Schedule a training visit to the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD by clicking on the banner above

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Buckeyes Don't Buckle at Big Ten Championships

The much anticipated rematch between second seed Illinois and top seed Ohio State came, as expected, in the finals of the Big Ten tournament Sunday in Minneapolis. After their home court win over Illinois in early April gave them the conference lead, the Buckeyes rolled on from there. On the neutral courts of Minnesota, they proved that win was no fluke, taking the tournament title and the automatic NCAA bid even after dropping the doubles point for the first time this year.

Marcia Frost of collegeandjuniortennis.com was on the scene all weekend, which apparently wasn't ideal weatherwise, with three days of matches being played indoors. She filed reports on each of the four days--her finals story is here.

The always-reliable CSTV also has posted two accounts. The Ohio State perspective is here and view from the runnerup is here.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


I mentioned in my post about The Wisdom of Crowds that Moneyball was a popular "have-you-read?" suggestion when I was promoting the Surowiecki book to members of the USTA High Performance staff.

My last plane trip provided me with the chance to read Moneyball, Michael Lewis' exploration of how Billy Beane, the General Manager of baseball's Oakland A's could continue to field winning teams with relatively little money to spend on talent.

Although I am a baseball fan and have been since I was old enough to understand the game, it's not necessary to have that background to appreciate the book. Anyone who is interested in how an organization does more with less can learn from Lewis' look at the inner workings of the A's.

One of the great lessons of the first half of the book is that athletic talent and skills, as measured by radar guns and stopwatches, are very poor predictors of baseball success. Baseball, with its plethora of statistics, provides other measures of calculating a player's value, but it took rotisserie leagues and stat guru Bill James to bring these measures to the attention of those inside baseball. Most owners and GMs ignored these insights, but Beane did not, and as the first to exploit them, he gained an advantage that has kept his team competitive year after year.

So how does this apply to tennis? I don't know. Other than a reminder that it's silly to pronounce someone a tennis player simply because he looks like one, I don't see a course of action for tennis from the lessons of this book.

Tennis doesn't have many statistics to mull over and correlate to outcomes, it doesn't have 30 owners competing for the best talent, it doesn't have cities with fan bases, it has no fantasy leagues of any consequence.

But what tennis does have is a Club. If you don't read any other part of Moneyball, read the Afterword in the paperback edition. Lewis details the vehement reaction from the baseball "Club" to the book's publication and popularity, and provides a very perceptive explanation of the source of this hostility. If you can read this passage and not be reminded of the tennis "Club", you've had a much different experience with the sport than I've had.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Fight to Save Colorado's Men's Tennis

My editor at SMASH, Peter Dopkin, has written this very thorough piece for tennis.com on the sudden decision to eliminate men's tennis at the University of Colorado. I would have thought the football program had produced enough bad publicity for the athletic department, but this decision just calls attention to that mess all over again, and announcing that they are cutting tennis when the team is having one of its best season's ever makes you wonder if they have any PR sense at all.

On the cubuffs website today, Nike Tennis Camps has announced a contribution to keep the program going, so there is some good news, but raising a million dollars in six weeks isn't easy. And even if the money saves tennis, they'll still be part of of an athletic department that has viewed them as superfluous. That's not likely to impress recruits considering Colorado. It would almost seem preferable if the team could find a Division I school without a tennis program provide it with a ready-made, funded and established winner.

There is now a website devoted entirely to the effort to save the program--savecutennis.com

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sam Querrey Day

Today marks the beginning of the Ojai tournament, a conglomeration of junior, college and open tennis that tops my list of tournaments-I-would-love-to-attend-but-haven't.
Sam Querrey is the top seed in the men's division, and Rhiannon Potkey of the Ventura County Star has a tournament preview here. But after she wrote that story, she followed with two others about Querrey. This one centers on his normal life, and the balance he's been able to strike between tennis and regular teenage activities.

The second one is absolutely a must-read for anyone who cares about junior and college tennis. Called The College Conundrum, Potkey explores Querrey's still-unmade decision about whether he will enter USC or skip college to begin playing professionally. Free registration is required, but do it, you be glad you did. Potkey quotes players, coaches, the USTA, his parents, each giving their opinion on the complex issue of the implications of playing college tennis.

I believe I mentioned a few weeks back that I went to the Davis Cup at Rancho Mirage for the opportunity to ask James Blake about Querrey for a much shorter story I'm writing for Tennis Magazine. (Potkey quotes portions of the answer he gave me in her story). When I interviewed Querrey a few days after that, he told me he would probably decide in the next month or two, because he felt the waiting much longer would be too distracting.

Most readers of zootennis know I think college should be the first choice, but I also feel that each case has its own set of factors to be weighed. How those factors tip the scales to one or the other can only be decided by the person who will live the life.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Madison Brengle Gets Fed Cup Education

Madison Brengle's local newspaper today ran this story about her recent stint as a practice partner for the US Fed Cup team during last weekend's competition in Germany. Except for Jill Craybas, there weren't any veterans to show her (and Chelsey Gullickson) the ropes, but Brengle sounds as if she learned a lot from the experience. And being a part of surprise road victory makes it especially memorable, I'm sure.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

SMASH Column: USTA Easter Bowl Edition

This week's SMASH column is up, and it's the last word in my 2006 Easter Bowl coverage.

I also wanted to post a link to this editorial about Ryan Sweeting from the Bahama Journal, which I found thanks to my friend and colleague Kamakshi Tandon at Court Coverage.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Easter Bowl Report:: The Tennis Recruiting Network

For those of you who would like the condensed version of my eight days of Easter Bowl coverage, my article for tennisrecruiting.net is your best bet. The abridged edition is not as much fun to write, but after rethinking what to say regarding the winners and their matches a second or third time, I seem to have a better grasp of why the tournament played out as it did.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds

Late last year, on the recommendation of Allen St. John, I read James Surowiecki’s fascinating book The Wisdom of Crowds, and thought it might have some application for player talent identification and development at the USTA. During a rainy day at the Orange Bowl, Paul Roetert agreed to meet with me at his Key Biscayne office. I explained my version of the books insights and he said he would read it, and also referred me to the Sports Science arm of High Performance.

My perhaps na├»ve suggestion was that parents of junior players could be used as a resource in helping bring overlooked, yet promising players to the forefront. I know the sheer numbers of parents watching tennis at junior tournaments far exceeds that of USTA coaches and employees, and many of these parents have vast amounts of experience in and knowledge of the sport. Those that don’t could still bring useful perspectives about other areas that matter---financial background, attitude, ethics. One of the book’s most powerful arguments is that an expert is not able to observe and absorb enough to make better decisions than a crowd with its multiple perspectives, diversity and knowledge. A simple example is the percentage of times polling the audience is superior to phoning a friend in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

I thought perhaps a simple questionnaire asking the parents of nationally ranked players whom they thought could benefit from the support of the USTA (not just financial, but with camp invitations, etc.) might provide useful data. If not, I didn’t see much of a downside—asking your customers what they think isn’t exactly a revolutionary concept.

At the first round Davis Cup tie in La Jolla, I learned that Sports Science was decidedly less enthusiastic about the book and my idea, although I did appreciate that they took the time to read the book and debate some of its ideas with me.

It is interesting that reading The Wisdom of Crowds inspired me to formulate a concrete proposal, while Blink, another fascinating book, and in many ways the antithesis of Crowds, did not.

In a future post I’ll review the bestseller I just finished, one that was suggested to me by several people in USTA High Performance, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Midland Texas Invitational's Intriguing Field

Top Seeds Cruise at Racquet Club Invite:: mywesttexas.com

Events that aren't part of the ATP or Pro Circuit still can be interesting, and this one got my attention with its unusual mix of junior and professional players. (The preview story from yesterday gives a bit of background on the tournament).

None of the juniors won, unless you consider Michael Shabaz a junior; he is still eligible for USTA junior events until he turns 19 in August, but with a 1987 birth year, he's not eligible for ITF junior tournaments. He has been playing Futures events regularly, but hasn't yet made a decision on attending college, or at least he hadn't when I spoke with him at Carson, where he was training earlier this month.

Lazare Kukhalashvili, who actually played on the U.S. 14 and under team last year, but has recently been playing under the flag of his home country of Georgia, is only 15, while Michael McClune is 16 and Chekhov is 17. A tournament like this one gives them an opportunity to play older and presumably wiser competition, and perhaps with less pressure, because there are no points to worry about.

