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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bellis Wins Costa Rica Grade 1 Title; Pro Circuit Update; Is Pro Tennis the Cruelest Sport?

Last night at the Copa del Cafe in Costa Rica, 14-year-old CiCi Bellis won her first ITF Grade 1 title, defeating top seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-3.  I tried to watch the live stream of the match, but while it was better than nothing, it was just barely, with constant buffering making it impossible to follow with any accuracy.

The eighth-seeded Bellis failed to serve out the first set at 5-2, but was able to finally convert her third set point serving at 5-4 when Bouzkova netted a forehand.  Bellis played the cleaner match, with fewer errors, but neither girl was able to hold serve with any regularity.  The second set began with two holds, but there were then five straight breaks until Bellis had her best serving game of the match, holding at love to take a 5-3 lead.  Bellis then broke the 15-year-old Czech for the seventh time to win the title.

The boys title did go to the top seed, with Roman Safiullin of Russia defeating No. 6 seed Ryotaro Matsumura of Japan 7-6(2), 6-1 in the final. No. 3 seeds Nicolas Alvarez of Peru and Rafael Coutinho of Venezuela won the boys doubles title, beating unseeded Adrian Andrzejczuk of Poland and Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam 6-4, 3-6, 10-7.

The girls doubles title also went to the No. 3 seeds, with Morgane Michiels and Greetje Minnen of Belgium beating No. 4 seeds Emily Arbuthnott of Great Britain and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-4, 7-5 in the final.

The first two Florida Pro Circuit events of the year are in the books, with Sekou Bangoura Jr winning the $10,000 Futures title in Plantation with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over 18-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan. Nishioka had won two consecutive Futures last month in Chile to end the year ranked 442, while Bangoura had also won his last tournament, November's Futures in Niceville.  Bangoura was forced to qualify in Plantation this week however, and rain required he play two matches, the second round and the quarterfinal, on the same day. Both went to three sets, but the 22-year-old former Florida Gator from Bradenton never ran out of steam, despite needing another three sets to take out former Texas Tech star Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador in Saturday's semifinal.

Former Georgia Tech teammates Kevin King and Juan Spir won the doubles title, beating former Florida State teammates Jean Yves Aubone and Vahid Mirzadeh 7-6(5), 6-3 in today's final.

At the $25,000 women's Pro Circuit tournament in Vero Beach, the weather was even worse, and a match tiebreaker was played in lieu of a third set in the second round and quarterfinal matches.  Top seed Allie Kiick and Samantha Crawford were the only two Americans to advance to the quarterfinals, with Kiick making semifinals only to retire trailing No. 3 seed Laura Siegemund of Germany 4-0 in the first set.  Siegemund won the title today, beating Canada's Gabriela Dabrowski, the No. 4 seed, 6-3, 7-6(10).  Allie Will(University of Florida) and Irina Khromacheva of Russia, the ITF 2011 World Junior champion, won the doubles title. The No. 3 seeds defeated unseeded Jacqueline Cako(Arizona State) and Sanaz Marand(North Carolina) 7-5, 6-3 in the final.

This coming week in Florida, the men are in Sunrise for another $10,000 Futures, and the women are in Port Saint Lucie for another $25,000 challenger.

I've linked to many articles about the financial and emotional stress of players on the Futures and Challenger circuit, but never one as emotionally compelling as this one from The Independent on Jamie Baker of Great Britain. Baker has recently retired, and reporter Archie Bland makes clear all of the conflicting emotions and circumstances that led to Baker's decision. Would more money at the lower levels fix this problem, or would there still be hard choices to be made by those just under the break even point, whatever ranking number that might be?  I suspect there is no solution that inoculates someone from the pain of giving up their dream job, but I would certainly like the sport's leadership to do what it can to assure those in the Top 300 a decent living.  The current distribution model is unquestionably broken.


Lisa Stone said...

I love that you're including the players' collegiate ties in your reporting. Maybe if more people understand why college should continue to be a viable pathway to the pro tours, they will better support their local teams by going out to the matches (and take along a few friends!) and convince ITA/NCAA/USTA that it ain't broke so don't try to fix it!

Karl Tennis LA. said...

But college is not really a viable pathway to the pros, if by pros we mean the pros who actually make money. It is estimated that it takes about $150000/year to compete on the main tour. That means that after expenses, only the top 80 or so make good livings as a pro.

So the only players who really 'go pro' are those who make a living from tennis. Anyone can play pro events, but look at the earnings of these players mentioned here....they obviously are not earning a living from tennis.

Almost none of the top 80 went to college. Its a different mindset. They train with pro level hitting partners from a young age. They only aim for the pros.

Very, very, very few players who go the college route will ever make a living in pro tennis. It sounds nice....go to college, have a degree to fall back on, then go pro. But the reality is the players who actually make money in tennis go for broke, they think nothing but pros. Not saying thats the right path for most kids, but it is the path of almost everyone who makes it.

idk said...

Well you could say that about almost anything if we're only talking about the top 80 pros. There are currently only 2 Americans ranked in the top 80 (there are 5 on the cusp in that 90-100 range). So if we're going to use that subset of the rankings one could then argue that being American is not a viable pathway to the pros. Or being a Britain is not a viable pathway because Andy Murray is the only one of them in the top 80. Same with Switzerland. We could say that about the USTA system. Other country's college systems.

I'm not really trying to disagree with you because you're right. I just think the implication that players shouldn't consider college if they want to be a successful pro is wrong. Pretty much every player in the top 80 came up through different circumstances. Some blooming later than others. It really depends greatly on the player and their specific needs. It depends on their talent, skill set, physical development, available funding. So I really think its unfair to tell a player he probably won't be successful if he doesn't go straight pro.

Karl Tennis LA said...

idk....I am not saying to tell a player they will not be a successful pro if they go to college. College tennis is amazing for them.

Just stating the reality is pretty much anyone who makes a living playing tennis trained exclusively for the pros and did not play college tennis.

idk said...

Ah yes I agree. Anyone who has what it takes to make a comfortable living off of tennis typically would not have even had to ponder the question of whether to go to college or turn pro.

Although, I've got to give props to some of the recent players who came up through college tennis. Guys like Williams, Johnson, Klahn, and Rola are ahead of that break even point which is promising.