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.