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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Eyewitness Account from Les Petits As

A few weeks ago, Pierrick contacted me about contributing his insights while attending Les Petits As in Tarbes, France and I eagerly agreed. Pierrick, who is familiar to some of you as a commenter, is French, but his English is impressive. I thank him for his time and efforts, which include videos. (I will post the other clips in a separate post below this one). I hope he's started a trend of junior tennis enthusiasts throughout the world offering their talents to zootennis! His account from Thursday's action:

Hi everyone,

I’m French and today (like every year) I got the opportunity of going to Les Petits As in Tarbes. So I thought some of you might want to read about what the tournament looks like. Concerning the site itself, Les Petits As is divided in 3 parts. The first one is the main hall that welcomes all the players and visitors. There are a lot of stands where you can play video games, buy food (especially chocolate waffles) and tennis items, play games in connection with tennis, or simply check the draws. The second part is the big hall where the 3 main courts are located. All the important matches are played on these (notably the exhibition between Santoro and Gicquel on Friday night). And the third part is another hall that contains 4 more courts. For those of you who are wondering about the surface, each court is actually a gigantic carpet (with a synthetic texture) that they set over a concrete ground. The speed of the ball is neither too fast nor too slow, and the spin is regular too, so that it suits any types of game. Each match is umpired by two umpires and there’s no ballboys until the semis.

Now, concerning the matches, I have to say that this year’s level was generally not as good as last year’s (at least, to my point of view), which applies for boys and girls, although I got to watch very exciting matches. The most enjoyable was probably Grace Min (USA) versus Jessica Ren (UK) where the American player missed three match points in the second set, and finally lost 2/6 7/6 7/6. Not only were the rallies epic (alternating between flat shots, and long and high topspin shots, with great regularity), but the two players were very pleasant to watch, which was not the case of the match next door with An Sophie Mestach (BEL) and Yulia Putintseva (RUS). The two players were ultra-competitive, which resulted in a lot of racket-throwing, shouting, fist-showing, and even lack of fair-play on two umpire’s calls. However, the Belgium winner proved to be extremely solid and she will surely give her English opponent a tough match. The other girl that I found impressive was Daria Gavrilova (RUS) (I’m pretty sure she’s Seed #1). Besides shouting like Sharapova, she has the same type of game: hitting all the balls flat wherever she is on the court. I really imagine the winner to be among the three players that I quoted before: Jessica Ren (UK), An Sophie Mestach (BEL), Daria Gavrilova (RUS).

Regarding the boys, I must confess that nobody (once more, this is just my point of view) really stood out, as it was the case with Carlos Boluda and Christian Harrison last year. Still, if I had to bet on player, it would be Maxim Lunkin (RUS) who beat Julien Tan 6/1 6/3. On top of having an all-round game, Maxim has a very fast and precise footwork, and a good vision of the game. Reo Asami (USA) also looked like he had the capacities to make it to the finale. He proved to defend very well (with a lot of topspin) and attack lucidly, which resulted in a fairly easy match against Pedja Krstin (SRB). Edward Nguyen (CAN) could have been a dangerous player, especially thanks to his power forehand, but he kind of twisted his ankle (I didn’t see exactly what happened) after the first set. He got his foot strapped straightaway, and limped his way to victory against Miki Jankovic (SCG) in three sets (6/1 3/6 7/5). I hope he’ll get better and be able to play his best tennis for the quarterfinals. The other matches had ups and downs (one beautiful winner isolated in many unforced errors) and as I said, I can’t think of any names that really stood out. This being said, I missed 2 boys’ matches: Alexios Halebian (USA) versus Martins Podzus (LAT), and Liam Broady (GBR) versus Johan Skattum (NOR). I only saw a couple of games of this last match, and it was already quite intense. Likewise, I missed three girls’ matches, so perhaps my predictions are wrong!

Anyways, Les Petits As remains a very well-organized, animated and exciting tournament and I’m really glad to get the chance to watch beautiful international tennis near my home. Good luck to the remaining players and ‘Que le meilleur gagne !’


For complete draws, click here.Reo Asami

Les Petits As Videos

Grace Min

Robert Livi

John Harrison Richmond

Tennis Plaza Cup wrap; Puig competes in Fed Cup; Mountford Leaves LTA

My weekly post today at The Tennis Recruiting Network is a wrapup of the Tennis Plaza Cup. One of the winners, 14-year-old Monica Puig, the girls' 16s champion, was named to Puerto Rico's Fed Cup team and has been in Colombia, where the Americas Zone Group 1 round robin is taking place. Puerto Rico is 2-0, having swept Paraguay and Uruguay the past two days and Puig saw action in doubles against Paraguay. Next up is Brazil, also 2-0 and that tie will decide who gets the opportunity to play the winner of the Colombia-Canada match in the other round robin for a spot in the World Group II competition in April. The (sometimes incomplete) results are here.

Bill Mountford, the former director of tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, has announced his departure from the LTA, less than a year after accepting the position as head of Coach Relations and Competition in Roehampton. Head of the LTA, Roger Draper, had a brief announcement about Mountford's resignation on the LTA's website.

But Neil Harman of The Times gives a little bit more insight into Mountford's decision. Near the end of a story on Andy Murray's decision to withdrawal from the British Davis Cup tie in Argentina, Harman writes:

The news follows hard on the heels of the departure from the LTA of Bill Mountford, who was imported from the United States to oversee the junior development and coaching structure pinpointed by Stuart Smith, the LTA president, as “our No 1 priority” in his annual address last month.

Mountford’s shock move is the highest-profile departure from the Tennis Leadership Team established after Roger Draper’s return to the LTA as chief executive from Sport England two years ago. In his brief tenure, during which he had hardly begun to scratch away at the surface of his enormous task, Mountford had earned huge respect for his diligence, knowledge and approachability.

Where his decision to depart – for undisclosed reasons, although he was said to be increasingly at odds with what he perceived as a lack of direction – leaves the governing body is anyone’s guess. The development of a structure in which coaches feel supported, young players are able to thrive and competition abounds is the essential core of the sport’s prospect of building a successful future. That is where Mountford came in and where, without warning, he has gone out.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coaches Q and A: How do you suggest dealing with an opponent who continually cheats?

Nick Bollettieri has written a two-part series (the second installment will be published soon at The Tennis Recruiting Network) called "Beat the Cheat." It's a topic that concerns every single junior tennis player, so Andy Brandi of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was asked to address the issue in this edition of Coaches A & A.
Today's question: What do you suggest a junior player do when the opponent continually cheats? What do we do at our institute when this happens?
Andy Brandi responds:

Cheating is an act of dishonesty. Many times this act comes from pressure to win either from the player himself or the people that surround him.

When this occurs in a tournament, the USTA has rules in place to deal with these circumstances. In fact, there is a system in place that will suspend players when they accumulate enough suspension points. The problem arises when there are not enough officials at tournaments to monitor this kind of behavior.

If you experience cheating during a match, call for an official and ask them to stand and watch the match. In most cases the cheater will not make bad calls with the official present. Sometimes the person makes such bad line calls that even with an official present and watching, they try to cheat. The rules are such that an official, after correcting a certain number of calls, will start giving point penalties for overrules. The sad thing is that most cheating happens at the most crucial times of the match. In most cases the officials are not around when it occurs. The bottom line is that players must learn to deal with it and play on! You must keep your composure. Take the cheating as an incentive to win the match! Not only is the opponent trying to cheat, he or she is trying to get you upset and out of the match.

