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Friday, February 21, 2020

My Conversation with Former Texas Tech Star, Current WTA 230 Gabriela Talaba; Top Seeds Advance at Men's D-III Team Indoor; Opelka Reaches Semifinals in Delray Beach

I'm at a wedding on the west coast this weekend, so posts will be shorter and later than usual, as I won't have time to follow much of what's going on in the tennis world.

Earlier this month at the Dow Tennis Classic in Midland, I had an opportunity to talk with Gabriela Talaba, the former Texas Tech star who has been moving up the WTA rankings since her graduation in 2018. Talaba explained to me why college tennis was so attractive to her and so many other international players who don't have the means to fund their careers on their own or the financial backing of a wealthy federation. Talaba still faced a difficult decision after college, but thanks to connections she made while at Texas Tech, she obtained sponsorship from three families that gave her the funds to start building her ranking, which has gone from 755 when she graduated to 230 now.  Talaba told me why she decided to go to college, how she improved there and what her plans are for the next several years in this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network.

At the ITA Division III Men's Team Indoor Championships in Minnesota, the top four seeds advanced to Saturday's semifinals.

Chicago[3] d. Kenyon[6], 5-4
CMS[2] d. Case Western[7] 6-3
Brandeis[4] d. Washington-St. Louis[5] 7-2
Emory[1] d. Gustavus Aldophus[8] 7-2

Saturday's schedule:
Chicago[3] v. CMS[2], 8:30 a.m.
Brandeis[4] v. Emory[1] noon

Box scores are available at host Gustavus Aldophus' tournament page.

Three of the four Americans in action today at the ATP Delray Beach tournament lost today, with No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka the only one to advance to Saturday's semifinal.  Opelka defeated Soonwoo Kwon 6-3, 6-4. He will face No. 2 seed Milos Raonic of Canada, who beat Steve Johnson tonight 7-6(6), 6-3.  Frances Tiafoe lost to Ugo Humbert of France 6-1, 6-2 and Brandon Nakashima's impressive run came to an end at the hands of Yoshihito Nishioki of Japan 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.  For more on Nishioki's win, see this article from the ATP website.

Former UCLA star Jennifer Brady lost to top seed Simona Halep 6-2, 6-0 at the WTA tournament in Dubai.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

ITA Men's Division III Team Indoor Begins Friday; Division I Team Indoor All-Tournament Team Announced; Brady Reaches WTA Dubai Semifinals

The ITA Men's Division III Team Indoor Championships begins Friday at Gustavus Aldophus in St. Peter Minnesota. 2019 NCAA team champions Emory are the No. 1 seed, with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps seeded No. 2.  Unlike the Division I Team Indoor Championships, just eight teams participate in the Division III version. Also unlike the Division I events, many of the top teams in the country do not participate, with none of the teams in the New England Small College Athletic Conference in the fields. The University of Chicago is defending champion.

Friday's quarterfinal matches:
Chicago[3] v. Kenyon[6], 8:30 a.m.
CMS[2] v. Case Western[7], noon
Brandeis[4] v. Washington-St. Louis[5], 3:30
Emory[1] v. Gustavus Aldophus[8], 7 p.m.

Links to live streaming and scoring are available at the Gustavus tournament page. The Division III Tennis blog has previews of all four matches, predictions and plenty of other coverage of Division III tennis, so check it out.

The Division I National Indoor All-Tournament team was announced today, with players from champion USC, finalist North Carolina and quarterfinalist Texas. Daniel Cukierman of USC was named Most Outstanding Player.

No. 1 singles: William Blumberg, North Carolina
No. 2 singles: Daniel Cukierman, USC, Most Outstanding Player
No. 3 singles: Rinky Hijikata, North Carolina
No. 4 singles: Mor Bulis, USC
No. 5 singles: Stefan Dostanic, USC
No. 6 singles: Cleeve Harper, Texas

No. 1 doubles: Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith, USC
No. 2 doubles: Jacob Bullard and Eliot Spizzirri, Texas
No. 3 doubles: Rinky Hijikata and Benjamin Sigouin, North Carolina

Records for all those named above are available in this ITA release.

Jennifer Brady advanced to the semifinals of a WTA Premier event for the first time in her career today in Dubai, defeating Australian Open finalist and two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4. The 24-year-old, who qualified for this event, beat No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina in the first round and French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the second round. With her victory over No. 9 seed Muguruza today, the former UCLA star will play in the third WTA semifinal of career, with top seed Simona Halep standing in the way of her first WTA final.  For more on Brady's win today, see this article from the WTA website.

At the ATP 250 in Delray Beach, Steve Johnson and Frances Tiafoe advanced to the quarterfinals, with wins over their American opponents. Johnson defeated wild card Jack Sock 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 and Tiafoe beat Tommy Paul 7-5, 7-6(4).  Johnson and Tiafoe now join Brandon Nakashima and Reilly Opelka in Friday's quarterfinals.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

USC's National Indoor Title Keeps Them Atop First ITA Computer Rankings; USC's Cukierman, Miami's Perez-Somarriba No. 1 in Singles; Nakashima Beats Norrie to Reach ATP Delray Beach Quarterfinals

The first ITA Division I team rankings done by computer were released last night and USC stays on top of the men's rankings, thanks to their title Monday at the Team Indoor Championships. Because no rankings were released the week of the Indoors, USC never officially vacated the No. 1 position they had prior to losing to Ohio State in Columbus, but they were the No. 2 seed in Madison, so the unpublished rankings obviously had top seed Ohio State at No. 1.  Michigan made a big jump, going from 13 to 4 after their semifinal showing at the Indoors, while Tennessee, which didn't qualify for the Indoor field, moved into the Top 10. Links to the full ranking lists can be found by clicking on the headers.

ITA Men's Division I Team Rankings,
February 18, 2019 (previous ranking in parentheses)

1. USC (1)
2. Ohio State (2)
3. North Carolina (5)
4. Michigan (13)
5. Texas (4)
6. Florida (3)
7. Columbia (9)
8. Stanford (8)
9. NC State (10)
10. Tennessee (17)

USC's Daniel Cukierman, who plays No. 2 for USC, continues as the No. 1 player in singles. Stanford sophomore Alex Rotsaert made a big jump from 21 to 5, while John McNally of Ohio State and Alex Brown of Illinois also moved into the Top 10. North Carolina's Will Blumberg, who was not ranked prior to this week, is up to 11.

1. Daniel Cukierman, USC (1)
2. Yuya Ito, Texas (2)
3. Valentin Vacherot, Texas A&M (3)
4. Sam Riffice, Florida (4)
5. Alexandre Rotsaert, Stanford (21)
6. Christian Sigsgaard, Texas (12)
7. John McNally, Ohio State (19)
8. Keegan Smith, UCLA (6)
9. Alex Brown, Illinois (18)
10. Richard Ciamarra, Notre Dame (5)

1. Matej Vocel and Dominik Kellovsky, Oklahoma State (2)
2. Andrew Fenty and Mattias Siimar, Michigan (4)
3. Robert Cash and John McNally, Ohio State (1)
4. Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard, North Carolina (3)
5. Sean Sculley and Nick Stachowiak, Duke (6)

The first women's computer rankings also didn't dislodge the previous No. 1, with North Carolina having a substantial lead over the second place team, which is something of a surprise. Florida State moved to No. 2, while UCLA, who was runner-up to UNC at the Team Indoor, dropping all the way down to No. 7.  Virginia moved into the Top 10, while defending NCAA champion Stanford fell to No. 12.

ITA Women's Division I Team Rankings:

1. North Carolina (1)
2. Florida State (4)
3. Texas (7)
4. NC State (5)
5. Princeton (9)
6. Ohio State (10)
7. UCLA (2)
8. Georgia (8)
9. Virginia (13)
10. Duke (6)
In the singles rankings, NCAA champion Estela Perez-Somarriba has moved to No. 1, dislodging Pepperdine's Ashley Lahey. North Carolina has three Top 10 players and two of the Top 5 doubles teams.

1. Estela Perez-Somarriba, Miami (3)
2. Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine (1)
3. Anna Turati, Texas (2)
4. Cameron Morra, North Carolina (9)
5. Alexa Graham, North Carolina (7)
6. Sara Daavettila, North Carolina (4)
7. Kelly Chen, Duke (10)
8. Abigail Forbes, UCLA (5)
9. Michaela Gordon, Stanford (6)
10. Iuliia Bryzgalova, Penn (11)

1. Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart, UCLA (2)
2. Alana Smith and Anna Rogers, NC State (1)
3. Jessie Gong and Samantha Martinelli, Yale (3)
4. Sara Daavettila and Alexa Graham, North Carolina (6)
5. Cameron Morra and Makenna Jones, North Carolina (4)

The USTA rankings continue to be by poll, so they do differ frequently from the computer generated rankings, although they agree this week on the No. 1 teams.

