Monday, September 20, 2021

Girls Top Seed Out at ITF J5 in Texas; Oviedo Earns First ITF Junior Circuit Title in Nicaragua; Recent UTR Pro Tennis Tour Results

The ITF Junior Circuit's fall hard court swing in the United States began today at a J5 in McKinney Texas. The two lower-level events on this swing have stayed in Texas (they have been in various cities in that state over the years) even as the ITF JB1 which concludes it moved from Tulsa Oklahoma in 2018 and is now an indoor tournament in Nicholasville Kentucky. It is disappointing to see this tournament as a 32 draw, but next week's tournament, a J4 in Corpus Christi, is a 64-player draw, which is what these events have been in the past. 

Three of the boys who competed at Les Petits As in France earlier this month played qualifying in McKinney over the weekend; all three lost, but Maxwell Exsted and Darwin Blanch made the main draw as lucky losers and both won their first round matches today. 

Kalamazoo 16s finalist Lucas Brown is the boys top seed and will play Blanch in the second round.

The top seed in the girls draw, Sophie Williams, lost to qualifier Ava Bruno 6-2, 7-5 in today's first round. Bruno is one of three qualifiers to advance, as did lucky loser Cenan Liu of Canada.

Last week at the J5 in Nicaragua, Aida Oviedo won her first ITF junior circuit title, taking the singles championship. The 15-year-old from Las Vegas, seeded No. 3, defeated No. 7 seed Maria Araoz-Gosn 6-3, 6-0 in an all-USA final. Leah Kuruville won the girls doubles title, partnering with Anika Maldonado of Guatemala. The top seeds defeated Oviedo and her partner, Linda Segura of the US, the No. 2 seeds, 6-4, 6-0 in the final.

At the J5 in Azerbaijan, 17-year-old Baylen Brown won her first ITF Junior Circuit title in girls doubles, with partner Maria Pukhina of Russia. The No. 3 seeds took the trophy when their opponents retired leading 2-1 in the first set.

Two US girls reached the finals of J3s in Europe. Sonya Macavei, seeded No. 3, lost to top seed Irina Balus of Slovakia 6-0, 6-1 in the final in Spain and Lara Smejkal, the No. 6 seed, lost to No. 8 seed Andrea Obradovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-0 in the final in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This week features the rescheduled J1 in Belgium, which has always been before the French Open in the spring. Two Americans are in the draws: Sebastian Sec and Krystal Blanch. As the 15 seed, Blanch has a bye. Sec won his first round match today. US Open boys doubles champion Coleman Wong of Hong Kong is the top boys seed; Sofia Costoulas of Belgium is the No. 1 girls seed.

It's been over a month since I posted results from the UTR Pro Tennis Tour in the United States, so here's the latest. Marcela Zacarias continues to collect titles and prize money, but others have been able to break through, with the winners receiving $3475, and the finalists $1750.  For the results from May through early August, see this post

August 23 New York
Tatiana Makarova d. Jessica Livianu 5-7, 7-5, 6-0

August 23 Newport Beach
Marcela Zacarias d. Solymar Colling 6-4, 6-1

August 30 Dallas
Marcela Zacarias d. McCartney Kessler 6-4, 3-6, 6-2

September 6 Bradenton

Sophie Chang d. Anastasia Sysoeva 6-3, 6-2

September 12 Bradenton
Ena Koike d. Anastasia Sysoeva 3-6, 6-1, 6-3

September 12 Dallas
Quinn Gleason d. Marcela Zacarias 7-5, 6-4

August 16 Naples

Jake Van Emburgh d. Jorge Panta 2-6, 6-3, 6-3

August 22 Newport Beach
Tristan Boyer d. Raymond Sarmiento 6-3, 6-4

August 23 Naples
Jorge Panta d. Matthew Segura 6-3, 6-5 ret.

August 29 Newport Beach
Tristan Boyer d. Drew Baird 6-3, 6-4

August 30 Dallas
Luc Fomba d. Evan Zhu 7-6(3), 6-7(1), 7-5

September 6 Bradenton
Kiranpal Pannu d. Rubin Statham 1-0 ret.

September 12 Bradenton

Michal Lusovsky d. Michal Schmid 7-6(2). 3-6, 6-2

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Damm Claims First Pro Singles Title in Champaign; Krueger Wins A Second Challenger in Cary; Three Americans Qualify at WTA 125 in Columbus

Martin Damm gave himself an early birthday present this week, claiming his first Professional Circuit singles title today at the $15,000 USTA men's tournament in Champaign Illinois. Damm, who will turn 18 on September 30th, was the No. 2 seed this week, and one of the few non-collegiate players in the draw, and he was no stranger to ITF or USTA Pro Circuit finals, having made the final of a $25K in Naples Florida two years ago and a $15K in Croatia this spring. With three pro doubles titles already this year on the surface, and one in 2020, Damm has had his best results on clay, so this one, on the hard courts at the University of Illinois stands out.

