Sharks and Stingrays Face Off in Girls Final; Panthers and Rams Meet for Boys Title at USTA National Team Event; Bellis, Zhuk Receive Miami Wild Cards; Fritz and Tiafoe to Meet in BNP Paribas First Round
©Colette Lewis 2016—
The finals for the USTA Spring Team Championships are set, with three Mobile area coaches leading teams into Wednesday's finals.
The girls final will feature the Sharks and the Stingrays, with the Sharks defeating the Diamondbacks 7-5, and the Stingrays taking out the Firecrackers 8-4 in semifinal action Tuesday.
Tied at 4-4 and then 5-5, the match looked as if it might be decided by a Super tiebreaker, as the Sharks quarterfinal win over the Angels was. But Meghan Coleman and Kiana Graham, down 4-1, won six straight games to take a 7-4 lead in their 14s doubles match with Imani Graham and Emily Callahan, while five courts away, Elhom was serving for the match against the Diamondbacks Georgia Ryan.
The Sharks Graham failed to serve out the doubles match, and Elhom was broken serving at 5-4 in the third, so the Diamondbacks still had hope, although with a two-break lead, Graham and Coleman remained in control. Coleman served out the match for an 8-6 win and a 6-5 lead for the Sharks, while Elhom, down 40-15 to Ryan at 5-5, hit two big forehands, then broke, giving herself a second chance to serve out the match. With Elhom serving at 40-15, one of the day’s intermittent wind gusts surfaced, pushing Ryan’s forehand a couple of inches long to give Elhom a 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 victory and put the Sharks in the final.
“I’m thinking our girls were happy they didn’t have to sweat it out this time,” said Sharks coach Andy Pinkus. “The 18s didn’t want to go through that again; the parents didn’t want to go through that, I didn’t want to go through that, so it was good.”
Mobile Tennis Center employee Pinkus, coaching in this event for the first time, but having worked on it the past two years, knows that playing for the gold ball on Wednesday is a big deal.
“For me it means nothing, I’m not playing, it’s all them,” said Pinkus, who played his college tennis at University of South Alabama. “That’s the main focus; I’ve told them all week I want to make this as easy as possible on you all, no pressure. But they’re super excited, freaking out, because they know they’re guaranteed a ball. They obviously want the gold, but we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The Stingrays took a 6-3 lead on the Firecrackers, but getting that final point took more than an hour, with the 12s doubles team of Tara Malik and Kayleigh Yun-Thayer getting the clinching point in their team’s 8-4 victory.
Like the Sharks 16s, the Stingrays 12s accounted for three of their team’s points, with both Malik and Yun-Thayer also winning their singles matches in the first series of matches.
Stingrays coach James Ragsdale recognized that in getting a team to the final, one age group is not likely to dominate.
“In our first match, the 12s lost both singles match,” said Ragsdale, who coaches at Ginepri Performance Tennis in Marietta, Georgia. “This has been a team victory. Some of the girls who carried us through the first day and the second day, didn’t win today, but the rest of the girls came through.”
Ragsdale, who has coached all three years of the event and took a boys team to the semifinals, travels to many national level tournaments, but finds the Team Championships the most invigorating.
“This is my favorite event,” said Ragsdale, “I go to everything, all the National championships, but outside of maybe the US Open, this is my favorite competition. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, to play for the gold.”
Two more former University of South Alabama players will coach the boys teams vying for the USTA National Spring Team Championship Wednesday afternoon, having advanced to the finals in entirely different ways.
Hanno Bartsch, who completed his Jaguar career just four years ago, saw his Panthers team go from 4-0 up to 6-5 down, but escape with a 7-6 win over the Lions in the only main draw boys match that has gone to a super tiebreaker. The Lions 14s doubles team of Faris Khan and Toby Kodat made it 6-5 Lions with a 9-8(2) victory over Zachery Lim and Matthew Robinson putting all the attention on the 18s No. 1s. The Panthers Sean Sculley, who did not play in Monday’s quarterfinal win over the Bears due to a sore ankle, was leading Peter Conklin 7-5, 6-5 when his team fell behind for the first time. Conklin held to force a tiebreaker, but Sculley was too tough, taking the final six points to win it 7-2 and force the super tiebreaker.
Bartsch was convinced his doubles team of Sculley and Christian Alshon, who had beaten Conklin and Tripp Tuff 8-6 in their doubles match earlier, would prevail.
"I was very, very confident. I have a lot of confidence in Christian and Sean," said Bartsch. "They're both really good players, very solid and very confident in themselves. I was actually way less stressed about this than the 12-and-unders yesterday," Bartsch said of the match that decided their 7-5 quarterfinal win over the Bears.
Alshon and Sculley validated Bartsch's confidence, taking an 8-1 and 9-2 lead in the tiebreaker, played under the lights of the Mobile Tennis Center, before winning it 10-5.
Alshon and Sculley's teammates stormed the court before the handshake was over to celebrate their victory, and a chance to play for a gold ball Wednesday afternoon.
"The gold ball, that's what you want," said Bartsch. "It's nice to win all your matches, but the gold ball, that's the goal."
Tomas Catar, who played for tournament director Scott Novak at the University of South Alabama and is now head professional for the city of Gulf Shores Alabama, was asked to coach a team at the last-minute.
"A few days ago, the USTA called me," said Catar, who was a top-ranked ITF junior in the mid-1990s. "They had a few coaches that couldn't come. I offered to help, and here I am, in the finals, and hopefully we are not done yet."
Catar said his team is doesn't have a huge talent advantage, but all his players have been able to devise a strategy and stick to it in competition. As for playing in the final, Catar knows their results this week have made them hungry for the ultimate prize.
"They're ready and they're excited," said Catar. "They would have taken just any ball before the tournament started, and now they want the gold one. If they stay the way they've stayed the last three days, a solid game and with the plan, they have a chance."
The boys final is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, after the girls final, which is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Rain is in the forecast for both Wednesday and Thursday, with the likelihood of increasing on Thursday.
Complete results can be found at the TennisLink site.
The Miami Open announced its wild cards today, with CiCi Bellis, who reached the third round last year, and Wimbledon girls champion Sofya Zhuk of Russia getting main draw wild cards. In addition to Bellis and Zhuk, main draw wild cards went to Heather Watson and Laura Robson of Great Britain, Naomi Osaka of Japan, Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, Paula Badosa Gibert of Spain, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Qualifying wild cards were given to Claire Liu, Indy de Vroome of the Netherlands, Sorana Cirstea of Romania, Fanny Stollar of Hungary and Katie Swan of Great Britain.
Men's main draw wild cards went to Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, Elias Ymer of Sweden, Nicolas Jarry of Chile and Andrey Rublev of Russia.
Qualifying wild cards were given to Ryan Harrison, Joao Souza of Brazil, and Casper Ruud of Norway.
At the BNP Paribas Open, women's qualifying was completed, with Nicole Gibbs and Taylor Townsend advancing to the main draw. Gibbs, the No. 16 seed, beat No. 1 qualifying seed Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany 6-4, 5-7, 7-5, while Townsend, who won the prequalifying tournament, beat No. 11 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
US men advancing to the final round of qualifying with wins today are Austin Krajicek, Tim Smyczek, Tommy Paul, Ryan Harrison, Mitchell Krueger, Alex Sarkissian, Bjorn Fratangelo, Dennis Novikov and Noah Rubin. Ernesto Escobedo is still playing as of 8 p.m. Pacific time.
The men's draw was released today, and wild cards Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe were draw to play each other in the first round. They are two of the 11 US men currently in the main draw.