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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wimbledon Junior Recap; My Thoughts and Observations from Ten Days at Wimbledon

My recap of the Wimbledon Junior Championships can be found today at Tennis Recruiting Network. If you are looking for a synopsis on the tournament rather than the details provided in my daily coverage last week, it should fit the bill.

Due to restrictions imposed on those with media credentials taking action photographs, I am unable provide a slide show or videos of this tournament. I was fortunate to be able to purchase photos from credentialed photographer Susan Mullane, who shoots all the junior slams for the ITF, so the daily posts were enhanced by her considerable expertise. For more of her work, see the ITF photo gallery at the junior website.

Although action photo were off limits, I did get some shots around the grounds to illustrate some of my notes and observations, which appear below, in no particular order.

The English love their tennis. Every pub had it on their TVs, every newspaper was full of coverage, it saturated the BBC. I don't qualify as a disinterested observer, but tennis seems to be on a different sporting plane there than it does anywhere else I go. It's impossible to imagine what pressure Andy Murray must feel in that atmosphere; his identification with LeBron James may be a clue, but James is playing a team game, and left Cleveland, so the pressure scale remains heavier on the Scot's side.

The singles finals of the Junior Championships are treated with great respect, put on Court 1 and even given an hour's window of exclusivity before the men's and women's singles finals begin. This, as well as the above, leads to impressive crowds, with the nearly 12,000 seats between half and two-thirds full for both the finals. Apart from being ideal for those covering the events, this staging truly does provide an experience similar to that of the pros for the juniors lucky (or good) enough to reach the final.

All credit to Filip Peliwo, for breaking through in his third junior slam final, and to Luke Saville, for putting the pressure on himself as defending champion, but I was also impressed by Mitchell Krueger's performance all week. He came through an exceedingly tough first round match, won tiebreaker after tiebreaker to advance to the semifinals, and five times came within one point of reaching his first junior slam singles final against Peliwo. A more crushing defeat is difficult to imagine, but he handled the aftermath with insight and maturity. He also played the best tennis I've ever seen from him, and for me, that's a seven-year span.

Playing deuce-ad for the doubles, even with the weather-related backlog, added some legitimacy to the first three rounds, which were decided in match tiebreakers in lieu of a third set. I'm not a big fan of advantage sets, preferring the tiebreaker, but it's much preferable to the no-ad receiver's choice and match tiebreaker used at the other three junior slams.  I sure wish there was some consistency, not in all four grand slams, which is too much to ask I guess, but just within slams. The mixed and junior doubles play a different format than the men's and women's doubles at the US Open, for example.

The ballrunners are great at all the grand slams. But Wimbledon's are the best of the best, especially considering they are responsible for the covering and uncovering of the outside courts when it rains.

I learned I was one of only ten internet-only journalists credentialed in the first year of the club's pilot program. Although my desk was in the farthest reaches of the fourth floor, along with the non-rights holder radio announcers, I had a desk specifically set aside for my use, which I did not have five years ago. I was treated as well as all the other journalists, which is very well, and hope I will be offered credentials for next year.

I come from Michigan, where for eight months of the year, the weather is less than ideal. But, even accounting for some bouts of heat, humidity and thunderstorms, we do have great summer weather, and those three or four months can make up for a lot of ugliness the rest of the year.

How the English rationalize their summer weather I can't fathom, but I've been there twice now, for ten days at a time, and I can count the days that would pass as summery here on one hand. Down jackets, scarves, and every conceivable type of umbrella was evident for many of the July days during this tournament. I believe there was some rain--and during a few evenings, considerably more than some, as records were set in June and were expected for July--every one of the ten days I was there.  Somehow the tournament was completed on time, without resorting to indoor play, but that bordered on a miracle.

It's ironic that the ITF no longer allows non-hotel hospitality at its Grade A, 1, 2, & 3 tournaments, but Wimbledon continues to house players in a college dormitory at Roehampton. And segregating the juniors from the professional players for their dining is disappointing for those who've been at the US Open, where they are afforded the same food and privileges as the pros.