Friday, April 21, 2006

New hand takes over at tennis Open:: The Age

New hand takes over at tennis Open::The Age

The Open in the headline is the Australian Open, and the new hand is Craig Tiley. This news isn't specifically related to junior tennis, but I'm sure Tiley will put his stamp on the Australian Junior Open, and he continues as director of Player Development, another area of great interest to those following the junior game.

This second article puts a different spin on it, but perhaps that's because it comes from Lleyton Hewitt's hometown newspaper.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Easter Bowl looking for a home:: The Desert Sun

thedesertsun.com | Easter Bowl looking for a home~~~

Today is a travel day, but I wanted to get this post regarding the change of venue for the 2007 Easter Bowl up. There's also lots of interesting numbers regarding the sponsorship and budget of one the premier U.S. junior tournaments.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Smash Column, Easter Bowl ITF edition

Today is our last day in California, for now, but we'll be back for next month's Division I NCAA Championships in Palo Alto. I'm trying to wind down from all the tennis watching and all the tennis writing I've done in the past couple of weeks, so today's post is just this brief link to my current SMASH online column.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Evan King Earns Boys 14s Easter Bowl Title: Doubles Championship Goes to Fowler and Holiner

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs, CA--

Evan King took some inspiration from the Boys 18s Easter Bowl champion Donald Young's victory on Sunday, finishing a dominating run through the 14s draw with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Harry Fowler Tuesday.

"He's from Chicago, he's lefthanded, and I kind of came up watching him, and playing him a little bit," said the fourteen-year-old, recounting their matches five or six years ago. "I've played him four times, and I've gotten one game combined. He kind of whupped me up."

In the finals it was King, the second seed, who did the same to Fowler, neutralizing the forehand of the tenth seeded Texan and thwarting him with superb defense.

"It was frustrating and I got a little more upset than I should have," said Fowler, 14. "He was running down everything today, he was just playing extremely solid."

"I've played him before, and I knew he could come with some amazing forehands," King said. "Today, I didn't want it to be a weapon, and I don't think he hit too many winners off it, so I think I did a nice job."

Fowler held serve only once in the match, and his double faults provided King with extra ammunition in the unforced error battle. If the Chicagoan had any moment of doubt, he never showed it, and even when Fowler's final error gave King his first singles gold ball, he didn't indulge in any emotional celebration.

Even before his Easter Bowl win, King had planned to compete in the 16s during the remainder of 2006, although he is unsure whether he will be playing Kalamazoo this year because the dates conflict with the World Junior Tennis competition.

"I'm not going to Mexico, because of a commitment to high school tennis," King said of next month's ITF 14 and under team regional qualifying. "We don't know who's going to the Czech Republic yet for the finals, but if I get chosen, I hope to go."

In the meantime, King will play 16s, and set his sites on another gold ball, or perhaps another game or two in a practice match with Donald Young.

Fowler had two chances for a gold ball on Tuesday, and he made good on the second one, when he and partner David Holiner defeated another unseeded team of Texans in Alexander De Chatellus and Ben Guthrie, 6-4, 6-4.

Keri Wong Takes Girls 16s Title at Easter Bowl; Alexander and Embree Win Doubles Championship

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs, CA--

After days of wind-blown tennis, the final day of the Easter Bowl dawned calm and stayed that way, leaving the focus on the tennis, not on the weather.

Keri Wong, the second seed in the girls 16s, used a strong serve and lots of variety in her 6-2, 6-0 victory over fourth seed Aeriel Ellis, and will return to Texas with her first gold ball.

"I've been working on getting more pop on my first serve, and more kick on the second," said Wong, a student at the Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels. "It seemed to work today."

Ellis agreed.

"I think she served really well today," said the fifteen-year-old from Northern California. "She was really smart; because I have a one-handed backhand, she kept a lot of high balls to my backhand off her serve. She gets a lot of kick on it, and there wasn't too much I could do."

Wong's ability to hit every shot was on full display, and Ellis' pace didn't present the problem for her that it did for Ellis' previous opponents. In fact Wong had no true challengers in the 16s; she never lost more than four games in any of the seven matches she won. But with two silver and two bronze balls, Wong was determined to get that elusive gold, an accomplishment that leaves her with no "what ifs" as she leaves the 16s age division.

"I was going to play the 18s," said the sixteen-year-old Wong, who had lots of family members and friends watching her matches throughout the week, "but I thought if I gave it another try in the 16s, maybe I could win a gold ball."

It was the second gold ball by a Jackson Mississippi resident this week. Before moving to Texas, Wong learned the game at the same club as boys 16 doubles winner Devin Britton.

"That's where I learned most of my mechanics and strategy," Wong said. But her rapid improvement this year (she lost in the first round in the 16s in last year's Easter Bowl) she credits to her work at Newcombe's.

"Ever since I've been at Newk's I've been able to play more, so just everyday practice is helping me."

Wong and partner Asia Muhammad, the top seeds, took silver balls in the girls doubles, as second seeds Jessica Alexander and Lauren Embree took top honors with a 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3) victory Tuesday afternoon.

Capra Saves Two Match Points to Capture Girls 14s Easter Bowl Championship

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs, CA--

There wasn't much drama in the two morning finals, but Beatrice Capra and Lilly Kimbell more than made up for that, when Capra saved two match points in the second set tiebreak to take the Easter Bowl girls 14s championship 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-3.

The match didn't begin with much promise, as Kimbell, the third seed, rolled over the error-prone Capra, seeded fourth. The second set didn't start out auspiciously for Capra either, as she dropped her opening service game.

But Treecee, as she is called by family and friends, got her first glimmer of hope when she immediately broke Kimbell three straight times and moved to a 5-2 lead, finding the range on her penetrating groundstrokes and drawing on her comebacks at last year's Clay Courts for inspiration.

"I just told myself 'I've been down this far before and I won, and I can do it again,'" said the fourteen-year-old from Maryland. "I was down in like every match a match point and I came back."

That confidence probably came in handy when she failed to convert five set points at 2-5 and 5-3, leaving the tiebreak to decide the set. It was close from the outset, with neither player able to build a lead. At 6-5, Kimbell had a chance to end it, but put a backhand wide, then earned another match point when her backhand caught the line. But two errors from Kimbell later, it was Capra who converted, when she slammed a service winner to even the match.

During the ten-minute break between sets, Capra formulated a new plan of attack.

"In the previous sets I kept hitting it to her backhand," Capra said. "She was killing me on that, so in the third set I kept hitting to her forehand, and I guess it just broke down."

"My backhand is better than my forehand," Kimbell admitted. "It's more consistent. I just made too many unforced errors today."

Once Capra put the strategy in place it quickly produced the results she was hoping for and she grabbed a 3-0 lead to open the third set. But Kimbell, constantly encouraging herself with 'c'mons', drew even and Capra knew she had to bear down.

"I got a little nervous, but I told myself if I kept moving my feet, I could do it."

Whether it was with foot movement, sheer power, or errors by Kimbell, Capra didn't lose another game, earning her first gold ball to go with the silver one she took at the Winter National in January.

The girls 14s doubles champions are Tayler Davis and Cierra Gaytan-Leach, the second seeds, who came back to defeat unseeded Kate Fuller and Rachael Hart 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Boyajian Wins Boys 16s Singles Championship; Britton and Buchanan Take Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs, CA--

Second seed Brennan Boyajian's 6-4, 6-2 win over top seed Ryan Thacher in the 16s USTA Easter Bowl Championship wasn't pretty; the 30 mph winds assured that. But Boyajian wasn't flustered as the winds blustered, and instead used his experience with similarly trying conditions to capture his first gold ball in singles, adding to the three he's won in doubles.

"I'm from Florida, and during hurricane season it is so windy," said the sixteen-year-old righthander from Weston. "There's tropical storms and everything, but we still play the tournaments on those weekends, so it's an advantage for Florida kids, I think."

Boyajian was as placid as the winds were violent, and his composure was evident in the first set, when he was serving at 4-2, trying to hold on to the break he'd gotten in the previous game. At 15-40, Thacher hit a short defensive ball that barely cleared the net, and while Boyajian was waiting for the easy put-away, the wind carried the ball back over onto Thacher's side. Boyajian didn't panic, and deftly avoided the net while reaching over it to gently tap the ball into the court, eventually winning the game.

