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.