Monday, October 30, 2017

Thomas Signs with Lagardere; Donaldson Talks with Jon Wertheim; Master'U Collegiate Team Announced; UCLA's Grant Chen Featured on Tennis.com

I had heard rumors about DJ Thomas turning pro at the US Open last month, but the official word of his signing with management agent Lagardere was not released until about ten days ago.  The 17-year-old from Ohio, now ranked 22 in the ITF junior rankings, reached the quarterfinals at the US Open Junior Championships, but has found wins difficult to come by in the pro events he has played since then. Thomas qualified for the Houston Futures, but lost in the first round. As a wild card, he lost in the first round in at the Harlingen Futures, and this week at the Charlottesville Challenger, he lost in the second round of qualifying.  As is always the case with a talented young player, the challenge is to keep improving while not getting discouraged by the losses that are part of being a professional tennis player. Everyone who knows the Kalamazoo Stowe Sportsmanship Award winner is rooting for him to succeed at the next level of the game.  The announcement from Lagardere:

NEW YORK, October 19, 2017 – Lagardère Sports announced today it has signed elite American junior tennis player Danny Thomas for management and marketing representation.

Thomas, who is 17-years old, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where he first picked up a tennis racquet at the age of five. He reached the top 20 in the world on the ITF Junior Circuit before turning pro, and was the youngest American player in the top 20. He also advanced to the Quarterfinal round in the US Open junior tournament last month. 

“I am excited to partner with Lagardère Sports as I launch my professional career,” said Thomas. “Being successful on the court means having the right team around you, and by working with the Lagardère Sports team I’m confident in the plan we have to grow my career on and off the court.”

“We are thrilled to have Danny join the Lagardère Sports family and help him launch his professional career,” said Julien Cassaigne, Lagardère Sports, Senior Vice President of Tennis. “With a big serve and great quickness, Danny has all the right tools to compete at a high level as a professional even as he continues and develop his game. He has an immense amount of potential and are excited to work with him as he begins to compete at the next level.” 

Lagardere Sports, the global sports marketing agency, has a rich history in tennis that encompasses several of its key business lines. The agency’s Tennis Division represents several top ranked players for management or marketing representation, highlighted by No. 1 ranked Simona Halep, No. 6 ranked Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Konjuh, and Richard Gasquet on the men’s side. It manages a number of top ATP and WTA tennis events globally, including The Citi Open® in Washington, D.C., the Ski Star Swedish Open, and the BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore. Also, the agency’s Media Division markets the television rights for more than 20 professional tennis tournaments to regions around the world. 

Jared Donaldson was the guest on the Beyond the Baseline podcast of Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim last week, and Wertheim asked him if he regretted not going to college.  With Donaldson reaching the ATP Top 50 recently, it was unlikely that the answer would be yes, but Donaldson gave an expansive answer why he turned pro rather than go to college.  Having spoken to Donaldson often during that time, I'm not surprised by the thoughtfulness of his answer, which addresses both a player's financial backing and the conflicting motivations that come with playing to win for your team, rather than to improve your personal game.  Donaldson, the only American who qualified for the ATP's Next Gen finals, which begins next Tuesday in Milan, discusses why he's looking forward to playing with his peers there, his feelings about the innovations in Milan, his coach Jan-Michael Gambill, how he started playing tennis, and several other topics.

The players have been selected for the United States entry in the Master'U International Collegiate Competition, which begins November 30 in France.  The US team, which is aiming for its seventh straight title, consists of UCLA's Ena Shibahara, North Carolina's Alle Sanford, Pepperdine's Ashley Lahey, UCLA's Martin Redlicki, Florida's Alfredo Perez and USC's Brandon Holt.  Greg Patton of Boise State and Melissa Schaub of Ohio State are the coaches.  The USTA release:


Americans Look to Win Seventh Straight Master’U Title
November 30-December 3 in Marcq-en-Baroeul, France

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., October 30 2017 – The USTA today announced the top American collegians selected to represent the U.S. in the annual Master’U BNP Paribas International Collegiate Team Competition November 30-December 3 in Marcq-en-Baroeul, France.

Competing for the U.S. are: Ena Shibahara (Soph., UCLA; Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.), the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s No. 1-ranked women’s singles player; Ashley Lahey (Soph., Pepperdine; Hawthorne, Calif.), the ITA’s No. 3-ranked women’s singles player; Alle Sanford (Fr., UNC; Westerville, Ohio), women’s singles champion at this fall’s Oracle ITA Masters event; Brandon Holt (Soph., USC; Rolling Hills, Calif.), the ITA’s No. 11-ranked men’s singles player and 2017 Oracle ITA Masters men’s singles champion; Alfredo Perez (Jr., Florida; Miami), the ITA’s No. 7-ranked men’s singles player; and Martin Redlicki (Sr., UCLA; Chicago), a 2017 ITA Men’s All-American Championships singles finalist.

Boise State men’s coach Greg Patton and Ohio State women’s coach Melissa Schaub will travel with and coach the team, which will compete against teams from Belgium, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Russia. Last year, Shibahara was a part of the U.S. contingent that won its sixth straight Master’U title and seventh in the last eight years. Past U.S. representatives in the Master’U competition include Steve Johnson, Irina Falconi, Austin Krajicek, Maria Sanchez, Mackenzie McDonald, Danielle Collins and Chris Eubanks.

"Master'U is the Davis Cup and Fed Cup of college tennis, and we are excited to have another strong group of student-athletes and coaches to represent Team USA,” said USTA Collegiate Tennis Director Stephen Amritraj. “Being part of Team USA has evolved into a rite of passage for the best American collegiate players, along with the goals of winning an NCAA team and individual title.”

Tennis Magazine, via tennis.com, is running articles on tennis Heroes, and UCLA's men's associate head coach Grant Chen has been featured recently.  Chen, who is one of the most energetic and outgoing people I have ever met in my interactions with the tennis community, has already done more with and for tennis than most who have been in the business for many more decades than he has.  It's great to see him get some recognition for all he's done, but the article would need to be much longer to cover more than the tip of the iceberg that is Chen's commitment to tennis.