Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Brooksby Survives Damm Challenge in Tallahassee; Automatic Bids to NCAAs on Offer at D-I Conference Tournaments; Latest Division II Team Rankings

The 2018 Kalamazoo champions met today in the first round of the ATP Challenger 80 in Tallahassee, with 18s champion Jenson Brooksby taking out 16s champion Martin Damm 6-7(11) 6-1, 6-2.

Jenson Brooksby, photo via USTA twitter

Brooksby had just one day to practice on Tallahassee's Har-Tru courts after winning the Orlando Challenger Sunday on hard courts, and he looked, understandably, less confident with his footing and his shot selection. Damm, who received a wild card into the main draw after qualifying in Orlando last week, was undoubtedly responsible for some of Brooksby's uncertainty, with the 17-year-old left-hander winning a lot of serve plus one points. Damm went up 3-1 in the first set, but Brooksby began to play better, immediately getting the break back. Although the remaining games were close, there were no more breaks, leaving a tiebreaker to decide it. Damm had six set points, Brooksby two in the tense and well-played 13th game of the set, with Damm continuing to go for his shots and Brooksby continuing to compete for every point.

It was an 80-minute set, but losing it didn't seem to faze Brooksby, who quickly won the second set and took a 4-1 lead in the third. Once Brooksby had adjusted both to his opponent's aggressive game and his own performance on an unaccustomed surface, he was in control, but Damm kept making him earn each game. It took six match points before Brooksby closed Damm out, with the last two sets taking less time to play than the first in what was an entertaining and intriguing match.

Other Americans who picked up first round wins today were Thai Kwiatkowski(Virginia), who beat Mitchell Krueger 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3, wild card Ryan Harrison, who beat lucky loser Donald Young 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, Bjorn Fratangelo, who defeated No. 5 seed Ivo Karlovic 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 7-6(4), and qualifier Alexander Ritschard(Virginia), who defeated Renzo Olivo 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Alex Rybakov and No. 2 seed Denis Kudla are playing a night match. Michael Mmoh, the No. 8 seed, won his first round match on Monday.

Many conference tournaments are on the calendar for the rest of the month, with some of the 29(men) or 30(women) spots in the 64-team NCAA championships already decided. Bobby Knight has two comprehensive pages on his CollegeTennisToday site, with results from the smaller conferences (not all are conducting conference tournaments, although the Power 5 all are) as well as the matchups and links to live streams and live scoring. The women's conference tournament page is here, and the men's conference tournament page is here. Scroll to the very bottom of each page for a quick look at the qualifiers.

The selections and draws will be revealed on Monday May 3 at ncaa.com.

The Division II team selections will be announced on Tuesday May 4th at ncaa.com, and today the ITA released its latest Top 25 rankings, which is a coaches poll. Full list available by clicking on heading.

Men's Division II Top 10 teams, April 20, 2021

1. Columbus State
2. Barry
3. Valdosta State
4. Saint Leo
5. Indianapolis
6. Lander
7. Azusa Pacific
T8. West Florida
T8. Lynn
10. Delta State

Women's Division II Top 10 teams, April 20, 2021
1. Indianapolis
2. Barry
3. Nova Southeastern
4. Central Oklahoma
5. West Alabama
6. Azusa Pacific
7. West Florida
8. Saint Leo
9. Lynn
10. Columbus State

Monday, April 19, 2021

Twenty Regional Sites Announced for NCAA Division I Team Tournament; Easter Bowl 12s Division Videos

Today the NCAA released the acceptances of 20 bids for hosting the Division I regional team competitions next month, with 16 of these 20 sites receiving final approval on Monday May 3, when the selection of 64 men's teams and 64 women's teams are announced.

The 20 men's sites are:
Central Florida
North Carolina
Ohio State
South Carolina
Southern California
Texas A&M
Texas Tech
Wake Forest

Top 20 teams (in last week's computerized rankings) missing are Mississippi State, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Tulane, replaced by Texas Tech[21], Stanford[24], Ohio State[26] and Michigan[30].

The 20 women's sites:
Central Florida
Florida State
Georgia Tech
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Ohio State

Current Top 20 teams either not bidding or not selected are Texas A&M[17] and Mississippi[19], with Cal[25] and Stanford[29] in their place.

I haven't heard whether fans will be allowed at this year's finals site, the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, but this is the link to check for that information going forward.

The Easter Bowl videos for the 12s division are embedded below, with the champions first, followed by the finalists. It was disappointing that the finals for the 12s and 14s weren't put on show courts, which isn't the case at the tournament's usual venue, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Brooksby Claims Second Challenger Title in Orlando; Sharma Earns First WTA Title in Charleston, McNally and Baptiste Win Doubles Championship; Aney Nabs Second Straight $15K

Jenson Brooksby defeated No. 5 seed Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-3 Sundat at the ATP Challenger 80 on the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona Florida.

