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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blogging Challenges; Pantic, Muhammad Weigh Turning Pro

I hope you are all seeing the logo that I'm including in this post permanently atop the the website. If you are not, please let me know via the comment option! Being an Apple user, I don't have access to Internet Explorer and so I don't know quite how the site looks to those of you using Windows PCs. The hacks necessary to put a graphic in a blogger template header are complicated, but I do want to get it right.

I do have a little junior news to pass along, about two different girls who are weighing the decision about turning pro.

James Beck in the Charleston Post and Courier has this piece about Nina Pantic, contrasting her with her good friend Reka Zsilinszka.

The Las Vegas Review Journal talked with Asia Muhammad, who sounds as if she will be going the professional route soon. On Tuesdsay, Muhammad, who received a wild card into the $75K challenger in Las Vegas, played Yulia Fedossova of France, ranked 119 by the WTA, and lost 2-6, 7-6(1) 6-4.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Forman's Hurry to Join Wake Forest; Clay Sites in Delray Beach Announced

The North County Times ran this article last week on Steve Forman's decision to skip his senior year and start college.

Also, the USTA today ran this announcement about the various site being used for the Clays in Delray Beach in July.

The Florida section had published this news item a few weeks ago, referencing a wild card for the ATP event held in January in Delray Beach.

A New Look For ZooTennis

Today marks the debut of a professionally created logo for Zootennis. To accommodate it, I've changed from the "dots" to a new blogger template, which is much simpler. I may still experiment with fonts and a few other minor details, but this is the basic look you'll be seeing from now on. Hope you like it as much as I do!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sell, Querrey Move Up From Juniors

Every U.S. city that holds a tournament now dutifully sends a reporter out to interview the "next big thing" in U.S. tennis. It happened in San Jose, it happened in Memphis and today, Las Vegas got into the act. The Review Journal assigned a columnist for the Querrey story suggesting that Querrey is moving up in the sports journalism food chain. The stories all point out his normal teenage life and the fact that tennis never became an obsession, for him or his family. And of course, they all describe him as laid-back, which is almost as common an adjective for him as lanky. I think all these things are true, but as I've said ad nauseum, very few claim to have a blueprint for tennis success. Development cannot be scheduled or demanded; there may be guidelines, but the exceptions are often as important as the rules. I guess my point is that these stories should be read as an example of how one fast-rising tennis player navigated the developmental waters. Andy Murray, who has been receiving this (much greater) media attention for well over a year now, used an entirely different method. If it works, it's great, if it doesn't, well, hindsight is always 20/20.

Another article of interest appeared today, about USTA Player Development coach Mike Sell, who is now working with young pros like Ryan Sweeting and Alex Kuznetsov. This is the second story (the link to the one I posted two years ago is no longer active) on Sell to appear in a Philadelphia-area publication; it's obvious he's got a lot of friends in the area. That he's interested in some day coaching college tennis is an interesting revelation.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

In search of the sports gene:: IOL.Com

When I first read this article from a South African newspaper website, I didn't know quite what to make of it. I was hoping that it might generate some discussion by some well-known sportswriters/columnists/bloggers, but in the past few weeks since it appeared, I haven't seen any reference to it anywhere else, so I guess I'm on my own.

The basic question is pretty simple--is there a specific gene that determines athleticism? Professor Noakes in Cape Town thinks so, although his scientific evidence is far from conclusive. I know that Vic Braden, the legendary tennis coach, is steadfast in his conviction that serve-and-volley players are born, not made. But the story presents both sides--long known as nature and nurture--as evidenced in these two passages:

Professor Noakes believes that unless natural talent is there, no child will excel at top level--no matter how much a parent pushes or how young the child is put into that environment.

"Being a good sportsman is genetic and has to do with talent. All good sportsmen are all-rounders and good at all sports," he said....

Dr Richard Naidoo, head of Molecular Biology at the University of Natal Medical School, said that no documented evidence had proven that sports-oriented genes were passed down. He believes that the environment the child is exposed to will affect the sporting ability. "Look at Tiger Woods. He was on the golf course from the age of four," he said.

But Dr Naidoo said there was a trend appearing. "Most of the top long distance runners come from Nigeria and most of the world's top swimmers are white Americans," he said.

"I believe it is exposure and natural flair. It is the acquiring of something you desire," said Dr Naidoo.

Other than maybe that last sentence above, there isn't much about the mental aspects of sports excellence. What separates a Tom Brady from a Jeff George? What is the real difference between Marat Safin and Roger Federer? Is it talent? Or do they all have the requisite "sports gene?" If it turns out that's what they have in common, there will be a lot more research necessary to explain their different levels of success.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Inside Junior Tennis Podcast; Brengle Reaches Final in Clearwater Pro Circuit Event

Since Madison Brengle returned from Australia, where she reached the finals of the Junior Championships, she's had two excellent showings on the USTA Pro Circuit. She qualified at the $50K tournament in St. Paul Minnesota last week, losing a total of eight games in three qualifying matches, and went on to reach the quarterfinals of the main draw. Kevin McClure and I discuss her impressive run briefly on the current edition of the Inside Junior Tennis podcast, although the majority of the show is devoted to the Men's Team Indoor. (We continue to struggle with technical issues, but we're trying different methods to improve the ease and quality of the sound recordings.)

This week Brengle has reached the finals of the $25K Pro Circuit event in Clearwater, Fla., again via qualifying (somebody give this girl a wild card!), meaning that she has won 11 of 12 matches this month on the women's pro circuit. On Sunday, the 16-year-old from Delaware will face another qualifier, 24-year-old Stanislava Hrozenska of the Slovak Republic, for her second career title. In 2005, Brengle won a $10K tournament in Maryland (also as a qualifier), and last summer she reached the finals of a $10K in Hilton Head.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sixty-Five Years at the Zoo

Most of you know that I live in Kalamazoo, and that when it comes to objectivity about the various junior tournaments, well, I admit that it's not possible for me to consider any event to be the equal of The Nats at the Zoo.

