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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tornados and Rams Claim Gold Balls in First USTA Spring Team Championships

Left to right: Keyser, Garcia, Loeb, Khan, Cacciatore, Little, Jones, Johnston

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Mobile, AL--

A chilly but sunny morning was the backdrop for the finals of the USTA's first Spring Team Championships, with the boys title going to the Rams, by virtue of sets won from the Saints, and the girls title going to the Tornados, who beat the Firecrackers 7-5.

The boys title match was close from the start, with the two teams splitting the four doubles points available.  The Rams took the No. 1 doubles, with William Little and Robert Loeb beating Spencer Furman and Luke Gamble 8-5, and the No. 4 doubles, with Nicholas Garcia and Zane Khan downing Michael Karr and Benjamin Koch 8-4.  The Saints got their two points from Gianni Ross and Justin Lee, who beat Blest Jones and Alexander Keyser at No. 2 doubles 8-5, and Keenan Mayo and Pierce Rollins, who took an 8-4 decision from Henry Cacciatore and Brittton Johnston 8-4.

Once the four doubles matches were complete, the 12s and 14s matches were sent out. Khan's 6-0, 6-0 win over Karr at No. 1 12s briefly gave the Rams the lead, but Mayo beat Cacciatore 6-4, 6-4 at No. 1 14s to pull the Saints even.  Garcia at No. 2 12s gave the Rams a 4-3 lead with his 6-4, 6-2 win over Koch and the Rams made it 5-3 when Keyser won at No. 2 16s over Lee. Lee, who had retired from his match in Wednesday's semifinal without playing a point, did manage to play four games against Keyser, but could not finish the first set. The Saints came back however, with Gamble's 6-1, 6-0 win over Jones at No. 2 18s and Rollins 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Johnston at No. 2 14s, making it 5-5.

The two matches left on the court were the No. 1s in 16s and 18s.  Little and Furman were only five games into their 18s match, but Rossi and Loeb were much farther along, with Loeb winning the first set 6-4 and the second set tied at 3-3.  Rossi had two set points with Loeb serving at 5-6 15-40 in the second set, but Loeb, who had been hitting winners with regularity throughout the match, really stepped up his game.  On the first set point, he hit a forehand crosscourt that Ross could barely get a racquet on. Loeb, who turned 16 on Wednesday, saved the second by guessing that Rossi would go down the line on a backhand pass and picking it off for a volley winner. Two more forehand winners later, Loeb had forced a tiebreaker, and while he wasn't quite as dialed in there, he did give the Rams a 6-5 lead when Ross double faulted on Loeb's third match point for a 6-4, 7-6(5) win.

"I was just thinking take one point at a time," said Loeb, who trains at the Smith Stearns Academy in Hilton Head. "Trying to stay in the moment, be really consistent and wait for my opportunity to come forward."

Shortly after Loeb won, Furman took the first set from Little in a tiebreaker, which still gave the Saints hope.  With the number of sets won serving as the tiebreaker should the teams finish 6-6, Furman had to win in straight sets to send the match to the next tiebreaker, games won.  He trailed 4-1 and got back on serve, but was immediately broken at 4-3 and Little served out the set, which was enough to clinch it for the Rams.

Little said he didn't know he only had to win one set to assure his team the championship, but the support of his teammates, and the desire for a gold ball, kept him focused.

"My whole goal when I was younger was to make National junior tournaments," said Little, who turns 18 on Friday. "The thought of winning a gold ball is kind of mind blowing to me. It's fun to see the process come together like this. A team gold takes a team effort, which is really special, but still to get the gold ball and see the progress, it's still unbelievable."

The stars of the Rams team throughout the tournament were their 12s, who did not lose, in singles or doubles, in their four victories.

"They were awesome," said Loeb. "They were fun, they were great. One of them came clutch for us yesterday and it was awesome being with them."

Looking back to when he was 12, Loeb said he didn't measure up to the standard Khan and Garcia displayed throughout the tournament.

"I wasn't that good, that's for sure," Loeb said. "They are very good."

Rams coach Glenn Allsop knew just how close the match was.

