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Sunday, September 30, 2018

US Girls Win Second Straight Junior Fed Cup Title, Spain Claims Junior Davis Cup; Muhammad and Mmoh Capture Titles in Templeton and Tiburon

Last year, the US girls did not have to play the doubles match in the Junior Fed Cup final, beating Japan 2-0, with singles victories by Whitney Osuigwe (who was still eligible to play in the 16-and-under competition this year) and Caty McNally. The road to the title was much rockier this year, with Alexa Noel losing her No. 2 singles match to Ukraine's Lyubov Kostenko 6-1, 6-4 to start out, and, after Coco Gauff had tied the score with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 win over Dasha Lopatetskaya at No. 1 singles, saving a match point in the deciding doubles 5-7, 6-4, 11-9.

In a match that close, any point can be crucial, but most who saw it will vote for Noel's shot serving at 6-8 in the match tiebreaker as the turning point. At the net and stretched into the doubles alley, Noel managed to sharply angle a slice backhand that landed in the doubles alley on the other side of the net that galvanized the US team. Instead of being down three match points, it was 7-8, and Lopatetskaya, who was playing with an injured shoulder, made a backhand error to put the match back even. Ukraine, the No. 2 seed in the event, earned its match point with a quick poach and volley winner by Kostenko, but Gauff saved it with a big serve and when Lopatetskaya hit a forehand long, the US team had their chance at a match point. They converted, with Kostenko missing a forehand volley to give the top-seeded US girls their third title in the past five years.

Noel was on the USA's 2016 ITF 14-and-under World Junior Tennis team, making the final, but losing (with Whitney Osuigwe) in the deciding doubles point 10-6 in a match tiebreaker. Lopatetskaya was on the winning side in that one, although she did not play singles that year.

Spain's crucial point in its 2-1 win over No. 2 seed France came much earlier in the tie, with Spain trailing 1-0 after Lilian Marmousez had beaten Mario Gonzalez Fernandez 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 at No. 2 singles. Spain, the No. 6 seed, was looking at a 2-0 defeat when Carlos Alcaraz Garfia lost the first set to Harold Mayot at No. 1 singles and was down 5-3 in the second, but Alcaraz saved a match point in that game, rallying for  a 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 victory. The doubles drama didn't match the girls', with Spain winning 6-2, 6-3 to take their sixth Junior Davis Cup title and their first since 2013.

The US boys won their fourth straight match, beating Hungary 2-0 to finish the tournament in ninth place. Toby Kodat, who retired in the first match in the round robin group against Great Britain, did not play after that.

After three years in Budapest, it was announced today that the tournament will relocate to the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona for 2019.  I had heard the USTA was bidding on the tournament, and with it now official, I'm sure more details will follow. As the host, the US teams will not need to qualify for the tournaments, as the other 15 teams must.

For more on the girls final, see this ITF Junior Circuit website article.  For more on the boys final, see this ITF Junior Circuit website article.
For all results, see the ITF tournament webpage.

Americans captured the two biggest events on the USTA Pro Circuit this week, with unseeded Asia Muhammad and No. 5 seed Michael Mmoh taking titles in California.

Muhammad defeated Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria, also unseeded, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in Templeton to claim her third title of the year and second at the $60,000 level. Muhammad will move well inside the Top 200 with this title, although still short of her career-high ranking of 124 last spring.

Muhammad also took the doubles title, with Maria Sanchez(USC). The top seeds defeated unseeded Quinn Gleason(Notre Dame) and Brazil's Luisa Stefani(Pepperdine) 6-7(4), 6-2, 10-8. It's actually the lowest level doubles title Muhammad and Sanchez have won this year, with their previous titles as a team at the $100,000 tournament in Ilkley this summer and the WTA International in Quebec earlier this month.

Mmoh defeated top seed Marcel Granollers of Spain 6-3, 7-5 at the $100,000 ATP Challenger in Tiburon, claiming his second straight Challenger title and moving into the ATP Top 100 for the first time. The 20-year-old Floridian, who won the Kalamazoo 18s title in 2016, will be amont 12 Americans in the ATP Top 100 come Monday.

Doubles qualifiers Hans Hach Verdugo(Abilene Christian) of Mexico and Luke Saville of Australia won the doubles title, beating unseeded Gerard Granollers and Pedro Martinez of Spain 6-3, 6-2 in the final. 

In the continuing saga of former collegians excelling in ATP doubles, Ben McLachan(Cal) of Japan and Joe Salisbury(Memphis) of Great Britain won the ATP event in Shenzhen China today, beating Rajeev Ram(Illinois) and Sweden's Robert Lindstedt(Pepperdine) 7-6(5), 7-6(4) in the final. Read more about their first title as a team at the ATP website.

At the $15,000 tournaments in the US today, Bianca Turati of Italy and Takuto Niki of Japan claimed the titles. Top-seeded Turati, the University of Texas junior,  defeated Washington State sophomore Michaela Bayerlova of the Czech Republic, the No. 3 seed, 7-6(0), 6-2 in the final of the Hilton Head South Carolina tournament.

