Monday, March 8, 2021

ITF Junior Circuit Grade 2 in Dominican Republic Features 12 Americans and the Fruhvirtovas; Doubles Titles for US Juniors in El Salvador; 2021 Division III NCAA Championships Moved to Tennessee; Gatica Wins UTR $25K in Charleston

After a month in South America, most of the top US juniors have headed home for a well-deserved break before the two Grade 1s later this month in San Diego, but a dozen are playing this week at the Grade 2 in the Dominican Republic.

The big surprise of the draw is the appearance of Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, who won four ITF Women's Pro Circuit titles last month, sweeping singles and doubles in back-to-back tournaments in Tunisia. The 15-year-old, who is currently No. 13 in the ITF junior rankings, is the only top 25 player in the field, although No. 2 seed Bianca Behulova of Slovakia is now up to 28 after reaching the final last week at the Grade A in Brazil. Fruhvirtova's 13-year-old sister Brenda also was in the field, but she lost in the first round 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4 to No. 6 seed Tilwith Di Girolami of Belgium. Brenda had been 18-4 in ITF junior tournaments in the six months she has been eligible to play them. The sisters are playing doubles together, and are seeded No. 2.

The American boys who reached the main draw are lucky loser Brayden Michna, qualifier Jonah Braswell, Azuma Visaya and wild card Nicholas Godsick. The Americans girls competing this week are Katja Wiersholm, Mia Slama, Valencia Xu[3], Qavia Lopez, wild card Olivia Lincer, Elise Wagle, lucky loser Madeleine Jessup and qualifier Gracie Epps. Braswell, Visaya and Godsick won their first round matches today, with Michna losing his. Xu, Lopez and Lincer picked up wins today, with Wiersholm losing and the other four not scheduled to play until Tuesday. 

The top seed in the boys draw is Jack Pinnington Jones of Great Britain, with Leo Borg of Swedent seeded No. 2.

In addition to the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl title won by Dali Blanch and Alexander Bernard last week, three other Americans picked up doubles titles at the ITF Grade 5 in El Salvador. In the boys final, unseeded Luis Fernandez and Luca-Julian Hotze defeated unseeded Zamaan Moledina of the US and Gillian Osmont of France 7-5, 6-4 for a first ITF Junior Circuit title for both. In the girls final, top seeds Leah Kuruvilla of the US and Guatemala's Deborah Dominguez Collado defeated the unseeded Bolivian team of Anna Fabia Holweg Bustillos and Masha Alexandra Vrsalovic Gimenez 7-5, 6-3. Kuruvilla, 17, now has four ITF Junior Circuit doubles titles, all in Central America.

The ITA announced today that the NCAA Division III National Championships would be moving to Chattanooga Tennessee for this May's competition. The NCAA website is still showing the former site, Claremont Mudd Scripps in Claremont California, but as you can see from the tweet below, that is no longer the case. The tournament was originally schedule from May 24-30; it's expected to be the same dates, but that is not confirmed in the ITA's tweet.

There was also tweet from the ITA that first round sites for the Division I tournament could be consolidated; I'll have more information on that when details are released.

Last week's only UTR Pro Tennis Tour $25K event was a women's tournament in Charleston South Carolina, with Barbara Gatica of Chile collecting the first place prize money of $4000 with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 win over Kylie McKenzie. McKenzie had beaten former University of Georgia star Kennedy Shaffer in the semifinals, and Gatica had gotten past North Carolina recruit Carson Tanguilig. 

This week the women remain in Charleston, and the men resume in Naples Florida

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Lao Defeats Liu in Newport Beach $25K Final; Khan Wins First ITF Pro Circuit Title in India; Challenger Doubles Championships for Former Collegians; Tauson Earns First WTA Title

Danielle Lao won her first title since 2015 today at the $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Newport Beach California. The 29-year-old former University of Southern California star, seeded No. 7, defeated No. 5 seed Claire Liu 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in today's final, handing Liu her second consecutive loss in a final. Lao, who played the Australian Open qualifying in January, but nothing else since the restart back in August, now has three ITF World Tennis Tour singles titles, with the previous two a $15K and a $25K in 2015. She has been as high as 152 in the WTA rankings and has qualified for the US Open twice; she is now at 233 in the rankings.

Zane Khan, who turned 19 last month, played in both of the $25,000 USTA Men's Pro Circuit events in Naples last month, winning just one match, but he got to India in time for this week's $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour tournament and, unseeded, won his first title. Khan defeated four seeds in his five victories: No. 8, No. 4, No. 5, and in the final, No. 1 Saketh Myneni, the former University of Alabama standout. Khan, who had previously not gone past the quarterfinals in a men's pro circuit tournament, didn't lose a set all week; he defeated Myneni 7-6(3), 6-3 in the championship match. 

