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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Brooksby Claims First Pro Title in Bakersfield; Mandlik's Winning Streak Ends in Arcadia Final; Andreescu Captures BNP Paribas Open; Baylor Wins Oracle Challenge; Miami Open Qualifying Begins Monday

Jenson Brooksby collected his first pro title today at the ITF World Tennis Tour's $25,000 tournament in Bakersfield California. The 18-year-old wild card dominated No. 2 seed and ATP No. 362 Aleks Vukic of Australia, beating the former Illinois All-American 6-3, 6-1 in 49 minutes. The Baylor recruit made 81 percent of his first serves and faced only one break point in the match, while going 4 for 5 in his break opportunities. Brooksby, who is the reigning Kalamazoo 18s champion, had lost his ATP points at the end of the year in the new ITF structure, but after his win today, which earned 3 ATP points, he will be in the 600s.

The doubles final, played late last night, went to former UCLA Bruins Evan Zhu and Martin Redlicki. The unseeded pair, who captured the NCAA title last May, beat unseeded Ian Dempster(NC State) and Jacob Dunbar(Richmond) 6-1, 3-6, 10-7.

Elli Mandlik's WTT winning streak ended at nine today, when the unseeded 17-year-old lost to top seed Hanna Chang 7-5, 6-1 in the $15,000 tournament final in Arcadia California. No. 3 seeds Brynn Boren(Tennessee/USC) and Sarah Lee(Michigan) defeated No. 2 seeds Pamela Montez(UCLA) and Madison Westby(USC) 6-2, 6-4 in the doubles final.

Qualifier Grey Hamilton, a recent Ole Miss graduate, saw his run end in the final of the men's $15,000 WTT tournament in Arcadia. The 22-year-old from North Carolina lost to No. 8 seed Antoine Bellier of Switzerland 6-3, 6-3, ending his win streak this week at six matches. No. 4 seeds Matic Spec(Minnesota) of Slovenia and Michail Pervolarakis(Portland) of Greece won the doubles, beating the unseeded Swedish team of Simon Freund and Karl Friberg 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

Eighteen-year-old wild card Bianca Andreescu of Canada won her first WTA title today, beating three-time slam champion Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the final of the BNP Paribas Open. Andreescu has been outstanding throughout 2019, reaching the final in Auckland, and suffering only three losses all year. She is the youngest BNP Paribas Open champion since Serena Williams won the title in 1999, at age 17 and will move into the Top 25, after ending 2018 at 152.  From those of us who have followed her career since she was 14, the most impressive part of these first three months has been her health. Often injured while competing in the juniors, Andreescu has proven, during all the qualifying and all the tough three-setters, that she can stand up to the rigors of the WTA tour week after week.  For a recap of the final, see this article from the WTA website.

Baylor won the Oracle Collegiate Challenge today in Indian Wells, beating USC 4-2.  For more on the Bears win, see this article from their website. Bobby Knight has more on today's other big matches, including No. 2 Wake Forest's 6-1 win over No. 3 Virginia, at College Tennis Today.

Qualifying for both men and women at the Miami Open begins on Monday at the new venue, Hard Rock Stadium.  Nine US women are in qualifying, including Caroline Dolehide, who received a previously unannounced wild card.  Eight US men are in qualifying, including wild cards Reilly Opelka and Zane Khan. 

The Miami Open men's draw isn't revealed until tomorrow, but the women's draw has been published, with a couple of interesting first round matches between wild cards.  Caty McNally and Coco Gauff, who won the US Open girls doubles title in September, will play in the first round. Gauff has won their previous two meetings, both last year, both in finals: at the French Open and at the Grade 1 in Roehampton.  Whitney Osuigwe will face Mari Osaka in the other all-wild card first round contest. Osaka, the older sister of WTA No. 1 Naomi Osaka, is ranked 336. Osuigwe's ranking is 213.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Brooksby Makes First WTT Final; Mandlik Plays for Second Straight Title Sunday; Leustian, Cooper Win ITF Junior Titles; Top 10 D-I Teams Fall; Baylor and USC Advance to Oracle Collegiate Challenge Final

Wild card Jenson Brooksby advanced to his first ITF World Tennis Tour final today, beating No. 7 seed Sekou Bangoura(Florida) 6-2, 6-4 at the $25,000 tournament in Bakersfield California. The Kalamazoo 18s champion, who doesn't turn 19 until October so therefore is eligible to play in Kalamazoo again this year, had lost the last two times he had reached the semifinals at the $25K level. Brooksby's opponent in the final is recent Illinois graduate and No. 2 seed Aleks Vukic of Australia, who defeated No. 4 seed Joao Menezes of Brazil 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 earlier today.

Seventeen-year-old Elli Mandlik aims for her second consecutive WTT title tomorrow at the $15,000 tournament in Arcadia California. The daughter of Hana Mandlikova, who won last week's $15K in Carson, defeated University of Virginia recruit Natasha Subhash, a wild card, 6-4, 6-3 in today's semifinal.  Mandlik, who had lost to Subhash in their previous two meetings, will face top seed Hanna Chang in Sunday's final. Chang defeated No. 3 seed Pamela Montez(UCLA) 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-1 in the semifinals.

At the men's $15K in Arcadia, qualifier Grey Hamilton, a 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate, has advanced to his first WTT final, beating unseeded Alan Kohen of Argentina 6-3, 7-5 today. Hamilton, who beat top seed Gonzalo Lama of Chile yesterday, will face No. 8 seed Antoine Bellier of Switzerland, who defeated Emilio Nava 6-1, 6-2 in just under an hour, in Sunday's final.

Two Americans won singles titles this week on the ITF Junior Circuit. Seventeen-year-old Stefan Leustian won his first ITF Junior Circuit title since 2017 at the Grade 4 in Panama, when top seed Andrew Dale retired trailing 4-0 in the first set. Leustian, the No. 3 seed, lost only one set in his five victories this week. 

At the Grade 5 in Zimbabwe, 17-year-old Lauren Cooper swept the titles with the No. 7 seed beating top-seeded American Dakota Fordham in the singles semifinals and No. 2 seed Tshegofatso Tsiang of Botswana 6-1, 6-0 in the final, giving Cooper her first ITF junior circuit singles title.  Cooper and Fordham won the doubles title, with the No. 2 seeds beating No. 3 seeds Tsitsi Mahere of Zimbabwe and Victoria Sasinka 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

At the Grade 2 in Spain, Hibah Shaikh partnered with Jessica Bouzas Maneiro of Spain to win the girls doubles, with the unseeded pair beating top seeds Carlota Martinez Cirez of Spain and Helene Pellicano of Malta 1-6, 6-4, 10-7 in the final.

Every weekend is filled with important college tennis matches in the next six weeks, and Bobby Knight has been posting regular updates of all the Division I action at College Tennis Today.  A couple of women's top 10 teams lost this weekend, with No. 29 Texas A&M beating No. 4 Vanderbilt 4-2 in College Station and No. 20 Pepperdine taking out No. 8 Texas 5-2.  The Aggies got a notable win from freshman Katya Townsend at line 1, beating No. 3 Fernanda Contreras 6-2, 6-0.  Pepperdine, who had struggled in February, losing three straight to Duke, Cal and Michigan, appears to be back on track now, with their win over Texas their second over a Top 10 team this week. The Waves shut out No. 6 UCLA last Wednesday. Pepperdine's Evgeniya Levashova has not played since the Cal match and is no longer appearing on the team roster.

Two men's surprises came during the week, with No. 2 Wake Forest losing to No. 8 Florida Wednesday and No. 1 Ohio State falling to No. 4 Texas on Thursday, just a day after the firing of Longhorns head coach Michael Center. And last night in Atlanta, No. 7 North Carolina lost to unranked Georgia Tech 4-3.

