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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cilic Another Croatian Star:: Sporting Life

Cilic Another Croatian Star:: Sporting Life - Tennis ~~~

Another brief post today--I've got a whole lot of mail, laundry and articles to work on. Marin Cilic, who is currently the ITF's top-ranked junior and waged that spirited battle with Donald Young for the overall 2005 championship, had his first big win on the ATP circuit, beating Igor Andreev, the ATP's 25th ranked player. I'm sure playing in his hometown of Zagreb (and indoors) helped him, but that's a huge win for a seventeen-year-old.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Back in the Zoo

Back in the Zoo~~~
After 27+ hours of travel, we're back in Kalamazoo. I'm too tired to post anything coherent tonight, but I did want put up a link to Tennis magazine's Peter Bodo and his "de-briefing" of me in his TennisWorld blog. I'm hoping that a zootennis reader can help him find Kimberly Couts' contact information. I don't think he realizes just how many juniors find themselves traveling alone to foreign countries a long way from mom and dad. In fact, Mateusz Kecki, who was on our flight--and stood in the same hour-long check-in queue at Qantas-- also was in Australia by himself and spent most of his 16th birthday Wednesday waiting to play a junior doubles match.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pavlyuchenkova Leaves Australia Undefeated as Junior Open Girls Champion

Pavlyuchenkova Leaves Australia Undefeated as Junior Open Girls Champion ~~~

Fourteen-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia completed a perfect trip to Australia, beating top seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 to win her first junior Grand Slam title.

Sweeping through Australia like the bush fires outside Melbourne, Pavlyuchenkova won three straight tournaments on the ITF’s Australian Summer Circuit, a hot streak even she thought impossible.

“I had so many matches,” said the native of the Russian city of Samara, who also won the doubles championship with partner Sharon Fichman of Canada Saturday evening. “I thought ‘I can’t win this tournament, it’s too difficult for me.’ But I did it and I am so happy.”

The eighth-seeded Pavlyuchenkova, who trains in both Russia and the Czech Republic, started slowly in the match, and was down a break at 1-0 in the second set when she asked for the trainer.

“I was sick a little bit in the first set, and I was dizzy, shaking,” she said. “I just took a little bit of rest.”

Wozniacki was expecting her opponent’s request for treatment.

“She’s done that all tournament and I knew it would come when I won the first set,” said Wozniacki. “I was just stupid that I wasn’t really ready for it, and when we came out on the court again, I was more defensive.”

When Pavlyuchenkova won the second set, Wozniacki requested the optional ten-minute heat break, but Pavlyuchenkova didn’t leave the court.

Her right leg heavily taped for an injury sustained weeks ago, Pavlyuchenkova spent the last few minutes of the break bouncing along on the baseline, determined to keep her concentration and momentum.

“When I take a break and get off the court, it’s not good for me. I knew myself and if I do that I will relax. So I tried to keep energy and keep concentrating.”

It worked for Pavlyuchenkova, as she won the first two games of the final set, and although Wozniacki fought back to even it at 2, the serve and the consistency of the young Russian wore her down.

Wozniacki, ranked fourth in the world in the ITF junior rankings, expressed admiration for the tennis Pavlyuchenkova has played in her three weeks in Australia.

“I don’t know how she does it. Three tournaments in a row--it’s impressive, I must say that,” said Wozniacki, 15.

“When I’m playing in a tournament, afterwards I am so tired I cannot play the second one.”

Pavlyuchenkova is as amazed as everyone else at her dominance in Australia.

“It’s too difficult to win every match, because you can beat the best and you can lose to anyone,” she said. “I don’t even feel that I won a Grand Slam because I don’t understand what I did. It’s amazing.”

Unseeded Sidorenko Bounds to Australian Junior Open Boys Singles Title

Unseeded Sidorenko Bounds to Australian Junior Open Boys Singles Title~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

Alexandre Sidorenko was determined to see a kangaroo while in Australia, but he was too busy winning tennis matches during the Australian ITF Summer Circuit to do any sightseeing.

It wasn’t until a day off Thursday that he had time to visit the Melbourne Zoo and its kangaroos, and after capturing the Australian Junior Open championship on Sunday afternoon with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Australian wild card Nick Lindahl, Sidorenko now also has the junior champion’s stuffed version to remind him of his stunning run Down Under.

Sidorenko earned a special exemption from qualifying this week, but it was only by the slimmest of margins. Because he played very few ITF events in 2005, concentrating instead on Futures tournaments in France, his ranking was too low for direct acceptance. Reaching the semifinals in doubles in the previous tournament at Nottinghill gave the seventeen-year-old Russian-born Parisian hope that he could avoid the one-day, two-match qualifying tournament.

"The referee say to me, if you want special exempt, you have special exempt if you win-- if you lose, you play qualies," Sidorenko said. "I won 7-6 in the third set, so you can imagine how I be nervous."

With that win assuring him a main draw slot, Sidorenko cruised past his opponents, losing only one set, and if he felt any nerves in the final, it wasn’t indicated by his play.

Up 3-0 after he won the first twelve points of the match, the unseeded Sidorenko could not have hoped for better start; his dominance subdued the enthusiasm of the dozens of Lindahl’s Aussi fans hiding from the midafternoon sun under the canopies in Margaret Court arena. With an audience that included Australian tennis legends Ken Rosewall, Mark Woodforde and John Alexander, Lindahl couldn’t put his usually punishing forehand in court during the match’s first game.

"I was a bit shocked really," said the Swedish-born Lindahl, who moved to Australia as an infant. "Missed a bad forehand bottom of the net. I think I did four after that. I wasn’t feeling nervous—just maybe overexcited or too happy. I was just really confused."

Lindahl managed to find a solution to the Sudoku puzzle Sidorenko presented however, and ran out to a 5-2 lead in the second set, But Siderenko, who had looked listless after taking a medical timeout at the 2-3 changeover, suddenly rediscovered his strokes, getting the break back when Lindahl doublefaulted at 5-3, 30-40.

In the ensuing tiebreak, the two seventeen-year-olds held serve through 4-4 but at that point Lindahl’s forehand again let him down, with two errors giving Sidorenko the only match point he needed when Lindahl’s return of serve floated long.

And although Lindahl was disappointed by his loss, he had little time to brood, as he was asked by Australian Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald if he would like to accompany the team to Switzerland for the upcoming Davis Cup tie.

“It’s a bit of a shock still because I wasn’t expecting that,” said Lindahl, who wore an NBA Pistons jersey at the postmatch press conference. “I feel like I don’t really know yet what’s going on, but I think I’ll be going,”

Sidorenko and the kangaroo that he calls his “talisman” will return to France knowing that the days of special exemptions and qualifying for junior events are over.

“Before I come to Australia my ranking was like 130 ITF. Now I think I will be second or first. So in a month, it’s a good progress,” he smiled.

”If I can progress like this on ATP it will be nice. I’ll come every time to Australia.”

With a kangaroo in his luggage, no doubt.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Wild Card Lindahl and Unseeded Sidorenko Vie For Australian Junior Open Boys Championship Sunday

Wild Card Lindahl and Unseeded Sidorenko Vie For Australian Junior Open Boys Championship Sunday~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

Wild card Nick Lindahl, unfazed by the change from Margaret Court Arena to the indoor practice courts due to a drenching rain, easily dispatched fellow New South Welchman Ryan Bellamy 6-4, 6-0 to become the first Australian since Todd Reid in 2002 to reach the Junior Open final in Melbourne. His opponent in the final will be unseeded Alexandre Sidorenko of France, who avenged last week’s three-set loss to friend Pavel Chekhov 6-4, 6-0.

