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Monday, June 30, 2008

First Round of Wimbledon Juniors Complete; Eyewitness Report and Interviews from Guy McCrea at AELTC

As promised, Radio Wimbledon's Guy McCrea is providing coverage of the juniors direct from Wimbledon. He is obviously very handy with the voice recorder, and he has submitted four interviews in audio form for your listening pleasure. For photos of Monday's action, visit the ITF junior website, where Susan Mullane's pictures coincide with many of the players interviewed (click to enlarge them.) So, without further ado, here's Guy:

(NOTE: Quicktime, a media player available via a Free Download is required to hear the audio clips.)

Monday’s action at the All England Club saw the remainder of the boys and girls singles first round matches take to the lawns of the All England Club, as well as the start of the doubles event.

Let’s concentrate on some of the opening round highlights from the singles events. In the boys tourney, American qualifier Devin Britton went out in the first round to Japan’s Hiroyasu Ehara. It’s always pleasing to see serve and volleyers on the grass and many aspects of Britton’s game were also impressive – particularly his fighting spirit to take the second tie-break. It is easy to see why he has had success on this surface recently – not just in qualifying for Junior Wimbledon – but also in winning the US Grass Court title earlier this month. But he was ultimately edged out by an inspired opponent on court 8. Ehara served extremely well throughout the match and one break of serve proved enough for him to take the deciding set 6-4.

Elsewhere, Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia had to come from a set down to beatBritain’s James Marsalek. But there was better news for some of the other home players. On court 19, Marcus Willis was in excellent form against Italian 15-year-old Giacomo Miccini. After being sent home for ‘forgetting’ his tennis rackets at the Australian Open Juniors in January, Willis seems to have responded. He is a much improved player from this time last year – particularly in his use of the ‘leftie’ serve out wide, which troubled Miccini throughout. But the former junior world number 20 has an effective net game and this kept him in the match. Willis created the better chances in the deciding set though and finally broke through at the end to win it 11 games to 9 after almost two hours of battle. Willis’ fellow Brit Dan Smethurst is also into the second round. Last week’s Roehampton Grade 1 finalist beat Lorenzo Papasidero in straight sets.


In the girls singles, American wildcard Coco Vandeweghe followed Mallory Burdette out of the event with a straight sets defeat to Britain’s Jade Windley. Vandeweghe is certainly a clean striker of the ball off both wings and she also showed a keenness to approach the net. But her winners were cancelled out by an equally high unforced error count. Windley broke twice to win the first set 6-2 – her opponent’s anguished yell at the end of that rubber a clear demonstration of how unhappy she was with her game. It did improve for Vandeweghe in the second as she threatened in nearly all of Windley’s service games. But the Brit held out and went on to break Vandeweghe’s serve at the end of the set to win it and the match 7-5. A huge victory against an opponent ranked over 250 places above her in the ITF combined list.


American top seed Melanie Oudin joined Windley in the second round after an easy victory over Japan’s Sachie Ishizu. Oudin was dominant from the outset and barely broke a sweat in her 6-1, 6-2 win that took just under an hour. The top seed recorded an impressive 70 percent first serve percentage, and was typically aggressive from the baseline. Oudin was very pleased to build on last week’s victory at Roehampton.


Oudin will now meet Britain’s Laura Robson in the second round. She dismissed American lucky loser Alexa Guarachi in straight sets 6-0, 6-4. The left-hander was happy with how the match went.

Robson seems destined to be the Great British hope of the next few years. Just 14 years old and already ranked 59 in the world, she will be looking to avenge her defeat to Oudin in last week’s Roehampton final.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski surprisingly went out easily in straight sets to 12th seed Nikola Hofmanova of Austria, while sixth seed Jessica Moore of Australia did well to come back from a set down and reach the second round.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Elsewhere in Tennis....Devvarman Wins Rochester, Embree Takes Wichita, Keys Triumphs in Bahamas

The "rest day" at Wimbledon gives me an opportunity to pass along some of the other notable results this week on the Pro and ITF Circuits.

Two-time NCAA champ Somdev Devvarman won his first event as a professional today in Rochester, New York, defeating 16-year-old Alex Domijan of Florida 6-2, 6-2. Unseeded, Devvarman cruised past top seed Artem Sitak, with a 321 ATP ranking, by the same score in the quarterfinals and lost only 16 games in his five victories. He and Virginia teammate Treat Huey, who was commuting for qualifying matches in next week's Pittsburgh event, also took the doubles title. It was the same pair of results as at the Tampa Futures back in January, but this time, Devvarman and Huey can cash their winners' checks, not expense checks.

In Wichita, unseeded Lauren Embree won the $10,000 tournament, taking out Jamie Hampton in Sunday's final by a 6-3, 6-4 score. Although the 17-year-old had reached the finals in an event last summer, this was her first Pro Circuit title. Sloane Stephens and Christina McHale took the doubles title, making it a clean sweep for juniors.

For complete draws of the Pro Circuit action last week, visit usta.com.

Thirteen-year-olds Madison Keys and Sachia Vickery have quite a rivalry going, although they haven't played since the Orange Bowl 12s last December. Vickery reached the final of an ITF Grade 5 in Bermuda last week; this week Keys won a Grade 5 in the Bahamas. Christian Harrison reached the Bahamas final, losing to Japan's Yasutaka Uchiyama, who also won the week before in Bermuda. Vickery was recently the subject of a Sarasota Herald Tribune feature, which can be found here.

And to return to Wimbledon, where our focus will be tomorrow, here's an account of the Ryan Harrison and Vasek Pospisil match by Canadian Stephanie Myles of the Montreal Gazette. Even though she was there, I can't figure out where the third match point saved was in that second set tiebreaker. I know Harrison was down 5-6 and 7-8, but I'm missing the third one. Oh well. Interesting that she says Pospisil "undoubtedly has the best volley in the boys' juniors, period." I know he is an excellent doubles player, but that's a pretty strong statement from someone who doesn't regularly follow juniors.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wimbledon Juniors Day One; Contest for All-Access Passes Ends at 9 pm EDT Saturday

The first day of Wimbledon junior competition is over, and seven seeds made their exits. Ty Trombetta of the U.S. topped No. 5 seed Yuki Bhambri of India 7-6(2), 6-4, while No. 8 Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and No. 12 seed Peerakit Siributwong were also defeated. Bhambri, a semifinalist in this year's Australia Juniors, has had a woeful spring in Europe, going 0-2 on the clay and 0-2 on the grass, with this loss.

Ryan Harrison, the No. 7 seed, saved two match points in the second set tiebreaker and managed to get past Vasek Pospisil of Canada 6-7(5), 7-6(8), 6-4, and No. 16 seed Bradley Klahn was taken to three sets, but won the final one 6-0 in his win over Di Wu of China. Chase Buchanan, the No. 14 seed, made it through in straight sets, but his doubles partner, Jarmere Jenkins, was eliminated by No. 6 seed Henrique Cunha of Brazil.