The annual Oracle Collegiate Challenge is being held again at the BNP Paribas Open, and Sunday's final will pit No. 1 seed Baylor against No. 3 seed USC.  The sixth-ranked Bears took out Cal 4-0 today and the Trojans also earned a second consecutive shutout at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, beating Arizona State this afternoon.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Gibbons Set for Dartmouth; Nava, Brooksby, Subhash, Mandlik Reach WTT Semifinals; Redlicki Advances at ATP Challenger; Emory Women, Chicago Men Remain Atop Division III Rankings

While I was in Mobile last week, I had an opportunity to talk with Anders Gibbons about his college recruiting process and how he ended up committing to Dartmouth for this coming fall.  Being from Seattle, I wouldn't have expected he would end up on the East Coast, but he explained to me why that made sense for him in this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Four juniors have advanced to semifinals in ITF World Tennis Tour events this week in California, with two of them, 17-year-olds Natasha Subhash and Elli Mandlik, advancing to meet each other.  Wild card Subhash, a Virginia recruit, defeated Sarah Lee(Michigan) 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 at the $15,000 tournament in Arcadia California, her first semifinal in a WTT event. Mandlik, who won last week's $15K in Carson California, continued her outstanding play on the Southern California hard courts, advancing with a 6-4, 4-0 ret. win over Hurricane Tyra Black.  Mandlik and Subhash have played twice in ITF Junior Circuit events, with Subhash winning both.  The other semifinal will feature No. 3 seed Pamela Montez(3) versus top seed Hanna Chang.

At the men's $15K in Arcadia, Emilio Nava reached his first WTT semifinal by defeating the No. 3 seed, 18-year-old Jaimee Floyd Angele of France 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-1.  The 17-year-old Southern Californian will face No. 8 seed Antoine Bellier of Switzerland next. Bellier is the only seed left, with the top half semifinal between qualifier Grey Hamilton(Ole Miss) and unseeded Alan Kohen of Argentina.

Kalamazoo 18s champion Jenson Brooksby has advanced to his third $25,000 semifinal since winning the Kalamazoo title last August, beating Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern) 6-2, 6-3 today at the WTT event in Bakersfield. The 18-year-old Brooksby, a wild card, will be looking for his first semifinal win Saturday when he takes on No. 7 seed Sekou Bangoura(Florida).  The bottom half semifinal features No. 4 seed Joao Menezes of Brazil against No. 2 seed Aleks Vukic(Illinois) of Australia.

Michael Redlicki has advanced to his second Challenger semifinal of the year at the ATP 80 tournament in Drummondville Canada. The unseeded left-hander, who played at Duke and Arkansas, picked up his third straight win over a seed this week, beating No. 3 seed Jurgen Zopp of Estonia 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.  Redlicki will play former Clemson star and No. 2 seed Yannick Maden of Germany in the semifinals.

The ITA released the latest Division III team rankings yesterday, with the Emory women and the Chicago men remaining in the top spots. Both won the ITA National Team Indoor titles.

ITA D-III Women’s Top 10 Team Rankings, March 14, 2019
(previous ranking in parentheses):

1. Emory University (1)
2. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (2)
3. Amherst College (3)
4. Pomona-Pitzer Colleges (4)
5. Williams College (5)
6. Middlebury College (6)
7. Wesleyan University (7)
8. Tufts University (8)
9. Univ. of Chicago (9)
10. Carnegie Mellon University (10)

ITA D-III Men’s Top 10 Team Rankings, March 14, 2019:

1. Univ. of Chicago (1)
2. Middlebury College (2)
3. Bowdoin College (3)
4. Emory University (4)
5. Williams College (5)
6. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (6)
7. Amherst College (7)
8. Wesleyan University (9)
9. Washington University-St. Louis (8)
10. Brandeis University (10)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Neff, Grishuk Reach ITF Grade 1 Quarterfinals in Malaysia; US Juniors Advance to Quarterfinals in WTT Events

Two Americans have reached the quarterfinals at the ITF Grade 1 in Malaysia, with 16-year-old Skyler Grishuk and 17-year-old Adam Neff advancing to the final eight in the only Grade 1 on the Junior Circuit this week. Grishuk, the No. 11 seed, has reached a Grade 1 final twice before, including last year at this same tournament, but is looking for her first appearance in a G1 semifinal when she takes on unseeded Aunchisa Chanta of Thailand. Neff is making his first appearance in a G1 quarterfinal and will play No. 8 seed Kevin Chahoud of Sweden next. Neff has also advanced to the doubles semifinals, with partner Blu Baker of Great Britain.

The ITF World Tennis Tour has three tournaments this week in California, as well as two in Cancun Mexico, all of whom have Americans in the quarterfinals.

At the women's 15K event in Cancun, unseeded 18-year-old Lea Ma picked up her first WTT-level win in the first round over No. 8 seed Maria Jose Portillo Ramirez, then added her second today, over qualifier Jazmin Ortenzi of Argentina. Ma will next play Emily Appleton of Great Britain, who owns a 2-0 head-to-head against Ma in juniors, with both matches going three sets. No. 7 seed Dasha Ivanova is the other American in the quarterfinals.

At the men's $15K in Cancun, the only American remaining is No. 2 seed Harrison Adams(Texas A&M).

The two 15Ks in California are also at the same venue, at the Arcadia Tennis Center in Southern California. All eight women's quarterfinalists are American, including four juniors: wild card Natasha Subhash, a Virginia recruit, Savannah Broadus, Hurricane Tyra Black and last week's $15K champion in Carson, Elli Mandlik.  Black and Mandlik will face off Friday, with Black winning their only previous junior meeting. The four other quarterfinalists are top seed Hanna Chang, No. 3 seed Pam Montez(UCLA), wild card Allie Will(Florida) and Sarah Lee(Michigan). Will, 27, has played only a handful of tournaments since 2014, while Lee, 25, missed seven months last year and is playing for the first time since last November this month.

The men's quarterfinals in Arcadia feature four Americans: 17-year-old Emilio Nava, Connor Farren(USC), Vasil Kirkov and qualifier Grey Hamilton, a recent Ole Miss graduate.

There is also a men's $25K in Bakersfield, with at least three Americans in the quarterfinals. Top seed Ryan Shane(Virginia) is not one of them, as he was beaten by former teammate Alexander Ritschard in the first round. Ritschard lost today to Kalamazoo 18s champion Jenson Brooksby, a wild card, 6-7(2), 7-5, 7-6(5) in over three hours. Qualifier Isaiah Strode beat No. 6 seed Martin Redlicki(UCLA) today in a third-set tiebreaker and is joined in the quarterfinals by No. 7 seed Sekou Bangoura. Strong Kirchheimer has yet to complete his second round match.

The ATP 125 Challenger in Phoenix, a new event this year, had only four Americans in the draw, with most of the competitors entering due to from early exits at the BNP Paribas Open. All 16 seeds were ranked in the Top 100, making it one of the strongest Challenger fields in memory. Mitchell Krueger, Ernesto Escobedo, qualifier Nathan Ponwith(Arizona State) and Ryan Harrison were the Americans in the main draw, with Harrison advancing to the third round, but losing today to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy.

At the ATP 80 Challenger in Drummondville Canada, Michael Redlicki has advanced to the quarterfinals. The unseeded 25-year-old, a former star at Duke and Arkansas, has already beaten two seeds this week in straight sets: No. 9 JC Aragone(Virginia) in the second round, and today, No. 6 seed Nikola Milojevic of Serbia.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Texas's Center Fired; Gauff, McNally, Osuigwe Awarded Miami Open Wild Cards; Teens Andreescu and Kecmanovic Advance at BNP Paribas Open; Florida Men Beat Wake Forest; Little Change in USTA/Tennis Channel College Rankings

In the wake of the federal charges filed yesterday in the Operation Varsity Blues college admission scandal, the University of Texas announced this afternoon that Michael Center, head coach of the men's team for the past 19 seasons, has been dismissed. The school's release is here.  Rhiannon Potkey has more on the reaction to the scandal, including comments from blue chip recruit Siem Woldeab, in this Tennis Recruiting Network article.

The Miami Open, which begins next week at a new venue in South Florida, announced its wild card recipients today, with three young Americans getting wild cards into the women's main draw: Coco Gauff (who turns 15 today), Caty McNally and Whitney Osuigwe.

The other women's main draw wild card recipients are Olga Danilovic of Serbia, Mari Osaka of Japan, Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia and two 17-year-olds from China: Xinyu Wang and US Open girls champion Xiyu Wang.

The women's qualifying wild cards were given to Allie Kiick, Christina McHale, Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, Qinwen Zheng of China and Karman Thandi of India.

Only one American man received a main draw wild card, former Georgia Tech star Chris Eubanks.  World junior No. 1 Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan, Nicola Kuhn of Spain, David Ferrer of Spain and Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia are the other main draw wild cards.