Sent to court during a brief dry spell on Saturday afternoon, both boys semifinal matches were just a few games old when the steady rain returned. Lindahl, who has recently moved to Melbourne from Newcastle to train at the new National Academy, believes he took the disruption in stride better than his opponent.

"I think he was a bit unhappy with moving to indoors," said the seventeen-year-old from Newcastle. “I just played really solid, and defended really well and attacked well.”

Bellamy agreed that the change of venue threw him off his game.

“I was really prepared to play outdoors, and it’s completely different playing indoors, especially with all the engines going,” Bellamy said, referring to the high-decibel temporary air conditioners installed for the nearby corporate tents.

“It’s hard to hear….on the serve you don’t know whether it’s going to be a slice serve or a kick serve, Bellamy said. “It’s like playing in the dark really.”

Russian Pavel Chekhov, who in the 16th position was the lone remaining seed in the boys draw, also felt the effects of the move indoors and the toll of three consecutive three-set matches, including his third round upset of top seed Thiemo de Bakker.

“Indoors is more better for him,” Chekhov said. “He has a very good game… he had more energy today. He just played one three set match, yesterday,” said the seventeen-year-old IMG/Bollettieri Academy scholarship student.

Siderenko received a special exemption into the main draw of the Australian Junior Open based on his appearance in the doubles final of the Nottinghill Grade 1, but like Lindahl, he spent most of 2005 on the Futures Circuit, not playing the ITF junior events that would have earned him a seed in 2006’s first junior Grand Slam.

The right-handed Siderenko cited his return, his focus and his abillty to forget his off-court friendship with Chekhov as keys to the victory.

“It’s not easy, I know him very well, but I have to forget he’s my friend and play my game,” said the Russian-born seventeen-year-old who moved to France at age 4.

With the big serve and forehand Siderenko has displayed all week, the move indoors would seem a tantalizing prospect for him. But he thought it gave him no advantage against Chekhov.

“He serves very well, so you know it will be very tough to return, but I returned very well his serve,” said Siderenko, who travels with his coach and father Valery.

“It was very hot, and the generators also I heard, but I was concentrated on my game and not thinking of everything else.”

Siderenko attributed the difference between Saturday’s victory and the three-set loss to Chekhov in the third round at Nottinghill to his own consistency.

“He played about the same, this match as last week,” Siderenko said. “I was more concentrated. Last week I would get a break, and he would come back but here I would take a break and keep it. I was more regular on my game.”

Asked if he came to Australia expecting to win his junior title, Siderenko answered that his was his objective, but he refused to add pressure to himself now that he is one win away from his goal.

“I try to play this match like it’s first round, you know.” Siderenko said. “Don’t make something special, that it’s the final so I have to be nervous, but I just play the match like I do and we’ll see.”

Siderenko shouldn't expect to capitalize on his opponent’s nerves, however. Lindahl, who will have the added pressure of playing in front of a pro-Aussie crowd, is not a player prone to self-doubt.

When asked if he was nervous at the prospect of playing his first Grand Slam final, Lindahl answered “not really” before amending the comment.

"Let me rephrase that," he said. "No."

As an example of his mental strength, Lindahl pointed to his results this week.

“When I was down 5-3 in his first set with Austen Childs (in the quarterfinals on Friday) and he was serving, I knew I was going to win that match, because mentally he wasn’t that well. I knew I was stronger mentally than him.”

Asked where that strength came from, Lindahl thought before answering.

“Belief, really. I know I can beat these guys.”

To become the first Australian Junior Grand Slam Champion since Ben Ellwood in 1994, he’ll only have to beat one more.

Damico and Schnugg Fall to Unseeded Polish Team in Australian Junior Open Doubles Final

Damico and Schnugg Fall to Unseeded Polish Team in Australian Junior Open Doubles Final ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

In a match that finished at 10:30 p.m., Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg were unable to regain the energy they had displayed in their tense semifinal win less than two hours earlier, falling 7-6 (5), 6-3 to the unseeded team of Blazej Koniusz and Grzegorz Panfil of Poland.

In a decision that caught Damico and Schnugg by surprise, tournament officials informed the pair that, despite what they had been told earlier, the doubles final would be played one hour after the completion of their semifinal match.

"We had no say," said Damico, whose coach Rich Benvin had rearranged flights for Monday when being told during a rain delay that the doubles final would be played on Sunday, not on Saturday as originally scheduled. So after an emotional 7-6 in the third win in the semifinals, Damico and Schnugg had virtually no time to regroup.

"They came out firing," Schnugg said of the vocal and emotional Polish team. "They had it a lot easier," added Damico of Koniusz and Panfil's straight-set win in the semifinals.

It was certainly not a Baghdatis-style crowd that lifted the Polish team, as there were more ballrunners and officials than spectators in the eerily quiet Margaret Court arena.

"It was disappointing," Schnugg said of the sparse crowd. "It's didn't seem like a Grand Slam final."

"When we had 100 people cheering against us, in our (semifinal) match with Kei (Nishikori) and Peter (Polansky), in the semis, it was more fun," said Damico. "It's what you want to do, play your best when it matters."

But in the finals, Damico and Schnugg could not hold on to a break in the third game of the first set, and when they fell behind an early break in the second, they were unable to recapture the emotion and grit they displayed in their semifinal victory.

Even with all the distractions and the last-minute scheduling changes,however, Damico and Schnugg were most disappointed with their own poor play in the final.

"They outplayed us," Schnugg admitted. "They handled everything better than we did."

The girls doubles finals was also decided under similar circumstances next door at Show Court 2. Sharon Fichman of Canada and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia defeated Alize Cornet of France and Corinna Dentoni of Italy 6-2, 6-2 for the championship

Damico and Schnugg Survive Third Set Tiebreak to Reach Australian Junior Open Doubles Final

Damico and Schnugg Survive Third Set Tiebreak to Reach Australian Junior Open Doubles Final~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

After a fast start, the fifth seeded team of Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg (USA) fought off unseeded Kei Nishikori (JPN) and Peter Polansky (CAN) to take a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) semifinal contest Saturday evening at Margaret Court Arena.

Down 0-40 at 4-4 in the third on Damico's serve, and 15-40 at 5-5 on Schnugg's, the longtime friends hung on to force a tiebreak. Down 4-2 at the change of ends, Damico and Schnugg were oblivious to the drops that began to fall, and saving their best for last, took the next five points to earn a place in the final against the unseeded Polish team of Blazej Koniusz and Grzegorz Panfil, which is scheduled for 5 a.m. Sunday, EST.

Koniusz and Panfil defeated Bassam Beidas of Lebanon and Mateusz Kecki of the U.S. 7-6 (1), 6-0.

Complete coverage of the Boys Doubles Championship will be posted later.

For photos, seeustaboys.com

Wozniacki and Pavlyuchenkova Earn Spots in Australian Junior Open Girls Final

Wozniacki and Pavlyuchenkova Earn Spots in Australian Junior Open Girls Final ~~~

©Colette Lewis 2006

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark will meet the hottest player in junior tennis, Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Sunday for the Australian Junior Open championship.

