Thursday, September 24, 2020

Thirteen-year-old Fruhvirtova Receives French Open Junior Wild Card; 10 US Men, 18 US Women in Singles Main Draws; Ginsberg's Tennis Connection

The wild cards for the French Open Junior Championships were released today by the French Tennis Federation, with 15 of the 16 going to French juniors. The one exception was a wild card granted to 13-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, who won the only ITF junior tournament she's played since becoming eligible in April, earlier this month at the Grade 2 in Egypt. It's not unheard of for a player outside of France to receive a wild card--Alexandra Eala, who won Les Petits As in 2018 received a qualifying wild card to the French Open that year, but it is unusual. Whether she would have received a wild card without her performance in Czech exhibitions this summer, which included a win over WTA No. 62 Katerina Siniakova, is hard to say, but it certainly bolstered her case.

ITF Junior World No. 5 Robin Montgomery has withdrawn, leaving four US girls and four US boys in the French Open junior fields.

Roland Garros girls singles wild cards:

Océane Babel (FRA)                    

Flavie Brugnone (FRA)                                

Brenda Fruhvirtova (CZE)                          

Sarah Iliev (FRA)                       

Anaëlle Leclercq (FRA)                               

Laia Petretic (FRA)                   

Shanice Roignot (FRA)                       

Winner of the Roland-Garros Wild Card Series by OPPO  

Roland Garros boys singles wild cards:

Sean Cuenin (FRA)                     

Arthur Fils (FRA)                                 

Axel Garcian (FRA) 

Antoine Ghibaudo (FRA)                               

Mehdi Sadaoui (FRA)                               

Luca Van Assche (FRA)                                           

Max Westphal (FRA)

Winner of the Roland-Garros Wild Card Series by OPPO

The men's and women's doubles wild cards were also announced, with all players from France, except Leylah Fernandez of Canada, last year's girls champion, who received entry with fellow 18-year-old Diane Parry. The list of wild cards can be found here.

Day four of French Open qualifying didn't go well for the Americans on the schedule, with top seed Ann Li, No. 3 seed Caty McNally and Asia Muhammad all losing their second round matches. Varvara Lepchenko, who beat Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine 6-2, 7-5, is the only American woman remaining with a chance to reach the main draw. The 34-year-old will take on 2015 US Open girls champion Dalma Galfi of Hungary in Friday's third and final round

Ulises Blanch was the only American man who played his third round match Thursday. He lost to No. 2 seed Pedro Martinez of Spain 6-2, 6-3, but will take home 25,600 for making the third round of qualifying.

The three remaining American men will play on Friday, with Michael Mmoh playing Renzo Olivo of Argentina, Sebastian Korda facing No. 7 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia and Jack Sock taking on Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia. 

Two former college players will be making their slam main draw debuts at Roland Garros after picking up wins today. Former Illinois star Aleks Vukic of Australia defeated former Michigan star Jason Jung 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to qualify, while former USC standout Emilio Gomez of Ecuador saved two match points and beat Dmitry Popko of Kazakhstan 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(1) to earn his place in the main draw. Gomez, who had taken out top seed Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil in the first round, qualified for Roland Garros for the first time 30 years after his father Andres won the men's singles title in Paris over Andre Agassi. 

The qualifying draws can be found here.

The men's and women's singles draws were released today, with 18 US women and 10 US men competing for the title. 

I'll have the first round matchups for them this weekend, but these are the women: Cici Bellis, Bernarda Pera, Amanda Anisimova[25], Coco Gauff, Shelby Rogers, Lauren Davis, Venus Williams, Serena Williams[6], Kristie Ahn, Jessica Pegula, Jennifer Brady[21], Danielle Collins, Christina McHale, Sofia Kenin[4], Madison Keys[12], Alison Riske[19], Sloane Stephens[29], Madison Brengle.  Bellis and Bernard will play each other, with Ahn drawing Serena in the first round for the second straight slam. Simona Halep, who did not play the US Open, is the top women's seed.

The men are Tennys Sandgren, Frances Tiafoe, Marcos Giron, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Taylor Fritz[27], Tommy Paul, Reilly Opelka, John Isner[21], Mackenzie McDonald. Novak Djokovic is the top men's seed.

As the country mourns the death last week of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, hundreds of stories of her impact have been recounted, including this one, from the New York Times, involving tennis in the pre-Title IX era. Abbe Seldin, a high school girl from New Jersey, had no girls tennis team to compete on, so she sued, with Ginsberg as one of her attorneys, to join the boys team. Although the lawsuit was decided in her favor, a change in coaches and less than a warm welcome from the boys on the team resulted in Seldin never playing on the team, but she had earned the opportunity thanks in no small part to Ginsberg.

This is the second time in two days I've referenced Roberta Alison Baumgardner, who played on the men's team at Alabama in the 1960s, but the opening of the article on Seldin struck me as similar to what I learned about Alison.
Abbe Seldin didn’t know or care too much about gender discrimination or equal rights or other weighty subjects.

She just wanted to play tennis.
That was the same impression I got from talking to those who knew Alison; the chance to compete was the motive, not any desire to pursue the cause of equal opportunity for all women. Alison had the good fortune to have a supportive coach, who had in fact recruited her to join the team, and accepting teammates, although she certainly encountered her share of sexism from opposing teams. For more on Alison Baumgardner, see my article for Tennis Recruiting Network.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Four US Men Advance to Final Round of Qualifying at French Open; ITA Announces Women's Hall of Fame Inductees; Iowa Rejects Attempts to Restore Men's Tennis; Stanford's Gould Talks College Tennis

Four of the five American men remaining of the 13 that began qualifying at Roland Garros, won their second round matches today to advance to the final round Thursday or Friday.

2016 Kalamazoo champion Michael Mmoh advanced when Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic retired trailing 7-6(3), 3-1; 19-year-old Sebastian Korda defeated former UNC star Brayden Schnur of Canada 6-4, 6-4; Jack Sock came back to win a tight one with No. 24 seed Facundo Bagnis of Argentina 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(1), and Ulises Blanch beat Gian Marco Moroni of Italy 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-3. This is just the third slam of the 22-year-old Blanch's career, and he had lost his first match in qualifying at the US Open in 2018 and dropped a five-set battle in the first round of the just-completed US Open, but he has plenty of experience on red clay, with a substantial amount of his development taking place in Argentina.

Blanch is the only one of the four Americans on Thursday's schedule; he plays No. 2 seed Pedro Martinez of Spain for a place in the main draw. Mmoh will play Renzo Olivo of Argentina; Korda faces No. 7 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia and Sock takes on Andrey Kuznetsov, also from Russia. 

Three of the four US women playing their first round qualifying matches advanced, with No. 3 seed Caty McNally, Asia Muhammad and Varvara Lepchenko picking up victories. They will join Ann Li[1] and Francesca Di Lorenzo, who won matches yesterday, in Thursday's second round. Li plays Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia; Muhammad faces Martina Trevisan of Italy; McNally plays former Pepperdine star Mayar Sherif of Egypt; Di Lorenzo takes on Elena-Gabriela Ruse of Romania and Lepchenko faces Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine. 

The qualifying draws are here. The main draw is scheduled for release on Thursday at noon Eastern time. 

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association announced its recent class of inductees in the Women's Collegiate Hall of Fame yesterday, with former Georgia star Lisa Spain Short, former Northwestern star Diane Donnelly Stone, former USC star AnnaMaria Fernandez-Ruffels and former University of Indiana women's coach Lin Loring. Donnelly Stone is the daughter of longtime Kalamazoo National Championship volunteers Bud and Carol Donnelly, and the aunt of USTA Winter Nationals 14s Champion Susanna Maltby.  

They will be honored at the induction ceremony in Williamsburg Virginia on September 18, 2021.  

I hope that Alabama's Roberta Alison Baumgardner, who I wrote about this spring for the Tennis Recruiting Network, will be considered for posthumous indiction into the Collegiate Hall of Fame when the next class is selected.

When the Big Ten decided to play football this fall, after previously postponing the season, there was hope that the decision to drop four sports, including men's tennis, would be re-examined, but that appears to have been dashed with this statement. The student-athletes affected have been critical of the administration's handling of the cuts, according to this The Gazette article, with men's tennis Jason Kerst saying: 

“We have received no adequate follow-up since August 21st, The decision itself is very disappointing, but the lack of communication and transparency from our own administration is probably the most frustrating.”

Meanwhile, a Save Iowa Sports fundraising campaign has been launched, with 1.65 million pledged in the early going. 

That number may sound impressive, but one of many things I learned from a recent conversation that Andy Katz had with former Stanford men's tennis coach Dick Gould, is that that would be nowhere near enough to convince the athletic department to save a sport.