The girls draw lost both of the Romanian Bogdans (not related), No. 4 seed Elena, the French Open finalist who beat Oudin at Roland Garros, and No. 7 Ana. Kurumi Nara of Japan, the No. 8 seed, and No. 11 Ksenia Lykina of Russia also lost in Saturday's opening round. Mallory Burdette of the U.S. was defeated by Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, the 2007 Eddie Herr 16s champion. Top seed Melanie Oudin and wild card Coco Vandeweghe, the other two U.S. girls in the draw, will play their first round matches on Monday.

It's refreshing to have an official website pay attention to the juniors, and today Wimbledon.org has no less than three news stories devoted to them. This one is on how the seeds fared, this one on the British juniors and this one on top seed Bernard Tomic of Australia, who demolished Spain's Carlos Boluda in the opening round. For complete draws, including doubles, which were released today, visit wimbledon.org.

The drawing for the four All-Access passes will take place tonight at 9 p.m. and I will email the winners shortly thereafter. I will close the comments on Friday's post below, after I make my picks in the last comment.

I am also pleased to announce that Guy McCrea of Radio Wimbledon will be contributing reports on the junior action next week direct from the All-England Club. He is covering the juniors for Radio Wimbledon, so he will have plenty of valuable observations on this year's junior event for zootennis readers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Free Wimbledon Live All-Access Passes for Several Lucky ZooTennis Readers

The draws for the Wimbledon junior championships are out (more about that later), but there's other exciting news first. MediaZone has just contacted me with an offer of several free All-Access passes ($24.99 value) for the online streaming product at Wimbledon.org, which I think will be of real value for those who are interested in watching some of the U.S. college players still in doubles, and, of course, the juniors. At this late date, there's no time for a real contest, so tomorrow (Saturday) I'll just randomly select from anyone who has left a comment in June, if they also leave one on this post predicting the winners of the girls and boys Wimbledon Championships.

One caution: Wimbledon LIVE is available only for the Windows operating system. And I will need you to provide me with your email when you comment (which I will delete before posting the comment to the site), so I can send you the gift certificate code if you are selected.

Now to the junior draws. The U.S. had great success in the juniors last year, with Donald Young winning the boys title and Madison Brengle reaching the girls final. There are six U.S. boys in the main draw this year, three of them seeded: Ryan Harrison (7), Chase Buchanan (14) and Bradley Klahn (16). Jarmere Jenkins, Ty Trombetta and qualifier Devin Britton are also in. There are only three U.S. girls, as none of the four in qualifying advanced to the main draw: Melanie Oudin, the top seed, who won Roehampton today, Coco Vandeweghe and Mallory Burdette. Oudin beat 14-year-old Laura Robson of Great Britain in three sets in the Roehampton final, and they will meet, if both advance, in the second round at Wimbledon.

For those interested in the qualifying results, click here. For the Roehampton results, including a short story on the British finalists, click here.

So, who do think will win the Wimbledon junior titles? Make a comment and get in the running for the All-Access Passes for Wimbledon LIVE.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ryan Lipman Chooses Vanderbilt; Midwest Closed 12s & 14s Report and Slideshow

I spoke to Ryan Lipman at the Grass Courts about his decision to attend Vanderbilt and that interview is available today at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

I didn't watch much Wimbledon today (just as well given the Blake and Roddick losses); instead I went to Stowe Stadium for the finals of the Midwest Outdoor Closed 12s and 14s, held this year for the first time in Kalamazoo.

In all four finals, the lower seed defeated the higher one, although the upsets, if you can call them that, were hardly of the Kudryavtseva over Sharapova magnitude. In the girls 12s, second seed Sierra Stone of Ohio downed top seed Cassie Mercer of Huntington, W. Va., 7-5, 2-6, 6-1, and it was also No. 2 over No. 1 in the boys 12s. Aron Hiltzik of Illinois defeated Hunter Tubert, also of Huntington, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Both 12s finals were very close and well-played. It was rare when a moonball rally surfaced, and when it did, it didn't last long, as the boys particularly were constructing points and hitting the ball hard.

The boys 14s title went to second seed Tyler Gardiner of Michigan, who won the USTA boys Clay Court and Hard Court gold balls in the 12s last year. Gardiner beat top seed Zachary Mueck of Ohio 7-6(5), 6-4, and showed some grit and opportunism in the win. In the first set, Gardiner was down three set points, one serving at 4-5 and two serving at 5-6, but he held off Mueck. In the tiebreaker, Gardiner cashed in on his first set point and in the second set, broke Mueck three times to earn the championship.

The only No. 2 seed who didn't win Thursday afternoon was Jerricka Boone of Chicago, who fell to No. 3 seed Brooke Austin 6-4, 6-4. For Austin, it was her twelfth tournament win in the first six months of 2008, and after watching the 12-year-old from Indianapolis, I can see why. Although she is much smaller and lighter than Boone, Austin played much more aggressively throughout the match, taking the ball on the rise and standing well inside the baseline for every serve, not just the second. She went for the lines and made most of them, and her swinging volley was fluid and confidently struck time after time. She was on offense so much that it was difficult to assess her defensive skills, but I think at age 12, that's an amazing statement.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wimbledon Junior Qualifying Draws; Smith Named Men's Head Coach at Duke

Thanks to Guy McCrea, who is working the Championships for Radio Wimbledon, I've gotten the qualifying draws for the Junior Championships, which begin tomorrow. The U.S. has two players in the boys qualifying: US Grass Court champion Devin Britton and Harry Fowler, and four girls: Lauren McHale, Alexa Guarachi, Nicole Bartnik and Monica Yajima. For the boys draw, click here. For the girls draw, click here.

At the Grade 1 in Roehampton, Melanie Oudin and Bradley Klahn of the U.S. have reached the semifinals, Klahn with a three-set win over Russian Alexei Grigorov and Oudin with another straight set win, her fourth of the week, over British wild card Heather Watson. Ryan Harrison and Klahn are also through to the semifinals in doubles. For draws, see the LTA website.

In college news, Duke has named Ramsey Smith to replace Jay Lapidus as head coach of the men's tennis program. Lapidus will become Director of Tennis at Duke, will Josh Goffi will leave Arizona State's women's program to become the Duke assistant coach. KJ Hippensteel will serve as volunteer assistant. Click here for the Duke website's announcement.

A former Blue Devil, Jon Stokke, is joining ACC rival Wake Forest, as an assistant for the women's team. That announcement is here.

And espn.com's Greg Garber talked with Bobby Reynolds, the former Vanderbilt star, about his second round win today at Wimbledon (scroll down for Reynolds story.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Levine Downs Young at Wimbledon; Southern Cal and Southern Closed Sectionals Complete

As expressed by many commenters today, it was disappointing to watch ESPN2's coverage of Wimbledon all day and not see anything about Jesse Levine's four-set win over Donald Young. (There is a brief mention of it at the end of the Day 2 highlight video on espn.com's Tennis home page, in conjunction with Chris Fowler and Pam Shriver's remarks on the poor American showing in the first round.) But Charlie Bricker of the Sun-Sentinel didn't neglect Levine, posting this story about the match, and an unnamed reporter asked Andy Roddick about Levine in Roddick's post-match press conference. Here's the exchange:

Q. Do you know Jesse Levine pretty well? He won today. What would you say about his game?

ANDY RODDICK: He actually went to my high school. You know, he's a worker, which is refreshing, you know, especially from the young Americans. You know, he gets out there. He traveled to Dubai to hit with Roger for 15 days.