Despite never having competed on a stage quite as big as the Easter Bowl finals, Boyajian showed no signs of nerves.

"I went in having nothing to lose, really" Boyajian said. "Having gotten to the finals, I just went out and played."

Thacher, who like Boyajian had reached the final without dropping a set, could not out-steady Boyajian and Thacher's usually solid volleys were not finding the court.

"He dealt with the wind better than I did," the sixteen-year-old lefthander admitted. "He stayed more patient, made more shots and fewer errors."

Boyajian's shot selection was also flawless, never going for more than the wind or Thacher would let him have. His ability to break the big-serving six-foot-three-inch Thacher with regularity was another key; by the time Thacher was broken the final time, to end the match he had held his serve only once in the second set.

"I knew I was going to have a tough match," said Thacher, from Studio City, California. "He just played a stronger brand of tennis today."

The boys doubles finals were played later in the afternoon, when the chilly winds had diminished from ridiculous to annoying. The fourth seeded team of Devin Britton and Chase Buchanan needed nine match points, but they finally took the title over the third seeded team of Ryan Noble and James Seal 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

"We played pretty well," said Britton, 15. "It was windy, so it wasn't incredible, but we did pretty well."

"They're real smart," the fourteen-year-old Buchanan said of Noble and Seal. "Where they hit the ball and where they return, their I formations."

Most of those skills were evident when Buchanan was serving for the match at 5-3. Up 40-0, the match certainly looked to be over, but Noble and Seal fought back and when the dramatic six deuce game finally ended, they had staved off seven match points.

That effort was for naught as in the next game, Seal went down 0-40 on his serve, and although he and Noble saved one more, Britton and Buchanan converted the next for the championship.

For the complete draws of the singles and doubles, see usta.com.

Boys, Girls 14s and Girls 16s Easter Bowl Finals Set for Tuesday

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs CA--

Half of the 2006 Easter Bowl is in the books, but there was still plenty of action at the Riviera Resort Monday.

The biggest surprise came in the boys 14s semifinal when tenth seed Harry Fowler got his best win of a tournament full of them by taking out top seed and Winter Nationals Champion Jordan Cox 6-3, 6-3.

Fowler, 14, hasn't dropped a set this week, chalking up victories over fourth seed Ray Sarmiento and seventh seed Shaun Bernstein prior to taking down Cox. He has yet to lose more than three games in any set, and Houston resident is looking forward to taking on second seed Evan King in the final. King also advanced in straight sets, quickly disposing of eighth seed Dominic Bermudez 6-0, 6-2.

"The first time I played him (King) was at Winter Nationals in the back draw four years ago," Fowler said. "I lost 0 and 0. Then I beat him at Hard Courts 4 and 0 like two year ago. So we've had kind of vice versa matches."

Fowler pointed to his slice as a strength lately and hopes to use it to get in position to hit a forehand, his best shot.

"I may come in a little bit. Evan plays with a lot of finesse so I've got to keep him from getting those angles," Fowler said, showing a righthander's respect for a lefthander's wiles.

The girls 16s final will feature second seeded Keri Wong against fourth seed Aeriel Ellis, who withstood a strong challenge from unseeded Kristie Ahn before prevailing 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (3). On Sunday, Ahn had upset top seed Lauren Embree, and she was poised to spring another upset when Ellis, from Hayward California, couldn't close out the match when serving for it up 5-4 and 6-5.

"I have butterflies," Ellis said immediately after the match, admitting she felt all the pressure in the match was on her, because Ahn was unseeded. "I don't know if it's because of the third set tiebreak, or if it's because I'm in the final."

Ellis hits a one-handed backhand, and was hard pressed to think of another junior girl who uses one. "I used to play with two hands on both sides when I started, but I went to one hand when I was seven and have hit it that way since then."

Ellis is hoping that conditions improve for the championship match on Tuesday.

"I've never played in this kind of wind before," she said. "The ball moves and then just dies. I don't ever want to do that again."

Wong, who has blown through her half of the draw with as much force as this week's desert winds, reached the final by virtue of a 6-2, 6-2 win over unseeded Shannon Mathews.

"With the wind and all it was a little difficult," said Wong, 16. "I tried to keep more balls in the court and I rallied down the middle, so the balls wouldn't fly."

As successful as that strategy has been for Wong, who hasn't lost a set in the tournament, she too is hoping that the winds subside for the final.

"It's more fun to actually play," she laughed.

The girls 14s final will feature Wong's fellow student at John Newcombe's Tennis Ranch, Lilly Kimbell, against Beatrice Capra of Maryland.

Kimbell, the third seed, downed second seed Amy Simidian 6-4, 6-3, while the fourth seeded Capra defeated sixth seed Nicole Gibbs 6-2, 6-2. Capra and Gibbs met in the semifinals of the Winter Nationals in January, and Capra won that encounter in straight sets too.

For full results and draws, visit usta.com.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Young and Couts Take 18s Easter Bowl Titles

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs CA--

Sixteen-year-olds Donald Young and Kim Couts won't be returning to the Riviera Resort and Racquet Club in Palm Springs, but as the 2006 ITF Easter Bowl Champions, they both will remember it fondly. Slated to be razed, the main site of the Easter Bowl is a special place for each of them, but for different reasons.

Couts will look back on her 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 victory over unseeded Reka Zsilinszka as the day she brought her game to a higher level, while Young's 6-3, 6-1 win over Dennis Lajola erases the disappointment of his 2005 tournament.

"Last year I didn't go out the way I wanted to go out," said Young, remembering his straight-set quarterfinal loss to Michael Shabaz. "I think this is my last Easter Bowl, so I can go away having no regrets."

Rarely tested throughout the week, Young, the tournament's top seed, gave Lajola a clinic in defensive tennis while the desert breezes swirled through Stadium Court Sunday afternoon. Lajola, seeded sixth, had beaten Young in their last meeting in 2004, but any psychological edge he may have had evaporated quickly, when Young broke Lajola three straight times to take the first set.

"The wind kind of bothered me," said Lajola, 17. "But he just played well. He makes you play. He puts it in your mind-- if you're not making your shots--and you start overplaying. It's the pressure of him not missing."

Young agrees that consistency is one of his strengths, and when coupled with his court speed and defensive skills, frustration enters the fray.

"I get a lot of balls in," said the Chicago native, now living in Atlanta. "That's what I try to do, make them go for shots they don't want to hit, and my speed puts pressure on them to hit a better shot than they would usually go for."

Lajola found himself doing just that in the second set, but although the game score was lopsided, Young didn't feel it was a stroll.

"I thought it was a pretty good match," said Young, who will head for Florida and the Pro Circuit events there next month. "The scores don't indicate how close it was and how well we played."

Couts and Zsilinszka battled for nearly two and a half hours to determine the girls championship, although the first set was no contest.

"I knew what game style she was going to play," Couts said, knowing that Zsilinszka possesses foot speed and retrieving skills similar to Young's. "I just came out really agressive and really did not miss any shots in that first set."

But the tenor of the contest changed immediately in the second set, when Couts was broken for the first time in the opening game.

"I told myself I'm not going to miss anything," said Zsilinszka, 16. "She was playing amazing, but she started to miss more. The wind out there made it a little tricky."

"She raised her game a little bit," the sixth seeded Couts said of the second set reversal. "She didn't miss as many balls and she tracked down a few extra balls. I still had opportunities, but I lost it 7-5, and after I came back from a bathroom break, I said to myself 'I want this and I'm really going to fight and do everything I can to try to get it.'"

Couts got back to her first set form, taking a 5-1 third set lead before Zsilinszka closed the gap to 5-3. Zsilinszka saved one match point when Couts made an error, on her second chance, Couts made no mistake, pounding a backhand winner to take the match and her first ITF Grade 1 title.

"Someone said to me afterward that I looked more relieved than excited," said Couts. "It was 5-1, then 5-3 and that was a close game too, so yeah, and there was some relief there for sure. She put up a great fight."

Couts, who reached the round of 16 in the Australian Junior Open this year and played ITF events in South America prior to the Easter Bowl, believes that her exposure to other world class juniors helped her on Sunday.

"You can really take a lot of confidence and a lot of experience from that," Couts said. "But having said that, she's a great competitor and a great player to be in this position today. She's had an incredible year so far in USTA events. But the ITFs are where it's at I think, to gain the experience to jump to the next level, the pros, and that's my goal."