"In a match like this, there's many variables," Allsop said. "I think team cohesion was part of it, and I also think it was a little bit of luck. We had a default in our favor, even though I was feeling optimistic about how that match might have gone, when it comes down to one set, anything's possible. I don't think you could possibly ask for a better learning experience for these kids. They learn the most when it comes down to the wire, down to the last few minutes. That's when they find out who they are really, in the heat of battle."

Saints coach Matias Marin had nothing but praise for his players.

"We had chances, and we fought hard," Marin said. "That's all I can ask for from these guys--that they compete all the way. We were down and we came back, and I'm very proud of them.  Unfortunately we came up one set short, but that's the way it is, and I'm proud of them."

Bottom, L to R: Slaysman, White, Arbitman
Top, L to R: Battaglia, LaFrance, Aney, Weissmann, Kowalski

When USTA National Coach Tom Gullickson spoke to the coaches and players prior to the tournament, he said the most important aspect of being a good coach is to have good players.  Zach Buenger, coach of the Tornados, agreed that his eight girls deserved all the credit for his team's title run.

"They made it easy," Buenger said. "You have to have a blend of girls who are open to this kind of coaching. I didn't know any of them, and they didn't know me, and you have to have the right kind of personality to accept blind coaching from somebody you just met."

Buenger's team looked as if they were going to lose three of the four doubles points, when Jessie Aney and Savannah Slaysman trailed Caroline Turner and Morgan Coppoc 5-0 at No. 1.  The Firecrackers' Lea Ma and Ann Li had already taken an 8-1 decision from Meg Kowalski and Maggie White at No. 3, and Rebecca Weissmann and Madison Battaglia had fallen behind Victoria Yu and Samantha Martinelli at No. 2, eventually losing 8-3.  The team of Katie LaFrance and Rachel Arbitman gave the Tornados a point with an 8-2 win over Peyton Stearns and Ava Neyestani, but Aney and Slaysman, who had dropped all three of their previous doubles matches, looked to be heading for their fourth loss.

But Aney and Slaysman reeled off seven straight games until Coppoc finally held for 6-7, only to watch as Slaysman served out the match in the next game.

"My team competed the way they competed from the very first day," said Buenger. "Down 5-0, and all of sudden, we have a little talk, focus them a little bit, and they bring it back to only give up one more game after that. It's just a testament to their competitiveness and the inner fire that they bring to each of their matches."

The two teams traded straight set wins in the four 12s and 14s matches. The Firecrackers' Stearns beat Arbitman 6-2, 6-0 at No. 2 12s, then Kowalski made it 3-3 with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Li at No. 1 14s. The Tornados' White closed out Neyestani 6-3, 6-1 at No. 1 12s, and the Firecrackers responded with Ma's 6-3, 6-2 victory over LaFrance at No. 2 14s to make it 4-4.

The Firecrackers took a 5-4 lead with Martinelli's 6-1, 6-1 win over Slaysman at No. 1 16s, and the Tornados countered with a 6-3, 6-4 victory by Battaglia over Coppoc at No. 2 16s.  Now 5-5, the Tornados had the luxury of the first two sets in the 18s, meaning that they only needed to win one of the two remaining matches, since they held the number of sets tiebreaker.  At No. 2, Weissmann had a 4-1 lead in the second set over Yu, and Aney a 3-1 lead over Turner at No. 1, and it was Weissman who reached the finish line first, beating Yu 6-3, 6-2 to clinch the win for the Tornados.

"This tournament has honestly been the greatest tournament I've played," said the 16-year-old Weissman, who won all four of her singles matches. "It's been such a great experience and just being a part of the team has made it all the more special. I felt very solid all week, and I just felt playing for the team meant all the more to me. Having that team support was awesome."

The team cheer, which is basically "Nados" faster and louder eight or ten times in succession, was another unique aspect to the event.

"I loved that," said Weissman. "Before every match we did it, and it set the precedent to fight for every single point in every single match. These group of girls have been amazing, I love them all."

Aney, who will be 16 next month, was aware the match was coming down to the last two courts.