Baylor junior Adrian Boitan made Damm work for it, today, with the unseeded Romanian forcing a third set after nearly two hours of play. But Damm, who had to be disappointed in his round of 32 loss as the No. 2 seed in Kalamazoo last month, came from a break down in the the third set, hitting seven of his 12 aces, to earn his first singles title on the pro circuit. His semifinal win over John McNally Saturday took three hours and 13 minutes, so he has to be happy with his fitness in taking the final five games of his 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory.

The ATP Challenger 80 in Cary North Carolina finished the same way as the Challenger there in July, with Mitchell Krueger as the champion. The 27-year-old, seeded sixth, defeated No. 2 seed Denis Kudla in the semifinals last night 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(2) and came back this afternoon to beat No. 8 seed Bjorn Fratangelo 6-4, 6-3. Fratangelo had also prevailed in a long, tough semifinal last night, beating former University of Illinois star Aleks Vukic of Australia 6-7(2), 7-6(4), 6-2.

Krueger is projected to reach a new career high with his second Challenger title of the summer, moving to 156. His previous career-high was 159 in February of 2019, after he won the Dallas Challenger.

The qualifying is complete for the WTA 125 in Columbus Ohio, with three Americans reaching the main draw: Alexa Glatch, Louisa Chirico and Danielle Lao(USC). Priscilla Hon of Australia is the fourth qualifier. 

Three main draw matches were played today as well, with No. 5 seed Lauren Davis defeating Usue Arconada 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3, Caroline Dolehide losing to No. 6 seed Renata Zarazua 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(8), and Coco Vandeweghe taking out wild card Peyton Stearns, a sophomore at the University of Texas, 6-2, 6-4.

Wild card Elvina Kalieva, the US Open girls doubles finalist, will face her first WTA Top 100 player tomorrow: No. 2 seed Nuria Parrizas-Diaz of Spain, who is No. 88 in the rankings.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Kalamazoo Finals Videos; Blumberg and Schnur Win Cary Challenger Doubles Title; Damm and Boitan Reach Champaign $15K Final; Columbus Challenger, WTA 125 Wild Cards

It's the first weekend since late July that I haven't been at or traveling to a tournament, so I finally had the opportunity to process the videos from last month's finals in Kalamazoo. 

The Tennis Recruiting Network's Bill Kallenberg also created a photo gallery from Kalamazoo, with more than 100 photos. 

It's rare to have your first professional doubles title come at the ATP level, but Will Blumberg's title with Jack Sock in Newport back in July was that rarity.  Today, the recent North Carolina grad got his second pro title, at the ATP Cary Challenger, partnering with former Columbia star Max Schnur. Blumberg and Schnur, who were unseeded, beat top seeds Lloyd Glasspool and Nick Monroe in the first round, No. 4 seeds Christian Harrison and Dennis Novikov in the semifinals and today, unseeded Stefan Kozlov and Canadian Peter Polansky 6-4, 1-6, 10-4.

Schnur, who is 28, had a dozen titles coming into this week, with a career-high ATP doubles ranking of 95 back in 2017. 

The singles semifinals are now underway in Cary, with Mitchell Krueger facing No. 2 seed Denis Kudla, followed tonight by Aleks Vukic(Illinois) against Bjorn Fratangelo. Vukic defeated Kalamazoo champion Zachary Svajda 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 on Friday.

Live streaming is available here.

The singles final at the $15,000 USTA men's Pro Circuit tournament in Champaign Illinois Sunday will feature 17-year-old Martin Damm and Baylor junior Adrian Boitan of Romania. Damm, the No. 2 seed, defeated John McNally(Ohio State) 6-7(3), 7-6(4), 6-3 in a three-hour-plus battle of former Kalamazoo 16s champions (McNally 2014, Damm 2018). The unseeded Boitan defeated Ohio State junior Cannon Kingsley 6-4, 6-4. The 22-year-old Boitan will be appearing in his first Pro Circuit singles final, while Damm is looking to win his first title after two previous losses in the finals, both on clay.

The fourth-seeded team of Karlis Ozolins, a freshman at Illinois, and Kweisi Kenyatte, a senior at Illinois, won the doubles title today, defeating Nathan Ponwith(Arizona State) and Ryan Shane(Virginia) 7-5, 2-6, 10-7. It's the first pro circuit title for both Ozolins and Kenyatte.