Zsilinszka is just coming to terms her game's new stature, and will enter the Top 100 in the ITF rankings, after having been in the 400s earlier this year.

"I think I'm catching up," she said. "I had two goals for this year. One was to be number one in the country in the 18s, and I got there in February," said the often self-deprecating high school junior. "The other, longer term goal, was to get into the U.S. Junior Open."

But there are two Junior Grand Slams before that, and she and her father have started to talk about the possibility of playing those too.

Her short term plans include some junk food and she celebrated her great tournament week with a bag of potato chips and a slice of cheesecake after her match.

"Anything goes now," she said happily.

Young and Hunt Win Boys Doubles; Brengle and Frilling Take Girls Title

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs CA--

Donald Young and Jamie Hunt, the top seeds, rolled over the second seeded team of Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg 6-1, 6-3 to claim the 2006 ITF Easter Bowl doubles championship.

Although Young collected his third Easter Bowl singles title earlier Sunday, he hadn't won a doubles championship in Palm Springs. Hunt, on the other hand, has now claimed a doubles title in the 14s, 16s and 18s age divisions at the Easter Bowl.

Damico and Schnugg, the 2006 Australian Junior Open doubles finalists and longtime partners, could not get their game on track in the gusty winds, while Hunt and Young, playing together for the first time, played solid and consistent tennis.

"It was our goal to play this well," said Young, "so we're happy about it."

"It helps to have a partner like Donald Young," Hunt said. "No, it was all Jamie," Young countered.

The girls doubles final saw Madison Brengle and Kristy Frilling, the fifth seeds, triumph over sixth seeds Sanaz Marand and Ashley Weinhold 6-3, 6-4.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Young and Lajola Meet for Boys Easter Bowl Title; Zsilinszka and Couts Vie for Girls Crown

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs CA--

Reka Zsilinszka isn't going to be on the Sunday morning flight she'd booked before the Easter Bowl started. Instead, she'll be on the Stadium Court, facing Kim Couts for the prestigious Easter Bowl girls 18s singles Championship.

"My dad called and got it changed," said Zsilinzska, who never expected to advance to the final. "I don't know if they made him pay more, or if he convinced them there was a good reason."

Although unseeded, the sixteen-year-old from North Carolina is no longer sneaking up on anybody. After winning the 18s Spring Nationals in Mobile last month, she reached the final of an ITF event in College Station and the semifinals of the Grade 1 International Spring tournament last week. On Saturday, she wore down 13th seed Andrea Remynse 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 to reach her first Grade 1 final.

The roller coaster match saw Zsilinszka take a 4-2 lead in the first, lose the next five games, then win ten in a row before she conceded a game up 4-0 in the third.

"She was grinding with me in the first set," Zsilinszka said. "For some reason, I didn't feel like grinding today. I was playing much smarter by the second set."

The deliberate style of Remynse can frustrate opponents, but even two lengthy bathroom breaks between sets by the seventeen-year-old from Michigan failed to distract Zsilinszka, who stayed on court and on task.

"It doesn't bother me," Zsilinszka said of Remynse's ball clearing, ball bouncing between serves and time between points. "It doesn't distract me, I don't let it get to me."

In the other girls' semifinal, sixth seed Kim Couts withstood an opening blitz by unseeded Jamie Hampton, earning a 6-4, 7-5 victory.

"She came out swinging," said Couts, who was down 3-0 before she knew it. "She's a great player, but I kept fighting and came up with the win."

At 2-3 in the second set, with Couts serving, a marathon game ensued, neither player able keep the game score from reverting to deuce. When Couts finally held, it seemed Hampton's chance to even the match had slipped away.

"It was a big game for both of us," said Couts, 16. "If she goes up 4-2, it may give her confidence. But I came up with the shots, got lucky really and was able to close it out."

Zsilinszka and Couts have never played, but both are relishing their first chance at a Grade 1 title. With Zsilinszka's defense and retrieving and Couts' deep and aggressive baseline game, the contrast in styles should produce an interesting final.

"Everyone has a different game style," Zsilinszka said. "And that's what's fun about winning a tournament, because you've beaten every single person's unique game."

The boys final will feature top seed Donald Young against sixth seed Dennis Lajola, both of whom quickly disposed of their semifinal opponents on Saturday.

The gusty winds were a factor, but for Young, only a small one, as he defeated fourth seed Clint Bowles 6-2, 6-0.

"After you played yesterday," Young said of the 35 mph winds that buffeted the Riviera Resort Thursday, "any conditions seem nice. I knew he was a dangerous player, but I played my game."

The most impressive part of Young's game, according to Bowles, was his ability to neutralize an aggressive shot.

"Any time I would hit an aggressive shot, it would come back, and it kind of surprised me," said Bowles, 17. "I ended up backing up. His defense is so good."

Lajola will attempt to employ the same strategy he used in September of 2004, when the seventeen-year-old from Hawaii beat Young in straight sets in their only previous ITF meeting.

"I have to put the pressure on, make no sloppy mistakes and attack the backhand," said Lajola, who succeeded in doing just that in his 6-2, 6-2 semifinal win over doubles partner and friend Johnny Hamui Saturday afternoon. "He's pretty solid, though. I'm expecting a tough match."

Saturday was doubly disappointing for Hamui, as he and Lajola dropped their doubles semifinal to Young and Jamie Hunt, the top seeds. Young and Hunt will play the seconded seeded team of Kellen Damico and Nate Schnugg in the final on Sunday.

The girls doubles championship will feature Sanaz Marand and Ashley Weinhold, the sixth seeds, against fifth seeds Madison Brengle and Kristy Frilling.

The semifinals in the Boys 16s are set, with top seed Ryan Thacher and third seed Chase Buchanan meeting in the top half, while second seed Brennan Boyajian and fifth seed JT Sundling face off in the bottom half of the draw. For full results, including doubles, click here.

There have been few surprises in the girls 14s and 16s and the boys 14s, with the top four seeds in those divisions advancing to Sunday's quarterfinals.

For those results and draws, click here.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Desert Winds Roar in Palm Springs

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs CA--

There was a little bit of everything at Friday's Easter Bowl: sun, clouds, heat, cold, raindrops and rainbows but it was the wind that turned tennis into an entirely different sport.

The worst of the winds, often gusting over 30 mph, came during the 18s girls and boys quarterfinals in the middle of the day, but Johnny Hamui, the seventh seed, wasn't ready to pronounce conditions the worst ever, especially since he left the court a 7-5, 7-5 winner over third seed Jamie Hunt.

"Everytime you go out on the court when it's like this you think 'this is the worst ever'. In Brownsville earlier this year (at a Futures event) it was cold too and raining, so that was worse," said Hamui, 17.

Hamui, who trains at Saddlebrook, drew on his Thursday comeback against Rhyne Williams when formulating a plan for battling Jamie Hunt. Beaten badly by Hunt at last year's Canadian Open, Hamui knew he couldn't lay back and play passively.

"I tried to do the things I did yesterday," he said of the win he pulled out after trailing a set and 1-5. "Play big, aggressive, brave."

And although palm fronds were whipping by, with dust and grit making it hard to see and difficult to concentrate, Hamui held to his game plan to record the upset and reach his first Grade 1 semifinal.

Hamui will meet his doubles partner and friend Dennis Lajola, who avenged his semifinal loss in Kalamazoo last year with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over unseeded Steve Forman.

"I think it made me focus more," Lajola said of that straight set loss in August. "My game plan was to put pressure on him, cut off his time. I didn't let the wind take over mentally. I stayed calm."

Calm was not a word anyone would use to describe the match that saw unseeded Jamie Hampton eliminate girls top seed Julia Cohen 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. While the winds raged so did Hampton and Cohen, with discussions with the chair umpire as frequent as the wind-induced shanks and whiffs.

Hampton will face sixth seed Kim Couts, who outlasted 14th seed Melissa Saiontz 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.

Another unseeded semifinalist is Reka Zsilinszka, a 6-2, 6-4 winner over fifth seed Ashley Weinhold.

"I don't like playing in the wind, I don't think anybody does," Zsilinszka said. "I don't mind heat, because you can prepare for that, but in wind, there's nothing you can do."

Weinhold began to mount a challenge late in the second set, putting away volleys and breaking Zsilinzska when she served for the match at 5-2. After an easy hold, Weinhold threatened to get the match back on serve but Zsilinszka finally put it away on her fifth match point.