A steady downpour forced semifinals matches indoors on Saturday, and for the second straight day, the competitors needed to tune out the persistent hum of generators in the close quarters of the indoor practice courts.

Wozniacki, a 7-6 (5), 6-3 winner over fourth seed Ayumi Morita of Japan, believes the conditions favored her opponent however.

"I think it was an advantage for her that we played indoor," said the fifteen-year-old, who will be playing in her first Grand Slam final. "It feels like the ball’s going faster and she’s like hitting every shot. But I can’t complain. I won, so it’s great."

Wozniacki came from behind in the first set, and took a seesaw tiebreak, setting the tone for the second.

“She was always leading in the first set, so I think when I won the tiebreak she was like a little bit down. I don’t think she knew what to do.”

That’s not a problem the fourteen-year-old Pavlyuchenkova is likely to face, as she is riding a wave of confidence with her seventeen straight wins in Australia at the start of 2006. The eighth seed’s latest victim was second seed Raluca Olaru of Romania, the second time in two weeks Pavlyuchenkova has taken a straight set win from Olaru, this time by a 6-4, 6-3 score.

Olaru found her concentration disrupted by the combination of nerves and the noise of the refrigeration and air conditioning generators near the bubble-enclosed indoor courts.

“I was trying to hit shots, but it was noisy, I couldn’t concentrate and I was too nervous,” a downcast Olaru said.

“Of course she is playing well, but I beat myself, too many unforced errors.”

Pavlyuchenkova expressed delight with her performance in the past three weeks, making her third junior Grand Slam appearance more memorable than her twp first round losses in France and the U.S. in 2005. She wasn’t really expecting to reach the final in the Australian Junior Open, however.

“I won two tournaments before this Grand Slam, and I thought I would be tired and I could not play here well, but I just play,” said Pavlyuchenkova.

Looking forward to the finals, Pavlyuchenkova did not sound awed by the Danish girl’s game.

"I don’t know if she’s the best player, she’s a good player, she’s number one here, and she started playing tennis earlier than me. She has more experience, but I will play well. I just want to show the best of my game."

And although they have never played, Wozniacki observed that Pavlyuchenkova’s best includes a big serve, a weapon that the young Russian also cited as part of her heavy artillery.

"I think it’s very strong, and it’s uncomfortable for my opponents," Pavlyuchenkova said. It’s a strength she shares with her favorite player, which, surprisingly, is not among the myriad Russian women, but rather Belgian Kim Clijsters.

"Just hitting strong, strong and hitting to the corner, I don’t like so much," said Pavlyuchenkova, who travels with her mother and twenty-year-old brother. "I like different shots—slice, drop shots."

On Sunday, Pavlyuchenkova has an opportunity to finish a perfect run in Australia. But Wozniacki isn’t conceding anything.

"Hopefully, she won’t win every match over here. Hopefully she’ll go back with one loss."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Quarterfinals Completed Under the Lights at Melbourne Park; Australia Assured of a Finalist

Quarterfinals Completed Under the Lights at Melbourne Park; Australia Assured of a Finalist ~~~
© Colette Lewis 2006

The temperature may have dropped with the late afternoon showers, but it didn't cool off Australian wild cards Nick Lindahl and Ryan Bellamy who will play Saturday for a spot in the boys final.

Lindahl dispatched Austen Childs of New Zealand 7-6 (4), 6-2, while Bellamy gave the boot to 13th seed Luka Belic of Croatia under the bright lights of Show Court 3.

"This is my last year for ITFs, and I decided this year, I'm going to make my mark for Tennis Australia and get in that Top Ten ranking," said the excited seventeen-year-old currently ranked at 156.

Admitting that even he didn't expect a performance this good, Bellamy is enjoying his run. "I was glad I got through a set in the first round. This is a total surprise, but it just makes me hungry to go even further."

When looking ahead to the semifinals against fellow New South Wales native Lindahl, a longtime junior rival, Bellamy made a few bold predictions.

"I can tell you it's going to be a long match," Bellamy said, "and games are going to deuces all the time--we're going to be out there for rallies and rallies."

Unseeded Alexandre Sidorenko of France will also be facing a friend and rival when he meets Pavel Chekhov of Russia in the other boys semifinal. Chekhov, who upset top seed Thiemo de Bakker Wednesday, is the lone seed remaining in the draw, at 16. He outlasted unseeded Jaak Poldma of Estonia 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-1, while Sidorenko took out 15th seed Kei Nishikori of Japan 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. At the Grade 1 Nottinghill tournament last week, Chekhov claimed a tough three-setter over Sidorenko, a result that Sidorenko does not begrudge him.

"He's a big friend of mine," said Sidorenko, who received a special exemption into the main draw. "I hope he plays well, and I don't need revenge just because he beat me."

On the girls side, number one seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark credited the rain and a change in strategy for her 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over Tamira Paszek of Austria, the 12th seed.

"She was playing well, and I think I was lucky that it started to rain," said the fifteen-year-old Orange Bowl champion. "I got time to think about my game and what to do better."

"I saw she was really playing great when she gets the ball between the shoulder and the hip, so I said I have to change the game or I'll lose the match."

So instead of giving Paszek pace, Wozniacki began changing the speed and spin during the rallies.

"How will she hit the ball over her head, or below her knees? I was just trying to change the rhythm to see what it would bring and it worked."

Wozniacki will face fourth seed Ayumi Morita of Japan in one girls semifinal. Morita downed sixth seed Amina Rakhim of Kazakhstan 6-3, 7-6 (4) in a match that was completed indoors.

In the other match finishing indoors, eighth Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia continued her streak, now at 16 straight wins, by taking out third seed Dominika Cibulkova of the Slovak Republic 6-4, 6-3. Pavlyuchenkova meets second seed Raluca Olaru of Romania in Saturday's semifinal. Olaru overcame a determined challenge from fifth seed Sharon Fichman of Canada and recorded a 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory.

The doubles semifinal matches were postponed and rescheduled for Saturday. The doubles finals are also scheduled to be played Saturday.

Click here for official draws from the Australian Open website.

For additional photos of the U.S. boys playing in Australia, see ustaboys.com throughout the tournament.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Smash Column: Early Australia edition

Smash Column: Early Australia edition ~~~

It's sprinkling outside the very quiet media workroom at Melbourne Park Friday morning, and matches are not scheduled to begin until 3 p.m. (11 p.m. Thursday EST), so I've decided to post a link to my most recent SMASH column. I'll be posting one next week that includes all the Australian Open junior action.

Early this week I got to meet my fellow SMASH contributor Vince Spadea, and he claimed to be a fan of On The Road. Although my style is a bit more reserved than his, I'm going to take him at his word.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Two Aussie boys advance to quarterfinals on Australia Day

Two Aussie boys advance to quarterfinals on Australia Day; Damico, Schnugg and Kecki still alive in doubles competition ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

Boys Singles
Both U.S. girls remaining in the Australian Junior Open lost their third round matches, but the local tennis fans definitely had something to cheer about Thursday at a warm and windy Melbourne Park.

January 26th is a national holiday in Australia, a mid-summer celebration of the discovery of the country by Captain Cook, and with no Australian players left in the main event, the tennis fans' attention turned to the juniors, where they were not disappointed.