Another alternative is to ask for an umpire to monitor your match before you go on court when you play someone who is known to give bad calls.

Whenever we experience this kind of behavior with one of our students, we address it right away. We speak to the student and make them aware of the common occurrence of their bad calls.

If it persists, we discuss it with the student and the parents.

When it happens during our practice matches, we make the correction on the spot. We want the player to know that cheating is not allowed. We will put them on the spot even if we are watching them play in a tournament; they know we will overrule their call!

Other coaches and parents should follow this rule when they see their son or daughter make bad calls on a consistent basis. They need to recognize there is a problem and it needs to be addressed!

Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches' Q and A in the subject line.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Inside Junior Tennis Podcast; Fed Cup and Davis Cup Practice Partners

Kevin McClure and I are doing fewer podcasts, and our first one this year was probably too long, but this one is more in the normal 30 minute time slot. We discuss the college tennis rankings, the dearth of U.S. juniors in Australia, my visits to the Futures and Plaza Cup while in Florida and the 14-and-under U.S. teams competing in Europe.

It hardly seems possible that Fed Cup and Davis Cup are upon us again, but the women are taking on Germany this weekend in La Jolla, and according to Zina Garrison's blog, Christina McHale and Julia Boserup are the two juniors invited to practice with the team, which consists of Lindsay Davenport, Ashley Harkleroad, Lisa Raymond and Laura Granville.

Unlike the U.S. Fed Cup team, which changes regularly depending on the availability of the Williams sisters, the U.S. Davis Cup team, which was announced today, is the same tie after tie. Andy Roddick, James Blake, and the Bryans begin their defense of the cup in Austria on February 8th. Accompanying the team to Vienna will be two left-handers--Jesse Levine and Ryler De Heart, and that is probably partially due to the fact that two of Austria's top players, Stefan Koubek and Jurgen Melzer, are left-handed. Tennis Week has a quick rundown of the matchups and teams here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Men's Tennis 08-09 Recruiting Classes Ranked; Defending NCAA Champion Georgia Impressive in Opening Duals

The Tennis Recruiting Network's recruiting class rankings for those entering school in the fall of this year have been released, with Stanford the near-unanimous (20 of 22 first place votes, including mine) selection for top recruiting class. With Ryan Thacher, ranked No. 1 in his class by TR.Net, and Bradley Klahn, ranked No. 3, committed to the Cardinal, coach John Whitlinger has to be pleased to have kept the top two players from California in the state.

One of the difficulties of these rankings is addressed in the comments with the mention of Texas A & M. There is no doubt that A & M's signing of the class of 2008's No. 2 Wil Spencer and No. 9 Austin Krajicek would put them right with Stanford, but because Spencer and Krajicek have enrolled this month, they are not considered in these rankings. (Spencer and Krajicek are in the Aggie lineup, with Krajicek providing the clinching win over Boise State yesterday, according to this story at aggieathletics.com.)

Georgia frequently has mid-season recruits, and this year is no exception, with Javier Garrapiz of Spain coming in. The Bulldogs went on the road over the weekend to play Stanford and Tulsa at Tulsa, and won both matches 7-0, without Luis Flores taking the court. Stanford was ranked 43rd (new rankings are released Tuesday) and Tulsa 23rd, so it may not have been quite as difficult an opening road weekend as Virginia (who beat No. 8 Illinois 4-3 and No. 12 Notre Dame 5-2), but it is an impressive start nonetheless. (See georgiadogs.com for details on the two wins in Tulsa). Next month's National Team Indoor should be very interesting. The information on the competition in Seattle is here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Draws for Les Petits As; Elias Wins Boca Futures

The final round of qualifying is not yet complete at Les Petits As, but all four U.S. players--Madison Keys, Chanelle Van Nguyen, Alexois Halebian and Robert Livi--will have their chance tomorrow morning to earn a spot in the main draw.

The main draw has been released. Please click here for the Les Petits As website.

The last of the three Futures events in Florida this month was won by 17-year-old Gastao Elias of Portugal. Last week's winner in N. Miami Beach, Vlad Ignatic, also 17, won the doubles this week in Boca Raton. For complete draws, visit usta.com's Pro Circuit page.

The draws for the men's Dallas challenger and the women's 25K (qualifying only) are available on this page.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tomic and Rus Win Australian Open Titles; Min Falls in Teen Tennis Final; Virginia Squeaks Past Illinois

Fifteen-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic made history Saturday in Melbourne, becoming the youngest male winner of a Junior Grand Slam when he defeated Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-0, breaking Donald Young's record, set at the same tournament in 2005. The Australian Open website did not cover the match, but here are two stories, one from The Age and one from the Herald Sun. The Taipei Times has this story on Yang, who left Melbourne with the boys doubles trophy.

Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands downed Australian Jessica Moore in straight sets to take the girls' title, giving her a 12-0 start to the year, after winning the Grade 1 in Nottinghill the week before. Eleanor Preston has the story and an audio interview with Rus on the ITF junior website.

In Bolton, American Grace Min, the fourth seed, reached the singles championship match, losing to Polina Leikina of Russia, the third seed, 6-2, 6-2. Click here for the usta.com story on the tournament.

And if the men's college season ends with anything close to the excitement it started with last night in Champaign, Ill., it's going to be a great one. The No. 1 ranked Virginia Cavaliers came back from 3-1 down to defeat the No. 8 ranked Fighting Illini in front of over 1200 fans at Atkins Tennis Center. Dominic Inglot was down a break in the third at No. 3 with Virginia trailing 3-2, but won the tiebreaker over Billy Heiser. Cavalier Ted Angelinos faced a dual match point at No. 6 when Illinois' Brandon Davis served for it up 6-3, 5-4, but Angelinos came back to win that set and the next to finish the comeback. The virginiasports.com story on the match is here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tennis Plaza Cup Slideshow

Due to the rain and the five sites at the Tennis Plaza Cup, I wasn't able to photograph all the finalists, but I've noted on the caption where the photo was taken, if it wasn't at the Plaza Cup. Special thanks to yourgameface.com for the photo of Trey Strobel. Visit their site for a sample of what professional photographers can do with a camera.

Tennis Plaza is a proud sponsor of this event.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jarmere Jenkins Profile; SEC Indoor Nets Another Georgia Champion; Ryan Harrison Australian Open Interview

While I was at the Extreme Tennis Academy Futures last week, I had an opportunity to speak with Jarmere Jenkins about his plans. It serves as this week's post on The Tennis Recruiting Network.

The men's SEC Indoor Championships were held in New Orleans last weekend, and for the second year in a row, a Georgia player took the title, with Luis Flores this year's champion. For details on Flores' win and the rest of the tournament, see georgiadogs.com. Tennesee's John Patrick Smith, a freshman, had impressive wins over seed Robbye Poole of Ole Miss and Greg Ouellette of Florida before losing to Mississippi State's Ivan Bjelica in the semifinals.

