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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

ITF Announces New Date, Significant Change to Junior Masters; 2015 Wimbledon Junior Finalists Get First Tour Wins; Exploring the Cost of Junior Tennis; Three More Regional Champions

The ITF announced today that its Junior Masters, held the past two Aprils in China, will be moved to October for 2017.  The date change is perhaps less significant than the news that the ITF will now be awarding ranking points for participation in the event, although the article does not give any details on the number of points allotted for this competition, which is for the top eight boys and the top eight girls by ITF junior ranking. Certainly those details will be included in the 2017 ITF Junior Regulations, which typically are released in February.

In its first two years of existence, the Masters did not award ranking points, and entries were based on the ranking of the previous year-end, meaning that players who were too old to play junior events in April could still participate.  That will no longer be the case with the October date, with the ranking cutoff date after the US Open Junior Championships.  The ITF has provided all expenses-paid trips for the participants and a private coach as well as travel grants in the previous years, which, along with wild cards into pro events, were the only incentives for juniors to participate.  All 16 players were guaranteed $7,000 in travel grants, with the champions receiving $15,000 travel grants, and it appears there is no change in that financial commitment.

Although I may be reading too much into this, there is a mention that the 2017 tournament is in the third year of the three-year contract with the Chinese Tennis Association and the Chengdu Sport Bureau. This is probably just boilerplate press release language, but it does raise the possibility that the event could move from China to another country for 2018 and beyond. In 2017, I believe the event will come right after the Osaka Mayor's Cup in Japan, which will no doubt help strengthen that Grade A tournament's field, traditionally the weakest of the ITF's Grade A's.

The release contains an explanation for the changes by ITF President
David Haggerty:

"Following the success of the first two ITF Junior Masters, we are pleased to be able to raise the status of this competition within the ITF junior calendar. The ITF is committed to helping the top junior players with their transition into the professional ranks. We felt that by changing the timing of the event to later in the calendar year, it would be more appropriate for the top ranked junior players and there is the added importance of junior world ranking points.”

Much like the WTA and ATP, the ITF has instituted a Masters race tracking function and currently Alex Brown and Lukas Greif are No. 1 and No. 2 in the boys race after their Tulsa results and Kayla Day and Sofia Sewing are No. 1 and No. 2 in the girls race. Sewing swept the Grade 2 titles in Canada at the end of September and Day won the Pan American Closed B1 on Saturday.

Eighteen-year-old Anna Blinkova of Russia, the 2015 Wimbledon girls finalist, won the 2016 ITF Junior Masters in April and today she picked up her first WTA victory in the first round of the WTA Premier Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Blinkova, who did not receive a wild card, but earned her place via qualifying, defeated WTA No. 31 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(10), saving five match points.

The boys 2015 Wimbledon finalist, Mikael Ymer of Sweden, who had been out most of the year with a hip injury, earned his first ATP main draw victory, beating Fernando Verdasco of Spain 6-2, 6-1 in the first round in Stockholm.  The 18-year-old wild card will play No. 3 seed Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the second round Wednesday.  According to the ATP's Josh Meiseles, Ymer is the ninth 18-and-under player to win an ATP match in 2016, joining Americans Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Reilly Opelka and Stefan Kozlov, Russian Andrey Rublev, German Alexander Zverev and Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

CNN posted an article on the financial commitment required to develop a tennis player, with insights from WTA pros Madison Keys, Simona Halep as well as Rafael Nadal, who has just opened his own academy, Nick Bollettieri and Patrick Mouratoglou, who have been in the academy business much longer.  I was struck by the $306,000 price tag cited for a decade or more of junior development, which seems on the low side to me, if coaching, court time and travel are included in that number.

Three more ITA Division I Regional Championships were completed today, with the winners earning main draw berths in the National Indoors next month in New York.

ATLANTIC: Marie Faure(5) William and Mary def. Derya Turhan(5), Marshall 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6)

CAROLINA: Skander Mansouri(1), Wake Forest def. Gabriel Friedrich(4) South Carolina 6-4, 6-4

ATLANTIC: JC Aragone(2), Virginia def. Jacob Dunbar(6), Richmond 6-1, 6-4