Seventeen-year-old Zane Khan received a qualifying wild card, as did Reilly Opelka, whose current ATP ranking of 59 would get him in the main draw, but with the Miami cutoff coming before he won the New York Open, he was outside the main draw cutoff and didn't enter the qualifying. Other recent ATP champions in qualifying include Laslo Djere of Serbia[32] and Radu Albot of Moldova[53]. Mackenzie McDonald[62] and Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada[58], who also are in Miami qualifying, would have been in the main draw if the cutoff was not six weeks prior to the event.

IMG, which controls the tournament, distributes most of the wild cards to their clients, and has done so for years, but it is surprising to see a player the stature of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France given a qualifying wild card, rather than a main draw one. The other two qualifying wild cards were given to Jay Clarke of Great Britain and Mikael Ymer of Sweden.

The wild card release is available at the Miami Open website.

The only American left in singles at the BNP Paribas Open is Venus Williams, who plays her quarterfinal match against No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany on Thursday. The last US man, No. 8 seed John Isner, lost to No. 12 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-4, 7-6(1) this afternoon.

Two teenagers are still alive however, with 2016 ITF World Junior champion Kecmanovic, a lucky loser, advancing to the men's quarterfinal when Yoshito Nishioka of Japan retired after losing the first set 6-4. Eighteen-year-old Bianca Andreescu has been mowing down opponents this week, with the Canadian wild card beating No. 20 seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-0, 6-1 in today's quarterfinal. Andreescu, who had a raft of injuries when she was playing the ITF Junior Circuit, yet still made it as high as No. 3, is up to 37 in the WTA live rankings now.

The big men's Division I match this afternoon had No. 2 Wake Forest in Gainesville to play No. 8 Florida, and the Gators came away with a victory after losing the doubles point.  Wake did not have Borna Gojo, who played in the Drummondville Challenger this week, in the lineup. Florida dominated in the 3, 4, 5 and 6 spots to take the match. The final score was 5-2, with Botzer winning over Andrade at 2 for Wake Forest and Crawford beating Chrysochos at 1 for Florida after the Gators had clinched the match.

I expect that Florida will move up in the rankings next week after this win, but in this week's USTA/Tennis Channel rankings there was very little movement in the Top 10 for men or women. The voting for this week's rankings ends with matches played on Sunday, so Texas A&M men's win over No. 1 Ohio State Monday is not included.  For the complete Top 25s, see the usta.com article.

USTA/Tennis Channel Men’s Top 10 March 13, 2019

1. Ohio State (1)
2. Wake Forest (2)
3. Texas (3)
4. North Carolina (4)
5. Virginia (5)
6. Stanford (6)
7. TCU (7)
8. Florida (9)
9. Columbia (8)
10. Baylor (10)

USTA/Tennis Channel Women’s Top 10 March 13, 2019
1. Georgia (1)
2. North Carolina (2)
3. Stanford (3)
4. Duke (4)
5. Vanderbilt (5)
6. Texas (6)
7. South Carolina (7)
8. UCLA (9)
9. Michigan (8)
10. Ohio State (10)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Texas Coach Center, Former Georgetown Coach Ernst Charged in Federal Investigation; Ohio State Men, North Carolina Women Retain Top Spots in D-I Rankings

College tennis is making news today, none of it good. Anyone who follows college sports knows that scandals are commonplace, especially in revenue sports like basketball and football, which generate hundreds of  millions of dollars. Other sports do come under the scrutiny of the NCAA enforcement, and occasionally a tennis program will be sanctioned for providing impermissible benefits to recruits or student-athletes. 

But today's federal arrests, which include two coaches in Division I college tennis, are based on a different kind of wrongdoing, uncovered during the investigation of another case. Key Worldwide Foundation provided a system that allowed wealthy parents to obtain for their children admission to selective colleges, either by committing academic fraud in test scores or by paying coaches to recommend for admissions players who are represented as student-athletes, but are not. This company, which was granted 501(c)(3) non-profit status by the IRS, would collect money from wealthy parents, including two well-known Hollywood actors, then would arrange to distribute it either to SAT and ACT exam proctors or college coaches, with the latter often able to guarantee admission for an athlete that would not be possible for another applicant. 

The Washington Post article on today's Justice Department charges can be found here.

Texas men's head coach Michael Center
The University of Texas's men's head coach Michael Center, who has been in that position for 19 years, was one of 50 people--coaches and parents, not students--indicted today. He was arrested this morning in Austin and charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. He was arraigned this afternoon, and has been placed on administrative leave.  The government complaint against Center can be found here.

According to this article from the Austin American-Statesman, Center will plead not guilty to those charges later this month in Boston. Associate head coach Bruce Berque will take over the team, now ranked No. 4 in the country, in Center's absence.

The other Division I tennis coach indicted is Gordie Ernst, currently the women's head coach at the University of Rhode Island, for his actions while coaching at Georgetown. Ernst, who has been placed on administrative leave by Rhode Island, is accused of accepting more than $2.7 million in bribes during his 11 years of coaching the men's and women's tennis teams. Ernst's employment at Georgetown ended last year. From this detailed account by the student newsmagazine Georgetown Voice, which names the students and parents involved, it appears Ernst left Georgetown due to violations of admissions policy.

Other coaches, in other sports, named in the indictments are from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest, UCLA, and San Diego. USC has already fired an athletic department employee and its water polo coach, and it has been reported that Stanford has fired its sailing coach, who pleaded guilty to the charges today.

Indicted in the testing part of the investigation is Mark Riddell, a former college player at Harvard who was employed at the IMG Academy in Bradenton as Director of College Entrance Exam Preparation. For more on the case against Riddell, see this article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

There is nothing positive to say about any of this, although it is important to remember that the federal government has to prove its case, and the accused are innocent until proven guilty. How much of this is the tip of an iceberg? I have no idea. But in competitive environments, whether in college admissions or in recruiting, or on the tennis court, cheating will exist, always.

In more mundane college tennis news, Ohio State, who lost last night to Texas A&M, remains No. 1 this week in the ITA Men's Division I rankings, while North Carolina is in the top spot again in this week's ITA Women's team rankings. This week's ITF Top 10 are below, with previous week's ranking in parentheses. There were no new individual rankings this week.

Men’s ITA Division I Top 10 Team Rankings, March 12, 2019:
1. Ohio State (1)
2. Wake Forest (2)
3. Virginia (4)
4. Texas (3)
5. Stanford (7)
6. Baylor (5)
7. North Carolina (6)
8. Florida (9)
9. Columbia (8)
10. Mississippi State (10)

Women’s ITA Division I Top 10 Team Rankings, March 12, 2019
1. North Carolina (1)
2. Georgia (2)
3. Duke (3)
4. Vanderbilt (5)
5. Stanford (4)
6. UCLA (6)
7. South Carolina (9)
8. Texas (16)
9. Washington (7)
10. Kansas (12)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Update on ITF World Tennis Tour; No. 1 Ohio State Falls to No. 28 Texas A&M; Peter Bodo on UTR; Noah Rubin's New Project; Former ITF Junior Champion Kecmanovic Makes Round of 16 at BNP Paribas Open

The complaints about the ITF World Tennis Tour have already resulted in one change just three months into the new system, with qualifying draws at 15K and 25K events going from 24 to 32 beginning in April. Less than a week later, the ITF issued another statement, acknowledging the unpopularity of the changes, but defending their vision for the new tour and offering nothing specific to remedy the concerns.

Lisa Stone at Parenting Aces has been following the WTT developments closely, and she has put together a page with links to articles for those impacted by or interested in the many changes the ITF has implemented. Lisa has also spoken about the issues with former college players Jared Hiltzik(illinois) and Shelby Talcott(Iowa) on her podcast.  Geoff Grant, who as a guest on Sports Illustrated/Tennis Channel's Jon Wertheim's podcast brought the issue to the forefront late last year, has also recently written a letter to the USTA board urging them to take action. The USTA's Milly Huss was in Mobile for a day and a half to answer questions about the World Tennis Tour and to distribute the schedule for the National Closed and National Open events the USTA has added to distribute 15K wild cards this year. The USTA has also published a comprehensive list with all the 2019 wild card linkages, for American juniors, college players and others interested in pursuing professional tennis.  The USTA website is not always easy to navigate, but it you are looking for advice on how to negotiate the requirements for playing ITF events, this page is a good place to start.