Every time I've asked him to hit, it's almost like he wants to learn. He wants to be a really good player. He's not just content to be kind of traveling around and doing that. You know, you can't really put, you know, a price on that. You can't really teach that. That's just something that's there. That's probably the most impressive thing about him.
Is that a veiled expression of disappointment in other young Americans' work ethic and competitive zeal? Sounds like it to me.

At Roehampton, Melanie Oudin, Bradley Klahn and Jarmere Jenkins are through to the quarterfinals. Coco Vandeweghe lost to Britain's Heather Watson today, but has received a main draw wild card into the junior championships, so she will not have to qualify. For today's results, see the LTA website.

The Southern California sectional finished yesterday, and the winners are as follows: 18s: Kaitlyn Christian and Steve Johnson; 16s: Sarah Lee and Joshua Tchan; 14s: Riko Shimizu and Reo Asami; 12s: Gabrielle Andrews and Deiton Baughman; 10s: Angela Kulikov and Maxwell Cancilla.

The Southern Closed was held in five different locations across the section last week, and the winners were: 18s: Whitney Kay and Anderson Reed; 16s: Garrett Brasseaux and Kirsten Lewis; 14s: Alex Howard and Hayley Carter; 12s: Jessie Lynn Paul and Brent Lett; 10s: Kenya Jones and Aleks Huryn.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pavlyuchenkova & Radwanska Win on Wimbledon's Opening Day; Four U.S. Juniors Remain at Roehampton; Chris Brandi Named Men's Assistant at Wake Forest

Last year Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia was given a wild card into the main draw at Wimbledon, granted due to her position as the ITF's top junior in 2006. Her debut didn't go well, as the then 15-year-old won only one game from Daniela Hantuchova, and in the juniors, she lost to eventual champion Urszula Radwanska in the quarterfinals.

Since last year, Pavlyuchenkova has moved her WTA ranking up to 136, earning a spot in the Wimbledon qualifying, and three victories later she was ready for her main draw match against France's Alize Cornet. Cornet's rise in the rankings has been much faster, and now in the top 20, the 18-year-old Frenchwoman was seeded 17th at Wimbledon. But those old junior rivalries die hard, and Pavlyuchenkova took out Cornet, the 2007 French Open Junior champion 7-6(6), 7-6(4). Wimbledon.org has this story about their match. Poland's Radwanska, who received a wild card into the main draw for her Wimbledon junior title last year, also advanced to the second round, defeating Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-4. The 17-year-old's task gets much tougher in the second round, where she will meet Serena Williams. For complete draws, see Wimbledon.org.

The ITF Grade 1 at Roehampton is the major junior warm-up for Wimbledon, and the U.S. contingent has not had a great deal of success. Melanie Oudin, the No. 1 seed in the girls event, has had two straight-set wins, and unseeded Coco Vandeweghe has also advanced to the round of 16, but Mallory Burdette and Alexa Guarachi both fell in today's second round action. Bradley Klahn of the U.S., the No. 13 seed, is one of only five seeds remaining in the boys final 16 and Jarmere Jenkins dropped the No. 11 seed today to advance to the third round. The top seeded boy, reigning French Open Junior champion Tsung-Hua Yang is out, as is the second seed in the girls, Arantxa Rus, the 2008 Australian Open Junior champion. For complete draws, visit the ITF junior site.

In college news, Wake Forest has announced that former Florida player Chris Brandi, who had been coaching with his father Andy at the Harold Solomon Institute, has been named assistant for the Demon Deacons' men's team, replacing Andrew Simpson. For more, see the Wake Forest website announcement.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ahn Wins Again, This Time in Houston; Van't Hof to Coach Vandeweghe; Rus Signs with IMG

Sixteen-year-old Kristie Ahn won her second $10,000 Pro Circuit event, and unlike her win in Pennsylvania last month, when she was a wild card, this time she won three matches in qualifying. The college women were playing the NCAAs during that first win, but not this week in Houston, where Ahn took out Duke's Ellah Nze, NCAA champion Amanda McDowell of Georgia Tech and Sanaz Marand of UNC, all in straight sets. Her win today in the final was a tough one, but she beat No. 1 seed and 269th-ranked Chin-Wei Chan of Chinese Tapei 7-6(7), 0-6, 7-6(2). Ahn has now played the requisite three tournaments for a WTA ranking (winning two of them) and will have her own ranking by the time Wimbledon is over.

And speaking of juniors with impressive wins over veteran collegians, Raymond Sarmiento, the 15-year-old Californian, has beaten Virginia's Ted Angelinos and Ruben Gonzales of Illinois in his first two qualifying matches at the Pro Circuit Futures event in Rochester, New York, with both wins coming in straight sets.

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

Charlie Bricker of the Sun-Sentinel has this report on Lindsay Davenport's successful attempt to get her former coach, Robert Van't Hof, to work with Coco Vandeweghe. Vandeweghe is eligible for the Wimbledon junior qualifying, courtesy of her top 500 WTA ranking, and she will begin her attempt to qualify on Thursday.

And earlier this month, IMG announced the signing of Australian Open Junior champion Arantxa Rus, of the Netherlands. Rus, 17, is currently ranked third in the ITF juniors and 282 by the WTA. She is scheduled to compete in the Wimbledon juniors.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tiley Vs. Stoltenberg Australian Player Development Battle Continues

Yesterday's post about player development mentioned the apparently differing philosphies between Tennis Australia's Craig Tiley and Jason Stoltenberg, a former tour player turned development coach. As Andrew D pointed out in a comment overnight, the two have rarely agreed on anything in the past three years since Tiley's been in Australia and these two articles certainly support that view.

From the sound of the headline--"Stolts takes a stand to stop development rot"--The Sydney Morning Herald is taking Stoltenberg's side, but the paper does present Tiley's response in the much less sensationally headlined: "Tennis Australia returns serve."

Tiley refrains from pointing out the success of the current Australian juniors, who won three of the four ITF International Junior competitions last year, because I'm sure he is as concerned about pro success as Stoltenberg, and knows that junior wins will not be the measure of his tenure in Australia. But I think that is a positive step for Australian tennis that Stoltenberg is overlooking. And Stoltenberg doesn't instill in me a lot of confidence when he says:

"Two very good girls - Johanna Konta and Lora(sic) Robson - may technically be playing for Australia, but they're being developed and funded by Britain," Stoltenberg said.

"That's how bad our system is. Two of our best girls have gone overseas. How many kids do we have to lose before something is done?"

To my knowledge Laura Robson has never played for Australia; when she won the Eddie Herr 12s in 2006, she was playing under the Union Jack and has been ever since. She was born in Australia, but to blame Tiley's system for her family's move to Great Britain seems a bit of a stretch. I know Konta's allegiance has fluctuated between Great Britain and Australia depending on the tournament, but I am not familiar with the story behind that.

