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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Australian Open Qualifying Begins Tuesday, with Nine American Men in Draw; College Park's JTCC; USTA Player Development Changing Emphasis in 2014

Men's qualifying begins Wednesday in Australia (tonight here in the US), with nine American men looking to advance to main draw. Two managed to qualify last year: Steve Johnson and Rajeev Ram, with Tim Smyczek getting into the main draw as a lucky loser.  Smyczek is in on his own ranking this year, Johnson won the USTA wild card tournament last month, and Ram is again in qualifying.  In addition to No. 15 seed Ram, the eight other US men in qualifying, with their seeding:  Denis Kudla(4), Alex Kuznetsov(20), Tennys Sandgren, Bobby Reynolds, Wayne Odesnik(19), Dan Kosakowski, Rhyne Williams(13) and Austin Krajicek. They are evenly distributed in the draw, with only Williams and Krajicek getting an early meeting, possibly in the second round.

Current NCAA champion Blaz Rola is in the qualifying draw, as is current Oklahoma freshman Andrew Harris, who received a wild card from his home country's federation.  Australians received eight wild cards, but 18-year-old Enzo Couacaud of France also was given one, for reasons I can't even guess at.  Usually the previous year's Australian Open boys champion gets one, but both Nick Kyrgios, the 2013 boys champion, and Thanasi Kokkinakis, the 2013 finalist, have been awarded main draw wild cards.

Unsurprisingly, Australia has the most players in the men's qualifying draw, with 13, including those eight wild cards.  Following close behind are France and Italy with 11, the United States with 9, and Spain with 8.

Qualifying matches will be streamed live on the Australian Open's YouTube channel.

The women's qualifying will begin on Thursday (Wednesday night in the US).

Misha Kouznetsov and Francis Tiafoe of the JTCC
Two important articles on player development came out the past two days, which I've already tweeted links to. The New York Times' Ben Rothenburg, who lives in the Washington DC area, visited the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland and wrote this article on its methods and philosophy.  Denis Kudla, Mitchell Frank and Francis Tiafoe are several of the high profile players who developed their games at the JTCC, which was one of the first facilities designated a Regional Training Center by the USTA, back in 2008. CEO Ray Benton, who can be seen supporting JTCC players at junior tournaments all over the country, has been on the USTA Board of Directors since January of last year and has provided advice to other tennis entities who are interested in setting up a similar non-profit structure in their areas.

Benton isn't quoted in this USA Today article on USTA Player Development by Doug Robson, but USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith is, as is USTA Player Development Patrick McEnroe.  Robson also provides quotes from some of the department's longtime critics, Robert Lansdorp and Wayne Bryan, and from Andy Roddick, Paul Annacone, and others, including Kalamazoo champion Collin Altamirano and his private coach, Joseph Gilbert.

It's an interesting article, with views from all sides of the debate. (Robson does misidentify the Regional Training Centers, which are not the three National Training Centers the USTA runs, but rather private clubs and academies that have applied to the USTA for that certification). I've long made my feelings known about the USTA being in the academy business (simply put, against, as not the best use of its resources), so I won't go into them in detail right now, but I truly hope Smith is right when he says this:

"I think everyone will see a renewed emphasis on outreach and inclusiveness in USTA player development going forward."


USA Tennis said...

The only consistent thing with the USTA PD is their inconsistencies.

They are constantly changing their philosophy, their wildcard selections, their favorite drills, their ranking system. Nothing stays consistent, so nothing has developed.

How this PD leadership has not been fired yet is incredible. Over 14 coaches has left since this administration has started in Boca.

I agree with Wayne Bryan, fire everyone, put that extra 18 million dollars per year into lowering tournament fees, adding more grant money to players, easing travel expenses, creating more opportunities for the junior players, add more tour-level american tournaments so junior players can go watch, take groups of juniors to those pro tournaments, college matches, Davis Cup matches.

USTA PD is failing and take for a change.

Tennis5 said...

Ok, here is the rub.

This past year, in August 2013, Kalamazoo Boys' 18's - you had two finalists:
Jared Donaldson and Collin Altamirano
( unseeded)

Jared, a 15 year old boy who did not live in the US and never played a sectional.

And Collin who never played a sectional in 2013.

According to this article, the USTA is now giving help to Collin which is great!

But, under the new system,
while maybe Jared would have gotten a Wild Card into Kalamazoo,
Collin would have not........

So, how bizarre is it that the USTA is now helping a player that would not have gotten into Kalamazoo under the new system ( limited WC and they go to their IDENTIFIED players )

I appreciate that the USTA realizes they have made some mistakes and are trying to fix them.

But, shouldn't the first step be to dismantle a system where they have limited play among players?

And back to Jared, he lives in Rhode Island
( an area of the country I am familiar with)
and there is very little play up here.

Let's say there is a player like Jared right now in RI who is 10 years old.
So, under the new system, unless you LEAVE YOUR OWN COUNTRY,
you are stuck in a small section,
and you will be playing the same players for the next 8 years, except for the few times a year, you can nationals.......

This might work for a big section, such as SoCal or Florida, but it will doom the players in the small sections.

The old system which had two pathways to Kalamazoo gave players the opportunity to either stay in their section ( get in off your sectional ranking ) or play other players across the country ( get in off your national ranking). Cross play among sections is now dead.