Zootennis

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Gauff, Osaka, Tiafoe Speak Out; Allaster Provides a Look at US Open Scenarios

Those of you who read my posts regularly know I focus solely on tennis news, with an emphasis on junior and college players. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought public health conversations into the forefront recently and with very little actual tennis to cover, I've tried to provide news about how it has affected tennis. But I haven't tried to go beyond that, because that's not why you read this.

In other words, I "stick to sports", which, unfortunately, seems like a luxury now. The past few days, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, have been heart-breaking, disturbing, frightening and maddening. My memories of 1968, one of the worst years in this country's history, come flooding back, and although my despair is obviously insignificant when compared to those less privileged, those who have suffered so much, it's real to me. And ignoring that right now seems insincere. So consider this my statement in support of social justice and law enforcement accountability and against all the forces working against those fundamental principles.

Sixteen-year-old Coco Gauff and 22-year-old Naomi Osaka are using their platforms to call attention to the disheartening litany of African-American deaths, and Steve Tignor at tennis.com has written about the ways both have added to the conversation, as well as the other tennis players who have addressed topics outside the sport of tennis.

2015 Kalamazoo champion Frances Tiafoe and his girlfriend Ayan Broomfield, the 2019 NCAA doubles champion at UCLA, released this video on social media today:




As for tennis, yesterday the Associated Press talked with USTA's head of Pro Tennis Stacey Allaster about the status of the US Open, and she said that having the event in New York, during the usual two-week period this summer, is the most likely scenario. Among the issues discussed are testing, charter flights, entourage sizes, number of officials, ballrunners, and reduced sets for men. New locker rooms and procedures around that area of the tournament and practice protocols are discussed as well.

As for fans being in attendance, the AP article features several quotes from Lew Sherr, the USTA's chief revenue officer, on that topic.
[He] told the AP it is "less and less likely" spectators would be at the US Open this year. 
That, Sherr said, means "forgoing ticketing revenue, forgoing hospitality revenue, forgoing a portion of your sponsorship revenue." But TV and digital-rights fees, plus remaining sponsorship dollars, are "significant enough that it's still worth it to go forward with a no-fans-on-site US Open," he said.
As of now, according to Allaster, the USTA will make its decision regarding the US Open in mid- to late-June.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

USTA Authorizes Sections to Make Re-Opening Decisions While National Campus Remains Closed; Bryan Brothers Headline Monday's USTA Learning Series Webinar

Earlier this week, the USTA changed its policy from a blanket shutdown of all its sanctioned events nationwide to one that leaves the decision about resuming tournaments to the individual sections.  Here is the USTA's announcement:
The USTA recognizes that the coronavirus has been affecting different parts of the country in different ways and with different timing. Because of that, it will be possible for people to return to playing tennis safely in some cities and states sooner than in others.
At present, stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders have been lifted or modified in some communities, and some are phasing tennis back in as a safe, or in certain cases, an “essential,” activity.
 Beginning June 1, the suspension of USTA Sanctioned products and events noted below will now be at the discretion of the USTA Sections and local health authorities. These USTA Sanctioned products and events include:
• Adult and Junior Tournaments
• USTA League
• USTA Junior Team Tennis
• USTA Social Leagues
• Team Challenge
• Team Tournaments
• USTA School Programs
• Tennis on Campus
• Wheelchair Tennis 
Few sections are resuming tournaments however, and many have now canceled their sectional events. With the USTA now allowing only one level 3 national tournament in 2020, sections who have already had such an event are not allowed to have their summer sectional closed. That includes Texas, which had a level 3 in January, and therefore has now canceled, rather than postponed, its annual May Grand Slam. Middle States has also canceled its summer sectional. New England has officially postponed its June sectional and is not allowing play prior to July 1. Eastern is targeting July 1 as a possible return date, with Florida also not holding tournaments until after June 30.

One of the sections who is moving ahead with tournaments in June is Missouri Valley, with Oklahoma hosting an event next weekend and Junior Team Tennis restarting on the 15th.

For specific updates from a particular section, use this usta.com page.

The USTA's National Campus remains closed, but the good news is that the "closed through" date was moved from May 31st to June 7. I have heard that although there will be no tournaments there in June (due to USTA Florida canceling all events through June 30), the campus is expected to reopen at some point during the month.

After a week off for the Memorial Day holiday, the USTA Player Development Learning Series is back on Monday, June 1, with Mike and Bob Bryan the featured guests for the webinar entitled "How to be Champions On and Off the Court and Returning to Play Safely." In addition to the Bryans, presenters include Brent Salazar, Director of Performance, Dr. Larry Lauer, Mental Skills Specialist, and USTA National Coaches Jamea Jackson and Maureen Diaz.

To register for the 3 p.m. EDT webinar, go to this page.

Friday, May 29, 2020

ITA Summer Circuit Set to Start Next Month; Nakashima and Fila Give Shoes to Thank San Diego Health Workers; ITA National Junior College Awards

Almost everything I've had to report regarding tennis tournaments has been cancellations, so it was great to find a series of summer events that are still on schedule, with the ITA Summer Circuit planning to debut on June 20 at the El Dorado Tennis Center in Long Beach California. As you would expect, the Summer Circuit has been pared down considerably, with many college campuses just not prepared to hold tournaments in the next two months. But with so many playing opportunities already lost, the ITA has been able to work with tournament directors to find alternative sites, and more could be added for the final three weeks of the Circuit in July and August. For more on what the Circuit will look like this year, see this article I wrote for Tennis Recruiting Network.

Health care workers display shoes donated by Nakashima and Fila
Eighteen-year-old Brandon Nakashima of San Diego has seen his rapid rise up the ATP rankings stalled by the pandemic shutdown, but he is participating in the Grand Slam Tennis Tours Matchplay 120 competition that was recently organized, beating Ernesto Escobedo 7-6(2), 6-4 last night in Los Angeles. While preparing to return to the courts, Nakashima found time to show his appreciation those on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic in the San Diego area, teaming with his new sponsor Fila to distribute free shoes to them.

I was sent this update on Brandon and his donation last night; the video report is from a local television station:

18-year-old Brandon Nakashima was on an amazing run.  In less than 7 months beginning in September 2019 his ATP ranking moved from 900 to 218.  This ranking rise included Brandon first ATP 250 Tour event where he capitalize on a WC from TD Mark Baron, reaching the quarter finals.  His last event was in March at the Oracle Series Challenger at Indian Wells Tennis Center where he reached the semi-finals before losing to Jack Sock, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.   BNP tournament director Tommy Haas was impressed and gave Brandon a wild card into the ATP BNP 1000 starting the next week.  But just two days later the BNP was cancelled and eventually all professional tennis.  The Coronavirus had put a temporary end to Brandon’s amazing run.   

So, what would a typical 18-year-old professional tennis player do with extra time on his hands?  Spend time playing video games and checking his social media?  Not Brandon!  Both of Brandon’s parents are healthcare professionals working in the hospital and clinic.  His Dad works as an ICU Clinical Pharmacist at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla and his Mom is a Pharmacy Supervisor at Sharp Rees Stealy in Sorrento Mesa. So, Brandon was keenly aware of the sacrifices being made by healthcare professionals to fight this deadly virus. 

Just getting started on the tour Brandon did not have any money to donate but he did have Fila, his shoe and clothing sponsor.  So, Brandon came up with the Fila, “Front Line” shoe donation initiative.  Brandon saw it as an opportunity to help boost the morale of these healthcare professionals. Nothing better than a great pair of running shoes for urgent care professionals who are on their feet for 10 to 14 hours a day!!  It was a perfect way to express his appreciation and gratitude to these selfless front line workers during this Covid -19 crisis. 

Brandon ended up giving over 40 pairs of Fila shoes to the Urgent Care physicians and nurses at the Sharp Rees-Stealy Clinic in Sorrento Mesa on May 13.  