In this wide-ranging interview in the USTA ITA College Tennis Chats series, embedded below, Gould says it took him years to understand the necessity for the endowments and decades to work toward financial independence for Stanford tennis. Gould talks about how tennis has changed, where American tennis might be heading, the prevalence of international players in Division I, how he connected the Palo Alto community to the tennis programs, and how a coach should be dividing his working hours between his team and outreach. All in all, it's an interesting behind the scenes look at what is necessary to build a successful Division I program.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Updated Schedule for 2020 ITF USA Junior Circuit and USTA Pro Circuit Events; Just Two Wins for Americans Today in French Open Qualifying; Week 1 ITA Fall Tour Winners

I've received an update today from the USTA on the calendar of events in the United States for the rest of the year for the ITF Junior Circuit and USTA Pro Circuit. Obviously, this is tentative, with changes in health and safety protocols, whether by governments, governing bodies or facilities themselves, always possible.

I also want to make sure to point out that the USTA told me, counter to what the Tyler Texas women's tournament stated on their website yesterday, that there will not be an Australian Open Wild Card Challenge this fall for the 2021 tournament in Melbourne. 

I'm excited about the news that the Orange Bowl 16s and 18s is on for December, and will be a Grade A. The Eddie Herr website, which had initially given September 18 as the decision date for its tournament, has now pushed that back to September 30. 

ITF Junior Circuit:

Oct 17-23 J4 Atlanta 

Oct 24-30 J4 Lexington - relocated to USTA National Campus (Orlando)

Oct 31- Nov 5 J4 Boca Raton - relocated to Florida Tennis Center (Daytona Beach)

Nov 30- Dec 6 J1 Bradenton Eddie Herr - details still TBD

Dec 6 - 13 GA Plantation Orange Bowl: 

B/G 16s and 18s scheduled as planned

MDS/QS draws reduced to 48, MDD reduced to 24

Will remain a Grade A tournament

Pro Circuit, Men's and Women's Events:

Week of:

October 19: M15 Vero Beach FL,  W80 Macon GA 

October 26: M25 Harlingen TX,  W80 Tyler TX

November 2: M15 Fayetteville AR, W100 Charleston SC

November 9: ATP 80 Cary NC

November 16: ATP 80 National Campus Orlando

Not much to report from Roland Garros qualifying today, with just two Americans picking up victories. Ann Li, the top seed, defeated Indy de Vroome of the Netherlands 7-6(6), 6-4 and No. 10 seed Francesca Di Lorenzo beat Marina Melnikova of Russia 6-4, 6-0 to advance to the second round. Five other US women lost today, with four others playing their first round matches on Wednesday: Asia Muhammad, Varvara Lepchenko, Caty McNally[3] and Allie Kiick.

Both Thai Kwiatkowski and Bradley Klahn[22] lost their first round matches today, meaning five US men have advanced to Wednesday's second round.

Michael Mmoh will play Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, Sebastian Korda plays former North Carolina star Brayden Schnur of Canada, Jack Sock faces No. 24 seed Facundo Bagnis of Argentina, Ulises Blanch takes on Gian Marco Moroni of Italy and Christopher Eubanks(Georgia Tech) plays Steven Diez of Canada. 

Qualifying draws are here.

Week 1 of the ITA Fall Tour by UTR is in the books, with the names of the champions at the 11 events across the country below. The ITA has posted its recap here, which includes an update on the top two seeds at the Nebraska-Kearney tournament having to be withdrawn due to a Covid-19 situation. Registration is open for many of the events scheduled for October.

Aurora: Men, Michael Choi; Women, Belen Nevenhoven

Charlottesville: Men, Alex Kiefer; Women, Anna Rogers

Indianapolis: Men, JJ Tracy; Women, Carrie Beckman

Alpharetta: Men, Andres Martin; Women, Paula Dougherty

Stillwater: Men, Etienne Donnet; Women, Liv Hovde(pictured above)

Salt Lake City: Men, Lawrence Sciglitano; Women, Anastasia Goncharova

Medina: Men, Connor Johnston; Women, Irina Cantos Siemers

Lawrence: Women only, Tiffany Lagarde

Lexington: Men only, Maxwell Benson

Kearney: Men, Julian Kenzlers; Women, Natsumi Kurahashi

College Station: Men, Anish Sriniketh; Women, Tatiana Makarova

Monday, September 21, 2020

Five US Men Advance to Second Round Qualifying at French Open, 11 Americans in Women's Qualifying Draw; ITF Junior Grade 4 Moving to Orlando; Sieg Sweeps Grade 5 Titles in Hungary; Women's $80K on in Texas

American men went 5-6 on the first day of qualifying at the French Open, with Ulises Blanch, Michael Mmoh, Christopher Eubanks, Jack Sock and Sebastian Korda earning victories today.

Blanch defeated French wild card Rayane Roumane 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; Mmoh beat Alex Bolt of Australia 6-4, 6-3; Eubanks defeated French wild card Geoffrey Blancaneaux 6-2, 7-5; Sock downed Mikhail Torpegaard of Denmark 6-2, 6-4 and Korda defeated Mitchell Krueger 6-1, 6-4. 

The two remaining American men in qualifying, Bradley Klahn and Thai Kwiatkowski, are on Tuesday's schedule

The men's qualifying draw, with all results, is here

The women's qualifying begins on Tuesday, with 11 Americans looking for a one of the 12 qualifying spots in the main draw. Ann Li, who plays Indy De Vroome of the Netherlands in the first round, is the top seed in qualifying, with Caty McNally, who plays Pemra Ozgen of Turkey, the No. 3 seed. Five other US women are seeded: Former Ohio State star Francesca Di Lorenzo[10] plays Marina Melnikova of Russia; Caroline Dolehide faces Mayo Hibi of Japan; Usue Arconada[18] plays Martina Di Giuseppi of Italy; Sachia Vickery[21] faces Martina Trevisan of Italy and Whitney Osuigwe[23] faces wild card Carole Monnet of France. 

Robin Anderson(UCLA) will play No. 20 seed Xinyu Wang of China; Asia Muhammad faces French wild card Audrey Albie, Varvara Lephchenko plays Xiaodi You of China and Allie Kiick faces Julia Grabher of Austria.

McNally, Lepchenko, Muhammad and Kiick are not on Tuesday's schedule.

Roland Garros announced today that one woman who was set to play qualifying tested positive for the Covid-19 virus and was withdrawn from the field. The name of the player has not been released. 

The women's qualifying draw, which is for 96 players, not a 128 draw like the men's, is here

I understand that the ITF Junior Grade 4 that was scheduled to take place in Lexington South Carolina the week of October 26th will move to Orlando Florida, due to Covid-19 concerns at the Lexington facility. The ITF Junior Circuit calendar still is showing the name as Lexington, but the ITF tournament fact sheet now has the USTA's Alex Cercone as the tournament director. 

Normally players in the Top 60 like Madison Sieg and Ellie Coleman don't bother with Grade 5 tournaments, but they played one in Hungary last week (possible that it was downgraded due to the pandemic) and met again in the final, just as they had done earlier this month at a Grade 2 in Serbia. Coleman, seeded No. 2, won that encounter over top seed Sieg, but yesterday No. 1 seed Sieg defeated No. 2 seed Coleman 6-4, 6-4. The 17-year-olds also won the doubles title, as the top seeds, beating the unseeded Hungarian team of Vanesa Danko and Kitti Molnar 6-4, 7-5 in the final and getting valuable clay matches in advance of the French Junior Championships in two weeks.

The USTA has not publicly released a calendar for its Pro Circuit this fall, but today an $80,000 women's tournament, the Bellartorum Resources Pro Classic, announced that it is indeed happening, October 26 through November 1 in Tyler Texas. In addition, the article says the tournament is again part of the USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Challenge, which I had thought might not happen in 2021, as no Australian was extended a wild card for the 2020 US Open. In addition, the article mentions Macon and Charleston as the other tournaments that are part of the wild card competition, but does not give dates.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Thirteen US Men Poised to Begin French Open Qualifying; Five Positive Covid-19 Tests Shake Up Draw; Teens Rune, Mutavdzic and Zheng Claim ITF World Tennis Tour Titles

In the year of the crazy tennis calendar (among other things), the Italian Open is not yet complete, but qualifying for Roland Garros will begin Monday, the day of the finals in Rome

Thirteen American men are in the 128-player qualifying draw, with 11 on Monday's schedule. 

Ulises Blanch, one of the last players to get into qualifying, will face French wild card Rayane Roumane and former UCLA star Maxime Cressy, who grew up in France and represented that country until just a couple of years ago, will also play a French wild card, Kyrian Jacquet. The third American to draw a French wild card is Christopher Eubanks, the former Georgia Tech star, who will play 2016 French Open boys champion Geoffrey Blancaneaux.