Ryan Harrison, who has reached the singles semifinals in the Australian Open juniors is the last American with a shot at a title. The usta.com website features a video interview with Harrison today.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Meanwhile in Melbourne, Bolton and Boca Raton...

Now that I've returned from the Florida Sectional and Plaza Cup, I've had time to catch up on what's going on in Australia and in England, where the Teen Tennis competition for 14-and-under players is underway.

It isn't surprising the news from the Australian juniors is centered on Bernard Tomic; he's reached the quarterfinals, taking on top seed Cesar Ramirez of Mexico Thursday (later this evening here in the U.S.). Here's The Times Neil Harman's British prospective on the phenomenon Tomic is becoming in his home country. Not that Harman hasn't had plenty to write about on his own country's juniors. Daniel Evans is also in the quarterfinals, but he was called on to stand up for British juniors when Marcus Willis was sent home from Australia for disciplinary reasons. The Daily Mail has the story here.

Ryan Harrison is the only American of the five that started in the tournament still remaining in singles and doubles. (It's interesting that three 15-year-olds made the boys quarterfinals: Tomic, Harrison and Yuki Bhambri of India.) Harrison, the No. 4 seed, plays unseeded Di Wu of China. The Shreveport Times, the paper of the Harrisons' former hometown, spoke with Pat Harrison about the decision to sign with IMG in this article.

Two U.S. girls have reached the quarterfinals in Bolton, site of the Teen Tennis tournament. Unseeded Kyle McPhillips rolled past the top seed in the third round, while Grace Min, the No. 4 seed, also advanced. Both U.S. girls doubles teams have also advanced to the quarterfinals. None of the U.S. boys reached the quarterfinals, but John Harrison Richmond and Reo Asami are still alive in doubles. For complete draws, visit the LTA's results page.

Marcia Frost is covering the Boca Raton Futures this week, with an emphasis on the college and junior competitors. With 17-year-old Vlad Ignatic's win last week in N. Miami Beach and Virginia's Somdev Devvarman's win the previous week in Tampa, those two categories are 2-0 for 2008.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bangoura Downs Federhofer for Plaza Cup Boys 18s Championship

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Coral Gables, FL--

The heavy dark clouds that plagued the Plaza Cup on Sunday and Monday continued to cause problems on Tuesday, but the final set of the boys' 18s championship was completed, with Sekou Bangoura Jr. of Bradenton, Fla. defeating Billy Federhofer of N. Miami Beach, Fla. 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.

The final set, which stood at 1-1 when Monday's mid-afternoon rain ended play, was moved from the Biltmore Tennis Center to a hard court at Salvadore Park due to a drenching morning shower Tuesday morning. Salvadore Park, only seven blocks north, didn't get that rain, so as the sun peeked through, Bangoura and Federhofer prepared to finish the only Plaza Cup championship still undecided.

Although Federhofer held in the third game, the first of the day, breaks and errors were common in the match, which was played before a half dozen spectators. Federhofer had a 3-1 lead after breaking in the next game, but immediately gave it back when he was broken at love. At 3-3, Federhofer, who had hit very few successful first serves, had trouble with his second, double faulting twice to give Bangoura a 4-3.

It looked like it would be more of the same in the next game, when Bangoura went down 15-40, but 16-year-old held, with help from a net cord winner and a perfectly executed volley. Although Federhofer then held for 5-4, Bangoura was determined not repeat the scenario in Monday's first set, when he squandered a 5-3 lead and lost the next four games.

"It was the exact same circumstances as the first set," said Bangoura. "I was up 5-3 and a couple of things happened that shouldn't have. (Today) after he held serve at 3-5, I just kept telling myself, get a serve in and go for your shots, because that's the mistake you made last time and you might as well try and correct it."

Bangoura went for for his shots and made them, hitting a backhand winner, an overhead winner, and two forehand winners to secure the championship.

Federhofer admitted that he wasn't feeling in tiptop physical condition after the five matches he'd played in the previous three days.

"I'm pretty sore today and I felt that every point that was long, I knew I was in trouble," said the 17-year-old left-hander, who hits a two-handed forehand and creates a lot of angle winners with it. "He'd just work my backhand and I really couldn't set up to do anything too great today. I just kept missing, but he played good."

At last week's Florida sectional, Bangoura saved a match point in a semifinal win over Federhofer, and their rivalry is growing with each new chapter.

"It's always tough when we play; it's usually always three sets and close," said Federhofer. "I beat him the last few times and he got me these next two times, so now it's my turn, I guess."

"I think this is just the beginning," said Bangoura. "We're definitely going to have a lot more matches; I know it's coming. Next time he's going to be gunning for me, so we'll see what happens."

The matches in progress on Sunday afternoon were abandoned including the bulk of the doubles and consolation finals. For draws and results, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage of the Plaza Cup, visit collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Plaza Cup--Day Three; Seven of Eight Champions Crowned Before Rain

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Miami, FL--

While the rest of the country shivered through the holiday weekend, those in Miami dodged rain drops, with Monday's showers moving in during the mid-afternoon.

Seven of the eight age division champions were decided before the occasional bouts of drizzle blossomed into full-fledged, court-soaking rain, but the boys' 18 final between Sekou Bangoura, Jr. and Billy Federhofer, tied at a set apiece and 1-1 in the third, has been pushed back until Tuesday morning.

The 12s and 16s joined the boys 18s at the Biltmore Tennis Center for the final day, and Miami's Monica Puig was the first champion to emerge, with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over top seed Rebecca Bodine of Tarpon Springs, Fla. in the girls 16s. Puig, the second seed, was down immediately after being broken in the opening game, but she fought back to 3-3, only to lose her next service game. In the next game however, she broke Bodine again, and for her it was a pivotal moment in the match.

"The key point for me was at 4-all," said Puig, 14. "After I broke her at 4-3, I had the momentum, and I just had to hold serve and play solid."

She did, and when Bodine was serving to stay in the set, it was Puig who came up with the winners on the 30-30 point, blasting a second serve return winner to earn a set point and then putting a forehand so deep that it handcuffed Bodine.

"I tagged a lot of second serve returns," said Puig, who had met Bodine only once before in the 10s and had lost badly then. "I was pretty nervous in the beginning, because I knew she was going to give me a tough time."

Although Bodine continued to play hard and hit deep in the second set, Puig's confident play on her own serve but pressure on Bodine's, and the result was three breaks, including the final one for the championship.

In the boys' 16s final on the adjacent court, friends and doubles partners Jeremy Efferding and Ridley Seguso went to three sets before Efferding, like Seguso, unseeded, took the match 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

The boys traded breaks early in the first set, with Efferding getting the set-deciding break at 3-4, when Seguso was given a code violation for racquet abuse on game point. Efferding served out the first set and took a 1-0 lead in the second, but Seguso got it right back and added two more to even the match. With both players willing to finish at the net and to stay back, points were long and entertaining and the obvious respect they had for each other made even the frustrations of errors less painful.

"He was playing great," said Efferding of Lake Worth, Fla. "He was hitting winners left and right, so sometimes you just have to say 'too good.' It encouraged me to go for the shots, hit the winners, so we had a high-quality good match."

Efferding, 14, admitted to some weariness after four matches the previous two days, including a match tiebreaker win over top seed Daniel McCall Sunday evening.

