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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Intermountain Section Better; Seeding Worse--Scott Gerber's Latest Analysis

A couple of weeks ago I posted Scott Gerber's short history of the points per round system the USTA uses for junior ranking, along with a link to his overview on high school tennis restrictions in the Midwest section. He's since passed along his latest study, the third he's completed, on what sections are the strongest, using points per player in the August USTA national championships as the measuring stick. To no one's surprise, I'm sure, Florida and Southern California top the list, but in third place this year is Intermountain, a section that has gained each of the three years Gerber has been crunching the numbers.

The entire study, complete with easy-to-follow graphs and breakdowns by gender and state can be downloaded at tennisfax.com. If you want to know who "The Big Six" are, what other section has, like Intermountain, gained in his measurement three years running, what sections are easiest to earn national points in, the poor performance of seeds this year, it's all in his report.

I will include portions of the summary from his national report (there is also a 2008 Midwest Closed report included in the complete document), in the hope it will encourage you to dig a little deeper.

• Florida and Southern California dominate junior tennis. The Midwest and Southern are close. It’s too early to tell if Intermountain is a one year wonder by blasting into third place but they have had three great years of improving performance. When seeing the success that Las Vegas is having, could Agassi be playing a role in these improvements, especially with the B12’s and B14’s?

• Seeding was good and now it is bad. Are parents and players getting more adept at gaming the points system?

• More tweaks necessary for a system that needs to be overhauled. It is easier and less expensive to acquire National Points if you live in smaller Sections (in terms of population and geographic area)....

• The Level 5 tournaments are the “meat and potato” tournaments that more (but not all) kids in the larger Sections can use to acquire national points. The larger Sections simply need more of these Level 5 tournaments.

• I saw a recent survey that questioned whether National Points should play a larger role in selecting participants in the National Championships. Based on this analysis, that is not a good idea for the largest Sections. (I don’t know how the politics of the USTA works but I would hope that it is more like a House of Representatives where Sections with the largest membership numbers receivefar more “votes” than the smaller Sections.)

• To end on a good note, congratulations and thanks to the Midwest for making its national Level 5 tournaments “Feed-In-Consolation” tournaments last year. This not only gave the kids more great, competitive matches, but it also gave them more National points.

Monday, September 29, 2008

College Roundup, Tennis Recruiting Network Ratings Released

While much of the focus over the weekend was on the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup, there was a lot of college tennis played at various sites from coast to coast. The most important competition was the pre-qualifying for the ITA Riviera All-American, the womens' first major of the season. It was a draw of 64, with eight players advancing to Tuesday's first round of qualifying, and among those eight are two freshmen, Nadja Gilchrist of Georgia and Kristi Boxx of Ole Miss. Three more victories are necessary to advance to the main draw of 32, which begins Thursday and ends on Sunday. For complete pre-qualifying and qualifying draws, see the ITA website.

In some of the fall invitationals that took place over the weekend, sophomore Kelcy McKenna of Arizona State won the Cal-Nike gold flight, and Clemson junior Ani Mijacika repeated as flight champion at Furman. On the men's side, Duke sophomore Reid Carleton and Virginia sophomore Sanam Singh captured the A-1 and A-2 flights in Charlottesville and in Waco, preseason No. 1 Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State lived up to his billing, winning the HEB Baylor Invitational. It was a strong field, featuring the preseason's number 1, 2 and 6 ranked players. Nedovyesov defeated Tulsa senior Arnau Brugues (preseason 6) in the final; Brugues had beaten No. 2 Denes Lukacs of Baylor in the semifinals. For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

The Tennis Recruiting Network has released their annual rankings of Blue Chip, 5-Star, 4-Star, etc., players for each high school class from 2009 on down. It's one of their biggest traffic weeks of the year, when players, coaches and parents check on the designations for the current school year.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

U.S. Sweeps Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup Titles

The United States made world junior team competition history today, when the 16-and-under boys and girls captured the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup titles in Mexico. The 14-and-under teams won their competition last month in the Czech Republic, giving the older players an opportunity to do what no other country had ever done--win all four in the same year.