This year we are celebrating our 65th anniversary--this is the official public debut of the logo--and the committee is asking for anecdotes and remembrances of tournaments past to use in the upcoming marketing campaign. I've been enlisted to help get the word out. By necessity, the responses need to be confined to a few sentences, but we are looking for stories that illuminate what makes the tournament unique in junior tennis. If you would like to share a memory, please email it to boysusta[at]aol[dot]com by March, 31, 2007.

Help us make this the best year ever for The Zoo!
Disclaimer: All submissions become the property of the 18 & 16 Boys'
Nationals and may be used at the discretion of the Tournament.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

More from Men's Team Indoor

My weekly article for The Tennis Recruiting Network is a recap of--no surprise--the ITA Team Indoor in Chicago.

I'm not sure the intensity of college tennis can be conveyed without sound, so add a lot of noise--Davis Cup level noise--to the article and to the slide show below to get an approximation of the atmosphere. If you haven't been to a college match, go. You'll see for yourself what bonds are formed while playing tennis for a school, the minimal disruptions of on-court coaching and the pressures that build in a close match. Davis Cup, which is similar, is available at most four times a year. You can catch a college dual match every weekend for the next few months, so get out there!

Not all college tennis was in Chicago over the weekend. There were several big rivalry matches, including, on the men's side, Florida State's first win over an Andy Jackson-coached Florida team. But all was not somber in Gatorland as the Florida women earned a tense victory over Miami.

The Stanford women took on USC and UCLA, and while winning both, the margin suggests that Georgia Tech may not be the only team to have a chance against the Cardinal this year. Details on the weekend matches from the Stanford Daily are here.

One more college note--Sally Milano of usta.com has turned the college spotlight on Georgia senior John Isner.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Odds and Ends

Now that I've returned to Kalamazoo from the ITA Men's Team Indoor in Chicago, I can take a deep breath and post some links and notes that I've neglected for several days.

First, last week's Inside Junior Tennis Podcast is available, but not through the link to Kevin McClure's The Tennis Podcast blog. Instead, go to this link to iTunes to subscribe or to download IJT or Inside Tennis with Kevin and The Koz. Kevin is having difficulties transferring to the new version of blogger, so iTunes is the best bet to get access to the podcast.

And speaking of technical difficulties, my email was moved from one server to another last week, and there are several days worth of email that have been lost to me. If I haven't responded to an email you sent from Feb. 12-18, please resend it. Chances are good that I didn't get it.

Also, for a couple of weeks www.zootennis.com didn't get you to my website (zootennis.com continued to work). That has now been corrected and all links and bookmarks should be functioning as before.

Last, but definitely not least, my friend and colleague Bonnie DeSimone is back writing regularly about tennis for espn.com, and she has recently posted stories on Sam Querrey and Phillip King. Don't miss them.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Georgia Repeats as National Indoor Champions

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Chicago, IL--
The top-seeded Georgia Bulldogs captured their second consecutive ITA Men's Team Indoor championship with a 4-0 decision over the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes at the Midtown Tennis Club Monday afternoon.

It was senior John Isner who got the fourth point for the Bulldogs, but it was Georgia's super freshmen Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg paving the way.

After the Bulldogs took the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 2, Hunt quickly gave Georgia its second point at No. 6 with a 6-3, 6-1 thrashing of Drew Eberly. Schnugg, Hunt's doubles partner, wasn't far behind with his contribution, a 6-4, 6-3 win over Justin Kronauge at No. 5. Ohio State was up a set at No. 2 and No. 4 singles, but with Isner up a set and a break against Bryan Koniecko at No. 1, all eyes turned to the 6-foot-9 inch righthander. Koniecko held to make it 5-4, requiring Isner to serve it out for the team championship.

"When I saw coach come over from the other courts, I knew it was up to me," said Isner. "I started out a little shaky, double faulted the first point, and suddenly found myself down 15-40 when he hit a couple of good returns. But I did what I know how to do best and that's hit big serves."

Isner wasn't exaggerating, and four big serves later, he had overpowered Koniecko to start the celebration for the Bulldogs.

"To clinch this tournament was an awesome, awesome feeling, one of the best of feelings of my college career for sure," Isner said. "I think it was first clinch of any tournament for me."

"John's such a team player and so willing to win the big matches for you," said Georgia coach Manny Diaz. "He's one of the clutchest players we've ever had in our program and it was just fitting that he was the last match of the tournament."

"After we got through the Virginia match (in the semifinals Sunday), I think we just decided to play a little bit more free," said Diaz. "After we overcame that, it gave us a lot of confidence that we could handle our nerves."

For Ohio State, in its first National Championship final, it was a disappointing end, but coach Ty Tucker didn't make any excuses.

"Georgia gave us a good old-fashioned lesson today," Tucker said. "We talked last night that we were only going to get one opportunity against a team like Georgia and in every match we had an opportunity, but didn't take it. We'll go back to the courts and the weight room and find a way to get 25 percent better by May."

The Bulldogs are also focusing on May's NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga., and Isner admits the pressure is on Georgia, now unquestionably the favorite for the team title.

"There's so much expected of you," Isner said, "but we've taken on the role well. And the freshmen have stepped up huge. They didn't lose a match in the tournament; they played like seniors out here. We knew everyone would be gunning for us and we had to be on top of our game."

Those at the Midtown Tennis Club watching the Bulldogs on the Presidents Day holiday, know who is ruling college tennis right now.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Georgia and Ohio State Meet for ITA Team Indoor Title

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Chicago, IL--

It will be No. 1 Georgia versus No. 2 Ohio State Monday for the ITA Men's National Team Indoor title after both teams tallied hard-fought 4-2 victories on Sunday afternoon at the Midtown Tennis Club.

Georgia, the tournament's defending champion, battled back to defeat No. 4 Virginia in the first semifinal. The Bulldogs took the doubles point when the No. 3 team of Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg defeated the Cavaliers' Marko Miklo and Lee Singer 9-7 in the deciding match, but Virginia quickly went up a set in five of the six singles matches. At No. 2 and No. 3 the Cavaliers got the second set too, with Treat Huey defeating Luis Flores 7-6 (6), 6-2 and Dominic Inglot downing Travis Helgeson 6-3, 6-4, but Georgia captured the No. 4 point when Matic Omerzel took out Houston Barrick 6-4, 6-3.

