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Thursday, March 31, 2005

An Inside Look at the Brain of a Champion by Vic Braden

An Inside Look at the Brain of a Champion by Vic Braden

This column originally appeared in the February issue of Florida Tennis magazine. Publisher Jim Martz and author Vic Braden gave me permission to reprint it (that doesn't sound right given the website format, does it?), and I think it contains many insights pertinent to those interested in player development on the junior level.

I've been spending a great deal of time these last few years trying to determine what makes a champion and whether we can predict that one has the potential to be an international champion.

I have had discussions with neuroscientists, a brain typist, a tennis playing psychiatrist who has done more than 28,000 brain scans, famous coaches and pro players. The bottom line is that there has been progress in understanding how a champion's brain works, but there are still many unanswered questions.

I have to go back to my years of assisting with the management of pro tours. I'm currently archiving 50 years of film, over 30 years of video and about 40 years of audio tapes. I find that today's champions seem to think like the champions from 50 years ago. However, this is not based upon brain scans, but anecdotal records. So, what are the similarities?

    1. The champions have had a goal of becoming a big-time winner at a relatively early age.

    2. There also was nothing that seemed to be able to deter them from reaching their goal.

    3. They were keen analysts when observing the strengths and weaknesses in potential opponents.

    4. They seemed to have the ability to analyze their own game accurately.

    5. They seemed to be able to analyze quickly when they were getting the right information from coaches.

    6. When most players were calling it a day on the practice court, future champions were just getting warmed up.

    7. Champions talked more about hating to lose than basking in the glory of victories.

    8. The top players seemed to have a unique ability to focus on execution in tight situations rather than worrying about the outcome of the point, or the match.

    9. Champions seemed to enjoy the pressure of tiebreakers rather than fearing it.

    10. Champions gave away nothing: they would beat an injured player as fast as they could.

When Lleyton Hewitt was down a match point in the 2004 Pacific Life Open, I asked him if he was afraid. He said, "If he beats me, he's going to have to hit one hell of a shot to win."

In a video I produced with Pancho Segura and Jack Kramer, Pancho told the story about how Bobby Riggs was injured and Jack Kramer showed no mercy and beat Bobby 6-0, 6-1. Kramer said, "Don't show mercy to anyone. Beat every opponent as badly as possible, and if you like them, take them to lunch."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Seeding: Does It Matter?

Seeding: Does It Matter?--
©Colette Lewis 2005--

As the NCAA basketball tournament shows us with regularity, it doesn't much matter who is seeded number one. Whoever is playing better in a one-and-out format, regardless of their past performance and RPIs and all the other factors that go into the seedings, will win.

The same can be said for tennis, of course, and Clint Bowles proved that in the Spring Nationals just last week in Mobile. He played the best tennis that week, and though unseeded, he won, beating both the one and two seeds in the process. So why does it matter and why would anyone make a big deal about it?

I hear very few complaints about seeding from parents, players or coaches, because it is viewed as irrelevant. You play each match to win it, and if you beat everyone who advances along with you, you win a tournament. If you don't, it's because they played better than you did. It has nothing to do with the number next to their name.

I think seeding in tennis was developed, not for the players, but for the tournaments and the fans. Though there are many instances of memorable matches in the first few rounds, who, really, would have wanted to see the Federer-Safin match at the Australian Open in the second round? The match itself might have been played at the very same (extraordinary) level, but with the distraction of all the other matches, would we have had time to notice? Would the drama of it been as apparent? Would the focus been as great? Would the stakes been as high? Certainly not.

One of the things I like best about the USTA National Championships is the full feed-in-through-the-quarterfinals consolation draw. It's a chance to see who had a bad draw, a bad loss even, but took their second chance. It also makes the USTA national rankings (late in the year, anyway) much more reliable than those of the ITF, where there are few, if any consolation draws. But ITF events are seeded strictly by rankings, which are based on points, which demands either stellar play in major events(if you can get into them) or mediocre play in lots of smaller ones. So the more a junior travels, or the more ITF events his country can host, the better his chances of accumulating the points necessary to gain entry into a junior Grand Slam. That is, I believe, the reason that the Chanda Rubin ITF circuit was established in the US, and why the USTA agreed to change the Easter Bowl from National Championship to ITF Grade 1.

So the seeds for the Easter Bowl will undoubtedly follow the ITF rankings, and there will be upsets and none of the players will be bothered by it. But the fans should prepare themselves for some great second-round matches. A loser from a match like that could actually be the second-best player in the tournament.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Easter Bowl Preview

Easter Bowl Preview--
©Colette Lewis 2005--

The competitors for next month's Easter Bowl have been announced and director Seena Hamilton has gotten what she wanted, a tournament that will be competitive from the first match on. Donald Young returns to defend his historic 2004 title, and except for Timothy Neilly, Tim Smyczek and Justin Kronauge, all the top American juniors are entered. Only the Boys and Girls 18s are ITF sanctioned, so it shouldn't change the feel of the tournament much, with the 14s and 16s in both boys and girls remaining 128 draws.

