Sponsored by IMG Academy

Friday, February 10, 2017

Connor Smith Returns from Injury; Elbaba Feature; Osuigwe Reaches Banana Bowl Final; Texas Tech Ousts Vanderbilt at Women's Team Indoor

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Orlando FL--

I spent the day at the opening round of qualifying of the $15,000 Orlando Futures, being played at the USTA's new National Campus.

With a full 128 draw, there was no shortage of matches to watch, and I admit I wasn't familiar with the majority of competitors. Many mismatches resulted, including 50-year-old wild card Anthony Fortunati's 6-1, 6-0 loss to 15-year-old Govind Nanda or Mexico's Rodrigo Reyna's 6-0, 6-0 loss to Michael Zhu.

Some lopsided scores could be attributed to bad draws. Certainly drawing No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, the ITF's No. 1 junior, was bad luck for Jack Vance.  Although the two teens played some entertaining points and a couple of close games, the 17-year-old Kecmanovic, who has already won a Futures title this year on Florida clay, came away with a 6-1, 6-1 victory.

Former St. John's standout Vaidik Munshaw of India also wasn't favored by the draw gods, finding himself facing top seed Connor Smith, whose ATP ranking has been as high as 200.   Smith was hardly in top form, however, as the former Ohio State Buckeye was recovering from a broken shoulder he sustained last November in a Futures in El Salvador.

"I ran into a net post, hit something and went shoulder first into the net post," said the 26-year-old from Tampa. "After that I was going to play the Columbus Challenger. I was lucky, I didn't have to have surgery, but I fractured something, tore something, and was out for a while."

Smith, who trains at Saddlebrook, wasn't planning to play singles in his first tournament of the year.

"I was just going to play doubles, but then I decided at the last minute that I'll go sign in for Qs," Smith said. "I literally got in the car yesterday, and said, yeah, I'll do it. David [ITF supervisor Littlefield] gave me a wild card, or I wouldn't have gotten in, because there were so many people here."

Against Munshaw, who was known for his doubles play while at St. Johns, Smith got a workout despite the 6-3, 6-0 score.

"He was having fun, hitting a lot of drop shots," said Smith, who, despite his layoff, was in better shape than his opponent. "I wasn't having too much fun chasing them. It was good exercise. I was actually nervous, because I didn't know if I was going to get in, and then I had to wait until [sign in] closed, and I was like, do I really want to do this?"

One of Smith's motives for making the short drive east was to see the USTA's new National Campus.

"I kind of wanted to check out this place," said Smith. "It's crazy. It's super impressive. It kind of fits in for Orlando, because there's amusement parks everywhere and it's like the tennis amusement park."

Smith was one of several players I spoke to who were wide-eyed at the facility's scope and quality.  The only negative mentioned was the near constant air traffic overhead, with plane after plane, landing gear down, making its final approach to the Orlando airport. Often there were three or four planes within a 10-minute span and never a gap of more than nine minutes.  But the many positives include water dispensers, phone charging stations and rest rooms all easily accessible to the courts,  along with a grill, an observation deck with seating and the Tennis Channel on TV, plus courtside seating on nearly every court. On a sunny 70-degree day, the place sparkled.

"It has a new flavor to it, that new car smell," Smith said.

When I was in Midland for the Dow Tennis Classic, I had the opportunity to chat with former University of Virginia All-American Julia Elbaba about her first few months on the pro tour.  We talked about how college helped her mature, what stroke she improved the most in college and how she is trying to keep from obsessing about her tennis now that she no longer has the balance provided by academic requirements.  One way she is processing all her new experiences is through her blog, which can be found here.  My interview with Elbaba is available at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Fourteen-year-old Whitney Osuigwe aims for her second consecutive Grade 1 title Saturday at the Banana Bowl in Brazil.  Osuigwe, the No. 11 seed, defeated No. 12 seed Hailey Baptiste 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 and will face top seed Emily Appleton of Great Britain in the final. Appleton ended the run of unseeded Victoria Flores, defeating Flores 1-6 7-6(2), 6-4.

Baptiste and Osuigwe, the No. 5 seeds, will take on unseeded Vanessa Ong and Elysia Bolton in the all-USA girls doubles final.

No. 6 seed Gianni Ross lost in the semifinals to unseeded Thiago Seyboth Wild 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2. Seyboth Wild's opponent will be No. 9 seed Marco Miladinovic of Serbia.

The boys doubles final is also an all-American affair.  Ross and Danny Thomas, the No. 2 seeds, will play unseeded Alexandre Rotsaert and Sangeet Sridhar.

The first day of the ITA Women's Team Indoor saw seven of the eight seeds advance to the quarterfinals. No. 8 Vanderbilt's 4-2 loss to Texas Tech was the only match that did not go according to seeding.

Round of 16
Florida[1] def. Michigan 4-1
Texas Tech def. Vanderbilt[8] 4-2
Pepperdine[4] def. Texas A&M 4-2
Georgia[5] def. Duke 4-1
Ohio State[6] def. Auburn 4-1
Oklahoma State[3] def. Ole Miss 4-0
Cal[7] def, Georgia Tech 4-0
North Carolina[2] def. Yale 4-0.

See the ITA tournament page for more on today's action.