The USTA Division I Top 10, February 19, 2020
1. USC (5)
2. North Carolina (2)
3. Ohio State (1)
4. Florida (4)
5. Texas (3)
6. Michigan (11)
7. Wake Forest (8)
8. Stanford (10)
9. Columbia (12)
10. Texas A&M (6)

1. North Carolina (1)
2. UCLA (2)
3. Stanford (3)
4. Duke (4)
5. NC State (5)
6. Florida State (7)
7. Georgia  (6)
8. Texas (8)
9. Princeton (9)
10. Virginia (12)

The full Top 25 list for this week is available at usta.com.  There is also a new landing page for college tennis at usta.com here.

Brandon Nakashima is having an impressive debut at the ATP level this week in Delray Beach. After earning his first Top 100 win Monday over Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic, the 18-year-old wild card from San Diego got his second today, beating qualifier Cameron Norrie (TCU) of Great Britain 7-5, 6-2.  Norrie, current ATP No. 60, is Nakashima's best win. The former Virginia Cavalier will face unseeded Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in Friday's quarterfinals. Nakashima has apparently hired a new coach since I spoke with him last month in Ann Arbor, with Pat Cash now named in that capacity in this ATP article about Nakashima's win today. Cash spoke about his new partnership with Nakashima in this article.

Two all-US second round matches are on the docket for Thursday, with wild card Jack Sock taking on Steve Johnson and Frances Tiafoe facing off against Tommy Paul.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Shick Wins First ITF Junior Title in Mexico; Next Month's Grade 4 Moves From SoCal to Las Vegas; A Look at ITF Junior Rankings After 2020's Second Grade A

With all the problems that I've encountered trying to navigate the ITF's new website, it's been difficult to track what's going on throughout the Junior Circuit. In addition to the technical problems with the website, the news coverage has dropped off as well, and there was nothing posted on last week's Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil. In addition to Elvina Kalieva's title there, four other Americans claimed titles last week, all at the Grade 4 in Mexico, with 16-year-old Braden Shick sweeping singles and doubles (with Samir Banerjee) and 17-year-olds Minorka Miranda and Grace O'Donnell taking the girls doubles title.

Shick, the No. 8 seed, defeated doubles partner Banerjee, the No. 2 seed, 6-3, 6-4 for his first ITF Junior Circuit singles title. A frequent quarterfinalist at ITF Grade 4s, Shick got his third win over Banerjee in the past six months in his first ITF singles final. Shick and Banerjee, the No. 2 seeds, defeated No. 3 seeds Ozan Colak and Aidan Kim 7-5, 4-6, 10-6 in the all-American doubles final.  Miranda and O'Donnell, the No. 5 seeds, defeated No. 8 seeds Ana Paula Chavez Sanchez of Mexico and Vanesa Suarez of Venezuela 6-3, 6-3 in the girls doubles final. Miranda, the third seed, lost in the singles final to top seed Ana Paula Naranjo Martinez Kobashi of Mexico 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-3.

There are two Grade 4s this week that have large numbers of Americans. In Jalisco Mexico, Colak is the top boys seed, with Kim, Lucas Brown and Evan Wen also seeded. O'Donnell, Cecilia Alcobe Garibay, Nicole Kiefer and Leyden Games are the American girls seeded this week.

In Guatemala, Adam Duan has beaten top seed Alvin Tudorica of Canada in the first round and Ty Switzer took out No. 2 seed Carlos Solares Midence of Bolivia. Sam Scherer and Jakub Ostajewski are the two American boys seeded. Fourteen-year-old Madison Smith defeated top seed Tanisha Kashyap of India in the opening round. Brooklyn Olson is the only seeded American girl in the draw.

The last time I checked the ITF Junior calendar, not too long ago, the location of the Grade 4 that is scheduled the week before the Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson was still reading TBD. In looking today, I see that the tournament will be held outside of Southern California for the first time, with this year's event in Las Vegas.  The tournament has moved around Southern California a lot, with Claremont, Newport Beach and Irvine all hosting the event. I'm not sure why it was moved, and although Las Vegas is within driving distance of Los Angeles, about four hours, it obviously will not draw as many Southern Californians, which strengthened the fields considerably.

With the second Grade A of 2020 complete, it's a good time to look at the ITF Junior rankings. There was no change in the girls Top 10, but  with Kalieva's victory at the Banana Bowl, the 16-year-old has taken a huge jump and is into the Top 30 for the first time, at 29. With the bulk of her points earned in the past six months, she doesn't have much to defend this spring and summer, meaning that she is in good position for the summer junior slams. She has only played the US Open, and she did that via qualifying last year.  Madison Sieg with her semifinal result in Brazil, has moved to 45, and the 16-year-old also has little to defend prior to the junior slam cutoffs.

Although Matilde Paoletti of Italy moved up only 2 spots this week, to 39, she has a huge jump since the beginning of the year, having ended 2019 ranked 265. Paoletti, 16, has won a Grade 1 and made the quarterfinals and semifinals in two others in South America since mid-January to secure her place in the slams this summer.

Luciano Darderi, also of Italy, has had a similar rise in the boys rankings, with the 18-year-old winning three consecutive Grade 1s in South America to move from 208 at the end of last year to the Top 20. After making the Grade A quarterfinals and winning the doubles last week, Darderi is now sitting at No. 8 in the rankings.

The American boys who helped themselves the most in South America are Dali Blanch, 16, and Bruno Kuzuhara, 15. After reaching the semifinals last week at the Banana Bowl, Blanch is up to 24, a career high for him.  Kuzuhara has gained more than 266 places in the rankings this year, and after reaching the quarterfinals last week in Brazil, he now is at 45, with nothing to defend until the fall.

Obviously a lot can happen between now and the first of May, when the acceptances for the French will be posted, but moving into the Top 50 six weeks into the year is a good start if the goal is junior slams.

Monday, February 17, 2020

USC Drops North Carolina 4-1 to Claim ITA Men's Team Indoor Title; Nakashima Posts First ATP Top 100 Win at Delray Beach

The University of Southern California 2020 Indoor Champions

The ITA Division I Men's Team Indoor Championships provided plenty of thrills and drama over the weekend, but that did not extend to today's final between No. 2 seed Southern Cal and No. 4 seed North Carolina.

USC had somehow overcome No. 11 seed Michigan 4-3 in the semifinals after losing the doubles point and five first sets in singles, while North Carolina had blanked both No. 5 Florida and No. 1 Ohio State in the quarterfinals and semifinals, but it was the Trojans who dominated in the final, taking it 4-1.

USC had lost the doubles point to both Michigan and TCU, but today they secured what was expected to be a crucial point with a win at line 1, with Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith taking a tiebreaker from Will Blumberg and Brian Cernoch 7-6(5) after trailing 5-2 in that tiebreaker.
Rinky Hijikata and Benjamin Sigouin of UNC won at line 3, beating Stefan Dostancic and Bradley Frye 6-2, while USC quickly sent all attention to court 1 with Mor Bulis and Brandon Holt downing Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard by the same score at line 2.

USC picked up two quick first sets, with Cukierman getting one from Sigouin at line 2 and Dostanic one from Cernoch at line 5. But the Tar Heels had two quick first sets of their own, from Blumberg over Holt at line 1 and Soendergaard over Frye at line 6.  North Carolina got on the board when Holt, who had been ill all weekend and didn't play in the quarterfinals, retired after losing the first set 6-0. But Bulis took the first set from Joshua Peck at line 4, giving the Trojans a clear path to the title.  At line 3, Hijikata served for the first set against Smith at 5-4, but he was broken at 30-40, and when Smith went on to take the tiebreaker, USC had four first sets. By then, Cukierman had made it 2-1 with his 6-2, 6-1 win over Sigouin and, just a few minutes later, Dostanic closed out Cernoch 6-1, 6-4 to give USC a 3-1 lead.

Bulis had a big lead on Peck and served for the match and the championships at 6-3, 5-0, but was broken. Peck went up 40-0 in his next service game, but lost it on the deuce point, giving the Trojans a 4-1 victory in almost exactly two hours.

It's the fourth Team Indoor title for Southern California, whose previous three came in 1987, 1988 and 2012.

The ITA's recap of the final is here. USC's recap of the final is here.

ITA Men's Division I Team Indoor Championships
February 17, 2020

USC 4, North Carolina 1

(1) Cukierman/R. Smith (USC) vs. Blumberg/Cernoch 7-6(5)
(2) Bulis/Holt (USC) def. Kiger/Soendergaard (UNC) 6-2
(3) Hijikata/Sigouin (UNC) def. Dostanic/Frye (USC) 6-2

Order of finish: 3, 2, 1*

(1) William Blumberg (UNC) def. #24 Brandon Holt (USC) 6-0 ret.
(2) Daniel Cukierman (USC) def. #60 Ben Sigouin (UNC) 6-2, 6-1
(3) Riley Smith (USC) vs. Rinky Hijikata (UNC) 7-6(2), 2-3 susp.
(4) Mor Bulis (USC) def. #80 Josh Peck 6-3, 6-1*
(5) Stefan Dostanic (USC) def. Brian Cernoch (UNC) 6-1, 6-4
(6) Bradley Frye (USC) vs. Simon Soendergaard (UNC) 0-6, 6-3, 0-1 susp.

