizabeth Kilborn of Georgia before pulling out a 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 win. Isip had difficulty getting the ball over the net during stretches of the match, and Kilborn matched her in power, but Isip eventually wore her down.


The only girls seeds to lose on Sunday were alphabetical seeds. Maria Mira defeated Lindsey Hardenbergh, Jessica Harrow downed Kathryn Talbert, and Emily Wolf outlasted Kayla Duncan. Alexandra Lehman, also an alpha seed, did not take the court due to injury, so Alexandra Kelleher advanced to the second round.

The first round of doubles was played this afternoon, and there were a few upsets, but none of the top three seeded boys teams and four seeded girls teams were at risk since they had byes.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site. Marcia Frost of collegeandjuniortennis.com is also here in Mobile and providing daily coverage.

You may have noticed that since I've been in Mobile, I've been unable to upload photos via blogger, so my only alternative is using the slide show program, which is not ideal, but better than nothing.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Anderson and Muhammad Reach Finals in Las Vegas

Nishikori, Stakhovsky, Darcis....and Kevin Anderson's name to the list of surprising ATP tournament finalists in 2008. Anderson, who last year at this time was playing No. 1 for the Fighting Illini, qualified at the Tennis Channel Open and has won the first four matches of his ATP career this week, including today's straight set win over Robby Ginepri. Those of you who follow college tennis can take pride in being ahead of the curve when all the "who is this guy?" remarks start echoing through the tennis media and message boards.

Asia Muhammad has reached the finals in the women's Pro Circuit event with her 6-3, 7-5 win over fellow U.S. wild card Madison Brengle. She will face No. 5 seed Camille Pin of France for the title on Sunday, and this afternoon notified the director here in Mobile that she would not be playing this event. She was replaced as top seed by Christina McHale, who has the best WTA ranking of the competitors here.

The spring sun was warm here for those who took to the practice courts, but once the sun went down, the sweatshirts and warmups went on in a hurry. The next several days are expected to be dry and in the 60s, so conditions should be ideal for great tennis.

Kudla & Ore Open for Sampras/Federer; Pacific Life Wild Cards Announced


Denis Kudla and Junior Ore will have the thrill of a lifetime Monday when the two 15-year-olds from the Junior Champions Tennis Center in College Park, Md. provide the opening act for the Pete Sampras vs. Roger Federer exhibition at Madison Square Garden. Richard Pagliaro of Tennis Week has an in-depth look at the boys' reactions to this opportunity and, through their coach Frank Salazar, explores their approaches to the sport in general. The USTA is offering free live streaming of the sold-out exhibition through usta.com. Click here for details.

The wild cards for the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Calif. were announced Thursday, with Melanie Oudin and Madison Brengle, who plays Asia Muhammad today in the semifinals of the Pro Circuit event in Las Vegas, receiving main draw wild cards. Juniors Anastasia Pivovarova of Russia and Poland's Urszula Radwanska were also given main draw slots. Gail Brodsky and Coco Vandeweghe received qualifying wild cards, joining several former Stanford stars and UCLA's Riza Zalameda in that competition. Kalamazoo finalists Ryan Thacher, Jesse Levine and Michael McClune were recipients of men's qualifying wild cards.