Pro Circuit New Year Underway in Florida; Australia Attracts US Pros, but Not Juniors; Tips for Tournament Directors
Qualifying for the first two USTA Pro Circuit events is underway in Florida, with the men at a $10,000(I was hopeful that paltry level of prize money would disappear in 2014, but no) Futures in Plantation and the women at a $25,000 tournament in Vero Beach.
As is usually the case in these Florida men's Futures, the qualifying draws are 128 and full, with many college players participating prior to returning to school in the next couple of weeks. The draws are also notably stronger than they are at the end of the year. Martins Podzus of Latvia, who was the No. 6 seed (and finalist) at the Bradenton $10K in November while at 753 in the ATP rankings, is the top seed in qualifying this week, even with his ranking up to 652. Podzus will play his twin brother Janis for a main draw berth on Monday.
Former Florida Gator Allie Will, with an WTA ranking of 356, is the top seed in the women's Vero Beach tournament, where the draw size is 64, meaning three wins to qualify. Jamie Loeb, Robin Anderson, Sabrina Santamaria, Jennifer Brady and Alex Cercone are among the current college players in the qualifying draw. The 2009 NCAA champion from Duke, Mallory Cecil, is also attempting to qualify. Just a few of the many notable juniors in the qualifying are Brooke Austin, Kaitlyn McCarthy, Peggy Porter, Sofia Kenin, Tornado Alicia Black and Francoise Abanda.
I will be writing an Australian Open junior preview for the Tennis Recruiting Network later this month, but there won't be many US juniors featured, as so few are heading Down Under this year. Fifteen-year-olds Stefan Kozlov and Michael Mmoh are the only two US boys who received direct acceptance, and for the girls, just Katrine Steffensen, Olivia Hauger and 14-year-olds Michaela Gordon and CiCi Bellis are assured a place in the main draw. This is by no means a new development, and with all the opportunities in Florida this month, the decision to stay closer to home to compete makes some financial sense, but as someone who has been to Australia for the Open (back in 2006), it's certainly a worthwhile, if tiring, trip. With the USTA subsidizing some of the airfare (I believe they still do this) and hospitality included, it's not even that daunting financially for a main draw player.
Many young American pros did make the trip to Australia, and already have had some success. Lauren Davis reached the quarterfinals in the WTA event in Auckland last week and qualified for the Sydney tournament. Christina McHale, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vicky Duval also qualified for Sydney, while Madison Brengle, who was training with Duval at the IMG Bollettieri Academy during the Eddie Herr, qualified for the WTA tournament in Hobart this week. Eighteen-year-old Madison Keys played her first round match against No. 7 seed Simona Halep of Romania in Sydney last night, and won it 6-1, 6-4.
Jack Sock has received a wild card into the ATP event in Auckland this week, with Donald Young, Steve Johnson and Bradley Klahn into the final round of qualifying, with Johnson and Klahn playing each other for the first time since the 2012 NCAA semifinals, a match Johnson won in straight sets. Ryan Harrison will play Alex Bogomolov in the final round of qualifying for the Sydney ATP event. All five US players are in the main draw of the Australian Open, which begins a week from Monday (Sunday here).
Thanks to Parenting Aces' Lisa Stone, who tweeted a link to this article from the USPTA magazine about tips for tournament directors. There's much sensible and practical advice from David Minihan, and for those who are not tournament directors, it's a valuable primer on just how many things must be organized properly in order to host successful tournaments. Don't take the good ones for granted, and politely suggest improvements to those who might benefit from any insight and experience you can offer.