When asked why he wants to give back and what are his goals Brandon said, “Being surrounded by my parents who both are healthcare providers and contributors in serving patients, it’s just become natural for me to have a deep contribution mindset and heart of helping others and giving back to society. It’s simply so rewarding and fulfilling to help others feel good. Ultimately, I’d like to utilize my tennis skills to be an athlete philanthropist to have a positive impact to the underprivileged student athletes through education and sport initiatives.” 

Look for Brandon when the ATP tour reopens. 

The final ITA virtual National Awards Ceremony was streamed on YouTube today, with the Junior College winners listed below.

JUCO Men:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: James McWilliams, Jones College
ITA Player to Watch: Gabriel Ortiz, Seward County Community College
ITA Rookie of the Year: Gabriel Ortiz, Seward County Community College
ITA Most Improved Sophomore: Juan David Ramirez, Laredo Community College
ITA Sophomore Player of the Year: Sander Jans, Seward County Community College

JUCO Women:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Danielle Viljoen, Jones College
ITA Player to Watch: Yu Yue, Tyler Junior College
ITA Rookie of the Year: Emelie Schwarte, Tyler Junior College
ITA Most Improved Sophomore: Ali Grace Walker, East Central Community College
ITA Senior Player of the Year: Tatiana Simova, ASA College (Miami)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Young, Wright Talk Community Connection During UTR's Virtual Coaches Conference; ITF Features Former Memphis Star Salisbury; ITA's NAIA National Award Winners; Broward College Dropping All Athletics?

With UTR's All Access series winding down, this week's highlight was a two-day Virtual Coaches Conference. I didn't promote it, as it was restricted to coaches (and media, I guess, because I was allowed to register) but it did resemble an ITA Coaches Convention, with a number of different aspects of tennis coaching addressed throughout the dozen or more hours of webinars. Although the in-person interaction that makes most conferences so valuable was obviously missing, having moderated discussions about the game is more than welcome in our current isolated environment.

Yesterday I was able to catch some of the session with Vanderbilt women's head coach Geoff Macdonald and associate head coach Aleke Tsoubanos, and the session with Florida' men's head coach Bryan Shelton and well-known junior development coach Bill Tym.  Today I listened to Mark Kovacs provide his list of Common Misconceptions about Fitness in Tennis and I tuned in to most of the afternoon session with Peter Wright, men's head coach at Cal, and Chris Young, women's head coach at Oklahoma State entitled Community Building & Fundraising. With the nearly daily announcements of cutbacks due to the financial damage inflicted by the pandemic, this session seemed particularly relevant, and both Young and Wright were able to provide a lot of good advice for attracting donors and fans.

Many of comments that have been made recently on this site focus on the large number of international players who make up the rosters of programs that have been cut. Both Young and Wright have many such players on their teams, and Young asked Wright about that objection.

"One question we had in the chat that you touched on is, how do our donors and supporters respond to non-US, foreign players? Do you feel that makes it a challenge in fund-raising if you have a team that has a lot of international players," Young said.

"I think there is some built-in bias," Wright said. "If a guy's foreign, ah, a foreigner, so it's us and them a little bit. Most of the coaches around the country have a few foreign players on their team. What happens is the better connections you have the more people realize that this guy from England or Japan or Australia is a great guy and is really contributing a lot and he's smart and he's working hard. He's here to play tennis and get an education. You break down those barriers. A lot of that is just built-in bias, but you get a chance to break that down the more you can train your guys to be great ambassadors for your program and be in the community, just as you are....We have ball kids at our matches, from the local country club, and the kids get to know our players, and they don't have those built-in biases and they go, hey, Philippe, he's a great guy, I love him..."

Wright went on to talk about how powerful that connection can be whether it is with a ball kid or a millionaire.

"My CFO said hey, Pete, we don't have enough money for you to be giving out T-shirts, giving out hats. And I looked at him and said, we don't have enough money to not be doing that. One little secret I have, where I keep all of our equipment, a little equipment room and I call it the Promised Land. And when I have a donor come on, any time, on the property, I will take them to the Promised Land, and I am not kidding you, we have people who have hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars and they're like children in a candy store when you take them to the Promised Land and give them a little quarter-zip top from the tennis team. It's one of the best things you can possibly do. You don't tie it to any donation, and as Chris said, we don't say thank you enough and we try to say it at every opportunity we can...and we've got to look for those opportunities."

The ITF has published a feature on former Memphis star Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, who won the Australian Open men's doubles title this year with Rajeev Ram. Salisbury talks about how he's handled the long layoff, how he is approaching his recent return to the courts, why he decided to pursue doubles rather than singles, what he's reading, and much more.

Chase Hodges, coach of men's and women's teams at Georgia Gwinnett
The ITA's virtual National Awards Ceremony for NAIA was streamed today, with the winners listed below. As you can see, Georgia Gwinnett dominated both the men's and women's awards to the extent not seen in any other of the divisions. The final YouTube ceremony, for Junior College awards, is Friday.

NAIA Men:

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Franco Poi, Southwestern College
ITA Player to Watch: Luke Simkiss, Keiser University
ITA Rookie of the Year: Max Bertimon, Georgia Gwinnett
ITA Most Improved Senior: Mika Kosonen, Georgia Gwinnett
ITA Senior Player of the Year: Federico Herrera Duran, Georgia Gwinnett

NAIA Women:

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Cade Pierson, Westmont College
ITA Player to Watch: Tereza Koplova, Georgia Gwinnett
ITA Rookie of the Year: Selina Pichler, Georgia Gwinnett
ITA Most Improved Senior: Emerald Able, Georgia Gwinnett
ITA Senior Player of the Year: Madeline Bosnjak, Georgia Gwinnett

A friend of mine in Florida, sent me this Miami Herald article about the recent decision that Broward College, a Florida school that competes in junior college athletics, is planning to eliminate all its athletic programs in the wake of the pandemic. Broward currently sponsors eight sports, including women's tennis.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Organized Regional Tennis Competition Now Worldwide Trend; ITA Division III National Award Winners; Division III Earlham Drops Men's and Women's Tennis

As tennis returns throughout the world, competition is following, with non-sanctioned regional circuits spring up everywhere.

The United States has had several exhibitions going for several weeks in Bradenton, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Southern California and Atlanta, with more such events being added, with the Grand Slam Tennis Tour's MatchPlay 120 the most recent addition.

Kamakshi Tandon at Tennis.com has a rundown of the events in Europe, with Novak Djokovic's Adria Tour leading the way, with Thiem, Zverev and Dimitrov among those committed to the two-day events, scheduled for four weekends beginning June 13. Czech men and women are currently playing in other federation events, with others scheduled or underway in Austria, Germany and Croatia.

New Zealand has established a Premier League, which begins June 3, and it will feature former Cal star Ben McLachlan and former TCU All-American Cameron Norrie, both of who do not play under the New Zealand flag, but have roots in the country. (NOTE: Norrie pulled out Thursday and will be participating in the Great Britain competition instead).

Great Britain will have a national competition in July, with the country's top 16 players eligible to compete.

The obvious question now is whether the USTA will organize a similar competition for US players at the National Campus in July, particularly if the US Open is given the go-ahead and they may need ways to distribute some wild cards.

Results from most of the competitions now being played can be found here.

The ITA Division III virtual awards ceremony was streamed on You Tube today, with the winners listed below. The NAIA awards are next, on Thursday.

Division III Women:

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Ashley Schmitz, Randolph College

ITA Player to Watch: Erika Oku, Kenyon College

ITA Rookie of the Year: Justine Leong, CMS

ITA Most Improved Senior: Ellie Czura Sewanee

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Catherine Allen, CMS

Division III Men:

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Alexis Dimanche, Southwestern University

ITA Player to Watch: Moses Hutchinson, University of Mary Washington

ITA Rookie of the Year: James Hopper, Case Western Reserve

ITA Most Improved Senior: Jordan Brewer, Sewanee

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Nikolai Parodi, CMS

That's the good news for Division III tennis; the bad news is that Earlham College in Richmond Indiana is dropping its men's and women's tennis programs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Division I Appalachian State Drops Men's Tennis; World Team Tennis Selects Greenbrier as Site for Upcoming Season; Grand Slam Tennis Tours Offers New Pro Streaming Option; ITA Division II National Award Winners

Another day, another loss of a college tennis program, with Appalachian State, a Division I school in Boone North Carolina announcing it will discontinue three sports, including men's tennis.