The ATP Challenger circuit moves to Columbus next week, where it combines with a new WTA 125 event. I received an email Thursday with this information on wild cards:

The qualifying has begun for the women, with Yu and Cantos losing their first matches today.

WTA 125 Wildcards:
Katrina Scott (Main Draw), Peyton Stearns (Main Draw), Elsa Jacquemot (Main Draw), Elvina Kalieva (Main Draw), Eleana Yu (Qualification), Irina Cantos Siemers (Qualification).

ATP Challenger Tour Wildcards:
Matej Vocel (Main Draw), Cannon Kingsley (Main Draw), JJ Tracy (Main Draw), James Trotter (Qualification), Justin Boulais (Qualification), Jake Van Emburgh (Qualification).

Friday, September 17, 2021

My US Open Junior Championships Recap; Notes and Observations From New York; College Stars, Damm Reach Champaign $15K Semifinals

If you didn't follow my daily coverage of the US Open junior championships herelast week or at the ITF Junior Circuit website, my wrap-up today for the Tennis Recruiting Network is a good synopsis of the titles by Robin Montgomery and Daniel Rincon in singles, with coverage of the doubles champions as well.

When I'm on-site at an event (and this was the first junior slam I had covered in person in two years, since the 2019 US Open juniors), I don't have time to report on the incidental information or observations that pop up unexpectedly, so today I'm going to pass along some of those things from last week's tournament.

While I did not like doing my junior interviews on Zoom when we were all on-site (an outside alternative was certainly doable), I still believe that actually being in New York to watch matches was worthwhile. Although I did not watch an entire junior match from start to finish until the finals, I still was able to ask better questions and get a better feel for the match when I was sitting courtside, rather than watching a live stream. 

I was the only credentialed journalist on-site who requested interviews with juniors for daily articles, regardless of their nationality, but in a discussion with the employees at the USTA who arranged the interviews, I learned which countries were likely to care about the progress of their juniors. Those mentioned to me were Belgium, France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.  This, of course, assumes that they had juniors in the tournament to begin with, but that is not the four countries I would have guessed. 

The quality of English that the international juniors speak astounds me. It wasn't so long ago that it was rolling the dice when requesting an interview with a player from a non-English speaking country, but now juniors who are not fluent in English are a rarity. Three of the four junior finalists--from China, Belarus and Spain--were speaking English as a second language, but all three provided great insight and nuance in their interviews. Monolingual as I am, I have nothing but admiration for the skill and work that it takes to master another language, when becoming a world class tennis player is obviously their top priority.

The community of tennis journalists is a small one, and my interactions with those who focus on the professional side of the sport are usually limited to Wimbledon and the US Open, the two major tournaments that I have covered regularly, in person, for many years. Although many of those I have come to know over the years were not there, due to the drastic reduction in journalists the USTA imposed this year, I did have an opportunity to talk, face-to-face (mask-to-mask) with those who, in the past, have expressed an interest in the junior game. Those random, what-do-you-know-about-x in-person conversations I had with (shameless name-dropping alert) Jon Wertheim, Peter Bodo, Liz Clarke, Ben Rothenburg, Chris Clarey, David Kane, Victoria Chiesa, Courtney Nguyen and Mary Carillo illustrated to me just how much I've missed those interactions in the past two years of media covid cancellations/restrictions. 

I also enjoyed talking with Nick McCarvel, Blair Henley, Marc Lucero, Brad Stine and Mike Cation, who were working for either the world feed for ESPN or US Open radio, or, in Blair's case, as an on-court master of ceremonies. And that leads me into another topic, which is the fantastic option that fans now have to watch any and every match they want to see via ESPN+. There is no better bargain out there (well, maybe the free Challenger streams) than a $6.99 a month ESPN subscription, which can be canceled at any time, and provides access to all courts at a slam. Every tennis fan who can't, or isn't comfortable with traveling to slams, has to be grateful for that option.

Speaking of world feed commentators, I ran into Bradley Klahn, who was doing some of that work, while also preparing to resume his professional career. The 2010 NCAA champion at Stanford, who reached 63 in the ATP rankings despite chronic back problems, intends to return to competitive tennis, although he said he has no firm time frame or schedule. He is hitting now, and hopes to get medical clearance to return for 2022.