With the match standing at 2-2, Nate Schnugg at No. 5 pulled Georgia ahead when he defeated fellow freshman Lee Singer 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. Less than a minute later Georgia had the win they needed when John Isner outlasted Somdev Devvarman at No. 1, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4.

"We found out we're pretty darn tough," said Georgia head coach Manny Diaz. "Virginia played an unbelievable match, especially in the singles. We did a good job just putting our blinders on and scratching, getting back in some second sets."

Virginia coach Brian Boland lamented his team's inability to capitalize on the lead.

"It was very disappointing," Boland said. "We won too many first sets to let that match get away. All credit to Georgia, but we've got to be able to compete better than that, finish matches, control matches, not let the momentum get away."

UCLA coach Billy Martin is probably feeling the same way, as his team took the doubles point and No. 1 singles to establish a 2-0 lead, then saw the next four points go to the Buckeyes.

"We thought we'd have a tough day at (No.) 1 and (No.) 5," admitted Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker, "but we felt pretty confident at 2,3,4 and 6. When (Justin) Kronauge started to give us some energy and get a lead at 5, our team picked up some energy."

The match between Kronauge and Phillip Gruendler looked like a lost cause for the Buckeyes when the senior from Germany stormed through the first set 6-1. But the freshman fought back, taking the next two sets 6-4, 6-4, to put the Buckeyes ahead 3-2. With Moneke and Klingemann at No. 2 and No. 4 already finished, it was down to two matches. Drew Eberly of the Buckeyes earned a split with Michael Look to deny UCLA their third point at No. 6, so the focus turned to OSU's Devin Mullings and UCLA's Chris Surapol at No. 3. In the third set, Mullings got a quick break and then another, but even at 5-1 the tension mounted. Serving for Ohio State's first trip to a National finals, the senior from the Bahamas needed seven match points to get his team there, but once he finally sealed the deal, he was mobbed by all of his teammates, save Eberly who was still on court.

"It's a huge win for Ohio State," said Tucker, in his eighth season as head coach. "We were the second seed, and people thought we were supposed to get here, but you know, we've never been this far and you never know how your team is going to react in a tight battle with a team that's won 16 NCAA championships. But we pulled through with the win; what else can you say but 'Go Bucks.'"

Earlier in the day, Boise State's Luke Shields was awarded the USTA Sportsmanship Award. Shields was selected for the honor by the 16 participating coaches in the ITA Team Indoor event.

For complete results, including the consolation matches played today, see the tournament website.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

UCLA and Ohio State Join Georgia and Virginia in Men's Team Indoor Semifinals Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Chicago, IL--

The Illinois fans were somber as they filed out of the Midtown Tennis Club Saturday evening, after No. 3 seed UCLA had eliminated the sixth seeded host school 4-2.

The Illini easily captured the doubles point but once the singles competition began Illinois had no answers for the Bruins. Philipp Gruendler pulled UCLA even with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Marc Spicijaric at No. 5 and Chris Surapol and NCAA champion Ben Kohlloeffel soon took points at No. 3 and No. 1 respectively. Ruben Gonzales earned Illinois' sole singles point at No. 4, but when Brandon Davis lost to Michael Look at No. 6, UCLA had earned a semifinal spot against No. 2 Ohio State on Sunday.

Ohio State showed impressive depth in their 4-2 victory over Baylor, the 2005 Team Indoor Champions. After capturing the doubles point, the Buckeyes got their second point at No. 5 when freshman Justin Kronauge took a 26 point tiebreak from the Bears' Dominik Mueller on his way to a 7-6, 6-3 win. No. 3 Devin Mullins gave Ohio State its third point with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Matt Brown. After Baylor had taken No.1 and No. 4 singles, it came down to Ohio State's No. 6 Drew Eberly, who grew up in nearby Lake Forest, Ill. After winning a thirty point tiebreak in his first set against Denes Lukacs, the junior made it easier on his local supporters by taking the second set tiebreak seven points to three, and putting Ohio State in its first semifinal in a national tournament.

The other semifinal will feature No. 1 Georgia against No. 4 Virginia. Georgia's 4-0 win over 2006 NCAA champions Pepperdine was as routine as Virginia's victory over Ole Miss was dramatic (see post below), and the Bulldog freshmen shone once again. Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg won at No. 3 doubles and at No. 6 and No. 5 singles. With Travis Helgeson taking No. 3 singles in straight sets, it didn't take long for Georgia to show why it has been cast in the favorite's role this season.

For complete coverage of all the matches, including consolation contests, see the tournament website.

Virginia Advances Past Ole Miss with Tiebreak Wins

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Chicago, IL--

It doesn't get any closer than Virginia's 4-3 quarterfinal win over Ole Miss Saturday at the ITA Men's Team Indoor. The doubles point went to Virginia in a tiebreak in the third and deciding match, and when Ole Miss brought themselves even at 3-3, some four hours later, it came down to a tiebreak in the third set of No. 6 singles.

Freshman Lee Singer was the hero for the Cavaliers, battling from a set down to defeat Jakob Klaeson 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), to advance the No. 4 seeds to the semifinals on Sunday.

"I was really impressed with Lee," said Virginia head coach Brian Boland, "It was the second time he's been last on this year; he clinched our 4-3 win at VCU too. He did a great job handling the situation, especially after having those match points."

At 4-5 in the third, Klaeson serving, Singer had three opportunities to end the match, but Klaeson held him off each time. A junior from Sweden, Klaeson is vocal and animated, even by college tennis standards, and despite being three hours into his match with Singer, he kept himself pumped up with yells of "Go Rebs" and energetic, side-winding fist pumps.

When at 4-3 in the final tiebreak, Singer serving, Klaeson hit two consecutive forehand winners, giving himself a chance serve it out and give his team the win. But the Californian responded with a winner of his own on a backhand return of a second serve, and when Klaeson hit a forehand just wide on the next point, it was Singer with the match on his racquet.