The other two sports dropped--men's indoor track and field and men's soccer--leaves Appalachian State with 17 sports, which is three more than the number required to retain Division I status. The women's tennis team, one of ten sports for that gender at Appalachian State, is not impacted by today's announcement.

The Tennis Recruiting Network spoke with high school senior Christopher Johns, who had committed to East Carolina University before it dropped its men's tennis program last week, for this article. Johns will now be looking for another school, although with many seniors returning for a fifth year, that too has been complicated by recent pandemic-related events.

I hope I'm wrong, but I suspect there will be more recruits who will be scrambling to find a place on a team for 2020.

Stadium Court at the Greenbrier Resort (photo courtesy WTT)
World Team Tennis, which had announced earlier this month that it was looking for a single site where it could play its entire three-week season, has selected the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for next's month competition.  A total of 63 matches will be played by the nine teams from July 12-30 to determine the four advancing to the playoffs, scheduled for August 1st and 2nd. CBS will be televising a match on July 19 and the final on August 2. CBS Sport Network will broadcast 13 other regular season matches, as well as both semifinals on August 1, while all the other matches will be available via streaming, with that schedule to be released later.

Unlike most of the tennis exhibitions happening now, fans will be allowed, with up to 500 fans allowed in the stadium court there, which seats 2500.  Among the players expected to compete are: Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey, Bob and Mike Bryan(Stanford), Tennys Sandgren(Tennessee), Rajeev Ram(Illinois), Jean-Julien Rojer(UCLA) and Neal Skupski(LSU).

Today's complete announcement from World Team Tennis is here.

If you are hungry for tennis exhibitions NOT being contested in the Fast 4 format, Grand Slam Tennis Tours and Topnotch Management has put together live streaming of matches between pro players using regular scoring. Starting today, three matches were contested, with two in Orlando and one in Columbus Ohio. Dmitri Popko defeated Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-3, JJ Wolf defeated former Ohio State teammate Mikael Torpegaard 6-4, 6-2 and Bjorn Fratangelo defeated Ulises Blanch 7-6(5), 6-1. Matches in various locations across the country are scheduled, and while there is no commentary, there is sound and a chair umpire, so following along is not difficult. Although you must sign up, there is no charge for accessing these streams, and this week's matches include all of the above players, as well as Ernesto Escobedo, Bradley Klahn, Jamie Loeb, Laura Siegemund, Jennifer Brady and Caroline Dolehide, among others.  For more information and to sign up to view the streams, click here.

Today's ITA virtual national awards ceremony for Division II produced the following winners:

Division II Men:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Jeremiah Sanchez, St. Mary’s University

ITA Player to Watch: Anish Sriniketh, St. Edward’s University

ITA Rookie of the Year:  Samuel Sippel, Azusa Pacific University

ITA Most Improved Senior: Bas Van Biezen, Southern New Hampshire University

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Chase Bartlett, St. Edward’s University

Division II Women:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Ashley Jonathan, Bellarmine University

ITA Player to Watch: Anna Novikova, University of Indianapolis

ITA Rookie of the Year: Ebba Rosberg, Concordia College NY

ITA Most Improved Senior: Kristyna Jurkova, Saint Leo University

ITA Senior Player of the Year: Kim Moosbacher, Oklahoma Baptist University

It's poignant that St. Edward's Anish Sriniketh will have to transfer to another school to be "watched," with St. Edward's eliminating their men's and women's tennis teams last month. St. Edward's senior Chase Barlett, who spearheaded the attempt to save the program, was named Senior Play of the Year. 

The ceremony is available on YouTube. The Division III virtual ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. EDT. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Stanford Men Top Tennis Recruiting Network's 2020 Rankings; Seniors Blumberg, Lahey Among ITA Division I National Award Winners

The task of ranking recruiting classes can be a minefield, with top players changing their minds about attending college, or refocusing their efforts more to academics, or developing from a solid junior to an outstanding collegian with the right coach and better competition. So attempting to determine how a class of players will impact a team is always an exercise of subjective speculation. With this year's Covid-19 pandemic leading to the NCAA authorizing an extra year of competition, rosters are in an unprecedented state of flux, and because graduate transfers and fifth-year seniors don't figure into today's Tennis Recruiting Network men's rankings, they are probably even less reliable than usual. But with all that said, it's important that a non-revenue sport find a way to generate interest and content for a school's athletic department and casual fans. I've been ranking recruiting classes for more than a decade now, and while I've seen how little correlation there is between these rankings and eventual NCAA title contenders, it still strikes me as a useful exercise.

This year's No. 1 class is Stanford's, with Tristan Boyer, Alex Lee, Arthur Fery and Aryan Chaudhary coming in for 2020.  Stanford is followed by Clemson, which has rarely been made the top rankings list in the past, and Virginia, Columbia, and Texas. Arizona, Harvard, Illinois, Arizona State and South Carolina round out the Top 10. The complete Top 25 list is here, along with a look at the history of the rankings and the names of the 20 voters who participated this year. The Division I women's list will be revealed next Monday, June 1.

The ITA's first in a series of virtual award ceremonies was launched today, with the National Division I 2019-2020 winners revealed. I've been to many of these actual events in the past, during the NCAA championships, and although a ceremony that brings all the top players together for one luncheon is obviously preferable, there wasn't much time to actually focus on the winners, with the team finals and the upcoming individual tournaments sucking up most of the oxygen in the room. That is not a problem this year. Below are the national winners; click here to see the Division I regional award winners from which the national winners were selected.

Division I Women:
Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship: Meible Chi, Duke
ITA Cissie Leary Sportsmanship:  Jordan Strickland, Western Carolina
ITA Rookie of the Year: Natasha Subhash, Virginia
ITA Player to Watch: Elysia Bolton, UCLA
ITA Most Improved Senior: Katarina Kozarov, Furman
ITA Senior Player of the Year: Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine

Division I Men:
Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship: Paul Jubb, South Carolina
ITA Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award: Vilhelm Fridell, Buffalo
ITA Rookie of the Year: Cannon Kingsley, Ohio State
ITA Player to Watch: Sam Riffice, Florida
ITA Most Improved Senior: Athell Bennett, Purdue
ITA Senior Player of the Year: William Blumberg, North Carolina

The athletic directors from Pepperdine and North Carolina provided comments on Lahey and Blumberg, and while Lahey has already announced she will return for a second senior year, UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham took the opportunity to invite Blumberg to do the same.

The entire video, available on YouTube, is less than 15 minutes long, with ITA CEO Tim Russell hosting and the ITA staff putting together an impressive production. Four more such shows are coming this week, with the schedule below.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Women's UTR Pro Match Series Washed Out; 16-Player Women's Event Set for Charleston in June; Midwest NCAA Webinar Set for Friday; USTA Pro Circuit Records

It's been a quiet news day on this middle Sunday of a holiday weekend. In an alternate universe, the French Open would have begun today, but the only televised live tennis actually being played never began, with the final day of the women's UTR Pro Match Series rained out in West Palm Beach Florida.  After rain moved in prior to the third set between Danielle Collins and Ajla Tomljanovic yesterday, that match was to be completed this morning, with the winner facing Alison Riske in the final. Heavy rain kept any tennis from being played, and the event was canceled in mid-afternoon, without a winner being declared.