Niki, the No. 4 seed, defeated qualifier Michael Shabaz(Virginia) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to take the title at the Fountain Valley California event.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

US Girls Reach Yet Another Junior Fed Cup Final; Wiersholm, Barnett Win Titles at Austin ITF: Mmoh, Shabaz and Muhammad Advance to Pro Circuit Finals

The US Junior Fed Cup team of Coco Gauff, Alexa Noel and Connie Ma will look to defend their country's title Sunday, with the top seeds taking on No. 2 seed Ukraine in Budapest Hungary. The US girls have reached the finals now for five consecutive years, with titles in 2014 and last year, while Ukraine is looking for its first Junior Fed Cup title.

In today's semifinal against unseeded Slovakia, Noel, playing No. 2 singles, came back to defeat Nina Stankovska 1-6, 6-0, 6-0 to give the US a 1-0 lead. Gauff, playing No. 1 singles, also won her match in three sets, beating Romana Cisovska 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-4. Doubles were not played.

Ukraine had an easier time getting past No. 3 seed Russia, with Lyubov Kostenko beating Polina Kudermetova 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 singles and Dasha Lopatetskaya defeating Oksana Selekhmeteva 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 singles. For reasons I'm not clear on, the doubles was played even though the match had been decided and Ukraine's team retired, meaning the final score was 2-1.

Lopatetskaya and Gauff met in last year's ITF World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team final last summer, with Gauff winning in straight sets. Lopatetskaya has won their other two meetings however, including earlier this month in the quarterfinals of the US Open Junior Championships. For more on the girls semifinals today, see the ITF Junior Circuit website.

The Junior Davis Cup final will feature No. 2 seed France against No. 6 seed Spain.  France defeated Argentina 3-0, while Spain took out top seed Italy 2-0.  The US boys picked up their third straight win, beating Canada 2-0, and will play for ninth place against Hungary Sunday. For more on the boys semifinals today, see the ITF Junior Circuit website.

Live scoring will be available here.  The ITF Junior tournament website is here.

At the ITF Grade 5 in Austin Texas, 14-year-old Katja Wiersholm won her second Junior Circuit singles title, while 17-year-old Frank(Wesley) Barnett won his first. Wiersholm, the No. 8 seed, lost just one set in her six wins, and Henrik Wiersholm's younger sister defeated top seed Kailey Evans 6-2, 6-2 in the final.  The unseeded Barnett, who doesn't play many ITF Junior Circuit events, defeated No. 9 seed Jack Anthrop 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the boys singles final. Barnett also beat Anthrop in Friday's doubles final, with he and Leighton Allen, the No. 6 seeds, beating No. 4 seed Anthrop and Max Fardanesh 6-4, 7-6(2). Wiersholm lost to Evans in the girls doubles final, with Evans and Carson Tanguilig, the No. 2 seeds, beating top seeds Wiersholm and Nikita Vishwase 4-6, 6-4, 10-2.  The next ITF Junior Circuit tournament is a Grade 4 in Corpus Christi Texas, where qualifying is now underway.

Americans have reached the final of three of the four USTA Pro Circuit events in the United States this week, with Michael Mmoh, Asia Muhammad and Michael Shabaz playing for titles Sunday.

Mmoh, who won the Columbus Challenger last week, will go for his tenth straight victory against top seed Marcel Granollers of Spain in the $100,000 ATP Challenger in Tiburon California. The 20-year-old, seeded No. 5, defeated James Duckworth of Australia 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 this evening, while Granollers defeated No. 6 seed Noah Rubin earlier 6-2, 6-2.  If Mmoh wins Sunday, he will break into the ATP Top 100 for the first time.

At the $60,000 women's Pro Circuit tournament down the coast in Templeton California, Asia Muhammad, 27, is aiming for her second $60,000 title in the past two months after beating No. 2 seed Madison Brengle 6-4, 6-4 in today's semifinal.  Muhammad will play Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria, also unseeded, who beat Grace Min 6-1, 7-6(5).  Muhammad will also play for the doubles title on Sunday, with frequent partner Maria Sanchez.

Former University of Virginia star Shabaz, now 31, played only two Pro Circuit events in 2016 and 2017, and his last title came in 2013, but he has played four straight weeks this month, and including qualifying, has now won seven consecutive matches at the $15,000 Futures in Fountain Valley California. Today he defeated UCLA senior Maxime Cressy of France 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-3. After his win yesterday, Shabaz spoke to Joel Beers, the tournament press aide, about his struggles over the past few years, which included a bout with mono.

“This is me trying to do now what I was trying to do five or so years ago,” said Shabaz, who kept involved tennis during his break by teaching. “It’s me finally taking the chance again. I know some people [his age of 31] works against me, but this is a small, exclusive club and the margins are so small. I really think I can [get to his 2013 level]and maybe higher.”

Shabaz will face 30-year-old Takuto Niki of Japan, the No. 4 seed, in Sunday's final. Niki defeated No. 2 seed Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern) in today's semifinal 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. 

Cressy did a get title this week, winning the doubles with Moldova's Alexander Cozbinov(UNLV). The unseeded pair defeated No. 3 seeds Alec Adamson(UC-Davis) and Conor Berg(New Mexico) 6-2, 6-2 in the final.