For the 20-year-old Californian, who won the USTA National 18s title in 2018, it marks the second Challenger title of his career and the second this year, with the first coming in South Africa in February. In between those two titles, Brooksby reached the final of the Cleveland Challenger in March, with his 2021 record at that level now 14-2, after being out of action with injuries for most of 2020.

Brooksby looked very sharp today, and his combination of offense and defense, as well as a tendency not to miss many balls, left Kudla without much to attack. Brooksby did not lose a set all week, wasn't even taken to a tiebreaker, and with the title has now moved into the ATP Top 200 for the first time. 

He is playing next week's Challenger 80 in Tallahassee, where he has drawn 17-year-old wild card Martin Damm in the first round. Bruno Kuzuhara, Ozan Colak and Perry Gregg received wild cards into the qualifying, which concludes Monday.

Astra Sharma

Former Vanderbilt All-American Astra Sharma won her first WTA tournament title, with the unseeded Australian defeating top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 today at the MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston South Carolina.

Sharma said she had no ideas how to counteract the level Jabeur displayed in the first set. 

"I thought Ons played an amazing first set, I didn't know really what to do," said the 25-year-old, who graduated from Vanderbilt in 2018. "She was wrong-footing me, dropshoting me, making me cover a lot of court and I couldn't really read what she was doing. I thought, that's just too good from her, if she can keep pulling off these really good shots, whatever, but maybe if I keep competing, keep showing up, keep doing the right things, those are inherently tricky shots, so maybe she'll waiver and I'll get an opportunity to get it closer."

Sharma has said earlier in the week that her ability to keep matches physical has been a key to her run to the second WTA final of her career and first since 2019. 

"That is the basis of my game," Sharma said. "To be athletic, to be dynamic, for one match, two matches, three matches and to use it more offensively, coming in, is what I've tried to do more this tournament. I may not have the straight up weapons that a player like Ons has, but I do have the speed to close and finish at the net, so I've been trying to do that more, instead of hitting really good shots and not be able to close it out."

Sharma acknowledged the debt she owed her Vanderbilt coaches Geoff Macdonald and Aleke Tsoubanos.

"Both of them were so great to me, saw what they thought I could become," Sharma said. "They never stopped helping me out, giving me time...it was great for me having those two people in my corner, because I think coaches before that didn't really connect with me, like I connected to them and responded to their feedback."

With the title, Sharma's WTA ranking rises to 120, but she will not be heading to Europe for the clay events there, with the USTA Pro Circuit $100K events in May her preferred alternative.

"I will probably stay and try and play some of the ITFs," Sharma said. "My ranking before was not good enough that I could go to Europe, because I was not going to get into Madrid and Rome, even Saint-Malo looked a little bit dicey. So I thought I would stay and play these ITFs, where I knew for sure I was going to get some match play, so that's the plan."

Caty McNally and Hailey Baptiste

Another player won her first WTA title today in Charleston, with Hailey Baptiste and partner Caty McNally winning the doubles championship. Baptiste and McNally, both 19, defeated top seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) and Storm Sanders of Australia 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-6 for Baptiste's first title and McNally's third.

For more on the two women's finals today in Charleston, see this article from the WTA website.

And a quick note about former UNC Tar Heel Jessie Aney, who has now won two consecutive $15,000 tournaments in Kazakhstan. Aney, who turns 23 tomorrow, was unseeded in both events, but after beating No. 5 seed Tamara Curovic of Serbia 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-0 in three hours today, she now has a 10-match winning streak, which started with a first round win over Curovic.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Brooksby and Kudla Reach Orlando Challenger Final; Sharma Advances to Second WTA Final; Daryabeigi Earns First ITF Title at J4 in Cancun; Doubles Titles for Americans in Cancun and at J3 in Costa Rica

An all-American is final is set for Sunday at the ATP Challenger 80 on the USTA's National Campus in Lake Nona, with unseeded Jenson Brooksby taking on No. 5 seed Denis Kudla.  Brooksby defeated Christian Harrison 7-5, 6-1, rebounding in the first set after letting a 5-1 lead slip away, while Kudla outlasted former USF star Roberto Cid of the Dominican Republic 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. 

Kudla is looking for his second Challenger title since the restart, having won the Cary Challenger last November, while Brooksby is looking for his second career Challenger title, with the first coming in February in South Africa. The 20-year-old, who enrolled at Baylor, but due to injuries and then the pandemic shutdown did not play for the Bears, also reached the final of the Cleveland Challenger last month. 

In today's doubles final, Mitchell Krueger and Jack Sock took the title, saving two match points in the match tiebreaker against Harrison and Dennis Novikov, who were also unseeded. Krueger and Sock had seen three match points slip away when up 9-6, but shook that off to post a 4-6, 7-5, 13-11 win. 