"I think my game matches up well with hers," Zsilinszka said, even though Weinhold held six match points in the second set of their meeting in Carson last week before succumbing 7-5 in the third. "Because of the conditions, I was able to keep the ball in play more. But every match I win is a big surprise to me."

Zsilinszka's semifinal opponent on Saturday will be 13th seed Andrea Remynse, who like Zilinszka, has not dropped a set in the tournament. Remynse defeated unseeded Hilary Barte 7-5, 6-3.

The other boys 18 semifinal will be a battle of lefthanders when fourth seed Clint Bowles faces Donald Young for the first time.

Young, the top seed and 2004 Easter Bowl 18s champion, battled through the blustery winds on Stadium Court to defeat tenth seed Dylan Arnould 6-4, 6-2, while Bowles took out seventh seed Christopher Racz 6-1, 6-4.

One of the best played matches of the day saw boys 16s top seed Ryan Thacher defeat 16th seed Austin Krajicek 6-3, 7-6 (5). Thacher, the National Winters champion, had faced little resistance in his previous three matches, and when he ran out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, it looked as if he would cruise once again. Krajicek's returns and volleys got him back into the match, however, and he held a set point serving at 6-5 in the second, but when a forehand landed just wide, a tiebreaker decided it.

Second seed Brennan Boyajian and third seed Chase Buchanan also advanced in straight sets, as did fifth seed JT Sundling.

The top four seeds in girls 14s and 16s singles and boys 14s are all safely through to the fourth round.

The ITF event results and draws can be found here, the boys 16s event here, and the girls 16s & 14s and the boys 14s here.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hamui Overcomes Heat and Williams to Reach Boys 18s Easter Bowl Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs, CA--

"C'mon hit the ball," were the words seventh seed Johnny Hamui used to jump start his comeback in the 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 third round victory he earned over unseeded Rhyne Williams on a searingly hot afternoon at the Riviera Resort.

Down 5-1 in the second set, Hamui, 18, knew he had to step it up to match the fifteen-year-old's pace and depth.

"I wasn't playing well on the big points," Hamui said. "I was down 4-0 in the first and putting it back wasn't going to work, so I kept trying to hit and play big."

Williams began to miss his usually reliable and potent forehand giving Hamui, a veteran of many ITF events around the world, the opening he needed.

"He was getting nervous, missing forehands in the middle of the court, so I had to make him play big--clap for winners he hit, but thinking he's going to miss on the really big points."

But after he had evened the match, Hamui faced another challenge--cramping.

"It's a problem in long matches," said Hamui, who asked for a trainer in the first game of the third set. "When I come down on my (left) leg after my serve, it gets really tight."

The trainer helped him through that difficulty but at 4-3 his right thigh began to tighten and this time Hamui played on.

"I would have felt really bad calling the trainer a second time," Hamui said. "It would have looked really bad, doing it again, so I just kept going."

Williams acknowledged that the heat and the length of the match contributed to his loss.

"It was smoking out there," said the 2005 Junior Orange Bowl 14s champion,"and we were both wearing down. I lost my focus and instead of getting in longer rallies with him, I was going for the big shot."

"But give him credit--he stuck in there."

After holding for a 6-5 lead in the final set, Hamui waited for Williams' inexperience to show and it did. Williams double faulted to go down 0-15, and then watched in dismay as he totally controlled the point, only to have Hamui hit a running forehand winner for 0-30. Hamui knew the next point was crucial.

"He missed his first serve and then went for a big second serve," said Hamui, thankful for Williams second double fault of the game. "He didn't seem to see me cramping."

Williams admitted lack of experience in the 18s hurt him, but he has three more shots at an Easter Bowl title.

"It's a good start for my first time," he said.

Both Hamui and Williams played doubles Thursday afternoon, and this time, both left the court winners.

Tenth seed Dylan Arnould and fifth seed Nate Schnugg met in their last chance for an Easter Bowl singles title, and it was Arnould who booked a date with top seed Donald Young in the quarterfinals, by a 7-6 (4), 6-1 score.

Schnugg was serving for the first set at 5-4, but Arnould, who will enter Duke in the fall, broke, changing the momentum then and there.

"I started out tentative, got broken early, but I loosened up," said Arnould, who will celebrate his 18th birthday later this month. "I was missing returns, but then I put a few returns in. I went up 5-0 in the tiebreak, it got to 5-3, but I held on."

Arnould credited his prematch preparation for surviving the mid 90s heat.

"It was pretty hot out there, but I prepared pretty well before going out," Arnould said. "But straight sets is definitely better."

In the other quarterfinal match in the top half, Clint Bowles, the fourth seed, will take on Chris Racz, the seventh seed, for the first time ever. Bowles eliminated 14th seed Drew Daniel 6-4, 6-2 and Racz fought back to subdue unseeded Jeff Dadamo 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Dennis Lajola and Steve Forman will meet in a rematch of last year's Kalamazoo 16s semifinals. Sixth seed Lajola overcame heat exhaustion to defeat 11th seed Attila Bucko 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, while the unseeded Forman bested Kayvon Karimi 6-3, 7-5.

Hamui will face third seed Jamie Hunt in the other bottom half quarterfinal. Hunt sent pesky lefthander Bradley Klahn to the sidelines by a 6-4, 6-4 score.

There have regular surprises in the girls draw, and that pattern continued on Thursday when Madison Brengle, the third seed, lost to 13th seed Andrea Remynse 6-4, 6-2. Remynse will take on unseeded Hilary Barte, a 7-5, 6-1 winner over 12th seed Ellah Nze.

In a rematch of their dramatic quarterfinal contest at the International Spring Championships last week, Reka Zsilinszka and Ashley Weinhold will once again meet for a semifinal berth. Zsilinszka saved six match points en route to her 7-5 in the third win in Carson, and joked after Thursday's 6-1, 6-1 dismantling of Logan Hansen that her strategy Friday will be "to save ten match points." Weinhold, the fifth seed, neutralized hard-hitting 10th seed Eleanor Peters 7-5, 6-2.

Jamie Hampton joined Zsilinszka as an unseeded quarterfinalist when she survived a tense three-setter with McCall Jones, also unseeded, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (3). Hampton faces top seed Julia Cohen, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over 15th seed Melanie Oudin 6-4, 6-1.

Sixth seed Kim Couts will undoubtedly be fresher than her quarterfinal opponent, 14th seed Melissa Saiontz, who has gone three sets in her past two matches. Saiontz battled unseeded Brittany Augustine for hours in the broiling sun, taking a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory, while Couts had little trouble with Elizabeth Kobak, winning 6-2, 6-1.

The top three seeds in boys and girls 14s and 16s have all advanced to the round of 32 on Friday.

The ITF event results and draws can be found here, the boys 16s event here, and the girls 16s & 14s and the boys 14s, which began on Wednesday, here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Forman Downs Second Seed Damico in Heated Battle at Easter Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs, CA--

The temperature in sunny Palm Springs reached the mid-eighties, but the real desert heat was felt on the Riviera Resort's court two where Steve Forman defeated the boys 18s second seed Kellen Damico 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in second round action Wednesday afternoon.

The match was only a few games old when the first argument occurred and Forman immediately asked the nearest roving umpire to come on court. Damico, known for his frequent emotional outbursts on the court, seemed intent on irritating Forman, directing several disparaging remarks at him during changeovers and across the net. The umpire, who never left the court, had all he could handle, several times instructing both players to stop talking to each other.

The usually placid Forman was not intimidated; instead he was determined to keep his focus.

"I think he was trying to get in my head," said the unseeded seventeen-year-old, who has beaten Damico in several intense battles in their younger years. "I didn't want him to take me out of my rhythm."

Damico rarely gets overpowered on a tennis court, but Forman hit the ball with just as much pace and depth, despite the disparity in their recent tennis experiences. Damico has been playing the Junior Grand Slams and is ranked in the ITF top twenty, while Forman, a finalist in the 16s in Kalamazoo last year, has been competing very little, focusing instead on his academics as a junior in high school.

"I've been training, but not competing much," said Forman, who has recently begun working with fellow Del Mar, California resident Larry Stefanki, coach of such ATP luminaries as Marcelo Rios, Tim Henman and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. "I wasn't sure myself how I would play."

After a long first round victory that went well into Tuesday evening, when he came back from a set down, Forman appeared confident that he could do so again. With Forman up two breaks in the second set, Damico began to show signs of cramping and down 1-4, he left the court with the trainer. When he returned to the court, Damico appeared willing to let the second set go for a chance for a fresh start in the third.