In the fourth USTA Pro Circuit event this week, at the $15,000 tournament in Hilton Head SC, two current collegians will face off for the title Sunday. University of Texas junior Bianca Turati of Italy, the top-ranked collegian in the preseason rankings and the No. 1 seed in this tournament, will face Washington State sophomore and No. 3 seed Michaela Bayerlova of the Czech Republic.  Turati defeated qualifier Justina Mikulskyte of Lithuania, a senior at Kentucky, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 and Bayerlova beat former Georgia Tech standout Rasheeda McAdoo 6-2, 6-3.

Identical twins Allura and Maribella Zamarripa, 16, fell in the doubles final.  The sisters, who lost in the doubles qualifying, got in as lucky loser and went all the way to the championship match before dropping a 7-6(2), 3-6, 11-9 decision to top seeds Barbara Gatica of Chile and Rebeca Pereira of Brazil.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Nanda to Join UCLA in January; US Girls Reach Junior Fed Cup Semifinal; ITA All-American Pre-Qualifying Starts Saturday; Eastern Michigan Women's Team Back; East Tennessee State Men on Probation

Late last month I had an opportunity to talk to 17-year-old Govind Nanda about the recruiting process and how he decided on UCLA. Nanda told me that not making the cut when he was trying out for a USTA junior program at the age of 8 spurred him to work harder, and he has been training with the USTA now for over three years. Nanda will be joining the Bruins in January, with a year of ITF Junior Circuit eligibility remaining, and he told me that he hopes to play the junior slams next summer, so expect to see him at the big ITF junior tournaments, at least in the US, this fall and summer. Nanda has played two $15,000 Futures in California since the US Open, winning one match in the main draw of each. For more on his choice of UCLA, see my article at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

The semifinals are set for Saturday at the Junior Fed Cup and Junior Davis Cup in Budapest Hungary, with six of the top eight seeds advancing.  The top-seeded US girls will face unseeded Slovakia in one semifinal, with No. 3 seed Russia taking on No. 2 seed Ukraine in the other. The US beat No. 5 seed Australia 3-0, while Russia defeated No. 4 seed Canada. The reason No. 3 and No. 4 played in the quarterfinals is that Russia did not finish at the top of its round robin group.   For more on the girls quarterfinals, including comments from Alexa Noel and Coco Gauff, see this article on the ITF Junior Circuit website.

Top boys seed Italy didn't finish first in its group, but they have reached the semifinals after handing unseeded Denmark its first loss of the week. Italy will play No. 6 Spain in one semifinal, with No. 4 seed Argentina taking on No. 2 seed France.  The US team, seeded No. 3, did not get out the round robin stage, but they won their second match of the week today, beating Hong Kong 2-0.  Toby Kodat has not played for the US since retiring in his match against Great Britain on the first day of competition. For more on the boys quarterfinals, see this article on the ITF Junior Circuit website.

For all results see the ITF tournament website. Live scoring is available here.


The ITA All-American Championships, the first collegiate major of the season, begin with pre-qualifying starting Saturday. The men's event in Tulsa has open pre-qualifying, resulting in a 256 draw, with two rounds scheduled for Saturday. Austen Huang and Tim Wang of Columbia are the top two seeds in pre-qualifying. 

As of now, with the main draw scheduled to begin next Thursday, there are seven of the preseason Top 10 in the draw: Nuno Borges, Mississippi State; Mazen Osama, Alabama; Brandon Holt, USC; Giovanni Oradini Mississippi State; Timo Stodder, Tennessee; Cameron Klinger, Vanderbilt; Thomas Laurent, Oregon.  Missing are No. 1 Petros Chrysochos, Wake Forest; No. 9 Carl Soderlund of Virginia; No. 10 Alex Rybakov of TCU.

The women's event in Pacific Palisades has a 64-player pre-qualifying draw with Morgan Coppoc of Georgia and Petra Hule of Florida State the top two seeds.  The pre-qualifying tournament is held in Malibu, with the tournament moving to the Riviera Tennis Club for qualifying and main draw.

A couple of college tennis stories hit mainstream sports websites this week, the first being the East Tennessee State men getting NCAA probation for multiple violations, including impermissible benefits for student athletes. For more, see this article from the Johnson City Press.

The Eastern Michigan women's tennis and softball teams sued when their sports were cut last spring, and yesterday a judge handed down a preliminary injunction prohibiting the school from dropping those sports because that violates Title IX. The next step is a meeting in October to address reinstating the programs. For more on this ruling, see this Detroit Free Press article.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Quarterfinals Set at Junior Davis and Junior Fed Cup; Courier Steps Down as US Davis Cup Captain; Stearns, Zamarripa Reach Quarterfinals at Hilton Head $15K

The round robin phase of the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup concluded today, with half of the teams entered advancing to the quarterfinals. The United States' girls team, seeded No. 1, finished at the top of their group, although Coco Gauff lost at No. 1 singles to Kamila Bartone of Latvia today and the US team of Gauff and Alexa Noel had to win the doubles point to come out on top of their group.

Boys No. 1 seed Italy did not finish at the top of their group. Resting US Open boys finalist Lorenzo Musetti, they lost 2-1 to No. 5 seed Japan, with reigning Junior Orange Bowl 14s champion Shintaro Mochizuki winning at No. 1 singles and in the deciding doubles match. Playing with Shunsuke Mitsui, Mochizuki defeated Musetti and Flavio Cobolli 6-1, 6-3.