Although faced with less than ideal weather, the hard courts and the altitude in San Luis Potosi may have helped the American teams. Arriving a week early to get acclimated, the U.S. brought strong teams, and the girls were given the No. 1 seed and the boys were pegged at No. 3.

Throughout the week, both teams dominated, not once losing a match or facing a must-win doubles contest. That continued today, with the boys defeating No. 5 seed Argentina 2-0 and the girls beating No. 4 seeded Great Britain 2-0.

Evan King started with a three-set win over Andrea Collarini at No. 2 singles, and Denis Kudla gave the U.S. boys their first Junior Davis Cup win since 1999 with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Agustin Velotti at No. 1. The doubles was not played.

The girls second match, after Christina McHale had routinely accounted for Heather Watson 6-2, 6-2 at No. 2 singles, contained all the drama. Kristie Ahn saved a match point with Tara Moore serving at 5-3 in the third, and went on to win four straight games to earn the U.S. its first-ever Junior Fed Cup title.

Eleanor Preston talked to Ahn, and to captains David Roditi and Roger Smith and to the third players on the U.S. teams, Sloane Stephens and Raymond Sarmiento, at the ITF Junior website. The celebration photos by Susan Mullane are also filled with the excitement of the moment.

It is also an appropriate time to recognize those on the North American qualifying teams that were not selected for the finals--Jordan Cox and Brooke Bolender and Beatrice Capra. As Roditi told Preston, "They know that it’s a big deal to be here representing their country because they are part of a very good class from the USA. We could have picked three other guys, five other guys to come and play and they know that they were selected from a very deep group of US players."

The same holds true for the girls, who only beat out Canada for the lone North American qualifying spot when Bolender and Capra fought back to take an extremely close doubles match, sealing the win.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

U.S. Goes For History Sunday in Mexico; Lipman and Fuller Win in Atlanta

The Junior Fed Cup and Junior Davis Cup titles are just one win away for the U.S. teams, with both sailing into Sunday's final on the basis of 3-0 sweeps again today. Neither U.S. team has surrendered a point in four matches at the San Luis Potosi competition, with the doubles rendered meaningless on all eight occasions.

In today's action, Christina McHale, playing No. 2 singles, downed Zsofia Susanyi of Hungary 6-2, 6-0 and at No. 1 singles, Kristie Ahn took out Timea Babos 6-2, 0-6, 6-2 to give the No. 1 seeds the victory over No. 5 seeded Hungary. McHale and Sloane Stephens won the doubles for good measure, 7-5, 6-3.

The No. 3 seeded U.S. boys faced No. 2 seeds India, and after Evan King had given his team a 1-0 lead with a routine 6-2, 6-0 decision over Saurabh Singh at No. 2 singles, the tension rose for the Yuki Bhambri - Denis Kudla match at No. 1. Kudla had lost a tough three-setter to Bhambri in the first round of the U.S. Open junior championships, but he reversed that result today, overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the final set to post a 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-4 victory over the ITF's 18th-ranked junior player. King and Sarmiento took the final point with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win in doubles.

In the finals, the U.S. girls will meet Great Britain, the fourth seeds, who took out eighth-seeded Belarus 2-1. Tara Moore is playing No. 1 and Heather Watson No. 2, and neither has lost a singles match this week. In the 14-and-under ITF World Junior Championships last month, the U.S. girls defeated Great Britain 2-1, even with Wimbledon champion Laura Robson (who lost in three sets today in the semifinals in the $75K event in England) representing the Union Jack. For more on Great Britain's semifinal win, see the LTA website.

The U.S. boys will face Argentina, the fifth seeds, who surprised the No. 1 seeded Russian team today 2-1. Although Australia captured three of the four ITF team junior titles last year (both 16s, and the boys 14s), no country has ever won all four in the same year.

For more coverage, including some outstanding photos of the U.S. players by Susan Mullane, see the ITF Junior website.

The ITF Grade 4 in Atlanta was completed today, with Ryan Lipman and Kate Fuller taking the singles titles. Fuller teamed with fellow Atlanta-area resident Grace Min for the doubles championship. On Friday, Dan McCall and Nathan Pasha earned the boys doubles title. For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Friday, September 26, 2008

U.S. Jr. Fed Cup and Davis Cup Teams Reach Semifinals; Robson Wins Again

Both U.S. 16-and-under teams reached the semifinals of the Junior Fed Cup and Junior Davis Cup competition in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Neither team has dropped a point, winning all three ties by 3-0 scores, including Friday's ties against seeded teams.