Three Americans are seeded in the qualifying: No. 6 seed Denis Kudla, who plays Enose Couacaud of France; No. 10 JJ Wolf, who plays Roberto Marcora of Italy, and No. 22 Bradley Klahn, who is not on Monday's schedule, but faces Roman Safiullin of Russia in the first round.

The only American v American battle is between Mitchell Krueger and Sebastian Korda.

Jack Sock's opponent is former Ohio State star Mikhail Torpegaard of Denmark, Noah Rubin plays No. 19 seed Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, Michael Mmoh faces Alex Bolt of Australia, and Brandon Nakashima takes on Juan Pablo Ficovich of Argentina. 

2017 NCAA champion Thai Kwiatkowski, who, like Klahn, is not on Monday's schedule, will play Facundo Mena of Argentina in the first round. 

The men's qualifying draw can be found here.

Unfortunately the big news of the day was not the qualifying draw, but the fact that five players had to be withdrawn from the tournament due to positive tests for Covid-19. The statement from Roland Garros did not name the players, two of whom tested positive themselves, while three were eliminated from the qualifying due to positive tests of their coaches. But according to Stephanie Myles, one of the five was American Ernesto Escobedo. See her reporting here for more on the developing situation. 

It was a great day for teenagers on the ITF World Tennis Tour, with three of them claiming titles. Seventeen-year-old Holger Rune of Denmark won his first title at the $25,000 tournament in Klosters Switzerland, with the unseeded 2019 French Open Boys champion defeating No. 5 seed Jesper De Jong of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-2 in the final. Rune, who won all four of his previous matches in three sets, was  playing in his first ITF World Tennis Tour final. 

At the $15,000 ITF women's tournament in Spain, 16-year-old Matilda Mutavdzik of Great Britain, playing in just her third ITF World Tennis event, earned her first title. The unseeded Mutavdzik, who has a much less impressive junior resume than Rune, defeated No. 3 seed Yvonne Cavalle-Reimers of Spain 6-2, 7-5 in today's final. Mutavdzik had beaten world No. 1 junior Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals. 

Seventeen-year-old Qinwen Zheng of China has been rolling on European clay since the restart, and today she won her third title, all in the past month, at the $25,000 tournament in the Czech Republic. Zheng, who had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the main draw, overcame No. 4 seed Gabriela Talaba of Romania 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 in today's final. Zheng, a semifinalist and the French and US Open junior championships last year, has now won 19 of her last 20 matches. 

I am frankly surprised at the success of these younger players during this restart; I had expected that they would struggle as higher ranked and more experienced players filled all these draws. But the ITF's expanded junior exemption program, a part of the much-maligned World Tennis Tour restructuring, has proven to be extremely valuable in giving them a chance to compete at the higher levels. And to their credit, they have taken full advantage of those opportunities.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Does Tennis Owe Its Players a Living? Nava Brothers Win Doubles Title in Portugal; Koepfer's Journey from 'Pretty Terrible' in College to ATP Top 70; Zheng Reaches Another $25K Final

Early this month The Ringer published a lengthy look at the financial struggles of lower ranked professional tennis players, focusing on former Tennessee star Hunter Reese. Paul Wachter, who wrote the article Does Tennis Owe Its Players a Living?, played at Division III Swarthmore in the 1990s, so he knows enough about the the structure of the sport and the level necessary to succeed to explore the nuances involved. (He is wrong about Reese getting an "automatic" US Open doubles wild card in 2014; no NCAA wild cards are automatic, and because his partner Mikelis Libietis was from Latvia, Reese was offered a wild card with another American. Also, the US Open and French Open are not ATP Masters events).

Earlier this summer, I published an article from high school senior Nicholas Wernink that looked into the financial inequities in pro tennis, particularly on the Challenger Tour. Those issues are also explored by Wachter, with 2017 NCAA champion Thai Kwiatkowski also weighing in on the perils of being outside the Top 100. The lack of work available for the past six months, particularly in the United States, has just added to the stress; the entire sport of tennis is going to have to continue to deal with the fallout from the pandemic and finding solutions to this decade-old problem is not going to be a high priority. 

Reese did find his way to Europe for Challengers this month, playing in France last week and reaching the semifinals of the Challenger in Romania this week with former Notre Dame star Alex Lawson. Whether those paychecks will cover his expenses is another question, but I'm sure he is happy to just be back playing. 

I hope the USTA is able to figure out a way to schedule some Pro Circuit and Challenger tournaments yet this year; it's tough enough to try to stay afloat as a player when you have opportunities to earn income. Without that, it's impossible.

Emilio Nava lost his quarterfinal singles match to qualifier Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain Friday, but he and his older brother Eduardo won their first professional doubles title at the $15,000 tournament in Portugal today. The Navas, who beat the No. 2 seeds in the semifinals, defeated the unseeded German team of Sebastian Fanselow and Maik Steiner 6-3, 6-4 in today's final. Fanselow, the former Pepperdine star, has reached the singles final, where he'll play 2019 Wimbledon boys finalist Carlos Gimeno Valero of Spain. 

Former Tulane star Dominik Koepfer of Germany lost to ATP No. 1 Novak Djokovic today in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open, but he managed to come back from a set and a break down to force a third set before falling 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Koepfer, who will move into the ATP Top 70 with his showing in Rome, was featured in this ATP website article, which quotes him as saying he was a "pretty terrible" college player at the beginning of his career.

Dominik Koepfer says attending Tulane University beginning in Fall 2012 was an easy choice because he, “didn’t really have one”. It was the only Division I institution to offer him a spot on its team.

"I went to college, but wasn't very good. I would say I was pretty terrible the first year,” Koepfer said. “But I started to work my way up."
Koepfer may not have been impressive early in his Tulane career, but he won one of the collegiate majors, the Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in 2015, and was No. 1 in the country most of his senior year of 2015-16, before finishing at No. 4. He certainly should serve as an inspiration to any player who might have had a late start in the sport and didn't receive a lot of recruiting attention.
China's Qinwen Zheng, who turns 18 in a couple of weeks, has been extraordinarily busy since the end of the shutdown, playing five consecutive weeks on the European clay. After a quarterfinal appearance in her first tournament, Zheng won back-to-back events, a $15K and a 25K, before falling in the second round of a $25K last week. Although her WTA ranking rose more than 200 places, to 410, with those results, Zheng had to qualify at the $25,000 tournament this week in the Czech Republic, but after three qualifying victories and four main draw victories, she has reached another final. She swamped No. 2 seed Victoria Kan of Russia 6-0, 6-1 in the first round and surrendered just two games to Katie Volynets in the second round. In Sunday's final, she will face No. 4 seed Gabriela Talaba of Romania, the former Texas Tech star.

Friday, September 18, 2020

My Look at ITA's Fall Tour; Just Three Division I ITA Regionals Survive; Koepfer Through to Quarterfinals in Italy; Juniors Jimenez Kasintseva and Rune Plus Columbia's Kotzen Reach Pro Circuit Semis

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Fall Tour by UTR begins today at seven sites across the country, with four more starting Saturday, in Week 1 of the ten-week series of regional competitions. I wrote about this new initiative for the Tennis Recruiting Network and in today's article I explain how the Fall Tour is similar to the long-running Summer Circuit and how it's different. With a reduced number of college and junior events on the horizon due to the pandemic, these events are an important source of competition, with over 170 tournaments scheduled over the next ten weeks at a wide variety of sites.  The Sunday prior to the start of the tournament is the deadline for entry, which is based on UTRs. Next week there are 20 events on the calendar; see the ITA page for registration information.  This ITA article has links to the Playsight streaming that is available this week.

When I spoke to Tim Russell about the Fall Tour earlier this week, he mentioned that a few Division I regionals would still be played. It turns out only three, one women's and two men's, out of the usual 24, have survived. The men's Southern regional will be held at Southern Mississippi October 16-19, and the men's Texas regional will be held at Baylor at a date to be determined  The Central women's regional will be held at Arkansas October 23-25. 

Former Tulane star Dominik Koepfer ended the run of 18-year-old Lorenzo Musetti of Italy today, making his way into the Italian Open quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-0 win over his fellow qualifier. It's the 26-year-old German's first ATP quarterfinal; in order to reach his first semifinal, he'll have to defeat ATP No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6(7), 6-3 today.

A lot of ITF World Tennis Tour events are going on in Europe and Northern Africa right now, 13 by my count, so it's been tough to keep up with all the results this week, but I did want to call attention to a couple of high profile ITF juniors who are having good tournaments. Australian Open girls champion and ITF World No. 1 Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra is warming up for the French Open Juniors next month in Spain, where she has reached the semifinals of the $15,000 tournament in Melilla. The 15-year-old, who used her junior exemption for entry, beat the No. 2 seed in the second round and 18-year-old Alina Charaeva of Russia, the No. 7 seed, today.  Jimenez Kasintseva is playing in just her fourth professional tournament this week; she had not won a match in her first three.  She takes on 16-year-old Matilda Mutavdzic of Great Britain, who also received entry based on a junior exemption, in Saturday's semifinals. Mutavdzic has an ITF junior ranking of 28.