Another women's event, the Credit One Bank Invitational, has been announced for next month, in Charleston South Carolina. The 16-player field will feature some of the biggest names in women's tennis, particularly from North America, with Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and Viktoria Azarenka scheduled to compete in the two-team event. Others scheduled to play include all four of the UTR Match Series participants Riske, Collins and Tomljanovic and Amanda Anisimova, as well as Jennifer Brady, Virginia recruit Emma Navarro, Shelby Rogers, Eugenie Bouchard, Monica Puig, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Leylah Fernandez.

The format of the tournament, which is set to run June 23-28, is not currently known, but I would not be surprised if it is Fast 4, as the Pro Match Series was. This local TV channel article, which features quotes from both Ben Navarro and Bob Moran, says that players will call their own lines, there will be one official and each player will have a ball person to assist them. Tennis Channel will be providing 40 hours of live broadcasting.

There is still time to register for the USTA Midwest webinar featuring former Division III tennis player Lorne McManile, Coordinator of Academic Review, NCAA Eligibility Center, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday May 29th. Registration for that webinar, the last in the Midwest section's series of college information webinars this month, is available through this link.

The graphic below appeared in the program that was distributed at the Dow Tennis Classic this winter, and I'm sure the same page was part of the programs of all the USTA Pro Circuit events this year. Recognition for those who often spend years at this level is important, and for me, it's always fun to see the names and accomplishments of those players I've gotten to know while covering the junior and college game.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Division II Alabama-Huntsville Drops Men's and Women's Tennis; Georgia's Jokic Wins Atlanta Exhibition; Riske Reaches UTR Pro Series Final, but Opponent Unknown; More Varsity Blues for Georgetown; Miller Loses Chance at Third High School Title

Just two days after Division I East Carolina announced it was dropping its men's and women's tennis programs, Division II Alabama-Huntsville has done the same. As with East Carolina, scholarships will be honored for those students who wish to continue at the school, rather than transfer to play elsewhere.  Alabama-Huntsville also is cutting its men's hockey team (which competes in Division I). The school's announcement, which frames the decision solely as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, is here.  There is no telling which school will be next, but apparently Division I University of Connecticut, which has both men's and women's tennis teams, is facing pressure to discontinue some sports, as they currently have a huge deficit that preceded the pandemic.

There are a number of tournaments going on around the country that are not exactly exhibitions, but are providing a way for pro and college players to stay sharp while they wait for the ITF, WTA and ATP tours to resume this summer. One such event last week, in Atlanta, drew WTA Top 100 player Taylor Townsend, but it was University of Georgia junior Katarina Jokic who took the title, beating former Georgia Tech star Paige Hourigan 3-6, 7-6(6), 10-6 in the final. Hourigan had beaten Jokic earlier in the tournament, the only loss that the 2019 NCAA singles finalist suffered in eight matches. The format was not Fast 4, which has been the most popular scoring system for these events, but rather no-ad in standard sets, with a tiebreaker in lieu of a third set. For more on the eight-player event and Jokic's win, see this article from The Red & Black.

At the UTR Pro Match Series in Florida, Alison Riske overcame an opening match loss to Ajla Tomljanovic yesterday, beating Danielle Collins today to put her record at 2-1 and assure herself a place in Sunday's final. Tomljanovic had lost to Amanda Anisimova earlier today, so the day's last match between Tomljanovic and Collins would decide the other finalist. Tomljanovic and Collins split tiebreakers, with Collins finally forcing a third set on her seventh set point, after serving for the second set up 3-2, 40-0. It then began to rain, so the third set will be played Sunday, with its winner going on to face Riske in the final, while its loser will play Anisimova for third place. For more on today's matches, see this article from tennis.com.

Two news items about last year's Varsity Blues scandal have surfaced recently. Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli have pleaded guilty, after a year of refusing to do so, and will be sentenced in August. They are accused of paying $500,000 to assist their daughters in gaining admission to USC as crew team recruits.

In a tennis-related development, another parent has been charged in the investigation into Georgetown's former coach Gordon Ernst. Peter Dameris, who has pleaded guilty, tried to gain entrance to the school for his son, who was not a competitive tennis player, but was represented as such. Ernst himself has pleaded not guilty, according to this Washington Post article about the case.

As with so many seniors this year, University of Michigan recruit Kari Miller did not get an opportunity to say goodbye to high school tennis, with the spring sports (girls play in the spring in Michigan, boys in the fall) canceled due to the pandemic. It's particularly disappointing for Miller, who won two state singles titles as a freshman and junior, because she had just this one chance to play on the same team as her younger sister Reese. And, according to this MLive article, her Ann Arbor Pioneer team had a good chance to win the state team championship this year as well.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Porter Named to Lead Men's Program at Brigham Young; Division I Signings, Transfers, Fifth Year Seniors; ITA Announces NAIA, Junior College Regional Awards

Division I coaching changes have been few during the pandemic, but the BYU men now have a new coach, with Dave Porter of Division II Brigham Young-Hawaii taking over for Brad Pearce, who resigned back in February after 16 seasons at BYU. Porter has also been named Director of Tennis at the university.

In other men's Division I tennis news:

LSU has signed Portugal's Joao Graca for this fall.

Senior Mitch Harper is returning to Virginia Tech for a fifth season in 2020-21.

Senior Connor Johnston is returning to Michigan for a fifth season in 2020-21.

USC senior Riley Smith has not decided if he will return to the Trojans for a fifth year, according to this usta.com article.

For several other notable verbal commitments and transfers, see Parsa Nemati's twitter feed @ParsaBombs, which includes this one for Jeffrey von der Schulenburg, who was one of the prize international recruits of 2019.

Here are the updates for women's Division I, a couple of which I should have found earlier, but somehow missed. Click these dates for my previous Division I roundups for April 20, May 7 and May 13.

Lexi Dewire, Katie Weber and Australia's Ameliija Swaffer-Selff will join Dartmouth this fall.

Kansas has signed Maria Titova of Russia for this fall.

Ole Miss announced the transfer of Norway's Lillian Gabrielsen who played two years at Loyola Marymount. Elysia Pool of the Netherlands, Reka Zadori of Hungary and Eesha Gudiseva of Memphis TN have signed for this fall.
Georgia Drummy is transferring to Duke after two years at Vanderbilt.

Anastasia Goncharova is transferring to Utah after two years at UC-Santa Barbara.

North Carolina State seniors Adriana Reami and Anna Rogers will return for a fifth season in 2020-21.

Kentucky seniors Lesedi Jacobs, Akvile Paražinskaite and Diana Tkachenko will return for a fifth season in 2020-21.

Senior Chiara Lommer will return for a fifth year at Michigan.

For more on the return of NCAA singles champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami, announced last month, see this ESPN article.

The ITA announced its Regional Awards for NAIA and Junior College in the past two days.

The men's NAIA regional winners are here; the women's NAIA regional winners are here.

The men's junior college regional winners are here; the women's junior college regional winners are here.

The ITA will have virtual award ceremonies for its national awards, beginning on Monday with Division I. Below is next week's schedule:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

D-I East Carolina Drops Men's and Women's Tennis; Former Collegians Thacher, Zsilinszka Begin Medical Careers in Midst of Pandemic; Women's UTR Pro Match Series Begins Friday

East Carolina announced today that is dropping four sports--men's and women's swimming and diving and men's and women's tennis--due to financial deficits that have gotten worse due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Division I state university, which says it will honor the scholarships of those with eligibility remaining, is now down to the minimum of 16 teams that are required to maintain Division I status. East Carolina graduate Joran Vliegen of Belgium, currently No. 36 in the ATP men's doubles rankings, voiced his displeasure with the decision on Twitter today.

The list of Division I programs dropped in the past month now features Wisconsin-Green Bay (technically suspended), Akron and East Carolina. Chase Bartlett, a senior on the Division II St. Edwards tennis team that was cut last month, was a guest this week on SI's Jon Wertheim's Beyond the Baseline podcast. Although the St. Edwards decision seems uniquely indefensible (they added two other sports recently), the conversation about the challenges that all non-revenue sports face presumes that many more programs will follow, although Barlett himself is cautiously optimistic on that front.