A big upset in College Station tonight, with men's National Indoor champion and No. 1 ranked Ohio State falling to No. 28 Texas A&M.  Playing without No. 1 JJ Wolf, who is competing at the ATP Challenger in Drummondville Canada this week, the Buckeyes claimed the doubles point, but could not take one in singles before the clinch. The Aggies got wins from Noah Schachter at line 5, Valentin Vacherot at 3, Hady Habib at 2 and, with the clincher, Barnaby Smith at line 4.

As someone who has been following the growth of UTR for many years now, I often forget that others may not have the same level of familiarity with what it is and how it works. Recently Peter Bodo of tennis.com provided a valuable overview of UTR's origins, structure and goals. There is no question that UTR has made itself indispensable to college tennis recruiting, and that nearly all juniors can cite their rating down to the one/hundredth of a point, so if you aren't quite clear on what being a 12.44 means, Bodo provides a good introduction.

Not all ideas have to be quite as big as introducing a new way to rate the ability of every tennis player. 2015 NCAA singles finalist and current ATP pro Noah Rubin recently has begun a new social media campaign on Instagram that does nothing more than offer fellow professional players an opportunity to discuss personal issues that would not normally come up in a press conference. Although that sounds simple enough, it requires great empathy, trust, and tact to pull off. Rubin and his team have done that, creating a way for players to connect with fans as people, not just competitors.  See this article from Sports Illustrated for more on Rubin's project.

2016 ITF World Junior champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia received entry into the BNP Paribas Open as a lucky loser but the 19-year-old now finds himself in the round of 16 after defeating No. 30 seed Laslo Djere, also of Serbia, 6-2, 7-6(3).  Because he went in for Kevin Anderson, who was seeded, Kecmanovic received a first round bye, so this is his second win in the main draw. Kecmanovic lost to Marcos Giron in a third set tiebreaker in the final round of qualifying, but Giron got a slightly tougher draw. After beating Jeremy Chardy and No. 23 seed Alex De Minaur in the first two rounds, Giron played No. 13 seed Milos Raonic today, and lost in three sets, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Jennifer Brady lost to Ashleigh Barty[12] last night, leaving only Venus Williams and Danielle Collins (who plays top seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka later tonight) as the only American women still in the draw. Eighteen-year-old Bianca Andreescu continues her red-hot start to 2019, with the wild card having advanced to the round of 16.

With Giron's loss, the only American man still in contention for the singles title is No. 8 seed John Isner. Isner faces No. 32 seed Guido Pella of Argentina on Tuesday.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Mandlik Claims First World Tennis Tour Title in Carson; Sharma Sweeps Singles and Doubles in Mexico; Spring Team Championships Gallery

Elli Mandlik won her first singles title on the ITF World Tennis Tour in her first final today at the $15,000 tournament in Carson California. The unseeded 17-year-old, the daughter of four-time slam women's singles champion Hana Mandlikova, defeated No. 6 seed Carson Branstine of Canada 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. Trailing 3-1 in the final set, Mandlik got even two games later, broke the 18-year-old USC recruit at love at 4-4, then served out the match without any fuss. 

Mandlik's previous best result at an ITF pro event was a semifinal last summer at a $15,000 event in Romania. Now 20 in the ITF junior rankings, Mandlik did not play the Australian Open junior championships this year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her in the junior slams this summer. 

Another 17-year-old won the doubles title, with Virginia recruit Natasha Subhash partnering with former Georgia Tech star Rasheeda McAdoo in today's final. The No. 2 seeds defeated unseeded Nicole Mossmer(Stanford recruit) and Chanelle Van Nguyen(UCLA) 6-2, 6-4. It's the second ITF WTT title for both, with Subhash's previous title coming with Caty McNally and McAdoo's with Amy Zhu(Michigan), both last year.

At the $25,000+H WTT event in Irapuato Mexico, former Vanderbilt star Astra Sharma swept the titles. Last night, the 23-year-old Australian and her partner, former Georgia Tech star Paige Hourigan of New Zealand, who were unseeded, beat unseeded Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay and Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 4-6, 12-10 in the final. It's the fourth WTT doubles title for both Sharma and Hourigan, with those coming with different partners.

Sharma got the better of Cepede Royg again today in the singles title. The No. 3 seed, who graduated last spring, beat the second seeded Cepede Royg 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-3 in the two-and-a-half hours for her seventh WTT title.  Sharma will be solidly into the WTA Top 150 when those points are added.

I mentioned my Tennis Recruiting Network recap of this past week's USTA National Spring Team Championships yesterday. Added to TRN today is my photo gallery, featuring all 24 of the competitors in the two finals.

And here's a Los Angeles Times article on Marcos Giron (and Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime), with comments from his former coach at UCLA, Billy Martin.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Loeb, Aragone Receive Oracle US Tennis Awards; Giron Beats De Minaur at BNP Paribas Open; Mandlik, Branstine in Carson $15K Final; Chopra, Collins Take Grade 3 Titles in Costa Rica

The third annual Oracle US Tennis Awards were announced today, with Jamie Loeb and JC Aragone this 2019 recipients of the $100,000 grants. The previous four recipients of the awards, given to American collegiate players who wish to pursue a career on the professional tours, went to players who had competed in college the previous year, but that's not the case with either Loeb or Aragone. Loeb left North Carolina in 2015, after winning the NCAA title in her sophomore year, but the award wasn't established until 2017.  Aragone graduated from Virginia in 2017, but last year's award went to Chris Eubanks of Georgia Tech, who left school after his junior year. All four previous recipients--Eubanks, Francesca Di Lorenzo, Mackenzie McDonald and Danielle Collins--have seen their rankings improve, and most credit the grants, and Oracle tournament wild cards, as a significant reason for that. I spoke to Di Lorenzo in January about what the grant has meant to her in this Tennis Recruiting Network article.  Today's press release from Oracle is available here.

2014 NCAA champion Marcos Giron was also too early to receive an Oracle grant, but after two hip surgeries, the former UCLA Bruin is climbing the rankings without that help. After getting the best win of his career Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open over No. 37 Jeremy Chardy of France, Giron recorded an even better one today, beating  No. 23 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.  The 25-year-old Californian, ranked 217, is the lowest ranked man to reach the round of 32 in Indian Wells since 2011. Next up for Giron will be No. 13 seed Milos Raonic of Canada, who defeated Sam Querrey 7-6(1), 6-4.  Mackenzie McDonald won his match last night to reach the second round, while qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo will play top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia later tonight.

Eighteen-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada continued his impressive start to 2019, beating former junior rival Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the No. 9 seed 6-4, 6-2. Auger-Aliassime is now 4-0 against the 20-year-old Australian Open semifinalist, with the previous three wins coming in ITF junior competition. Both played his last junior match at the 2016 US Open, with Auger-Aliassime beating Tsitsipas in the semifinals, then going on to defeat Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia in the final.

The final is set for the $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour event in Carson California, with Elli Mandlik facing Carson Branstine of Canada. The 17-year-old daughter of Hana Mandlikova, who is unseeded, defeated No. 5 seed Rasheeda McAdoo 6-1, 6-4 to reach her first WTT singles final. Her opponent is 18-year Branstine, who defeated 14-year-old qualifier Ashlyn Krueger 6-0, 6-0. Branstine, who just signed with USC for this fall, will also be playing in her first WTT singles final.

At the ITF Grade 3 in Costa Rica, Americans claimed all four titles.  Keshav Chopra swept the boys titles, and 16-year-old Kylie Collins took the girls singles title, her first in ITF competition, although she has a long list of titles in doubles. Collins, the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 5 seed Melodie Collard of Canada 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(0) in the final. The 17-year-old Chopra, who won his first ITF junior singles title last fall, was the No. 7 seed this week. He defeated No. 6 seed Mark Mandlik (Elli's twin brother) 6-1, 6-3 in the final.  Chopra and Andres Martin, the No. 2 seeds, won the doubles title by defeating top seeds Ronan Jachuck and Alex Lee 6-3, 7-6(5) in the final.  No. 4 seeds Madison Sieg and Elaine Chervinsky won the girls doubles championship, beating No. 3 seeds Jada Bui of Canada and Charlotte Owensby 6-1, 2-6, 10-7 in the final.