Seventeen-year-old Holger Rune of Denmark, the 2019 French Open boys champion, has advanced to the semifinals of the $25,000 ITF WTT tournament in Switzerland, his second career semifinal in professional competition, with both coming since the shutdown. Also using his junior exemption for entry, Rune avenged his loss to No. 2 seed Dimitar Kuzmanov of Bulgaria in a $25,000 semifinal last month in Austria in a second round match this week, and today he defeated 18-year-old wild card Dominic Stricker 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Rune faces unseeded Gonzalo Lama of Chile in the semifinals.

And at the $15,000 tournament in Tunisia, Columbia sophomore Alex Kotzen has advanced to the semifinals after making it through qualifying. The 20-year-old from New Jersey had not won a main draw match on the Pro Circuit prior to this week. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Koepfer, Musetti Earn Big Wins to Advance to Italian Open Round of 16; Nava Reaches Portugal $15K Quarterfinals; Parenting Aces Interview with Dominic Thiem's Father Set for Saturday; Fed Cup Renamed for Billie Jean King; French Open Reduces Number of Fans

The 10 Americans who participated in the Italian Open singles draws this week have now all lost, with Coco Gauff losing to No. 9 seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-3 and No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin failing to win a game against US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka today. The transition from the hard courts of the US to the clay of Europe isn't easy, and Americans have never been much of a factor in Rome, but for the ten players to earn just two wins total is disappointing regardless of the reason.

While Americans have not had much success, a former collegian is having a terrific run, with former Tulane All-American Dominik Koepfer of Germany picking up his first Top 10 win today in Rome, beating ATP No. 9 Gael Monfils, the No. 5 seed this week, 6-2, 6-4. The 26-year-old left-hander, who is coached by former Tennessee star Rhyne Williams, qualified for the tournament and picked up a win over US Open quarterfinalist Alex De Minaur of Australia in the first round.

Koepfer's opponent in the round of 16 Friday is another qualifier, 18-year-old Lorenzo Musetti, the 2019 Australian Open boys champion. Musetti, who needed a wild card to get into qualifying, defeated Stan Wawrinka in straight sets in the first round and followed that impressive win with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Kei Nishikori today. Ranked 280 coming out the shutdown, Musetti will move past Carlos Alcaraz of Spain to become the second-highest ranked teenager on the ATP tour, behind countryman Jannick Sinner, 19, who is currently at 81.

Emilio Nava, who will always be linked to Musetti in my mind, due to their epic Australian Open boys final, which Musetti won 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(12). Nava is also playing in Europe right now, although on a much less significant level, at the ITF World Tennis Tour M15 in Portugal. Nava, who used a junior exemption for entry into the event, has advanced to the quarterfinals, after beating Patrick Kypson 6-3, 6-3 in the first round and qualifier Arnaud Bovy of Belgium 6-2, 6-2 in today's second round. He will take on another qualifier, 19-year-old Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain, in the quarterfinals. Two former collegians are the only seeds remaining, Memphis's Ryan Peniston of Great Britain, the No. 1 seed, and No. 5 seed Sebastian Fanselow of Germany, the Pepperdine standout. 

Nava and his older brother Eduardo, who played at TCU and Wake Forest, have also advanced to the doubles semifinals. 

Lisa Stone of Parenting Aces has announced that she will be talking with US Open champion Dominik Theim's father Wolfgang via Facebook Live on Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern, 8 a.m. Pacific. For more on what to expect from that conversation, see the Parenting Aces Facebook page.

The Fed Cup, which was canceled for 2020 quite a while ago, made news today by announcing that it would be changing its name to honor Billie Jean King. The women's version of the Davis Cup will now be known as the Billie Jean King Cup. For more on the ITF's decision to rename the competition, see this Associated Press article.

The French Open begins in 10 days, but there are still changes coming from the organizers. Today it was announced that the initial plan to have up to 11,500 fans in three separate zones has been scrapped, and the number of fans will now be limited to 5000 each day. For more, see this BBC article.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

NCAA Division I Recruiting Dead Period Extended Through Year End; Fall Competition Dates Announced in Several Conferences; Is Pandemic an Excuse to Dump College Olympic Sports?

The NCAA imposed an NCAA Division I dead period on in-person recruiting back in March, and it has been extended each month since. Today, at the Division I Council meeting that produced a November 25th start date for basketball, the dead period was extended once again, this time through the end of the year. The reason for this prohibition is ostensibly health and safety; that made sense to me when sports were not being played and school was not in session, but now that both are back in many areas, there must be more to it than that. Division II resumed normal recruiting on September 1, so unless you think they care less about health and safety than Division I coaches, there's a disconnect there somewhere.

I spoke this week to a women's head coach Chris Young of Oklahoma State for an article about the ITF Fall Tour that will appear Friday on the Tennis Recruiting Network and he told me that he can't attend the Fall Tour events that are being played at his campus facility because of the dead period. With potential student-athletes allowed to enter, simply being at the tournament, even though he has players from his team competing, is not allowed. In addition, no coaches can attend private practices or go to any other tournaments, including any of the USTA and ITF events this fall, a major departure from normal recruiting calendar.

While many fall sports. including university-sponsored competition in tennis, have been postponed, some conferences are permitting a few competitive dates. The SEC is allowing three team events beginning October 1; here is what the Georgia men and the Mississippi women, for example, have planned for those dates. 

Some teams in the Big 12 are also announcing fall dates, with the Oklahoma men and Texas Tech women among them. The Oklahoma release mentions a new tournament: the Big 12 Individual championships, which for the men will be at TCU and for the women will be at Oklahoma State. The Georgia release also contains information on an individual tournament, the 53rd annual Southern Intercollegiates, which is usually held in Athens in September, but will be held, as will the Big 12 events, November 6-8.  I had understood those to be the dates for the ITA National Fall Championships, but as I said yesterday, the details of that event have not been released, so perhaps it will be scheduled for the preceding or following weekend.

It was announced today that the Big Ten will play football after all, beginning on October 24. This probably isn't much consolation to the men's tennis teams at Iowa and Minnesota, which will be cut after this year according to recent announcements.

Football and basketball are considered the profit centers that fund the Olympic sports at the Division I level, but it's much more complicated than that.  Former Division I athlete D.R. Hildebrand, a William and Mary graduate, wrote this Richmond Times-Dispatch column entitled Cutting sports to steal endowments: The myth of football-funded athletics.

And Greg Couch, a sportswriter who is coaching the NAIA men's and women's teams at Roosevelt University in Chicago, wrote this column for Outkick entitled NCAA Schools Cry Poverty, Use Pandemic to Cut Sports They Didn't Want Anyway.

Both look at the management of athletic departments at the Division I level and wonder about the legitimacy of the cost-benefit analysis those departments are making. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Oracle ITA Masters Moves to San Diego for 2020; Additional Indictments in Georgetown's Varsity Blues Scandal; Sock, Withrow Take Volunteer Assistant Positions; Musetti Beats Wawrinka at Italian Open

The ITA announced today its Oracle Masters, an individual tournament that had been held in Malibu during the fall season, will take place October 9-11, 2020, but in a new location, the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego.

The Masters, which had been a field with representatives from all Division I conferences, will have different entry standards this year, with so many conferences canceling fall tennis competition. According to the ITA release:

The singles-only field is open to collegiate, professional, and high-performance juniors and will be selected based on UTR. In total, four wild cards will be given by the ITA, USTA Southern California, and Barnes Tennis Center. All players will be guaranteed at least three matches throughout the tournament.

The men's and womens's singles finals will air on ESPNU at 2 p.m. Pacific, with the winners receiving wild cards into the ITA Fall National Championships. Details on that event have yet to be released, but the fact that a wild card is being offered for it is a positive indication that it will proceed.

The ITA release on the Oracle Masters, with information on entry and deadlines, can be found here.

While I was covering the US Open remotely I wasn't able to post several articles about college tennis that I want to pass along now.

The Varsity Blues scandal is by no means in the past, with new indictments being issued earlier this month in Boston. Georgetown continues to be in the thick of the tennis-related charges, with a Palm Beach parent charged for using fraud and bribery to gain admission to Georgetown for his daughter. Former Georgetown coach Gordon Ernest, who had already been charged at the outset of the scandal, had additional charges added recently, including filing false tax returns. 