For some reason the electronic scoreboards showed neither the player's seeding or their country. I would have eaten a lot more strawberries and cream if I had had a pound for every time I was asked what country a player was from (when I answered for Krueger and Kwiatkowski, I could always count on a surprised "US?, oh really.")

Not to overreact based on one tournament, and Kyle Edmund did get a terrible draw in Mitchell Krueger in the first round, but it was disappointing to have no British boy or girl in the quarterfinals of singles, and only one, Evan Hoyt, get past the quarterfinals in doubles.

I have long since passed the point when I expect to see any other tennis journalists at junior matches, and most have so many other responsibilities these days, with podcasts, radio, TV in addition to web and print deadlines, they can hardly be faulted for focusing on the players most fans care about. But I was able to have a few conversations (name dropping alert!) with Sports Illustrated's Scott Price (about Allie Kiick), the Montreal Gazette's Stephanie Myles (about all the young Canadians), the Toronto Globe and Mail's Tom Tebbutt (ditto), Fox Sports' Greg Couch (about Brian Baker's junior career) Australian Associated Press's Darren Walton (about Luke Saville and Ashleigh Barty),  the New York Times' John Martin (about the young Americans), Tennis Channel's Joel Drucker (who is always amused with my optimism regarding US tennis) and Sandy Harwitt, who wrote the ITF junior articles (about the many juniors she's interviewed that I hadn't).  Now that I write all these down, perhaps I've underestimated the interest in younger players, which may be just more specific, rather than the whole milieu of junior and college tennis that I've embraced.

Guy McCrea, who was working for BBC and writing a daily diary for the WTA blog On the Baseline, sought me out frequently, despite his busy schedule, to talk about the juniors, particularly the girls. He cornered me for a discussion about future WTA stars in the juniors, and although I warned him my track record on this isn't very good, he wrote up my responses anyway.

I spent quite a bit of time at Court 18, where the longest tennis match was played in 2010, and it's impossible to watch a match at that court without thinking about it. This year, Sam Querrey and Marin Cilic played the second longest match at Wimbledon, which took 5 and 1/2 hours to play and ended in Cilic's 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (3), 17-15 win. And hardly anyone noticed, thanks to John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. That remains the most amazing result I've ever encountered in my lifetime of watching sports.


Ralph said...

So Peliwo wins Wimby juniors and then loses 1st rd in small futures tourney. Not feeling too good about his top 100 pro prospects. Doesn't have the fire power to hang with the big boys. This junior class really doesn't have a top 100 prospect.

West Nott said...

You are awesome Colette! Keep up the good work. Marketing and media can be very powerful to help growing the game. What kid doesn't like reading or seeing their accomplishments highlighted on a respected tennis website? The USTA needs to invest in media to promote the junior, college, and minor-league professional arenas. Free videos from coaches all over the country, including the National Coaches. Daily interviews, angles, stories on all ranges of kids, college players, college coaches, minor league professionals and their coaches. Let's see what is going on the practice courts, inside the locker room, share ideas. Videos for parents on how college recruiting and NCAA works. This is how you get a kid interested. This is how the base gets energized. More investment in media can go real far...imagine if the costs (forget salary, just covering her expenses) for Colette were subsidized by the USTA (she presents the fact, not opinions). Imagine if we had a small team of people covering all angles- 7 billion people will have smart phones in the next 5-10 years. Like Sal Khan Academy (salkhan.com), one teacher can teach millions of kids and infect change. One photograph tagged on a kids wall showcasing their trophy (it would be arrogant to put up your own pic, so the media does it for you) will fire them up- they want to be respected by their peers who can instantly give them feedback on a job well done. Anyways, ZooTennis is top notch stuff. Imagine if Colette isn't around? Who picks up the slack? Irreplaceable at this point in time.

Sweet Spot said...

Valuable recap. Thanks.