"Becca and I were playing on the courts next to each other, and we both knew that if either of us won in straight sets, we won, since we automatically had the sets tiebreak," said Aney, who also went undefeated in singles during the week. "So we were just cheering for each other, and when she won, I just got so excited. I don't think I lost a game after that. I was pumped up and it was awesome."

Aney said the gold ball was special, and not just because it was her first.

"It was so exciting to win with a team," Aney said. "It was so much better than if I had just won individually. It was a blast."

As for staying in touch with her team in the upcoming months, Aney said that was a given.

"We're planning on extending our group message forever," Aney said. "We'll just keep texting in that. It was one of the best tournaments ever. I'll never forget the friends that I made here."

Firecrackers coach John Meincke agreed that the relationships developed were a major benefit in the new format.

"I hope the USTA does more of this, gets some camaraderie with these players," Meincke said. "A lot of times you go play a tournament, you sit in the hotel, and that's all you do. But getting out here and having these kids be exposed to other kids in different age groups is so, so important. These kids are from all over the country and they became close friends, and hopefully they'll be that way for years to come."

In the bronze ball matches, the Patriots beat the Vikings 11-1 for third place in the boys draw, and the Lightning downed the Lynx 8-4 for third place in the girls draw.

The USTA sportsmanship awards went to Kareena Manji of the Blue Jays and Luke Gamble of the Saints.

For the complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Boys Final:

Rams def. Saints 6-6, 11-10


1. William Little & Robert Loeb (Rams) def. Spencer Furman & Luke Gamble (Saints) 8-5
2. Gianni Ross & Justin Lee (Saints) def. Blest Jones & Alexander Keyser (Rams) 8-5
3. Keenan Mayo & Pierce Rollins (Saints) def. Henry Cacciatore & Britton Johnston (Rams) 8-4
4. Zane Khan & Nicholas Garcia (Rams) def. Michael Karr & Benjamin Koch (Saints) 8-4

Order of finish: 3, 2, 4, 1

18 (1). Spencer Furman (Saints) def. William Little (Rams) 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-1
18 (2). Lucas Gamble (Saints) def. Blest Jones (Rams) 6-1, 6-0
16 (1). Robert Loeb (Rams) def. Gianni Ross (Saints) 6-4, 7-6(5)
16 (2). Alexander Keyser (Rams) def. Justin Lee (Saints) 4-0, ret. inj.
14 (1). Keenan Mayo (Saints) def. Henry Cacciatore (Rams) 6-4, 6-4
14 (2). Pierce Rollins (Saints) def. Britton Johnston (Rams) 2-6, 7-5, 6-1
12 (1). Zane Khan (Rams) def. Michael Karr (Saints) 6-0, 6-0
12 (2). Nicholas Garcia (Rams) def. Benjamin Koch (Saints) 6-4, 6-2

Order of finish:
12(1), 14(1), 12(2), 16(2), 18(2), 14s(2), 16s(1), 18s(1)

Girls Final:

Tornados def. Firecrackers 7-5


1. Jessie Aney & Savannah Slaysman (Tornados) def. Caroline Turner & Morgan Coppoc (Firecrackers) 8-6
2. Victoria Yu & Samantha Martinelli (Firecrackers) def. Rebecca Weissmann & Madison Battaglia (Tornados) 8-3
3. Lea Ma & Ann Li (Firecrackers) def. Meg Kowalski & Maggie White (Tornados) 8-1
4. Katie LaFrance & Rachel Arbitman(Tornados) def. Peyton Stearns & Ava Neyestani (Firecrackers) 8-2

Order of finish: 4, 3, 2, 1


18 (1). Jessie Aney (Tornados) def. Caroline Turner(Firecrackers) 7-5, 6-4
18 (2). Rebecca Weissmann (Tornados) def. Victoria Yu (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-2
16 (1). Samantha Martinelli (Firecrackers) def. Savannah Slaysman (Tornados) 6-1, 6-1
16 (2). Madison Battaglia (Tornados) def. Morgan Coppoc (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-4
14 (1). Meg Kowalski (Tornados) def. Ann Li (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-3
14 (2). Lea Ma (Firecrackers) def. Katie LaFrance (Tornados) 6-3, 6-2
12 (1). Maggie White (Tornados) def. Ava Neyestani (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-1
12 (2). Peyton Stearns (Firecrackers) def. Rachel Arbitman (Tornados) 6-2, 6-0

Order of finish:
12(2), 14(1), 12(1), 14(2), 16(1), 16(2), 18(2), 18(1)


That's just wrong said...