At the Grade 3 in South Africa, Dakota Fordham won the doubles title, with partner Fanni Gecsek of Hungary. The No. 2 seeds defeated unseeded Xenia Lipiec of Poland and Matilda Mutavdzic of Great Britain 6-4, 5-7, 10-7 in the final.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Wrapping Up USTA National Spring Team Championships; Brady Reaches Third Round at BNP Paribas Open; Teens Mandlik, Krueger Advance at Carson $15K

The sixth edition of the USTA National Spring Team Championships is in the books, and I have the recap of the Firecrackers(girls) and Patriots(boys) titles at the Tennis Recruiting Network. This is a difficult tournament to cover until the final, with action on 48 courts simultaneously, but the participants all seem to enjoy being a part of a team, which is a rare opportunity in junior tennis. A photo gallery of all 24 players competing in the two finals will be coming in the next few days.

The early rounds of the BNP Paribas Open continued today in Indian Wells, with wild card Jennifer Brady advancing to the round of 32 with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 win over No. 19 seed Caroline Garcia of France. It's Brady's third win over Garcia already in 2019. Next up for the former UCLA star is No. 12 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia. With a few matches still remaining tonight, Brady is the only American woman to win today, with Lauren Davis, Amanda Anisimova, No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera dropping their second round matches today. Wild card Jessica Pegula and qualifier Christina McHale won first round matches late last night.  The women's draw is available here.

In men's first round action, Steve Johnson defeated Taylor Fritz 6-3, 6-3 and Jared Donaldson won his first match since last August, beating qualifier Tatsumo Ito of Japan 6-3, 7-5. The men's draw is here.

At the $15,000 World Tennis Tour event in Carson California, three Americans and one Canadian have advanced to Saturday's semifinals after both the second round and the quarterfinals were played today.  Fourteen-year-old qualifier Robin Montgomery, playing in her first pro-level tournament, defeated top seed Sophie Chang 7-6(6), 6-3 in the second round, but lost to 18-year-old Carson Branstine of Canada 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. Branstine, who switched from representing US to Canada a few years ago, has recently signed to play at USC this fall, where her sister Constance is a junior on the team.  Branstine will face 14-year-old qualifier Ashlyn Krueger, who, like Montgomery, is playing in her first pro tournament. Krueger defeated No. 8 seed Tori Kinard in the second round and wild card Natasha Subhash, a Virginia recruit, 0-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.

Former Georgia Tech star Rasheeda McAdoo, seeded No. 5, advanced over former Michigan standout Sarah Lee 6-2, 6-1 and will face 17-year-old Elli Mandlik, who beat No. 2 seed Hanna Chang 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

At the $25,000+H women's event in Mexico, qualifier Maria Sanchez(USC) defeated Whitney Osuigwe 7-6(6), 6-4 to reach the semifinals, where she'll take on No. 3 seed Astra Sharma(Vanderbilt) of Australia. Sharma took out qualifier Usue Arconada 6-4, 6-1.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Giron Earns First ATP Masters Win at BNP Paribas Open; Carson Grade 1 Acceptances; Osuigwe into $25K Quarterfinal in Mexico

The final two days of the USTA National Spring Team Championships don't provide much time to keep up with other tennis tournaments, but with the conclusion of the event yesterday, it's time to take a look at what has been happening this week elsewhere.

Most of the attention is focused on Indian Wells, of course, where the women's main draw at the BNP Paribas Open began Wednesday and the men's main draw began today.

So far seven US women have won their opening matches; the seeded players--Sloane Stephens[4], Serena Williams[10], Madison Keys[17] and Danielle Collins[25]--get first round byes. Wild cards Jennifer Brady, Amanda Anisimova, Lauren Davis and Madison Brengle advanced to the second round, as did Venus Williams, Sonya Kenin and Bernarda Pera, who beat qualifier Caty McNally.

In men's first round action, 2014 NCAA singles champion Marcos Giron posted his first ATP Masters main draw win today, beating veteran Jeremy Chardy of France 7-6(3), 7-6(1).  Giron, who received a wild card into qualifying and won both of his matches there in three sets, is assured of breaking into the ATP Top 200 for the first time with his performance this week. His win today over Chardy, ranked No. 37, is the best of his career.

Sam Querrey and qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo also picked up main draw wins today in Indian Wells.

The acceptances for the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships next month in Carson California have been released, with 17 Top 100 ITF girls and 15 Top 100 ITF boys currently in the field.  No. 6 Filip Jianu of Romania, who trains at IMG, is highest ranked player entered. Natsumi Kawaguchi of Japan, ranked 13, is the highest ranked girl, with defending champion Hurricane Tyra Black, No. 14, Adrienn Nagy of Hungary, No. 19 and Elli Mandlik, No. 20, the top girls in the field. The tournament begins April 1 and runs through April 7, and I will be covering it in person for the 15th consecutive year.

I hope the weather in California improves, because rain has been an issue in nearly every tournament or college match held there this year, including this week's ITF World Tennis Tour 15K in Carson.  The first round was just completed today, with the round of 16 and the quarterfinals both scheduled for Friday.  Most of the participants are US juniors and former collegians.

A bigger event is taking place in Mexico, at the $25K+Hospitality tournament for women in Irapuato.  Unseeded Whitney Osuigwe has advanced to the quarterfinals, as has qualifier Usue Arconada and former Vanderbilt star Astra Sharma[3] of Australia.

New rankings were released this week, with few changes in either the ITA or USTA versions. See Bobby Knight's update at College Tennis Today on the new rankings, and for more on ITA No. 1 North Carolina's win yesterday over Duke in the key women's match of the week.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Firecrackers Defeat Red Hawks for Girls USTA National Spring Team Title

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Mobile, AL--

Left to right: Kayla Wilkins, Maeve Thornton, Gianna Pielet, Violeta Martinez, Sydni Ratliff, Ibifuro Clement, Coach David Thornton

On Monday, the Firecrackers were a point away from a loss to the Devils in the quarterfinals of the USTA National Spring Team Championships. But Gianna Pielet saved that match point in a third set tiebreaker that gave her team the 4-3 victory, and two days later they were gold medal winners, beating the Red Hawks 5-2 on a clear and cold day at the Mobile Tennis Center.

"We were lucky to escape that one," said Firecrackers coach David Thornton. "I think that kind of pole vaulted us into another stratosphere in terms of the team bonding a little better. We came out strong in the next couple of matches and felt good about it."

In Wednesday's final, the Firecrackers swept the three doubles matches to take the early lead, with Sydni Ratliff and Violeta Martinez taking the 16s over the Red Hawks' DJ Bennett and Filippa Bruu-Syversen 8-4. The 14s clinched the point, with Maeve Thornton and Ibifuro Clement beating Ylan Duong and Jayna Clemens 8-5. The 18s went to a tiebreaker, with Pielet and Kayla Wilkins defeating Casie Wooten and Sophia Sassoli 8-7(4).

"Always, in a match like this, the doubles point is key," said Thornton, who coaches at the Knoxville Racquet Club. "You get that point and it kind of gets you some momentum, when you know you only have to get three matches."

Ratliff was a rock all week for the Firecrackers, going 8-0 in singles and doubles, and in the final she was the first off the court with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Bennett at the No. 1 16s position.  The Red Hawks got on the board with Bruu-Syversen, who had clinched her team's 4-3 semifinal victory over the Tornados Tuesday, defeating Martinez 6-3, 6-4 at the No. 2 16s position.  Pielet brought the Firecrackers to the brink of victory with a 7-6(3), 6-2 win over Wooten at No. 1 18s, with the three remaining singles matches all in third sets.

The drama was limited however, as Thornton had run out to a 5-1 lead in the third against Duong at No. 1 14s, and she closed out the Firecrackers title with a 0-6, 7-6(4), 6-1 victory.
Thornton, the daughter of the Firecrackers coach, said the responsibility to her team and her father's advice both played a role in her comeback.

"I remembered that I was competing for myself and for my team, so that gave me extra motivation," said the 14-year-old. "My dad helped me and my confidence went up after I started playing better. I started being more aggressive, hitting my shots, and it turned around."

Coaching a team to a national title is always rewarding, but having his daughter on the team made this one doubly so for Thornton.