I'll be at the Easter Bowl this year for the first time, eager to see for myself an event of this scope; with two jurisdictions, ITF and USTA, it's a chance to assess the strengths and weaknesses side by side. But what I'm really interested in is the tennis.

Donald Young will be seeded one, of course, and based on his Casablanca Cup and Australian Open titles, there is no arguing that he is the player to beat. Any tournament he enters automatically has a great field. But all this recent losing, even if it is in ATP events, can't be instilling much confidence. And there are plenty of players who can beat him if he doesn't play well or isn't completely healthy. Seena has assured herself a dynamite draw, but that's a double-edged sword--it means that a marquee player can be gone before you know it. But stars aside, better fields only improve the game in the long run. If there were a qualifier for eight of the 64 spots, I'd be even more impressed with this new format.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Kellen Damico: Junior Spotlight of the Week (usta.com)

Kellen Damico: Junior Spotlight of the Week--usta.com--

Kellen Damico began working with coach John Roddick, Andy's older brother, last August. Just three months later, he won the Eddie Herr 16s, made the finals of the Orange Bowl 16s, and, wisely, began playing up in the 18s in 2005. That transition can be difficult, but Damico didn't miss a beat, making the quarterfinals at the ITF Grade A Casablanca Cup and then winning, last week, in a third set tiebreaker, the Grade 1 ITF in Malaysia. He is now 35th in the world, and excepting Donald Young who is four months his junior, Damico is the youngest Top 50 player in the ITF rankings.

Is John Roddick responsible for this meteoric rise? No, Kellen Damico is. Coaching can only be as successful as the player is receptive. But having a coach who devotes the bulk of his or her time and thought to improving a player's game, and gives him/her guidance and support, is a great advantage for a developing junior. Damico is grabbing it with both hands. One quibble with this story--I don't know where the USTA got its information that Damico is a serve-and-volleyer, because he isn't. Although he's a very fine doubles player who can volley, that is not how he wins most of his points, at least not in the two tournaments I saw him play late last year.

I've heard Damico called the mini-Roddick or Andy jr., as he shares some of John's youngest sibling's mannerisms, shots and attitude, as well as a taste for Reebok clothing. And even if he is consciously emulating Andy, well, he could have worse models than the recently named Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year. But let's do him a favor and let him be Kellen Damico. After all, isn't that new Reebok slogan "I AM WHAT I AM"?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Herald.com | 03/20/2005 | Seeking stars

Herald.com | 03/20/2005 | (registration required) -- Seeking stars --
This story is a week old, but it's not really time-sensitive and I want to relay what Mary Carillo has to say about the reasons behind the dearth of world-class American junior girls. I'm not entirely certain I agree with her; it could be that the Russians girls just reached the mysterious "tipping point" that channeled the best athletes in the direction of tennis.

I do think that U.S. children have many more sports options than do most other countries, but for girls, tennis is the one sport where they are not relegated to second-class status in money and TV ratings, so the best female athletes should gravitate towards it. Instead, it is the American junior boys, with baseball, basketball, football and golf as viable career choices, who are now consistently represented in the top echelons of the ITF rankings.

So perhaps tennis high performance isn't something that lends itself to such psychological analysis. Maybe it's just cyclical.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Tennis Week - A Real Jim

Tennis Week A Real Jim

I guess I could claim this story is related to junior tennis, in that Courier is working on a documentary about just that subject, but mostly I'm linking to it because I'm a fan. At last year's U.S. Open, Courier, whom I memorably witnessed beating Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals in Kalamazoo in 1987, was kind enough to talk with me about several juniors and other issues. Our only connection was Kalamazoo, which is the ’open sesame’ of American men's tennis. He was all the things described in this profile--attentive, curious, candid and articulate. And grown-up, which he apparently wasn't when he dominated tennis in the early 1990s. He's a good lesson for all of us who try so hard to make heroes of very young men who have had little experience of life; who can't possibly, with the demands of world class athletic endeavors, have the wisdom and maturity that a few years of reflection can bring. The sport of tennis is fortunate to have Jim Courier, Patrick McEnroe and Andre Agassi, men now, still engaged in its future, with the perspective and intelligence to make a real difference.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Mobile Musings

Mobile Musings--
© Colette Lewis 2005--

The Spring 18s Nationals Championships at Mobile are over, but I've still got plenty of things to say about them:

  • The stack of code violations assessed by umpires was thicker than a Mobile drawl, as local rules dictated that even "oh my god" was off limits, as were "freaking, fricking" and "suck." If you read my ITF Germany comments, (click here for that story), you know I was scandalized by the unseemly behavior players got away with there. However, the generally accepted profanity and obscenity prohibitions seem sufficient to me, and if the intent is to change on-court expressions entirely, it might be better start in the 12s, and make it a nationally-based effort. A local rule like this requires good judgment on an umpire's part, and while I witnessed appropriate warnings, I also saw some trigger-happy umpires giving game penalties for nothing more egregious than a dropped racquet and a incredulous "oh my god" when receiving a point penalty for it. And congratulations to Christian Tara (girls) and Maciek Sykut (boys) for navigating these unfamiliar waters and emerging with the Sportsmanship awards.

