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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Easter Bowl Champion Ayeni Opens with Win in ITF Grade 1 in Spain; Stollar Reaches Third Round in Charleston; Cheating in Junior Tennis; ITA Signs Agreement with UTR

Alafia Ayeni made it to Spain for the ITF Grade 1 in Alicante, and because he was seeded, the Easter Bowl champion had 48 hours to recover after the long trip from Southern California.  Seeded No. 4, Ayeni won his first match today in the second round, beating Spanish wild card Sergio Ingles Garre 7-6(3), 6-3.  The only other American in either draw was wild card Andrew Puscas, who lost in the first round.  Ayeni's third round opponent is No. 13 seed Barnaby Smith of Great Britain.

Top boys seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain won his opening match, but No. 2 seed Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic retired in the first set tiebreaker against Clement Tabur of France. Machac, No. 5 seed Georgii Kravencho of Ukraine and No. 7 seed Ryan Nijboer of the Netherlands, were the highest of the seeds to fall in second round action, but five other boys seeds also lost.  Only three seeded girls fell in the second round: No. 3 seed Paula Arias Manjon of Spain, No. 5 seed Maria Jose Portillo Ramirez of Mexico and No. 16 seed Layne Sleeth of Canada.

Fanny Stollar was playing in a $25K in Australia late last month, but she returned to the United States in time for the WTA Premier Volvo Car Open qualifying. The 18-year-old from Hungary made the main draw with wins over Teliana Pereira of Brazil and Grace Min, then beat fellow qualifier Asia Muhammad in the first round. All good for the WTA's No. 282, but today's 7-6(7), 7-6(3) win over No. 4 seed and BNP Paribas Open champion Elena Vesnina was in a different category, giving Stollar, who won the Wimbledon girls doubles title in 2015 and made the US Open girls singles semifinals that same year, her first WTA Top 20 win.  She will play 19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko Thursday for a place in the quarterfinals.

A couple of weeks ago, junior tennis player Zoe Howard wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about her firsthand experience with cheating. In my years observing junior (and college) tennis, I've seen plenty of this behavior although because I'm not a mind reader, I'm careful not to presume that every bad call I see is intentional cheating. As Howard says, all players make mistakes, as do officials, but if those mistakes are not consistently obvious or on big points, the two competitors can usually deal with the mistakes appropriately.  Howard mentions two new technological solutions to the problem, although both are very new and untested, but probably the most important part of the article is just its existence. Those who don't follow college and junior tennis (include Futures qualifying in this group as well) may not realize how it is usually officiated, with roving umpires who do not call the lines.  I think this issue could contribute to the high dropout rates of young players new to the sport, and having it acknowledged is the first step to solving the problem. I can't offer any solutions other than more and better officiating, but that takes money and time, neither of which is abundant on the lower levels of the game.

The ITA announced today that it had signed a five-year partnership agreement with Universal Tennis, with UTR becoming the official rating system of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.  The focus of the partnership, at least right now, will be the ITA Summer Circuit, which will use the UTR tournament management system. Streamlining and standardizing of reporting and results will be welcomed by anyone who has ever tried to get timely updates from one of these many events.  The ITA's release can be found here.