For another perspective on the rush to cut sports, see this USA Today/New Jersey article, which focuses on what schools could do to avoid the cuts.

Two outstanding juniors that I covered many years ago on the USTA circuit are featured today in articles about their contributions to public health as medical residents. Ryan Thacher, the former Stanford All-American, and Reka Zsilinszka, the former Duke All-American, had expressed their ambitions to go into medicine while playing college tennis, so I'm not surprised to see that they've reached those goals.

I ran into Thacher a few years ago at the US Open, and we spoke briefly about the medical training he was doing in New York. As a resident in orthopedic surgery, Thacher wasn't expecting to be on the front lines of a global pandemic, but that's where the 30-year-old from Southern California has found himself. This article from the ATP website digs deep into Thacher's junior and college career, with comments from teammate Bradley Klahn and contemporary Steve Johnson.

Zsilinszka, also 30, was initially attracted to orthopedics as a specialty, but she changed from that to emergency care, and it's in that capacity that she's serving now in Philadelphia, as she completes her residency. This tennis.com article describes how Zsilinszka is using what she learned as a student-athlete to cope with the much greater stakes she encounters now in her new profession.  Back in 2008, I wrote an article for Tennis Recruiting Network about Zsilinszka's time in Vietnam with a program designed to connect tennis student-athletes with young people who could benefit from exposure to the sport (subscription required for full article). Given her willingness, even as a teenager, to put herself in challenging and uncomfortable positions, I have no trouble envisioning her in her current role.

Although he is not studying medicine, Noah Rubin (Wake Forest) has made his own contribution to mental health with his Behind The Racquet initiative, which has given him a platform and an ever-expanding audience. This ESPN article goes into detail about Rubin's first forays into exploring the human emotions that tennis players are expected to keep to themselves. By encouraging players to have more direct conversations about themselves and the challenges they face, Rubin has helped reduce the stigma of talking about mental health issues and the isolation that can often result.

Zoom Press Conference Wednesday with Anisimova, Riske, Collins and Tomljanovic

The women's UTR Pro Match Series begins Friday at noon on Tennis Channel, with Amanda Anisimova playing Danielle Collins, followed by Alison Riske against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, and then Riske and Anisimova. Collins and Tomljanovic will play two matches Saturday, which will complete the round robin portion of the event. The finals will be held on Sunday, as will the third place match.  For more on the four participants and where they stand in their careers right now, see this Steve Tignor article at tennis.com.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Update on USTA Junior Sectionals, with Southern, SoCal Now in Late July; ITA Commits to Summer Circuit; Division III ITA Regional Winners Announced

I've been trying to keep up with the status of the USTA summer junior sectional events, which have always been one of the primary ways a player can earn entry into the USTA Clay Courts and the USTA National Hard Courts. Now that July's Clay Court Championships have been canceled, that leaves only the August Nationals as a target, but how the competitors will be selected for those events remains something of a mystery, since many sections have postponed or canceled their sectional events.

Two of the biggest sections geographically, Southern and Midwest, have dates for their sectionals, with Southern's now scheduled for July 30-August 5. Kalamazoo begins on August 7 this year, so those results will not have any impact on the entries for that event, assuming it is played (fingers crossed).  The Midwest section has moved its sectional to November 7-9, and it will be played indoors with a 64-draw.

Southern California has its Sectional rescheduled for July 25-August 2.

Northern California has suspended all USTA events through July 31. Florida, Southwest, Texas and Caribbean have postponed their previously scheduled sectional closed events, and I believe Pacific Northwest has as well. Intermountain has referred to its event as canceled. The other sections--Northern, Missouri Valley, Hawaii, New England, Eastern, Middle States and Mid-Atlantic--do not address the junior sectional events directly, with the websites currently giving May 31st as the date before which no USTA-sanctioned events can be held.

Again, I do not know how selections will be made for the National Championships, given this long hiatus in the USTA Junior Competition schedule, but this patchwork of sectional tournament scheduling shows both the strength and the weakness of the de-centralized nature of USTA governance.

On Tuesday, the ITA posted the brief note below on its Summer Circuit website confirming that it plans to pursue at least some of the events, which allow local play, usually on college campuses, between high schoolers, incoming freshmen and active collegians.
The ITA continues to closely monitor the situation surrounding Coronavirus (COVID-19). When it comes to decision-making, our commitment is to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and programs, as well as families and fans. We are pleased to be a leader in helping the country open back up safely beginning with the 2020 Oracle ITA Summer Circuit. We are preparing to move forward with the circuit and promote tennis as a social distancing sport.
According to the event page, tomorrow is the first day to sign up for a summer membership, with registration available for weeks 1 and 2 (June 20-29) beginning May 25th. Other registration dates for the rest of the seven-week circuit are available here. With so little competition available this summer, including no ITF or USTA Pro Circuit events until after July 31st, these events, reduced from their usual number due to the pandemic, could be very popular this year.

The ITA Division III Regional Award winners were announced today. Unlike Division I, which is broken down into 12 regions, Division III has just four: Northeast, Atlantic South, Central and West. The men's list is here; the women's list is here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

2016 NCAA Champions McDonald and Collins Recommend College Pathway During UTR All-Access Webinar; Financial Help for ATP and WTA Top 500 Set; ITA Division II Regional Awards Announced

Host Prakash Amritraj, Mackie McDonald, Danielle Collins
The 2016 NCAA singles champions Danielle Collins and Mackenzie McDonald were guests on the UTR's All-Access webinar today, and not surprisingly, both gave credit to their college experience as critical to their success in reaching the WTA and ATP Top 100.

Prakash Amritraj started at the beginning, and both Collins and McDonald made clear that neither were late bloomers. Collins began playing 18s events after reaching the top in the USTA 12s rankings, while McDonald, who started at age 3, remembered the significance of his Little Mo title at 11 and his first gold ball at age 12.

On her decision to go to college, rather than enter the pro rankings after high school, Collins said this:

"I knew I wasn't really in a position where I would be able to have a successful career right away and I thought going to college would be the perfect transition: to get more experience, to get free coaching, to get all things out of my athletic experience and also be able to enjoy my life and be around normal people and get an education. That was really appealing to me."

Amritraj asked Collins, who went on to win the NCAA singles title in both 2014(as a sophomore) and 2016(as a senior), why she transferred from Florida after her freshman year.

"My freshman year, when I got to Florida, I had a pretty good season in the fall and for whatever reason in the spring, my coach had me playing at 6 and then I wasn't playing. That was a big red flag to me, because I had really high aspirations going into college, I was the No. 1 recruit in the country going into college tennis so I was really just confused, with my work ethic and how I had performed in the fall, how all of that transpired. So I looked at Virginia. I had a boyfriend at the time that was at Virginia, so it made the decision pretty easy. I had narrowed it down to Florida, Georgia and Virginia. Georgia was out, because I didn't want to sit out a year (due to transferring within the SEC), so Virginia was a pretty easy choice for me."

McDonald, who turned pro after winning both the singles and doubles titles as a UCLA Bruin in 2016, knew he wanted to play tennis professionally, but needed college to mature.

"For me it was a confidence thing, am I ready to make that professional jump, being professional each day and competing, traveling. I would say I had a difficult year of ITF (Juniors); I didn't have the same results as I'd had when I was 16, 17, when I was 12 in the world...that decision is always super tough to go pro or go to college, with the position I was in. But looking back, I would never make a different choice. College is always such a good path, you can learn so much, you can grow so much....but I also went into college knowing one day I will go pro, so I made it my goal while I was at UCLA to work hard and do all the things I needed to do to be prepared for the tour."

McDonald admitted that two wins he had in 2013, after losing in the fourth round of the Kalamazoo 18s, made that decision a bit more difficult.