There was no singles success for Americans in this week's three ATP Challengers, but three players from the US won doubles titles, all of them former collegians. At the ATP Challenger 125 in Kazakhstan, Jackson Withrow(Texas A&M) and Nathaniel Lammons(SMU) defeated another all-American collegiate team in the final, with the top seeds beating No. 2 seeds Nathan Pasha(Georgia) and Max Schnur(Columbia) 6-4, 6-2 in the championship match. 

At the ATP Challenger 50 in Russia, Christopher Eubanks(Georgia Tech) and Ecuador's Roberto Quiroz(USC) won the doubles title, in what I believe was their first tournament as a team. The No. 2 seeds defeated top seeds Jesper De Jong and Sem Verbeek(Pacific) of Netherlands 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

Eighteen-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark won her first WTA title today at the WTA 250 in France, beating Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland 6-4, 6-1 in the first all-qualifier final on the WTA tour since 2017. Tauson, who had success on the ITF Pro Circuit immediately after winning the Australian Open girls title in 2019, had been 9-3 in finals prior to today. Tauson, who won all seven of her matches this week in straight sets, will move into the WTA Top 100 for the first time Monday.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

National Level 1 Spring Championships Underway; USTA Sends Apology Email; San Diego ITF Grade 1 Acceptances; Liu and Lao Reach Newport Beach $25K Final

The USTA Spring Individual Championships, Level 1 National tournaments being held in two locations, began today and are schedule to conclude on Tuesday. The 14s, 16s and 18s are taking place in Mobile Alabama and the 12s are being held in Rome Georgia.

Below are the top eight seeds for each division, and if they are no longer in the main draw after today's matches, I've struck through the name.

1. Nicholas Heng
2. Waleed Qadir
3. Grant Lothringer
4. Sebastian Gorzny
5. Gavin Young
6. Colton Smith
7. Bjorn Swenson
8. Alex Cairo

1. Marko Mesarovic
2. Emil Grantcharov
3. Stephan Gershfeld
4. Jason Shuler
5. Greyson Casey
6. Carson Baker
7. Connor Smillie
8. Nikita Filin

1. Cooper Woestendick
2. Nicholas Patrick
3. Braeden Gelletich
4. A Filer
5. Calvin Baierl
6. Nicolas Iantosca
7. Andrew Ena
8. Jimin Jung

1. withdrew
2. Yannik Alvarez
3. Drew Hassenbein
4. Colin McPeek
5. Jack Secord
6. Liam Alvarez
7. Trenton Kanchanakomtorn
8. Ryan Cozad

1. Elisabeth Jones
2. Ariana Pursoo
3. Bridget Stammel
4. Emma Staker
5. Eleana Yu
6. Kaitlyn Carnicella
7. Meera Jesudason
8. Kathryn Treiber

1. Piper Charey
2. Natalie Block
3. Mika Ikemori
4. Kate Kim
5. Vivian Miller
6. Arina Oreshchenkova
7. Kavya Karra
8. Yichen Zhao

1. Amber Yin
2. Christasha McNeil
3. Aspen Schuman
4. Emily Baek
5. Sydney Jara
6. Kayla Chung
7. Claire An
8. Elena Zhao

1. Nicole Okhtenberg
2. Kayla Moore
3. Isabelle DeLuccia
4. Anita Tu
5. Meghan Rowley
6. Nancy Lee
7. Ellery Mendell
8. Sena Yoon

Both tournaments have moved from the new USTA tournament software back to TennisLink, which are the links I've given above, and where I've gotten the information posted above. As a USTA member, I received this email from the USTA yesterday addressing all the issues that have made that move back to TennisLink necessary.  Contained in the email is this:
However, as we introduced the new platform, the resulting functionality was not ready. We were not fully prepared for the challenges with the historical data housed in TennisLink, and that has led to complexities in the transfer and migration of information and data from the various events, formats, and regions into one centralized system. A number of issues resulted, and we recognize that this has adversely affected players, tournament directors and providers throughout the country.

Over the past two months, we have worked diligently to fix and address issues with the goal to deliver correct information surrounding National Standings Lists. We have put into place, and continue to work through, an extensive audit of the rankings information, and have requested feedback from users to help us identify bugs and areas of concern, so as to increase accuracy. In addition, we have had extensive dialogue with Tournament Directors and have undergone intensive revisions on the back-end of the system to better enable the running of tournaments and events.

The acceptances for the ITF Grade 1 in San Diego, formerly the International Spring Championships in Carson, now known as the International Open of Southern California, were posted earlier this week, with many players who competed on the just concluded South American circuit coming to California for this event.

The top three entries in the boys draw are Bruno Kuzuhara, Juncheng Shang of China, and Dali Blanch. The top three entries in the girls draw are Madison Sieg, Alexandra Yepifanova and Elvina Kalieva.