With the entire crowd of spectators at the Midtown Tennis Club craning to see the far court's dramatics, Singer hit a dangerously short ball that Klaeson netted. Singer's teammates streamed on the court to celebrate, as their glum Mississippi counterparts looked on.

But despite the jubilation, there was a sobering note for the Cavaliers. Junior Ted Angelinos suffered an ankle injury at 4-4 in the third set of his match at No. 5 with Karl Norberg. Although the right ankle was taped and he continued to play, pain etched his face on every shot and even hobbling to a collect a stray ball was a chore. Norberg eventually closed him out 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 for Ole Miss's third point, and both moved to the scene of the dramatic final match.

Angelinos left the club on crutches and Boland said he would be taken to a hospital for x-rays.

Ole Miss got its first point at No. 4 when Robby Poole defeated Houston Barrick 7-6 (5), 6-3, but that was the only two-set match of the six. Virginia's No. 1, Somdev Devvarman, eked by Erling Tveit 7-6 (2), 0-6, 6-4 and their No. 2, Treat Huey, came from behind in the third set to defeat Eric Claesson 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. And at No. 3 Matthias Wellerman of Ole Miss got by Dominic Inglot 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

"It was just a great college tennis match," said Boland. "if you didn't enjoy that, you're something wrong with you. Ole Miss is a great team and really played well."

The other early quarterfinal match saw top seed and defending champion Georgia shut out 2006 Team Indoor finalist Pepperdine 4-0.

For complete details, see the tournament website.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Illinois and Oklahoma State Provide Friday's Drama

© Colette Lewis 2007--
Chicago, IL-

Until the Illinois - Oklahoma State match Friday evening, there wasn't much drama at the ITA Men's Team Indoor. The No. 6 seeded Illini got the win but it took them three hours to finally subdue No. 11 Oklahoma State 4-2.

As the host school, Illinois received the prime 6:30 p.m. time slot and their fans all gathered on the main set of courts at the Midtown Tennis club for the doubles point, which Illinois took with wins by No.1s Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe and No. 3s GD Jones and Marc Spicijaric.

Then as the singles split between two separate areas of the club, so too did the fans divide themselves. As I usually do, I watched the No. 1 singles, and was impressed by Oklahoma State's new No. 1, freshman Oleksandr Nedovyesov of the Ukraine, who gave Anderson a severe test before the junior from South Africa took the match 6-4, 6-4. Anderson's serve was the difference; the few times he faced break points he served his way out of it, while he pounced on the two opportunities Nedovyesov offered.

By the time Anderson had won, Rowe had already made quick work of Ivan Puchkarov at No. 2 and Illinois had a 3-0 lead.

But the Cowboys got a point at No. 5, and with a big lead at No. 3, the attention was focused on the two close matches in the adjacent courts, where Illinois' Ruben Gonzales (4) and Brandon Davis (6) had fought back to even their matches after dropping their opening sets.

Playing on side by side courts, Gonzales and Dmytro Petrov of Oklahoma State battled evenly through much of the third set, while neither Davis nor his opponent Artsem Burmistrau could establish any comfortable lead. As the loud cheers of the Illini fans echoed throughout the building, Gonzales and Petrov moved to a third set tiebreak, with Oklahoma State needing to win it to stay in the match.

By this time No. 3 Daniel Byrnes had defeated GD Jones, so all the action, fans, coaches and teammates were gathered around the two courts. The exhortations and encouragement never stopped, and it reached a fever pitch during the tiebreak. When a service winner by Gonzales gave him two match points at 6-4, the rhythmic clapping began, and although he didn't convert the first, on the second Petrov missed a volley just wide, and both players fell to the ground in a heap--Gonzales with joy and Petrov in agony.

So exuberant were they after the win, the Illinois team gathered to serenade the crowd with a spontaneous version of the Illinois fight song, as a way of acknowledging the importance of the support they received.

Illinois will take on UCLA Saturday evening, as the No. 3 Bruins defeated No. 14 Miami 4-1 in Friday night's final match.

For complete details on all eight matches, see the official tournament web page.

Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia Advance Friday

©Colette Lewis 2007
Chicago IL--

I have internet access at the Midtown Tennis Club, so I thought I'd post a midday report on the ITA Men's Indoor. There were no upsets as No. 1 Georgia, No. 4 Virginia and No. 5 Mississippi advanced by 4-0 scores. The one close match, between No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 9 Pepperdine, is still in progess, with the score 2-2.

Virginia, a finalist in 2005 when the tournament was last played here, handled Texas, winning the doubles point and getting victories from No. 1 Somdev Devvarman, No. 2 Treat Huey and No. 4 Houston Barrick.

A hour and a half doubles point in Ole Miss's match with Boise State led to a sweep for the Rebels, when No. 1 Erling Tveit, No. 4 Robbye Poole and No. 5 Karl Norberg took points at their positions.

Georgia's freshmen came through for them, with No. 5 Nate Schnugg and No. 6 Jamie Hunt contributing a point in singles after teaming to help the Bulldogs take the doubles at No. 3. Travis Helgeson at No. 3 clinched the win for the heavily favored Bulldogs.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hampton Profile; Off to Chicago

Just a quick early post today, as we are on our way to Chicago for the ITA Men's Team Indoor, which begins Friday morning. Look for daily updates from the action at the Midtown Tennis Club beginning Friday. The tournament home page is here.

My story this week for The Tennis Recruiting Network is a recruiting profile of Jamie Hampton, whom I had an opportunity to sit down with last week while I was in Midland.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Decision on Clays

The decision has been made, and the USTA Boys 16s & 18s Clay Court Championships will be in Delray Beach Florida. Ivan Baron, who has been the director of the boys and girls 12s spring championships (on clay), will be the tournament director.

I have no more details other than what was contained in the email I just received from Lew Brewer, informing me of the Youth Competition and Training Committee's decision.