Former Vanderbilt star Astra Sharma advanced to her second career WTA final today at the MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston, ending the run of Bogota champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia 7-6(5), 6-1 in today's semifinal. 

Sharma lost her first WTA final, at the 2019 tournament in Bogota to Amanda Anisimova. I asked her today how the pressure of college matches compared to the pressure of playing in a pro final.

"If anything, I felt a lot more pressure playing in college," said the 25-year-old Australian. "You know six girls, depending on you to win. That always gave me, if anything, more stress or focus; every point counts, I don't want to let anyone down. I think I played really well on a team because of that; I was so focused on every point, not to let the team down."

Sharma said that same mindset wasn't there when she began to play professionally after graduation.

"For a while it was almost a little bit less intense or focused for me, because it was just myself," Sharma said. "If I was down 4-1, it wasn't like someone was counting on you, it would be easier almost to find an excuse to not push myself that extra bit, whereas in college, I felt like, oh man, I'm 4-1 down, it was like, I'd better get my act together, let's go. That was a big learning experience for me, getting out professionally and finding that own fire and support within myself. No one's here, no one's cheering you on, no one's holding you accountable, it's just yourself out there. How do you want to talk to yourself, how do you want to push yourself...I've learned along the way how to be my own little college team, supporting myself on court, honing my focus on each point."

Sharma will face top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who defeated Danka Kovinic of Montenegro 6-3, 6-0.

Sunday's doubles final will feature two 19-year-old Americans who have been steamrolling through the draw this week. Caty McNally and Hailey Baptiste at one stretch had won 22 consecutive games, with three straight 6-0 sets. Their second set against Bogota champions Elixane Lechemia(South Carolina) and Ingrid Neel(Florida) ended that streak, but their 6-0, 6-2 win put them in the final, where they will face top seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) and Storm Sanders of Australia. 

Two ITF junior tournaments this week attracted a substantial number of Americans, with the J4 in Cancun and the J3 in Costa Rica featuring three US singles finalists. Sixteen-year-old Sean Daryabeigi was the sole champion, coming through qualifying to earn his first junior circuit title with a 6-4, 6-2 win over top seed Emiliano Aguilera Guerrero of Mexico. The Cancun tournament was just Daryabeigi's fourth ITF tournament, with the other three Grade 4s in Florida, where he lives.

Ashton Bowers, the No. 6 seed, lost 6-1, 6-1 in the Cancun final to top seed Martyna Ostrzygalo of Canada. 

Tianna Rangan partnered with Switzerland's Jade Haller for the Cancun doubles title, beating Leah Kuruvilla and Mexico's Barbara Martinez 6-3, 6-4 in the final. Kurt Miller and Mexico's Santiago Arredondo Delgado won the boys doubles title, beating the American team of Quang Duong and Felipe Pinzon Moreno 6-1, 6-0.

Braden Shick, the No. 3 seed, fell in the final of the J3 in Costa Rica, to top seed Gonzalo Bueno of Peru, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. 

Cooper Williams and Mexico's Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez, the No. 4 seeds, won the Costa Rica doubles title, beating Santiago Giamichelle of Argentina and Luis Carlos Alvarez Valdes of Mexico 6-1, 6-3 in the final. No. 3 seeds Ava Krug and Bolivia's Maria Olivia Castedo won the girls doubles title, beating No. 4 seeds Mia Kupres and Victoria Mboko of Canada 6-3, 7-6(5) in the final. Kupres also lost in the singles final, to fellow Canadian and top seed Annabelle Xu.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Easter Bowl ITF Videos; Kudla, Harrison and Brooksby Advance at Orlando Challenger; Sharma Defeats Fruhvirtova to Reach Charleston Semifinals

The videos of the Easter Bowl ITF finals are below, with the videos for the 12s, 14s, and 16s, still to come. 

A photo gallery from the Easter Bowl by photographer Derrick Tuskan is available at Tennis Recruiting Network.

Americans Denis Kudla, Christian Harrison and Jenson Brooksby and former South Florida star Roberto Cid of the Dominican Republic have advanced to the semifinals of ATP Challenger 80 in Orlando

No. 5 seed Kudla, the only seed who made the quarterfinals, defeated Michael Mmoh 7-5, 6-3 and will face Cid, who advanced when former UNC star Brayden Schnur of Canada retired trailing 3-6, 6-2, 4-0. Harrison downed Jack Sock 7-6(3), 6-3 and will play Brooksby, who beat wild card Zane Khan 6-4, 6-3.

Sock and Mitchell Krueger will play Harrison and Dennis Novikov in the doubles final Saturday.