Although unrelated to this college admissions investigation, the Los Angeles Times recently looked at the relationship of controversial US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the Duke athletic department. DeJoy's son was a member of the Duke men's tennis team from 2014-16. 

Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow, the 2011 USTA Boys 18s National Doubles champions, who have played as a team on the ATP Tour, and most recently at the US Open, are both joining college teams this fall as volunteer assistants. Sock, who has recently moved to the area, will coach at Davidson, while Withrow, who graduated from Texas A&M, has joined the coaching staff at Nebraska. I assume this means they will not be playing on the ATP tour for the remainder of the year, but will look to resume their professional careers in 2021. 

Lorenzo Musetti, US Open Juniors 2018

At the Italian Open, the big news of the day was 18-year-old qualifying wild card Lorenzo Musetti's 6-0, 7-6(2) win over No. 10 seed and three-time slam champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland. Italy's Musetti, who reached the 2018 US Open boys final and won the Australian Open boys final in 2019, is the first male born in 2002 to win an ATP level match. 

There are no US men remaining in the Italian Open draw, but four US women are still in contention. Coco Gauff won the battle of the former French Open girls champions today, beating Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-4, 6-3. Amanda Anisimova won her first round match Monday, beating No. 16 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia 7-6(4), 7-6(6). No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin received a first round bye, and wild card Venus Williams plays her first round match, against US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka, Wednesday, with the winner getting Kenin in the second round. The order of play for Wednesday is here.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Junior Orange Bowl Canceled; Two ITF Junior Circuit Grade 4s Set for US in October; Blanch Takes Doubles Title at Czech Grade 2; Young French Junior Stars Receive Roland Garros Wild Cards

The Junior Orange Bowl Committee announced today that the 59th annual tournament, scheduled for December 11-20, 2020 has been canceled:

Regretfully, the Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship Committee announces that due to concerns and complications from the Covid-19 Pandemic, the 59th Annual Championship, previously scheduled for December 11-20, 2020 is cancelled. This decision was very difficult and one that was not taken lightly, but is the decision that the Committee believes is best for all involved.

We look forward to welcoming all of our participants, coaches, parents and spectators next year for our 60th Anniversary.

As always we thank you and our sponsors for your continued support. Please check back with the website for updates for next year’s event and other tennis related news and events from the Junior Orange Bowl.

Just as with the US Open Junior Championships, I had covered the Junior Orange Bowl 12s and 14s every year since 2004, so this is another understandable but disappointing cancellation for me personally. Without seeing any of the American 12s and 14s at the Easter Bowl this year, it's now down to the Eddie Herr to provide me with a look at those age groups. The Eddie Herr website has posted that a final decision will be made for that tournament by Friday September 18th.

Although the International Tennis Federation began its Junior Circuit competition two weeks ago, all ITF junior events in the United States were canceled through mid-October. ITF play is scheduled to resume in the US now with two Grade 4s, both of them regular stops on the fall schedule, starting in Atlanta the week of October 19th, followed by the tournament in Lexington South Carolina the week of October 26th.

The Eddie Herr Grade 1 appears on the current ITF Junior Calendar, but as mentioned above, that may change.

In ITF Junior Circuit tournaments that did get played in Europe, Dali Blanch won a doubles title at the Grade 2 in the Czech Republic. Blanch and partner Jack Pinnington-Jones of Great Britain, who won the singles title, were the top seeds in the tournament. They defeated No. 2 seeds Pierre Yves Bailly and Maikel De Boes of Belgium 6-3, 3-6, 10-5 in the final. 

Ellie Coleman and Madison Sieg lost in the doubles final at the Grade 1 in Serbia. The No. 1 seeds fell to No. 2 seeds Polina Iatcenko of Russia and Petra Marcinko of Croatia 6-0, 6-2 in the championship match. Coleman, the No. 3 seed and Sieg the No. 2 seed, lost in the semifinals of singles. 

At a Grade 5 in Singapore, American Cameron Austin Chang won the boys doubles title, with partner Matthew Johnstone of Singapore. The No. 2 seeds defeated top seeds Nathan Barki and Brendan Hendrata of Indonesia 6-3, 6-2 in the final. 

The French Open announced its wild cards today, with a mix of veterans and young players awarded entry into the main draw. One former college player, recent Texas A&M graduate Arthur Rinderknech of France, received a main draw wild card.

The men's wild cards:

Elliot Benchetrit (FRA)

Hugo Gaston (FRA)

Quentin Halys (FRA)

Antoine Hoang (FRA)

Maxime Janvier (FRA)

Harold Mayot (FRA)

Andy Murray (GBR)

Arthur Rinderknech (FRA)

Note that Harold Mayot, who is currently No. 1 in the ITF Junior rankings, is also entered in the junior championships at Roland Garros.

The women's wild cards:

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)

Clara Burel (FRA)

Elsa Jacquemot (FRA)

Chloe Pacquet (FRA)

Pauline Parmentier (FRA)

Diane Parry (FRA)

Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL)

Harmony Tan (FRA)

The 19-year-old Burel is the 2018 ITF World Junior Champion, Parry is currently No. 2 in the ITF Junior rankings, but is not entered in the junior event. 

The list of qualifying wild cards can be found at the Roland Garros website.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Thiem Comes Back From Two Sets Down to Claim US Open Championship; Guarachi, Krawczyk and Krajicek Earn Pro Tour Doubles Titles

Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev played more than four hours in the men's US Open singles final today, a match that was full of twists and turns, good tennis and bad, drama and futility. It was fitting that it ended, after each player had served for the match in the fifth set, with a tiebreaker, the first in history to decide a men's singles final, with Thiem claiming the 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(6) victory.

Thiem was the heavy favorite going into the match. The 27-year-old Austrian had reached three previous grand slam finals, the most recent in Australia this year, had been more impressive throughout the two weeks in New York and was 7-2 against Zverev. But Zverev, at 23 the youngest men's slam finalist in the last decade, came out playing loose and aggressive, using is serve well and coming forward to finish points. 

Thiem was looking off, spraying balls and unimpressive on serve, but he dug in late in the second set, saving four set points while winning three straight games from 5-1 down and forcing Zverev to work for the hold at 5-4.

Zverev did go up a break early in the third set, but immediately gave the break back, and his court positioning, as well as his double faults, began to give Thiem opportunities. Although Thiem was standing extremely deep to return serve, once the rally started he headed for the baseline, while Zverev kept drifting farther and farther back. Thiem broke on his first set point, with Zverev serving at 4-5 to get to a fourth set, and he earned the only break of the fourth set with Zverev serving at 3-4 and held at love to even the match.

The fifth set started with an exchange of breaks, but five straight holds saw the tension continue to build. Serving at 3-4, Thiem was broken, but Zverev never got to match point when trying to serve it out. Thiem held, then broke Zverev again, but he could not get to match point either, serving at 6-5. 

The US Open men's singles title had never been decided by a fifth set tiebreaker in the 50 years that it has been used, so the circumstances were unique even before considering the eerie atmosphere created by the pandemic bubble. A packed Ashe Stadium with all the tension of the final handful of games would have been full of raucous cheers and support, but without that, the players and the dozens of spectators among their teams and the US Open staff were left to serve as witnesses to that historic tiebreaker.

Zverev looked the more nervous of the two, but it was Thiem, known for his fitness, who began struggling physically, with cramping appearing to the issue. Zverev chipped in with a couple of double faults, which took some of the pressure off Thiem, and when Thiem smoked a forehand pass by Zverev, he led 6-4. But he netted a forehand on the first one and sent a forehand wide on the second to give Zverev hope. But it was short-lived, as Thiem again sent a forehand pass by him after he couldn't put away several volleys, giving Thiem a third chance. This time, Thiem didn't need a winner, as Zverev hit a routine backhand wide, and Thiem had managed to capture his first slam title.

"I achieved a life goal," Thiem said in his press conference. "A dream of myself, which I had for many, many years. Of course, as a kid as well, when I started to play tennis, but back then, it's so far away. Then I got closer and closer to the top and I started to realize that, wow, maybe one day I can really win one of the four biggest titles in tennis. I put a lot of work in, basically dedicated my whole life to this point to win one of the four majors. And now I did it; that's also for myself a great accomplishment, it's not only myself, but also from my team, all my family and I guess it's also that today is the day that I gave back a huge amount of what they did for me."

Thiem, the first man born in the 1990s to win a slam title, is also the first in the Open era to win a US Open title coming from two sets down in the final. Only four other men have won a slam final from two sets down, all of those at the French Open.

As I noted yesterday, the clay season has been underway in Europe for some time, with the Italian Open main draw beginning tomorrow and two events crowning champions today. 