The third-seeded US boys won their match today against Uzbekistan, but Great Britain finished second in the group, to No. 7 Brazil, with a 2-1 record.

For more on today's action, see this article from the ITF Junior Circuit website.. Live scoring is available here; the ITF tournament page is here.

Friday's Junior Fed Cup quarterfinals:
USA[1] v Australia[5]
Slovakia v Indonesia
Canada[4] v Russia[3]
Ukraine[2] v Latvia[7]

Friday's Junior Davis Cup quarterfinals:
Japan[5] v Argentina[4]
Brazil[7] v France[2]
Spain[6] v Great Britain
Denmark v Italy[1]

The USTA announced today that Jim Courier would be stepping down as Davis Cup Captain after eight years in that position.  Although the USTA's release doesn't mention it, Courier told the AP in this article that he had decided last year to retire after the completion of this year's competition. Speculation has begun about a replacement for Courier, but I can't see that being decided until the position of head of men's tennis at the USTA has been filled. That position has been open since Brian Boland left this spring.


In Pro Circuit play today, most of the youngest players in the second round at the $15,000 women's tournament in Hilton Head lost, but Peyton Stearns and wild card Allura Zamarripa have advanced to Friday's quarterfinals. Stearns, who turns 17 next month, defeated 16-year-old qualifier Ava Hrastar 6-3, 6-3, and Zamarripa, 16, playing in her first Pro Circuit event defeated 17-year-old qualifier Ruth Marsh 6-1, 6-2. Zamarripa will face top seed Bianca Turati(Texas) of Italy Friday, while Stearns plays No. 3 seed Michaela Bayerlova of the Czech Republic, who is a sophomore at Washington State.

None of the young Southern Californians advanced to the quarterfinals of the $15,000 Futures in Fountain Hills California, with Govind Nanda, Jacob Bullard and Emilio Nava losing in second round play today. UCLA senior Maxime Cressy of France, who reached the final in last week's Futures, knocked off top seed and defending champion Ronnie Schneider 6-2, 6-1.

At the $60,000 Women's event in Templeton California, Americans advancing to the quarterfinals include Madison Brengle[2], Grace Min, Maria Sanchez(USC) and Asia Muhammad. Ann Li is playing Sofya Zhuk of Russia this evening in the day's last second round match. Top seed Taylor Townsend retired trailing Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria 6-0, 3-0.

At the $100,000 ATP Challenger in Tiburon, the four remaining second round matches were completed today, with both Tommy Paul and Michael Mmoh[5] advancing to their quarterfinal meeting via retirements. Brandon Holt(USC) retired trailing Paul 5-0 and Mmoh got his seventh straight Challenger victory when Ernesto Escobedo retired down 6-2, 3-0.  In another all-US quarterfinal Friday, Noah Rubin[6] will face Christopher Eubanks.  Mike Cation is back on commentary for these three California Challengers, with free live streaming available at the ATP website.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

USTA Names Mat Cloer National Collegiate Coach; US Girls Advance at Junior Fed Cup, Boys Fall Again in Junior Davis Cup; Grass Court Tennis in Wisconsin

USTA General Manager of Player Development Martin Blackman announced today that Mat Cloer has been named National Collegiate Coach. Cloer, who has been coaching and traveling with 2016 NCAA champion Mackenzie McDonald, takes over the position that Stephen Amritraj vacated this spring when he joined UTR.  Actually Amritraj was Director of Collegiate Tennis for the USTA when he left; Cloer may eventually receive that designation, but he will start as National Collegiate Coach. Also revealed in the release (below) is that Troy Hahn is now in the position of Lead Men's Coach at the USTA. That may not have been news to others, but I hadn't seen reference to that prior to today.

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., September 26, 2018 – The USTA today announced that Mat Cloer, a former college All-American and assistant coach who helped guide Mackenzie McDonald to a career-high No. 77 world-ranking this summer, has been hired as USTA Player Development’s new Collegiate National Coach.

Cloer will be charged with facilitating the development of American men and women in the ATP World Tour and WTA Top 100 through the collegiate pathway, reporting to Team USA Pro – Men’s and Women’s Lead National Coaches Troy Hahn and Kathy Rinaldi out of the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.

"The Collegiate National Coach position is a very important position and role,” said USTA Player Development General Manager Martin Blackman. “It is so important for us to support our best collegiate players by working closely with their college coaches to optimize their development in college. As the game becomes more physical in both the men's and women's pro space, college tennis presents our best juniors with a great opportunity to mature emotionally, intellectually, physically and mentally before embarking on a pro career. Mat's skill as a great coach and great communicator make him ideal for this role."

For the past year and a half, Cloer has worked with USTA Player Development as a National Coach in men’s tennis, working primarily with McDonald, the former NCAA champion UCLA Bruin who reached his career-high this summer after a run to the fourth round at Wimbledon. Cloer also worked with former collegians Chris Eubanks and Kevin King, both of whom have achieved career-high rankings this past spring and summer.