Order of finish: 1, 2, 5, 4*

There are no USTA Pro Circuit events this week for men or women, so the focus of US tennis is on the ATP 250 Delray Beach Open in Florida. Today 18-year-old wild card Brandon Nakashima made his ATP main draw debut there and got his first Top 100 win, beating Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 7-6(4), 6-1. Nakashima, who has competed in qualifying at both the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and at the US Open, had previously played four other players in the ATP Top 100 before he took out No. 74 Vesely today. He will play the winner of the match between Taylor Fritz[3] and qualifier Cameron Norrie(TCU) of Great Britain.  Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic are the top two seeds in Delray Beach.

The ATP has a 5 Things to Know series about those having breakthroughs, and Nakashima is featured today.

If you are a Tennis Recruiting Network member, you can read my entire article on Nakashima from last month, when I spoke with him at the Ann Arbor Challenger. One update from that conversation is that Nakashima has in the past few weeks signed an endorsement agreement with Fila. At Ann Arbor, he was still wearing Lacoste, which had sponsored him as a junior, but he told me there were deals in the works, so I am not surprised by the switch.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Kalieva Claims Banana Bowl Title; North Carolina Downs Ohio State, Faces Southern Cal in ITA Men's Team Indoor Final Monday; Torpegaard Wins Cleveland Challenger

Although the ITF website has been down all day, I was able to discover the winners of today's singles finals at the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil thanks to some help from a twitter follower.

Sixteen-year-old Elvina Kalieva won the girls title, beating unseeded Leyre Romero Gormaz of Spain 6-1, 1-6, 6-2.  Kalieva, the No. 8 seed, had not dropped a set all week, so that middle set is something of a surprise, but she recovered for her first Grade A title. Her previous best showing at that level was a quarterfinal at the South African tournament last fall.

The boys title went to No. 3 seed Hanwen Li of China, who earned the title when top seed Natan Rodrigues of Brazil retired after losing the first set 6-4. The 17-year-old Li had not been past the third round at a Grade A before this week.

The finals are set for the ITA Division I Men's Team Indoor Championships, and a new champion will be crowned, after No. 4 North Carolina defeated top seed and defending champion Ohio State 4-0 in this evening's match.  The Tar Heels took the doubles point with little difficulty and then grabbed five first sets, with the singles points coming from Rinky Hijikata at line 3, Simon Soendergaard at line 6 and, with the clinch, Brian Cernoch at line 5. Ohio State's battle with Wake Forest Saturday night probably had some impact on their slow start today, and they were up in the three unfinished singles matches, but the Tar Heels definitely earned their shot at their first Indoor title since 2016.

North Carolina will take on No. 2 seed Southern California, who mounted an incredible comeback to defeat No. 11 seed Michigan 4-3. After losing the doubles point in a tiebreaker at line 3, USC lost five first sets, but the Trojans fought back to take three of those matches to a third set and won them all. Riley Smith got USC on the board with a win at line 3, but Michigan made it 3-1 with wins by Andrew Fenty at line 1 and Connor Johnston at line 4. USC made it 3-2 with Stefan Dostanic beating Nick Beaty 2-6 6-4, 6-3 at line 5, and the Trojans were up in the third set of the remaining two matches, but more drama remained. USC's Daniel Cukierman, the top-ranked player in the country, led Ondrej Styler 5-2 in the third at line 2, but couldn't close it out serving for it at 5-3. Styler saved two match points serving at 5-4, and with two more holds, they moved into a tiebreaker. Ryder Jackson saw his break over Patrick Maloney slip away at line 6, but he quickly regained the lead and when he earned his 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-3 win, Cukierman was up 5-1 in the tiebreaker, and three points later, USC completed the comeback.

USC last won an Indoor title in 2012 and made the Indoor finals the following three years, but this is their first final since 2015.

The final is scheduled for noon on Monday, with links to live streaming and live scoring available at the ITA tournament page. The score links in the above paragraphs go to the TennisTicker results pages for the two semifinal matches.

Americans were shut out as far as singles titles go at the three USTA Pro Circuit tournaments this week.

At the women's $100,000 tournament in Lexington Kentucky, wild card Claire Liu lost to Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-4, 6-4.

photo courtesy Scott Gerber©2019
The Buckeyes did get a win today at the ATP 80 Challenger in Cleveland, with former Ohio State Mikael Torpegaard claiming his third Challenger title and first not in Columbus. The 25-year-old from Denmark, seeded No. 12 seed, beat unseeded Yosuke Watanuki of Japan 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in today's final.

Unseeded Treat Huey(Virginia) and Nate Lammons(SMU) won the doubles title, beating top seeds JP Smith(Tennessee) and Luke Saville of Australia 7-5, 6-2.

Another former SMU standout came out on top at the $25,000 men's tournament in Naples Florida, with No. 8 seed Ronald Slobodchikov of Russia beating qualifier Alejandro Gomez(Kentucky) of Colombia 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in the final. It's the sixth title for the 26-year-old, but the first above the $15K level.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Kalieva Reaches Grade A Banana Bowl Final; Liu Advances to Final at Lexington $100K; Ohio State Survives Wake Forest in Thriller to Reach ITA Men's Team Indoor Semifinals

Elvina Kalieva is through to Sunday's singles final at the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil. The 16-year-old, whose previous best showing at a Grade A event was a quarterfinal, again won in straight sets, beating unseeded Sabina Zeynalova of Ukraine 6-2, 6-0. In her five victories this week, the eighth-seeded Kalieva has lost just 13 games, with seven of those in the quarterfinals against No. 3 seed Julia Garcia of Mexico.  Kalieva will again face an unseeded opponent Sunday, after Leyre Romero Gormaz of Spain prevented an all-US final with a 7-6(8), 2-6, 6-4 win over No. 6 seed Madison Sieg.

In the boys semifinals, top seed Natan Rodrigues of Brazil defeated American Dali Blanch, the No. 4 seed, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-3. Rodrigues will face No. 3 seed Hanwen Li of China, who beat No. 6 seed Roman Burruchaga of Argentina 6-4, 6-3.

Blanch also fell in the doubles final. He and partner Lorenzo Claverie of Venezuela, the No. 4 seeds, lost to No. 2 seeds Luciano Darderi of Italy and Gustavo Heide of Brazil 6-2, 6-3 in the championship match.

The girls doubles title went to No. 2 seeds Ana Geller of Argentina and Guillermina Grant of Uruguay. They defeated unseeded Mell Reasco Gonzalez of Ecuador and Solana Sierra of Argentina 6-4, 6-4 in the final.

An unseeded champion will emerge from the new women's $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Lexington Kentucky when 19-year-old wild card Claire Liu takes on 31-year-old Olga Govortsova of Belarus Sunday for the title. This is by far the biggest final of Liu's career; her previous finals were all at the $25,000 level or below. Govortosva, who reached a high of 35 in the WTA rankings back in 2008, has made three WTA Tour finals, but her biggest title is the Midland $100K back in 2012. In today's semifinals, Liu defeated lucky loser Francoise Abanda of Canada 6-1, 6-2 and Govortsova beat No. 3 seed Madison Brengle 6-4, 6-3.

The doubles final was also between two unseeded contestants. Catherine Harrison(UCLA) and Quinn Gleason(Notre Dame) defeated Whitney Osuigwe and Hailey Baptiste 7-5, 6-2 in today's championship match.

photo courtesy ITA/Jacob Dye
The only 4-3 match of the day at the ITA Men's Division I Team Indoor Championships came late tonight, with top seed and defending champion Ohio State barely holding off No. 9 seed Wake Forest. After the Buckeyes won a very tight doubles point, they took four first sets in singles, but it was Wake Forest who held on to their advantage, closing out the first two singles points with Taha Baadi winning at line 3 and Bar Botzer at line 1.  Ohio State couldn't close out any of the matches they led in straight sets, and it was nearly three hours into the match before Ohio State finally got two singles points from Cannon Kingsley at line 2 and Kyle Seelig at line 4. Wake's Sid Banthia came all the way back to win in three at line 6, meaning that James Trotter and Eduardo Nava would decide the match at line 5. It was 3-3 in the third when the dual match score went to 3-3, and there were twists and turns yet to come.  Trotter broke for a 5-3 lead, but could not serve out the match, getting broken at love while looking very nervous throughout the game. Nava held for 5-5, followed by Trotter holding on a deciding point for a 6-5 lead. Serving to get to a tiebreaker, Nava went down 30-40, and although he saved one match point with a good first serve, Trotter scrambled around on the deciding point, kept the ball in play and eventually Nava hit a forehand long to end it.

Michigan is the only seed outside the Top 4 to reach Sunday's semifinals. The No. 11 Wolverines' 4-2 win over No. 3 seed and NCAA champion Texas was particularly impressive, because the Wolverines were without their No. 3 player Mattias Siimar. With the doubles point going to Texas, and Michigan short-handed, a victory seemed unlikely, but they got impressive wins from Andrew Fenty, who beat Yuya Ito, the second-ranked player in the country, at line 1 and Ondrej Styler, who beat No. 12 Christian Sigsgaard at line 2. Additional points from Connor Johnston and Nick Beaty at lines 3 and 4 completed the upset for the Wolverines.