The ranking cutoff for boys in the 48 draw was 133; for girls it was 174.

Claire Liu has reached the final of back-to-back $25,000 tournaments after a marathon victory today over qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil. The 20-year-old Southern Californian, seeded No. 5, defeated Haddad Maia 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(4) in three hours and 16 minutes in today's Newport Beach California semifinals. 

Liu will play No. 7 seed Danielle Lao, who defeated unseeded Conny Perrin 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Lao, a former USC star, is playing in just her second event of the year, after falling in the first round of Australian Open qualifying in January.

No. 4 seeds Vania King and Maegan Manasse(Cal) won the doubles title in Newport Beach with two victories on Saturday. In the final, King and Manasse, who is currently the volunteer assistant for the USC women's team, defeated Emina Bektas and Great Britain's Tara Moore 6-4, 6-2.

Friday, March 5, 2021

February Aces; Shang and Babel Claim Grade A Banana Bowl Titles, Blanch and Bernard Win All-US Boys Doubles Final; Liu Advances to $25K Newport Beach Semifinals

Antarctica didn't manage to make the list of continents that hosted tournaments which produced the champions in my February Aces column for Tennis Recruiting Network, but the six others did, with current and former collegians and top level juniors winning titles in North and South America, Australia, Africa, Europe and Asia last month. February may be a short month, but the 16 individuals and four college teams featured prove that tennis is back to some semblance of a pre-pandemic schedule.

Due to local pandemic protocols, the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil had to start on Monday and finish today, compressing the usual nine days of a Grade A (including qualifying) into five. No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China won the boys title, defeating qualifier Miguel Gomes of Portugal 6-2, 7-6(4). The 16-year-old, who trains in the United States, won the first Grade 1 on this four-week South American swing, and picked up his first Grade A title this week. 

Oceane Babel of France, the No. 3 seed, did not have the same level of success in that four-week stretch, but she peaked at the right time, taking her first Grade A title exactly one week after turning 17. Babel defeated unseeded Bianca Behulova of Slovakia 7-6(3), 6-4 in the final.

Babel fell one win short of a sweep, falling in the doubles final with partner Solana Sierra of Argentina. The third-seeded pair lost to the unseeded team of Kira Pavlova and Diana Shnaider of Russia 7-6(5), 6-2. 

In the all-American boys doubles final, top seeds Alexander Bernard and Dali Blanch defeated unseeded Aidan Kim and Jack Anthrop 6-2, 6-4. Bernard and Blanch won all three of the South American tournaments they contested, taking Grade 1 titles in Ecuador and Brazil before this one. Bernard didn't play the Grade 1 in Paraguay, going back to his hometown to play in the qualifying of the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit in Naples instead; Blanch played with Marko Topo of Serbia and lost in the semifinals that week.

The singles second round and quarterfinals both had to be played today at the USTA Women's $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Newport Beach California due to rain on Wednesday, with No. 5 seed Claire Liu, who made the final last week at the Boca Raton $25K, through to the semifinals.  Liu defeated Irene Burillo Escorihuela of Spain 6-1, 5-7, 7-5 in the second round and Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Liu will face qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil in Saturday's semifinals. The semifinal in the bottom half will feature unseeded Conny Perrin against the winner of the quarterfinal match between No. 2 seed Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia and No. 7 seed Danielle Lao(USC), which is still in progress. Lao defeated Hanna Chang 7-5, 6-4 in the second round.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Kuzuhara Falls in Grade A Banana Bowl Semifinals; Top Seed Kiick Ousted at Newport Beach $25K; Pegula Reaches Semifinals in Doha; Paul Advances to Quarterfinals in Rotterdam

The singles finals are set for the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil, after three days of furious action, with a couple of new faces emerging.

With three rounds of qualifying and five rounds of main draw singles matches and four round of doubles matches squeezed into five days due to Covid restrictions, it would seem unlikely that a qualifier would advance to the final, but that's exactly what happened in the boys draw, with 17-year-old Miguel Gomes of Portugal a surprise finalist. Gomes defeated No. 4 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias of Brazil 6-4, 2-6, 14-12, demonstrating just how small the margins can be when short scoring is used.  Gomes will play No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China, who defeated No. 3 seed Bruno Kuzuhara, the only American to reach the semifinals, 6-4, 4-6, 10-5. Shang had beaten No. 5 seed Alexander Bernard 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Qualifier Clervie Ngounoue lost to No. 2 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, but has advanced to the doubles semifinals with Chelsea Fontenel of Switzerland.

The girls final will feature unseeded Bianca Behulova of Slovakia against No. 3 seed Oceane Babel of France. In the semifinals, Behulova defeated Shnaider 6-3, 3-6, 10-4, the third match this week she has won in a match tiebreaker. Babel defeated unseeded Michaela Laki of Greece 6-7(6), 6-3, 11-9 in the semifinals. 