Forman got an early break however, and Damico's usual fire began to wane as Forman continued to blast forehand winners. Damico was not moving with his usual quickness and Forman took control of the match by continuing to retrieve everything Damico tried.

"I have a strategy against him," Forman said after the match. "I just don't want to say what it is."

When the match concluded, Damico went straight to his chair and bag, not offering the traditional post-match handshake.

"That wasn't my choice," Forman said. "If he didn't want to shake my hand, I wasn't going to force him."

Forman faces unseeded Kayvon Karimi in the round of 16 Thursday.

Two fifteen-year-olds have also earned spots in the round of 16. Rhyne Williams, the 2005 Junior Orange Bowl Champion, took out Bradley Mixson, also unseeded, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 while Brad Klahn defeated 13th seed Tyler Hochwalt 7-5, 6-4. Jeff Dadamo won his match with 12th seed Mateusz Kecki 6-3, 7-5 in the only other upset in boys 18s.

The highest seed to fall in the girls 18s was eighth seed Chloe Jones, who fell to Hilary Barte 6-4, 6-2. After the year unseeded Reka Zsilinszka has had, it is difficult to call any victory of hers an upset, but technically her 6-3, 6-0 drubbing of 16th seed Gail Brodsky qualifies as one. Zsilinszka next meets another unseeded player, Logan Hansen, who followed up her win over second seed Chelsey Gullickson with a 6-1, 7-6 (5) decision over Alexa Guarachi.

The ITF event results and draws can be found here, the boys 16s event here, and the girls 16s & 14s and the boys 14s, which began on Wednesday, here.

Foreign Pros in College Tennis: On Top and Under Scrutiny:: New York Times

Foreign Pros in College Tennis: On Top and Under Scrutiny:: New York Times (free registration required)~~~

I've received this link from several readers and I wanted to post it before I headed out for today's Easter Bowl matches. Frankly I was surprised at the blase stance of the NCAA--in the revenue producing sports, it definitely has reputation for much stricter enforcement.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Second Seed Gullickson Upset in Easter Bowl First Round

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Springs CA--

The first day of the ITF Easter Bowl saw second seed and International Spring finalist Chelsey Gullickson make an early exit, dropping a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 decision to Logan Hansen.

Hansen, the 2004 Easter Bowl 16s winner, has suffered several serious injuries since that victory and is only now beginning to return to tournament level tennis. Having to rely on wild cards and qualifying to play ITF events, Hansen knows it is likely she'll face tough draws, but she sees a positive in that.

"It's really fun for me to play these girls who play all over the world," said the sixteen-year-old from Santa Monica. "I didn't have high expectations, which I thinked helped me."

After dropping the first set, Hansen changed tactics, realizing that disrupting Gullickson's baseline precision was essential to her chances.

"I tried to change it up," Hansen said, "I began mixing it up, so she couldn't get a rhythm. And my serve started working more, that helped."

Hansen recognized that Gullickson was facing a special challenge given her excellent performance in last week's ITF Grade 1 in Carson.

"I think she was tired," Hansen said. "It's not easy to be a top seed--I know the feeling--you have all the pressure, and she had the pressure to live up to her results of last week."

Another player who pulled off an upset on Tuesday, Spencer Vegosen, had no pressure to live up to recent results, because he hadn’t had any.

Vegosen, 18, last played a tournament match in Kalamazoo in August of 2005 and like Hansen he felt little pressure going into his match with 15th seed Viju George. He too dropped the first set but captured the victory, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

A serious injury kept him off the courts during the fall and winter and he used his body’s healing time to finish high school early and experience life as a normal teenager.

"I don’t think I would have taken it too hard," he said of the prospect of losing, "since I hadn’t played a competitive match in, let’s see," and he began counting off, "eight months."

"Nothing can really prepare you for a match and the last time I played him he didn’t come in at all," Vegosen said.

George has developed a net-rushing game but Vegosen found his backhanded passing shots when he needed them, although he admitted to being a little tired at the end, he wasn't complaining.

"I remember why I do this," said the Chicagoan, who will enter Harvard this fall. "When you're just a few points from winning, the feeling is addictive."

There were only two other upsets in the boys 18s, as Jason McNaughton defeated 16th seed Brad Cox 6-2, 6-4 and fifteen-year-old Rhyne Williams upended eighth seed Jason Jung by the same score.

Gullickson wasn't the only high seed to fall in the girls 18s. Lena Litvak, the fourth seed, retired in her match with Kirsten Flower down 6-2 4-0; Jamie Hampton eliminated seventh seed Kristy McVitty 7-5, 7-5 and McCall Jones battled past ninth seed Missy Clayton 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The boys 16s also began Tuesday, and there were only two upsets. With his win in the 16s at Carson, Kyle McMorrow really can't be cast in the role of underdog, but he is unseeded this week, so, at least technically, his 6-0 6-1 win over 15th seed Marc Powers qualifies as an upset.

Frank Carleton's victory over tenth seed Eric Spector was much closer, but the 2005 Junior Orange Bowl 14s backdraw winner shouldn't be sneaking up on anyone. Carleton won the first set 6-3, lost the second 0-6, and barely survived in the third when he saved to match points serving at 4-5 before taking the final set tiebreak 7-2.

"I kind of fell apart and lost my game," said the former Middle States player, who has recently moved to Naples Florida. "but I got it back in time. On one of the match points I was kind of lucky--I had a backhand winner that hit both lines."

The girls and boys 14s begin Wednesday, as does the girls 16s.

The ITF event results and draws can be found here, the boys 16s event here, and the girls 16s & 14s and the boys 14s here.

SMASH Column, Carson Edition

Here's the link to my current SMASH online column, and I'll reiterate how much easier it is to write the column when I've actually been at a tournament, not just reading about one.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Brief Davis Cup Interlude

©Colette Lewis 2006
Palm Spring CA--

We managed to get from Carson to Rancho Mirage before Sunday's Davis Cup tie had concluded, and when I arrived I wasn't a bit disappointed to hear that Blake was playing a dead rubber. I like drama as much as the next person, but I was glad Roddick got it over with sooner rather than later.

I got to sit in on the Roddick press conference, always a treat, and when Blake did his, I even had a legitimate question to ask him about practice partner Sam Querrey. My question is the last one in this transcript. All of you curious about Blake's take on college tennis in general and Sam Querrey in particular should have a look.

I was fortunate to have today off--I wrote my SMASH column (no link yet but it should be posted Tuesday) unpacked, and had a chance to catch up with parents I didn't get to see in Carson. Now I'm looking forward to a dinner not eaten at a desk, and an opportunity to rest up for tomorrow's eight o'clock matches.

There are three different links for the Easter Bowl. The ITF event can be found here, the boys 16s event here, and the girls 16s & 14s and the boys 14s here.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Chekhov and Milevskaya Earn International Spring Singles Titles

©Colette Lewis 2006
Carson CA--

Pavel Chekhov and Kseniya Milevskaya put the "international" in the USTA International Spring tournament at the Home Depot Center Sunday morning, as the Russian boy and Belarusian girl topped American opponents to earn their first Grade 1 ITF championships. As for the "spring" part of the tournament's name, there was sun and not much wind, but the temperature was more reminiscent of California's winter season.

Fourth seeded Milevskaya continued her dominance in the tournament by routing fellow fifteen-year-old Floridian Chelsey Gullickson 6-1, 6-0. Gullickson won the first game of the match but proceeded to lose the next twelve in a row. Unable to get her heavy ground strokes on track, Gullickson got no help from a precise Milevskaya, who is nearly impossible to read and anticipate.

"She's so sneaky," said Gullickson, the third seed and playing in her first Grade 1 final. "You never know where she's going to hit the ball. Her down-the-lines were amazing, and her drop shots are not something you see from girls."

"I love it," said Milevskaya referring to the drop shot. "It's my favorite shot and it helps me alot to keep them going up and down."

Milevskaya credits her ability to neutralize pace and keep opponents off balance to her recent months of training with boys at the Weil Academy in Ojai, and after she conquered her nerves in the first game, she had an answer for everything Gullickson tried.

"I've improved every match," said Milevskaya, who lost only 15 games in six matches in this tournament, but had barely gotten by Gullickson in their only previous meeting last year in Morocco on red clay.

Gullickson hardly recognized her as the same opponent Sunday. "She's definitely improved," Gullickson said.