No. 2 seed USC had beaten No. 7 seed Stanford 6-1 a couple of weeks ago in Palo Alto, and despite playing without their No. 1 player Brandon Holt, the Trojans again got the better of the Cardinal.

No. 4 seed North Carolina and No. 5 seed Florida was expected to be a dogfight but the Tar Heels never let the Gators into the match, with Will Blumberg at 1, Rinky Hijikata at 3 and Brian Cernoch at 5 getting straight-sets wins, and with the doubles point, getting to four points before Florida could get on the board.

ITA Men's Division I Team Indoor Championships
Quarterfinals, Saturday February 15, 2020:
Michigan[11] d. Texas[3] 4-2
USC[2] d. Stanford[7] 4-0
North Carolina[4] d. Florida[5] 4-0
Ohio State[1] d. Wake Forest[9] 4-3

Semifinals, Sunday February 16, 2020
Michigan[11] v. USC[2] noon
North Carolina[4] v Ohio State[1] 3:30 p.m.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Coleman Commits to Duke; Damm and Kodat Win Doubles Title at Naples $25K; Blanch, Sieg and Kalieva Reach Brazil Grade A Semifinals; Six of Eight Top Seeds Advance at D-I Men's Team Indoor

When I was at the Dow Tennis Classic last week in Midland, I had an opportunity to talk with hometown wild card Ellie Coleman about her recent commitment to Duke for the fall of 2021. For more on why the 16-year-old blue chip chose the Blue Devils, see this article at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Because they have been playing different tournaments the past several months, with Martin Damm mostly competing in ITF Junior Circuit events and Toby Kodat mostly competing on the ITF's World Tennis Tour, the longtime friends and partners have not played together often. But today, the wild card team won the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Naples Florida, beating the unseeded Colombia team of Nicolas Barrientos and Cristian Rodriguez 4-6, 6-4, 10-7 in the final. I believe it's the first Pro title for the Kalamazoo 18s doubles champions, who became the youngest pair to win a doubles match at the US Open last September, but with the ITF website currently not showing past results, I can't double check that.

Qualifier Evan Zhu, the former UCLA star, is into the singles semifinals. Zhu, the only American remaining, will play fellow qualifier Alejandro Gomez(Kentucky) of Colombia Saturday. The 21-year-old Zhu, who reached the ATP Top 500 last fall, had not won a main draw match in his four previous tournaments this year.

No. 4 seed Dali Blanch, No. 6 seed Madison Sieg and No. 8 seed Elvina Kalieva have advanced to the singles semifinals at the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil.  Blanch, playing in his first Grade A quarterfinal, defeated 15-year-old Jerry Shang of China 6-4, 6-3 in today's quarterfinals and will play top seed Natan Rodrigues of Brazil for a place in the final.  Blanch and his partner Lorenzo Claverie of Venezuela have also advanced to the doubles final.

The 16-year-old Kalieva, who has yet to drop a set this week, defeated No. 3 seed Julia Garcia of Mexico 6-3, 6-4 and will face unseeded 15-year-old Sabina Zeynalova of Ukraine. It's the first Grade A semifinal for Kalieva.  Sieg, also 16, defeated No. 14 seed Tina Smith of Australia 6-4, 6-2 to reach her second Grade A semifinal, having also made the semis in Merida Mexico last November. Sieg's opponent in this week's semifinal is unseeded 17-year-old Leyre Romero Gormaz of Spain.

Plenty of close matches today in Madison Wisconsin on the opening day of the ITA Division I Men's Team Indoor Championships, but six of the top 8 seeds advanced to the quarterfinals. Stanford, USC and Texas all dropped the doubles point, but won four singles matches to advance.

In the 4-3 decisions, Stanford freshman Neel Rajesh got the fourth point for the Cardinal at line 5 and Michigan freshman Ondrej Styler clinched the last match on for the Wolverines at line 2. Click on the winning team's name below to go to their coverage.

Men's Division I Team Indoor Championships
Round of 16
February 14, 2020

Texas[3] d. UCLA[14] 4-2
Michigan[11] d. Texas A&M[6] 4-3
Stanford[7] d. NC State[10] 4-3
USC[2] d. TCU[15] 4-2
Florida[5] d. Columbia[12] 4-0
North Carolina[4] d. South Carolina[13] 4-2
Wake Forest[9] d. Baylor[8] 4-1
Ohio State[1] d. Wisconsin[16] 4-0

Texas[3] v. Michigan[11] 9 a.m.
USC[2] v. Stanford[7] noon
North Carolina[4] v. Florida[5] 3:30 p.m.
Ohio State[1] v. Wake Forest[9] 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

North Carolina Women Take Over Top Spot in ITA Rankings, Dominate Indoor All-Tournament Team; Men's D-I Team Indoor Begins Friday; Blanch, Kuzuhara, Kalieva and Sieg Reach Grade A Banana Bowl Quarterfinals

The ITA's new women's Division I team rankings are out, and they are the last rankings done by ballot, with next week's the first done by computer.  As is customary, the winner of the National Team Indoor Championships moves to No. 1, with North Carolina at the top, followed by finalist UCLA. Georgia fell from 3 to 8 and Princeton made a big jump, from 17 to 9.

There are no ITA men's team rankings this week in advance of the Indoor, but the USTA did release its poll yesterday, with the Ohio State men and the North Carolina women at the top spot. The North Carolina men are No. 2 in the USTA poll, but are seeded No. 4 at the Indoor; of course the results this weekend will go a long way to getting more uniformity between the USTA poll and ITA computer (I think. Maybe.). The full USTA Top 25 release is available here, and they have also added the rankings of current and former collegians in the Top 300 to their weekly report.

The ITA Division I Women's Team rankings, February 13, 2020:
(previous ranking in parentheses).

1. North Carolina (2)
2. UCLA (4)
3. Stanford (1)
4. Florida State (9)
5. NC State (8)
6. Duke (5)
7. Texas (7)
8. Georgia (3)
9. Princeton (17)
10. Ohio State (12)

The ITA released its women's Team Indoor all-Tournament team, with North Carolina senior Sara Daavettila named Most Outstanding Player. The only players not on either North Carolina or UCLA are Duke's No. 2 doubles team of Margaryta Bilokin and Meible Chi.

All-Tournament Team:
No. 1 singles: Alexa Graham, UNC
No. 2 singles: Sara Daavettila, UNC
No. 3 singles: Jada Hart, UCLA
No. 4 singles: Elizabeth Scotty, UNC
No. 5 singes: Makenna Jones, UNC
No. 6 singles: Sasha Vagramov, UCLA

No. 1 doubles: Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart, UCLA
No. 2 doubles: Margaryta Bilokin and Meible Chi, Duke
No. 3 doubles: Cameron Morra and Elizabeth Scotty, UNC

For the results of the above players, see this article from the ITA.

The Men's Team Indoor begins tomorrow in Madison Wisconsin at 9 a.m. central time. Links to live scoring and live streaming can be found at the ITA tournament page.

Texas[3] v UCLA[14] 9 a.m.
Texas A&M[6] v Michigan[11] 9 a.m.
Stanford[7] v NC State[10] noon
USC[2] v TCU[15] noon
Florida[5] v Columbia[12] 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina[13] v North Carolina[4] 3:30 p.m.
Wake Forest[9] v Baylor[8] 6:30 p.m.
Ohio State[1] v Wisconsin[16] 6:30 p.m.

The quarterfinals are set at the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil, with two American girls and two American boys still in the running for a title.

No. 4 seed Dali Blanch defeated No. 13 seed Petr Nesterov of Bulgaria 7-5, 6-2 in the third round and will take on unseeded Jerry Shang of China in the quarterfinals. No. 12 seed Bruno Kuzuhara beat unseeded Nicolas Zanellato of Brazil 7-6(4), 6-3 and will face No. 3 seed Hanwen Li of China next.

No. 6 seed Madison Sieg defeated No. 11 seed Alejandra Cruz of Mexico 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 and will play No. 14 seed Tina Smith of Australia. Both the No. 1 seed Dana Guzman of Peru and the No. 2 seed Mell Reasco Gonzalez of Ecuador lost in the second round. Elvina Kalieva, the No. 8 seed, has lost only four games in her first three matches, beating No. 10 seed Matilde Paoletti of Italy 6-1, 6-0 in today's third round. Kalieva, who has played only one other tournament this year, the qualifying of the $25K in Daytona Beach, faces No. 3 seed Julia Garcia of Mexico in the quarterfinals. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

ITF World Tennis Tour Juniors Rule Changes for 2020: Coaching Out, No Let Rule Stays

The ITF has published its new Junior Circuit rules for 2020 and I don't see a huge number of major changes this year.  The big news is the discontinuation of the changeover coaching trial implemented in 2019.

Last year, at Grade A and Grade 1 events, when a chair umpire was present, a player could request a consultation with a coach, on a changeover, once per set. The coach had to register with the ITF supervisor prior to the start of the tournament.