In the boys doubles, top seeds Dali Blanch and Bernard are through to Friday's semifinals as are unseeded Jack Anthrop and Aidan Kim.

The first round of the $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Newport Beach California is finally complete, after rain washed out most of the action on Wednesday.  Top seed Allie Kiick was eliminated by qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 7-5, 6-0. Haddad Maia is a former WTA Top 60 player who is coming back after a 2019 performance enhancing drug suspension. The only Americans to advance to the second round are No. 5 seed Claire Liu, who beat qualifier Emiliana Arango of Colombia 3-6, 6-4, 6-1; No. 7 seed Danielle Lao(USC), who beat qualifier Panna Udvardy of Hungary 6-0, 6-4 and Hanna Chang, who beat Catherine Harrison(UCLA) 6-3, 6-4.  Chang and Lao will meet in the second round.  Two rounds of singles are scheduled for Friday.

In WTA and ATP action, two Americans are still alive for titles, with Jessica Pegula reaching the semifinals of the WTA 500 in Doha Qatar and Tommy Paul reaching the quarterfinals of the ATP 500 in Rotterdam Netherlands.  Pegula defeated No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1 in today's quarterfinals and will play No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic next. Paul took out Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1 in today's round of 16 match, and will meet qualifier Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in Friday's quarterfinals.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Top Seeds Ousted at Banana Bowl, Americans Kuzuhara, Bernard and Ngounoue Reach Quarterfinals; Few Changes in Division I Top 10 Team Rankings; Rain Disrupts First Round at Newport Beach $25K

Clervie Ngounoue, 2020 Les Petits As
©Richard van Loon, TopTennis.photos

With the tournament required to end by Friday due to pandemic protocols, the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil has already arrived at the quarterfinals, with the first two rounds completed today. Three Americans have advanced: No. 3 seed Bruno Kuzuhara, No. 5 seed Alexander Bernard, and qualifier Clervie Ngounoue, while both the girls and boys top seeds lost.

Dali Blanch, No. 1 in the boys draw, lost to Marko Andrejic of Austria 6-4, 6-4 in a first round match today. Natalia Szabanin of Hungary, who has won two Grade 1s on the South American circuit, lost in the second round to Michaela Laki of Greece 7-6(5), 6-1.

Ngounoue has already won five matches in the past three days, with the 14-year-old posting two qualifying victories yesterday and two in the main draw today. She defeated No. 8 seed Mei Hasegawa of Japan 6-3, 6-2 and Brazilian wild card Ana Candiotto  6-0, 6-2 today to reach her first Grade A quarterfinal. She will play No. 2 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia next.

Kuzuhara played his first round match on Tuesday, so he had only one match today, and it was a short one. The 16-year-old Floridian defeated Matthew Donald of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-0 in the second round.  Bernard had two matches today, defeating Stefan Popovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-2 and qualifier Jaime Faria of Portugal 6-3, 6-2. Although none of these results show it, a match tiebreaker is being played in lieu of a third set due to the condensed schedule.

Kuzuhara's quarterfinal opponent is unseeded Viacheslav Bielinskyi of Ukraine, and Bernard will take on No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China.  

The first round of doubles is being played tonight, with a two-match day required either Thursday or Friday for that competition.

The new ITA Division I Team Rankings are out, and there were no changes in the top seven positions in either the men's or women's polls. This is the first week that the lists have been expanded from 25 to 50 teams, although the rankings are still being done by poll, not by computer.

The Stanford women have returned to the rankings, after playing their first match of the season last week and blanking Santa Clara, but they are at 28, not at No. 4, where they placed in the preseason rankings. Duke moved back into the Top 10, with NC State dropping from 9 to 11.

In the men's rankings, Alabama and Ole Miss are now in the Top 25, while Florida moved into the Top 10, with Texas A&M falling to 11. Ole Miss defeated then No. 12 Georgia 4-3 in Athens over the weekend, so they moved up despite a 3-5 record.

Division I ITA Women's Top 10 Team Rankings 3-3-21
(previous ranking in parentheses)

1. North Carolina(1)
2. Texas(2)
3. Georgia(3)
4. Pepperdine(4)
5. Florida State(5)
6. UCLA(6)
7. Northwestern(7)
8. Duke(11)
9. Vanderbilt(10)
10. Ohio State(8)

Division I ITA Men's Top 10 Team Rankings 3-3-21

1. North Carolina(1)
2. Baylor(2)
3. Tennessee(3)
4. Virginia(4)
5. TCU(5)
6. Texas(6)
7. Ohio State(7)
8. USC(9)
9. Illinois(8)
10. Florida(11)

The USTA Women's Pro Circuit event in Newport Beach California got a late start today due to rain and before any of today's 13 first round matches could be completed, rain returned. The revised Wednesday schedule now shows only the six matches that were in progress.