I do believe that both Tiley and Stoltenberg want the same thing--a strong presence for Australian tennis at the game's top echelon. It's unfortunate that they aren't able to work together to help make that happen.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Player Development in Serbia, Russia and Australia

I recently received an anonymous comment, which went unpublished under my current policy, about Craig Tiley, the Director of Player Development at Tennis Australia. Prompted, I presume, by this recent story in The Age, headlined "Top Juniors in Tennis Feud," Tiley's management style is blamed for forcing top Australian juniors to pay for their own training with Jason Stoltenberg, who is not affiliated with Tennis Australia. In the story, Stoltenberg quotes Tiley as defending his position this way: "All he basically said is, 'Look, we financially support programs that we have full control of. If kids choose to work with you, that's their decision. But they need to know we're not in a position of wanting to support them if they do it.'"

The anonymous commenter said this is suicide for Tiley's career, pointing out that the parents do the real hard work early on and then must submit to Tiley's decrees for the most important decisions they face. I actually prefer the model the USTA is talking about that offers support to juniors at other academies, and, I would hope, with other proven junior development coaches. But I understand Tiley's position too. Why take the responsibility if you don't have the control? If he is going to be judged by the results of his program, it doesn't make much sense to support others who don't adhere to his philosophy (I have no idea if this is the case with Stoltenberg).

And speaking of supporting juniors, there is an open question as to what influence, if any, a federation can actually have. Certainly the previous rise of the Russian women, and the recent emergence of Serbia as a cradle of tennis Grand Slam champions doesn't support those who feel federation assistance is critical.

In this excellent interview in The Independent, Svetlana Kuznetsova talks about the Russian path.

“We look at other countries and they have it so easy,” she says. “In Britain, the first girl who hits two balls in, they give her everything. In Russia, to be a star you have to be in the top ten. Nobody knows you if you are not, so your goals must always be very high. I was talking to Maria Kirilenko (ranked 19th in the world) about this. She used to take the train and then the metro for three hours to practice. Then she'd hit for two hours and travel three hours home. My family didn't have much money either, maybe $300 a month. In the winter in Russia I played inside a balloon but it was zero degrees, and we couldn't afford to heat it. There was no money, no budget, only your family were helping you. It is still the same. If you go to a junior tournament in Russia, the Russian girls are so focused. In England it is completely different. It's like a holiday for them.”

And in this lengthy, nuanced story entitled "The Tennis School Conquering the World" in South Africa's Sunday Independent about Serbia's rise, we hear this:
The players are certainly not the product of a systematic programme of coaching and player development. Until very recently, the only tennis coaching schemes in Serbia were run by private organisations or by the clubs that have traditionally been the focal point for sport in the country. Djokovic, for example, practiced at what was the Yugoslav army's sports club, Partizan, which helped pay his travel expenses.

The Serbian tennis federation remains badly under-resourced, particularly in comparison with counterparts such as Britain's Lawn Tennis Association, which spent £32m (R500-million) on a move last year to a swish new tennis centre in south-west London. Not that fine facilities are a guarantee of success: while there was the now customary swarm of Serbs at the start of the French Open in Paris, Andy Murray was the only British player with a high enough ranking to play in the singles. By the start of the quarter-finals, the English-speaking world, including wealthy former tennis powerhouses like the United States and Australia, did not have a single representative left in the tournament, while the three leading Serbs all reached the semifinals.

Maybe squabbling over a federation's decisions and resources is counterproductive, given these examples, but I still think federations should play a role in providing structured competition and assisting in financing the travel required for that competition. I think the USTA does an excellent job in providing the first, less so in the second category.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Grass Court Roundup; Wimbledon Qualifying Complete; Do Tennis Players See Better?

My weekly article for The Tennis Recruiting Network looks back on last week's Grass Courts, and, I hope for those of you who didn't follow my daily reports from the Philadelphia Cricket Club, it will provide a written synopsis of the tournament to go with the slideshow I posted on Tuesday.

Wimbledon qualifying was completed today, and unlike the French qualifying, which I was too busy to follow during the NCAAs, I kept close watch on the proceedings. Two U.S. men, Kevin Kim and Jesse Levine, made the main draw in singles, while Tripp Phillips and KJ Hippensteel and Amer Delic and Brendan Evans qualified in doubles. There were no U.S. women making it through singles qualifying, but Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears will play in the ladies doubles. The only junior to qualify was three-time Junior Grand Slam winner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia. In its inimitable fashion, the Wimbledon website has provided in-depth coverage of all four days of qualifying, with a live blogger from the Roehampton site every day. Guy McCrea, with whom I did a brief Radio Wimbledon podcast last year, is back on the job and provides this podcast on the final day of qualifying. I'll be listening to Guy much more this year, as I'm not going to make the trip. For the complete list of qualifiers, click here. The draw will be revealed on Friday morning.

And finally, while I was catching up on the news I'd missed while in Philadelphia, I found this story from Science Daily about the visual skills of tennis players. Although there is something of a chicken-or-egg dilemma about the results-- "It could either be the case that tennis improves temporal processing or that better temporal processing allows people to become better tennis players," according to the report-- it is still interesting to discover where tennis players excel visually, and where they don't.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coaches Q and A: How Does European Clay Differ From U.S. Clay, and What Has Changed Wimbledon's Grass?

With the tennis world making the transition from clay to grass, it's an appropriate time to discuss the differences and evolution of the two surfaces. Former French Open finalist Harold Solomon, of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is the ideal source for an exploration of the differences between U.S. green clay and European red. He also explains how the lawns at Wimbledon have changed over the years.

Today's question: How does European clay differ from U.S. clay, and what has changed Wimbledon's grass?

The primary difference between European red clay and our green HAR-TRU® courts is that generally speaking, the clay here is faster and is much more uniform in its bounce. European clay varies from country to country. European clay courts are not rolled, and after the winter season the courts get harder as more and more tennis is played on them, but rarely achieve the firmness of the clay in the U.S. Consequently, the courts tend to have worse bounces and play slower.

You will notice in some tournaments such as the French, the court speed varies greatly depending on the weather. In Paris, when it gets hot and dry the courts can play very fast; however when the weather becomes cold and rainy, it becomes very difficult to finish off a point.

In Rome, in order to make the matches more interesting the tournament organizers have scraped most of the top surface off the clay and allowed the base to harden and in doing so have produced courts with the speed of some hard courts. Most of the European clay courts are built with a very porous base so that they can drain with all of the rainy weather they can get. This base usually has a very heavy coating of clay material on top which helps to slow the ball down.

On American clay, players can be more aggressive and can finish off points far easier than on European red clay, which accounts for why some of the American players have more success here than on the red dirt! More patience, more margins, the ability to slide effectively, and superior conditioning are necessities for successful European red clay court tennis.

The grass at Wimbledon has changed drastically over the years. It was not too long ago that unless you played on the center court or court one you couldn't stay back on the grass. Especially during the first week, the courts were very green, slippery and fast, with an extremely low bounce. The new grass introduced in recent years is thicker, which tends to slow the ball down and allows for a much higher bounce.

All of the courts now are in excellent condition because of the new strain of grass but also because the courts are now maintained at a superior level. They are constantly covered when not in use and are almost completely dry when play begins no matter how much it has rained that day. They are also much firmer than in past years which allows for consistent and higher bounces.