"It's really tough. I like to have one match a day, I like those tournaments." Efferding said. "Lots of hard core stretching, eating, relaxing. You just have to push yourself."

The boys 12s title went to top seed Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines, Fla., a 6-4, 7-6 (4) winner over No. 4 seed Juan Padilla of Key Biscayne, Fla. The match featured a lot of service breaks, but very few moon balls, as both players went for winners, not safety. At 4-4 in the first set, Kozlov held and broke Padilla at love to take the opening set, but Padilla kept his composure throughout the second set, including saving threematch points serving at 5-6.

In the tiebreaker, Kozlov, a very demonstrative nine-year-old who sobs one minute and breaks into a fist-pumping 'c'mon' the next, took a 6-2 lead, lost the next two and then hit a backhand winner on his sixth match point. It was anybody's guess what the right-hander was doing when he hit three left-handed shots with the match in the balance and a tried a left-handed quick serve.

A natural left-hander took the girls 12s title, as No. 3 Alexandria Stiteler of Bradenton, Fla. downed No. 2 seed Sierra Stone 6-4, 6-3. The boys 14 winner was top seed Gordon Watson, of Naples, Fla., a 6-2, 6-1 winner over No. 4 seed Trey Strobel of Bradenton, Fla. at the Riviera Country Club's clay court facility. The girls 14 champion is N. Miami Beach's Alexandra Morozova, the No. 6 seed, who defeated No. 4 seed Denise Starr of Miami 7-6(6), 6-4 on the Salvadore Park clay. Unseeded Mallory Burdette of Jackson, Ga., outlasted No. 4 seed Maria Belaya of Melbourne, Fla. 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, to claim the girls 18s championship, also at Salvadore Park.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Plaza Cup--Day Two

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Miami, FL--

Sunday wasn't a sunny day at the Plaza Cup with persistent rain showers throughout the morning making the venues with clay courts the place to be. I arrived at the Riviera Country Club, the boys' 14s site, as top seeds Gordon Watson and Ken Sabacinski were closing out their quarterfinal matches in straight sets. No. 4 seed Troy Strobel had already advanced; it was up to No. 3 seed Roy Lederman to complete the semifinals with the four top seeds. Lederman had dropped the first set to No. 8 seed Brett Clark, but took the second and was leading 3-0 in the third when Clark retired with an arm injury.

In the break between the quarterfinals and semifinals, I decided to check on the other clay site, Salvadore Park, and the girls' 18s quarterfinals were in progress when I arrived. Unlike the boys' 14s and the boys' 18s, the top four seeds did not survive the quarterfinals, as No. 3 seed Jackie Kasler couldn't get going against unseeded Mallory Burdette, falling 6-3, 6-2 and No. 2 seed Cassandra Herzberg losing to unseeded Amy Simidian by the same score. I didn't see any of No. 4 seed Maria Belaya's win over Jenna Doerfler, but it was the only one that required the match tiebreaker in lieu of the third set, which was implemented due to the rain. Belaya defeated Doerfler 6-0, 2-6, 10-5.

During that break between the quarterfinals and semifinals, I scurried to the Biltmore Tennis Center, where they were just beginning the quarterfinal matches in the boys' 18s. No. 2 seed Jeffrey Morris and No. 4 seed Spencer Wolf earned their spots in the semis in straight sets, but top seed Billy Federhofer and No. 3 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. both needed to win the second sets of their matches to get to the match tiebreaker. Both did, and both were being played at the same time. Federhofer used a second serve winner to take his tiebreaker 10-8 from unseeded Mark Schanerman, while Bangoura and No. 6 seed Patrick Whitner played on in theirs. 6-6, 9-9, 12-12, the change of ends and the tension mounted. Bangoura hit a backhand winner down the line to save a match point, and then squandered two of his own with unforced errors. Whitner was content to play soft rally balls until he found an opportunity to attack, which is often Bangoura's style, and the strategy worked--until Bangoura finally took a 13-12 lead. With a first serve producing a short return Bangoura stepped in and hit a winner and headed to the net to shake hands, only to have Whitner say he had called the serve out. The official on court accepted Whitner's call, and after a discussion, Bangoura was awarded a first serve, which he missed. The second serve was dangerously close to landing long, but Whitner played it, and hit a forehand return well long, providing an anticlimactic finish to a dramatic contest.

With that break, I headed back to Salvadore Park for the 18s semifinals and watched Burdette pull out a tough first set against No. 1 seed Rachel Saiontz then cruise to the finish 7-5, 6-0. Belaya, who I had not seen play this weekend, was impressive in her 6-4, 6-3 victory of Simidian. It didn't matter what Simidian, a tall and powerful left-hander did, Belaya had an answer, and her ability to hit difficult shots effortlessly was a treat to observe.

Conditions were challenging, with cool temperatures, brisk winds and long-delayed match times, and the forecast for Monday is not encouraging. The plan is still to move all the hard court finals to the Biltmore, so I should get a chance to see the 16s and 12s for this first time this tournament.

Here are the finalists Monday:
Girls: Sierra Stone (2) vs. Alexandria Stiteler (3)
Boys: Stefan Kozlov (1) vs. Juan Padilla (4)

Girls: Denise Starr (4) vs. Alexandra Morozova (6)
Boys: Gordon Watson (1) vs. Trey Strobel (4)

Girls: Monica Puig (2) vs. Rebecca Bodine (1)
Boys: Jeremy Efferding vs. Ridley Seguso

Girls: Mallory Burdette vs. Maria Belaya (4)
Boys: Billy Federhofer (1) vs. Sekou Bangoura, Jr. (3)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Plaza Cup--Day One

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Miami, FL--

It's back to the juniors for me at the Plaza Cup, in its second year as a Level 3 USTA National tournament for all age divisions. It is played at five site in Coral Gables and Miami, including three of the sites that are used for the Junior Orange Bowl, so it's familiar territory for me.

But the first site I visited today, the Riviera Country Club, is not a Junior Orange Bowl venue, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Not far from the University of Miami, the eight clay courts there host the boys 14s and it's a great place to watch tennis, the golf course providing a backdrop, and the viewing area one story up.

Most of the first round matches finished quickly, but the contest between Floridians Roy Lederman and Ognjen Samardzic wasn't one of them. The first set, won by Lederman 6-4, took more than an hour to complete, and the second, also won by the third-seeded Lederman by the same score, took equally as long. Lederman, a finalist at both the Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl in the 12s, defends well, and against Samardzic he often retrieved what seemed a certain winner. I also caught the first set of the first round match between No. 2 seed Ken Sabacinski and Alexander Ritschard. Ritschard won the Florida 14s sectional last week, and watching him hit forehand winners with regularity, it was easy to see how he could overpower the field. But Ritschard had difficulty with his serve, double faulting often and Sabacinski took advantage, winning the first set tiebreaker 7-5. I didn't see the remainder of the match, but Sabacinski won it 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-1.

I stopped by the boys 18s site at the Biltmore Tennis Center, and several of the first round matches had not begun due to damp courts. Marcia Frost of collegeandjuniortennis.com is in Florida and we watched some of No. 2 seed Jeffrey Morris' 6-2, 6-2 win over Michael Gilliand. Many of the same Florida boys that I saw last weekend in the Tampa sectional were there, and two of them--Billy Federhofer, the top seed, and Sekou Bangoura Jr., the No. 3 seed, have advanced to the quarterfinals.