"I had a really good run in Cincinnati, back in 2013, before I went to college. I was playing Kalamazoo, and I had lost pretty early and I was about to leave and (USTA head of men's tennis) Jay Berger came running up and said there's a wild card (into qualifying) for the Cincinnati Masters and do you want to take it and go. I had my UCLA shirt on and everything, was ready to go straight to college, and it was actually really nice. I got a great taste of the pros at the Masters 1000 level. I had zero ranking and I ended up qualifying, beat two guys Top 100, Stevie Johnson and Nicolas Mahut, and got 35 points. It almost made my decision to go to college a little bit tougher, having a breakout result like that, but I did make the right decision to go to college. That showed me I could always do something on the pro tour."

Collins remembered a final in a November 2017 $25,000 tournament in Oklahoma that boosted her belief that she could succeed on the pro tour.

"That match that I played in the final was with Sachia Vickery, and it went three sets. It was some of the craziest weather conditions and it was a really crazy opponent and I just had to overcome a lot with everything going on in that match. And I kind of knew, after it was over, I was like, if I can deal with this, I can deal with playing at the top and the challenges that will come along with playing with those players at the top level."

For the complete webinar, on-demand, see the UTR All-Access page. Next Tuesday, May 26, at 4 p.m. Pacific, Australian John Millman will be the guest.

For other virtual events, including one with James Blake on Fitness and Nutrition tomorrow (Wednesday, May 20), register here.

According to several reports, the ATP and WTA have notified their players that financial assistance will be forthcoming for both singles and doubles players.  For the WTA, the $10,400 grants will be for Top 500 singles players and Top 175 doubles players, with payments in two installments. Those who have substantial earnings over the past several years are not eligible. Those restrictions and other details are available in this Open Court post.

The ATP's assistance is two distributions of $4,235.00 each, but is more complicated due to travel grants already in place. The ATP also has prize money restrictions, meaning those reaching the threshold will not receive the payment.

The ITF announced it was working on a relief fund for those players ranked between 501 and 700, but it will be June 2 before details are available.

The ITA announced its Division II Regional Award winners today. The men's list is here, and the women's list is here.

Monday, May 18, 2020

ITA Division I Regional Award Winners Announced; Courier Featured on USTA Learning Webinar; Querrey Wins Home-Court Advantage Event Over Holt

Even without most of the conference season completed due to the Covid-19 crisis, the ITA has proceeded with its annual awards, with today's announcement revealing its Division I Regional winners. The ITA National Awards are scheduled for next Monday, Memorial Day, at 8 a.m. Pacific, in a virtual ceremony via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Below are the regional winners; if a category does not have a winner, there was not a nomination for that award in the region.

ITA Division I Women’s Regional Awards

Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship
Atlantic: Holly Hutchinson, Old Dominion
Carolina: Meible Chi, Duke
Midwest:  Mary Lewis, Michigan State
Mountain: TJ Fumagalli, US Air Force Academy
Northeast: Natasha Gonzalez, Harvard
Northwest: Melisa Ates, Washington State
Ohio Valley: Tenika McGiffin, Tennessee
Southeast: Estela Perez-Somarriba, Miami
Southern: Alexa Borles, Mississippi
Southwest: Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine
Texas: Stevie Kennedy, TCU

ITA Cissie Leary Sportsmanship
Atlantic: Rosie Johanson, Virginia
Carolina:Jordan Strickland, Western Carolina
Central: Lara Tupper, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
Midwest: Christina Zordani, Wisconsin
Mountain: Ana Royo Marco, Wyoming
Northeast: Catherine Cable, Dartmouth
Northwest: Emma Higuchi, Stanford
Ohio Valley: Zala Dovnik, Purdue
Southeast: Marta Gonzalez, Georgia
Southern: Jana Hecking, Alabama-Birmingham
Southwest: Rebecca Weissman, Southern California
Texas: Maria Norris, TCU

ITA Rookie of the Year
Atlantic: Natasha Subhash, Virginia
Carolina: Emma Shelton, South Carolina
Central: Ayumi Miyamoto, Oklahoma State
Midwest: Page Freeman, Notre Dame
Mountain: Britt Purcell, Denver
Northeast: Daria Frayman, Princeton
Northwest: Haley Giavara, Cal-Berkeley
Ohio Valley: Carly Briggs, Tennessee
Southeast: Lea Ma, Georgia
Southern: Selin Ovunc, Auburn
Southwest: Abbey Forbes, UCLA
Texas: Jacqueline Nylander, SMU

ITA Player to Watch
Atlantic: Paola Diaz-Delgado, Virginia Commonwealth
Carolina: Cameron Morra, North Carolina
Central: Martina Capurro, Oklahoma
Midwest: Cameron Corse, Notre Dame
Mountain: Taylor Melville, Denver
Northeast: Iuliia Bryzgalova, Penn
Northwest: Mariia Kozyeva, St. Mary’s
Ohio Valley: Rebeka Mertena, Tennessee
Southeast: Victoria Flores, Georgia Tech
Southern: Emma Antonaki, Mississippi State
Southwest: Elysia Bolton, UCLA
Texas: Tatiana Makarova, Texas A&M

ITA Most Improved Senior
Atlantic:Kaylah Hodge, US Naval Academy
Carolina:Katarina Kozarov, Furman
Central: Elise Van Heuvelen Treadwell, Iowa
Midwest: Danielle Wolf, Ohio State
Mountain: Whitney Hekking, Utah
Northeast: Sibel Can, Lehigh
Northwest: Emily Arbuthnott, Stanford
Ohio Valley: Johanna Silva, Tennessee
Southeast: Nandini Das, Florida State
Southern: Paris Corley, LSU
Southwest: Angela Kulikov, Southern California
Texas: Anna Turati, Texas

ITA Senior Player of the Year
Atlantic: Kalani Soli, Liberty
Carolina: Sara Daavettila, North Carolina
Central: Savinoz Saidhujaeva, Wichita State
Mountain: Chiara Tomasetti, Northern Arizona
Northeast: Kylie Wilcox, Boston College
Northwest: Marta Heinen Eastern Washington
Ohio Valley: Christina Rosca, Vanderbilt
Southeast: Estela Perez-Somarriba, Miami
Southern: Taylor Russo, Auburn
Southwest: Ashley Lahey, Pepperdine
Texas: Anna Turati and Bianca Turati, Texas

ITA Community Service
Atlantic: Liberty
Carolina: Appalachian State
Central: Arkansas
Midwest: Michigan State
Mountain: Boise State
Northeast: Hofstra
Northwest: Washington State
Ohio Valley: Tennessee
Southeast: North Georgia
Southern: Alabama-Birmingham
Texas: TCU

ITA Division I Men’s Regional Awards

Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship
Atlantic: Luis Marcona, Delaware
Carolina: Paul Jubb, South Carolina
Central: Jason Kerst, Iowa
Midwest: Guillermo Cabrera, Notre Dame
Mountain: Ryland McDermott, Boise State
Northeast: Vilhelm Fridell, Buffalo
Northwest: Jack Davis, Washington
Ohio Valley: Tom Moonen, Middle Tennessee State
Southeast: Marcelo Tebet, Florida Gulf Coast
Southern: Zhe Zhou, Alabama
Southwest: Gui Osorio, San Diego
Texas: Alastair Gray, TCU

ITA Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship
Atlantic: Luis Marcano, Delaware
Central: Jason Kerst, Iowa
Midwest: Guillermo Cabrera, Notre Dame
Mountain: Ryland McDermott, Boise State
Northeast: Vilhelm Fridell, Buffalo
Northwest: Jack Davis, Washington
Ohio Valley: Tom Moonen, Middle Tennessee State
Southeast: Marcelo Tebet, Florida Gulf Coast
Southern: Zhe Zhou, Alabama
Texas: Alastair Gray, TCU