  • There is a downside to the early signing of college recruits; just ask Marek Czerwinski, the number one seed in Mobile and runner-up in Boys 18s singles and doubles. Signing with Vanderbilt last November on the premise that head coach Ken Flach would help prepare him for a professional career, Czerwinski now has no idea who his coach will be with Flach's departure to a position at the Naples Bath & Tennis Club.

  • And speaking of college tennis coaches, there were surprisingly few in Mobile, an absence that several parents (and coaches) I spoke with noted. Of course it is the heart of the ITA spring season, and Mobile was a new/late addition to the schedule, but a couple of days onsite might have unearthed some gems. Top programs may not have to recruit as much as those that are attempting to turn programs around, but nothing beats watching a kid play when assessing talent and temperament. Doesn't help much with those SAT scores though, I admit.

  • In the predictions department, Kevin Fleck, who finished fifth by winning the backdraw, is going to win a bunch of points for Clemson next season; so is Blake Strode Strode at Arkansas and Adam Slagter Slagter at Penn State. Justin Kronauge's defensive lob will keep him in lots of points he will eventually win and Clint Bowles and his drop shot are going to confound many a junior opponent in the next two years. Reid Carleton, who won seven matches in the consolations, just turned sixteen, but can already play with the big boys. If he plays 16s in Kalamazoo this year, he'll be heard from.

  • In the girls division, where my game assessment skills need expert help, Doug Davis of the Austin Tennis Academy praised winner Lindsay Burdette as well as his own pupil Weinhold Ashley Weinhold, who lost to Burdette in the quarterfinals, pronouncing them athletic--a compliment of the highest order from Doug.

  • YourGameFace.com, Lloyd and Melissa Clayton's photography and poster business, is destined for great success in the years ahead. They are entrepreneurial, dedicated, talented, hard-working and kind. Lloyd told me one of the reasons they selected tennis as the sport for their business model is its beautiful photogenic qualities. He's right, especially when the camera is in his capable hands.

  • And, finally, it's difficult to overrate that legendary Southern Hospitality, or at least Mobile's version of it.

  • Wednesday, March 23, 2005

    Unseeded Bowles Cruises To Boys National Title; Burdette Takes Fifth Gold Ball in Girls Division

    Unseeded Bowles Cruises To Boys National Title; Burdette Takes Fifth Gold Ball in Girls Division--
    © Colette Lewis 2005--
    Mobile AL--

    It was no seed, no problem for 16-year-old Clint Bowles on Wednesday morning as he emphatically defeated top seed Marek Czerwinski in the finals of the USTA 18s Spring National Championships 6-3, 6-4. In a week-long display of brilliant tennis, the Tampa resident--ranked 113th in the nation in 18s-- did not drop a set. And he did it the hard way, eliminating four seeded players, including both the first and second seeds in the tournament.

    But in the finals, played under sapphire skies and azalea-nurturing temperatures, he didn't get off to an auspicious start. Broken at love in the first game, the five-foot five-inch lefthander admitted to some jitters.

    "I played a dumb game; I went for three stupid shots. It was nerves a little bit, maybe."

    Czerwinski, 18, was unable to capitalize, immediately losing his serve to begin a string of four straight breaks; the top seed did not hold serve in the first set, and was broken immediately at the beginning of the second.
    "I didn't have a great feel today," said Czerwinski, a native of Birmingham MI. "I never felt I got in great rhythm."

    Bowles' return of serve, effective all week, was particularly sharp in the finals, keeping Czerwinski away from the net. But at the biggest point of the match, serving at 4 all, 30-40 in the second set, that's where Czerwinski found himself.

    "He was right on top of the net," said Bowles, who proceeded to hit a perfect topspin forehand passing shot for his sixth break of the match.

    Closing out an important match can cause even an experienced player to become tentative, but Bowles seemed oblivious to the pressure. Although he missed an overhead on his first match point, at 40-30 he stepped to the baseline unfazed and cracked a serve that Czerwinski managed to return, but with little pace or depth. Bowles calmly pounded his signature forehand down the line for a clean winner, an appropriate exclamation point to his dominance throughout the tournament.

    Seventeen-year-old Lindsay Burdette was a spectator at several of Bowles' matches, as both train at Nick Saviano's High Performance Tennis in Sunrise Florida. But on Wednesday, Burdette saw only the end of Bowles' victory; she was busy winning her fifth USTA national title, rolling over 15-year-old Reka Zsilinszka 6-0, 6-3.