The value of gold just plummeted.

To devalue the most coveted of USTA prizes, I don't get it. Actually find it very sad and insulting to those that really earned one.

Thank goodness this is over.

On Court Coaching said...

Everytime Paul Annacone went to give Sloane advice in her last match, he gave her 4 or more instructions. In all 3 times Paul went to talk with Sloane, she went on a massive losing streak of points and games.


Mary Carillo even stated "The coaching curse continues" for Paul.

Midwest Tennis said...

On Court Coaching

I am glad someone else saw that.

On Paul's first trip, Sloane lost her first 7 points.

On Paul's second trip, Sloane lost her first 7 points, again.

On Paul's last visit, Sloane won her first two points, then lost the next 9 points.

I cannot believe how much information Paul was giving to Sloane. There is no way anybody can process all that information during a match.

ridiculous7890 said...

The tournament was a great idea. The facilities and amenities for the players were great. However, the gold ball winners were in some cases, much more the beneficiaries of luck by being randomly chosen on the right team, rather than being rewarded for their performances. Many players who won most or all of their matches won no balls, while some players who won NOT a single match, and just won the lottery by being on the right team, walk away with a gold ball. I can't help but agree with previous comments that this really devalues what a gold ball means. It should NOT be a product of luck, but rather exclusively be a product of hard word. Just look at the tournament results for the winning team to see the data to support this.

Shameful said...

They handed out gold balls like they were participation ribbons for a four year old's soccer tournament. Does no one in that organization have an ounce of common sense? No one spoke up at a meeting and said "this isn't a good idea..."

Prior to yesterday, a gold ball was the pinnacle of American junior tennis achievement. As of now, it is a representation of the joke that the American junior tennis system is becoming.

How many decades of tradition did they just destroy?

Footnote said...

This tournament unfortunately will always have a footnote - I won a Gold Ball at the Team Nationals. Kids are pretty smart. They will always recognize that. Like winning a National Open is not Kalamazoo.

Kids had fun. There were some top players like the Mayos, Day, Aney, etc. Some good players went home empty handed because their teams were weak. That was predictable.

The bottom line is that this event is another strange effort by the USTA to motivate (?) kids by offering a gold ball. A lot of boasting will take place this weekend at the Junior Competition Meeting. Nothing will change. American tennis will continue in the dump. But...alas, even Jose Higueras is waking up! A ray of hope?

Im not very good but I feel good said...

Nothing like another Liberal, everybody must feel good idea. Now instead of participation ribbons we get hold balls.

Team Gold said...

Yes the value of the gold ball just plummeted but other than this, the tournament was a success. The best team won and that TEAM deserved gold balls.

This tournament was made to create an atmosphere similar to college tennis. On-court coaching was there to get kids ready for college tennis. Kids need to learn how to deal with coaching on court and figure out a way so that it will benefit them. It's not the coach fault if you lose the next four points. Take the good things out of what the coach says and focus on those things. Yes there is such thing as over-coaching but these national coaches at this tournament are all qualified and smart enough not to over-coach.

Overall, the tournament made it fun for the kids because you were forced to meet and get along with the people on your team. It also motivated the 12-year old and 14-year old kids because they got to have some of the top 18-year old's on their team to show them how to compete and lead by example.

team sports said...

Tried posting a comment that never showed up. One more try.

Tired of the 'gold plummeted'/'participation ribbon' comments.

First, as so many have complained, only 32 players per age allowed to participate so we are already talking about an exclusive event.

Second, only two gold balls were awarded per age group (versus last year, 3: 1 singles 2 doubles). So fewer kids getting gold balls this year than last year.

Finally, it's a team event and the balls go to the best teams, not the individual best players.