ITA Rookie of the Year 
Atlantic: Demi Taramonlis, Radford
Carolina: Rinky Hijikata, North Carolina
Central: Mark Manlik, Oklahoma
Midwest: Cannon Kingsley, Ohio State
Mountain: Franco Capalbo, Utah
Northeast: Alex Kotzen, Columbia
Northwest: Neel Rajesh, Stanford
Ohio Valley: Tomasz Dudek, Purdue
Southeast: Tyler Zink, Georgia
Southern: Nikola Slavic, Mississippi
Southwest: Daniel DeJonge, Pepperdine
Texas: Siem Woldeab, Texas

ITA Player to Watch 
Atlantic: Ryan Goetz, Virginia
Carolina: Benjamin Sigouin, North Carolina
Central: Mason Beiler, Oklahoma
Midwest: Richard Ciamarra, Notre Dame
Mountain: Matt Summers, Denver
Northeast: Karl Poling, Princeton
Northwest: Alexandre Rotsaert, Stanford
Ohio Valley: George Harwell, Vanderbilt
Southeast: Sam Riffice, Florida
Southern: Hamish Stewart, Tulane
Southwest: Govind Nanda, UCLA
Texas: Sven Lah, Baylor

ITA Most Improved Senior
Carolina: Paul Jubb, South Carolina
Central: Kareem Allaf, Iowa
Midwest: Nico Mostardi, Cleveland State
Mountain: Nicolas Buitrago, New Mexico State
Northeast: Jacki Tang, Columbia
Northwest: Zdenek Derkas, Fresno State
Ohio Valley: Athell Bennett, Purdue
Southeast: Jakub Wojcik, South Florida
Southern: Edson Oritz, Alabama
Southwest: Joseph Guillin, UC-Santa Barbara
Texas: Constantin Frantzen, Baylor

ITA Senior Player of the Year
Carolina: William Blumberg, North Carolina
Central: Kareema Allaf, Iowa
Midwest: Aleks Kovacevic, Illinois
Mountain: Sean Hill, Brigham Young
Northeast: Charlie Broom, Dartmouth
Northwest: Damon Kesaris, St. Mary’s
Ohio Valley: Athell Bennett, Purdue
Southeast: Alex Knaff, Florida State
Southern: Ewan Moore, Tulane
Southwest: Brandon Holt, Southern California
Texas, Yuya Ito, Texas

ITA Community Service
Atlantic: Bucknell
Carolina: North Carolina Central
Midwest: DePaul
Mountain: Utah
Northeast: Binghamton
Northwest: Gonzaga
Ohio Valley: Purdue
Southeast: North Georgia
Southern: Tulane

Today's USTA Player Development Learning Series Webinar entitled "Maintaining Strong Player and Coach Relationships"m featured Jose Higueras and Jim Courier in a conversation about their partnership, which resulted in Courier winning four slam titles and reach No. 1 in the ATP rankings. Obviously, the results speak for themselves, and it appears they were perfectly suited to each other; unfortunately that doesn't provide a great deal of insight into a coaching relationship that might not be quite so successful. 

Courier has always been famous for his work ethic, but he said the reputation he built around his physical fitness was not intentional.

"I was never afraid of the work, but getting everything streamlined and as professional as possible was really important, because what the professional demand is, best of five, is extremely high," Courier said. "I had to make sure every base was covered, that was my goal, basically because of frustration, because of the plateaued ranking and lost opportunities by not being physically up to snuff. Not from a lack of effort, but probably a lack of organization, as much as anything....I wasn't trying to intimidate people, that may have become a byproduct of it, because they thought that going for a jog after it was me rubbing it in their nose, which was not the case. Back in those times, we didn't have fitness centers, bikes and treadmills, on site. If you wanted to go for a cool-down, you had to go for a cool-down someplace and we would go for a run. That was misconstrued, which turned out to be a good thing, because people did get intimidated about that, I guess, and you could maybe be up a break before a match started."

The webinar also featured Leah Friedman, Dr. Bob Neff and Dave Ramos, who spoke about different facets of coaching, with Friedman speaking about retaining beginners, Neff about mental charting, and Ramos about using video for technical and tactical training. Links to all these references are available at the Learning Series website.

Neff's mental charting was not a concept I was familiar with. Although I believe in the power and importance of positive self-talk and body language during competition, I admit to some skepticism about his contention that 95% of close sets are won by the more positive player. With margins so small in that kind of match, I just don't see how one variable could make that much of a difference, but if I were the parent of a junior, I'd certainly test that theory by doing my own charting. The graphic above. I guess maybe "six boxes" better, which is not a counting method I'm familiar with, might be the key to understanding this 95% rate.  I do agree with the second point above, having just listened to a podcast (https://freakonomics.com/podcast/reasons-to-be-cheerful/) that covered the social science evidence for that.

Due to Memorial Day next Monday, there will be no Learning Series webinar next week.

Heavy favorite Sam Querrey won the Home-Court Advantage event on a private court in Rolling Hills California yesterday, beating USC graduate Brandon Holt 3-4(5), 4-1, 10-8 in the final. Holt was filling in for Bradley Klahn, who pulled out of the semifinals with a back injury, and Holt defeated Marcos Giron to reach the final. Although it's impossible to draw any real conclusions in this drastically abbreviated format, Holt did pick up wins over Escobedo and Giron and obviously challenged Querrey.

For more on Sunday's competition, see this tennis.com article by Cale Hammond.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Alabama’s Roberta Alison Baumgardner Seeks Competition, Makes History

Roberta Alison Baumgardner, who joined the Alabama men's team in 1963
(contributed photo)
Although I've stayed connected to tennis with webinars and the occasional streamed or televised event during this pandemic, I miss covering actual live tennis matches. In the past 15 years, this spot on the calendar has been devoted to NCAA tennis, with the French Open Junior championships just around the corner, but with all those events canceled or postponed, I have had more time to look deeper into tennis stories I would normally just file away as interesting.

Earlier this month, the SEC tweeted a short item about the legacy of Roberta Alison Baumgardner, who played on the men's varsity tennis team at the University of Alabama in 1963, becoming the first woman to play a varsity sport in the SEC.  I had never heard of Alison Baumgardner, and I was interested in finding out more about her, given the sheer improbability of this happening in the deep south, long before women's collegiate athletics were transformed by Title IX. This Tennis Recruiting Network article, posted today, is the result of my curiosity about a woman I should have known about, and did not.

Although Alison Baumgardner was not cast in the mold of Billie Jean King, she adhered to a standard of excellence that sought the best competition, and was willing to do what it took to get that competition. She calmly pursued the notion that her tennis ability was more important than her gender, and held to that meritocratic principle throughout, even when opposing coaches and players forfeited matches rather than compete against her.

Jason Morton, who convinced her to join the team and convinced Bear Bryant to lobby the SEC to allow women to compete on men's teams, deserves a great deal of credit for his role in providing her an opportunity, as do her teammates, who supported her. But it was Alison Baumgardner who had to play the points, endure the scrutiny and persist in competing when giving up would have been easier.

I would like to thank Alabama women's head coach Jenny Mainz, Alabama men's head coach George Husack and Princeton men's head coach Billy Pate, who coached at Alabama when the Indoor Center named after Alison Baumgardner was built, for all their assistance in getting this article written. And thanks to Billie Jean King, Ed Terrell, Earl Baumgardner Jr and John Gardner for sharing their memories and photos of this exceptional woman.

And thanks again to Tennis Recruiting Network, who once again gave me the opportunity to pursue an article I thought important and encouraged me to take the time I needed to complete it.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Playing Tennis Safely; Another NCAA Name, Image, Likeness Projection (Without Any Tennis Players); More on This Weekend's Private Court Event in SoCal

Tennis is resuming in most locales now, but with many precautions necessary to play safely during this Covid-19 pandemic.

When I was looking at the USTA Hawaii section's website, I ran across the graphic above, which is a much more interesting format for displaying these suggestions than lines and lines of text. It would be great if  something like this could be posted on big sandwich boards outside every court complex, although I understand what a massive undertaking that would be.