In years past, a good slice would skid and stay so low that passing shots were hard to come by; today the ball bounces very similar to a hard court. Wimbledon has also gone to a heavier ball which has aided in tempering the speed of the courts. It is now rare to see players venturing into the net on a regular basis because the player hitting the passing shot can pretty well count on a consistent bounce and having the time to set up and make his shot.
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, June 17, 2008

Grass Court Slide Show

This is a lengthy one, but the Grass Courts are uniquely photogenic, and I was fortunate to have my husband Paul there to handle the camera. The Animoto/YouTube version is here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Florida Closed, Texas Grand Slam Updates; Wimbledon Qualifying Begins

The Florida Closed is complete, and Tori Townsend, the communication coordinator for the section provided a very thorough look at all the final matches in this story, which features photos and video interviews (and may account for its slow loading.) Brennan Boyajian and Chichi Scholl won the 18s, Jeremy Efferding and Rebecca Bodine the 16s, Morgan Mays and Courtney Colton the 14s, Elio Levi and Alexandria Stiteler the 12s and Noah Makarome and Katerina Stewart the 10s.

The Texas Summer Grand Slam is that section's equivalent to the Florida Closed, and the winners there were: 18s: Isamu Tachibana and Rosalia Alda; 16s: Chase Curry and Blair Shankle; 14s: Harrison Adams and Nicki Johnson; 12s: Peter Leung and Peggy Porter. For Brazosports.com's extensive coverage of the event, click here.

Today marked the start of Wimbledon qualifying, with the gentlemens singles and doubles first round played. There are no junior boys surviving, but former Florida Gators Ryan Sweeting and Jesse Levine are through to the second round. University of North Carolina assistant Tripp Phillips has teamed with former Stanford All-American KJ Hippensteel, and the pair has reached the second round of gentlemens doubles qualifying.

The women's qualifying begins on Tuesday, with quite a few junior girls involved. Jessica Moore of Australia, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, Ayumi Morita of Japan, Stefanie Vogele of Switzerland, Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal and Naomi Broady and Tara Moore of Great Britain will attempt to earn one of the 12 main draw spots reserved for the ladies.

For the qualifying results and draws, click here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Inside Junior Tennis Podcast; USTA Player Development; Mullins Named Oklahoma Women's Head Coach

We're back in Kalamazoo, and tonight just a quick post of a few items that somehow managed to catch my attention during my week in Philadelphia.

The most current edition of Inside Junior Tennis is now available, with Kevin and I discussing the NCAA tennis championships, both team and individuals as well some of Pro Circuit wins by U.S. girls.

The ITA Assistant Coach of the Year, Northwestern's Dave Mullins, has been named head coach at the University of Oklahoma, according to this AP story.

And ESPN.com's Sandra Harwitt talked with a few U.S. juniors and the USTA's Patrick McEnroe, Rodney Harmon and Jean Nachand about the direction of U.S. player development. The headline is bizarre, Unproven future prospects keeping U.S. in the dark, and I think her list of juniors to watch is a bit narrow, as it appears to include only those who qualified for the French, but the rest of the article is a nuanced look at what's going on now. Click here for the story.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dabrowski and Britton Take Grass Court Titles Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Philadelphia, PA--

Devin Britton and Gabriela Dabrowski are on their way to the grass courts of London, full of confidence after their hard-fought wins on a steamy hot Saturday at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.

The fourth seeded Britton downed unseeded 2007 finalist Ryan Lipman 6-3, 7-6(7), while Dabrowski, the eighth seed, outlasted unseeded two-time quarterfinalist Beatrice Capra 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Dabrowski, a 16-year-old from Ottawa, Canada, was playing her first grass court event, but in her four previous matches, all straight-set wins, she had demonstrated a mature grasp of the strategies the surface requires. In the opening set against Capra, also 16, Dabrowski returned serve very effectively, and was able to capitalize on one of her three break point opportunities, while Capra failed to convert either of the two she saw.

Capra seized control of the second set with a break at 1-2, one of three breaks of Dabrowski she would earn in that set, with her backhand, drop shot and volleys working in concert to disrupt Dabrowski's rhythm. Upon entering the third set, Capra appeared to have the momentum, but it quickly disappeared.

"I thought I was playing a lot more aggressive," said Capra. "I definitely thought if I kept playing like that I could win the match. But she came out strong in the third set--I don't think I won a point until, like the third game--and after that I wasn't playing as aggressive as I should have been."

Dabrowski was able to refocus despite the vulnerability she had shown in the middle set.

"I definitely felt the momentum change in the second set," said Dabrowski. "I felt I was slowing down on my shots, hitting too short. But in the third I tried to start out hard right off the bat, to put the pressure on her right away, not to let her totally into the match."

Down 2-4 in the final set, Capra fought off two break points, and with Dabrowski serving at 4-3, got to deuce, but couldn't get any closer to pulling even.

"I just tried to stay calm and stay focused on my serve game," Dabrowski said of the possibility of a Capra comeback. "I've played some matches where that's happened before, and I think the reason it happens is just a lack of focus for a couple of points."

With that fifth game in hand, the pressure reverted to Capra, and although she saved one match point with a backhand winner, the right-hander from Maryland couldn't handle Dabrowski's depth on the next one, and the Canadian had her first ITF title since October of last year.

For boys winner Britton, it had been an even longer stretch between tournament wins.

"It's been a long while, a very long while," said Britton. "I want to say it was a Grade 5 in El Salvador two years ago(actually March of 2007). So it feels good; it's a relief to get a win."

Although those familiar with Britton's serve-and-volley game wouldn't be surprised by his success on grass, his friend and opponent Lipman is also very adept on the surface, using his array of slices and outstanding feel to work his way through the field this week.

But in the first set of the final, Lipman, from Nashville, Tenn., had little opportunity to display those skills, so dominate was Britton's serving.

"He served great pretty much the whole match," said Lipman who did not have a look at a break point in the first set. "He just made a lot of first serves, and my strategy didn't really work out because I couldn't really touch any balls."

"I served unbelievably," Britton agreed. "My serve is what got me through it. We both served pretty well, but I think I had a better first serve percentage."

The only time Britton was broken, when he was serving for the match at 6-5 in the second, it was his serve that was responsible.

"I was up 30-0 in that game and I don't think I got a first serve in after that," said Britton, who lost four straight points to assure a tiebreaker. "He came up with some good returns off of second serves, I double faulted once. I was lucky to get out of that set."

With the suffocating heat, Britton was not interested in going three sets, even if the points were consistently short. But Lipman came close to forcing that, raising his game in the tiebreaker and showing all the facets of his game. When Britton earned his first match point with an ace at 5-5 in the tiebreaker, the ensuing point was worthy of any highlight reel. Lipman followed his second serve into the net, and then a rapid-fire exchange of five or six volleys ended with Britton diving, but failing to get his response back over the net.

"I don't know that it was a dive," said Britton. "It was more of a slip down, I think. It was a good point; unfortunately Ryan came out on top in that one, but I did end up on the ground for the first time in the tournament."

"That was a heck of a point," said Lipman, 17. "I let it all hang out there, as you could tell after the point. I was yelling pretty loud and I don't usually do that."