Milevskaya will continue her training in anticipation of the clay season starting next month in Europe, while Gullickson will head to Palm Springs for the ITF Easter Bowl, which is closed to players outside of the U.S.

Boys top seed Pavel Chekhov was making his second straight appearance in the International Spring final, but this time he left with the winner's trophy after a fierce 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 battle with second seed Kellen Damico of the United States.

Both the points and the games were typically short and sweet, with big serves and groundstroke winners predominating. After the first game of the match, when Damico failed to convert on two break points, there wasn't another for either player until Damico served at 4-5 in the first set. Down 30-40, Damico tried to surprise Chekhov by serving and volleying, but the set was gone as quickly as the passing shot the Russian hit by him.

Damico started the second set with a break, and when he got another in the fifth game, Chekhov experienced the feeling of losing a set for the first time all week.

The third set played out much like the first, with Chekhov serving first and never facing a break point. Damico was equally strong on his serve until 4-5, when he missed five of six first serves. At 30-40, his second serve clipped the net, and although the line judge signaled good, the chair umpire overruled, making for an anticlimactic ending to a tense and well-played final.

Damico, who can be contentious when disagreeing with line calls, was more composed after this bit of bad luck, directing a "before I shake his hand, are you sure?" remark to the chair umpire. When the umpire answered in the affirmative, Damico shook Chekhov's hand and then threw his Wilson racquet on his bag, disappointed but not irate.

"Once he calls it, he's not going to change it," said Damico, 17. "He overruled the line judge and that's match point. But it happens."

As does string-breaking, but at four all in the third, it was an inopportune time to have to play with a new racquet, a misfortune Damico felt was partly to blame for the final break.

But he said, "I also kind of rushed the points at the end."

Chekhov could find little fault with either himself or Damico when assessing the match.

"He was playing unbelievable and at the end I had a little bit of luck," said the seventeen-year-old who trains at IMG/Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton. "He was playing two hours and everyone gets tired...sometimes you lose control."

Asked if he thought Damico's second serve was out on match point, Chekhov was reluctant to voice an opinion.

"I was ready to hit my inside-out forehand, but I don't know."

Like Milevskaya, Chekhov will head back to his academy to train before heading to Europe for the junior clay court season. Like Gullickson, Damico will head to the Easter Bowl full of the confidence that being a finalist the previous tournament brings.

The doubles championships were also played on Sunday, with fifth seeds Gastao Elias of Portugal and Cesar Ramirez of Mexico defeating fourth seeds Clint Bowles of the U.S. and David Simon of Austria 6-2, 6-0 on the boys side. Eighth seeds Jade Curtis and Jillian O'Neill of Great Britain defeated fifth seeds Kristy McVitty and Ashley Weinhold of the U.S. by an equally lopsided 6-0, 6-1 score.

The girls 16s title was won by sixth seed Tanya Raykova of Bulgaria, who defeated unseeded Kaitlyn Christian of the U.S. 6-2, 6-2. Unseeded Kyle McMorrow of the U.S surprised 13th seed Ryan Harrison 6-0, 6-0 for the boys 16 title.

The boys 16s doubles title went to Harrison and Donald Van Velzer of the U.S. The fourth seeds defeated the unseeded U.S. team of Alex Johnson and McMorrow 7-6 (5), 7-5. The fourth seed team of Catherine Isip and Raykova downed unseeded Aeriel Ellis and Michele Sulahian of the U.S. 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-1.

For complete draws see usta.com.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Chekhov and Damico in International Spring Boys' Final; Gullickson and Milevskaya Meet for Girls' Title

©Colette Lewis 2006
Carson CA--

After all the drama at the Home Depot Center on Friday (see post below), the semifinals on Saturday were much more straightforward affairs, none of the four matches extending to three sets.

Russian Pavel Chekhov, the top seed and a finalist in 2005, continued his string of straight set victories with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over fifth seeded Clint Bowles. Second seed Kellen Damico overcame a sluggish start to overpower third seed Jamie Hunt 6-4, 6-3.

In girls action, Friday's unseeded miracle workers in the quarterfinals ran out of tricks. Michelle Larcher de Brito, who had come back from down a set and 5-0 Friday fell to fourth seed Kseniya Milevskaya 6-2, 6-2 while Reka Zsilinszka, who saved six match points in her quarterfinal win, went down to third seed Chelsey Gullickson 7-5, 6-1.

The Bollettieri-trained Chekhov ran out to a 3-0, two break lead against Bowles, but the lefthander from Tampa fought back to force a tiebreak. Bowles began to get in a groove while returning Chekhov's big serve and it wasn't until Chekhov nailed a forehand winner at 4 all in the tiebreak and followed it with an ace that he could squeeze through the first set.

"I lost control, my concentration," said Chekhov of his failure to serve out the set at 5-4. "He played the same, the whole set, but it was me who dropped."

In the second set, Chekhov again took a big lead, this time 4-0, and Bowles could not not make another two-break comeback.

Damico was down 3-1 in the first set, perhaps still feeling the effects of the cramping that had been evident in his win over Nate Schnugg Friday afternoon.

"This morning I woke up feeling awful," Damico said. "But Mary Jo and Michelle (the trainers) got me stretched out, thank God. The legs were heavy the first few games."

The vocal and volatile Damico admitted that he needed something beside the training staff to get him going, and it came in the form of a rant at the chair umpire. Unwilling to let the matter drop, he eventually got a code for unsportmanslike conduct, and took control of the match at that point.

"I got down on myself at first, but once I channeled my anger at the ref, I wasn't mad at myself anymore," said Damico. "I needed something to pump me up."

Hunt too acknowledged that the tenor of the match changed after the code violation.

"He used the line calls against him to pump himself up," Hunt said. "It threw me off, got to me psychologically. I knew coming in that it might happen, since we've had so many battles before, but I let it get to me."

Damico, who has played three straight good friends--Drew Daniel, Schnugg and Hunt--the past two days, was ambivalent about his on-court behavior.

"I feel bad, but once I get on the court, I don't know you. On the court I want to kill you."

Damico has revenge in mind for Sunday's final, as it was Chekhov who upset him in the round of 16 at last year's tournament, when the seventeen-year-old from Colorado was the top seed.

"I'm playing at the top of my game, and he's playing at the top of his," said Damico. "It's time to take him out."

The girls final will also feature a rematch, although from a much different surface and place. Chelsey Gullickson and Kseniya Milevskaya of Belarus met in the final of an ITF Grade 2 in Morocco last June, with Milevskaya taking a three set win on the red clay.

Milevskaya, 15, hasn't lost even four games in any set during the week in Carson, and completely dominated thirteen-year-old Larcher de Brito.

"She missed very much today," said Milevskaya, who is training at the Weil Academy in Ojai until she joins the ITF travel team in May. "I think she was tired. I tried to move her side to side and up and down."

"I don't hit as hard as most girls," she said, "Everyone plays hitting balls so hard and when they play me it's not the same." Milevskaya cites her consistency and angles as her prime strengths and she will need them against Gullickson, who overpowered Reka Zsilinszka, another unconventional stylist.

"Reka gets everything back," said Gullickson. "I had to play my game, taking the balls on the rise, not letting her game change the way I play."

In the first set Gullickson was gauging what she needed to do, but once she held in a five deuce game at five-all, she was ready to take control.

"In the second set, I was moving up and not giving her time," Gullickson said.

Zsilinzska agreed. "She was pressuring me and I didn't think I was as consistent as I usually was, but some of that had to do with her."

Milevskaya believes she has the advantage with her previous win, but Gullickson is not so sure.

"My game's made more for hard courts," Gullickson said. "It's going to be tough, but I'm ready."

The doubles finals are set, and for the girls fifth seeds Kristy McVitty and Ashley Weinhold of the U.S. will meet the eighth seeded team of Jade Curtis and Jillian O'Neill of Great Britain. The boys doubles championship will feature fourth seeds Clint Bowles (USA) and David Simon (Austria) against Gastao Elias (Portugal) and Cesar Ramirez (Mexico) who are seeded fifth.

In the 16s age division, Ryan Harrison, the 13th seed, and unseeded Kyle McMorrow, both of the United States, will meet for the boys title. The girls championship match will be between Tanya Raykova of Bulgaria, the sixth seed, and unseeded Kaitlyn Christian of the United States.

For complete results and scores see usta.com.