Marcia and I made our way to Salvadore Park, where the girls 18s and 14s were being played. We watched No. 3 seed Jackie Kasler, last week's 18s sectional winner in Tampa, make short work of Robyn Beddow 6-2, 6-0, and then settled in for the marquee match of the afternoon, with unseeded Mallory Burdette taking on unseeded Alina Jerjomina. Burdette has been playing well since returning from injury this fall, winning the ITF Grade 4 in Boca Raton in November and reaching the finals of the Grade 1 Yucatan last fall to bring her ITF ranking to 99. But Jerjomina matches Burdette in size, strength and power, and although the first set was decidedly in Burdette's favor at 6-1, Jerjomina came back in the second, breaking Burdette at 4-5. The third set saw many a well-struck backhand, and more than a few errors, but in the end Burdette prevailed 6-4, to set up a quarterfinal meeting with Kasler.

A rain shower around 8 p.m. disrupted some play, but most of the quarterfinals matchups are set. For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tomic Defeats Klahn in Nottinghill Final; Rus Takes Girls Title in AO Juniors warmup event; How I'd Provide Funding for Juniors

If the past is any indication, we'll be getting most of our news about the Australian Open Junior championships from the ITF Junior website--the official Australian Open website hasn't covered juniors with any regularity in past years, although this might change if Bernard Tomic goes deep in the draw as he is now expected to do after winning the Grade 1 in Nottinghill yesterday. The ITF recap of that tournament is here, with mention of Bradley Klahn's excellent singles results, although no mention of the doubles title he won with Milos Raonic of Canada. Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, a semifinalist at the Orange Bowl last month, won the girls title, and is definitely a contender for the AO junior title, even with 2007 finalists Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia and Madison Brengle of the U.S. in the mix again this year. The ITF's preview of the Australian Open junior competition is here.

Alexa Guarachi is the only other American girl listed in the AO final acceptances, but since the top three in the final qualifying list weren't in the the qualifying, including Lauren McHale of the U.S., I'm assuming they have been placed in the main draw. The draws haven't been released yet on the AO website, but the results from qualifying are available here.

As I've mentioned before, there were no American boys in qualifying, and only three have made the trip--Klahn, Ryan Harrison and Ty Trombetta. Having been to Australia once myself, I can say unequivocally that it is a fabulous experience, and every junior who has an opportunity to play it should. But I can also vouch for the considerable expense involved, and that was two years ago, when plane fares were less and the U.S. dollar was stronger.

I know that the $1500 stipulated in the Junior Grand Slam grant (view details here, by scrolling down) won't buy a ticket to Melbourne, and if I'm reading this right, a junior who qualifies does not get the grant. This goes a long way to explaining why of the 128 players in the main singles draws in the Australian Open Juniors, six are Americans.

I believe the USTA should provide its main draw accepted juniors with a coach (one for boys, one for girls), and reasonable airfare to attend all four Grand Slams, including the U.S. Open, which is now expressly excluded. For the three outside the U.S., the ITF Grade 1 events immediately prior to the Junior Slams are included in this "team trip." Airfare can be purchased by individual families, but they will be reimbursed based on the actual cost of the ticket purchased for the USTA coach who accompanies them. Airline change fees will be the responsibility of the family, but since the coach will be staying until the end of the tournament, any player who is already eliminated and no longer eligible for ITF hospitality will have his or her hotel room costs (typically two players are expected to share a room) covered, along with a food allowance equal to that which the players still in the draw receive. For this, they are required to attend matches of other U.S. players, serve as practice partners, etc.

Qualifiers who earn their way into the main draw are reimbursed for their airfare, and are entitled to the same treatment as originally accepted players. If a qualifier does not make it through to the main draw, they will receive only 50% of the airfare cost (again based on the coach's ticket price) and will be required to pay their own hotel bills.

Families wishing to accompany their children and make other arrangements for food and lodging are welcome to do so, but will be reimbursed exactly the same amount as an unaccompanied player travelling with the USTA "team."

I'm sure there are issues I've overlooked, scenarios I haven't considered, but it's a start. Playing top-level international competition in a Grand Slam atmosphere is a reward for performance and hard work, and the USTA should ensure that expense is not a reason to forgo the opportunity.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sajous, Domijan, Berankis and Ignatic Take Down Seeds to Advance to Quarterfinals at N. Miami Beach Futures

©Colette Lewis 2008--
N. Miami Beach FL--

Florida Atlantic University sophomore Olivier Sajous defeated No. 8 seed Gastao Elias of Portugal 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 to advance to Friday's quarterfinals of the Extreme Tennis Academy Futures at the Michael-Ann Russell Tennis Center. Sajous, a wild card, handled the gusty winds by using more topspin and once Elias began to miss, Sajous, ranked 56th in the current ITA rankings, went in the other direction. He made fewer and fewer errors, leaving Elias no openings.

Elias was far from the only seed to fall on Thursday, as No. 2 seed Nikita Kryvonos of the U.S. lost a grueling three setter to former Wake Forest star Todd Paul 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5). Vlad Ignatic of Belarus, the No. 2 ranked junior, took out top seed Adriane Biasella of Italy 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3 in another hard-fought contest that took over two hours to complete. Seventeen-year-old Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania needed only two sets to oust No. 5 seed Clement Morel of France 6-4, 6-4, but games were long and draining in the 80-degree temperatures. Berankis will face occasional practice partner Alex Domijan, who followed his first pro level win on Wednesday with an upset of No. 4 seed Vincent Millot of France 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3.

Domijan served for the match twice in the second set, and in the tiebreaker came back from 4-0 down to win five of the next six points, but Millot received a couple of unforced errors when he needed them to force a third set. Undeterred by his inability to close it out in two, Domijan continued to assert himself from the baseline and with his serve, frustrating the 21-year-old Millot to the point of racquet tossing and smashing by the match's end.

"I thought I played well for two thirds of it," said Domijan, who trains at Saddlebrook, indicating his displeasure with the end of the second set. "I waited for him to miss too much. But I didn't want to lose, didn't want to go home, so I kept on playing."

Getting accustomed to the strong south breezes took some time, and Domijan wasn't entirely happy with the way he handled the conditions.

"I probably should have gone for a little bit more on this side (into the wind)," Domijan said. "On the other side you could attack the short balls better, because the wind gave you more short balls."

Domijan approached the net often and it paid off, as Millot began to rush his passing shots, putting many in the net rather than past the 6-foot-6 Domijan. Millot began to return Domijan's serve more consistently, but the short and stocky Frenchman couldn't find a strategy to produce winners against his younger opponent.

Next up for Domijan is Berankis, who defeated him in the second round at the U.S. Open Juniors last September.

"I thought I was playing well then, but I didn't give myself a chance in that match," said Domijan. "I've played him a bunch of times in practice, but none of them have gone so well. He was (in Saddlebrook) before the first Futures, and he destroyed me again. Hopefully I can go out tomorrow and hit the shots."

For complete results, visit the usta.com Pro Circuit page. Results of the $25,000 Women's event in Arizona can also be found there. Sixteen-year-old qualifier Allie Will of Boca Raton has reached the quarterfinals.