Nick Lindahl defeated fellow Australian wild card Yan Levinski 7-5, 6-4 on Show Court 3, while Ryan Bellamy, also a wild card, upset 11th seed Sho Aida of Japan 6-4, 7-5, leaving the bottom half of the draw with a lone seed--Luka Belic of Croatia (13). Belic cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 win over unseeded Grzegorz Panfil of Poland. Unseeded Austen Childs of New Zealand eliminated the highest remaining seed in the draw, number three Sanam Singh of India, by a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 score and will face Lindahl in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Lindahl's second round win over fifth seed Kellen Damico of the U.S. on Tuesday saw both leave the court in a wheelchair, and even with a day off on Wednesday, Lindahl, 17, said he was still feeling the effects of that illness.

"I'm tired and sluggish," said the seventeen-year-old from New South Wales, who has recently moved to Melbourne to continue his development at the National Academy here.

Boys Doubles

Damico has had no problems with his recovery, although he did scrap his knee badly making what he called a "prayer" in he and partner Nate Schnugg's 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory over second seeds Kevin Botti of France and Stephen Donald of Australia.

After the first two sets were decided by a single break, the third opened with Damico dropping his serve and Donald following suit. With Schnugg serving at 30-40, it looked like there would be a third straight break when Donald lofted a near perfect lob over Damico.

"I just made a dead sprint back," said Damico. "I wanted to loft it into the wind, but I really didn't have much control over it, and then I fell."

His effort and subsequent tumble put him in no position to see the ball float to the far back corner for the winner, and he had to ask Schnugg if it was good, the pain from the fall forgotten when Schnugg answered yes.

In the very next game, Schnugg made an incredible reflex volley to gain a 15-40 lead and a demoralized Botti and Donald couldn't stanch the momentum that the long-time partners gained from the subsequent break.

Asked if they considered their victory an upset, as they were the lower seeds (6), Schnugg spoke with confidence.

"I feel like every match, every tournament we go into we should win," Schnugg said.

"And the last four tournaments, we've gotten to the semis at Yucatan, the finals at Casablanca...last week we got to the semifinals and we're in the semis here," Schnugg said, recounting their results from the post-Christmas Grade A's and Grade 1's.

Schnugg and Damico will play the unseeded team of Kei Nishikori of Japan and Peter Polansky of Canada in one of Friday's semifinals.

The only other U.S. competitor remaining in the Australian Juniors is Mateusz Kecki, who, with partner Bassam Beidas of Lebanon, advanced to the semifinals by virtue of a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 victory over the Croatian team of Antonio Sancic and Nikola Mektic. Unlike Damico and Schnugg, who have played together during their entire ITF careers, Kecki, who turned 16 yesterday, had not played with Beidas until last week's Nottinghill event. "I was looking for a partner down here and Leo Rosenberg knew him," Kecki said. "We had a tough draw last week, losing to de Bakker and Sidorenko in the first round, but we're getting to know each other's games now."

Due to the extreme heat, with temperatures again near 100 degrees, not all junior doubles matches were completed on Thursday, so Beidas and Kecki are still awaiting their opponents.

Girls Singles
Chelsey Gullickson and qualifier Kimberly Couts, the last U.S. girls of the ten who began in singles on Monday were eliminated; Gullickson dropped a 6-4, 6-4 decision to Raluca Olaru of Romania, while Couts fell to redhot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, the eighth seed, 7-6 (3), 6-4.

Couts and Pavlyuchenkova struggled with the windy conditions and neither could establish a rhythm from the backcourt, where both prefer to stay. Although the first set was close, it was not pretty, as between them Couts and Pavlyuchenkova made 46 unforced errors and produced only 16 winners.

Gullickson also had difficulties playing the kind of tennis that resulted in a straight set win over 15th seed Alize Cornet of France on Tuesday. Facing the second seeded Olaru for the first time, she knew she needed her best form.

"I wish I could have played better," said Gullickson, 15. "I wish my first serve had been better. But she played the conditions well, she deserved it."

Olaru acknowledged that she needed all her experience to overcome Gullickson.
"I was very concentrated all match. I knew she played good and I had to take advantage of any chance I got," said the sixteen-year-old from Bucharest. "It was very windy and hot but I'm starting to get used to it because in the U.S., it's the same. But I was so concentrating that I didn't even notice it."

The girls draw has gone as expected with seventh seed Sorana Cirstea the only top eight seed failing to make the quarterfinals. And 12th seed Tamira Pazek of Austria, a Wimbledon Junior finalist in 2005, can hardly be considered a surprise quarterfinalist. Her 6-1, 6-1 pounding Wednesday of Cirstea, her doubles partner, was remarkable only for its thoroughness.

Storms are expected throughout the next two days, and with tournament officials still scrambling to reschedule all the matches delayed by the heat, there is as yet no timetable for Friday's matches.

Click here for official draws from the Australian Open website.

For additional photos of the U.S. boys playing in Australia, see ustaboys.com throughout the tournament.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

De Bakker's Win Streak Ends; Lajola's Loss Leaves U.S. Without a Singles Quarterfinalist in Boys Tournament

De Bakker's Win Streak Ends; Lajola's Loss Leaves U.S. Without a Singles Quarterfinalist in Boys Tournament ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

Top seed Thiemo de Bakker's string of victories ended at 20, as Russian Pavel Chekhov stunned the world's third ranked player 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the third round of the Australian Junior Open.

The atmosphere was strangely quiet on the remote court 13, and even when de Bakker lost his serve in the third set's first game, few spectators gathered to see if the tournament's prohibitive favorite would recover. And the blazing sun and a determined opponent did little to assist de Bakker's quest to win his fourth tournament of the year.

Calling a trainer at in the third game and then again at the changeover trailing 2-3, de Bakker was unable to gain any advantage from the treatments he received.

"I was cramping," said the seventeen-year-old from the Netherlands. "It was hot and there were long rallies."

Chekhov, who lives in Moscow but trains at IMG/Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, did not let the delays affect his play, winning both games immediately following the medical timeouts. During the second delay, Chekhov used the timeout to hang his sweat-soaked shirts on the fencepost to dry. The 16th seed credited his concentration for getting him through the tight spots in the third set, when de Bakker was threatening to even the match.

Serving at 3-2 in the third set, Chekhov faced two break points but used his big serve and forehand to extricate himself from trouble. Despite getting less than 40% of his first serves in, Chekhov still kept de Bakker on his heels.

"It's a good first serve," said de Bakker, "and his second serve is tough as well."

And it was on his own serve that the cramping came into play most for de Bakker; with that weapon dulled and the accumulated fatigue of three tournament wins in Mexico, Costa Rico and Australia weighing him down, he succumbed when serving down 3-5 -- Chekhov executing a perfect lob and forcing a forehand error to complete the upset.

"I played a good match," Chekhov said. "He's a good player. He's playing well right now. I think he's just tired."

Chekhov will now face unseeded Jaak Poldma of Estonia, who has raced through his first three opponents in straight sets, including his opponent Wednesday, Dennis Lajola of the U.S. Poldma came out with his forehand blazing to take a 6-3, 6-3 win and even he was surprised by his quick start.

"I hit about five winners the first two games," said the seventeen-year-old righthander. "I got overconfident, and then I had to change everything. He moves well and is consistent from both sides, so I just sliced to his forehand, so he wouldn't have any pace."

Lajola agreed that Poldma's change of tactics caught him offguard.

"At the start, once the ball went to his forehand, the point was over, so I just went cross court, cross court," Lajola said. But after Lajola took a 3-2 30-0 lead in the first set, Poldma took control. "He started slicing on the forehand and I got rattled I guess," admitted the sixteen-year-old from Hawaii.