Lipman then earned a set point with a first serve winner to take a 7 points to 6 lead, but didn't get either of Britton's second serves in play, and much to the shock of all the spectators, who were expecting another scintillating match point, double faulted to end it when he served again.

Britton credits an improved attitude for his composure after failing to serve out the match at 6-5.

"Any time I start thinking about it or worrying about it, it never ends up good," said the 17-year-old from Jackson, Miss. "Usually after I lose that game on my serve, I'm going to throw the racquet, maybe into the fence or something, but I kept it together and I was proud of myself for that. I felt very good mentally."

And if Dabrowski and Britton should get a few crazy bounces on the grass in Roehampton next week, they can look back on how they coped during the International Grass Courts in Philadelphia for all the inspiration they need.

For complete draws, visit the TennisLink site.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Doubles Champions Crowned at International Grass Courts

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Philadelphia, PA--

Doubles took center stage at Friday's International Grass Court Championships, and although both the girls and boys finals were decided in straight sets, there was plenty of excitement for the spectators at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.

The boys final opened the day's action, with No. 3 seeds Raymond Sarmiento and Jordan Cox prevailing over No. 4 seeds Ryan Lipman and Ryan Noble 7-6(5), 6-4. In the girls final that followed, Brooke Bolender and Beatrice Capra defeated Kate Fuller and Nicolle Stracar 6-2, 6-2 in a contest between unseeded teams.

The first set of the boys final was a tale of missed opportunities for Lipman and Noble, who had three break points on Cox's serve in the opening game of the match and three more with Sarmiento serving at 5-5, while holding their service games easily. Unable to take advantage of any of those chances, they had another in the tiebreaker, when they led 5-4 with Lipman serving the next two points. But Noble, within inches of the net, missed a routine volley wide, and two points later, Sarmiento and Cox had secured the first set.

At 2-2 in the second set, Noble was broken, the only break of the match, and again he and Lipman had opportunities to pull even, but couldn't win that key point.

"When we got in holes, we came up big on serves" said Cox, 16. "Raymond hit some big serves down 15-30, 30-40, clutch tennis when we were down break points."

In the final game of the match, Sarmiento was in one of those spots, down 0-30, after Cox missed makeable shots. But even when facing the prospect of a second serve, the 15-year-old Californian kept his composure, and didn't give his opponents anything to work with.

"We stayed positive," said Cox. "We kept each other on track," agreed Sarmiento, who had only teamed with Cox recently in one match of the Junior Davis Cup regional qualifying last month in Montreal. "We played well together in Canada," said Cox, "so we decided to play here, and it worked out pretty well."

The girls champions, Bolender and Capra, have known each other for a long time and played together before, but it was also in Canada that they began to really click as a team. After clinching the sole spot available for North America in September's Junior Fed Cup with their doubles victory over Canada last month, the two 16-year-olds have gone undefeated as a team, winning a $10,000 Pro Circuit event title just a few weeks ago in South Carolina, and now the Grass Courts.

"I felt like we have played so much together that we are very comfortable with each other," Bolender said. "I know where Treecee (Capra) is going pretty much all the time. Some of the times, they didn't know," Bolender said of Fuller and Stracar, who were playing together for the first time.

Fuller and Stracar had an early lead in both sets, but that advantage didn't last long once Bolender and Capra got going. Having survived three match points in their semifinal win against Jessica Alexander and Lauren Embree, Bolender, who is from Delray Beach, Fla., and Capra, who is from Maryland, but has been training at the USTA Center in Boca Raton, were not about to panic when down a break early in a set. Fuller and Stracar battled in every game, but too many errors cost them any chance to put real pressure on Bolender and Capra.

"They are both really talented," Capra said. "I think if they played more together they would be much more comfortable."

Bolender and Capra will now go back out on the Pro Circuit this summer, hoping to continue their winning streak.

"A lot of the players are more experienced, have played more on the pro tour," admitted Capra. "But I think that at our last tournament, we showed them we were good too."

For complete draws, visit the TennisLink site.

Grass Court Video, Boys Doubles Final

Here's a short video of match point in Friday's boys doubles final at the International Grass Courts. Raymond Sarmiento is serving with he and Jordan Cox up a set and 5-4 against Ryan Lipman and Ryan Noble.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Britton and Lipman Reach Boys Final; Capra and Dabrowski to Vie For Girls Grass Court Title

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Philadelphia, PA--

The quirkiness of grass court tennis isn't to everyone's liking, but the four competitiors who advanced to the finals of the 2008 International Grass Court championships on Thursday have found it suits their games well.

Mississippi's Devin Britton, a semifinalist in Philadelphia in 2006, has the classic big serve and first volley game that has always been effective on the surface, and in his 6-4, 6-4 victory over Jordan Cox Thursday, he demonstrated the importance of having the ace in his arsenal. After breaking Cox at 4-4 in the opening set, Britton went up 40-0 on three unreturnable first serves. But back-to-back double faults and a missed volley brought Cox even, and in the three more deuces to come, it was Britton's serve that saved him, finally finishing off the set with two aces. In the second set, Britton again broke at 4-4, when Cox helped him by throwing in a couple of double faults, and serving for the match, the fourth seed needed only two match points, hitting a service winner at 40-30 to reach the final.

"I served well on the big points," said Britton, who is close friends with Cox. "I tried to choke a couple of times, but my serve helped me out of it. I was making him play and you could tell towards the end of the set that he was thinking about it. He missed a few volleys he should have made."

Britton's opponent in the final, Ryan Lipman, is also playing the Grass Courts for the third consecutive year, and will repeat his 2007 finals appearance after a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Matt Kandath Thursday.

Kandath, a 16-year-old from upstate New York, jumped out to a quick 3-0 in the first set, but Lipman adjusted and came back to win six of the next seven games. In the second set however, it was Kandath, who hits two-handed forehands and backhands, who took control, winning a four-deuce game with Lipman serving at 3-4 and then serving out the set in the next game. It was the first set the unseeded Lipman had lost this week.

"I was getting kind of frustrated, because you don't play many people on grass who stay back and hit winners left and right," said Lipman, a 17-year-old from Nashville, Tenn. "I was hitting low slices and he was picking them up for winners, and it was confusing, to say the least."

Lipman credited the new balls in the third set for assisting him. "It helped me," Lipman said. "It gave him less time to prepare for the ball." Lipman got the only break he needed with Kandath serving at 2-3, and held on to it, putting him in the final for the second time in two years.

Against Britton, he has one strategy. "Return. I'm just going to try to put everything at his feet and make him play up," said Lipman. "Obviously, I'm going to have to serve well, because he has good returns, and he likes the grass just as much as I do."

Britton acknowledges the differences in their games in spite of their mutual affection for the surface.

"He's got a one-handed backhand that he slices most of the time," said Britton, 17. "He's more of a finesse player. He's going to be slicing short on most of his returns. I'll be serving big, he'll be placing his serves. It's different, but it'll be a good matchup I think."

In the girls final, two 16-year-olds who haven't met before in singles, but know each other's games will aim for the title. Unseeded Beatrice Capra, a quarterfinalist in Philadelphia the past two years, and No. 8 seed Gabriela Dabrowski, who is playing the event for the first time, earned their spots in Saturday's final with straight sets wins on a picture-perfect Thursday afternoon.