The Committee felt that it was very important to keep the two age groups together. We received some excellent proposals from around the country but the proposal from Ivan was deemed the best option for our players. Ivan is a proven tournament director and I am sure he will do a great job on these events.
As of now, there is nothing on the TennisLink site, but I assume the information will be posted there soon.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mountford Takes LTA Position

I guess it was announced last week that Bill Mountford is leaving the position of Director of Tennis at the National Tennis Center in New York to become head of Coach Relations and Competition for the British Lawn Tennis Association.

I haven't had too much contact with Mountford; I met him in New York at the Open last year, and he instantly won me over by saying he read zootennis and hoped to make news on it some day. This isn't exactly what I'd envisioned, and I doubt if he could foresee this either. He has recently taken new jobs as a husband and father, so this is quite a few changes for him in the past couple of years, but I assume the offer was just too good to pass up.

The Times' Neil Harman doesn't seem too impressed from the tone of this story, but I sense there's a resentment building of all the Americans being hired for British tennis jobs. I guess it's not the exclusive club it used to be, although with their track record I would think any and all new blood would be welcomed.

The first thing that sprang to my mind when I heard this is whether Mountford was considered for either Eliot Teltscher's former position as Director of High Performance or Bill Ozaki's as Director of Junior and Collegiate Competition. To my knowledge neither of those jobs have been filled and I assume Mountford would have been a candidate.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Junior News

The Bill Talbert Junior Sportsmanship Award announcement is a big deal to me, and I presume to the winners and their families, but I am never able to find a USTA press release about it. (Although this usta.com page has a list of winners from 1988-2005). I knew the four players had been notified when a Nashville newspaper made a brief mention of Houston Barrick's selection, and the Southwest section published this announcement naming Kacie Wagner as a winner late last month. If anyone knows who the other two national winners are, I'd like to print their names. They are invited to the International Tennis Hall of Fame to receive their awards, and this year's inductees include Pete Sampras and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.

Another player I would expect to receive consideration for the Talbert award when he is a bit older is Evan King. But in the meantime, he's been named the Chicago district's boys' Junior Tennis Player of the Year. This Sun-Times article features King and the girls' winner, Elizabeth Epstein.

King is getting quite a bit of press in Chicago these days. Last month, the Chicago Tribune published this article about him, which is very much in the vein of the Miami Herald story that came out during the Junior Orange Bowl.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Weekend News

  • I spent the morning avoiding my computer, so I wouldn't know who won the Davis Cup tie between the U.S. and the Czech Republic and could watch the tape-delayed broadcast by Versus in suspense. After Roddick had a 3-0 lead in the second set, I had an unshakable feeling that he was going to win, and happily, he did. Jason Brown of usta.com puts together a synopsis of Roddick's clinching win here.

  • Jill Craybas came from behind to defeat Laura Granville 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to take the Dow Corning Tennis Classic title Sunday. Granville didn't leave Midland without a championship however, as she and Abigail Spears captured the doubles title over another unseeded team--Maureen Drake and Stephanie Dubois of Canada--by a score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

  • Georgia Tech will not be fashioning any Stanford-like winning streak, as the nation's top-ranked women's team fell 4-3 to the obviously underrated team from William and Mary, ranked 25th. The details of the win--on a neutral court in Illinois--can be found at tribeathletics.com.

  • I mentioned a couple of days ago that the University of Florida would be missed at the ITA Men's Team Indoor beginning Friday in Chicago, and so will undefeated USC. Here are the details of the No. 15-ranked Trojans' 5-2 win over No. 18 Boise State.

  • And finally, thanks to the reader who sent in this link to a New Zealand article about 14-year-old Sean Berman, entitled "The Star We Don't Want." The tone is all too tabloid for my taste, but you've got to wonder how someone gets overlooked in a country that small (4 million).

  • Saturday, February 10, 2007

    Dow Corning Tennis Classic Slide Show

    The finals are set for Sunday in Midland, with No. 1 seed Jill Craybas facing No. 2 seed Laura Granville for the singles championship. It's the first final contested between Americans since 1998. Below is a slide show from my three days at the tournament.

    Friday, February 9, 2007

    Inside Junior Tennis; Davis Cup Disappointment; ITA Team Indoor Draws

    Due to my trip to Midland, this week's Inside Junior Tennis podcast was recorded earlier in the week than usual. Kevin McClure and I discuss the women's ITA Team Indoor, catch up on some junior tournaments that were overlooked during the Australian Open, and talk about Les Petits As, Peter Polansky and Davis Cup.

    Speaking of Davis Cup, Somdev Devvarman of the University of Virgina, who was scheduled to compete for India in this weekend's Group 1 tie with Uzbekistan, did not. According to UVA coach Brian Boland, he spent two days in New York trying to work through visa problems, but was unsuccessful in getting them resolved. The Indian Tennis Federation had assured him that everything was in order, but that was not the case, so he did not make the trip. I can imagine how frustrating that must have been for him. He will now be available to play for the Cavaliers against Michigan Saturday night.

    The men's ITA Team Indoor draw was announced today. Last year it seemed a shame that Stanford wasn't selected to compete; this year Florida is conspicuous by its absence.

    Thursday, February 8, 2007

    Samaha Profile, Last Midland Report

    My article this week for The Tennis Recruiting Network is a recruiting profile of Tampa's Joel Samaha. I had an opportunity to talk to Samaha last month when I was in his hometown, and I enjoyed hearing about his plans for college. He also told me how much he liked the tournament at Kalamazoo, which he visited for the first time last year.

    The Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland reminded me of Kalamazoo's tournament in a lot of ways. It's obviously a very big deal to the small town to have such an event, and the media coverage, the sponsorships, the parties and community outreach have all helped to develop it into a major stop on the minor league tennis calendar. Many of the players (and umpires) stay in private housing, and return year after year to enjoy the Midwestern hospitality, getting a sense of community in a profession that often lacks it.