Lajola had opportunities in the second set, but Poldma won each key point, including a drop shot winner to end the match.

"I was very lucky the last two points--I got good calls on those two," Poldma said with a grin.

Lajola's day improved when he and partner Christian Vitulli of Kenya thrashed the third seeded doubles team of Luka Belic and Antonio Veic of Croatia, 6-2, 6-4 to advance to the Thursday's quarterfinals.

Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg, seeded sixth, also have reached the quarterfinals, with a 7-6 (2), 6-1 win over Greg Jones and Brydan Klein of Australia. The fourth U.S. player still in the doubles draw is Mateusz Kecki, who with partner Bassam Beidas of Lebanon, took a second consecutive straight set win. Beidas and Kecki upset the fourth seeded team of an undoubtedly tired Chekhov and partner Valeri Rudnev 7-5, 6-4.

Jamie Hunt and his partner Ivan Sergeyev of the Ukraine were one of five seeded doubles teams losing Wednesday. Hunt and Sergeyev, seeded fifth, fell to the Croatian team of Nikola Mektic and Antonio Sancic 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

The only girls doubles team remaining featuring U.S. players, Madison Brengle and Kristy Frilling, lost a hard-fought battle with the top seeded team of Raluca Olaru (Romania) and Amina Rakhim (Kazakhstan) 7-5, 1-6, 6-1.

The bottom half of the singles draw plays on Thursday, with Chelsey Gullickson and qualifier Kimberly Couts the remaining hopes for a U.S. player in the singles quarterfinals on Friday.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Lajola Sole Survivor Among U.S. Boys at Australian Junior Open

Lajola Sole Survivor Among U.S. Boys at Australian Junior Open ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006
Hawaiian Dennis Lajola grabbed a place in the Round of 16 with a second straight three set victory, overcoming a case of nerves in the third set to dispose of Australian wild card Steven Goh 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

But the day's real drama came in Australian wild card Nick Lindahl's 6-4, 0-6, 7-5 upset of fifth seed Kellen Damico, with both players leaving the court in wheelchairs due to illness and cramping.

The match, which ended both comically and painfully, started normally enough, with a cool breeze pushing the morning clouds away. Lindahl took the first set with a let cord winner, but that was the last luck he would have for a while, as he lost the next nine games.

Damico's 3-0 lead was whittled to 3-2, and at that point Lindahl requested a trainer. By the time it was 4-4, Damico was serving sidearm to avoid using his cramping leg muscles and Lindahl could barely move in any direction. Drop shots were the most popular choice for both players, and at one point Damico even hit a drop shot service ace. Damico was broken at 4-4, but under the bizarre circumstances, Lindahl was by no means likely to serve it out, and, although he had one match point at 5-4, Damico fought it off and took the game.

With no tiebreak in the third set here in Australia, the prospect of the match going on indefinitely was unsettling. And at 5-5, Damico serving, the game went to five deuces before Lindahl finally broke. Lying face down during the changeover at 6-5, Lindahl did get to his feet without assistance, while Damico stood waiting, not willing to risk sitting down. At 30-30, the Australian summoned enough strength for a backhand winner, and managed a forehand that caught the baseline to mercifully end it.

Collapsing face down at the service line, Lindahl could not have seen Damico's racquet smash that followed the umpire's match call. Lindahl was quickly administered to by the tournament doctor and trainer, but both he and Damico managed to get themselves to the wheelchairs, although Lindahl insisted on the traditional handshake before he took his seat.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Damico was still planning on playing doubles, but Lindahl has withdrawn, in order to give himself a chance to continue in singles Wednesday or Thursday, when the third round will be played.

In Lajola's victory, he was able to break the hard-serving Goh three times in the third set, but he needed all of them to convert the win.

"I got tentative, and he took advantage," said the sixteen-year-old from Aiea, Hawaii who held leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the final set. But at 4-5 15-30, Goh gave him the gift of a double fault, and although the Australian wild card saved one match point with an ace, Lajola was ready for his second chance.

"I knew where he was going (with his first serve), because all during the match at break point he would serve it down the T." Lajola said. "So if he could hit it wide on match point, I'd give him that." But Goh continued his pattern, Lajola handled the big first serve and out steadied his much larger opponent during the ensuing rally.

"I had a mental breakdown, a sloppy game at 3-1 in the third set," Lajola said, "but I knew I had to step it up, and I'm glad I did."

Nate Schnugg and Chris Racz were eliminated on Tuesday, with Schnugg falling to 13th seed Luka Belic of Croatia 6-3, 6-4, and Racz losing to the surging Alexandre Sidorenko of France 6-2, 6-0.

Click here for official draws from the Australian Open website.

For additional photos of the U.S. boys playing in Australia, see ustaboys.com throughout the tournament

Qualifer Couts and unseeded Gullickson Advance to Round of 16 at Australian Junior Open

Qualifer Couts and unseeded Gullickson Advance to Round of 16 at Australian Junior Open~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

Kimberly Couts and Chelsey Gullickson came out blazing Tuesday in second round girls action. The sixteen-year-old Couts, who as a qualifier has now won four straight matches since Saturday, defeated Russia's Anastasia Pivovarova 6-2, 6-4. Ranked outside the ITF's top 100, Couts has not dropped a set in her streak, and has been playing well since the Yucatan Cup in December, where she defeated Gullickson in the second round.

Gullickson, 15, is also showing an affinity for Australia, as she advanced to the semifinals of the Grade 1 at Nottinghill last week, losing to eventual champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. On Tuesday, Gullickson steamrolled 15th seed Alize Cornet of France 7-5, 6-0, with her relentless arsenal of groundstrokes setting up a confrontation with second seed Raluca Olaru of Romania in the Round of 16.

Lauren Albanese, the third U.S. girl to reach the second round, was eliminated by fourth seed Ayumi Morita of Japan 7-5, 6-4.

The girls draw has featured very few upsets, with only four unseeded players failing to reach the third round.

In first round doubles action, Madison Brengle and Kristy Frilling were the only U.S. girls team to advance. The unseeded pair defeated Jade Curtis of Great Britain and Ellah Nze of the U.S. 7-5, 6-3.

In boys doubles, the U.S. team of Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg, seeded sixth, advanced in three sets. Within a few hours of being taken off the court in a wheelchair, Damico had recovered enough to consider playing. "I'm going to give it a try," Damico said. "I'll let Nate do all the running around and retrieving."

The other U.S. boys in the draw have teamed with players from other nations and had mixed results on Tuesday. Jamie Hunt, playing with Ivan Sergeyev of the Ukraine and seeded fifth, moved on, as did Mateusz Kecki, with Bassam Beidas of Lebanon. Dennis Lajola capped a perfect day by recording a straight set win with partner Christian Vitulli of Kenya.

Complete doubles draws are available from the Australian Open website.

Gullickson, Couts and Albanese are only U.S. girls to advance in Australian Junior Open

Gullickson, Couts and Albanese are only U.S. girls to advance in Australian Junior Open ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

With ten U.S. girls playing first round matches in Melbourne today, including five who qualified on Saturday, hopes were high for more than the three wins that occurred. The five U.S. girls who drew seeds--Madison Brengle, Ashley Weinhold, Gail Brodsky, Denise Dy and Melanie Oudin couldn't overcome that challenge, and Kristy Frilling and Ellah Nze also bowed out Monday.