In announcing that the trial would not be continued, the ITF release said:  Significant analysis was undertaken of the use of on-court coaching in 2019: how often it was used; at which stage of the match; and whether it had an effect on the result of the match. Players and coaches were also surveyed and asked their opinion about the advantages, and any drawbacks, of on-court coaching; how often they used it; and whether they supported its permanent introduction. As a result of this research, the ITF Juniors Committee decided not to introduce on-court coaching as a permanent feature of the ITF World Tennis Tour Juniors.

I don't know if any of those surveys were ever released, but I have not heard that they are available to the public. Unlike many in the tennis community, I don't have strong feelings one way or the other on coaching in tennis. I do think it is more appropriate to have it in juniors than elsewhere, but apparently the ITF found little support for this initiative, so coaching will go back to being done on the sly at junior events.
Cannon Kingsley talks with his coach at 2019 US Open Junior Championships
The ITF may not allow coaching any longer, but the junior slams are not obligated to follow their rules, even if the junior slams are ITF Grade A designated events. The Australian Open did allow coaching during junior matches this year, and the US Open has allowed it for several years now, so for the slams, those decisions will be made independently.

The rule allowing service lets to be played continues, and with this the third year, I don't see any reason to expect that to change. Again, an exception exists for the junior slams; Wimbledon does not use this rule for its Junior Championships, but it customary now throughout the rest of the ITF Junior Circuit.

The junior slam exception also applies to the ITF's heat rule, which remains unchanged from 2018. The Australian Open used its own system for matches this year, and junior matches were suspended one day, but AO has a much higher threshold than that appearing in the ITF regulations.

As I do every year, I encourage everyone to read the entire junior regulations. I admit I don't look forward to doing it every January, but when I do, I always learn something. At the very least, read the ITF's synopsis of the changes for 2020, and look through the full regulations for the underlined parts, which represent changes for this year. Below are some of the items that are new for 2020:
  • One of the most common changes in the past few years has been point adjustments, and the new point schedule has raised the points granted substantially, in both singles and doubles, for Grades A, 1 and 2. The only round not receiving more points is the winner of a junior slam or a Grade A; all others, including slam and Grade A finalists, will receive more points. I'm not sure what problem this solves, it would be nice if this was the last such change for a while.
  • There is a new 16-and-under Regional Reserved category for entry into Grade 2s through Grade 5s, but this agreement is between the ITF and Tennis Europe and COSAT, the South American federation, so will not impact those in North America. 
  • The minimum numbers of players in a Grade 1 draw has been reduced from 48 to 32. 
  • There is a new regulation requiring a Grade A to have a minimum number of entries--64--or risk a decreased number of points the following year. I'm not sure if this is directed at the new Grade A last fall in South Africa, which did not have a qualifying tournament and still failed to fill the draw, with 63 in the boys main draw and 61 in the girls main draw.
  • Junior draws are to be done in public and individuals are welcome to witness the procedure after notifying the supervisor that they would like to be present.
  • Juniors who attain a Top 200 ITF junior ranking are required to complete anti-doping and integrity modules on the ITF Knowledge educational website within three months of moving into the Top 200.
  • Warmups will use the 1-5-1 model the ATP and WTA now have, but without chair umpires in 90 percent of the matches, I don't see how this can possibly be enforced at the junior level.
  • There has been an increase in the number of tournaments that year-end Top 20 juniors can receive exempt entry into this year, from three to five. 
  • There are now 3 places reserved for ITF Top 100 Juniors at $15,000 World Tennis Tour events.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ohio State, USC Top Two Seeds at ITA Men's National Team Indoor Championships; Qualifying Complete at Women's $100K and Men's $25K; Collegians Prosper at Cleveland Challenger

The draw has been released for this weekend's ITA Men's Division I National Team Indoor Championships in Wisconsin, with Ohio State seeded No. 1 and Southern California seeded No. 2. The Buckeyes defeated the Trojans 4-2 in Columbus on Sunday and are at home against Texas A&M tonight before heading to Madison. Unlike the women's draw, which only has eight of the 16 teams seeded, the men have always seeded 1-16 and matched those up directly, with 1 playing 16, 2 playing 15, down to 8 vs 9.

Here are the seeds:
1. Ohio State
2. Southern Cal
3. Texas
4. North Carolina
5. Florida
6. Texas A&M
7. Stanford
8. Baylor
9. Wake Forest
10. NC State
11. Michigan
12. Columbia
13. South Carolina
14. UCLA
15. TCU
16. Wisconsin

Play begins on Friday. Here's the schedule:
Texas[3] v UCLA[14] 9 a.m.
Texas A&M[6] v Michigan[11] 9 a.m.
Stanford[7] v NC State[10] noon
USC[2] v TCU[15] noon
Florida[5] v Columbia[12] 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina[13] v North Carolina[4] 3:30 p.m.
Wake Forest[9] v Baylor[8] 6:30 p.m.
Ohio State[1] v Wisconsin[16] 6:30 p.m.

There are three events this week on the USTA Pro Circuit, with the women blessed with a $100,000 tournament for a second straight week. Lexington's Top Seed Tennis Club, which hosted the 2019 ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed for the first time time last October, is the the site of this week's event, which has drawn many of the same players that appeared in Midland.

Qualifying ended today, with Jamie Loeb(UNC), who reached the semifinals last week in Midland, Maria Mateas(Duke), Ellie Halbauer, Hanna Chang and Grace Min the American qualifiers. The top seed this week is Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, with wild cards going to Cici Bellis, Irina Falconi, Claire Liu and former Kentucky star Aldila Sutjiadi of Indonesia. Seventeen-year-old Whitney Osuigwe, the No. 8 seed, is playing her first event since the Australian Open qualifying. She advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Sutjiadi today.

The men have two events this week, with qualifying concluding today at the $25,000 tournament in Naples Florida. Alex Rybakov(TCU) and Evan Zhu(UCLA) are the Americans who qualified for the main draw. Former North Carolina star Jose Hernandez-Fernandez of the Dominican Republic is the top seed and he won his first round match today over 2019 French Open Junior champion Holger Rune of Denmark. Wild cards were given to Texas recruit Micah Braswell, Florida State recruit John Bernard, Martin Damm and Patrick Kypson(Texas A&M). 2019 Kalamazoo doubles champions Damm and Toby Kodat, who have not played together much since the US Open  last year, beat top seeds Hunter and Yates Johnson(SMU) 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 in the first round of doubles today.

The other men's event this week is an ATP 80 Challenger in Cleveland, with Maxime Cressy, the recent UCLA graduate, defending his title. Cressy, who is unseeded this week, defeated Luke Saville of Australia 6-3, 6-4 in first round action Monday.  Former Virginia star JC Aragone beat No. 2 seed Christopher O'Connell of Australia 7-6(5), 6-2 today, and wild card Raymond Sarmiento(USC) beat No. 16 seed Ji Sung Nam of Korea 6-3, 6-2. They will face off in the third round Thursday. Top seed Denis Kudla, a finalist last week in Dallas, will play former USC star Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador in the second round tomorrow, and former Ohio State Buckeye JJ Wolf, the No. 6 seed, will play Dallas champion Jurij Rodionov of Austria, who is unseeded again this week.

Monday, February 10, 2020

North Carolina Women Blank UCLA for Fourth Team Indoor Title; 15 Americans Begin Play at Brazil's Grade A Banana Bowl; US Advances to Fed Cup Final; Men's Davis Cup Team Named

North Carolina wins its fourth ITA Team Indoor title
(photo via ITA)
The North Carolina Tar Heels claimed their fourth ITA Women's Team Indoor Championship Monday in Chicago, with the No. 2 seeds defeating No. 4 seeds UCLA 4-0.  Although it will go in the record books as a shutout, North Carolina had to negotiate some tough moments, first to win the doubles point, and then in closing out the singles portion of the competition.

One minute after North Carolina won the doubles match on court 2, with Cameron Morra and Elizabeth Scotty beating Abbey Forbes and Annette Goulak 6-2, UCLA's Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart handed Sara Daavettila and Alexa Graham their first lost of the year by the same score. That put the doubles point in the hands of the No. 3 court, where North Carolina's Makenna Jones and Alle Sanford were up 5-3 against Abi Altick and Taylor Johnson, after Jones had held from 15-40 down.  Altick and Johnson saved two match points in the next game, with Altick holding from 30-40 down. Serving for the match at 5-4, Sanford double faulted, badly, three straight times to give Altick and Johnson three break points, but with Jones active at the net, UNC brought it back to the deuce point. Sanford then double faulted again, to make it 5-5, but Johnson lost her serve on a deciding point to give Jones her opportunity to close it. Up 40-0, Jones lost the team's fourth match point, but a good first serve sealed match point No. 5 for the Tar Heels.