Nine Intriguing Questions for 2008

My annual look ahead to 2008 is available today on The Tennis Recruiting Network. And while at the website, check out Nick Bollettieri's first installment addressing one of the biggest issues in junior tennis--cheating.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Domijan Earns First ATP Point at N. Miami Beach Futures; Battistone Serve Video

©Colette Lewis 2008--
N. Miami Beach FL--

It's back to the pros, technically, although today's action at the Michael-Ann Russell Tennis Center featured quite a few juniors, some of whom are professionals, some of whom are not.

There was one of each in the contest between American qualifier Jarmere Jenkins (amateur) and Vlad Ignatic (professional) of Belarus, the fourth meeting between the two 17-year-olds since last March. Jenkins had won the last two, at the Kentucky ITF Grade 1 Junior event in September, and at a Pro Circuit tournament in October, but this time Ignatic prevailed with a 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-1 win.

Jenkins was up a break in the first when I arrived and served for the set twice, at 5-4 and at 6-5, but couldn't hold either time. In the ensuing tiebreaker, Ignatic double faulted on set point, but rather than get angry, he got better, and was up 5-0 before Jenkins won a game in the second.

Ignatic demonstrated some impressive touch around the net, with several deft reflex and angle volley winners, and showed no hesitation in finishing inside the service line when he had the opportunity. He also drastically reduced his unforced errors in the final two sets, and finished the match with a flourish by cracking an ace.

A match that could be a practice session at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy saw 17-year-old ITF World Junior Champion Ricardas Berankis defeat 15-year-old Filip Krajinovic of Serbia 6-0, 4-6, 7-5. Berankis, a qualifier, could do no wrong in the first set, but the tenor of the match changed very quickly after Berankis was broken in a four-deuce game to go down 2-1 and was broken again serving at 2-4 to give Krajinovic a two-break lead. The Serbian, also a qualifier, couldn't serve it out in the next game, but he evened the match by holding on to his second break. In the third set, Berankis took a 3-1 advantage, but lost it immediately and there were no other breaks until the final game, when Krajinovic went down 15-40, saved two match points with service winners, but couldn't do a third time, and Berankis escaped with the victory.

"After I won the first set I dropped my level a little bit at 1-1 (in the second set)," Berankis said. "He had the momentum, and it went to three sets, pretty tight ones."

The combined ages of Krajinovic and Berankis (32) was less than that of wild card Alex Domijan's opponent, 36-year-old qualifier Ricardo Mena of Paraguay. Domijan, 16, was down 5-3 in the first set, but Mena, stocky and at least nine inches shorter than the 6-foot-6 Domijan, was broken at love serving for the set at 5-3. Domijan fought off four set points in the next game then in the tiebreaker took advantage of his only set point opportunity, when Mena hit a forehand long.

In the second set, they traded breaks in the first two games, but both players held until Domijan broke with Mena serving at 3-4. The Eddie Herr finalist then earned his first ATP point by holding in the next game. Domijan used his serve to get him out of the tight spots he encountered throughout the match, and although he was passed on occasion, he continued to move forward to finish points from inside the court.

The afternoon's doubles quarterfinals were all decided by match tiebreakers in lieu of the third set. Unseeded Gastao Elias of Portugal and Devin Britton of the U.S. (combined age 33) defeated wild cards Borys Czarnecki of Poland and Maurice Ruah of Venezuela (combined age 65) 4-6, 6-3, 10-8 to reach the semifinals. They will face Chris Lam and Chris Wettengel, who defeated Adam El Mihdawy and Ignatic 6-4, 3-6, 10-7. The only seeded team remaining is Andrey Kumantsov of Russia and Daniel Yoo of Korea, the No. 3 seeds, who downed the French team of Vincent Millot and Clement Morel 6-1, 4-6, 11-9. And I finally got my first look at the Battistone brothers, of the weird two-handed racquets and the volleyball service motion (Brian only). The second seeds, the Battistones were up 8-3 in the match tiebreaker against Amit Inbar of Israel and Rupesh Roy of India, but lost the final seven points of the match to fall 4-6, 7-5, 10-8.

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

It's my first try at uploading video, but here's Brian Battistone serving. Note the racquet switch from one hand to the other during the toss.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coaches Q and A: What's The Most Important Lesson for a Junior to Learn?

This is the new year's first installment of a continuing feature on zootennis which taps the professional expertise of Andy Brandi and Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Today's question: What's the most important lesson for a junior to learn?
Harold Solomon responds:

I think the most important lesson for juniors to learn is that there are no miracles that will enable them to reach their goals. Developing your skills as a tennis player is a step-by-step learning process. Each learned skill allows for the student to take the next step on the learning ladder. Students need to be committed to learning the entire set of basic technical, physical, and mental skills which will provide the foundation for their future growth and development.

Being open to "not knowing" is a key in this learning process. So many students pride themselves on already knowing everything; in fact, they have been rewarded for how much they know or think they know that they lose the benefit of not knowing, of being inquisitive, of being open to new information.

What this really boils down to is the kind of attitude that the student is willing to develop for themselves. In order for a player to be successful at the college or professional level they have to be committed to totally reinventing themselves on a constant basis. What worked in 12-and-unders is not sufficient for being successful in 16-and-unders; what worked in the 18s will not produce the results at the professional level.

Life is about learning, tennis is about learning, it's a lifelong never-ending process that if we can learn to embrace will serve us in all areas of our lives.

Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line. The next question, sent in by a reader, will address the issue of cheating.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kasler and Dolgovykh Win 18s Winter Sectional in Tampa

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tampa, FL--

Unseeded Jacqueline Kasler and fourth seed Eugene Dolgovykh captured sectional titles on a cool and breezy Monday morning at the City of Tampa Tennis Complex at Hillsborough Community College.

Kasler defeated No. 4 seed Cassandra Herzberg 7-5, 6-2 to vanquish her fourth seed on a list that included No. 5 seed Carling Seguso, No. 3 seed Olivia Janowicz and No. 7 seed Danielle Collins.

"I've been practicing really hard so I knew I could do well," Kasler said in answer to a question about her expectations coming into the tournament. "But I had a really tough draw, so I didn't think I'd do this well."

The final was a contrast in styles, with the hard-hitting Herzberg, who hits two-handed on both forehand and backhand sides, frustrated by the defense and variety of Kasler.

"I had to be consistent, keep it deep, because she pounds the ball," said the 16-year-old Kasler, from Pensacola. "I knew I couldn't outhit her so, I had to be consistent and come in when I could."

Both players had set points in the multi-deuce 12th game of the first set, with Herzberg serving to get into the tiebreaker. It was Kasler who eventually converted, and an increasingly frustrated Herzberg saw her unforced errors multiply.

Temperatures in the mid-50s and a steady north wind made for challenging conditions, but Kasler thought they gave her an advantage.

"The wind helped a little bit with her," said Kasler. "She nails the ball and I got passed a lot, but I had to grind, had to stay in the match."

Unlike Kasler, who won two three-set matches on her way to the title, Dolgovykh didn't lose a set in any of his five wins, although he did need three tiebreakers, including one in his 6-3, 7-6(6) finals victory over No. 2 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr.