"It feels special," said Thornton, who previously coached at Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt. "It's nice obviously, working with your daughter and being on the same team as your daughter. But just to be with these girls was a good time. It was nice to get to know them. It took me a while to get a feel for the group. Usually I need to corral the team a bit, to lead them. I felt with this team, I just needed to let them have their own pace. And that worked well."

After the award ceremony, Pielet reflected on that pivotal match in the quarterfinals, and the boost it gave her and the team.

"I really had no idea at the time that we were tied, but the crowd, all the people, it was really intense, and it was fun," said the 16-year-old from El Paso Texas, who cramped in her first match, but was able to recover when Sunday's second round was washed out due to rain. "I was glad to pull out that second match against Andrea (Cerdan) 7-6 in the third. It was really tight and it was a great match. This tournament's a really good experience to get used to the college atmosphere and I had a lot of fun."

The Red Hawks got their second point when Clemens posted a 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Clement at No. 2 14s, with Wilkins earning the Firecrackers fifth point with a 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 win over Sassoli at No. 2 18s to close out the tournament.

Red Hawks coach Nelo Phiri was pleased with the way her team competed throughout the final.

"They recognized that we were playing a tough team that was ready to do what they needed to do to win too," said Phiri, who was a graduate assistant at St. John's University prior to her current involvement with Fearless Growth. "They showed respect for their teammates and they grew from their previous matches. That was the main goal, growing from previous matches, reaching our potential while continuing to work as a team. Seeing them together after this loss, I know they'll keep a good relationship after this, and that's amazing."

Third place went to the Pirates, who beat the Tornados 4-3.

The girls sportsmanship award recipient was Katya Hersh of the Tornados.

Complete results can be found at the Tennis Link site.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Patriots Defeat Vikings to Claim Boys USTA National Spring Team Championships; Red Hawks and Firecrackers Meet Wednesday for Girls Title; McNally Qualifies at BNP Paribas Open

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Mobile, AL--

Patriots, left to right: Jaxson Lamb, Georgi Mavrodiev, Alvaro Pedraza,
Coach Will Brown, Anders Gibbons, Ben Shelton, Marko Mesarovic
Patriots coach William Brown called him Mr. Clinch, with no mystery attached to that nickname, as 14-year-old Jaxson Lamb earned the deciding win for his team for the second match in a row, this time with the gold medal at the USTA National Spring Championships on the line against the Vikings.

On Monday night Lamb won the last match on in a 4-3 semifinal victory over the Rams. On Tuesday, as dusk began to fall on another chilly day at the Mobile Tennis Center, Lamb wasn't under quite as much pressure, with another match still going, but again it was the 14-year-old from Tennessee who picked up the point that put his team over the top at the 14s No. 2 position, with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win over Santiago Muhala the fourth point in the Patriots 5-2 victory.

"There's just no quit in the kid," said Brown, who has coached a team in all six years it has been in existence. "There was an incredible amount of pressure last night and he came through, so I want to throw some credit his way."

Lamb is a veteran of the USTA Zonals, a team competition for younger sectional players, but this was his first opportunity to play in Mobile, and being thrown into the fire Monday in the deciding match was a memorable experience for him.

"It was really the team that pulled me through," Lamb said. "I felt like I was about to pass out at 5-all. If I didn't have the team there, who knows what would have happened."

Lamb admitted that dropping the second set in Tuesday's final was another test of his mental strength.

"I was concerned, but I had to go into the third set playing aggressive, playing on top of the baseline and see what would happen," Lamb said. "And I pulled it out."

The Patriots fell behind early, with the Vikings taking the doubles point. The Patriots took the 18s doubles, with Anders Gibbons and Georgi Mavrodiev beating Joshua Raab and Kieran Foster 8-4, but the Vikings took the 14s doubles, with Cooper Williams and Muhala beating Lamb and Marko Mesarovic 8-3. That left the 16s doubles to decide the point, with the Vikings Nicholas Heng and Alexander Chang beating Ben Shelton and Alvaro Pedraza 8-7(7) after losing a 5-0 and 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker and saving a match point at 6-7.

Brown has been happy with his team's play in doubles throughout the event, but admitted they were outplayed by the Vikings. Vikings coach Kevin Quay, whose team won all four doubles points in this event, was optimistic that would help deliver the victory.

"I felt very confidence in my guys and felt everything was even," Quay said. "I felt for sure we could get three or four of those points. But I think they did a really good job under pressure, winning the big points."

Brown said Gibbons quick 6-2, 6-3 win over Raab at No. 1 18s was the boost his team needed.

"I told him today, you're my number one player, you're my leader, and I need you today," Brown said. "He came out super focused, super sharp and he controlled it throughout. That was huge. I told him I needed him to set the tone for the match, and that is what the young man did."

The Patriots took a 2-1 lead when Shelton defeated Heng at No. 1 16s 7-6(4), 6-2, but just a minute later, the Vikings pulled even, with Williams beating Mesarovic 7-5, 7-6(3) at No. 1 14s. After Williams made it 2-2, Pedraza served for the match against Chang at No. 2 16s and he closed out 7-5, 6-4 victory, while Lamb had taken a 4-1 lead in the third set.  The Patriots' Mavrodiev had fought back to force a third set against Foster at No. 2 18s, and was leading 3-0 when Lamb broke Muhala for the 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory and the title. Mavrodiev went on to defeat Foster 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 for the last Patriots point.

Brown, who now runs his own academy in St. Louis, is convinced this event is a significant building block in a junior's development.

"This is my favorite week professionally," said Brown, who coached the Angels, a girls team, to the title in 2015. "This is the best thing I do all year long. I love it...they throw us in the fire, and every year I see this happen with these kids. They start making connections, they start jelling, and you see a lot of personal growth, and a lot of growth as tennis players. And I'll go so far as to say this. Every year I hear from kids after, how they go on to have more success after being a part of this event. That tells me that this is such a good event for junior development; they learn something."

Lamb agreed that reaching outside the typical sectional interaction is a highlight of the week.

"I love team events, and bonding with people you've never met before, it's a great experience," Lamb said. "Team events are amazing experiences for everyone. I've never gone home with a gold medal before. It feels awesome."

In the boys third place match, the Rams defeated the Seahawks 5-2.

Niraj Komatineni of the Raiders was the recipient of the boys sportsmanship award.

The girls semifinals were played Tuesday morning, with the Red Hawks beating the Tornados 4-3 and the Firecrackers beating the Pirates 5-2.

The Firecrackers took the doubles point, with Sydni Ratliff and Violeta Martinez winning the 16s over Carrie Beckman and Zoe Hammond 8-4 and Maeve Thornton and Ibifuro Clement winning the 14s over Kinaa Graham and Tatum Evans 8-6.  The Pirates won at 18s doubles, with Anna Campana and Alexis Blokhina beating Gianna Pielet and Kayla Wilkins 8-7(3).

The Pirates' Zoe Hammond was unable to compete in the No. 2 16 singles after her wrist injury flared up, with local junior Kida Ferrari stepping in as an alternate. The Pirates pulled even with Graham's 7-5, 6-1 win over Maeve Thornton at No. 1 14s, but they could not get any closer. Ratliff defeated Beckman at No. 1 16s 7-5, 6-3 to make it 2-1, Pielet beat Campana 6-2, 6-4 to give the Firecrackers a 3-1 lead and Martinez clinched the finals berth with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Ferrari at No. 2 16s.

"It was great to get the doubles point; in a match like this, the doubles point makes all the difference," said Firecrackers coach David Thornton, whose daughter Maeve plays No. 1 14s on the team. "And in singles, both girls in the 16s are doing a great job so far, I don't think they've lost a match since they've got here."

Thornton, who coaches at the Knoxville Racquet Club, finished third in the event last year, his first as a coach. "It's exciting. It's not every day you play for a national championship. It's fun playing in a team environment and I think the whole team is excited and ready to roll."
The Redhawks win over the Tornados was a tense one, with Filippa Bruu-Syversen beating Sankavi Gownder 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 at No. 2 16s in the last match on.

The Red Hawks claimed the doubles point, with wins on the 14s and 16s courts. The Tornados took 18s doubles, with Fiona Crawley and Katya Hersh beating Casie Wooten and Sophia Sassoli 8-0, but DJ Bennett and Bruu-Syversen beating Makenna Thiel at Gownder 8-3 to leave the 14s as the deciding match. Red Hawks Ylan Duong and Jayna Clemens beat Catherine Walker and Morgan Pyrz 8-4 to take the 1-0 lead heading into singles.