UCLA got a quick lead at line 3, with Hart blanking Morra in the first set, but Jones, who played No. 1 for North Carolina last year at the Team Indoor, dominated Goulak at line 5, and it was Jones who earned the first first set and the second Tar Heel point, with a 6-0, 6-2 victory. North Carolina had won four first sets, to give themselves a comfortable advantage, and when Graham took the first set from Bolton in a tiebreaker at 1, the Bruins chances looked bleak.  Morra fought back to take the second set at line 3, while Scotty closed out Altick at line 4 to give North Carolina a 3-0 lead.
Alexa Graham clinches the win for the Tar Heels
(photo courtesy ITA/Jacob Dye)
Sanford had looked like the clincher, up 6-2, 5-2, over Sasha Vagramov at line 6, but she couldn't close, with Vagramov giving the Bruins hope by winning four straight games and forcing a tiebreaker. But while the freshman from Canada was coming back, Graham had opened up a lead second set lead on Bolton at line 1, and the senior efficiently closed it out, clinching North Carolina's fourth championship, all since 2013.

The Tar Heels are now tied for third with Georgia in all-time National Indoor titles, with Stanford[10] and Florida[7] the only teams ahead of them.

For more on the match, see this account from the North Carolina website.

ITA Women’s Division I National Team Indoor Championships
February 10, 2020
North Carolina[2] d. UCLA[4] 4-0

Bolton/Hart (UCLA) def. Daavettila/Graham (UNC) 6-2
Morra/Scotty (UNC) def. Forbes/Goulak (UCLA) 6-2
Jones/Sanford (UNC) def. Altick/Johnson (UCLA) 7-5

Order of finish: 2, 1, 3

#7 Alexa Graham (UNC) def. #14 Elysia Bolton (UCLA) 7-6(4), 6-3
#4 Sara Daavettila (UNC) vs. #5 Abbey Forbes (UCLA) 7-5, 3-6, unfinished
#9 Cameron Morra (UNC) vs. #16 Jada Hart (UCLA) 0-6, 6-4, 2-2, unfinished
Elizabeth Scotty (UNC) def. Abi Altick (UCLA) 6-4, 6-1
#101 Makenna Jones (UNC) def. #112 Annette Goulak (UCLA) 6-0, 6-2
#36 Alle Sanford (UNC) vs. Sasha Vagramov (UCLA) 6-2, 6-6(5-2), unfinished

Order of finish: 5, 4, 1

The second Grade A of the year is underway this week in Brazil, with four US boys and 11 US girls in the main draw of the Banana Bowl. The boys competing for their first Grade A title this week are Dali Blanch[4], Bruno Kuzuhara[12], Victor Lilov and Murphy Cassone.  As he has been in the last three South American Grade 1s, Nathan Rodrigues of Brazil is the top seed. Luciano Darderi of Italy, who won those three tournaments, is seeded No. 2 and Cassone has drawn him in the first round.

The US girls competing this week are Madison Sieg[6], Elvina Kalieva[8], Sofia Rojas[12], Isabelle Kouzmanov[13], Hibah Shaikh, Tara Malik, Alexis Blokhina, Hina Inoue, Dakota Fordham, Emma Jackson and qualifier Krystal Blanch.

Late Saturday night, the US Fed Cup team advanced to April's 12-team final in Budapest Hungary, beating Latvia 3-2.  Serena Williams and Sofia Kenin gave the US a 2-0 lead on Friday, but Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasia Sevastova beat Kenin and Williams in the reverse singles to send the tie to a deciding doubles match, which Kenin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won, 6-4, 6-0, over Ostapenko and Sevastova. For more on the tie, see this article from usta.com.

The USTA announced its Davis Cup team for next month's qualifying match against Uzbekistan, with Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul and the Bryan brothers hoping to send the US to November's Davis Cup competition in Madrid. It will be the last Davis Cup appearance for the Bryan brothers, who are retiring this year. Fritz and Opelka played on the US Davis Cup team last year; it is Paul's first time on the team. The tie is March 6th and 7th in Honolulu. Click here for today's announcement from the USTA.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

North Carolina and UCLA Dominate Semifinals at Women's D-I ITA Team Indoor Championships; Ohio State Men Beat USC; Ritschard Takes Palm Coast $25K; Rogers Wins Dow $100K; Darderi Claims Third Straight Grade 1 in South America

XS Tennis Village Courts in Chicago, site of the Women's ITA Team Indoor Championships, photo courtesy of ITA/Jacob Dye
After some tense quarterfinal matches Saturday, today's semifinals at the ITA Women's Division I Team Indoor Championships were short on excitement, with No. 2 seed North Carolina defeating Duke 4-0 and No. 4 seed UCLA steamrolling top seed Stanford 4-0.

North Carolina took the doubles point with 6-4 wins at No. 1 and No. 3, with Duke leading at No. 2. The Tar Heels got quick wins from Sara Daavettila at line 2 and Alle Sanford at line 6 to make it 3-0, with Makenna Jones clinching for North Carolina with a 6-4, 6-3 decision over Chloe Beck at line 5. Duke won just two sets, at line 1 and line 4, but Duke's Kelly Chen was at match point against Alexa Graham at line 1 when Jones clinched. North Carolina has now made the Team Indoor finals for the sixth consecutive year; they won the title in 2015 and 2018, and finished runner-up in 2016, 2017 and 2019. They won their first Team Indoor title in 2013.

UCLA's victory over Stanford was even more impressive than North Carolina's over Duke. The Bruins took the doubles point with 6-1 wins at 1 and 2 and led 5-2 at line 3. In singles they won all six first sets, and although Michaela Gordon came back to take the second set from Elysia Bolton at line 1, that was the only set the Cardinal could muster. Swift victories by Abbey Forbes and line 2 and Jada Hart at line 3 made it 3-0, and freshman Sasha Vagramov closed it out on a deuce point, beating Emma Higuchi 6-3, 6-3 at line 6.  UCLA will be seeking its second Team Indoor title, with their first coming in 2012. The Bruins made the final the next two years, losing to UNC in 2013 and Duke in 2014. This is their first finals appearance since then.

The final is set for 11 a.m. central time on Monday. Live streaming and live scoring is available at the ITA tournament page. Links to on demand matches are also available there.

A week after beating No. 1 Texas, the Ohio State men defeated this week's No. 1 USC 4-2 in Columbus this afternoon. Ohio State, No. 2 in the ITA rankings, won a excruciatingly tight doubles point, then got a win from freshman Cannon Kingsley (over ITA No. 1 Daniel Cukierman) at line 2 before Mor Bulis put the Trojans on the board with a win at line 4. Buckeye John McNally beat Brandon Holt at line 1 to make it 3-1, but the other three matches all went to third sets.  USC's Riley Smith rallied to beat Kyle Seelig at line 3 to make it 3-2, but James Trotter closed out the win for Ohio State at line 5, defeating freshman Stefan Dostanic 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2. There are no ITA rankings released this week for the men, with their Team Indoor beginning on Friday in Wisconsin, but it will be interesting to see how the USTA panel votes, after putting North Carolina at the No. 1 spot ahead of Ohio State last week. UNC shut out No. 11 TCU today.

At the $25,000 men's USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Palm Coast Florida, No. 6 seed Alexander Ritschard defeated unseeded Martins Podzus of Latvia 7-6(7), 6-4 to earn his fifth ITF World Tennis Tour singles title and the second at the $25K level. The 25-year-old, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2017, is at an ATP career-high of 333 now and should move up when the points are added the week of the 17th.

Another American seeded sixth took a title today, with considerably less work. Shelby Rogers won the biggest title of her career without hitting a ball today, when No. 7 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine could not play in the $100,000 Dow Tennis Classic final due to a foot injury. Rogers, who was out for nearly 18 months with knee surgery in 2018 and 2019, is now headed back toward the WTA Top 100 after falling into the 700s at the beginning of last year. The final singles draw is here.

Top seeds Caroline Dolehide and Maria Sanchez(USC) won the doubles title Saturday night, beating No. 2 seeds Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium and Valeria Savinykh of Russia 6-3, 6-4.

No. 5 seed Denis Kudla fell to unseeded Jurij Rodionov of Austria 7-5, 7-6(10) in the final of the ATP 100 Challenger in Dallas this afternoon. In the doubles final, unseeded Dennis Novikov(UCLA) and Goncalo Oliveira of Portugal defeated No. 3 seeds Luis Martinez of Venezuela and Miguel Reyes-Varela(Texas) of Mexico 6-3, 6-4.

At the ITF Grade 1 in Brazil, Luciano Darderi of Italy won his third straight title in South America, extending his record this year in ITF Grade 1 play to 15-0. After winning the Grade 1 titles in Ecuador and Paraguay, Darderi, who turns 18 next week, was the No. 10 seed this week and he defeated unseeded Adolfo Vallejo of Paraguay 7-5, 6-4 in today's final, winning all five of his matches in straight sets.

Unseeded Matilde Paoletti of Italy won the girls title, beating Stanford recruit Ana Geller of Argentina, the No. 2 seed, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. It's the first Grade 1 title for the 16-year-old, who made the quarterfinals and semifinals of the previous two Grade 1s in Ecuador and Paraguay.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

UNC, Duke, UCLA and Stanford Reach ITA Women's Team Indoor Semifinals; Kudla, Rogers and Ritschard Make USTA Pro Circuit Finals

Conference rivals will square off Sunday in the semifinals of the ITA Division I Women's Team Indoor Championships, with three of the top four seeds advancing to the final four.