Prior to joining USTA Player Development, Cloer spent three seasons as an assistant men’s coach at North Carolina State (2013-16) and four seasons at his alma mater Florida State (2007-11), where he was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s South Region Assistant Coach of the Year in 2009-10.

A native of Brevard, N.C., Cloer was a two-time ACC Player of the Year with the Seminoles, as well as the program’s first All-American. He was also the recipient of the ITA Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award and graduated with a degree in Sports Management.

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The top-seeded US girls won again today in the second day of round robin play at the Junior Fed Cup in Budapest, but the boys, seeded No. 3, were beaten again, losing to Brazil 2-1, without their injured No. 1 player, Toby Kodat.  According to the article on the ITF Junior Circuit website, the US girls have already qualified for the quarterfinals, even with another day left in round robin play. I assume the boys have been eliminated.  For all results from today, see the ITF tournament page.


Back in August, I was contacted by Tad Eckert, a prominent high school coach in Illinois, informing me there were new grass courts available for play in Wisconsin, which his New Trier team and Marquette High christened back in July. I was so busy I didn't get a chance to respond, but he reminded me of it again after I posted on the Division III participation in the Hall of Fame Invitational this month, and he offered to write about it. Below is his account of his team's experience:

The Midwest has a new public/resort grass court tennis facility in Wisconsin, as Sand Valley Golf Resort opened up their first bank of grass tennis courts on July 25, 2018 with a boys high school exhibition match between New Trier HS (IL) and Marquette HS (WI).
The college format match was played on 3 grass courts with 3 doubles and 6 singles matches.  New Trier was victorious 7-2 with rising sophomore Max Bengtsson of New Trier (#55 on Tennis Recruiting in Class of 2021) defeating Joel Pan at the 1 singles line.
Next summer the next two banks of courts will open up in a unique sand dunes setting allowing for play on 9 courts simultaneously.  There is space for 5 courts within each bank so net placement can be shifted and the usual grass court wear spots can be minimized.
“Playing on grass is on every avid tennis player’s bucket list and Sand Valley has filled that dream for our team.  It was a special opportunity to open their grass court tennis facility against our friendly intra-state rival Marquette WI and the players and coaches really felt like they were at Wimbledon.  Being an exhibition we were more concerned about the experience than winning, and at the end of the day everyone won.”  reflected Tad Eckert, New Trier Head Coach.
According to Eckert, “The grass courts at Sand Valley were in pristine condition, low bouncing, fast, but very playable.  Our players were able to hit all their usual shots but also learned to adjust.  Big serves were more difficult to return, slices skidded lower and were more effective.  Movement wise, trying to change directions quickly led to some slipping/falling, so measured steps and moving forward were rewarded.”
“During the match and on the bus ride home our players couldn’t stop talking about the cool shots they hit, skipping slices, drop shots that rolled, and even laughing about bad bounces or taking a tumble or two.  I’m not even sure where else in the Midwest we could play on grass courts, so we’ll definitely be back at Sand Valley to have our Wimbledon experience again!” exclaimed Eckert. 
Sand Valley is located 45 miles north of Wisconsin Dells in the middle of Wisconsin and offers world class golf – their initial Sand Valley course is ranked in the top 100 in the US and by 2020 they will have 4 golf courses.  With 9 courts, they have made a big commitment to grass court tennis by tapping into their turf growing & maintenance knowledge from their golf course operations.  Lodging, farm to table dining, hiking trails, bike routes, & fishing are also available at the resort.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

US Girls Breeze in Junior Fed Cup, but Boys Fall in Junior Davis Cup on Opening Day; Young Wild Cards Earn First Pro Wins at Hilton Head $15K; Kenin Reaches Third Round in Wuhan

The first day of round robin action at the Junior Fed Cup in Budapest Hungary went as expected for the US, but it was another story for the US boys in Junior Davis Cup.

Coco Gauff and Alexa Noel picked up straight set wins in singles and Gauff and Connie Ma won the doubles match against Brazil to give the top seeds a 3-0 win.  But the third-seeded US boys fell to unseeded Great Britain 2-1, with Toby Kodat retiring from the No. 1 singles match with an injury, and Martin Damm and Alex Lee falling in the deciding doubles. The round robin helps the US however, and now with two teams from each group qualifying, they still have an opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals, but Kodat's injury is obviously a concern. The boys will face No. 7 seed Brazil Wednesday, with the girls taking on unseeded Japan.

Italy, the top seed in the boys draw, won its first round match, but No. 2 seed France was taken out by Denmark, which hadn't played in the Junior Davis Cup finals in over two decades. For more on the first day upsets, see this article from the ITF Junior Circuit website.

Live scoring is available here; complete results from all matches are at the ITF tournament software page.

There are four USTA Pro Circuit events on the calendar this week, two big and two small.  At the biggest, the $100,000 ATP Challenger in Tiburon California, wild card Brandon Holt earned his first win in Challenger competition, beating qualifier Steven Diez of Canada 6-3, 7-6(4). The 20-year-old USC junior won his first Futures title two weeks ago in Claremont. Other Americans advancing to the second round are Tommy Paul, Christopher Eubanks, wild card JC Aragone, Bjorn Fratangelo[8], Noah Rubin, Ernesto Escobedo, and last week's Columbus Challenger champion Michael Mmoh[5].

