A&M Win Over Notre Dame Recap; Emory Women Join Men as Indoor Champs; BNP Paribas Qualifying; John McEnroe and Ingrid Neel
My article this week for the Tennis Recruiting Network is my report on Friday's match between No. 18 Texas A & M and No. 24 Notre Dame. Most years, I cover the Men's Team Indoor, and see a lot of dual matches in a very short period of time, but because I didn't make the trip to Seattle this year, or to Montgomery for the Blue Gray, I felt the need to get out to see some tennis. There's no substitute for watching tennis live, and there's usually plenty of drama in any dual match between Top 30 teams. Texas A & M beat Notre Dame 5-2, and both teams have played a very challenging non-conference schedule. Although I think last week's women's rankings have shown that a few tweaks are necessary, the system does reward teams for playing good teams outside their conferences, provided you win a few, of course.
The Women's Division III Team Indoor championships were held last weekend in St. Peters, Minnesota, and top seed Emory eased past No. 2 seed University of Chicago 5-4, with a win at No. 6 singles. This is only the third year there has been a women's Team Indoor, and Emory has been in all three finals. The Emory men won the Team Indoor title two weeks ago. For more on the tournament, see the ITA website.
Before I go on to today's news, I wanted to mention that American Hannah King reached the final of the ITF Grade 2 in South Africa last week. It is not a tournament that I ever expect to see Americans play, so I didn't look at the draws until today. The unseeded King lost to No. 3 seed Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-4. I'll have more on this week's ITF and Pro Circuit events on Tuesday.
At the BNP Paribas Open women's qualifying today, wild cards Monica Puig and Madison Keys both earned victories over their seeded opponents in the first round. Puig defeated No. 22 seed Anne Keothavong of Great Britain 6-4, 6-1, and Keys got past No. 20 seed Junri Namigata of Japan 6-4, 6-4. Puig will play No. 12 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania for a place in the main draw; Keys' opponent in the second and final round of qualifying will be No. 9 seed Laura Pous-Tio of Spain. Krista Hardebeck, won won the prequalifying to earn a wild card into qualifying, was up a set and an early break against No. 4 seed Mathilde Johansson of France, but ended up falling 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a match that consumed nearly three hours. Jamie Hampton advanced with a 3-6 7-6(2), 6-2 win over No. 23 seed Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands. Irina Falconi and Madison Brengle, who just won the rain-plagued $25,000 Hammond, La. Pro Circuit tournament, have later starts, and will face each other if both win. Brengle beat Falconi en route to the Hammond title. Wild card Maria Sanchez of USC also had a late match.
The women's main draw was announced today, with Sloane Stephens facing a qualifier in her first match and Lauren Davis up against Zuzana Ondraskova of the Czech Republic. Alison Riske apparently received the wild card that was not announced when Stephens, Davis, Christina McHale, CoCo Vandeweghe, Sania Mirza, Vania King and Jill Craybas were named. For complete draws, see the tournament website.
Twelve-year-old Ingrid Neel is the subject of this article from the New York Times, which explores her exposure to John McEnroe via his new tennis academy in New York. I saw Neel play for the first and only time at the Junior Orange Bowl this year, and perhaps because the surface was Har-Tru, the coming-to-net slant of her game wasn't immediately obvious to me. She did display variety and confidence, but I have to admit that I was surprised to read in this piece that she was No. 1 in the 18-and-under Northern section rankings. She is, after all, very small, and not one of those girls that has physically matured early. Given McEnroe's previous experience with touting a youngster, that being, famously, Donald Young, I approached this story with trepidation, but it is handled well, with a minimum of hype. And while it is primarily about Neel and her family, it is also about the choices necessary for all those who live in places where the competition isn't world class. I had thought McEnroe was emphasizing a local angle to his academy, yet that isn't what this article implies, and I would think attracting students to such an expensive city, with indifferent weather, would be extremely difficult, given the other options available. If they do "work at the net more than any other program," as Neel's mother says, that could be a selling point for some, but there is a huge population base in the area, so I'm unsure why McEnroe is not getting the best local players. Instead, he calls his staff "overqualified," which doesn't make a lot of sense, unless you believe that talent simply arrives at your doorstep, just needing a few tips before going out to win slams.