The Tornados' Crawley beat Wooten 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 18s to tie the match at 1, but the Red Hawks regained the lead with Bennett's 6-3, 6-3 win over Thiel at No. 1 16s. They extended that lead to 3-1 with Clemens beating Pyrz 7-5, 6-2 at No. 2 14s, but the Tornados fought back, with Hersh beating Sassoli at No. 2 18s 7-5, 6-3 and Walker beating Duong at No. 1 14s 6-1, 0-6, 6-3.

That's when Bruu-Syversend and Gownder took center stage, with the two left-handers midway through the third set on serve when Walker tied it up. Very little separated the two in the final few games, but serving to stay in the match at 4-5 in the third, Gownder played two nervous points at 30-all and that was enough to propel Bruu-Syversend and the Red Hawks into the final.

Red Hawks coach Nelo Phiri didn't want to overwhelm her player in such a high-stress position.

"In that situation, you want to keep it simple, especially when you see them fighting," said Phiri, who was a graduate assistant at St. Johns University prior to her current involvement with Fearless Growth. "It's back to basics, the combos they already work on. I tell them to control their breathing, because a lot is at stake. You're under pressure, so I give them a few ways to manage the pressure. At those times, it's mental. They all have skill, this tournament is full of skill, but it's who's going to handle that pressure best that matters."

The girls final is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Mobile Tennis Center, along with the third place match between the Pirates and the Tornados and the six other fourth round matches.

For complete team results, or for individual player results, see the TennisLink site.

Seventeen-year-old wild card Caty McNally qualified for the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, coming back to beat former WTA Top 10 player Timea Bacsinszky[19] of Switzerland 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 this evening. McNally beat No. 8 seed Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic from a set down on Monday. Christina McHale is the only other US woman to qualify for the main draw.

Ohio State junior JJ Wolf won his first round match in the men's qualifying today, with the wild card defeating No. 14 seed Marco Trungelliti of Argentina 6-4, 6-1.  Wolf will play No. 3 seed Ugo Humbert of France next. Humbert, like Wolf, is 20 years old.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Patriots Win Thriller to Advance to Boys Final Against Vikings at USTA National Spring Team Championships, Girls Semifinals Set; McNally Advances at BNP Paribas Qualifying

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Mobile, AL--

The Spring in the USTA National Spring Championships was nowhere to be found Monday, with temperatures staying in the 40s all day and a breeze adding to the misery of the spectators. But blankets, hats and down jackets, as well as warming tents took some of the edge off, and the heat of competition also provided a distraction from the wintry conditions.

The boys completed their quarterfinal matches Monday morning, then returned to the courts in the afternoon for the semifinals. The Vikings clinched their place in the final before darkness fell, beating the Seahawks but the Patriots finished their 4-3 win over the Rams under the lights at the Mobile Tennis Center.

The Patriots took the doubles point, with Anders Gibbons and Georgi Mavrodiev earning a 8-0 decision at 18s over Leighton Allen and Jameson Corsillo and Marko Mesarovic and Jaxson Lamb taking the 14s 8-6 over Landon Ardila and Mason Nguyen. The Rams won the 16s doubles, with Teddy Truwit and Frank Thompson beating Ben Shelton and Alvaro Pedraza 8-5.

The Rams tied the match up quickly, with Allen handing Gibbons his first loss of the tournament at No. 1 18s 6-1, 6-0. The Patriots got the next two points for a 3-1 lead, with Mavrodiev beating Corsillo at No. 2 18s 6-3, 6-2 and Shelton beating Truwit at No. 1 16s 6-2, 6-3.  Thompson took out Pedraza 7-5, 7-6(4) at No. 2 16s to make it 3-2 with the 14s, both in third sets, serving as the deciding matches. Ardila brought the Rams even with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Mesarovic at No. 1, while Lamb and Nguyen were locked in a battle at No. 2.  Nguyen saved three match points serving at 4-5 in the third, with seemingly every point turning into a lengthy rally featuring drive forehands, moonballs, drop shots, slices and down the line backhands, while their teammates yelled encouragement from the sidelines. Lamb held to make it 6-5, once again putting the pressure on Nguyen, and this time Nguyen couldn't hold off Lamb. After two overrules of Nguyen by the roving umpire in the final game, Lamb earned another match point, and he stroked a backhand winner to earn a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory.

Patriots coach William Brown has coached in all six of the National Spring Team Championships in Mobile, finishing third with boys in the first year and taking the title with a girls team the following year. Yet he couldn't remember being involved in a more exciting match than today's semifinal.

"I tell you what, I've never been a part of a match like that," said Brown, who has his own private academy in St. Louis. "Oh my gosh."

Brown said there are occasions when he'll give players advice on a particular strategy or tactic, but late in the third set of the last match on is not one of them.

"There's a couple of points throughout the match when you'll say, hey, think about this, maybe step in, be a little more aggressive on the second serve, things like that, but for the most part, the tighter it gets, the simpler I feel like I need to be," Brown said. "They are racing all over the place, but then, so am I. Maybe I'm keeping it simple for myself."

Brown said this win was particularly satisfying given his loss to the Rams in the semifinals in the first year of the event, when he was also coaching the Patriots.

"For me, selfishly, personally, this is kind of rewarding," Brown said. "These guys (his team) knew it too, because they know some of the players from that first year. And I communicate with half of the team from that first year still, text and talk occasionally, so it made it fun and interesting that way."

Kevin Quay, the Vikings coach, doesn't have that same history with the tournament, although he had coached at the 12s National Spring Team event in Tucson, now in its third year.  But in his first year, Quay has led his team to the final, and although their semifinal win finished as a 4-3 score, they had earned their fourth point when the Seahawks had just one point.

"For the third match in a row we won the doubles," said Quay, who coaches at Isla Del Sol Country Club in St. Petersburg Florida. "But this morning, we were behind in five of the six singles matches and had to come back. In this match, we were ahead in all the singles matches and were able to close it out, getting the three matches we needed."

The Vikings took the doubles point with 16s Nicholas Heng and Alexander Chang beating Alex Finkelstein and Jacob Lowen 8-6 and 14s Cooper Williams and Santiago Muhala beating Dylan Charlap and Lucas Pak 8-3.  The Seahawks won the 18s doubles with Alexander Richards and Holden Koons beating Joshua Raab and Kieran Foster 8-6.

Muhala made it 2-0 Vikings with a 7-5, 6-0 decision over Pak at No. 2 14s, and Foster gave the Vikings a 3-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Koons at No. 2 18s. Charlap got the Seahawks on the board with a 7-6(2), 7-6(5) win over Williams at No. 1 14s, but Heng clinched for the Seahawks with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Finkelstein at No. 1 16s.  All matches are played out in this format, and the Seahawks took the final two matches in three sets, with Richards beating Raab 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 at No. 18s and Lowen beating Chang 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 at No. 2 16s.

"This has been a great experience," Quay said. "Unbelievably well run tournament. I'm so impressed. They are very good with the players, and the coaches are treated very well."
Three of the girls quarterfinals were decided by 4-3 scores, with the Redhawks beating the Leopards (CORRECTION: due to a reporting error, the Redhawks win over the Leopards was actually 5-2 not 4-3), the Pirates beating the Bengals and the Firecrackers beating the Devils by that score.  The Firecrackers' win over the Devils couldn't have been closer, with Gianna Pielet saving a match point in the third set tiebreaker that decided which team would advance to the semifinals. Pielet defeated the Devils Andrea Cerdan 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) at No. 1 18s, with the Firecrackers set to take on the Pirates in Tuesday's semifinals.  The Redhawks will play the Tornados, who beat the Diamondbacks 5-2.

Complete results from today's second and third round matches can be found at the TennisLink site.

Women's qualifying has begun at the BNP Parbias Open in Indian Wells, and wild card Caty McNally has picked up her fourth WTA Top 100 win, beating No. 90 Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic 2-6, 7-6(6), 7-5 today. McNally ended up needing nine match points, eight of them in the final game, before she finally broke Pliskova to end the two hour and 37 minute contest. The 17-year-old will face No. 19 seed Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland in the next round.