    Though Burdette had never faced Zsilinszka before, she had a strategy in mind, as she had watched her younger sister Mallory lose to Zsilinszka at the Winter Internationals last December.
    "I thought she played as she normally does, and it was up to me to take it to her," said the third seeded Burdette, who won her first gold ball in the 12s. "I knew I had to be agressive."

    Zsilinszka was unable to get her normally reliable retrieving game going in the opening set, and Burdette kept the pressure on, hitting with depth and power--and the requisite noises so common in women's tennis today.

    Having won the doubles title with Melissa Saiontz on Tuesday, Burdette capped a perfect week with her victory, and now she is looking forward to a few days at home in Georgia before getting a week of training in prior to the two ITF events in California next month.
    "They're really big, with lots of points," she said, "so I'm looking to do well there also."

    Clint Bowles will also be competing in Carson and Palm Springs next month, and is unlikely to be seeded. But he won't be underestimated by anyone who saw him play in Mobile.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005

    Unseeded Players Make Big Impact at Spring Nationals

    Unseeded Players Make Big Impact at Spring Nationals--
    © Colette Lewis 2005--

    Reka Zsilinszka and Clint Bowles have made their way to the finals of the Spring Nationals in Mobile without the benefit of a seed. Each will face an older, more experienced player in Wednesday's final, Zsilinszka meeting third seed Lindsay Burdette, and Bowles taking on top seed Marek Czerwinski. Zsilinszka is unconcerned by the prospect.

    "I always do well when I'm unseeded," said the 15-year-old from North Carolina after defeating 24th seed Melissa Mang 7-5, 6-2. "In the 16s, I'm always one or two, and there's more pressure then."

    Bowles quickly dispatched 14th seed Wesley Miller 6-3, 6-1 and was pleased with his performance.
    "I can't think of anything I did wrong and he was having trouble with his serve," said the 16-year-old from Tampa, who won the 14 Clay Courts title in 2003.
    His opponent in the finals had a much tougher semifinal, as Czerwinski Czerwinski took the court against his longtime doubles partner, third seed Maciek Sykut. "It's always tough," said Czerwinski after his 6-3, 7-6(6) win. Sykut had opportunities, breaking Czerwinski to serve for the set at 6-5, but he failed to convert any of his three set points in that game and two more in the tiebreaker. Sykut

    Lindsay Burdette attributed her 6-3, 7-6 (4) semifinal win over hard-hitting sixth seed Eleanor Peters to experience and consistency.
    "Usually, I'm the one dictating points, but she really hits out on the ball," she said. "I had to defend really well and I felt I was able to neutralize her very good returns."

    Burdette, who turned 17 last month, earned her fourth gold ball when she and partner Melissa Saiontz won the girls doubles title, outlasting Peters and Laura Reichert 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 late Tuesday evening.

    The boys doubles title went to the third seeded team of Santiago Montoya and Adam Slagter who squeezed past the top seeded team of Czerwinski and Sykut 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(2). Montoya and Slagter had two match points in the ninth game and two more in the 11th, but Czerwinski and Sykut hung on to force the tiebreaker. Once Slagter got another chance at a match point, he served a blistering ace for an emphatic conclusion to an often brilliantly played championship match.

    Monday, March 21, 2005

    Girls Top Seed Bresson Falls; Unseeded Bowles Reaches Semifinals

    ©Colette Lewis 2005--
    Mobile Alabama--

    Girls Top Seed Bresson Falls: Unseeded Bowles Reaches Semifinals--

    Six hours, two days and six match points saved later, Magdalena Bresson lost her fourth round Spring Nationals contest to Austin Smith, but no one who saw the match would ever doubt either girls' poise under pressure and zest for the battle. Austin Smith
    Smith's 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(4) victory contained a tournament's worth of drama. At 3-4 in third set, Smith broke Bresson and served for match, but could not win that elusive match point on four occasions. Often the points were ten, 15 or 20 stroke rallies, tension building with each shot. But even after giving so much, Bresson and Smith stepped to the lines and picked up the struggle again, neither relenting until it was 6 all. In the tiebreaker, Bresson quickly went up 2-0 but after a failed pass and an umpire's overule, the top seed from Florida lost four consecutive points. Smith was staring at four more match points, and fortunately for the spectators, including her father Stan, StanSmith she needed only three of them, finally eliciting a forehand error from Bresson that produced a spirited "c'mon" from Smith and a collective exhalation from the crowd. The 13th seeded lefthander from Hilton Head then faced a well-rested quarterfinal opponent Eleanor Peters, who had completed her fourth round match on Sunday, and Smith was unable to clear that hurdle, dropping a 6-4, 6-4 decison to the sixth seed.
    Peters will face Lindsay Burdette, the third seed, in one semifinal on Tuesday. Burdette had an emotionally exhausting match of her own, defeating unseeded Ashley Weinhold 6-1, 2-6, 7-5. In the other girls semifinal, unseeded Reka Zsilinska will face 24th seed Melissa Mang, who upset second seed Kristen McVitty 7-5, 6-1.