At the WTA International in Istanbul, unseeded Patricia Tig of Romania defeated qualifier Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 1-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) for the singles title.  Former collegians Alexa Guarachi(Alabama) of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State), the top seeds, won the women's doubles title, their second WTA title as a team, defeating No. 2 seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) and Storm Sanders of Australia 6-1, 6-3 in the final. 

At the ATP 250 in Austria, Austin Krajicek(Texas A&M) won the the men's doubles title, with partner Franko Skugor of Croatia, their first title as a team. Krajicek and Skugor, the No. 4 seeds, defeated top seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina 7-6(5), 7-5 in the final. It's the fourth ATP title for Krajicek and the sixth for Skugor. For more on today's final, see this article from the ATP website.

2016 ITF World Junior Champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia claimed his first ATP title in Kitzbuhel Austria, defeating former USC All-American Yannick Hanfmann of Germany 6-4, 6-4 in the final. For more on Kecmanovic's title, see this article from the ATP website.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Osaka's Comeback Earns Her a Second US Open Title; Nine Americans Begin Delayed Clay Season at Italian Open; Hanfmann Advances to ATP Final

©Colette Lewis 2020--

Down 1-6, 0-2 in Saturday's US Open final, Naomi Osaka was on the verge of being blown out by a resurgent Victoria Azarenka. But the 22-year-old was able to dig deep, elevate her game and hold on to that new standard to claim her second US Open title with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 decision. 

Osaka had played poorly in the opening set, with 13 unforced errors and just five winners, while Azarenka was serving remarkably well, missing just one of 16 first serves in the set for a first serve percentage of 94.

Azarenka held and broke to start the second set, but she could not consolidate that break, and Osaka began to rebalance the errors-winners ledger, with 16 winners and just five unforced errors as she closed out the second set with a third break of Azarenka after a five-deuce game.

Osaka was asked what she was thinking after she went down a break in the second set.

"I think in the first set I was so nervous, I wasn't moving my feet," said the No. 4 seed.  "I felt like I was not playing -- not that I expect myself to play 100%, but it would be nice if I could even play, like, 70%. But, yeah, I just felt like I was too much in my own head. Then in the second set, of course I was down early, which really didn't help me out. I just thought to myself to be positive, don't lose 6-1, 6-0, hopefully give her a slight run for her money."

Azarenka said she felt several changes in the momentum during the match, beginning with that third game of the second set. 

"I think the break, maybe in the beginning of the second set, she started to play better, caught a few lines, had some really good shots," said Azarenka, who, like Osaka, was competing for her third slam singles title.  "She was being really aggressive. I don't think there was only one. I think in the third set also I started to come back and stuff. It was a lot of tight moments where, you know, didn't work out for me today."

Osaka took a 4-1 lead in the third set, and had four opportunities to go up 5-1, only to have Azarenka save that game, then break Osaka in the next game to get back on serve. But serving at 3-4, Azarenka was broken again, giving Osaka a chance to serve for the match. Although she got only one first serve in, Osaka's second serve was solid enough, keeping Azarenka from attacking from the first ball. Osaka took a 40-15 lead, failed to convert the first match point, but survived a long, tense and well-played rally to earn the title.

Osaka celebrated by lying on the court and looking up at the sky. She was asked what her thoughts were in that moment:

"Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about all the times I've watched the great players sort of collapse onto the ground and look up into the sky. I've always wanted to see what they saw. For me, it was really an incredible moment. I'm really glad I did it."

Osaka is the first woman to win a US Open title from a set down since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1994 and the first woman to win a third slam title before the age of 23 since Maria Sharapova. She was non-committal about whether she would be playing the French Open, which begins in two weeks. 

With the clay season already underway in Europe, Americans have been heading there to prepare for the French Open, and next week's Italian Open. 

Seven American women have received entry into the main draw in Rome: Sofia Kenin[3], Alison Riske[13], Amanda Anisimova, Venus Williams[WC], Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff and Bernarda Pera.

Two US men are in the main draw of the Italian Open: Taylor Fritz and Sam Querrey. Tennys Sandgren is the top seed in qualifying and had a bye today; Bradley Klahn won his first round qualifying match and will need two more victories to reach the main draw.

Former University of Southern California All-American Yannick Hanfmann has advanced to the second ATP final of his career at the Generali Open  in Austria, with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Laslo Djere of Serbia. The 28-year-old from Germany, a qualifier this week, will face unseeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia in Sunday's final. Hanfmann previously reached an ATP final in Gstaad in 2017. For more on Hanfmann's win over Djere today, see this article from the ATP website.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Zverev and Thiem Advance to US Open Men's Final; Zvonareva and Siegemund Win Women's Doubles Championship; 13-Year-Old Fruhvirtova Claims First ITF Junior Titles

©Colette Lewis 2020--

Twenty-three-year-old Alexander Zverev of Germany has long been considered the most promising of the NextGen players, but his results in the slams have not approached those in ATP events. After reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open this year, his first slam semifinal, and being a prime beneficiary of the Novak Djokovic default this week at the US Open, he looked poised for his first slam final...until his match with Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain started.

Although Carreno Busta played well, the fifth-seeded Zverev looked passive and content to trade groundstrokes, and before long the Spaniard had a 6-3, 6-2 lead. Zverev took note of his situation and decided that something had to change.

"I looked at the scoreboard after two sets," said Zverev, who went on to win the next three sets 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, for his first comeback from two sets down. "I thought to myself, Look, I'm playing a Grand Slam semifinal, I'm down 6-3, 6-2 in a match where on paper I'm supposed to be the favorite. I needed to play better, start something new. I thought, Okay, I'm going to go set by set, we'll see how far I can get. It turned out well in the end."

Carreno Busta, who was in the US Open semifinals in 2017, saw Zverev raise his level, yet expressed disappointment in his own response.

"Well, is true that he plays better in the third set," said the 29-year-old, seeded No. 20. "He start to serve better, to don't make the mistakes. In this moment with two sets up is when you need to win the match, when you need to go for it, to try to do it, to continue playing aggressive. Maybe I didn't do it. Was the problem for me."

No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria will face Zverev in Sunday's final, in a rematch of the Australian Open semifinal this year, which Thiem won 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4). The 27-year-old Thiem, who will be playing in his fourth slam final, defeated No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia 6-2, 7-6(7), 7-6(5). Medvedev served for both the second and third sets, but Thiem broke back both times and came up with key winners in the tiebreakers, while Medvedev wasn't quite as consistent as usual. 

Thiem has a 7-2 advantage head-to-head with Zverev.

The women's final between Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka is set for 4 p.m. EDT on Saturday, with the men's final scheduled for 4 p.m. EDT Sunday. 

The women's doubles champions were crowned Friday afternoon, with unseeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia and Laura Siegemund of Germany defeating No. 3 seeds Nicole Melichar and China's Yifan Xu 6-4, 6-4. Zvonareva and Siegemund, who were playing together for the first time, got early breaks in both sets and were able to keep Melichar and Xu at bay. It's the second women's US Open doubles title for Zvonareva, who won her first way back in 2006, with Nathalie Dechy of France. She also won the Australian women's doubles title with Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in 2012 and has two slam mixed doubles titles. It's the first women's doubles title at a slam for Siegemund, but she did win the US Open mixed title in 2016, with Mate Pavic, who won the men's doubles title yesterday.

For a detailed account of today's final, see this article from the WTA website.

At one of the ITF Junior Circuit Grade 2s that concluded today, 13-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic won her first titles, taking both the singles and doubles championships in Cairo Egypt. Fruhvirtova became eligible to compete on the ITF Junior Circuit back in April, when she turned 13, but with the pandemic, she wasn't able to actually play in one until now. Given a wild card (oddly she was not given one to the Grade 2 this week in her home country), Fruhvirtova sailed into the final, dropping only seven games in her first four wins. She had a tougher time in the championship match, but defeated No. 3 seed Hania Abouelsaad of Egypt 6-0, 4-6, 6-2. In the doubles final, Fruhvirtova and Kira Pavlova of Russia defeated top seeds Mariam Ibrahim and Jermine Sherif 7-6(5), 6-2.

Fruhvirtova, who won the Les Petits As title in February, has not lost a singles match in 2020, going 16-0 in this abbreviated tennis year, and she also has had some head-turning results in exhibition matches against WTA Top 100 players.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Minnesota to Cut Men's Tennis; Brady Falls Just Short in US Open Semifinals; Pavic and Soares Win Men's Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2020--

A second Big Ten school has announced the elimination of its men's tennis program, with Minnesota revealing today that it will discontinue men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field, men's gymnastics and men's tennis after the 2020-21 academic year, leaving it with 21 varsity sports. As for why these sports were targeted for cutting, the release says: "In addition to the financial challenges and gender-equity commitments, we also considered community impact, local and national interest, competitiveness, and sport sponsorship at the Big Ten and NCAA Division I level when making this decision."  When Iowa cut its men's program last month, it may have served as permission for other Big Ten programs to consider that option. I do not expect this to be the last of the Power 5 conference schools to follow suit, although I hope I am wrong.