The BNP Paribas women's main draw is also out, which has, prior to qualifying, 15 US women competing for the title.

The men's qualifying draw is out, with Ohio State junior JJ Wolf among the nine US men looking to earn a place in the main draw.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Expected Rain Postpones Completion of USTA Spring Team Quarterfinals; Emory Women Three-peat at D-III Indoors; Krug Claims G4 Title in El Salvador; UCLA's Nanda and De Villiers Capture Pacific Coast Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Mobile AL--

Rain halted play Sunday at the Mobile Tennis Center
The Mobile area meteorologists were unfortunately correct in their predictions for Sunday, which kept the quarterfinals of the USTA National Spring Team Championships from being completed, or in the case of the girls, from being started.

The boys began at 9 a.m., but experienced a delay shortly after doubles began. The expected storm was still a few hours away, allowing matches to get well into singles play before it arrived, but none of the eight matches, four main draw and four consolation draw, were finished when rain ended play for the day shortly after noon. The Patriots did manage to earn their fourth point from the Cowboys, taking the doubles point and getting wins from 18s No. 1 Anders Gibbons, 16s No. 1 Ben Shelton and 14s No. 2 Jaxson Lamb, so they have advanced to the semifinals, but two other matches are still in progress.

The teams who claimed the doubles point are the Patriots, Falcons, Seahawks and Vikings.

The girls did not take the court for their quarterfinal matches, which are now scheduled for Monday at 10:00 a.m. The teams reaching the quarterfinals with wins Saturday night are Leopards, Redhawks, Tornados, Diamondbacks, Bengals, Pirates, Devils and Firecrackers.

The boys will complete their quarterfinal matches beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, and are scheduled to play their semifinal round (or third round) at 2 p.m. Monday. A complicating factor in the next few days is the cold coming behind these storms, with high temperatures to be in the low to mid 50s, and night and early morning temperatures as low as 32. The normal high this time of year in Mobile is 68, with the normal low 47.

Results are posted throughout the day at the TennisLink site and any matches completed from today are posted.

The Emory women have claimed their third consecutive ITA Division III National Team Indoor title, with the second-seeded Eagles beating top seed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 5-3 today in Nashville. With the victory, Emory avenged its loss to CMS in the NCAA final last year. Rhiannon Potkey has the recap of today's final at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Jennifer Brady lost 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the Oracle Challenger Series WTA 125 in Indian Wells, after holding a match point against No. 14 seed Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. The former UCLA star has already been granted a wild card into the main draw at next week's BNP Paribas Open, so Lauren Davis received the final Oracle Challenger Series wild card based on results in previous tournaments in the series.  Top seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain won the men's ATP 125 Challenger in Indian Wells, defeating No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

Thirteen-year-old Ava Krug won her second ITF Junior Circuit title this weekend at the Grade 4 in El Salvador. Krug, the No. 8 seed, defeated 16-year-old Maria Rizzolo, the No. 7 seed, 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-1 in the all-American final. Krug had previously won a Grade 5 last fall in Anguilla.
The boys champion is Ecuador's Juan Sebastian Zabala Vargas, the No. 9 seed, who also won last week's Grade 4 in Guatemala. He also won the doubles title, with Venezuela's Lorenzo Claverie, when Alex and John Bernard gave them a walkover in the final.

At the 130th Pacific Coast Doubles Championships in La Jolla California, UCLA freshman Govind Nanda and UCLA assistant coach Rikus De Villiers took the title, beating USC's Brandon Holt and Riley Smith 7-6, 4-6, 10-4 in the final. Both teams were seeded No. 1.  For more on the final, see this recap from tournament press aide Fred Sidhu.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Forecast Dictates Early Start for USTA Spring Team Nationals; Top Seeds CMS and Emory Reach D-III Women's Indoor Final; Brady Advances to Indian Wells WTA 125 Final

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Mobile, AL--

The day before the start of the USTA National Spring Team Championships is usually an opportunity for practice and for the newly formed teams, selected the evening before, to get to know their coach and each other.

Now in its sixth year at the Mobile Tennis Center, the tournament has had its share of rain delays, and with storms in the forecast for Sunday, the decision was made to begin play on Saturday, with the eight boys matches beginning at 2:30 p.m., and the eight girls following around 6:00 p.m.

Saturday night is usually reserved for the opening banquet, held at the large convention hotel in downtown Mobile. But because the tournament coincides with Mardi Gras, one of the biggest events of the year in the city, the hotel was not available, so the draw ceremony was held at the Tennis Center, with a catered lunch and the same DJs and master of ceremonies that usually make the event such a professional production.  Mardi Gras was the theme, and some of the teams adopted the hats, beads and glasses as they were introduced to each other prior to having their group photo taking. After the traditional high fives with the Mobile Azalea Trail Maids for good luck, the boys had a couple of hours to prepare for their opening matches, which consist of three doubles matches for one point and six singles matches for one point each.

The waterfall method of selecting teams by USTA rankings was developed in an attempt to make the teams as evenly matched as possible and that appeared to have been achieved in the boys matches, five of which were decided 4-3.  The Falcons defeated the Panthers by that score, despite losing the doubles point, and were one of three teams to overcome that 1-0 deficit to take a 4-3 decision.

Falcons coach Ron Dyson, who took the Eagles to the boys final last year, was able to re-focus his team after the loss of the doubles point.

"When a kid loses one point, they take it as the end of the world," said Dyson, who is coaching in the event for the second straight year. "You tell them, yes, you're playing for your ranking, but you are also playing for your team, and your team is going to pick you up if need be, and that gets you a 4-3 win."

Dyson admitted that not having much time to get to know each other was a challenge, but the wet courts they encountered at the 9 a.m. practice helped with that.

"That is a little tougher, because you're trying to get the kids to bond a little bit, get some camaraderie going, but the good thing today was we had team squeegeeing," Dyson said. "So they got out on the court and got to talk to each other and learn a little bit about each other. Some of them hadn't even played outdoors yet, so they are adjusting to all these things."

The Falcons got wins from Evin McDonald at No. 1 18s, Azuma Visaya at No. 2 16s and Brett Keeling at No. 2 14s to make it 3-3, with No. 1 16 Carter Morgan clinching the win with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Ekansh Kumar in the last match on.

Complete scores for all matches, including the late girls matches, can be found at the TennisLink site. Results are also available by player name.

The women's ITA Division III Team Indoor Championships conclude on Sunday, with No. 2 seed Emory going for its third straight title against top seed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.  Emory defeated No. 3 seed Pomona-Pitzer 9-0, while CMS swept the doubles and went on to claim a 7-2 win over No. 5 seed Chicago. The final is scheduled for noon Sunday, with live scoring and live streaming links available at Slam Tennis.

Jennifer Brady has advanced to the final of the Oracle Challenger Series WTA 125 in Indian Wells, with the former UCLA star defeating No. 11 seed Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-3 in today's semifinal. Brady, 23, who has yet to drop a set this week while beating three seeded players, will face No. 14 seed Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland for the title. Golubic defeated top seed and WTA No. 18 Qiang Wang of China 7-5, 6-1 in today's semifinals.

The men's ATP Challenger final in Indian Wells will feature top seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain against No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

In the women's doubles final played today, Evgeniya Rodina of Russia and Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic defeated defending champions Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium and Taylor Townsend 7-6(7), 6-4, with both teams unseeded.

The wild card team of Marcos Giron(UCLA) and JC Aragone(Virginia) claimed the men's doubles title in Indian Wells, beating No. 4 seeds Darian King of Barbados and Hunter Reese(Tennessee) 6-4, 6-4 in the final. It's Giron's second doubles Challenger title of his career, both this year, while it's the first for Aragone at that level.

Another team of former collegians won the ATP 500 Dubai tournament's doubles title today, with No. 4 seeds Rajeev Ram(Illinois) and Joe Salisbury(Memphis) of Great Britain beating unseeded Ben Mclachlan(Cal) of Japan and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany 7-6(4), 6-3 in the final. It's the first title as a team for Ram and Salisbury, who did not drop a set all week.

At the WTA event in Acapulco, Sonya Kenin, the No. 5 seed, lost in the final to unseeded Yafan Wang of China 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.

No. 3 seeds Giuliana Olmos(USC) of Mexico and Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State) lost in the women's doubles final in Acapulco to unseeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Saisai Zheng of China 6-1, 6-2.