    The girls doubles final will feature the top seeded team of Burdette and Melissa Saiontz versus fifth seeds Peters and Laura Reichert.

    The top half of the boys draw has gone according to form, with top seed Marek Czerwinski overcoming a stubborn Blake Strode (18) 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 and third seed Maciek Sykut eliminating Brett Helgeson (8) 6-3, 6-4. The top seeded doubles partners meet each other in the semifinals Tuesday morning and will meet the third seeded team of Santiago Montoya and Adam Slagter in the afternoon doubles championship match.

    Clint Bowles is playing in his first 18s National Championship and what a memorable rookie tournament it has been for him. Unseeded, he breezed through his first four matches, not losing a set. But his quarterfinal opponent, Justin Kronauge, was a step up in accomplishment and experience, and Bowles knew it.

    "He's a good player, and I knew he'd won the last National Championship (the Winter Championships in Scottsdale)," said Bowles. "But when I'm playing, he's just another person."

    Bowles, 16, showed no deference to the second seed, breaking him in the first game and holding on for a 6-4, 7-5 win. Adding the occasional deft drop shot to keep Kronauge off balance, Bowles used his staunch forehand to punish any short balls, and hit many outright winners, which Kronauge rarely allows.

    "I thought I served well and hit my forehand really well," said the lefthander from Tampa, "and I didn't miss many volleys." Bowles1

    In the semifinals Tuesday morning, Bowles will face 14th seed Wesley Miller, who beat fellow Californian Max Taylor 3-6, 6-1, 7-5.

    Sunday, March 20, 2005

    Kronauge Battles Back To Reach Quarterfinals

    © Colette Lewis 2005--
    Kronauge Battles Back To Reach Quarterfinals--
    Down a set and two breaks, second seed Justin Kronauge got a reprieve when a brief rain delay interrupted his match with Paul Koenke, seeded 10th.

    "He wasn't missing," said Kronauge, who eked out a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 win. "But after the rain delay, he started making errors he wasn't making before the break."

    The match, lasting nearly 4 1/2 hours when the three rain delays were included, drew nearly all players at the site who were not on the courts themselves. Kronauge4 Kronauge, who won the USTA Boys 18 Winter National title in January, applied steady pressure during long baseline rallies, but was unable to shake the determined Koenke. Though Koenke was broken at love in the eighth game of the final set, Kronauge could not serve it out. But after holding for 6-5, the 17-year-old from Ohio finally earned two match points, only to see those evaporate when Koenke produced a service winner, then coaxed an error. On his third chance, however, Kronauge prevailed, and just in time too, as the skies opened and play did not resume on Sunday.

    Girls top seed Magdalena Bresson was not as fortunate as Kronauge, as she was unable to complete her match with Austin Smith, the 13th seed. Smith is the daughter of tennis legend Stan Smith, who is accompanying her and three other members of his Hilton Head academy in Mobile. Bresson won the first set, Smith won a tiebreak in the second to extend the match, and 4 1/2 hours later, they were chased off the courts by the rain, midway through the final set.

    Marek Czerwinski, the boys top seed, made short work of George Navas 6-2, 6-1, and Maciek Sykut, the third seed, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, handled Kelvin Kim 6-1, 6-4. Fourth seed Blake Boswell fell to Max Taylor, the 31st seed, who also has not surrendered a set. In Monday's quarterfinals, Czerwinski faces 18th seed Blake Strode; Kronauge meets unseeded Clint Bowles; Sykut takes on eighth seed Brett Helgeson; and Taylor goes against 14th seed Wesley Miller.

    In girls quarterfinal action, the winner of the Bresson/Smith match will meet sixth seed Eleanor Peters; second seed Kristen McVitty squares off against 24th seed Melissa Mang; third seed Lindsay Burdette faces unseeded Ashley Weinhold; and Reka Zsilinszka and Sophie Grabinski, both unseeded, vie for a spot in the semifinals.

    Saturday, March 19, 2005

    Top seed Czerwinski Survives Third Round Scare

    --Top seed Czerwinski Survives Third Round Scare--
    ©Colette Lewis 2005--

    Prematch buzz in the third round of USTA Boys 18s Spring Championships centered on the clash between top seed Marek Czerwinski and unseeded Adam Slagter. Slagter, a 6'5" Texan, had impressed with an easy win over 24th seeded David Kwon in the previous round, and with a big lefty serve and volleying skills galore, it was no surprise when the first set of the two hour match ended in a tiebreaker. Czerwinski When Czerwinski finally emerged with a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 win, he was relieved and happy.

    “I stayed cool, even though I was disappointed to lose that tiebreaker,“ said the eighteen-year-old from Michigan. "I knew finally what I had to do after the first set to get his big serve back."