Friday, April 7, 2006

Drama Takes Center Stage Friday at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2006
Carson CA--
It was a tossup which girls quarterfinal match was most thrilling-- Reka Zsilinszka saving six match points in a 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5 win over Ashley Weinhold or Michelle Larcher de Brito coming back from being down a set and 5-0, to take a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory over Kristy McVitty.

Zsilinszka began her day with what would normally be a remarkable feat, winning the last five games of the second set to eliminate Julia Boserup 6-3, 6-4 in the round of 16, but she topped that in the afternoon. Tenth seeded Weinhold took Zsilinszka out of her game by playing a more attacking style and finishing at the net, and the two match points that Zsilinszka saved serving at 4-5 seemed inconsequential when Weinhold took a 6-2 lead in the second set tiebreak. Six points later, however, Zsilinszka had evened the match.

"I was proud of myself," Zsilinszka said. "I've never done that ever. Once I think I saved one match point, but never six match points." Zsilinszka admitted she was not expecting the turnaround. "I was sure I was going to lose. I had no doubt in my mind. It was good for me, but it must have been really disappointing for her."

Larcher de Brito saved only two match points in her miraculous comeback, but it was a stunning result nonetheless. The thirteen-year-old qualifier, playing in her first ITF event, had needed over two and a half hours to subdue fifth seed Lena Litvak in the round of 16, her third consecutive three set win. Her high-decibel high-gear groundstroking game is exhausting for opponents and spectators alike, and it was expected that she would finally reach her limit against McVitty, who can counterpunch with equal ferocity. But even down 5-0, de Brito didn't entertain any thoughts of losing.

"I can't give up, regardless of the score," said Larcher de Brito, who trains at the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton. "I fight until it's time to shake hands and say 'nice' match'".

And although she showed no signs of fatigue during the two-hour and fifty-five minute marathon that stretched into early evening, afterwards she admitted the five and a half hours of tennis had taken its toll.

"I'm extremely tired. I need to go to bed early for my match tomorrow."

Her opponent in the semifinal will be well-rested fourth seed Ksenia Milevskaya of Belarus, who has cruised through the draw and won both of her matches today in straight sets.

Third seed Chelsey Gullickson fashioned a comeback of her own in her 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over her friend sixth seed Madison Brengle.

"I was really nervous in the first set, playing another American," said Gullickson, 15. "Madison and I are really close and it's always hard to play one of my really close friends."

Gullickson couldn't get her rhythm at the start of the match and her lethal backhand was misfiring, but she gave Brengle most of the credit for that.

"She came out really strong, really agressive in the first set," said Gullickson. "She was making all her shots. I was trying to overpower her in the first set, but in the second set I started mixing it up, hitting it high to her forehand and putting more spin on the ball, and it seemed to work."

Gullickson began to hit winners with regularity, setting up the shot she wanted and making no mistake when she got it, and the smaller Brengle eventually was worn down by the pressure and pace.

On the boys side, there were few surprises and the top three seeds have all advanced to the semifinals, joined by fifth seed Clint Bowles.

Russian Pavel Chekhov, the top seed and a finalist in Carson last year, had two straight set wins. Jamie Hunt, the third seed, defeated two unseeded players, while Kellen Damico, the second seed advanced to a semifinal meeting with Hunt when his good friend and doubles partner Nate Schnugg was forced to retire in their match due to cramping. The trainers were called to the court for both players during the match, but Schnugg, who had played a three-set match in the morning, was unable to finish leaving Damico the winner by a 6-2, 6-7(1), 5-2 retired score. Damico and Schnugg were also forced to withdraw from doubles competition due to Schnugg's injury.

For complete draws and results from Friday's action, visit usta.com.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Weather Improves But Upsets Continue at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2006
Carson CA--
A cool clear day with barely a hint of a breeze made for much improved playing conditions at the Home Depot Center for Thursday's second round matches.

Four seeds on the boys side were eliminated: Dennis Lajola (4), Chris Racz (7), Johnny Hamui (8) and Mateusz Kecki (13). Gastao Elias of Portugal, a semifinalist at the recently completed Luxilon Cup, defeated Lajola 7-5, 6-1, while Drew Daniel battled back to down Kecki 1-6, 7-6, 6-0. Bozhidar Katsarov, a finalist in the 16s division last year, upset Hamui 6-2, 6-4 and local Mike Gurman of Los Angeles took out Racz 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Another Southern Californian reaching the round of 16 is wild card Ryan Thacher, the National Winters 16s singles and doubles champion. Thacher,16, from Studio City California, had his hands full today with fourteen-year-old Chase Buchanan, an upset winner over 16th seed Tyler Hochwalt on Wednesday. The highly anticipated match was scheduled for the marquee court four, right outside the player lounge, and none of the many spectators were disappointed when the first set ended in a tiebreak.

Thacher, a lefthander who has only recently begun focusing his athletic talents on tennis, fell behind 5-0 in the tiebreak, but won five of the next six points before Buchanan executed a deftly spun volley that Thacher could not quite reach to take the set. But Thacher wasn't discouraged.

"I saw we could have a very competitive match, so I made sure I made him play. I was more consistent and got in more," said Thacher, who took the second and third sets by identical 6-2 scores.

"I had seen him play and played doubles against him at the Winters, so I knew how good a player he is," Thacher said.

Buchanan was not unhappy with his strategy, just his execution. "I was getting the shots I wanted, I just wasn't able to finish them," he said.

Top seeds Pavel Chekhov and Kellen Damico advanced in straight sets as did third seed Jamie Hunt.

In girls action on Thursday, there were only two upsets, wild card Jamie Hampton's 7-6 (2), 6-2 win over 14th seed Ellah Nze and McCall Jones' 6-2, 6-2 victory over 12th seed Jennifer Stevens. First round giantkillers Reka Zsilinszka and Stefanie Nunic continued their runs, Zsilinszka topping Christina Liles 6-0, 6-2 and Nunic taking out Brittany Augustine 6-3, 6-1. Third seed Chelsey Gullickson also advanced in straight sets.

There were a couple of major surprises in the boys 16 division as top seed JT Sundling was dismissed by fellow Thousand Oaks resident Dennis Lin, the 16th seed, 6-4, 7-5 and second seed Patrick Whitner fell to unseeded Alex Johnson 6-2, 6-2.

Friday's schedule will be crammed, with both Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches played in Boys and Girls 18s and Girls 16s as well as doubles matches. With the improved weather doubles have returned to traditional scoring.

For complete draws, see usta.com.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Wind Blows Seeds Out at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2006
Carson CA--
Morning showers gave way to cold winds gusting over 30 miles per hour, making the afternoon's tennis at the Home Depot Center an adventure. Conditions kept several players in their warmup pants throughout their match, and if a ball toss was high, it could take several attempts just to get one to hit.

Liz Plotkin was one of several seeds in the 18s that couldn't overcome the frustrating conditions. Stefanie Nunic outlasted the second seed 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, and with top seed Julia Cohen's loss on Monday, the girls draw has opened considerably. Plotkin was joined on the sidelines by eighth seed Andrea Remynse, who squandered a 5-2 lead in the third set and fell to wild card Asia Muhammad 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (6). Fourteen-year-old Melanie Oudin had no difficulty with ninth seed Yvette Hyndman, taking their first round match 6-1, 6-1 and Mallory Cecil advanced when 16th seed Yasmin Schnack retired down 6-2, 2-0.

Thirteen-year-old qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal, making her ITF debut, battled back to defeat Maria Mokh 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, while another qualifier, Logan Hansen, overwhelmed Kristy Frilling 6-0, 6-1.

On the boys side, only one seed failed to advance, 16th seed Tyler Hochwalt, who lost to fourteen-year-old Chase Buchanan 6-2, 6-4. Buchanan, who has been a titlist and semifinalist in his last two ITF events, played very steadily, while Hochwalt could not find his range until late in the second set. Saving half a dozen match points with outright winners, Hochwalt finally missed, and Buchanan had his upset.

Second seed Kellen Damico withstood a stern challenge from Vasek Pospisil of Canada 6-4, 6-4, while Damico's doubles partner, sixth seed Nate Schnugg, advanced with a 6-0, 6-3 win over lucky loser Andrew Landwerlen.

Due to the day and a half lost to rain, doubles has been shortened to four game sets, and as of 8 p.m. PDT, matches were still being played.

For complete draws, see usta.com.