Capra, who is from Ellicott City, Maryland, downed 13-year-old Sachia Vickery 6-4, 6-1, while Dabrowski outmaneuvered No. 3 seed Lauren McHale 6-4, 6-0.

Capra admitted to some nerves against her younger opponent, and the first set was not pretty, ending as it did with Capra breaking Vickery for the fourth time.

"It was really tough for me," said Capra. "I was so nervous going out there, I couldn't hit a ball. But after I started being agressive, I knew if I just kept pressing on her, I knew I would be okay."

Capra took a 4-0 lead in the second set, and Vickery couldn't find any way to counteract the depth of Capra's shots, which often kept the smaller Vickery well behind the baseline. But Capra was impressed with her opponent's game.

"She was very consistent, and then she could whip off a winner," Capra said of Vickery. "She was a very smart player, and I think she played really well."

Dabrowski, who is from Ottawa, Canada, doesn't get much opportunity to play on grass in that country, but she was able to practice at the nearby Merion Cricket Club prior to the tournament and has proven very adept at the slices and the dropshots that can be so effective on the surface.

"I don't mind it," said Dabrowski, who has yet to drop a set this week, and defeated top seed Alexa Guarachi on Wednesday. "I think it's something really different, a new challenge."

Against McHale, Dabrowski took control midway through the first set and never looked back, returning well and keeping McHale off balance throughout the second set.

Although Capra and Dabrowski have never played in singles, they competed against each other in doubles last month in Montreal, during the Junior Fed Cup regional qualifying. Dabrowski and Capra both won their singles matches, with the world championship spot coming down to the doubles. Capra, playing with Brooke Bolender, also her partner here in Philadelphia, downed Dabrowski and her partner, Katrina Paliivets, 7-6(3) 6-7(4) 6-2.

"I try and forget past matches," Dabrowski said of that disappointing loss. "I just try to go out there and play point by point, not thinking about revenge, although it could be there in the back of my head."

Neither Lipman and Capra will have a day off Friday, as they will be playing in the doubles finals. Lipman, who won the title last year with Ryan Harrison, is playing with Ryan Noble this year, and in Thursday afternoon's semifinal, they defeated top seeds Denis Kudla and Alex Llompart 7-6(5), 6-4. They will face No. 3 seeds Cox and Raymond Sarmiento, who downed No. 2 seeds Britton and Harry Fowler 6-4, 6-4.

Capra and Bolender, who recently won a $10,000 Pro Circuit event in South Carolina, saved three match points in the third set to ease past Jessica Alexander and Lauren Embree 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. With Bolender serving at 4-5 in the third, Alexander and Embree had their chances to end it, but Bolender hit a forehand volley winner, Alexander made an error and Capra executed a difficult overhead winner to negate those opportunities, and they rode that momentum through a break of Embree in the next game, giving Capra the chance to serve it out.

Capra and Bolender's opponents in Friday's final will be Kate Fuller and Nicolle Stracar, also unseeded, who defeated Elianne Douglas-Miron and Laura Slater 6-3, 7-5.

For complete results and draws, visit the TennisLink site.

A Look at the Prince Plugged In All-American Competition

While I was in Tulsa last month, I had an opportunity to talk with Peg Connor and Ken Merritt about Prince's new initiative for individuals competing in their PPI Academy format. (See my story on the first international competition between academies here.) Bringing juniors to the NCAAs is such a great idea even on a casual basis, and to formalize it in this way makes it even more effective. My story on the first edition of the All-American competition for The Tennis Recruiting Network is here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Top Seeds Absent From Grass Court Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Philadelphia, PA--

The heat and humidity that smothered the Philadelphia area for the first two days of the International Grass Courts were ushered out by the heavy thunderstorms Tuesday evening. In Wednesday's quarterfinals, it was the underdogs serving as the catalysts for change, with the No. 1 seeds in both boys and girls divisions falling, and with unseeded finalists assured in each singles championship.

Boys top seed Alex Llompart of Puerto Rico was the first to be eliminated Wednesday morning, when 2007 Grass Court finalist Ryan Lipman took control early in a 6-3, 6-1 victory. Llompart, one of the most entertaining grass court players imaginable, didn't disappoint despite the loss. Always ready to do a Boris Becker style dive or roll, Llompart hit two volleys from a sitting position during one point against the unseeded Lipman, and ended up winning the point, but it didn't faze Lipman. Using his lob volley to great effect, especially from the backhand side, the 17-year-old from Nashville kept Llompart scrambling backwards, and although the No. 1 seed made some amazing gets, it wasn't enough.

Lipman's semifinal opponent will be unseeded Matt Kandath of New York, who came from behind to oust No. 7 seed Junior Ore 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3, in the day's only three-set singles match. No. 5 seed Jordan Cox of Georgia earned a tough 7-6(4), 7-5 decision over No. 2 seed Harry Fowler, with Fowler fighting back from 4-1 down in the second set, but failing to force a second tiebreaker. Cox will meet the highest boys seed remaining, No. 4 Devin Britton, who advanced by a 6-2, 1-0, ret. inj. score over Frank Carleton. Carleton rolled his ankle while moving toward the show court's far doubles alley, just outside of which was the old-fashioned scoring device that was stationed there for the first time this week. Carleton stopped short of actually colliding with it, and a trainer was called, but he retired shortly thereafter and was also unable to take the court for his doubles match later in the afternoon, coincidentally also against Britton and his partner, Fowler.

In the bottom half of the girls draw, 2008 Easter Bowl 14s champion Sachia Vickery will meet 2006 Easter Bowl 14s champion Beatrice Capra. Maryland's Capra, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, showed no signs of conflicting emotions in her 6-1, 6-3 win over good friend and doubles partner Brooke Bolender, the No. 4 seed. Floridian Vickery, who is now 8-0 in ITF main draw junior matches since becoming eligible to play them when she turned 13 last month, avoided her third consecutive three-setter when she won the second set tiebreaker she had lost in her two previous matches, beating unseeded Fidan Manashirova 6-1, 7-6(3).

Third seed Lauren McHale served effectively in her 6-3, 6-1 victory over unseeded Alexandra Cercone, who seemed a step slow after her three-hour-plus win on Tuesday over No. 6 seed Lauren Embree. McHale, from New Jersey and heading for nearby Princeton in the fall, will face No. 8 seed Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada in the semifinals.

The sixteen-year-old Dabrowski, seeded eighth, handled top seed Alexa Guarachi of Florida 6-3, 6-2 in the final singles match of the day. Dabrowski used her drop shot and slice effectively, keeping Guarachi off balance and unprepared for the occasional laser-like backhands from Dabrowski's racquet.

The doubles semifinalists are a study in contrasts. All four of the boys seeds are still vying for the championship, and none of the girls seeds are. In addition to No. 2 seeds Britton and Fowler advancing due to Carleton's injury, top seeds Denis Kudla and Llompart, No. 3 seeds Cox and Raymond Sarmiento, and No. 4 seeds Lipman and Ryan Noble earned straight set wins Wednesday afternoon and evening.