And as far as devaluing? Do you think Mitchell Frank would trade his team NCAA title for Blaz Rola's individual singles title? I don't know, but I doubt it. And on that note, should we exclude UVAs #6 singles player from the championship team since he lost his singles match in the championship?

The moaning about this team competition shows how little some tennis people understand about team sports. Hats off to USTA for exposing the kids to it. And by reading the articles, it certainly looked like the kids embraced and enjoyed the experience.

ridiculous7890 said...

Not disputing that the event was fun and had merit. Simply arguing that it should be something like a Level 1A or a Level 2, not a "gold ball" event. The comparison to college is somewhat applicable, but in college, the coach develops a team and individual skills over four years, not four hours of weekend practice.

Whether or not the best team won is not the point. That team was put together by luck and several members, who earned gold balls had it happen just by the luck of the draw, not by the skill of their performance. A gold ball is a recognition of individual achievement. The award did not go to the coach or the school, as it does in college, but went to individuals on the team. Again, some of those individuals performed well, some did not perform at all, and yet, as individuals, they still received gold balls. It was almost pre-destined that certain teams, because of their position in the selection of players, could not possibly win regardless of how well the players played. Perhaps, if the rankings were perfect and more of the top players signed up, you could construct more equity across the teams, but as it exists now, the reality is, the luckiest teams will be the only teams that have an ability to compete, regardless of how well individuals play on the unlucky teams.

My recommendation would be to change this to a Level 1A and if you want to do balls, create a new category of balls and present the winning teams with ruby, emerald, garnet balls and leave the gold, silver and bronze for individual events, as always traditionally has been the case.

Can't be serious said...

Team sports - are you really comparing these kids and this event with accomplished UVA tennis players? This only proves the point that these players did not deserve a gold ball in any measure. Five days in Alabama does not make a team. Tennis isn't a team sport until college. Virtually none of these kids won the series of tournaments and put in the work on the road to a gold ball. They didn't EARN the spot on that successful college team.

They were a team for a few days and chosen randomly as has been mentioned. Many top players were not there and quotas kept others out. This was no where near a true L1 event. Some just showed up, didn't win and had fun. That deserves a ribbon, not a gold ball.

Comparing these kids to true gold ball winners or successful college players is a silly comparison. But as someone said, the kids will always know it isn't a real gold ball. You have to know that too.
Call it a good event, glad kids had fun, but award it appropriately.

team sports said...

Of course I’m serious. And yes, some of the players at this event can easily be compared with UVA players in that they are on same path. And you drop the comment “virtually none of these kids…put in the work on the road to a gold ball”, so I had a look. I know the girls better than the boys and in doing some digging, you are way off in that comment.

Here is a sample of the quality on girls side:

Andie Daniell - came to the event straight from the Gainesville 10K where she qualified and lost in main draw quarterfinals in a third set breaker to eventual finalist Katerina Stewart.

Of senior blue chips, three of the top 10 girls there: Sanford (Ohio State), Najarian (Michigan), Smith (USC). Note that top 5 (Chirico, Austin, etc play mostly pro events) Other older girls playing the event represent commits to top NCAA programs: USC (2), Michigan (2), Ohio State, Baylor, UNC, Auburn and others. Nearly all #1 18s players were blue chip players and most of the players in the event across the board were blue chip or 5star. And players know they will play 4 tough matches versus very similar level (not like normal 196 where top seeds can sleep through first several rounds while 3 and 4 stars get hammered).

Younger girls also included many girls with USTA balls and many who currently or formerly worked with USTA PD: McQuaid, Day, Desiatnikov, Johnson, Spence, Peus, several more.

In all #1 spots (18, 16, 14, 12), players were generally top50. So that’s not bad to get 16 of top 50. And it’s nearly identical to the quality that Winter Nationals gets but without all the low ranked, blowout mismatches - so in that, this is better time/money/competition than WinterNats. Looking at the girls team winner, top three girls had won USTA balls in the past which further disputes your claim virtually none put in the work….