Jennifer Brady was the only US Open semifinalist who had not won a slam title, but there was no way to tell that from her performance tonight against 2018 champion Naomi Osaka. Although she lost 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3 to the No. 4 seed, the former UCLA star was in the match to the very end, trading blistering ground strokes and big serves in one of the best women's matches of the tournament. 

Breaks of serve were at a premium throughout the match, with Brady getting the only break point in the first set, but she couldn't get Osaka's second serve back in play at 3-all, and they went on to the tiebreaker. Brady made a few more errors, while Osaka continued to keep hers to a minimum in spite of the pace she was generating and absorbing. 

To Brady's credit, she did not get discouraged after that poor tiebreaker, and the match returned to its extremely high level in the second set. Brady continued to hold serve without much trouble, and leading 4-3, she got her first break opportunity at 30-40. One of the longest rallies of the match ended with Osaka sending a forehand long and Brady closed out the set with no difficulty to send the match to a third set.

Osaka got the lone break of the third set with Brady serving a 1-2, with Brady failing to challenge on a call that ESPN's replay of Hawkeye showed as good but was called out and not overruled by the chair umpire. With breaks so rare, that one was obviously deflating for Brady, but the former UCLA Bruin recovered from 15-40 in her next service game to stay close, and held once more at 2-5 to force Osaka to serve it out. Osaka didn't get many first serves in and double faulted for 15-30, but she came through when she had to, taking the next three points to earn her place in the final. 

Despite her lack of experience in such a moment, Brady was pleased she was able to play high quality tennis.

"I think I handled the situation pretty well," said Brady, who was seeded at a slam for the first time, at No. 28.  "I mean, I was obviously pretty nervous, playing here on Arthur Ashe, night match, semifinals, a match to play for the finals of the US Open. I felt like I went out there and I believed that I could win the match. Obviously I didn't, but I'm pretty happy with myself, with my effort, and my mentality these past couple weeks."

Osaka was impressed by Brady's consistency throughout the match, saying it reminder her of the 2019 Australian Open final against Petra Kvitova.

"Unlike that match, I felt like Jenny was very solid throughout the entire thing," Osaka said. "I felt like I had no chances almost. Everyone on my team was happy, they said it was a really high quality match and they said they were proud of me for having a consistent attitude throughout."

As for her plans, Brady said she would "love to play tomorrow, but I think I'm going to take a little bit of time, practice and train on the clay before I start playing tournaments. I'll train a little bit. Looking to play French Open."

Brady, who is expected to move to a career-high 25 in the WTA rankings after this run, can draw confidence from her impressive showing as she goes into another slam in under three weeks.

"I think I'm just proud of my effort, that I treated each match as the same, came in with the same mentality," Brady said. "The only goal I had was just to compete on every single point. I felt like that's what I did. I'm leaving here pretty proud."

Osaka will face unseeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who overcame a slow start to defeat Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The men's doubles champions were crowned Thursday afternoon, with unseeded Bruno Soares of Brazil and Mate Pavic of Croatia defeating No. 8 seeds Nikola Mektic of Croatia and Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands 7-5, 6-3. Soares and Pavic didn't face a break point in the match, capturing their first slam title as a team.  Both have previous men's slam doubles titles with different partners: Soares won the 2016 Australian Open and US Open titles with Jamie Murray of Great Britain, while Pavic won the 2018 Australian Open with Oliver Marach of Austria. 

The women's doubles final, Friday at noon, features No. 3 seeds Nicole Melichar and China's Yifan Xu against unseeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia and Laura Siegemund of Germany. 

Friday's schedule, including the two men's singles semifinals, is here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

French Open Junior Championship Acceptances Include Nine Americans; Williams Advances to US Open Semifinals; Melichar Earns Spot in Women's Doubles Final

photo by Sam Elias, via unsplash

The acceptances for the French Open Junior Championships were released today, with five US girls and four US boys receiving direct entry. There is no junior qualifying this year, so 56 players received entry, with eight wild cards to be named later. 

The American girls who have entered, with their current ITF Junior ranking in brackets, are Robin Montgomery[5], Alexandra Yepifanova[23], Elvina Kalieva[26], Madison Sieg[41] and Ellie Coleman[54].

The American boys entered are Dali Blanch[30], Bruno Kuzuhara[51], Alexander Bernard[57] and Maxwell McKennon[61].

Both Australian Open Junior champions have entered, with Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra and Harold Mayot of France looking to sweep the titles of the only two junior slams that will be contested this year. In all, seven of the Top 10 have entered in both the boys and girls fields.

The cutoff for the girls was 68, with Great Britain's Emma Raducanu receiving entry based on her WTA ranking of 338 and Daria Lopatetska of Ukraine receiving entry based on her WTA ranking of 381. The cutoff for the boys was 61, with Pablo Llamas Ruiz of Spain receiving entry due to his ATP ranking of 649. 

There will be up to eight alternates designated, but only three will be allowed access to the site. These are the testing protocols that have been announced for the junior event:

Upon arrival at the hotel, player and support team member will need to submit two nasopharyngeal swab PCR tests within the 72 hours preceeding the start of the event.

Once the player has received his/her first negative test result, he/she will be allowed to pick up his/her credential and may go on site.

From then on, players and support team member may do the second PCR test which can be the same day as the result of the 1st test.

5 days after the second PCR test, players and guests will be required to undergo a third PCR test, to confirm results of the second test.

The testing room will be operational from Thursday 1st October at the Ibis Hotel

Each player is responsible to ensure they arrive in Paris in a reasonable time to observe the protocol.

Planning for international travel is already complicated enough without last minute changes, but those hoping to get Grade 3 points at the ITF Grade 1 in Hungary next week, got a shock when they were informed that it had been downgraded to a Grade 5 just two weeks before the tournament was to begin. That means no hospitality as well as a huge reduction of points on offer, so unsurprisingly, withdrawals were legion.

Serena Williams has joined Jennifer Brady in the US Open women's semifinals, beating unseeded Tsevtana Pironkova of Bulgaria 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 this afternoon. The third-seeded Williams will face the winner of tonight's match between Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and No. 16 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium Thursday evening, after the match between Brady and Naomi Osaka of Japan, who beat Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-4 last night. 

2019 finalist Daniil Medvedev, seeded 3,  is through to the semifinals, beating fellow Russian and No. 10 seed Andrey Rublev 7-6(6), 6-3, 7-6(5) this afternoon. He will play the winner of tonight's match between No. 21 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia and No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria in Friday's semifinals.

The women's doubles final is set, with Nicole Melichar and partner Yifan Xu of China advancing to the championship match against Vera Zvonereva of Russia and Laura Siegemund of Germany, who won their semifinal on Tuesday.
The No. 3 seeds saved a match point in the third set tiebreaker, beating unseeded Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(7).  Muhammand and Townsend led 4-2 in the final set, only to go down 6-5, with Xu serving for the match, but they played a perfect game to break her at love and force a tiebreaker. Townsend saved a match point with a poach with Muhammad serving at 5-6, and then it was Xu's turn to save a match point, hitting a sharply angled forehand winner off a return at 6-7. A Melichar poach gave her team a second match point and Xu again came up big, directing her return right at Muhammad at the net, who couldn't handle it.

Melichar, who reached the 2018 Wimbledon women's doubles final with Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic, won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon that year, with Alexander Peya of Austria. Xu, playing with Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada, lost in the 2019 Wimbledon women's doubles final.  

The men's doubles final is Thursday at 3 p.m., and the wheelchair competition begins at noon, with the complete schedule here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Brady Moves into US Open Semifinals to Face 2018 Champion Osaka; Men's Doubles Final Set

©Colette Lewis 2020--

Jennifer Brady continued her domination of opponents at this year's US Open, with the 25-year-old former UCLA Bruin defeating No. 23 seed Yulia Puntintseva of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-2 this afternoon on Armstrong Stadium.

As she has done throughout the tournament, Brady started quickly, running out to a 4-0 lead, with Putintseva unable to put any pressure on the Brady serve. Putintseva did get a break with Brady serving at 4-0 in the first and quickly held for 4-2, but Brady got back on track, primarily with superior power, but also with some inspired defense.

A break in the first game of the second set didn't last, with Brady broken for the second time in the match serving at 2-1, but she got another break in the next game and took control from there, winning the last four games of the 69-minute contest.

The last time Brady had played in Ashe, in the 2017 fourth round against Karolina Pliskova, she had won only one game. In her post-match Zoom press conference, Brady was asked what was the difference in her game now.

