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Monday, March 7, 2016

Two Mobile Coaches Lead Teams to USTA National Semifinals; Americans Start Well at Grade 1 Banana Bowl; BNP Paribas Men's Qualifying Draw

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Mobile, AL--

Two young local coaches, making their debuts at the USTA National Spring Team championships, have reached the medal round by virtue of tight victories in Monday's quarterfinals.

Andy Pinkus, a longtime employee of the Mobile Tennis Center, was asked to coach a team this year after many years of working the tournament, both when it was a team event, and before that, when it was an individual 18s tournament.

His team, the Sharks, posted a 7-5 victory in the first round, and in Monday's quarterfinals, survived a late charge from the Angels, winning a match tiebreaker in 18s doubles to claim a 7-6 victory.

The Sharks were up 6-4, but the Angels 14s doubles team of Maria Cecilia Agular and and Ava Neyestani came up big in their tiebreaker against Meghan Coleman and Kiana Graham to win 9-8(2) and put the team score at 6-5.  The Angels' Janice Shin had gone up a break 4-3 in the third set of the No. 1 18s singles match with the Sharks Priya Niezgoda.  Shin survived a two-deuce service game to take a 5-3 lead, and Niezgoda saved a match point in the next game to force Shin to serve it out. Much breezier conditions compared to Sunday may have been a factor in Niezgoda missing an overhead at 30-15, giving Shin two more match points, and an excellent backhand volley sealed the match, forcing a tiebreaker.

The coaches are free to select any two players for the match tiebreaker, and Angels coach Courtney Ulrich had the luxury of having an experienced 18s doubles team of Shin and Kolie Allen, who had won a similar tiebreaker on Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals.  Shin and Allen had beaten Niezgoda and Peyton Pesavento in the 8-game pro set to start the match, but the Sharks team avenged that loss with an 11-9 win.  Down 6-4, then up 8-6, Niezgoda and Pesavento got a match point at 9-8, but Kolie angled a forehand putaway to save it. Shin missed a routine forehand wide to give Niezgoda and Pesavento a second match point and this time they converted, with Pesavento putting away a short overhead for the win.

"Peyton, for some reason all day today missed everything inside the service line," said Pinkus, who played at the University of South Alabama when tournament co-director Scott Novak was the coach. "After the match, I asked her how nervous she was on that shot, and she said she was thinking 'please don't miss, please don't miss, please don't miss.'"

Although Pinkus said his team knew the Angels doubles team had won their first round match via a deciding tiebreaker, he didn't dwell on that.

"Honestly, we didn't even really talk about that at all, we just focused on regrouping and the task at hand," Pinkus said.

Pinkus has worked as a coach with Junior Team Tennis before, but said this brings a different dynamic into play.

"I've done similar to this, but I knew all the kids," Pinkus said. "These kids, I've never met any of them in my life, and it's actually more fun, getting to know people. I got very lucky. I got a very good group of kids and also a very good group of parents, so it's been very easy on me."

The Sharks will play the Diamondbacks in the semifinals after the Diamondbacks defeated the Pirates 7-5. The winner will play for a gold ball, the loser for a bronze ball.

The other two girls matches were also decided by 7-5 scores.  The Firecrackers defeated the Ninjas and the Stingrays defeated the Dolphins.

The boys have yet to have a winners bracket match decided by a match tiebreaker, and three of the four quarterfinal matches were decided by 8-4 scores, but there was drama in the Panthers 7-5 win over the Bears, which came down to the boys 14s and 12s doubles.

The Panthers had a 6-4 lead, but the Bears closed the gap, with the heroes of their team's first round win, Billy Suarez and Max McKennon, closing the gap to 6-5 with an 8-6 win over the Panthers Zachery Lim and Matthew Robinson in the 14s.  The Panthers 12s doubles team of Jeffrey Etterbeek and Elisha Thorton served for the match at 7-6 against the Bears Jackson Armistead and Tali Jarmond, but Thorton was broken for 7-7.  Jarmond lost his serve to give Etterbeek a chance to try his hand at serving it out, but he went down 15-40, with nerves obviously a factor for all four players.  Etterbeek and Thorton won the next three points however, earning a match point, but another error brought it back to deuce. A forehand winner by Etterbeek gave his team a second match point, and a netted forehand by Jarmond ended the match.

Panthers coach Hanno Bartsch knew that players that young rarely have been in a situation with that much at stake.

"I didn't know what to expect," said Bartsch, who completed his college tennis career just down the road at the University of South Alabama in 2012. "I would much rather play a match like that than sit on the sidelines,  to be quite honest. But I think they did well, for being their first time under that much pressure."

Bartsch's team started out down 1-0, with Sean Sculley, their No. 1 18s, giving Adam Ambrozy a walkover due to an ankle sprain, but Bartsch expects Sculley to play in the semifinals Tuesday.

"He played doubles today, so it's not like he cannot play," said Bartsch. "We just thought it would be better for him to get a little rest on the ankle. Tomorrow if he's ready to go, he's going to go, if he's not, then we'll see about that. But he'll be fine to play. He would have had a tough match anyway today."

The Panthers will play the Lions, who swept the doubles matches in their 8-4 win over the Falcons.

The other boys semifinal will feature the Eagles, who beat the Cowboys 8-4, and the Rams, who beat the Saints by the same score.

The semifinals will definitely be played on Tuesday, but no decision has been made after that, with rain still a possibility on Wednesday and Thursday.

The complete results can be found at the TennisLink site.

American juniors went 10-1 at the ITF Grade 1 Banana Bowl in Brazil today, with John McNally, Brandon Holt, Oliver Crawford and Patrick Kypson getting first round wins on the boys side. Robert Loeb, Nathan Perrone and Brian Cernoch qualified, bringing the number of US boys in the 48-player draw to 14.  The girls winners today included Caty McNally, Lea Ma, Natasha Subhash, Jada Robinson, Ellie Douglas and Sabina Dadaciu. Seeded players will play Tuesday, although rain did end play early today.

The first day of women's qualifying is complete at the BNP Paribas Open, with wild cards Taylor Townsend and Julia Boserup, and No. 16 seed Nicole Gibbs advancing to the final round of qualifying.

The men's qualifying begins on Tuesday, with 14 US men hoping to earn a spot in the main draw. They are: Austin Krajicek(2), Nick Meister, Tim Smyczek(5), Michael Mmoh, Tommy Paul(24), Ryan Harrison(18), Ernesto Escobedo, Connor Smith, Mitchell Krueger, Sekou Bangoura, Alex Sarkissian(19), Bjorn Fratangelo(11), Dennis Novikov(12) and Noah Rubin(23).  

The only USTA Pro Circuit event this week is a women's $10,000 tournament in Weston Florida.  Katerina Stewart is the top seed.