Last month I posted an article on a study by Navigate Research that estimated what some student-athletes could make once they are allowed to profit from their Name, Image and Likeness. It caught my attention particularly because a Cleveland State women's tennis player was on the list, based primarily on the number of her Instagram followers.

An article released yesterday on the data journalism site FiveThirtyEight.com does its own research, but it is confined to just 18 athletes in nine college sports, none of which is tennis or gymnastics. Gymnastics had huge representation in the previous article, but even without it, student-athletes in women's sports do well, with the top earner and two of the top four. Women's basketball incoming freshman Paige Bueckers of UConn has the highest earning projection: $670,783.00.

The article detailing how these numbers were arrived at is here.

Play began and is continuing today at Home-Court Advantage, the event on a private clay court in Southern California featuring Sam Querrey, Bradley Klahn, Zachary Svajda, Brandon Holt, Marcos Giron and Ernesto Escobedo. Cale Hammond is there covering the event for tennis.com, and he provided this report about the first round robin series, in which Holt, Giron and Escobedo all went 1-1, with Giron and Escobedo advancing to Sunday's semifinals. As I anticipated the format is Fast 4.

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times wrote an article about the tournament, and she also spoke with UTR's Stephen Amritraj about their Pro Match Series last weekend and next weekend. In addition, Elliott talked with USTA head of Pro Tennis Stacey Allaster, and Allaster's remarks about these re-opening events and how they could inform the upcoming US Open do provide some optimism.

Friday, May 15, 2020

USTA Clay Court Championships and Pro Circuit Events in July Canceled; ATP, ITF Extend Tour Suspension Window through July


There have been no Level 1 USTA National Junior Championships played since the Winter Nationals concluded in early January, with July's Clay Court Championships now joining the Easter Bowl on the sidelines due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The USTA announced today that the 12, 14s, 16s and 18s Clay Courts will not take place in the seven cities in three states that annually host these major tournaments.

In addition, the USTA announced that the five men's and six women's Pro Circuit July events not previously canceled (the ATP Challengers in Winnetka and Binghamton had been canceled earlier) are not happening. Women's Pro Circuit tournaments that have been canceled in those three weeks are $60Ks in Berkeley, CA; Concord, MA; Springfield MA and $25Ks in Atlanta, GA; Evansville IN and Charlotte, NC. Men's Pro Circuit events canceled are $25Ks in Charlotte, NC and Champaign, IL and $15Ks in Rochester, NY; Norman, OK and Iowa City, IA. 

That's the bad news. The good news is that the USTA has not canceled sectional events en masse, meaning that, depending on local restrictions, USTA sanctioned play is possible beginning June 1, which is two weeks from Monday. None of the sections have updated their Covid statements after this latest USTA decision today, but I have heard a few sections are planning to move forward with their Sectional Closed and other events in June and July as long as public health and government officials allow it. I will continue to monitor the information posted by the 17 USTA sections, but I welcome in the comments any confirmed dates for Level 1 sectional events that you know are happening.

In addition to the announcement from the USTA, the ATP and the ITF put out statements that extended their suspension dates from July 12, to July 31, eliminating three more weeks of events. In the United States, that means no ATP events in Newport Rhode Island and Atlanta, with Washington DC (men and women) and San Jose(women) now the first US events on the ATP and WTA calendars.

The WTA suspended four additional July events, but two tournaments later in the month, in Palermo Italy and Karlsruhe Germany, remain on the schedule.

Again, although this is disappointing, there is reason for optimism, with this suspension extending just weeks, not months, and preserving hope for some sort of a hard court season prior to the US Open. The next significant deadline for decisions is mid-June.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

NCAA D-I Dead Period Extended to June 30; Akron Drops Women's Tennis; Contreras Wins Fed Cup Heart Award; ATP Feature on Rinderknech; UTR Event on Succeeding in College

The NCAA announced yesterday that its dead period, which prohibits in-person contacts between a college coach and a potential student-athlete and their parents, has been extended. Previously set to expire on May 31, the dead period will now end after June 30. Coaches are not allowed to make home visits, and recruits are not allowed to make visits, official or unofficial, to campus during this dead period. The complete release by the NCAA Division I Council is here.

Akron, a member of the Mid American Conference, announced today that it was dropping three sports, including women's tennis. This is the first Division I school to drop a tennis program since the suspension of competition in March (D-I Wisconsin-Green Bay has suspended its men's and women's teams indefinitely). Men's golf and cross country are also being eliminated, with 23 men and nine women affected by these cuts. Unfortunately, and unusual in a situation like this, Akron is not honoring these athlete's scholarships if they wish to remain at the school without competing on a team, but they can't renege on scholarships for incoming freshmen.

Unfortunately, the current financial situation does not allow the University to be able to continue to offer and provide athletics scholarships to current student athletes in the sports of men’s cross country, men’s golf and women’s tennis moving forward. However, the University is required to provide the agreed upon scholarship to the incoming student athletes that had previously signed an offer for the upcoming year should they matriculate to The University of Akron.
Akron's announcement is here and the Frequently Asked Questions are here.
Former Vanderbilt All-American Fernanda Contreras was named on of four winners of the Fed Cup Heart Award, with the 22-year-old, who represents Mexico, selected for her performance at the Americas Group 1 event in February. According to this Fed Cup article, Contreras won six of eight matches in singles and doubles in that competition, "alongside [USC alum] Giuliana Olmos, including the third-set tiebreak that sealed victory over Paraguay and a place in the Fed Cup Play-Offs, where they will host Great Britain." Contreras is the third generation of her family to represent Mexico in Davis Cup or Fed Cup. The $2000 charitable grant she won will go to the Mexican Association for Aid to Children with Cancer.

France's Arthur Rinderknech, the former Texas A&M star, has had his climb up the ATP rankings halted by the pandemic, after his title at the Calgary Challenger moved him up to 160. In this feature from the ATP, Rinderknech reveals that his mother, although asymptomatic, did contract the virus.

UTR hosted a virtual event today, with Parsa Nemati the moderator, entitled "Pathway to Becoming a Successful College Player."  Featured were Jordan Angus of Great Britain, who played at Mississippi State and San Diego and coaches at Eagle Fustar Academy now, and Katarina Adamovic of Serbia, who played at Oklahoma State and is now the assistant coach at Cincinnati.

Angus and Adamovic talked about how they ended up at their respective schools, with both emphasizing that knowing what you want to accomplish before you enter a program is crucial to making the right decision.

"I knew what I was looking for," Adamovic said. "I wasn't looking for a school in a nice city, and again, I did not know about conferences, I did not know what Power 5 is, so for me it was more about what can I get from that school and what can I offer to that school. I never visited Oklahoma State, had never been to Stillwater before. But luckily Chris (Young), the head coach of Oklahoma State, he flew down to Serbia to watch me play in a tournament. He spent two or three days and the next thing I knew, I committed to Oklahoma State....Luckily I had a great connection right there on the spot with Chris, there was something about him and we clicked, and in a couple of months, I was in Stillwater."

Angus's advised current student-athletes in the recruiting process now to be considerate and polite, regardless of whether they are interested in the school.

"Just don't burn bridges," Angus said. "You'll get some kids very polite, happy to talk, even if they are not going to commit to your school, they'll send you a nice message, reach out to you. Then you get others that either don't reply or are kind of rude. In my case, I loved my coach and I loved my teammates, but I still transferred from Mississippi State, and I needed help to transfer from other coaches and other people I knew. If I burn bridges, I limit my options....Make sure you stay in contact, stay polite whether you're going to go to that school or not. You never know when those people are going to come back into your life, give you something that could really benefit you going forward."

Nemati will be hosting another virtual event next Thursday, featuring two former American collegians on the same topic: Ronnie Schneider(UNC) and Shelby Talcott(Iowa). Registration for all UTR events is here.