UNC's Alexa Graham and Sara Daavettila defeated NC State's Alana Smith
and Anna Rogers, No. 1 in the country, 6-1 in doubles today. (photo courtesy ITA)
The unseeded team in the semifinals is Duke, who took out No. 3 seed and defending champion Georgia 4-2 in the closest of the four quarterfinals. Kelly Chen defeated Katarina Jokic at line 1 to clinch the win for the Blue Devils, who avenged their loss to Georgia in last year's NCAA semifinals. For the third year in a row, Duke will take on North Carolina in the Indoor semifinals, with the Tar Heels winning in 2018 and 2019.  North Carolina defeated NC State, one of five ACC teams in the quarterfinals, 4-1 today.

Top seed Stanford wasn't pushed quite as hard as in the round of 16, when they beat Michigan 4-3, but the Cardinal did get a tough test from Georgia Tech before Emily Arbuthnott closed it out at line 2.

UCLA earned a quick win over Florida State, who had managed to claim just one set before the Bruins got their fourth point. For recaps of each match, click on the links below.

Quarterfinals Women's D-I Team Indoor
February 8, 2020
North Carolina[2] d. NC State[7] 4-1
Duke d. Georgia[3] 4-2
Stanford[1] d. Georgia Tech 4-1
UCLA[4] d. Florida State 4-0

Semifinals Women's D-I Team Indoor
February 9, 2020
North Carolina[2] v Duke, noon
Stanford[1] v UCLA[4], 3:30

For the live streaming link, the live scoring link and results from consolation matches, see the ITA tournament page. On demand replays are also available for selected matches. See the recap of Friday's action for links to those.

Denis Kudla has advanced to the final of the ATP 100 Challenger in Dallas after the No. 5 seed defeated for USC star Emilio Gomez, the No. 10 seed, 6-4, 6-4 tonight. Kudla will play unseeded Jurij Rodionov of Austria in Sunday's final after Rodionov defeated No. 3 seed Dominik Koepfer(Tulane) of Germany 7-6(7), 6-2 in the day's first semifinal.

No. 6 seed Shelby Rogers is through to the final of the $100,000 Dow Tennis Classic in Midland after defeating unseeded wild card Irina Falconi 7-5, 7-6(4). She will play No. 7 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, who beat unseeded Jamie Loeb 6-0, 6-1 in this afternoon's semifinal.  The final will be streamed here.

At the $25,000 USTA men's Pro Circuit tournament in Palm Coast Florida, former University of Virginia star Alexander Ritschard is through to the final, after beating qualifier Daniel Dutra da Silva of Brazil 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. Ritschard, the No. 6 seed, will face unseeded Martins Podzus of Latvia, who defeated wild card Alex Rybakov(TCU) 6-4, 6-3 in Sunday's final.

Rybakov did earn a title this week, partnering with Justin Butsch(LSU) for the doubles championship. The unseeded wild cards beat Simon Freund(LSU/UCSB) of Sweden and Jaume Pla Malfeito of Spain, also unseeded, 2-6, 7-5, 12-10.

Friday, February 7, 2020

My Conversation with Four-Time NCAA Singles Champion Eudice Chong; Stanford Escapes, Unseeded Duke, Georgia Tech and Florida State Advance at Women's D-I Team Indoor; Rogers, Falconi and Loeb Reach Semis at Dow Tennis Classic

When I was in Midland, I caught up with several players I've known from juniors or college, including Eudice Chong of Wesleyan, the four-time NCAA Division III singles champion, who graduated in 2018. Chong, who is from Hong Kong, returned there after graduation to begin a pro career, and in 2019, her first full year on tour, she played mostly in Asia. But she is making a swing through the United States this winter and I was able to talk with her about life on tour, what she's improved in her game, Wesleyan's National Team title the year after she left and her goals for 2020 in this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network.

The first matches of the ITA Division I Women's Team Indoor Championships were today in Chicago, and although No. 6 seed Pepperdine, No. 7 seed Texas and No. 8 seed Ohio State lost, the biggest story was probably top seed Stanford's last-match-on win over Michigan. Stanford's Emma Higuchi won the last four games of the third set at line 6 to clinch the win for the Cardinal. The other 4-3 match was Florida State's win over Texas in the last match of the night.

Below are the results, with links to the winning team's coverage of the match.

Links to live streaming(with commentary by the Cracked Racquets crew) and live scoring can be found at the ITA tournament site.

Round of 16 Women’s DI Team Indoor
February 7, 2020

North Carolina[2] d. Arizona State, 4-1
NC State[7] d. Princeton, 4-0
Georgia[3] d. Virginia, 4-2
Duke d. Pepperdine[6] 4-1
Stanford[1] d. Michigan, 4-3
Georgia Tech d. Ohio State[8] 4-1
UCLA[4] d. Illinois, 4-0
Florida State d. Texas[5] 4-3

Quarterfinals Women's DI Team Indoor
February 8, 2020

North Carolina[2] v. NC State[7], noon
Georgia[3] v. Duke, noon
Stanford[1] v. Georgia Tech, 3:30
UCLA[4] v. Florida State, 3:30

At the $100,000 Dow Tennis Classic in Midland, No. 2 seed Caty McNally lost in the quarterfinals to No. 7 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, with Kalinina's win preventing the semifinals from being exclusively American. No. 6 seed Shelby Rogers defeated qualifier Gabriela Talaba of Romania 6-4, 6-4 and will play unseeded Irina Falconi, who came back to record a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 5 seed Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.  Kalinina will face unseeded Jamie Loeb, who defeated Catherine Harrison 6-4, 6-3.

Live streaming of the event is available here.

In contrast to Midland, only one American has advanced to the semifinals of the ATP Challenger 100 in Dallas, with No. 5 seed Dennis Kudla defeating top seed Frances Tiafoe 6-4, 7-6(6) tonight. JJ Wolf and Mackenzie McDonald both were defeated in the quarterfinals today. Wolf(Ohio State) lost to Emilio Gomez(USC) of Ecuador 7-6(8), 7-6(6) and McDonald(UCLA) lost to Dominik Koepfer(Tulane) of Germany 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. Kudla will play Gomez in the semifinals.

At the $25,000 men's USTA Pro Circuit event in Palm Coast Florida, two Americans have advanced to the semifinals: Alex Rybakov(TCU) and Alexander Ritschard(Virginia). Rybakov, a wild card, beat No. 2 seed Sandro Ehrat of Switzerland in the first round and today beat Martin Redlicki(UCLA) 6-3, 6-4. He will play unseeded Martins Podzus of Latvia in the semifinal. Ritschard, the No. 6 seed, defeated unseeded Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 6-2, 6-1 and will take on qualifier Daniel Dutra Da Silva of Brazil for a place in the final.

Rybakov and his partner Justin Butsch(LSU), who received a wild card, have reached the doubles final against unseeded Simon Freund(LSU/UCSB) of Sweden and Jaume Pla Malfeito of Spain.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

ITA Women's Division I Team Indoor Begins Friday in Chicago; Talaba Rolls On at Dow Tennis Classic; Blokhina Reaches Quarterfinals at Porto Alegre Grade 1

NCAA champion Stanford is the top seed this year at the ITA Women's Division I Team Indoor Championships, which begin Friday in Chicago. The Cardinal will be looking for their first Indoor team title since 2011, although they did not participate in the event every year since then. Georgia is the defending champion, with North Carolina last year's finalist. The seeds are:

1. Stanford
2. North Carolina
3. Georgia
5. Texas
6. Pepperdine
7. NC State
8. Ohio State

Unlike the men, who seed all 16 teams, the women have eight unseeded teams who are not paired with seeds by ranking.  The top seed in the men's draw will play the lowest ranked team, mostly likely host Wisconsin, but in the women's draw, the host team Illinois, not ranked currently, gets No. 4 seed UCLA instead of Stanford. Below are the times and the matchups for Friday's first round:

(2) North Carolina v Arizona State, 9:00 a.m.
(7) NC State v Princeton, 9:00 a.m. 
(3) Georgia v Virginia, noon 
(6) Pepperdine v Duke, noon
(1) Stanford v Michigan, 3:30 p.m.
(8) Ohio State v Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m.
(4) UCLA v Illinois, 6:30 p.m.
(5) Texas v Florida State, 6:30 p.m.

Cracked Racquets is going to be providing coverage of the event, according to this article. Links to the live streaming (by Playsight) and live scoring can be found at the ITA tournament page. Admission is free, so if you are in the Chicago area, try to get out to some matches this weekend.
Former Texas Tech star Gabriela Talaba of Romania defeated top seed Madison Brengle last night 6-2, 7-6(4) in the final match of the first round of the $100,000 Dow Tennis Classic in Midland Michigan. She followed up that win, her second over a Top 100 player, by beating fellow qualifier Shilin Xu of China 7-5, 6-2 today to advance to the quarterfinals. Talaba, currently 277 in the WTA rankings, will take on No. 6 seed Shelby Rogers on Friday. I spoke to Talaba after her qualifying match on Tuesday and I will have an article about her journey to the US for collegiate tennis for the Tennis Recruiting Network later this month.