The first set saw the 18-year-old Dolgovykh take charge with his serve and forehand, but Bangoura, who typically starts slowly, began to work his way into the match taking leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before Dolgovykh pulled even at 3-3. When Dolgovykh broke Bangoura for the third straight time for a 4-3 lead, it looked as if the muscular right-hander from Palm Coast might come through with a routine win, but it got much more complicated than that. Dolgovykh double faulted on game point to make it 4-4, and after each held in their next service games, Bangoura returned the favor in the 11th game, giving Dolgovykh the chance to serve out the match.

He recovered from a 15-40 hole to pull it to deuce and then earned his chance to finish the match--twice.

"I had a couple of match points and choked a little bit, but he played a lot of really good points when it came down to it," said Dolgovykh, who finished points at the net with much less frequency than he had in the match's earlier stages. "He was passing well, and I was a little nervous, my feet weren't moving as quick. I felt like I wanted to come in, but I just wasn't coming in."

Dolgovykh took leads of 4-1 and 6-3 in the tiebreaker, with neither player holding serve with any regularity. Serving at 6-3, Dolgovykh thought he had won the match when he called Bangoura's shot long of the baseline, but the umpire standing on court didn't agree, and the match continued.

"I called it out, I saw it clearly out, by an inch, but the ref overruled it when later he told me he didn't see it," said Dolgovykh, who has signed an NLI to play at Central Florida. "That could have been the match right there, it could have gone three sets. Luckily I won, but I was really upset."

Dolgovykh made two forehand errors to force another change of ends and he admitted that the controversy had affected his concentration. "In the next two points I tried to win them too quick and that didn't work. Luckily he made an unforced error in the end and I won."

The third place matches were also straight set contests. Danielle Collins defeated Kelly Kambourelis 6-2, 6-2 and Blas Moros beat Billy Federhofer 6-4, 6-0.

The consolation winners played three matches Monday to decide fifth place. The girls' winner was Carling Seguso, who lost to Kasler in the second round of the main draw. Seguso, who lost the first four games of the match, came back to defeat Kayla Rizzolo in the consolation finals 6-4, 6-3. Mark Schanerman took fifth place in the boys' 18s with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Michael Basile.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Top Seeds Fall in Semis in Florida Sectional; Devvarman Takes Futures Title

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tampa, FL--

Two brief rain showers extended an already long day well into the evening at the Florida 18s sectionals, with the doubles finals finishing under the lights at the City of Tampa Hillsborough Community College Tennis Center.

With the quarterfinal match between unseeded Bianca Sanon and No. 7 seed Danielle Collins taking over four hours to complete, not including the two rain delays, the girls' schedule was understandably drawn out. Unsurprisingly, Collins, the winner of the 6-2, 6-7 (2) 7-6 (3), had nothing left for her semifinal, losing to unseeded Jacqueline Kasler 6-3, 6-0. Kasler will face No. 4 seed Cassandra Herzberg, who ousted top seed and defending champion Kelly Kambourelis 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals. The girls tournament is played on clay, while the boys compete on hard courts, which take longer to dry, and delays totaling over two hours also pushed start times for doubles late into the evening.

The three-set semifinal between No. 2 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. and No. 3 seed Billy Federhofer also was responsible for the late doubles finish, as both were in the doubles semifinals. Federhofer had a match point serving at 5-4 in the third set, but Bangoura saved it and won the next three games to pull out the 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win. Federhofer was cramping late in the match, but an hour later he was back out on the court for the doubles. He and partner Creighton Blanchard, the top seeds, failed to reach the doubles final, however and Bangoura and his partner Kurthan Anbarci, the second seeds, also bowed out in the semifinals.

In Monday morning's singles final, Bangoura will face No. 4 seed Eugene Dolgovykh, who dispatched top seed Blas Moros 6-4, 6-2. Dolgovykh's lengthy 7-6(6), 7-6(4) quarterfinal win over Aaron May meant a later start for his contest with Moros, but the big-serving Dolgovykh earned his finals berth long before Bangoura.

With the showers came cooler temperatures and the few family members viewing the doubles finals were layering all the clothing items they could find against the evening chill. The girls doubles final, between the unseeded teams of Brittany Borsanyi and Sanon and Jamie Mera and Jennifer Miller, finished first, with Sanon ending her arduous day on a winning note. Borsanyi and Sanon broke at 4-4 and didn't lose another game taking the championship 8-4.

It was after 8 p.m when the boys doubles title was decided in favor of Patrick Whitner and Spencer Wolf, the No. 4 seeds, who outlasted No. 3 seeds Joel Samaha and Connor Smith 9-7.

The feed-in consolation will require three matches on Monday, with a tiebreaker in lieu of a third set. The main draw and third place matches will begin at 9 a.m. For complete results, visit the TennisLink site.

In the Tampa Futures, NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman of Virginia added the singles title to his doubles win, taking down top seed Dusan Vemic of Serbia 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Audra Cohen fell in the women's singles final 6-4, 6-0 to Russian Anastasia Pivovarova.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Long Day at Florida Sectional; Devvarman and Cohen Reach Futures Finals

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tampa, FL--

We've been working at the desk of this 18s sectional tournament since 2001, missing only 2006, when we went to Australia instead. It's always been over Martin Luther King's birthday holiday, but this year it was moved up a week, the draws cut down to 32, with a full consolation and, for the first time this year, doubles. This is part of the section's response to the new combined ranking, which will include 15% of the doubles results. Matches started at 8 a.m. at the City of Tampa's Hillsborough Community College site, and the last doubles matches ended around 7 p.m., with a similar schedule in place for Sunday.

Although the doubles are eight game pro sets, it still was four matches for those who won a doubles match, three for everyone who entered doubles and lost their first match. That's a lot of tennis, but after one day, the singles are down to the quarterfinals, and the doubles to the semifinals, with the plan being to finish the doubles on Sunday, to minimize school absences for those only in doubles by that stage.

The seeding has held up well on the boys 18s, with the top four through without dropping a set. No. 5 seed Bryan Swartz lost in the first round to Kurthan Anbarci, who was defeated by Joel Samaha. Aaron May is the other unseeded player reaching the quarterfinals with a straight set defeat of No. 8 Jonathan Drew.

The boys doubles have gone as projected, with the four seeded teams reaching the semifinals. Top seeds Creighton Blanchard and William Federhofer will meet third seeds Samaha and his partner Connor Smith. The second seeded team of Anbarci and Sekou Bangoura Jr. will take on No. 4 seeds Patrick Whitner and Spencer Wolf.

The girls draws have produced more upsets. Top seed and defending champion Kelly Kambourelis is through to the quarterfinals, but No. 2 seed Lindsay Dvorak withdrew, and No. 5 seed Carling Seguso was upset in the second round by Jacqueline Kasler, leaving only two seeds in the bottom half. Amy Grossklag eliminated No. 6 seed Alexis Rodriguez in the second round to join the three seeds in the top half.

The only seeded team remaining in the girls doubles is Olivia Janowicz and Kasler, at No. 3. Top seeds Kambourelis and Jaime Yapp-Shing fell to the Dubins sisters, Brittany and Taylor in the quarterfinals and second seeds Shannon Gunning and Rodriguez lost to Jamie Mera and Jennifer Miller, also in the quarterfinals.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink website.