    Czerwinski, who trains in Florida, and will be heading to Vanderbilt in the fall, also volleys often and well. Spectators witnessed several points featuring both players at the net, crisp volleys whizzing back and forth, with the final shot a perfectly placed winner. But Slagter blinked first, giving up an early break in the third set, and Czerwinski faced only one break point from then on.
    "I've had a solid 12 or 14 months of tournaments, and I feel good", he said. "I feel like I'm ready to take the tournament."

    Czerwinski faces 11th seed George Navas of Florida in the round of 16 on Sunday.

    Justin Kronague (2) and Maciek Sykut (3) recorded straight-set victories, and Blake Boswell (4) advanced by winning his second consecutive three-set match.

    The top three seeds in on the girls side-- Magdalena Bresson (1), Kristen McVitty (2) and Lindsay Burdette (3) won in straight sets, but Melissa Saiontz (4) was upset by unseeded Sophie Grabinski 6-3, 6-0.

    Friday, March 18, 2005

    Temperatures Rebound, Top Seeds Dominate Friday

    Temperatures Rebound, Top Seeds Dominate Friday--
    © Colette Lewis 2005--

    Spring returned to Mobile on Friday, with sunshine and temperatures in the 60s, and the top four seeds in both boys and girls draws advanced to Saturday's round of 32. Magdalena Bresson of Delray Beach FL, the girls top seed, bresson beat Caitlin Baker 6-1, 6-1 and boys top seed Marek Czerwinski of Birmingham MI also advanced in straight sets. The highest seed to fall on Friday was fifth seed Kallim Stewart who was eliminated by Christopher Cloer.

    Though form is holding at the top, more than half (17) of the boys seeds have been eliminated in the first two days, and on the girls side, thirteen unseeded players have advanced to the third round.

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    Report From USTA Spring Nationals in Mobile

    Report From Mobile--
    © Colette Lewis 2005

    I'm at the USTA 18s Boys and Girls Spring Championships here in Mobile Alabama. With the upcoming Easter Bowl now an ITF Closed Event, the USTA has added this tournament to the schedule. Needing a spring break from the very wintry weather still plaguing Kalamazoo, my husband and I endured an unexpectedly long day of travel, with two plane changes and three mechanically-related delays. Ours was far from the worse travel story I heard today at the Mobile Tennis Center, though, so I'll move on with a list of things that got my attention today:

    1. The weather. As gray and gloomy as Michigan and almost as cold. With temperatures in the low 50s, it was a brave tennis fan coldfansmobile who sat through an entire match without running to the pro shop for a dose of heat.

    2. The facility. Fifty, yes fifty, tennis courts on one site. Practice courts, even public use of the courts, was possible with two 128 singles and 64 doubles draws. Amazing. Free coffee and fruit for everyone and a dedicated staff--it's no wonder Mobile hosts one tennis event after another.

    3. On the boys' side, Holden Ching, Kelvin Kim and Cory Parr--all of whom, unseeded, dispatched their seeded opponents, dropping three games or less. Parr, of Jericho NY, dropped a double bagel on 21st seed Alexander Forger of Okemos, MI.

    4. Andrew Crone of Hickory NC, who lost a 38-point first set tiebreaker, and unfazed, survived a second tiebreaker of a mere 11 points, then won going away, 6-1 in the third.

    5. Justin Kronauge and Kristen McVitty, the number two seeds, neither of whom surrendered a game in the opening round.

    6. Ashley Weinhold, and no, it wasn't just that knit hat that caught my eye. weinholdmobile The fifteen year old from Austin Texas had no trouble with the 21st seed, beating Elyse Steiner 6-2, 6-1.

    Check back tomorrow for news on second round action.....

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    Marin Independent Journal - Marin's Bumper Crop

    Marin Independent Journal - Marin's Bumper Crop--

    For all you Northern California tennis geeks, here's a story that provides a detailed look at prep tennis in your area. I'll defer to the reporter's superior grass-roots knowledge here, but I think she's stretching with that Courier, Sampras, Chang, Agassi, Wheaton and Martin comparison.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    Book Review - blink - The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

    blink - The Power of Thinking Without Thinking -
    by Malcolm Gladwell
    © Colette Lewis 2005

    If you read The Tipping Point, the definitive look at how trends start, you were probably as eager as I was to read New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell`s latest.

    Then, I read a review that said blink featured a (unnamed) tennis coach, and I couldn’t log on fast enough to amazon.com to place an order
    I wasn’t surprised when the coach in question turned out to be Vic Braden. For an expert in tennis “thin-slicing“, he has no peer. Ditto, coaching, teaching, research-- you name it; if it pertains to tennis, Braden cares deeply about it.

    Braden served as honorary referee in Kalamazoo last year. (Click here for more details.) A Kalamazoo College graduate, he was loathe to admit he hadn’t been on campus in decades, but once he arrived he was as ebullient, curious and provocative as ever. When he took a break from filming with his ever-present video camera braden2004 he explained to me his theory about genetics and net-rushing, and the research he is conducting on the issue.