    I returned to Kalamazoo today, but I did see a few matches before I left. Angelique Kerber of Germany, who had upset No. 5 seed Stephanie Dubois of Canada on Wednesday, had no trouble with qualifier Leanne Baker 6-3, 6-4. Another qualifier, 18-year-old Olga Govortsova of Belarus, did advance, downing Angela Haynes of the U.S. 6-2, 6-1, to win her fifth consecutive match in straight sets. Govortsova will face Greta Arn of Germany in Friday's quarterfinals. Arn defeated 36-year-old qualifier Brenda Schultz 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 on Court 5, while No. 6 seed Abigail Spears was eliminating Lauren Albanese 6-3, 6-2 on Stadium Court.

    The tournament's website occasionally posts scores to their draws during the day, not just after all play is completed as the Pro Circuit page does.

    Wednesday, February 7, 2007

    Larcher de Brito Loses in Pro Debut, but Gains Hundreds of New Fans

    Fourteen-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal may have lost to Kristina Brandi at the Dow Corning Classic Wednesday night, but the crowd gathered at the Midland Tennis Center left knowing they had seen a very special talent.

    The 29-year-old Brandi, ranked 184 on the WTA tour, managed to hang on to win the first round match at the $75,000 Women's Pro Circuit event 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. But she had to withstand a third set surge by Larcher de Brito, who came back from 4-0 down in the final set.

    "The third set was tough," said Brandi. "She really raised her level in the third set and I had to win it."

    Brandi served for the match at 5-3, but Larcher de Brito pounded three outright winners, and the hundreds of fans still around after nearly two hours loudly cheered and applauded. At the changeover, both players were given ovations as they took their positions, and when Larcher de Brito held for 5-5, the fans had visions of the drama of a third-set tiebreak.

    "As soon as the crowd went into it, I went into it as well," said Larcher de Brito. "The crowd helped me a lot. I was feeling down, but they brought my spirits up, and I started playing better and better."

    The tennis played was baseline to baseline, pace and more pace, with no lobs, volleys or drop shots. Several of the rallies had the crowd gasping at the speed of the exchanges, neither player flinching until one had painted a line.

    "I knew I had to move her around," Brandi said. "If I was hitting the ball to her, she could control the point, so I was trying to move her and be as aggressive and forward through the court. She did come up with some errors, but she also came up with some great shots."

    Facing a break point at 5-5, Brandi recovered to win the four-deuce game, and the tension increased. Larcher de Brito had difficulty with her serve throughout the match and a wild double fault in the final game didn't help her confidence. But netting two of her usually solid ground strokes proved to be her undoing and her valiant comeback fell short. A standing ovation at the match's conclusion couldn't console a disappointed Larcher de Brito.

    "My serve wasn't working at all," said Larcher de Brito. "I got maybe one first serve every three points. But I just tried to play my best. I've learned a lot and there's many matches ahead of me."

    Brandi accepted the pressure of facing the upstart with nothing to lose with the wisdom of a veteran of the tennis wars.

    "I came out not knowing anything about this girl, and I knew she wouldn't have any pressure; she would just come out and play," Brandi said.

    The fans at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic have four more days of tennis matches to anticipate, but those in attendance Wednesday night left knowing they'd witnessed a memorable moment in tournament history.

    The evening's first match was in stark contrast to the Brandi-Larcher de Brito contest, as Brenda Schultz put on a serve and volley clinic in dismantling No. 4 seed Alexsandra Wozniack 6-0, 6-3.

    For complete draws, see the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

    Wednesday 's Day Session at Dow Corning Classic

    ©Colette Lewis 2007--
    Midland, MI--

    I mentioned last night that Wednesday evening will be a late one, so I thought I'd better a post up while I have the time this afternoon. The feature matches this evening are No. 4 seed Alexsandra Wozniak against Brenda Schultz, followed by Kristina Brandi and Michelle Larcher de Brito. Schultz is a former champion and popular player in Midland while Larcher de Brito is likely to draw a crowd curious to see the youngest player ever to compete here. She turned 14 late last month, which allows her to make her professional tournament debut.

    In the day matches, I spent most of my time at Stadium Court, first watching No. 6 seed Abigail Spears' 6-0, 6-3 win over Kelly Liggan of Ireland, and then seeing qualifer Leanne Baker of New Zealand trip up wild card Audra Cohen 6-3, 6-2.

    Cohen never looked comfortable against the left-hander from New Zealand, and was down a break early in both sets. In the first, Baker gave one break right back, but that was the only time she lost her serve in the match. Serving effectively and attacking Cohen's defensive backhand slice, Baker also kept her unforced errors to a minimum. Cohen got very few free points when serving, and in the first game of the second set, saw her 40-0 lead melt away when she double faulted on three consecutive points.

    I also watched a bit of qualifier Raluca Olaru's loss to Shiho Hisamatsu of Japan. Olaru, from Romania, is still eligible to play in the ITF juniors this year, but she told me after the match that she was going to concentrate on ITF Women's Circuit tournaments instead. She has been training in Romania the past several months, and this is the first of a string of events in the U.S. for her-- St. Paul is her next stop and Memphis after that.

    The Midland Daily News does a great job of covering the tournament, so if you are interested in more stories on this week's event, visit their website.

    Tuesday, February 6, 2007

    First Impressions of the Dow Corning Tennis Classic

    ©Colette Lewis 2007--

    Midland MI--

    It's my first visit to the USTA Women's Pro Circuit event in Midland and the 19 years they've spent perfecting their formula is evident.

    The matches that I attended during the day session were free and for tennis fans with the day off, there was a chance to see both the No. 1 seed, Jill Craybas and the No. 2 seed, Laura Granville--if they didn't blink. Craybas, No. 67 in the current WTA rankings, took barely an hour to dispose of Anda Perianu of Romania, 6-2, 6-0 and Granville, 73 on the WTA computer, finished just as quickly, defeating Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Repbulic 6-1, 6-1.

    After Roger Federer's blowout of Andy Roddick and Serena Williams' annihilation of Maria Sharapova in Australia, many fans debated whether they would classify those routs as enjoyable. I like close contests, but I also appreciate beautiful tennis, and there was absolutely no question that Laura Granville played near-perfect tennis today. I watched every game, and the pace and depth with which she struck the ball were astounding. Hradecka could also hit ferocious winners, but she couldn't do it as consistently as Granville, and her serve wasn't nearly as effective. A Granville fan standing behind me said it best--"she gives the ball a big fat smack, doesn't she?"