The trend of increasing prize money for earlier rounds at slams has meant the decision about turning pro extends to those who lost in qualifying as well. San Diego 18s finalist Reese Brantmeier, who won two rounds in qualifying, earned $42,000, which she can't accept if she wishes to retain her NCAA eligibility. Brantmeier, who is a senior, although she doesn't turn 17 until next month, said she had not decided whether to take the money, saying she still had "a lot of time. I want to see how this week goes, how the rest of the year goes, and go from there."

The ballrunners at the US Open are great. Period. Much respect to their supervisors and trainers, who gave them the structure and feedback that resulted in uniformly outstanding performances day-in, day-out, regardless of the court assignment.

I will be writing an article later this month about the Electronic Line Calling System used in all matches, and how the juniors felt about it, but overall, it was popular and, by mid-week, no longer a novelty for anyone, players or fans.

All told, it was a great tournament, and although I didn't like the draw size reduction, at all, I am grateful I had the opportunity to cover a junior slam again in person. Here's hoping that option is available to me again in 2022.


The singles semifinals are set for the $15,000 men's Pro Circuit tournament in Champaign, Illinois. Three current or recent collegians, plus 17-year-old Martin Damm, will play Saturday for a place in the finals, while the Illinois team of Karlis Ozolins and Kweisi Kenyatte have reached the doubles final.

Recent Ohio State graduate John McNally, the No. 5 seed, defeated No. 3 seed Omni Kumar(Duke) 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 and will take on No. 2 seed Damm, who beat Nathan Ponwith(Arizona State) 7-6(3), 6-4.  

In the top half, Ohio State junior Cannon Kingsley will face Baylor junior Adrian Boitan, with both unseeded. Kingsley defeated qualifier Drew Baird(UCLA) 6-0, 6-3, while Boitan took out Dali Blanch 6-3, 6-2.

Ozolins and Kenyatte, the No. 4 seeds, will play unseeded Ryan Shane and Ponwith in the doubles final Saturday. Shane and Ponwith prevented an all-Illini final when they defeated No. 3 seed Alex Brown and Zeke Clark 7-5, 1-6, 15-13 in today's semifinals.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Blanch Reaches First Pro Circuit Quarterfinal; Svajda Advances at Cary Challenger; Preseason No. 1s Missing From ITA All-American Championships Acceptance Lists

The quarterfinals are set for the $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Champaign Illinois, with 18-year-old Dali Blanch advancing to his first pro circuit quarterfinal today with a 7-6(3), 6-4 victory over unseeded AJ Catanzariti(Texas A&M). Blanch went 0-5 this spring in $15K first rounds in Argentina and Turkey this spring, but he picked up first round wins in two $15Ks in Italy in June, and now has two wins this week. 

He will face Baylor junior Adrian Boitan of Romania, who took out No. 6 seed and ITA singles No. 1 Liam Draxl of Canada 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. 

Qualifier Drew Baird(UCLA) will play Cannon Kingsley(Ohio State) in the other top half quarterfinal. In the bottom half, No. 2 seed Martin Damm meets Nathan Ponwith(Arizona State), and in the only quarterfinal that reflects the seeding, No. 5 seed John McNally(Ohio State) will play No. 3 seed Omni Kumar(Duke).

Zachary Svajda, the two-time Kalamazoo 18s champion, advanced to his first Challenger quarterfinal today in Cary North Carolina, defeating qualifier Rinky Hijikata(North Carolina) of Australia 7-5, 6-3. When it counted, Svajda simply did not miss, converting all four of his break points. He will face former Illinois start Aleks Vukic of Australia, who beat No. 3 seed Salvatore Caruso of Italy 6-2, 6-4 Wednesday.  It was announced today that Svajda has received a qualifying wild card into next week's San Diego Open, an ATP 250 event added recently as a warmup for Indian Wells.

Bjorn Fratangelo plays the winner of tonight's match between Ryan Peniston(Memphis) and Chris Eubanks(Georgia Tech), Mitchell Krueger plays Max Purcell of Australia and No. 7 seed Michael Mmoh meets No. 2 seed Denis Kudla in the other quarterfinals.

The ITA All-American Championships, which were not played last fall due to the pandemic, are coming up next month, and the ITA released the selections last week.

The men's tournament, which remains in Tulsa, begins with pre-qualifying on Saturday October 2, followed by qualifying Monday, October 4 and main draw Wednesday October 6, with the finals scheduled for Sunday October 10.

Forty-six players are on the main draw selection list, so with 16 qualifiers, there are two yet to be added to fill the 64-player draw. The list does not include, of the preseason Top 10, Draxl[1] or Duarte Vale[4] of Florida, but does include the 2021 NCAA champion Sam Riffice of Florida and Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina.