"Three years," Brady said. "Three years can make a huge difference. I think I have matured. I definitely have gotten a lot fitter, I feel a lot stronger out on court, have a lot more confidence in myself and my game. I know what I'm doing out there. I believe in myself, my game, that I'm good enough to win matches and to be at this level and to be where I am today."

That being said, Brady admitted that playing in her first slam quarterfinal was nerve-racking.

"Honestly I was feeling like I was going to poop my pants, I was very nervous,: Brady said. "I just tried to really stay calm and, like, keep it cool as a cucumber out there."

Brady still had her left thigh wrapped, which she had needed attention for in her fourth round win over Angelique Kerber on Saturday. Rather than throwing her off her game, Brady said the discomfort helped her focus.

"I think in the fourth game I was serving, and I really started to feel my legs, so, you know, it kind of -- it kind of helped me a little bit," Brady said.

"I just started thinking about that, and I was, Oh, I'm not feeling great, whatever. It kind of took my mind off the match a little bit. And then I was able to recover and really focus in and think, okay, well, I'm up 4-2. How has the match been going? I have been winning points when I'm playing aggressive tennis but not overplaying. So, okay, if I just continue that and take it one point at a time, I can at least put myself in a position to serve for the set if I just continue to just play my game. And then I was able to do that. In the second set I felt like I was continuing off the same thing. Just playing aggressive tennis, looking for my forehand, serving well, trying to be aggressive off returns when I could." 

Brady is the first former college player to reach the US Open semifinals since Lori McNeil (Oklahoma State) in 1987. Of course Danielle Collins made the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2019, so former collegians having slam success is hardly unheard of, but Brady will move into rarified air if she reaches the final. Billie Jean King is the last former college player to make a US Open final, with the former Cal State-Los Angeles star's most recent appearance back in 1974.

Brady will face 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka in Thursday's semifinal, after Osaka, the No. 4 seed,  defeated unseeded Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-4. It was Osaka's first win over Rogers in their fourth meeting, although they had not played since 2017.

Brady had this to say about playing the two-time grand slam champion.

"She's obviously a great player," Brady said of the 22-year-old from Japan. "Very powerful, big serve, big shots off the baseline, one-two punch. You know, she's a really good player."

Osaka didn't mention Brady's power when she spoke about her semifinal opponent in the on-court interview after her win over Rogers.

"I think she's a really amazing player," Osaka said. "She has the variety that I wish I had, so I'm a bit jealous. She's super nice and I think it's going to be a really tough match and we're both going to try our best."

The last American man in the tournament was eliminated today in the men's doubles semifinal, with Rajeev Ram and his partner Joe Salisbury of Great Britain falling to No. 8 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia 7-6(3), 6-4. The No. 3 seeds and Australian Open champions had four break points in the 3-4 game in the second set, and when they were unable to convert any of those, the match went the other way quickly. A quick break gave Koolhof and Mektic a 5-4 lead and they closed out the match with an easy hold. 

The last college player in doubles also exited Tuesday, with Jean-Julien Rojer(UCLA) of the Netherlands and his partner Horia Tecau of Romania losing to Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares of Brazil 6-4, 7-5. The men's doubles final is scheduled for Thursday.

One of the women's doubles finalists was decided today, with Vera Zvonereva of Russia and Laura Siegemund of Germany defeating Anna Blinkova and Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in over two-and-a-half hours. The unseeded veterans will play the winner of Wednesday's semifinal match between No. 3 seeds Nicole Melichar and China's Yifan Xu and unseeded Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad.

One of the men's semifinalists was decided today, with No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany defeating longtime rival Borna Coric of Croatia, the No. 27 seed, 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(1), 6-3. Zverev will play the winner of tonight's match between No. 30 seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain and No. 12 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada.

Wednesday matches featuring US women:

Serena Williams[3] v Tsvetana Pironkova(BUL)

Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend v Nicole Melichar and Yifan Xu[3](CHN)

Monday, September 7, 2020

Coleman Wins Grade 2 in Serbia, as ITF Junior Circuit Returns; French Open Reveals Plans for Spectators; Williams Moves into US Open Quarterfinals

As I checked the European junior results today and I was surprised to see that two of the top US junior girls, who would in normal times be playing at the US Open Junior Championships this week, had traveled to Serbia for the resumption of the ITF Junior Circuit, and had reached the final of the Grade 2 in Novi Sad. Ellie Coleman, the No. 2 seed, defeated top seed Madison Sieg 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 for the title there, her second singles title on the ITF Junior Circuit. The ITF had announced last month that no tournament will award points higher than those given at Grade 3s, so the Grade is not actually as relevant as previously. The only announced exception so far is the French Open Junior Championships next month, which is scheduled to award Grade A points.

Coleman and Sieg have both entered the Grade 1 in Serbia, which begins on Wednesday. Diana Shnaider and Erika Andreeva of Russia, both of whom are in the Top 50, are also entered for that event. Seig moved up to 41 in today's first rankings since March, and Coleman moved up to 54.

I'm assuming they are also planning on competing at the French Open Junior Championships, with the entries closing Tuesday. It was announced earlier that there would be no qualifying for the juniors, so with that, and the travel difficulties, the cutoffs this year will no doubt be much higher than usual. 

The French Open revealed their plans for the event, which begins with men's and women's qualifying on Monday, September 21, despite a recent uptick in Covid-19 cases in the country.  There will be no spectators allowed for qualifying, but once the main draw begins fans are allowed, in three separated areas, with 5000 receiving entry for the two biggest stadiums. The prize money distribution is also changing, with more going to those competing in the early rounds, according to this article.  WTA World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia announced today that she would not be defending her title in France.

This is the first Labor Day since 2003 that I have not been in New York, covering the US Open Junior Championships. Usually, it's a crowded and hectic day, with dozens of matches and interviews and little time to do more than glance at what is going on in the men's and women's draws. Obviously today was much different, with ESPN3 providing the window into the action, which was not exactly thrilling, especially on the men's side. 

Neither Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada nor Frances Tiafoe were able to put up much of a challenge, with Auger-Aliassime losing to No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem 7-6(4), 6-1, 6-1 and Tiafoe overwhelmed by No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.  Alex De Minaur of Australia reached his first major quarterfinal with a 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-2 win over Vasek Pospisil of Canada and will play Thiem next. No. 10 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia avenged his 2019 fourth round US Open loss to No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the only men's match that went more than three sets, taking it 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. 

Serena Williams also got some revenge today, from the previous tournament. The No. 3 seed defeated No. 15 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, who had beaten her in the third round of the Western & Southern Open, 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3, coming from 2-0 down in the final set. Williams will face unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, who is making her return to tennis after three years off the tour to start a family. Pironkova defeated Alize Cornet of France 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3.

In the night session, No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin couldn't join the other three Americans in the quarterfinals. No. 16 Elise Mertens of Belgium, who has been impressive throughout the restart, continued her fine form, beating an out-of-sorts Kenin 6-3, 6-3. Mertens' opponent on Wednesday will be Western & Southern Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who beat No. 20 seed Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic 5-7, 6-1, 6-4.

The doubles semifinals are set, and both of the men's semis will be played on Tuesday. In today's two men's quarterfinals, Jean-Julien Rojer(UCLA) of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania defeated Denis Shapovalov of Canada and Rohan Bopanna of India 7-5, 7-5 and will face Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares of Brazil, who beat Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski(LSU) of Great Britain 6-2, 7-6(4). 

Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad, who won their biggest title as a team at the WTA 125 at Indian Wells right before the shutdown, are into the women's semifinals after beating Alison Riske and Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski 6-4, 6-2.  They will play No. 3 seeds Nicole Melichar and China's Yifan Xu, who beat Hayley Carter(UNC) and Luisa Stefani(Pepperdine) of Brazil 6-2, 6-3, but that semifinal is not scheduled for Tuesday.

Tuesday's schedule is here.

Monday’s fourth round matches featuring US men:

Daniil Medvedev[3](RUS) d. Frances Tiafoe 64, 61, 60

Monday’s fourth round matches featuring US women:

Serena Williams[3] d. Maria Sakkari[15](GRE) 63, 67(6), 63

Elise Mertens[16](BEL) d. Sofia Kenin[2] 63, 63 

Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad d. Alison Riske and Gabriela Dabrowski(CAN) 64, 62 

Nicole Melichar and Yifan Xu(CHN)[3] d. Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani(BRA) 62, 63

Tuesday’s quarterfinal matches featuring US women:

Jennifer Brady[28] v Yulia Putintseva[23](KAZ)

Shelby Rogers v Naomi Osaka[4](JPN)

Tuesday’s doubles semifinal featuring US men:

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury(GBR)[3] v Wesley Koolhof(NED) and Nikola Mektic(CRO)[8]