Astra Sharma

 The run of 15-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova ended this evening at the WTA MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston South Carolina, with former Vanderbilt star Astra Sharma advancing to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

"I honestly don't really look at the age," Sharma said when asked about playing someone so young. "Look at Linda, she's an amazing player who plays as if she was born to hold a racquet her whole life."

Sharma, 25, will face 19-year-old Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, who advanced to the semifinals when 18-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark retired trailing 6-4, 1-0. 

"Same with Maria," Sharma continued. "She's just come off a really good win in Bogota and she's been backing it up here in Charleston against really top quality opponents. So I don't think age has anything to do with it. She might be fresher than me, since she has younger legs. I'm really looking forward to playing her tomorrow, I think she's been playing really well, it will be a really good challenge to see how I match up against her."

Sharma, who will be playing in just her second WTA semifinal, was asked about her decision to play college tennis.

"I was really undercooked as a junior," said Sharma, who uses Nashville as her training base during most of the post-Australian Open year. "I wasn't played that many touraments, I also played soccer and everything, so I didn't really have a traditional tennis background in terms of the quantity and quality that I put in compared to the other girls. I just had too many things going on, so my decision to go to college was more, let's see, if I focus one hundred percent on tennis how good can I get. And honestly, college for me was the perfect time to do that. All the facilities are open, you have eight other girls willing to hit with you, you have coaches and physios. So for me it was a perfect kind of environment for developing a tennis player, which I really needed. I think I was behind, in terms of maturity, on court and off court, so that was really good for me."

In the other semifinal, top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia will play Danka Kovinic of Montenegro. Jabeur defeated Nao Hibino 6-0, 6-1, while Kovinic took out No. 3 seed Shelby Rogers 7-5, 6-1.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

NCAA Allows Resumption of In-Person Recruiting June 1; Orlando Challenger Quarterfinals Feature Six Americans; Fruhvirtova Downs Navarro to Reach MUSC Quarterfinals

The long-awaited end of the recruiting dead period was announced today by the NCAA, with in-person recruiting and campus visits, which have not been allowed since March of 2020, set to resume on June 1.  

In addition, some of the restrictions on who can contact a prospective student-athlete have been loosened:

Council members also granted a waiver to allow school staff to participate in a call with any number of uncommitted prospective student-athletes in any sport and to allow student-athletes to participate in phone calls with a coach and prospective student-athletes or at the direction of a coach. Additionally, student-athletes cannot be directed to make calls on a day off.

The Council also approved a blanket waiver allowing full-time institutional staff members, current students and all coaches, including volunteer coaches, to initiate recruiting calls (for example, telephone calls, video calls) involving prospective student-athletes whom an institution is permitted to call. The waiver is in effect from June 1 through Dec. 31, 2021, and requires staff who are not making or receiving calls to prospects under an existing legislated exception (for example, academic advisors and compliance administrators) to pass the recruiting exam before making or receiving calls.

It will be great to see college coaches back at junior tournaments--they were certainly missed by everyone at last year's Orange Bowl and the recent tournaments in San Diego--and the June 1 date allows them to attend most of the important closed events in sections, typically held in that month. The French Open Juniors would also be a possibility with the new dates, although I imagine it would be even more difficult than usual to find a credential for that event.

Four second round matches were on the schedule today at the ATP Challenger 80 in Orlando, with six Americans playing. Michael Mmoh and Christian Harrison won the two all-US battles, with Mmoh defeating Christopher Eubanks 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and Harrison taking out University of Illinois senior Aleks Kovacevic 6-4, 6-3.  In the other two matches, No. 5 seed Denis Kudla defeated Tim Van Rijthoven of the Netherlands 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 and Jack Sock beat No. 6 seed Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India 6-3, 6-4. 

Friday's quarterfinals will feature Sock versus Harrison, Mmoh versus Kudla, Jenson Brooksby versus Zane Khan, and in the former collegiate battle, Roberto Cid of the Dominican Republic(South Florida) versus Brayden Schnur of Canada(North Carolina).  Kudla is the only seed remaining.

Free live streaming of all the matches is available here.

The action today at the WTA MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston didn't begin until 1 p.m. and two matches that were two-and-a-half hours in length made for a late night for teens Emma Navarro and Linda Fruhvirtova, who were fourth on. 

The 15-year-old Czech came out on top, overcoming a 4-2 deficit in the first set for a 6-4, 6-2 win and a place in the quarterfinals against Astra Sharma of Australia.

Earlier in the day, 19-year-old Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia came back to defeat Christina McHale 2-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(1) and former Vanderbilt star Sharma outlasted No. 8 seed Madison Brengle 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. In between, top seed Ons Jabeur downed qualifier Alycia Parks 6-4, 6-0. 

Shelby Rogers, the No. 3 seed, plays Volvo Car Open finalist Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, Jabeur faces Nao Hibino of Japan and Clara Tauson of Denmark meets Osorio Serrano in a battle of former junior slam champions.