The first ITF Grade 1 of the year begins tomorrow with the 51st edition of the Coffee Bowl in Costa Rica. Orange Bowl champion Sonya Kenin is the top seed in the girls draw, with Usue Arconada seeded No. 2.
There are 28 US girls in the 64-player draw, and in addition to the top two, six other Americans are seeded: No. 4 Michaela Gordon, No. 6 Olivia Hauger, No. 8 Claire Liu, No. 13 Gabby Pollner, No. 14 Maria Mateas and No. 16 Ally Miller-Krasilnikov.
There are only six girls in the ITF Top 100 in the field, and the qualifying for the girls was nearly nonexistent, with just three matches played in a field of 11. The boys field is even weaker, although, unlike the girls qualifying, a boy was required to win a match to get through the qualifying. There are just three Top 100 players in the main draw and No. 1 seed, Sora Fukuda of Japan, is outside the Top 50.
Part of this can be traced to the upcoming Grade 1 and junior slam in Australia, of course, and there is a Grade 2 in Slovakia next week that has drawn a field of similar strength. It's important to remember however, that younger players use tournaments like the Coffee Bowl to quickly move up in the rankings. Last year's winners Roman Safiiullin of Russia and CiCi Bellis of the US went on to have outstanding years that were set in motion by their titles in Costa Rica. Seeded eighth, Bellis defeated top seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in the final, with Bouzkova going on to win the US Open girls title in September. The No. 2 seed in the boys field this year is 15-year-old Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, who is certainly capable of earning a place in the ITF Top 10 this year, and the No. 16 seed is Junior Orange Bowl 14s champion Yshai Oliel of Israel, eager to make his way into the Top 100 sooner rather than later.
There are 19 American boys in the field, three of them seeded: No. 4 Ulises Blanch, No. 6 Catalin Mateas and No. 7 Emil Reinberg. William Howells and Aleksandar Kovacevic earned spots through qualifying, while Alec Zirkelbach and Chase Burton were given wild cards.
One aspect of the Coffee Bowl that keeps it among the top Grade 1s, even with indifferent fields, is the support it gets from the local community. Matches have been live streamed for years, and if you've ever watched one, you know there are huge crowds, full line crews, and more sponsors advertising than you'll see at an ATP or WTA event for the featured night matches.
Links to the draws, order of play and the live streaming can be found at the tournament website: www.copacafe.com