    In blink , his intuitive sense of an approaching double fault serves as an illustration of Gladwell’s theory that we process many things on a subconscious level and must learn to trust our ability to make snap judgments. But we can’t expect to bring that conscious level to the surface, even if it would appear to be valuable to do so; the mind must be given the freedom to function on a submerged level.

    Gladwell doesn’t shrink from the distasteful aspects of this submerged level, providing illuminating instances of why and how these judgments sometimes go awry. But as one who agonizes too often over inconsequential decisions, I appreciate a nudge away from that mindset.

    From Monday's Pacific Life Open Notebook - Palm Springs Desert Sun

    Intriguing Item from Desert Sun's Pacific Life Open Notebook by Leighton Ginn:

    Giving back: The USTA is considering asking Americans players who have gotten financial assistance to pay the organization back some money, somewhere between $25,000 to $30,000. It would be from top Americans who have made a million in prize money.

    Taylor Dent said he wouldn't mind giving back, but with a condition.

    "I'd like to see where it's going and I'd like to have a little bit of control over that," Dent said. "I wouldn't want my money going to Gatorades on the side of the court. I'd want my money to go for some young junior ... and maybe at my discretion, whether I think the coach is good enough or not. Then I'd feel like my money's not being wasted.

    I agree with Dent that a player should have control over this "donation." And I am not going to argue with giving it to a young junior. But I would like to see a college scholarship fund established for juniors who went directly to the professional ranks, so that they have an opportunity to complete their education if they are not able to support themselves by playing on the tour.

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Anyone For Tennis? - Vogue.com-

    Vogue Stories
    Anyone For Tennis?

    Don't count on Zootennis featuring too many stories from Vogue, but I just had to get the Ralph Lauren quote on Scott Oudsema up. Note to Vogue.com editor: It's Fila, not Fifa, that Polo is displacing at the US Open.

    Sunday, March 13, 2005

    American teenage sensation Young off to slow start - Yahoo! Sports - Tennis

    Yahoo! Sports - Tennis - American teenage sensation Young off to slow start
    From the sound of it, Andy Roddick does not believe yet another wild card into a Master Series event (the NASDAQ, announced Friday) is the best way for Donald Young to learn his craft. But why would anyone from IMG listen to Roddick? He's an SFX client.

    Saturday, March 12, 2005

    Coach supporters protest club - Kalamazoo Gazette

    Coach supporters protest club
    With junior tennis guru Tom Walker moving to Lansing last fall, and now this, I'm getting the distinct impression that Kalamazoo, the home of the USTA National Junior Championships for more than 60 years, doesn't have a true commitment to junior programs. But this protest provides evidence that some people here do care, and there may be a silver lining to these clouds.

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    BBC SPORT | Tennis | Talented Kasiri must learn to listen

    BBC SPORT | Tennis | Talented Kasiri must learn to listen

    A juicy piece here about last year's Wimbledon junior finalist Miles Kasiri helps me understand why Andrew Murray, who is barely mentioned in this BBC column, is so lionized in Great Britain. The irony, of course, is that Murray voluntarily left the LTA to train at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain. But if Murray isn't the one to replace Henman and Rusedski, it won't be due to this malaise that seems to infect promising British juniors. Murray's work ethic and desire are unquestioned, and as his recent Davis Cup doubles win proved, he doesn't shrink from high-pressure, big-moment challenges.

    Thursday, March 10, 2005

    thedesertsun.com | Young, 15, aching for his first ATP victory

    thedesertsun.com | Young, 15, aching for his first ATP victory
    There's nothing in this story that suggests Young is "aching " for anything, so let's just blame the headline on a misguided editor under deadline pressure.

    The story itself covers all the same ground as those that appeared during Young's San Jose ATP debut last month. The reporter may not realize it, but that Young plays a qualifier is not any stroke of luck for him. He was beaten badly by Paul Goldstein in Scottsdale, and Goldstein was a lucky loser.

    I do feel it is unfortunate that IMG keeps putting him in the main draw of their events, and this one, part of the Masters Series, features an absolutely stellar field on the men's side. Wayne Arthurs, who won in Scottsdale, had to qualify, while Young, Alex Kuznetsov and Mark Philippoussis, who have one ATP win between them in 2005, get straight in because they are IMG clients. I think wild cards for the qualifying tournament are fine for any promising junior, but taking the spot of a more accomplished player in the main draw of a tournament of this magnitude is simply unjust.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2005

    March 8, 2005 TennisOne Newsletter- A Walk In The Desert - Joel Drucker

    March 8, 2005 TennisOne Newsletter
    A Walk In The Desert - Joel Drucker

    The most interesting item I ran across today doesn't have anything to do with junior tennis, but it is by Joel Drucker, one of my favorite writers. I've never been to the Pacific Life Open, but it sounds like the West Coast version of Flushing Meadows. And though I don't play tennis regularly, I share Drucker's opinion that those who do are a special and exalted force too often overlooked by both the media and the sport's infrastructure.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2005