    Hradecka probably erred in repeatedly giving Granville so much pace, but it was difficult to envision anyone outside of the top ten beating Granville as well as she played today. I didn't see the Craybas match--they were played simultaneously in different areas of the facility--but I suspect she played just as impressively.

    I also had a chance to see some of wild card Lauren Albanese's 6-1, 6-4 win over Seiko Okamoto of Japan. After a lengthy first game, Albanese dominated the rest of the set, but the second set was anyone's when Albanese served at 4-4. Another marathon game transpired, but the 17-year-old from Florida finally held, and Okamoto couldn't handle the pressure of the 4-5 game, double faulting to give Albanese the win.

    Albanese, by the way, was one of three players (Audra Cohen and Michelle Larcher de Brito were the other two) who admitted to me they had never experienced cold like the sub-zero readings that have settled into Michigan in the past week. I assured them that many Michiganders as young as they are have never felt it this cold either; it's been decades since temperatures have dropped and stayed this low here.

    But even the bone-chilling weather didn't deter an impressive number of fans from the first night session of the tournament. This is where the tournament really shines--giving the night matches the feel of a top professional event. The valet parking, patron reception, VIP seating, free ice cream, ball runners, T-shirt tossing, deejays and master of ceremonies all contributed to the feeling that tournament director Erin Mazurek and her staff have created a special tennis festival for the city of Midland.

    The feature evening match was much closer than those of the top two seeds, with unseeded Angela Haynes eliminating No. 8 seed Maria-Jose Argeri of Argentina 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. The tennis wasn't particularly distinguished, but it did have numerous changes in momentum, leaving the outcome unpredictable until Haynes went up 4-0 in the final set.

    I left before the second match, which was a doubles first rounder, but on Wednesday I'll be there until very late. The first evening match is Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada against Brenda Schultz of the Netherlands; the second features Puerto Rico's Kristina Brandi and 14-year-old wild card Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal.

    For complete draws and schedule, see the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

    Monday, February 5, 2007

    USC Women Claim Top Recruiting Class; Polansky Named ITF Player of the Month

    The Tennis Recruiting Network revealed their Women's Recruiting Class Winter Rankings on Monday, and USC took top honors, with Duke second. USC, which was third in the most recent ITA team rankings, didn't participate in the Women's Team Indoor last weekend (neither did No. 2 Florida), so it will be interesting to see the impact of that (and of Georgia Tech's upset of Stanford) in this week's rankings. My point, I guess, is that the rich get richer, but it's still early in 2007, so by this autumn the recruiting rankings may have changed dramatically.

    Bob Larsen's Tennis News posted this item on Peter Polansky being named ITF Men's Circuit player of the month. One of my January aces, Polansky just won his third Futures tournament of 2007 over the weekend in Costa Rica, after qualifying, no less. His record for 2007 stands at 18-1, and he will be playing for Canada's Davis Cup team this coming weekend.

    Somdev Devvarman of the University of Virginia was named to India's Davis Cup team and will travel to Uzbekistan for that tie in Group 1, but UVA head coach Brian Boland assures me that he will be returning to the U.S. in time for the Men's Team Indoor in Chicago the following weekend.

    Speaking of indoors, I'll be on my way to Midland, Michigan Tuesday to spend some time at the $75K women's Pro Circuit event there. To follow the results, visit dowcorningtennisclassic.com.

    Sunday, February 4, 2007

    Stanford Shocked at ITA Indoor; Gibbs, Harrison Fall at Les Petits As

    On Saturday evening, the Georgia Tech women's team ended Stanford's 89-match winning streak, defeating the No. 1 ranked Cardinal 4-3 at the ITA Team Indoor Championships in Madison Wisconsin.

    Georgia Tech was seeded No. 4, so it's not a George Mason situation, but when you consider that no one who is on the Stanford team now, including seniors Theresa Logar and Anne Yelsey, had ever lost a team match until last night, it's a pretty big deal. Stanford's streak dates back to May of 2003, when they lost in the NCAA final to Florida.

    Tech started off by taking the doubles point, and freshman Kirsten Flower, who has had an astounding start to her college career, gave her team a 2-0 at No. 2 singles. But Stanford won the next three matches at Nos. 3, 4 and 1, and looked like a good bet to extend the NCAA record streak. But once Amanda Craddock, also a freshman, evened it with a three-set win at No. 6, it came down to No. 5 singles, and Tech senior Tarryn Rudman withstood that only-in-college pressure to take a 6-4 in the third win.

    Georgia Tech today downed No. 2 seed Notre Dame 4-2, indicating that coach Bryan Shelton was able to keep his team focused despite the heady win on Saturday.

    The ITA website has the details of the big upset. And here's ramblinwreck.com's version.

    And while you are at the ITA's website, stop by the home page to read Jon Vegosen's NY Times op ed piece on the Rutgers tennis team's fight to survive.

    In Tarbes France on Sunday, both Nicole Gibbs and Christian Harrison came up short in their bids to upset the top seeds and overwhelming favorites at Les Petits As--Hanna Orlik and Carlos Boluda. Belarus's Orlik defeated Gibbs 6-4, 6-1 to win, by my count, her fourth straight tournament, one of which was a Grade 4 ITF event. She turns 14 next month.

    Harrison can take some comfort in the fact that he won twice as many games as any other player against defending champion Carlos Boluda of Spain, but lost 6-2, 6-2.

    Harrison and partner Emmett Egger lost in the doubles final to the top seeded team from the Czech Republic on Saturday 6-1, 7-6 (4).

    The current edition of the Inside Junior Tennis podcast is now available. Those of you put off by the poor quality of the sound will be happy to know that a new headset microphone has made a big improvement.

    Saturday, February 3, 2007

    Book Review: Paul Fein's You Can Quote Me on That (Foreword by Billie Jean King)

    With a full-fledged blizzard swirling outside, it’s a good time to curl up with a book, or to write a review of one.