Christina McHale gave the top-seeded U.S. girls a 1-0 lead with a 6-1, 6-4 decision over Doroteja Eric of Serbia and Kristie Ahn moved them past the No. 7 seeds with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Aleksandra Krunic. McHale and Sloane Stephens made quick work of Eric and Jovana Jaksic 6-0, 6-1 in the dead rubber doubles match.

Evan King gave the U.S. boys, seeded third, their first point with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over Tobias Blomgren of Sweden, who were seeded sixth. Denis Kudla played what coach David Roditi described as a "near-perfect" match, quickly dispatching Sweden's No. 1 player Daniel Berta 6-1 6-3. King and Raymond Sarmiento completed the sweep with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over Berta and Blomgren in doubles.

The girls semifinal opponent is Hungary, the No. 5 seeds. Former Cal star Susie Babos's younger sister Timea is a member of that team. The U.S. boys meet No. 2 seeded India, which boasts the competition's highest-ranked player in the ITF junior standings, Yuki Bhambri, at No. 18. In the other Junior Davis Cup semifinal, No. 1 Russia meets No. 5 Argentina. The other Junior Fed Cup opponents are No. 4 Great Britain and No. 8 Belarus.

For more details and full results, see the ITF Junior website.

Laura Robson continues to impress, defeating tour veteran Tzipi Obziler 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the $75,000 event in Shrewsbury. Up next for the 14-year-old Wimbledon girls champion is No. 2 seed Maret Ani of Estonia. Nigel Sears of the LTA comments extensively on her progress and her game in this story from the Daily Mail.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Zsilinszka's Vietnam Photo Album; Rain In Mexico; Robson Defeats Radwanska in 75K Event

My weekly story for The Tennis Recruiting Network really isn't a story at all, but nine photos with captions that are the work of Reka Zsilinszka, now a sophomore at Duke. She wrote a diary during her trip to Vietnam this summer for the Coach for College initiative, and excerpts from that diary will appear in the next issue of SMASH, due out in November. It's been a real treat to talk with Reka about her experience there and it sounds as if the adventure was all she had hoped for. ESPN.com did a story about Parker Goyer and Coach For College in July; it is truly amazing what she has been able to accomplish. Making a vision a reality is never easy, but Goyer is an inspiration to anyone who has a dream to make the world a better place.

The persistent rain in Mexico has hindered the Junior Davis and Fed Cups being played there. Today, neither the U.S. boys or girls took the court (against Sweden and Serbia respectively) for the matches that will determine the semifinalists. Both the U.S. teams are 2-0 and must win to advance to the semifinals.

The campaign to keep 14-year-old Wimbledon junior champion Laura Robson out of the spotlight while she and her game mature lasted all of two months. She played her first ITF Women's Circuit event last week, a $10,000 event in France, qualified and won her first match before retiring in her second one. This week she is back home in England, received a wild card into the $75,000 tournament in Shrewsbury and beat Great Britain's No. 8, 29-year-old Sarah Borwell in the first round, who was very impressed. Today, the current girls Wimbledon champion battled the previous one, Urszula Radwanska of Poland, with Robson taking a 6-3, 6-3 decision over the WTA's 128th-ranked player. The Telegraph published this account, which focuses on the unlikely scenario of Radwanska feeling old at 17. Neil Harman of the Times contrasts Robson with Jennifer Capriati, who made a very much bigger splash at an even younger age, in this article, which will appear in Friday's print edition.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coaches Q and A: Should I Scout My Upcoming Opponent at Tournaments?

In this month's installment of Coaches Q and A, Andy Brandi of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida answers this question:
At a tournament, should I scout my opponents or concentrate on playing my game?

This is a very important question. How many times when playing a tournament do you ask a friend if they know your opponent? If the answer is always, "I played them and won and you should not have any problems", you might go into the match overconfident and what happens--you lose!!