The wild cards have been announced, with Washington's Clement Chidekh of France, who has had outstanding results this summer, receiving the ITA wild card. Jacob Bickersteth of Michigan earned his wild card by winning the ITA Summer Championships last month, and Alex Reco of Arkansas received the host wild card. Wild cards into qualifying went to Yuta Kikuchi of California, Athell Bennett of Purdue and Florida's Lukas Greif, who was the Summer Championships finalist.

In doubles, Riffice and Ben Shelton, who is in singles qualifying,  received a main draw wild card, as did Tennessee's Adam Walton(2021 NCAA champion) and Mark Wallner.

The women's tournament is moving to the Har-Tru courts of the LTP Tennis Club in Charleston South Carolina this year, and, as has been the case, the draws for the women are smaller, leading to a shorter tournament. The women begin with qualifying on Monday October 4, with three matches over two days to determine the eight qualifiers in the 32-player main draw. According to the tentative schedule, there will be one singles match per day in the main draw; previously, the women had played five matches in four days.

NCAA champion and ITA preseason No. 1 Emma Navarro of Virginia is not on the selection list, which is a surprise, given that she is from Charleston. Nor is McCartney Kessler[4] of Florida on the list, although she is the only other Top 10 player missing. Wild cards went to Chloe Beck of Duke(host wild card), Haley Giavara of Cal(ITA), Julia Adams of Furman(ITA Summer champion) and Laia Monfort of Tulsa(release agreement, as tournament was moved from there).

Doubles main draw wild cards went to Pepperdine's new transfers Janice Tjen and Victoria Flores(ITA), South Carolina's Megan Davies and Allie Gretkowski(ITA), Virginia's Elaine Chervinsky and Melanie Collard(host) and Monfort and Shura Poppe(Tulsa).

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Quinn, Kalieva Top ITF B1 Pan American Closed Acceptance Lists; Baird Defeats Top Seed Boyer at Champaign $15K; Former Georgetown Coach to Plead Guilty in Varsity Blues Scandal

The next big junior tournament in North America is next month's ITF B1 Pan American Closed in Nicholasville Kentucky, where it moved from its longtime home in Tulsa (and one year in Charlotte in 2018) for the 2019 tournament. 

As usual, the field is mostly Americans, although there is strong representation from Canada this year in the girls acceptances. I had thought with so many good South American boys eligible this year, a few might enter, as this tournament is an excellent opportunity for the 2004s to start building a ranking that will help them qualify for the junior slams next summer. Perhaps the hard indoor courts kept them away, or the opportunity to play clay events closer to home; this lack of South American players is not unusual, but still a bit puzzling to me.

Ethan Quinn heads the boys acceptances, followed by Ozan Colak, Aidan Kim, Ryan Colby and Benjamin Kittay.

Elvina Kalieva, now up to a career-high No. 9 in the ITF junior rankings, is entered in the girls draw. In New York, she told me she didn't think she would continue to play juniors, although she didn't rule it out either. But as a 2003, Kalieva's junior ranking is not important for next year, although the higher she can finish, the bigger ITF Women's Circuit events she will receive direct entry into as a Top 10 junior.

Alexis Blokhina and Katja Wiersholm are the only other Top 100 US girls on the acceptance list.

In first round action today at the $15,000 USTA Men's Pro Circuit tournament in Champaign, half of the seeds were eliminated, including No. 1 seed Dusty Boyer(Nebraska). Qualifier Drew Baird, a junior at UCLA, defeated Boyer 6-4, 6-1; No. 4 seed Alex Brown(Illinois) lost to AJ Catanzariti(Texas A&M) 6-1, 6-2; No. 7 seed Ryan Shane(Virginia) was beaten by Nathan Ponwith(Arizona State) 7-5, 6-2 and No. 8 seed Zeke Clark(Illinois) lost to Cannon Kingsley(Ohio State) 6-3, 6-2.

The only junior advancing to the second round was Dali Blanch, who beat Illinois freshman Karlis Ozlins 7-5, 7-6(3). Victor Lilov, Samir Banerjee and Alexander Bernard all lost their first round matches.

The Associated Press is reporting that former Georgetown coach Gordon Ernst will plead guilty to charges that include "conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery."  Ernst, previously the men's and women's coach at Georgetown, was among the coaches arrested in March of 2019 in the Varsity Blues scandal, which involved schemes to secure admission to prestigious schools by inflating the athletic credentials of children of wealthy parents, who paid for that guarantee of admission. Ernest was scheduled to go to trial in November. The plea agreement filed recommends a jail sentence of four years or less.