Florida's Lauren Albanese took a tough 6-4, 6-4 decision over lucky loser Sanaa Bhambri of India, and qualifier Kimberly Couts continued her run with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Australian wild card Holly Cao.

Chelsey Gullickson scrambled to a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win over Sandhya Nagaraj of India on a day that produced very few surprises in the girls draw; only two seeds, Nikola Frankova (13) of the Czech Republic and Marritt Boonstra (11) of the Netherlands failed to advance.

For the complete draws, including doubles, please click here to access the Australian Open website.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Americans Damico, Lajola, Schnugg and lucky loser Racz advance in first round action at Australian Junior Open

Americans Damico, Lajola, Schnugg and lucky loser Racz advance in first round action at Australian Junior Open~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

The weather gods took mercy on the juniors at the Australian Open today, with mostly overcast skies and temperatures a full thirty degrees cooler than Sunday's sauna-like conditions. All of the boys matches featuring U.S. players are complete, so it's a good opportunity for a brief rundown of that first round action. I apologize in advance for the scattered nature of this post, but on the first day, especially when all the opening round matches are played within a twelve hour window, it is difficult to make cogent observations on them all.

Fifth seed Kellen Damico, the sole American seeded in the tournament, defeated Roman Jebavy of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-5 and Dennis Lajola also brought down a Czech player with his 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 triumph over Jiri Kosler. Nate Schnugg upset Orange Bowl finalist and 26th ranked Paris Gemouchidis of Greece 6-4, 6-3 and Chris Racz pulled an even bigger upset, taking out 12th seed Stephen Donald of Australia 6-3, 7-5. Racz lost in the second round of qualifying, but gained entry as the tournament's sole lucky loser. Donald called for a trainer down a set and 1-0, but the treatment he received couldn't stem the epidemic of unforced errors infecting his game and the 41 he committed ultimately cost him the match.

The news not all bad for Australian boys however. Of the 14 who gained entry, eight advanced and several of the wins were unexpected. Steven Goh took out sixth seed Jeevan Neduncherhiyan of India 8-6 in the third; Brydan Klein overwhelmed seventh seed Kevin Botti of France 6-3, 6-1, and Greg Jones upended 14th Valeri Rudnev of Russia. But the Australian flavor was most pronounced in wild card Yan Levinski's win over Antonio Veic of Croatia, the ninth seed and champion of the recent Grade 1 Loy Yang tournament. A couple of dozen chanting, stomping and whistle-blowing supporters cheered Levinski, who has never played an ITF event outside of Australia, to a 7-6 (5), 6-4 upset.

The biggest surprise of the day in the boys first round was the quick exit of second seed Robin Roshardt of Switzerland. Roshardt, the Orange Bowl champion, fell to 79th ranked Grzegorz Panfil of Poland 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Eleanor Preston has the complete story of that upset posted on the ITF's website. Top seed Thiemo de Bakker, who is on an 18 match win streak to start 2006, advanced over Australian Patrick Nicholls in straight sets.

Half of the eight U.S. boys entered lost, including an ailing Jamie Hunt, who dropped a 6-1, 6-4 decision to Jaak Poldma of Estonia. Hunt is only recently recovered from a sprained ankle that forced his retirement in an Orange Bowl match, and in addition, the seventeen-year-old from Texas was struck with a viral ailment a few days ago that left him feeling sluggish. Leo Rosenberg lost to wild card Ryan Bellamy of Australia 6-2, 6-2; Mateusz Kecki fell to qualifier Thomas Fabbiano of Italy 6-4, 6-4 and Johnny Hamui was taken out by Tim Goransson of Sweden by the same score.

I'll be posting a roundup of the results of the ten U.S. girls in action later.

Click here for official draws from the Australian Open website.

For additional photos of the U.S. boys playing in Australia, see ustaboys.com throughout the tournament.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Australian Junior Singles Draws

Australian Junior Singles Draws ~~~

The player meeting is over, the stampede to schedule practice courts is underway, and the singles draws are up on the Australian Open site.

Five U.S. Girls Qualify For Australian Junior Open Main Draw

Five U.S. Girls Qualify For Australian Junior Open Main Draw ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

Not only do I have a desk now, I also have the results of last night's qualifying, and in addition to Kristy Frilling and Ashley Weinhold, three other U.S. girls have earned main draw spots. Gail Brodsky, Kimberley Couts and Melanie Oudin waited out the heat and took straight-set victories Saturday evening. The only U.S. girl failing to qualify was Kristy McVitty. The other three qualifiers are Eugenia Vertesheva and Ksenia Lykina of Russia and Benita Milenkiewicz of Australia.

An Australian player also survived in the boys qualifying -- John-Patrick Smith. Orange Bowl finalist Paris Gemouchidis, who was forced to qualify because the AO entries closed before the Key Biscayne results were added, had no difficulty advancing. Other boys qualifying are Antonio Sancic of Croatia, Thomas Fabbiano of Italy, Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, Artem Smirnov of the Ukraine, Yuichi Sugita of Japan and Zhou-ging Zhou of China.

The juniors are fortunate to have today off, as the extreme heat policy was invoked today before the 11 a.m. start of play, with the temperature already at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees) on its way to 109. Yes, 109. It's not humid, but that's hot by any accounting.

The ITF junior site has published its preview, and they too expected Sidorenko to be in the qualifying. The draw should be released after today's junior player meeting at 3 p.m. (midnight EST). I'll post a link to it as soon as it is on the AO website.

Extreme Heat Disrupts Qualifying in Melbourne

Extreme Heat Disrupts Qualifying in Melbourne ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

It's currently 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Centigrade) here in Melbourne, which means the extreme heat policy has been implemented. Play is continuing on the two courts with retractable roofs, but that, of course, does not include juniors, who are being asked to play two singles matches today in qualifying.

We made our way by tram to Albert Reserve, where the boys qualifying event is held. (A phone call to the site this morning saved us a trip to Nottinghill, which is much farther out and hosting the girls qualifying.) Chris Racz of the United States had won his first match, and his second round match was the only one to be put on court before the extreme heat rule was invoked. Playing Croatian Antonio Sancic, Racz jumped out to a quick lead and was serving for the set at 5-4, but Sancic stepped up his game and took a 7-6 (4), 6-1 win.

Drew Daniel, the only other player from the United States in the boys qualifying, also started quickly in his first round match, but eventually fell to seventh seed Yuichi Sugita 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Missing from the qualifying is Alexandre Sidorenko, who reached the final of the Loy Yang Grade 1 and the third round at this week's Nottinghill, where he beat second seed and Orange Bowl champion Robin Roshardt in the first round. I'm hoping his absence from qualifying means he's gotten a special exempt or a wild card; we'll know tomorrow afternoon when the draw is announced.

The girls qualifying was not complete either, but Ashley Weinhold and Kristy Frilling of the United States won their two matches before the heat stoppage, earning main draw berths.

More photos of the Australian Junior Open will be available for viewing all next week at ustaboys.com

Friday, January 20, 2006

Credentialed and Ready, but Juniors not imminent

Credentialed and Ready, but Juniors not imminent ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2006

We left Gold Coast in a monsoon and arrived in Melbourne to very hot and windy conditions. After checking in, we made our way to Melbourne Park via the tram, which is, hard-to-believe as this is, free to Australian Open ticketholders. The first person we ran into once we arrived at Rod Laver Arena was David DiLucia, who has recently gone from USTA High Performance coach (1990 birth year) to working with Lindsay Davenport. Lindsay had just won her match with Maria Kirilenko, so he was in good spirits. Picking up our credentials was, if not simple, then at least well-signed, and we managed to grab a beer and a sandwich (also free to media) while we waited for the young and efficient IT employee to configure my computer for wireless access. All in all, pretty glitch-free and in fact very little suffered in comparison with New York.