Thirty minutes north, at the first Pro Circuit Futures of the year, NCAA champions Audra Cohen and Somdev Devvarman, both qualifiers, have reached Sunday's singles finals. Devvarman defeated Greg Ouellette 6-0, 1-0 ret. while Cohen fought back to take out Petra Rampre 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. For complete draws, see usta.com.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Devvarman and Huey Repeat as Futures Doubles Champions; Cohen Reaches Semifinals

St. Leo's University, FL--
Last year's Pro Circuit Futures was held in Tampa at the Hillsborough Community College, the same site that hosted the Florida section's designated tournament, so I had an opportunity to watch the men and women as well as the boys and girls over the weekend.
This year, the Futures tournament moved north about 30 minutes, so today was the only opportunity I'd have to see any pro-level action. The campus at St. Leo University, which fields a men's and women's tennis team in Division II, is in the rural hills of Pasco County, a far cry from Raymond James stadium, which looms over the HCC campus.

The St. Leo courts are tucked behind the lush baseball diamond, where the team was furiously conducting a full-uniform practice in the afternoon. But this morning when we arrived, it was quiet except for the sound of the running RVs that served as office and player lounge. Those next on were hitting, but four matches were underway, and I sat down to watch the end of the first set between qualifiers Todd Paul and Somdev Devvarman, two college players I've watched often--Paul, who has now graduated from Wake Forest and Devvarman, who is in his final year at Virginia. I was told that Paul's forehand was hitting every line in the first five games, and he had a 4-1 lead when I arrived. With Devvarman serving at 2-5, it was 0-30, but he held, broke Paul for 4-5, saved a set point with a forehand winner in that game, then both players held easily to reach the tiebreaker.

Paul took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but Devvarman found another gear. A perfect lob winner at 5-5 gave him his first set point, which he won as a result of an outstanding return, and he went on to take the next 13 points. It was the second point of the second set's fourth game before Paul won another point, and by then Devvarman had assured himself a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victory. Another college standout, wild card Greg Ouellette, a senior at Florida, earned a semifinal clash with Devvarman, defeating Chris Lam 6-3, 6-4. The other semifinal features No. 1 seed Dusan Vemic of Serbia against unseeded Daniel Lustig of the Czech Republic.

I didn't see the second set, because I was watching the end of the match between Audra Cohen--like Devvarman, the reigning NCAA champion, but unlike Devvarman, no longer in school--and Kim Couts, who graduated from the junior ranks less than two weeks ago. Couts, a lucky loser, and Cohen, a qualifier, had played plenty of tennis since last Saturday, but Cohen looked sharper, defending well enough and long enough until Couts missed. Couts saved three match points serving at 1-5 in the second, but Cohen served out the match to set up a semifinal against fellow qualifier Petra Rampre of Slovenia. Russia's Anastasia Pivovarova, the sixth seed, and Corinna Dentoni of Italy, seeded seventh, who reached the doubles final as a team, will meet on opposite sides of the net in the other semifinal.

We took a break to visit Saddlebrook, a few miles down I-75, simply to see the resort and the tennis facility that serves as a training site for many pros, including Justine Henin, James Blake, the Bryan twins, and now, John Isner. Of course, with the Australian Open just a few days away, none of them were there, but we did see a few juniors drilling and playing practice matches, including Alex Domijan, Adam El Mihdawy, Gabriela Dabrowski and Kayla Rizzolo.

When we returned to St. Leo's, the men's doubles final was underway, with defending champions Devvarman and Treat Huey already leading the No. 2 seeded Czech team of Lustig and Ladislav Charamosta by a set. Devvarman and Huey, who won both the ITA's major doubles titles last fall and are the top-ranked team in the rankings, weren't seeded, but they had taken out the No. 1 seeds Ryler De Heart and Tim Smyczek on Thursday 6-2, 6-4, and were also playing at a level substantially above that of the Czechs in their 6-2, 6-2 win.

"In our second, third and fourth matches, we definitely got better as the tournament wore on," said Devvarman. "We needed to get used to the surface and the courts, the balls and the weather, and we haven't played since National Indoors together."

One of the additional things Devvarman and Huey needed to get used to was the no-ad scoring, which wasn't the format at the Tampa Futures they won last year.

"It's definitely different," Huey said. "We played like that I think one time in the fall with our coaches, practicing, fooling around. We didn't really know until the last week that the rule had changed. When we got to a deuce point, it's like, 'oh, Somdev will return, why not?' And he took every deuce return the whole tournament and did real well with it."

"It definitely favors the team that's most clutch and most focused," said Devvarman. "In this kind of tennis every single point matters."

The doubles was played Friday afternoon so that Huey could get to Miami for his qualifying match in the second of three Futures in Florida this month. Draws for St. Leo's and qualifying for North Miami Beach can be found at usta.com.

The information for the Florida 18s sectional that I'll be working at over the next three days is here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Copper Bowl Wrap; McHale Sisters Chat

Early post today, due to our travel schedule. Julie Wrege writes about the recently completed Copper Bowl for the Tennis Recruiting Network; it's a chance to learn about some of the less celebrated juniors out there.

Marcia Frost, who is finishing up her book "American Doubles... On Top of The World," took some time to talk with Lauren and Christina McHale. Her "Talking With" story is here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tomic Beats Wang; Tampa Futures

With his first round win in Australian Open men's qualifying (draws here) over Yeu-Tzuoo Wang, 15-year-old Bernard Tomic has assured himself even more media coverage in the coming days and weeks. There's been plenty of hyperbole since his Orange Bowl win last month, with one widely circulated Australian Associated Press story calling him "far and away the world's best 15-year-old", which would come as a surprise to Ryan Harrison and Yuki Bhambri, who are that age and just behind Tomic in the ITF junior rankings and Filip Krajinovic, who beat him soundly at the Eddie Herr just six weeks ago. Another story called him "world junior champion" which is, of course, the exclusive property of Ricardas Berankis and Urszula Radwanska at the moment.

Entitled Teen shows Lleyton how it's done, this story is more sensible, with both perspective and a lot of comments by Hewitt about the insignificance of junior wins. I don't share his scorn (and Nadal did play some junior tennis), but it's a point of view that deserves some consideration.

But the main thing I like about this story is the recognition of that special quality of finding a way to win when losing is a real option. Tomic displayed it at the 2006 Junior Orange Bowl, when he saved a match point in the final, he did it at the Junior Davis Cup against Giacomo Miccini, when he won the third set 13-11 and he did it again yesterday, saving five match points in a 28 point second set tiebreaker. All the beautiful forehands in the world don't amount to much if that's missing.

Tomorrow we head back to Florida for junior tournaments the next two weekends, the first one in Tampa, and perhaps we'll have a chance to look in on the Futures tournaments being held in Wesley Chapel. Last year, the men's and women's tournaments were at the same site as the Florida 18s designated, but the pros have moved north. After the first round, there are plenty of current and former collegians still in the men's draw, but no juniors. A few high profile junior girls are through to the second round--Anastasia Pivovarova, U.S. Open Junior Champion Kristina Kucova (a qualifier) and Ksenia Pervak. Kim Couts, Audra Cohen, Angela Haynes and Alexis Gordon are the U.S. women who advanced. For complete draws, see the USTA Pro Circuit page.