The women are also in California, with their tournament in Templeton a $60,000 event. Qualifying, which advances only four players to the main draw, ended today, with Robin Anderson(UCLA) and Maegan Manasse(Cal) earning spots in the main draw. Anderson, who reached the final on Saturday in Lubbock, had to travel to California and play the next day in her first round qualifying. Today Anderson trailed 5-3 in the final set, but won the final four games to beat Kai-Chen Chang of Taiwan 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Giuliana Olmos of Mexico(USC) and Switzerland's Amra Sadikovic are the other two qualifiers.  Americans Madison Brengle[2], Jessica Pegula[4], Lauren Davis and wild card Ann Li were among Tuesday's first round winners.


The $15,000 tournaments are coasts apart, with the men's Futures in Fountain Valley California and the women's event in Hilton Head South Carolina. 

The qualifying, four rounds of it, ended yesterday for the men, with several Southern Californians juniors making it to the main draw: Stefan Dostanic, Siem Woldeab, Govind Nanda and Jacob Bullard. Emilio Nava, a fifth SoCal junior, avoided qualifying by reaching the quarterfinals at last week's event in Laguna Niguel to earn a special exemption, and he won his first match today, beating lucky loser George Goldhoff(Texas) 6-3, 6-1. Wild card Ronnie Schneider(UNC) is the top seed, with Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern) seeded No. 2.

In Hilton Head, wild cards Katrina Scott, 14, and Allura Zamarripa, 16, made successful Pro Circuit debuts, picking up the impressive victories in their first opportunities. Scott defeated the Dominican Republic's Kelly Williford (Virginia Tech) 6-2, 6-2, while Zamarripa took out No. 8 seed Salome Devidze of Georgia, who is exactly twice her age, 6-3, 6-1. Several juniors qualified today, including Ava Hrastar, Ruth Marsh, Vicky Hu and Allie Gretkowski. University of Texas junior Bianca Turati of Italy is the top seed, with former University of Georgia star Nadja Gilchrist seeded No. 2.

Sonya Kenin has continued to impress this fall, reaching the third round of the WTA Premier 5 event in Wuhan China. The 19-year-old Floridian, who qualified into the main draw, defeated No. 11 seed Julia Goerges of Germany 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 Tuesday, and will face 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus next. Kenin is earning new career ranking highs with each win, and is close to cracking the Top 50.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Junior Fed Cup, Junior Davis Cup Begin Tuesday in Budapest; Rybakov Wins Battle of the Bay; ITF Junior Circuit Update

There's been a lot of conversation lately about the changes to Davis Cup and the other ATP Team events on the horizon, but the ITF has made very few changes to the format of the 16-and-under Junior Davis and Junior Fed Cup competition over the years. On Tuesday, 15 teams who qualified in regional competitions earlier this year, along with the host country, in this case Hungary, will play in four-country round robin groups to determine the quarterfinalists. The knockout portion of the event begins then, with the title decided on Sunday.  The US girls are the defending Junior Fed Cup champions, the US boys lost in the Junior Davis Cup final to the Czech Republic last year.

The US Junior Fed Cup team this year:
Coco Gauff, 14
Alexa Noel, 16
Connie Ma, 15
Captain: Erik Kortland

The US Junior Davis Cup team this year:
Martin Damm, 14 (turns 15 on Sunday)
Toby Kodat, 15
Alex Lee, 16
Captain: Eric Nunez

Although it's after 11 p.m. in Europe, the draws for the event have not yet been posted, so the seedings are not known, although the US teams would likely be seeded 1 or 2.  I will update here when they have gone live.  (Update 9 p.m. EDT: I still can't find the draws, but this article on the ITF junior website says the US girls are the No. 1 seed. Italy is the top seed for the boys and it sounds as if the US boys are the No. 3 seed behind Italy and France.)

While the ITA Oracle Masters took place last weekend, with USC's Laurens Verboven and Miami's Estela Perez-Somarriba taking the title in Malibu, a tournament 400 miles north arguably had a better men's field. The Battle of Bay in San Francisco featured NCAA champion Petros Chrysochos of Wake Forest, last year's Masters champion Brandon Holt of USC and TCU star Alex Rybakov.  Rybakov took the title, beating Georgia's Jan Zielinski 6-3, 6-4 in the final Zielinski had beaten Chrysochos and Rybakov took out Holt in the semifinals. The reason for the impressive field may be found on the tournament's ITA webpage, which states that main draw wild cards will be given to the winners at the big Challengers in Tiburon, Stockton and Fairfield. Holt is in this week's Tiburon field as a wild card. For more on Rybakov's win, see this article from the TCU website. Below are the results from round of 16 through the final.

I reported Friday on the ITF Grade 2 results from Canada, with Emma Navarro taking the singles title in Montreal, but there were other American titles last week, in smaller events.  At the Grade 5 in Nicaragua, which could not draw a full 32-player field for either gender, top seeds Alfredo Casso and Jennifer Kida took the singles titles. The 17-year-old Casso defeated No. 5 seed Manuel Alonso of Mexico 6-1, 6-3 in the boys final and Kida, 16, defeated Gabriella Soliman of the US, the No. 2 seed, 6-3, 6-2 in the girls final. Kida and Soliman won the doubles title, playing only one match to do so, owing to a lack of teams to fill the draw.