The last remaining seeded girls team, No. 2 seeds Shinann Featherston and McHale, lost in the evening feature match, to Bolender and Capra, 6-3, 7-6(5). With many of the dining Philadelphia Cricket Club members looking on, the nearly two-hour contest featured exceptional net play by both teams, with multiple digs and reflex volleys on many of the crowd-pleasing points. Featherston and McHale saved one match point with Capra serving at 6-5, and two more at 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but couldn't save the last one. Bolender and Capra will face Jessica Alexander and Embree in one semifinal; in the other, first-time partners Kate Fuller and Nicole Stracar earned a three-set win and will meet Elianne Douglas-Miron and Laura Slater, who advanced via walkover.

For complete draws, visit the TennisLink site.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cercone Outlasts Embree in Marathon Grass Court Encounter; Kandath Ousts Kudla in Boys Action

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Philadelphia, PA--

When it's 97 degrees in the shade, playing tennis for over three hours in the midday sun isn't anyone's idea of fun. But Alexandra Cercone and Lauren Embree, two Florida girls who know a little about playing in heat and humidity, spent their Tuesday determining a winner, and it was the unseeded Cercone who ended up with that distinction, taking a 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(2) decision over the sixth seed.

When Cercone came to the desk to report the score, more than three hours after the match began, she didn't collapse from exhaustion, but she did have a little difficulty remembering the score, so much time had elapsed in between its start and its finish. She recalled that she had saved a match point in the third set, but the main focus was getting something to eat and cooling down in the air conditioning before her doubles match an hour and a half later. Both she and Embree did recover sufficiently to win their doubles matches, but it was a grueling day for everyone, with those two competitors topping the list. Cercone's opponent on Wednesday will be No. 3 seed Lauren McHale, who outlasted qualifier Manuela Velasquez 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Unseeded Fidan Manashirova and Sachia Vickery also persevered in lengthy three-setters to set up their quarterfinal encounter. Manashirova fought back to defeat Di Zhao 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, while Vickery lost a second set tiebreaker, just as she did on Monday, to prolong her match, but ended up beating Breaunna Addison 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-4.

Top seed Alexa Guarachi, a 6-2, 7-5 winner over Shinann Featherston, will meet No. 8 seed Gabriela Dabrowski, who downed Laura Slater 6-2, 7-6(1). In the fourth pairing, friends and doubles partners Beatrice Capra and Brooke Bolender face off for a semifinal berth. The unseeded Capra downed Polina Vinogradova 6-1, 6-3, while Bolender, the fourth seed, defeated Ester Goldfeld 7-5, 6-4.

There was one major upset in boys action, as unseeded Matt Kandath took out No. 3 seed and 2007 semifinalist Denis Kudla 7-6(2), 7-5. Kudla was up a break in the first but Kandath battled back, took control in the tiebreaker and was able to hold off any comeback by Kudla. Kandath will face Junior Ore, who defeated lucky loser Dan McCall 6-2, 6-4.

Ryan Lipman, a 2007 Grass Courts finalist, set up a showdown with top seed Alex Llompart Wednesday when he defeated No. 8 seed Raymond Sarmiento 6-2, 6-4. Llompart hit the shot of the tournament to date in his 6-1 6-2 victory over qualifer Harry Seaborn. Seaborn smashed a volley that Llompart, leaning the wrong way, somehow dove in the opposite direction with a diving stab volley. A startled Seaborn, who could never have expected the ball to come back over the net, did manage to return it back to Llompart, who by this time had scrambled to his feet. It took several more shots, but Llompart eventually won the point, and as he let out a well-deserved "vamos," the half-dozen spectators burst into applause, still shaking their heads at what they'd seen.

No. 2 seed Harry Fowler was tested by wild card Sekou Bangoura Jr. before regrouping for a 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-1 win, and will meet No. 5 seed Jordan Cox in Wednesday's quarterfinals. Cox took out wild card Dennis Novikov 7-5, 6-2. No. 4 seed Devin Britton, a 6-3, 6-4 victor over Ryan Noble, will take on No. 6 seed Frank Carleton. Carleton, a winner by retirement on Monday, also had a short match on Tuesday, defeating Mousheg Hovhannisyan 6-0, 6-1.

The first round of doubles produced no surprises on the boys side, as all four seeded teams had routine wins, but three of the four seeded girls teams were upset. Top seeds Guarachi and Monica Yajima fell to Eugenie Bouchard and Arianna Colffer 1-6, 6-3 6-2 and the fourth seeds, Goldfeld and Vinogradova, were beaten by Elianne Douglas-Miron and Slater 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Unseeded Jessica Alexander and Embree took out No. 3 seeds Jacqueline Cako and Dabrowski 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-3. The only seeded team remaining, Featherston and McHale, the No. 2 seeds, needed three sets to get by Olivia Janowicz and Manashirova 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Vickery Upsets Bartnik at Grass Courts; All Boys Seeds Advance to Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Philadelphia, PA--

The temperature stopped one degree short of the all-time record for the date, reaching a mere 97 degrees, but the competitors at the International Grass Courts were thinking only of survival as they battled in the midday sun at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.

The eight boys seeds all came through with victories, and only No. 7 seed Junior Ore needed three sets. Wild card Emmett Egger took the first set from the Maryland lefty, but Ore began to return better in the second, putting balls at Egger's feet that led to many popped-up volleys, and ultimately to Ore's 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 win.

One of the day's longest matches--nearly three hours in the heat and humidity--pitted qualifier Harry Seaborn, who won three matches over the weekend, against Mikhail Titov of Russia. Seaborn dropped the first set against the extremely tall (6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6) right-hander, but kept his drive and focus in the wilting heat and came through with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory.

Ryan Lipman, the unseeded 2007 finalist, had little difficulty with 14-year-old Christian Harrison, who couldn't pressure Lipman enough with his own serve to concern the Tennessean, who took it 6-1, 6-2 in under an hour.

Sachia Vickery, who has now won every match she's played since becoming ITF age-eligible when turning 13 last month, got her biggest win late Monday afternoon, when she defeated No. 2 seed Nicole Bartnik 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-5. I wasn't able to follow the entire match, which was played five courts down from the two show courts, but I did see Vickery scrap back from 4-5 down in the third to take the last three games. Bartnik may have realized that it wasn't going to be her day when Vickery desperately lunged for a ball, sending it high in the air and just over net. Bartnik was there, but the ball had so much spin on it that it kicked sharply back to Vickery's side of the net, giving Bartnik no opportunity to put a racquet on it. Vickery won her first ITF tournament, a Grade 5 in Costa Rica two weeks ago, and now has beaten her first ITF Top 100 player in Bartnik, who is ranked 87th.

Bartnik wasn't the only girls seed to lose. No. 5 seed Jacqueline Cako fell to Beatrice Capra 6-3, 7-5 and Fidan Manashirova took out No. 7 seed Monica Yajima 6-2, 6-3. No. 4 seed Brooke Bolender had a difficult time against the hard-hitting Arianna Colffer, but overcame the Californian 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the day's last match.

For complete draws, visit the TennisLink site, where the doubles draws are now also posted.