But not everything went swimmingly. No desk to work at, although I'm on a waiting list for one, and then the news that no one knew what exactly was going on with the juniors, but that they didn't start until Monday. But I should check again later, because no one was quite sure. And qualifying was in Nottinghill, in a suburb of Melbourne. So we'll have to see whether we are able to get out there, or instead spend the next few days just loitering around the media work room and, when the mood strikes us, watching--gasp--professional tennis. At least this Grand Slam, Andy Roddick isn't already back in Austin when we arrive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Australia Found

Australia Found ~~~
We made it to Queensland after a long 26 hour plus journey, but it's sunny and warm, so no need to complain. I have no internet access (this is from an internet cafe) so I haven't been able to keep up with junior tennis, but I am able to watch a lot of Channel 7 coverage of the Australia Open, so I'm not completely out of touch with the tennis world. Jim Courier and Tracy Austin are commentators, so I feel right at home in some ways. I hope to post from Melbourne in a couple of days.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Australia Bound

Australia Bound ~~~
This may be my last post for while, as I don't know exactly what my internet access (and my reaction to jet lag) may be during the first few days in Australia. We are planning on visiting friends and relaxing at the beach before we head to Melbourne next Friday. We'll also watch the first week of the AO on televison. For the Australian Open website, including results of the main draw qualifying tournament, click here. And look for regular updates during the Australian Junior Open Jan. 22-29.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Tennis Vol Davey Sandgren Wins Bill Talbert Junior Sportsmanship Award

Tennis Vol Davey Sandgren Wins Bill Talbert Junior Sportsmanship Award ~~~

Anyone who has ever seen Davey Sandgren play won't be surprised by this story.

"Davey Sandgren is the ultimate authority on good sportsmanship," USTA Southern Section President Jeff Gray said. "He is a pleasure to be around, and his behavior and attitude on court never waivers. I can't think of a more deserving recipient."

I too would like to offer my congratulations to Sandgren and his family on receiving this honor. Part of it may be the personality he was born with, but make no mistake--consistently good sportsmanship is hard. It takes self-control, perspective, maturity and a steadfast commitment to the golden rule. And, as Sandgren says, "honor and respect" for tennis itself.

That's a combination that should be recognized, and the Bill Talbert selection committee has made an outstanding choice.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

My Eight Intriguing Questions for 2006

My Eight Intriguing Questions for 2006:: Tennis Recruiting Network ~~~

As promised, my look ahead at some of the burning questions in tennis for 2006. No, nothing about Hingis' comeback, or Roddick's slump or Agassi's health or Federer's chance to win all the Slams.

My interest is in Ryan Sweeting, Viktoria Azarenka, Scoville Jenkins, Diana Srebrovic and Craig Tiley, among others. For those curious about my 2005 version, it's here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

SMASH Column: Costa Rica, Tucson and Melbourne Edition

Smash - www.smashtennismag.com ~~~

Check out my weekly column and find out what Thiemo deBakker, Sekou Bangoura Jr., Alexa Glatch and Ryan Harrison have been up to.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

St. Petersburg Times Sports:: On the verge of a breakthrough

St.Petersburg Times: On the verge of a breakthrough ~~~

I'm always pleased to find preview articles for Pro Circuit Futures and Challenger events, because most of the time, especially when played in bigger cities or ones without any tennis traditions, they don't produce a blip on the sports editor's radar.

The first Futures of the year in the United States is played in Tampa, and for the men, the qualifying draw is 128, meaning you must win four matches just to get a chance at the $1300 that goes to the winner. (The women had only a 64 qualifying draw and over twice the prize money). Among the eight players who earned their main draw spots were Marcus Fugate, who has a year of juniors left, and Tim Smyzcek, who just graduated from those ranks at the end of 2005.

This article features a look at the progress of Scoville Jenkins, who has made a jump of over 500 spots in the ATP rankings since last year at this time. But now at 263, which gives him the top seeding at this event, Jenkins knows it's those next two hundred spots that are the tough ones. He recently was invited to compete in a six-man tournament for the Australian Open main draw wild card that the USTA swapped a US Open wild card for. Amer Delic, that tournament's winner, is now preparing for the year's first Grand Slam, while Jenkins took on fellow American teenager Alex Clayton Tuesday in the first round of the Grand Slam Futures of Tampa Bay at Hillsborough Community College. He has come a long way in a year, and he still has a long way to go.

Monday, January 9, 2006

ITF Tennis - Juniors:: De Bakker Continues Winning Run at Coffee Bowl

ITF Tennis - Juniors:: De Bakker Continues Winning Run at Coffee Bowl ~~~

Establishing himself as the clear favorite heading into the Australian Open, Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands has now won the year's first two big ITF tournaments with his Coffee Bowl title, but he's probably glad he won't be seeing Coffee Bowl finalist Petre-Alexandru Luncanu of Romania in the Southern Hemisphere next week.

Luncanu, who has risen from 50 to 8 in the rankings in just the past two weeks (helped, of course by the ageing out of the 1987 group), isn't entered in the Australian Junior Open, much to the relief of everyone who is. De Bakker, who is now third in the ITF rankings, is sure to be the top seed given the absence of Marin Cilic (1) and Donald Young (2). Those entered in the Australian Open nearly always play the Grade 1 immediately prior; unfortunately, according to the acceptances, and confirmed by this ITF story, Mihaela Buzarnescu won't be among them. Buzarnescu is playing some great tennis now--it's a shame she and compatriot Luncanu won't be competing Down Under.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Family keeps rising junior focused:: Sun-Sentinel.com

Family keeps rising junior focused~~~

I mentioned in my Ryan Sweeting post that Charlie Bricker covered the Junior Orange Bowl one day last month, and this story about Boys 14 Champion Rhyne Williams is the result of that visit. Peter Bodo recently tipped his cap to Bricker in his blog and this story amply demonstrates how deep Bricker's tennis knowledge runs.

Mike DePalmer Junior, Williams' uncle, was ranked in the top 5 in the USTA's 18 and under rankings in 1980, and the year before he won a national doubles title in Kalamazoo with Rodney Harmon, who is now the USTA High Peformance Director of Men's Tennis. They were among the first juniors to use the revolutionary Prince racquet, and I remember after that match Mike Senior, Williams' coach, took the microphone and thanked Howard Head, the racquet's inventor, for changing his son's life. Not surprisingly, Williams plays with a Prince racquet.

Bricker refrains from hyping Williams, and he's certainly seen enough talented fourteen-year-olds to know they all aren't going to be Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras. However, Bricker's comparison of Williams to Donald Young in their game's "maturity" doesn't make sense to me; they both win often and know how to construct points, but most champions at any age are adept at that. I do like the Jim Courier analogy, and was interested to learn that he was a role model for Williams five or six years ago. The physicality of Williams' game is reminiscent of Courier's, but I'm not going to go any farther than that. Everybody's different, and that goes double for tennis players. No one should ever be saddled with being the "next" anyone.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Nick aims for the tennis stars:: theaage.com.au (registration required)

Nick aims for the tennis stars:: theaage.com.au ~~~

With only a week until we leave for Australia, it's time to start getting to know my OZ juniors. This article, about Nick Lindahl, provides a look at a junior who has decided to compete in the pro minor leagues, rather than take on his peers in ITF events.

