Eighteen-year-old Sloane Stephens won three qualifying matches to earn a spot in the main draw of this week's Estoril Open in Portugal, beating Ana Clara Duarte of Brazil, American Madison Brengle and Russian Valeria Savinykh without dropping more than three games in any of the six sets she won. In her first round main draw match today, Stephens was even more impressive against compatriot Melanie Oudin, needing just over an hour to record a 6-2, 6-1 victory.
Stephens has always been comfortable on clay courts; she reached the semifinals and quarterfinals in the Junior Championships at Roland Garros the past two years, won the Italian Open juniors two years ago and won the 2010 Roland Garros doubles title with Timea Babos. On the WTA tour, she beat last week's champion at Fes, Alberta Brianti of Italy, on the clay in Bastad last year, and this year Stephens qualified for the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, and last week won two qualifying matches in Fes. Her next opponent is unseeded Monica Niculescu of Romania, who defeated No. 5 seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the US Monday.
Yesterday afternoon, as I mentioned on Twitter, I was invited to join a Patrick McEnroe conference call organized by the USTA. It was only announced on Monday morning, with the topic the French wild card playoff and general USTA Player Development questions, as we are now approaching the three-year anniversary of McEnroe assuming the role as General Manager of Player Development.
The call turned out to be almost entirely about Donald Young and the sentiments contained in the expletive-laden tweet he sent last Friday after losing to Tim Smyzcek in the final of the wild card tournament. I don't want to devote too many more words to this, as I think there's already been more attention given this whole brouhaha than the distribution of a single wild card for a player just barely in the Top 100 warrants. Diane Pucin has reported that Young has apologized to Jay Berger, David Nainkin and, possibly, Patrick McEnroe, so perhaps this will satisfy the USTA and their relationship with the Youngs will continue. But there are always underlying issues that deserve inspection in a controversy such as this one. Greg Couch addresses one of them, entitlement, in his column. Peter Bodo explores the "earning your way" philosophy that the USTA has adopted for its two reciprocal wild cards (and now a US Open wild card too). Stephanie Myles has a look at the always difficult task of meshing federation support with family dynamics from her Canadian perspective.
I was grateful to be given the opportunity to ask the final question of the press conference (my first) and it focused on allocation of resources. I am not one of the people who advocates that the USTA just "blow it up" when it comes to Player Development, but I couldn't help but think, when McEnroe was going into detail about the help the USTA had provided Young over the years, that maybe putting all those eggs in that one basket was unwise, and that spreading that assistance around would have helped avoid a situation like this one, where both parties end up feeling aggrieved.
Here is the link to the transcript of the press conference: ASAP Sports.
The next-to-last weekly rankings prior to the NCAAs were released today by the ITA and Virginia and Stanford retained the top spots. Florida is No. 2 for the women, and USC has returned to the No. 2 spot on the men's side, thanks to their win over UCLA and Tennessee's loss to Florida. Until this weekend's conference tournaments are complete, it's difficult to speculate on which teams might host regionals.
Steve Johnson of USC and Jana Juricova of Cal-Berkeley remain on top of the individual rankings. The final rankings wil be out next Monday, and the NCAA selections are next Tuesday, May 3 for the team, and Wednesday, May 4 for individuals.
It doesn't appear there will be any announcement show on ESPNews this year for the team championships. The ITA release says it will be on NCAA.com at 5:00 for the women and 5:30 for the men.
The complete Campbell's/ITA rankings can be found at the ITA website.