At the Grade 5 in Puerto Rico, No. 2 seeds Quinn McLeod and James Tracy won the all-US doubles final, beating Alex Han and Graydon Lair 6-3, 6-1.  Unseeded Zoe Hammond and Kelsey Mize won the girls doubles title, beating Alexandra Centra of the US and Ariana Salgueiro-Estela of Puerto Rico, the No. 3 seeds, 6-3, 6-4.  Mize also reached the singles final.

This week marks the beginning of the ITF Junior Circuit fall hard court season in the US, with a Grade 5 in Austin Texas.  Hunter Heck and Kailey Evans are the top seeds.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Nakashima Wins Laguna Niguel Futures; Mmoh Claims Columbus Challenger Title; Perez-Somarriba and Verboven Are Oracle Masters Champions

Thanks to Jonathan Kelley for filling in for me yesterday with his post from the Laver Cup in Chicago.Today, Europe retained the title today, beating the World team 13-8, with Alexander Zverev of Germany clinching it with a 6-7(3), 7-5, 10-7 win over Kevin Anderson of South Africa. For more on Europe's win, see this article.

After the Laver Cup excitement ended this evening, there's still a lot of catching up to do on the pro and collegiate circuits.  Aside from the Laver Cup result, the news was good for American men, who won both USTA Pro Circuit events in the US this week.

Seventeen-year-old Brandon Nakashima received a wild card into the main draw of the $15,000 Futures in Laguna Niguel California and when he won his first round match, he had already had a historically good week for himself.  Although the Kalamazoo 18s finalist did have eight ATP points from his win in qualifying at the US Open, he had not won a main draw match in the six other Futures he had played in the past several years. But this week, the San Diego resident beat three seeds to reach the final, where he came up against unseeded Maxime Cressy of France, a senior at UCLA. Nakashima was up 6-4, 5-3 and had three match points, but he dropped that game, giving Cressy hope. That didn't last however, with Nakashima breaking Cressy by winning the last three points of the match for a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Michael Mmoh won his first ATP Challenger title of the year today at the $75,000 tournament in Columbus Ohio. The 2016 Kalamazoo 18s champion, seeded No. 3, beat top seed Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-3, 7-6(4).  Thompson broke Mmoh at 5-5 in the second set, but was unable to close it out, with Mmoh converting his second break point, then taking the tiebreaker. Mmoh will move to a career-high 108 in the ATP rankings with his third Challenger title.

Unseeded Tommy Paul and Canadian Peter Polansky won the Columbus doubles title, beating Ecuador's Gonzalo Escobar(Texas Tech) and Roberto Quiroz(USC), also unseeded, 6-3, 6-3 in today's final.

In yesterday's final of the $25,000 women's USTA Pro Circuit event in Lubbock Texas, No. 7 seed Rebecca Marino of Canada defeated Robin Anderson(UCLA) 6-4, 6-1.  Marino did not drop a set in capturing her fifth ITF Women's Circuit title this year.

The champions were crowned today at the ITA Oracle Masters in Malibu.  No. 6 seed Laurens Verboven, a senior at USC, defeated No. 7 seed Nicolas Moreno of UC-Santa Barbara 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-3 to take the men's title.  No. 4 seed Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami, who had beaten top seed Fernanda Contreras of Vanderbilt in the semifinals Saturday, defeated Pepperdine sophomore Evgeniya Levashova, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 6-3 to claim the women's title. The mixed doubles tournament, a rarity in college tennis, was completed Saturday, with top seeds Yuya Ito of Texas and Lisa Marie Rioux of Oklahoma State beating No. 6 seed Sven Lah of Baylor and Michaela Bayerlova of Washington State 8-3 in the final.  For more about the women's final, see this article from Miami's website. For more on Verboven's win, the second straight for a USC Trojan, see this article. More on the mixed doubles final is available at the Texas website.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

My Laver Cup


by Jonathan Kelley


Laver Cup 2018, from the back row
(c) Jonathan Kelley
My heart was racing and so, it seemed, was the heart of the woman standing next to me. Here we were, two Chicagoans, strangers to each other, pacing a bit in the walkway behind the most upper rafters of the United Center as John Isner had match point against Alexander Zverev in the fifth match in the second iteration of Laver Cup. Convert this and Team Word would tie the score at 3-3 in this three-day star-studded event. Isner hit a decent return, and Zverev’s second shot was deep into the court. Maybe too deep? From our vantage point behind Isner, it felt long. “That shot was out, honey!” my new tennis friend exclaimed, but what could be done? The umpire wasn’t about to overrule in the middle of the point, and Isner would have been foolish to stop play on match point like that.

A couple of hours later, at a crowded watering hole near the festivities, in between the Day 2 day session and the night session, Great Shot Podcast co-host Alex Gruskin and I sat and watched the replay. The ball was pretty clearly in. In the Tennis Channel’s replayed version of the match, just like in the live version we watched, Isner ill-advisedly approached the net to Zverev’s backhand, only to get passed. On the next point, just like how we experienced it live, Isner then duffed a volley into the net that would have given him a second match point, this one on his serve. And on the subsequent point, we relived another backhand pass from Zverev to give him the second set, and set him up for a win in the match tiebreak (final score 3-6 7-6(6) [10-7]) and a 5-1 Team Europe lead.