    Family work ethic tied up in tennis (AP via KCTV5)

    KCTV5 - Family work ethic tied up in tennis

    I met Leo Rosenberg at the Eddie Herr last year, and was amazed by his family saga. You do not find too many world-class juniors in Manhattan, Kansas, so I asked him who he practiced with, and he revealed a version of this remarkable story. Leo's family was not with him at the Eddie Herr, and he was waiting around for Kellen Damico to lose (he never did) so he could catch a ride to the Winter Internationals and Orange Bowl in Miami with Damico and his coach, John Roddick. Obviously Leo is quite self-sufficient and mature for a 15-year-old and, amazingly, this is not all that unusual in junior tennis circles. Perhaps it isn't possible to accept the responsibility and discipline that tennis talent requires without growing up fast. There are exceptions, of course, but self-control=excellence is the theory I'm trying out now.

    Monday, March 7, 2005

    My Tennis Spiel

    My Tennis Spiel
    Observations from ITF Grade 2 Event
    Bavarian International Junior Challenge
    Nurnberg Germany

    ©Colette Lewis 2005

    First, a salute to the winners. Seventh seed Ekaterina Makarova continued her climb in the ITF rankings by defeating top seed and fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina 6-2, 7-5. Makarova burst on the scene by making the 2004 Orange Bowl semifinals unseeded, beating the 2nd, 7th and 9th seeds in the process. Since then, the 16 year old from Moscow has raised her ranking almost 100 points, and is now at 47, with a bullet.
    Makarova Although she is a statuesque 5’8”, her game is not classically “big babe”, what with her mediocre serve and not particularly punishing ground strokes. But she knows how to construct points, and as most left-handers before her, she has mastered the art of short angles. She is deceptively quick and can turn a sure winner into one of the best defensive lobs you’ve ever seen. But what really wowed me this weekend was her anticipation, a sixth sense that told her to cover the crosscourt, or to hit her shot where her opponent surely wasn’t. She didn’t lose a set in the tournament and though the field wasn’t particularly strong, she is undoubtedly gaining confidence with every win. She didn’t play the Australian Juniors, but I’m eager to see her in the next three Grand Slams.

    Fifth seed Andrea Arnaboldi of Italy won the boys title – making it a sweep for lefthanders—besting Russian Alexander Krasnorutskiy 6-4, 6-2. Arnaboldi’s one-handed backhand is to-die-for, but his ability to change gears mid-match is what really impressed me. Arnaboldi Against 3rd seed Jochen Schottler in the semis, Arnaboldi was down a set and two breaks, but won the match with a strategy change. Up three love, Schottler began to dissolve in an unforced error concoction that Arnaboldi prepared for him. By denying the German the pace he craved, Arnaboldi deftly softballed and sliced his way to a three set victory. For a moment there, I flashed back to Brad Gilbert in his prime. That sort of win is not going to make agents drool or sponsors flock, but it shows imagination, maturity and a comprehension of the game that is rare anywhere, and rarer still in junior tennis.

    Bavarian Challenge
    Now for some general observations on attending my first junior tournament outside the United States:

    • The “C’mon” epidemic that Lleyton Hewitt has engendered continues unabated. No matter that the only native English-speaking player in the tournament was one Irish boy, everyone, male and female, had to indulge themselves in this fist-pumping exhortation. Unfortunately, Hewitt’s most admirable trait, his never-say-die competitiveness, was much less in evidence.

    • English is the world’s second language now, and you need only hear a Russian questioning his Dutch opponent’s line call or a German arrange to hit with a Belgian to see how pervasive it is in tennis. When matches finally were officiated (in the singles semifinals) scores were given in English and German and all (and there were plenty) arguments with the chair were also conducted in English.

    • Speaking of language, I was appalled by the profanity used on a regular basis, with f bombs and who knows what in languages I don’t speak echoing throughout the Tennis Center Noris. And the racquet throwing approached Safinesque levels as well, though with the soft carpet, it certainly wasn’t as noticeable as it would have been on hard courts. But with no officials, even roving ones, around the first three days, it isn’t surprising that etiquette took a holiday. Maybe I’m just too accustomed to the conduct required in Kalamazoo, where any number of players would have received point and game penalties for lesser infractions than I witnessed regularly at this event.

    • In general, the whole tournament seemed much less, well, strict, than what I’m accustomed to seeing in the United States. I will say unequivocally that USTA events are officiated and organized more effectively.

    • Tennis is so low in the German sports hierarchy that it trails even handball. I don’t expect coverage of Grade 2 ITF junior events, but when the Germany-South Africa Davis Cup tie doesn’t even rate a paragraph in the sports section, there’s a serious problem. Every German I spoke to about tennis conceded that it vanished when Becker and Graf retired. But no one really seems to miss it, which is alarming. To squander the momentum those two great champions established must have taken more poor decisions and bad luck than I can comprehend. But tennis in Germany is not just dead and buried—it’s in an unmarked grave.