    Paul Fein’s You Can Quote Me On That, isn’t a classic page-turner, full of mystery, plot and intrigue. It’s just what it sounds like--a collection of quotes about tennis.

    Although it consists of 35 chapters, a necessity for organizing the vast material, I still found it difficult to stop when reaching a chapter’s conclusion.

    Under the chapter entitled "The Feminine Mystique" for example, Fein ends with a quote from Anna Kournikova saying:

    You cannot just be a great tennis player, or just be a beautiful person anymore to succeed in the game. You have to have it all, the talent, the looks, the brains and the drive.

    The next chapter, "Paeans To the Champions", starts with this praise for Pete Sampras from Jim Courier:
    He can hit shots the rest of us can’t hit and don’t even think of hitting.

    And then continues as Becker, Agassi, McEnroe and Emerson assess Pete’s standing in the tennis pantheon.

    What makes the book more than a sum of its considerable parts is the sense of history that pervades it. Nineteen twenties star Bill Tilden, who wrote several books on tennis, is quoted regularly, and we hear from Jack Kramer on early professional men’s tennis, Billie Jean King on the struggles of the women’s tour, Arthur Ashe on the class and race barriers, Martina Navratilova on sexual orientation. Not to mention Gussie Moran’s panties and Suzanne Lenglen’s rock star status in the 20s.

    It’s a whirlwind tour of tennis history in doses as small or large as you like and it's also a reminder that the more tennis changes, the more it stays the same.

    I’ll close with two of my favorite quotes:
    Under these absurd and antiquated amateur rules, only a wealthy person can compete, and the fact of the matter is that only wealthy people do compete. Is that fair? Does it advance the sport? Does it makes tennis more popular—or does it tend to suppress and hinder an enormous amount of tennis talent lying dormant in the bodies of young men and women whose names are not in the social register.
    Certainly there does not appear to be anything much wrong with the game of tennis itself, although proposals for changing it always are with us. There has been little change since the rules were settled upon and possibly improvement can be had by changing some rules, but a game so stylized as tennis should be treated with great restraint. One of the things wrong may be that so many people keep trying to alter it to suit other people who do not really play it.

    The first quote is from Suzanne Lenglen, circa 1920s; the second from Al Laney in 1968.

    Autographed copies of the book are available by contacting Paul Fein via the website www.tennisquotes.com.

    Friday, February 2, 2007

    Gibbs, Min and Harrison Advance to Semis at Les Petits As

    Americans Grace Min and Nicole Gibbs will have a chance to meet in the final at Les Petits As in Tarbes France, while Christian Harrison hopes to get the opportunity to face defending champion Carlos Boluda with a victory on Saturday. Harrison and Emmett Egger have advanced to the doubles final.

    Gibbs, the No. 8 seed, takes on Romanian Ingrid Radu, seeded seventh, in one semifinal. Radu squeezed by U.S. qualifier Ellen Tsay 7-5, 7-6 (3) on Friday while Gibbs defeated No. 4 seed Kristina Mladenovic of the host country by a symmetrical 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) score.

    Min, who has yet to lose a set in the tournament, including her three matches in qualifying, faces a tough task in the semifinals however. She will need to depose No. 1 seed Hanna Orlik of Belarus, who not only captured the 2006 Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl, but just two weeks ago won an ITF Grade 4 18-and-under event in Germany.

    On the boys side, Harrison, seeded eighth, took out No. 3 seed Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-2 in Friday's quarterfinals and will face the last French player in the draw, unseeded S├ębastien Boltz. Boltz upset top seed and recent Teen Tennis champion Anton Volkov in the second round, but hasn't faced a seed since.

    Like Min and Gibbs, Harrison hasn't dropped a set; that accomplishment pales however, when compared to No. 1 seed Carlos Boluda's race through opponents.

    As a recent commenter pointed out, the Spaniard has lost only four games in four matches in his title defense, and that display of dominance can intimidate even seasoned competitors. Boluda's next opponent is Romanian Ciprian Porumb, the fourth seed, who defeated Emmett Egger of the U.S. 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

    Egger and Harrison, the sixth seeds in doubles, will face the top seeded team of Robert Rumler and Lukas Vrnak of the Czech Republic in Saturday's doubles final.

    It's also noteworthy that the boys' consolation final will feature U.S. teammates Mika De Coster and Sean Berman.

    The tournament website, which features live scoring, is here.

    Thursday, February 1, 2007

    January Aces (and a word from our sponsor)

    My weekly entry for The Tennis Recruiting Network is a monthly version of the weekly SMASH online column I did in 2006, but with more photos and less words. I'm very happy to have signed on for a regular Thursday article for tennisrecruiting.net, and have much to thank them for, including my recent affiliation with Tennis Warehouse.

    When I started this blog over two years and 829 posts ago, I didn't know where it would lead. Zootennis started as a place to explore issues in junior tennis that interested me, and a space where I could regularly report on the accomplishments of young players. The more I did those things, the more I enjoyed them, and what started as a hobby quickly turned into a second career. I am writing regularly for SMASH and The Tennis Recruiting Network, occasionally for Tennis Magazine and doing a weekly podcast, Inside Junior Tennis. Those things help support the travel I do, but one of the main questions I get when talking to parents and coaches at tournaments is "how do you make money on your website?"

    The answer has always been a straightforward "I don't." (Quite a few people think I'm employed or somehow compensated by the USTA). But this Christmas, my Amazon store experiment turned out more profitably than I could have hoped, encouraging me to explore an affiliation with a partner that would have an interest in my visitors. That partner, Tennis Warehouse, is not an advertiser. Rather, like Amazon, I will benefit if sales are made through the link on my site.

    As far as traffic goes, I'm never going to approach the numbers of tennis.com or si.com, but I'm happy as long as I have readers and commenters who care about junior tennis and junior tennis players. Juniortennis.com has now gone to a paid subscription for anyone but junior players. I'm not going to adopt that model--I want the site to be as widely read as possible--but I would like to see ZooTennis contribute to the travel fund.

    That's a long way of saying please use the link at the top, but I did want you to understand the background on its sudden appearance.