Three seeds went out in the second round today in Midland, with Catherine Harrison(UCLA) defeating No. 3 seed Francesca Di Lorenzo(Ohio State) 6-3, 6-0, Jamie Loeb(UNC) beating No. 8 seed Robin Anderson(UCLA) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 and Irina Falconi(Georgia Tech) defeating No. 4 seed Caroline Dolehide 1-6, 6-1, 6-1. Loeb and Harrison meet for a spot in the semifinals, with Falconi playing No. 5 seed Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium. Caty McNally, the defending champion and No. 2 seed, is playing the late match tonight against Jessika Ponchet of France.

Friday's order of play is here.

With one exception, it was a disappointing week for Americans at this week's ITF Grade 1 in Porto Alegre Brazil, with all four US boys exiting in the second round, including No. 3 seed Dali Blanch. Five US girls were seeded, but the only one to advance to Friday's singles quarterfinals is qualifier Alexis Blokhina, who defeated top seed Mell Reasco Gonzalez of Ecuador 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in the third round today. The 15-year-old Blokhina reached the semifinals of the Grade 1 in Costa Rica earlier this year.  

Victor Lilov and Murphy Cassone have advanced to Friday's doubles final, with the unseeded pair facing No. 2 seeds Luciano Darderi of Italy and Gustavo Heide of Brazil. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Di Lorenzo Eyes Slam Main Draws After Successful 2019; Shakeup in Men's Division I Team Rankings After Texas Loss

©Colette Lewis 2020--
Midland MI--

Today was my last day at the Dow Tennis Classic and with a winter storm approaching, I had to get back to Kalamazoo before the featured night matches Wednesday. No. 2 seed and defending champion Caty McNally defeated Alexa Glatch 6-2, 6-1, and top seed Madison Brengle, who won the Newport Beach WTA 125 tournament last week, was still on court against qualifier Gabriela Talaba(Texas Tech) of Romania.

I did see most of the day matches today, with Maria Mateas(Duke) winning a battle of American qualifiers on Meredith McGrath Stadium Court by a 6-4, 7-6(3) decision over Alycia Parks. All the seeded Americans won, with No. 4 Caroline Dolehide taking out Grace Min 6-1, 6-4; No. 8 Robin Anderson, who reached the Midland final in 2016, defeating Jovana Jovic of Serbia 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and No. 3 seed Francesca Di Lorenzo downing Marcela Zacarias 6-2, 6-3.

Di Lorenzo wasn't entirely pleased with her level of play in the one hour and 24 minute match, but chalked that up as typical for the first round.

"I wasn't as aggressive as I would have liked," said the 22-year-old former Ohio State Buckeye. "I think maybe a little bit of nerves, trying to get into the match a little bit. But I think once I stepped in, stepped forward, moved to the net a couple of times, I was in control of the point and in control of the match. When I did that and didn't give up too much ground, I was doing well."

Di Lorenzo and Zacarias had not played before, but Di Lorenzo knew what to expect from her, because they are friends and had practiced together earlier in the week.

"She likes to get her opponents on the run, so once she gets control of the point she starts moving you and you get too much on defense, you lose your court positioning," Di Lorenzo said. "That's what she likes to do and when she gets her opportunity she finishes the point. So I was trying to take control before she did. When I didn't, I was on the run and you could tell."

Di Lorenzo recently returned from her first trip to Australia.

"That was definitely a new experience for me," Di Lorenzo said. "I had a couple of tough matches, got a couple of wins there, so that's good. At least I know what it's going to be like when I'm going that far away. It was a good experience, played my first Australian Open. When I came back here, I had a tough loss in Newport Beach, so I was happy to get through today. It wasn't my best tennis but to get the win was important."

Di Lorenzo said she is healthy aside from what she called "nagging little things that hurt," and happy to have gotten through the year without an injury as serious as the plantar fasciitis that ended her 2018 year prematurely.

"I'm just trying to maintain at this point, and make sure nothing causes me to be out like that again," Di Lorenzo said. "Prevention is probably just the biggest thing."

Di Lorenzo continues to train with her longtime coach Ann Grossman Wunderlich at Saddlebrook and has recently rented her own apartment in the Tampa area.

"I'm super excited about that," Di Lorenzo said. "Paid my first month's rent and I wasn't there for one day. So that was awesome. I'm happy to get an apartment, but it's unbelievable, just throwing money out the door. But it's nice to have a place, even if it is just for a couple of days, to go back to."

Last year Di Lorenzo told me one of her goals was to finish in the Top 130, although she said she remains committed to improvement of her game, not just her ranking. She ended 2019 ranked 122, so she is now setting her sights higher.

"I finished the year well and I was super happy with [the title at] that $60K," Di Lorenzo said. "I was needing some confidence going into that tournament and it was awesome to get five good matches out of that. Yeah, when I look back on the goals that I made, I achieved all of them. That was really cool to make them at the beginning of the year and to be able to see at the end of the year that I achieved all of them."

As for this year, Di Lorenzo said she would "love to be in the main draw of grand slams. That's probably around top 100, but I try not to focus too much on the numbers. But if I'm in slams, I'm playing the top players. That's what I want to do, that's why I'm here. I love to play on those stages but you have to work your way up there."

Di Lorenzo said she was inspired by Sofia Kenin's Australian Open title. It was only two years ago that Kenin played the Dow Tennis Classic, losing to Jamie Loeb in the second round, and now she is a slam champion.

"It's very inspiring, she was here two years ago and I practice with her and stuff, so why can't that be me?," Di Lorenzo said. "Any of us here. And not that she won a couple of rounds; she won a grand slam. It's absolutely incredible. It lets all of us players know that the women's game is very open and that anybody has a chance to succeed."

Di Lorenzo plays Catherine Harrison in the second round Thursday, a rematch of their quarterfinal meeting at the $60,000 tournament Di Lorenzo won last fall.

"We had a battle," Di Lorenzo said of her 6-7(7), 6-1, 6-4 victory. "She rips the ball and she's a very, very good player, indoors especially. I have to up my game for tomorrow, I know that. She's a big hitter and likes to take control, so I've got to get good depth and hit my shots on the biggest points."

Thursday's order of play is here.  Live streaming, with Ken Thomas providing commentary, is available here.

There are no Division I women's team rankings this week due to the National Team Indoor coming up Friday in Chicago, but the men's rankings changed quite dramatically after Texas lost to Ohio State last weekend. There was no consensus among the 12 voters in the ITA rankings, with USC and Ohio State getting four first place votes, Florida getting three first place votes and Texas getting one.  Baylor, who lost to Arkansas last weekend, dropped out of the Top 10.

To add to the confusion, the USTA rankings, which are done by a non-coaching panel, have North Carolina at No. 1 and USC at No. 5 in the men's ranking for this week.  Those rankings, which do include women's rankings this week, are here.

The ITA men's ranking release is here, with links to full lists.  The ITA women's individual ranking release is here.

ITA Men's Division I Team Rankings, February 5, 2020
(previous ranking in parentheses)
1. USC (3)
2. Ohio State (6)
3. Florida (2)
4. Texas (1)
5. North Carolina (4)
6. Wake Forest (7)
7. Texas A&M (9)
8. Stanford (11)
9. Columbia (13)
10. NC State (14)

Men's Division I Singles Top 10:
1. Daniel Cukierman, USC
2. Yuya Ito, Texas
3. Valentin Vacherot, Texas A&M
4. Sam Riffice, Florida
5. Richard Ciamarra, Notre Dame
6. Keegan Smith, UCLA
7. Gabriel Decamps, Central Florida
8. Joseph Guillin, UC Santa Barbara
9. Damon Kesaris, St. Mary's
10. Govind Nanda, UCLA

Men's Division I Doubles Top 5:
1. Robert Cash and John McNally, Ohio State.
2. Matej Vocel and Dominik Kellovsky, Oklahoma State
3. Mac Kiger and Simon Soendergaard, North Carolina
4. Andrew Fenty and Mattias Siimar, Michigan
5. Jackie Tang and Jack Lin, Columbia

Women's Division I Singles Top 10:
1. Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine
2. Anna Turati, Texas
3. Estela Perez-Somarriba, Miami
4. Sara Daavettila, North Carolina
5. Abigail Forbes, UCLA
6. Michaela Gordon, Stanford
7. Alexa Graham, North Carolina
8. Shiori Fukuda, Ohio State
9. Cameron Morra, North Carolina
10. Kelly Chen, Duke

Women's Division I Doubles Top 5:
1. Alana Smith and Anna Rogers, NC State
2. Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart, UCLA
3. Jessie Gong and Samantha Martinelli, Yale
4. Cameron Morra and Makenna Jones, North Carolina
5. Rebeka Stolmar and Marie Mattel, Central Florida