Ok, I spent way too much time on this. But as a first time event, I think they drew well and hopefully it keeps getting better. Totally agree on the randomness issue but I have no better ideas and the kids really enjoyed the team part. Although it seems its WinterNats quality already, I’m sure we’d all like to see even higher quality kids. And I’m sure that’s the idea behind the cutoffs and gold balls. I..e you’ll never get the top kids unless it’s viewed as a prestigious/exclusive event.

ridiculous7890 said...

You and I must look at different data. There are links on the tournament site that provide a table with the ranking of each player for both girls and boys as of 3/5/14. Looking at that data there is no USTA ranked girl in the Girls 18s ranked higher than 13 and only 14 of the 32 Girl 18s ranked by the USTA within the top 50. For Girls 16s the top ranked player was ranked #7 and only 15 of the 32 Girls 16s were ranked in the USTA top 50. The Girls 14s seemed somewhat more competitive based on USTA rankings as the top ranked player was ranked third and 19 of the 32 Girl 14s were ranked in the USTA top 50. In the Girls 12s, the top ranked girl was ranked #9 and only 8 of the 32 Girls 12s were in the USTA top 50. When I look at this data it is abundantly clear that a LARGE number of girls #1 players across the age groups were not very highly ranked and were outside of the USTA top 50 in their age group. The distribution of rankings for #1 players for the boys was similar.

The result is that at this event, no G18 #1 player would play even a single match against an opponent USTA ranked higher than #13. I dispute that this equates to winter national strengths, as I suspect, in each age group there were multiple players ranked higher than the top ranked girl at this event (with the possible exception of G14s).

All of this is really not the point though. The more relevant point is that some players received gold balls just for being lucky to be on the right team. I suggest you look at the winning boys team and look at the records of some of the players on that team. If you honestly believe that going 0-8 at a #2 position on a team entitles you to a gold ball, then we clearly have differing opinions that cannot be reconciled. The team results were driven largely by the luck of the draw and in some cases, team members are now recognized by the USTA as "gold ball" winners, just for successfully hitting the lottery.

team sports said...

We are looking at the same data. I said the #1 spots were mostly top 50 players…number one spots are the first 16 players in the lists you are looking at. #2 spots are 16-32. Winter nationals this year: G18s had 17 top 50 players and G16s had only 10 top 50 players. So looks like in girls 16+18s, this event had more top 50 players than winter nats.

And with respect to your last paragraph, I agree per my comment above…the lottery part is hard to solve in this deal so there will be some outliers there and a few ‘undeserved’ gold balls. I didn’t know a boy went 0-8…that is an asterisk! On the the girls side, the winning team is actually the opposite, with every player getting at least a singles or doubles win in the finals so worked out nice that all players got a win and contributed.

I just jumped into the comments here because of all the negativity. Positives are this:

-Quality of players: As good or better than an Winters
-Gold balls: Were not given out like candy, actually fewer than last year’s events.
-4 Matches that are virtually guaranteed to be good competition because of how players were waterfalled based on nat’l rankings
-Team aspect was great. See comments by all players and coaches in these articles.

The balls are probably needed to keep the level of play and hopefully push it up. I suspect that most of the players on the winning team are probably very very good. In fact, on the boys team…the REST of the team must have been outstanding to cover up for an 0-8 record.

Bottom line: There were top players (as defined by winternationals level), Competitive matches, Great comradrie. I’ll mark it down to a B based on the 0-8 guys, but overall, it seemed to be a great event according the people who were actually THERE.

Earn it said...

Again, not a valid and poor comparison. To get a gold ball at Winter Nationals, you have to win all your matches. You stand alone in your age group as the single victor over everyone else. That is a gold ball winner.

The gold balls won't draw the better kids in the future, on the contrary, it will draw the lower level players who know it is an easy shot at a gold ball. Good players would be embarrassed to admit they got one that way. (Players know the truths of tennis.) Ask those better players how many will be back next year. It was fun, but it wasn't a L1 is what I was told. It will become known as Zonals 2 as someone mentioned earlier.

Regardless and back to the point, give them a gold flower, coin, button or ribbon. But none of these players, not one, earned a gold ball. Final answer.

team sports said...

You miss my point…the comparison to winter nats is on quality of players only - not to compare formats. I point that out to those that criticize the level of players that participated.