It’s a surreal thing to sit in a bar in the same city in which you’ve lived for 20 years that hasn't had top-tier professional tennis in that time, watching a tennis match that took place a couple of hours prior (a few blocks away), a match that you also watched in real time and in person, chatting in person about the match with a guy with whom you’ve talked a lot over the past year, but had never met in person until right after said match took place, having watched it in different corners of an arena that’s never hosted top-tier tennis before.

The night before, I was sitting in that same bar, watching live tennis featuring two surefire Hall of Famers facing “the best doubles player on the planet” alongside an alumnus of the same institution at which I’m currently a (much older) student, waiting to be joined by five other people, from five different states, who came to my town to watch this phenomenon and bask in the reflected glow of these exceptional sportsmen. It felt weird not to be closer to the action – especially given that when it was announced that Laver Cup would be coming next to Chicago, I was sure I’d be there for every moment. But Day 2’s day session would be my only one. It’s expensive. And I’m a grad student. And my blog is on (permanent?) hiatus, so a press pass wasn’t in the cards.

Also too, I’m kind of more of a challenger guy, when it comes down to it. I prefer to be five feet from the action than in the walkway behind the nosebleeds. At the grand slams, I prefer to watch the final round of qualies to a final.

But I feel connected to this event. It’s exciting. It’s more than an “exhibition,” even if it’s less than a major. [The whole "exhibition" debate is problematic, as if there aren’t endless enjoyable tennis events that are meaningful to players and fans that aren’t Boodles-type "hit and giggles" but at the same time don’t have the status in official tour-level tennisdom (awarding ranking point and all that jazz). World Team Tennis, German club tennis, Hopman Cup, the belated Grand Slam Cup, incipient Majesty Cup, junior tennis back draws, money tournaments. The Laver Cup has buy-in from great players, has been delightful for fans, and when Zverev dropped to his knees after beating Isner … come on, that was a moment.]

And it is in my city. The city whose WTA tournament folded up shop in 1997 and whose ATP tournament stopped in 1991; the city that “hosted” a Davis Cup tie that was actually an hour-plus journey into the suburbs. The city that is host to a new Oracle Challenger Series event that I covered for Tennis Panorama. The third largest city in America but one whose tennis legacy is far outpaced by its much smaller Midwestern sibling, Cincinnati. A city that often gets a bad rep.

Back in March, I was able to cover the initial press event announcing Laver Cup for Tennis Panorama. I went to “the Bean” and witnessed Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios clumsily hit around on a mini court, then went across the street and asked the first question at the press conference, something about whether the era of European dominance in men’s tennis was waning (note: the next tournament, Miami, was won by John Isner, but European players have won all 13 ATP 500, ATP 1000, and Grand Slam events since then; represent both Davis Cup finalists, and are dominating Laver Cup through 3.5 sessions, so there’s no real waning in sight). And then I was part of the scrums that interviewed Federer and Laver and McEnroe and Kyrgios up close. Suffice it to say I was a bit starstruck.



So student life be damned, I decided after the hangout last night that I would have at least one session in person – the day session. Even after it was announced that session would include the most popular player in decades if not ever, I was determined to pay the Federer Fee and see him live, from however far away.

It turned out to be $150 (plus StubHub fees, plus pretzel (plus cheese sauce)) for the two-match session. And the Federer match itself was underwhelming – he simply dismantled Kyrgios, never facing a break point and withstanding the few HOT SHOTS the Aussie was able to muster. The 37-year-old looked like the future of tennis, the way he thought out there, the way he moved, the way he defended and offended and just shone. But the match itself was basically a snoozer, a 6-3 6-2 dusting.

But it was still worth it, to be there (and be able to say I was there) and to feel the thrall of Isner/Zverev, where the result was always in doubt, and two strokes made the difference (a Zverev double fault to get broken early in the first and that Isner dump into the net at 6-6 in the second set tiebreak). The ten point tiebreak proved to be a bit of a letdown, especially after Isner went down 0-4. I wonder if a first-to-four set might not work better for the third set of singles? Something of a hybrid of Laver Cup and the Milan #NextGen format? A way to maintain some brevity without the crap shoot feel of a match tiebreak. Just a thought.

The Laver Cup is great. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun, and it’s meaningful for the players, and it’s great to be able to promote it for an entire year. Sure, the Europe/World division is artificial to everyone but me (who obsesses over such geographic vagaries) and it’s too new to have any kind of tradition, and it’s a little too Federer-centric for comfort (I say as a FedFan who found FedFandom only after he drubbed all of my favorites into submission) and the sides are mismatched. But there are other men’s tennis stars out there, and more on the horizon. And the team element is a wild card. And had Isner and Diego Schwartzman (Session 2, Match 1) converted their match points, the scoreboard looks much different.

Whether Laver Cup should include women – or whether women can and should find their own version of a team event – is very much an open question. But I’d implore the cynics to appreciate the special part of it, and note that it doesn’t seem to have harmed other tennis products. And hey, any time you can have Jack Sock on a court where he beats Roger Federer is a momentous occasion.