A similar story about another Australian junior, Steven Goh, taking the pro route, which I posted in September, is no longer accessible via the link I provided. (It appears as if you get about 14 days to read these articles for free, so don't put it off!) I also explored this issue when Ben Lankenau received a wild card into the Aptos Challenger last July.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Winter Nationals in the Desert:: tennisrecruiting.net

Winter Nationals in the Desert:: tennisrecruiting.net~~

Julie Wrege has been busy since I first worked with her at the Clay Courts in suburban Washington DC last summer. She and husband Doug are always in the junior trenches, working desks, writing, photographing, helping with scheduling, and in Arizona, promoting their new website, The Tennis Recruiting Network. (Full disclosure--I'm a contributor to the site). They hope to develop for tennis what has long been a staple of college football and basketball--a means of ranking prospects to assist college coaches in recruiting. In some ways, tennis has an advantage, with national tournaments and head-to-head results, which are much better predictors of college success than statistics. When the USTA went to a points-per-round ranking system to reward juniors for playing frequently on a sectional and national level, however laudable the goal of encouraging play, the end result is not very helpful when it comes time to compare players who have concentrated their efforts on ITF events with those who have stuck to the USTA-sanctioned environment.

The Tennis Recruiting Network has provided an alternative to the USTA rankings, one that has the advantage of being organized by class year, not by age. They've even come up with an RPI ranking. And from a personal standpoint, I don't have many arguments with the rankings that their computers are producing (although adding Futures events would be helpful--I personally don't think Vania King should be anywhere but No. 1 among high school juniors, given she's already in the Australian Open professional qualifying draw). But they are off to a great start, and it's a resource I use often.

Julie also writes some very good stories and her wrap up on the Winter Nationals is a great read. Make sure you read about Jordan Cox, Kristie Ahn and Lauren Herring, as I wasn't able to work these three champions into my SMASH column.

Today, Julie posted an article on an early round Copper Bowl match, a match I was delighted to see featured Spencer Newman, a twelve-year-old from Miami whose ebullient personality first captivated my husband during his initial stint at the Junior Orange Bowl 12s desk in 2004. And despite what I assume, with my daily, deadline-driven habits, just because the match was played a few days ago, doesn't mean it's irrelevant, and this story is a perfect example of that.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

My weekly SMASH column: Casablanca Cup & Winter National Edition

My weekly SMASH column: Casablanca Cup & Winter Nationals Edition ~~~

I am not "on the road" this week, but there was plenty to digest from the comfort of my den. (Gotta love that cable modem.) I've added a quick link to my weekly online column on the top left of the home page. The SMASH website is not a finished product yet, but I'm pleased to be joined as a regular contributor by Vince Spadea, who played in one of the most memorable Kalamazoo finals matches I've ever seen. I never could have imagined that we'd end up writing for the same website thirteen years later.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Brengle adds another notch; Dover teen to play in Australian tennis tournament:: www.newszap.com

Brengle adds another notch; Dover teen to play in Australian tennis tournament ~~~

Not exactly hot-off-the-presses, but this article about Madison Brengle isn't old news either as it announces her plans to play Australia. With only four U.S. junior girls making the trip (Vania King is still a junior, but her WTA ranking is such that she is automatically in the main draw qualifying tournament), I'm hoping to be able to devote some time to a Brengle match, as she is one of my favorite players to watch--resolute and upbeat, competitive and poised.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

McVitty Captures Winter Nationals Championship:: LA Daily News - Preps

McVitty Captures Winter Nationals Championship::LA Daily News - Preps

Southern California's tennis advantages aren't confined to the weather and the tradition. The newspapers' coverage is often excellent--case in point, this story about Kristy McVitty (and Ryan Thacher) taking USTA Winter National Championships Sunday. In junior tennis, accomplishments recognized are key to sustaining a young player's interest.

The reporter even digs out that incredible four-hour match between McVitty and Melissa Saiontz in Mobile last spring. I saw some of it, and neither girl was willing to give an inch--never considering a backdraw match on a remote court with few spectators as a reason for giving less than their best.

Thacher's title in the Boys 16s doesn't get the same attention in this article, but barely seeded (11), he proved emphatically that getting to the fourth round in Kalamazoo last summer was no fluke.

Monday, January 2, 2006

Ryan Sweeting Goes To Gainesville

Ryan Sweeting Goes to Gainesville ~~~
When I was in Miami, I saw a story by Charlie Bricker of the Sun-Sentinel that detailed Ryan Sweeting's decision to sign with the University of Florida. I even got an opportunity to tell Charlie in person that I enjoyed it, when he stopped by the University of Miami to watch some Junior Orange Bowl tennis.

Unfortunately, after two weeks, the story disappeared from the Sun-Sentinel website, and I can only provide excerpts from it. You can buy a copy on their website for $3.95, but it's not for reproduction.

Rising from obscurity to win the U.S. Open junior tennis tournament in September sent Ryan Sweeting's confidence soaring, and beating Maria Sharapova a few weeks later in a practice match gave his personal wealth a nice little boost.

But nothing that has happened in the past three months of Sweeting's young life has distorted his vision of the future.

The 18-year-old, Bahamas-born resident of Fort Lauderdale is not rushing to cash in on his instant fame by turning pro. He's going to the University of Florida.

"It's not a normal thing, if you finish in the top five juniors, to go to college. But college seemed like the smartest thing to do. I need to get a little bigger and little stronger," he said, assessing what he needs to do to make an impact on the ATP Tour.....

Before the U.S. Open, he was a virtual unknown, even among his peers. Winning a Grand Slam event changed that.

Not long after sweeping through six opponents -- and losing only one set -- in New York, Sweeting was invited to fly to San Antonio and spend a few days training with Andy Roddick, the No. 3 player in the world, and with John Roddick, his coaching brother.

It was the Roddicks, as well as famous tennis coach Nick Bollettieri and a number of other personal confidantes, who advised the slender, 6-foot-4 Sweeting to put pro tennis on hold until he is physically able to compete at the next level.

The final convincing voice was Gators coach Andy Jackson. "He was very professional about everything," Sweeting said. "He told me he's planning to make me stronger and develop my game. He wants to take me to the top."

Even before Sweeting lost his opportunity to win the ITF World Junior Championship, I asked him if was certain that he would be going to Florida. He said, with no equivocation, that he was going to college, no matter what happened. As it turned out, he lost early at both the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl, but I believe that even had he won both, he was determined to keep that promise. I'm looking forward to seeing him at the NCAAs in May.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Happy New Year!

It may be a holiday, but Marcia Frost of
collegeandjuniortennis.com is on the job. Having just finished coverage of the National Men's and Women's Open in New York (won by teenagers Nikita Kryvonos and Gail Brodsky), Frost hopped on a plane for her annual trip to Arizona for the finals of the Winter Nationals and the just-started Copper Bowl.

I enjoy covering tournaments that Marcia is also attending, but after five weeks in Florida, I'm delighted to be reading about the matches via her website instead. Although the weather couldn't be drearier here in Michigan, the countdown for Australia has begun, and I know we'll see plenty of sun Down Under.