And you state the obvious -> at an individual tourney, an individual has to win all of his matches (ala Blaze Rola). At a team tourney, the winning TEAM must win all of their matches (ala UVA). What is your point?

As I said, many tennis people don’t understand team sports and you are proof. Yes, there can be weak players on championship teams. And great players on weak teams. And a championship goes to the team, not the best players in the league. It’s just a different animal. Luck and lottery? What about NFL and the Superbowl? How many of those players picked the teams they were on? You play the cards you are dealt as far as teammates and you go from there – that’s another team sport reality.

So…your ‘final answer’ is based on what? That you simply cannot conceive of a team gold ball event? That a gold ball can only be given to individuals and is too sacred to be bestowed on a team? Ask Sampras or Agassi what a USTA gold ball means. It means you won a USTA National Championship of some sort. USTA gives them out for oddities such as Mother/Son, Husband/Wife, they’ve even flipped coins for them. So by your count, nobody could possibly have performed heroically enough to meet your gold ball standards? Or is it simply that no amount of heroics in a team environment could ever justify a gold ball? There are most certainly some epic stories of comebacks, collapses, miracle shots, match points saved, etc from this event that are shared and celebrated by a team…but nothing is good enough for you?

Is it different? Yep. Is it random? Yep. You can call it Zonals 2, but it’s indisputable that USTA just hosted the highest level National junior team event in it’s history. Many of the top kids in the nation were giving it all they got and playing for something other than just themselves which I can tell you, results in trying a little harder, grinding a little longer, tanking a little less, playing all your matches instead of defaulting, and having 7 other players who have your back, celebrate your wins, share your losses. As I said, different animal.

ridiculous7890 said...

Well obviously your daughter won a gold ball and you are trying very hard to justify that it is a meaningful accomplishment and she deserves it. If that is the case, Congratulations! The truth is that 90% of the kids attended because the points awarded were so high and the competition they had to beat was easier than a typical tournament. Compare 300 points for winning a single match versus 250 points for winning a sectional (L4), which likely, in a strong section, would involve multiple wins over top 50 players and results in only 250 national points. This is the reason (in many cases, the only reason) that players tried so hard. Not for the team, but for themselves and their individual rankings. This is also why teams who already were out of the gold ball competition after losing their first team match continued to play hard in the remaining matches.

I was there. I thought the tournament was organized well. I thought the player amenities were great. I have no objection to the format, but I don't think it should be a gold ball event. The top players in professional team sports hold out to play with team members that will allow them to win a championship. Look at Dwayne Wade and Lebron James. That wasn't a random pairing of players, it was a deliberate effort by those players to form the core of the team that could win a championship. Why is Anthony likely to leave the Knicks? Not because of salary or team spirit. He wants to be in a place within an organization that will win. So your analogy to professional sports and team accomplishments really doesn't apply. It especially doesn't apply to an individual sport like tennis, where teammates don't play together, but rather you just accumulate individual efforts. There is no team synergy. There is, in this event, simply team luckiness to have the right waterfall position to be able to be successful.

In my opinion, as I said before, the event should continue. The USTA should be proud of creating this new event, but it should not be a Level 1 and it should not award individual gold balls. I find it interesting that no one has commented on the points earned in the tournament, particularly, the fact that the #2 players earned 275 points, while the #1 players earned 300 points per win, only 25 more for playing opponents who were extraordinarily more difficult. The "significant win" points accounts for some of the difference in opponents, but the USTA still has not fixed the point values for significant wins. So that is still not reflected sufficiently in the earned points and subsequent rankings. If you looked at the players participating, so many were either first year in their age group and they participated because they recognized the incredible opportunity to improve their national ranking by playing in #2 spot and earning a ton of national points. Again, I believe that was the primary motivation for playing this tournament for most players. The random possibility of winning a gold ball was simply a bonus incentive.

ClarkC said...

I think we have proven one thing here. If any member of the Seattle Seahawks was not one of the best NFL players at his position, he does not deserve a Super Bowl ring. After all, why should he get the same ring that a star player gets? What if he is not even a starter in the Super Bowl? :-)

ridiculous7890 said...

