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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New York Times Features Grace Min; Bodo Explores the Future of Unconventional Ingrid Neel; Australian Open Qualifying Begins

Grace Min, who beat Arizona State's Jacqueline Cako in today's final round of qualifying at the $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Innisbrook Florida, is the subject of this feature story in today's New York Times. Min's game style and personality are examined, as is the USTA's commitment to full-time boarding academies, since Min has spent several years there. USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe and head of women's tennis Ola Malmqvist discuss Min's prospects, while Min reveals how she copes with disappointments like her 6-0, 6-0 loss to Alison Riske at the USTA Australian Open wild card tournament.

Min is 17, and still faces the difficult decision of going to college or turning pro. Thirteen-year-old Ingrid Neel's parents are at a different crossroads, deciding where to move to further their daughter's tennis development. Complicating the issue is Neel's desire to play a different style of tennis, and Peter Bodo at tennis.com carefully lays out all the factors the family is weighing in selecting the right academy for a serve-and-volleyer who admires the game of John McEnroe.

Unlike the Mins, the Neels are not considering the USTA's academy, with Ingrid's mother Hildy believing the current philosophy espoused by the USTA's Jose Higueras is too defensive. Patrick McEnroe denies that, and he has told me that several times in different words, but he is quoted by Bodo as saying, "Any player who's going to try to serve-and-volley his or her way to the top is preparing for a game that is not being played. Today, if you can't rally for 30 hits, you have no shot—no shot—at making it."

I'm not sure where Taylor Townsend fits into this conversation, but she belongs in here somewhere. The 15-year-old, now the second youngest player in the WTA Top 500 at 429, is not exclusively a serve-and-volleyer, but she is the closest thing to it that I've encountered among junior girls, and she has continued to develop her unique style at the USTA's Boca Raton facility. Even with the trend to slower courts, tennis still allows for innovation and creativity, and as Mats Wilander said, "Coaches have to listen to kids, and kids, you need to know, how do you want to play tennis? What makes me happy? What makes me passionate about trying? What kind of game makes me want to give 110 percent?"

Here's hoping Neel finds the academy and coaches who understand the wisdom contained in that quote.

The first matches of men's qualifying at the Australian Open have been delayed by weather in Melbourne, but some are being streamed live when the rain stops, so check out the website for updates.

There are six American men in qualifying: Robby Ginepri, Michael Yani, Denis Kudla, Tim Smyczek, Rajeev Ram(21) and Alex Kuznetsov. There are 14 former NCAA college players by my count: wild cards Michael Look, JP Smith and James Lemke, and Amer Delic, Roman Borvanov, Izak Van Der Merwe(6), Yani, Ludovic Walter, Andre Begemann, Connor Niland, Robert Farah, Peter Luczak, Ram and Arnau Brugues(15).

Juniors in qualifying are all wild cards from Australia: 16-year-old Nick Kyrgios, ranked 16th in the ITF world junior rankings, 17-year-old Luke Saville, No. 1 in the junior rankings and 17-year-old Andrew Harris, No. 7 in the junior rankings.

2011 World Junior Champion Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic also received a wild card into qualifying based on his boys championship in Melbourne last year.

The men's qualifying draw is here. The women's qualifying draw will be out Wednesday.


tennis guy2894 said...

Ingrid Neel might not even be the best player in her age group in the USTA Northern section!

Nancy Atlanta said...

Barely 5 feet tall and maybe 100 lbs.? Come on now lets be real here. Two types of women make it on tour, either tall or shorter and very, very muscular. Short and skinny is not going to make it.