Only the team owner gets the Lombardi trophy. The team members and staff including trainers and coaches get a ring designed as a memento by the team itself, which has no official NFL significance at all. I think your implied suggestion is great. Give the winning team members a ring not a gold ball!

team sports said...

Ridiculous! I'm glad to have learned so much from you! Who knew:

1) 90% of kids saw it as a points grab.
2) Professional athletes really pick the teams in pro sports, not GMs.
3) No such thing as team synergy in tennis.
4) Nobody wanted real competition, but rather the players plotted to snag the #2 spot in order to get 275 points a match
5) And best/most suprising: that my daughter won a gold ball!, er was undeservedly given a gold ball to be more accurate.

Thanks for all the enlightenment! Now that you know it was 90% about gaming the system for points, do you still think, as you said in your first post, it was a great idea, sans USTA balls?

...taking my tongue out of my cheek: Truth is that I've been coaching for 25 or so years and I commented early on the USTA proposals, suggesting they not give up Winters for a team event but that a team event with top nationally ranked players would be an awesome way to get great competition and have the kids enjoy a different atmosphere. And it seems as if it went reasonably well. I’m not hung up or convinced “gold has devalued” and tend to think its needed to sell the prestige. But actually I’d have no problem with this being a 1A or whatever if it didn’t hurt the level of players.

This is different from zonals/intersectionals in that it's not section based and the waterfall from natl rankings creates great individual matchups. And its a unique chance to meet players from across the nation.

And obviously I don't know (nor do you) but I'd wager very few plotted point and positions and tried hard in backdraw mostly out of selfishness rather than because they were inspired or felt obligation to play for more than themselves.

This game really isn't any fun longterm if it’s about selfishness, points, rankings, and gaming the system as you chronicled. It's a lot more fun if you embrace tough competition, look for ways to challenge yourself and improve, and enjoy and are inspired by comradrie. I think/hope the kids get this more than you give them credit for.

Ok, my bi-annual mistake of getting sucked into a circular anonymous online debate has been used up. This is water under the bridge and it will be interesting to see if/how year 2 goes.

SeminoleG said...

Gold Ball, Points Grab, Footnote, The Best weren't there Yada Yada Yada.

Talk about missing the point. Who cares about the DUST BUNNIES! Medals/Certificates/Balls. Who really cares? If you do then maybe that is the issue.

This event had issues, but overall had some solid tennis and like a good Trade Show allowed a gathering. I as a parent exchanged information and exchanged ideas and contacts. My kid made a few friends met some folks and had a good time.

Just like Winter Nationals seems some folks took a pass, who do you blame for that? They could have entered and did not.

Yes the Compass Draw for a random team event is not the way it should've been done. BUT First time, First Time.

Suggest they ditch Sunday practice and Split the teams into 4 Groups. Play round robin in your group and 4 group winners to SF and then to Finals. They do this in most non-seeded events and a Compass Draw is predicated on a seeding.
Tie Breaker is Super Tiebreak with your 18s DBLS team. Heck they need to get used to the pressure anyway.

But even if it is random again still worth the trip, BETTER than Winter Nationals!

It's just not an L1 said...

SG, you are the one missing something, the point of this whole discussion has been the gold ball and how this event doesn't justify them and the players didn't earn them. It may be a fine event, but isn't this really Spring Zonals? It's an event that let's kids and parents of kids who normally don't win significant events feel good when their kid gets something (even when they didn't earn it). They get to do team stuff in a light atmosphere. It seems that it is really a Tennis Team Carnival or Jamboree where it's about fun rah rah rah, and participation prizes but not truly competitive tennis. Just don't reward it, call it, or compare it to an L1, and I think everyone is good.

SeminoleG said...

Its Just not an L1 OK once again the GOld Balls!!!
Yes I agree then NEITHER is Winter Nationals! Compare the two, and tell me what you think?

Look at top to bottom this event had as many if not more Top 50 than Winter Nationals.

So my point is until Winter Nationals Gets a Solid Field, Like hard Courts, your Point is MOOT!