When I used to travel with professionals full time, I had a book with players and their tendencies. I would update it every four weeks to keep it up to speed. I would also have the player I was traveling with keep a book with their thoughts about each match and opponent. We would compare the opponents' favorite shots and their placement, serving tendencies, movement, fitness level, mental toughness and what we felt worked the last time they played.

By doing this, we could compare notes and make an accurate strategic plan. There were no guesses. We had a good plan to win the match!

Whenever you do not have the chance to scout your opponent, there are other options. During the match warm-up, see which side they like to take the ball when you hit down the middle. Offer volleys and overheads. See where they like to hit their serves.
Once the match starts, take the first two games to figure out your strategy. Keep in mind that you should make continuous adjustments to your strategy during the entire match.

But if you can, my preference is to scout opponents during a tournament. You do not have to watch the whole match. Watch two or three games and make notes on both players. This way you have a head start and a game plan.

By planning ahead, you give yourself the best chance to succeed. Best of luck.

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, September 23, 2008

Junior Davis and Junior Fed Cup Underway in Mexico; One-Day Showdowns on College Campuses; Kristi Miller Blogs from Madrid

I was hoping to have some results to report from the Junior Fed and Davis Cups in Mexico, but nothing has come through from the ITF yet. When it was held in Italy, the results were always available in the evening here, but San Luis Potosi, Mexico is in the Central time zone, so it may be the next day before results are posted.

The U.S. girls are the top seeds, the U.S. boys are seeded third, and the format is round robin, four groups of four, with the winners advancing to the semifinals.

The Tennis Recruiting Network posted an announcement today about a new concept of One-Day Showdowns at college campuses around the country. This is an opportunity for juniors to join college players and other adults in competition on campus, with college coaches serving as the tournament directors. Sponsored by the USTA and ITA, it is structured for maximum participation, with very low entry fees. For more information, see the usta.com website.

Georgia Tech graduate Kristi Miller is out on the Futures Circuit now, and has been competing in Spain recently. She has won two doubles titles this summer, and is blogging about her experiences in Europe for Georgia Tech's website. Click here to read about her time in Madrid.

Monday, September 22, 2008

ETS's Olivares Wins Southern Intercollegiate Title; Illinois Wants to Win with Americans; USTA Board Nominations Announced

The Southern Intercollegiate, held in Athens, Ga., is a very prestigious title, and for the first time since 2004, it wasn't a University of Georgia Bulldog who captured the trophy, but rather Enrique Olivares of East Tennessee State. In 2005 and 2006, John Isner won it; last year it was Nate Schnugg, but although the 2008 NCAA MOP was in the field again this year and seeded No. 1, he fell in the quarterfinals to Reid Carleton of Duke. Georgia's Jamie Hunt and Javier Garrapiz also lost in the quarterfinals. For the full account of Olivares's win over Kentucky's Bruno Agostinelli, click here. Olivares is from Venezuela, as are both ETSU coaches, and the 11-man roster has nine different countries represented.

At the University of Illinois, the foreign players on both the men's and women's teams are in the minority, in fact each has only one on the current roster, and IlliniHQ.com thought that was interesting given that tennis has the highest percentage of foreign athletes among the NCAA Division 1 sports. This story is the result. Head coach Brad Dancer is quoted as saying:
"It's very simple. We recruit only domestically because we really believe in our system of player development. We feel it's a winning philosophy. I do think what we're doing is the right thing."

Women's head coach Michelle Dasso's program isn't at the same stage as Dancer's, but she hopes to follow the same philosophy.

"I want to build a winning program," Dasso said. "If I'm not getting quality players, down the road I wouldn't be against one or two international players. But I'm not going to look to saturate the program."

It's a complicated issue, the preponderance of foreign tennis players on U.S. college teams, and no one at Illinois is looking for protection from those who don't share their philosophy of developing U.S. players. If they continue to have success, maybe they will convert some of those who look overseas first.

The USTA Board nominations were announced today. Lucy Garvin will lead the board as Chairman and President beginning in January.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Frilling Wins Gator Fall Classic; Dimitrov Wins Second Futures Since US Open Jrs., USTA Urges Voting for Krueger

There are always several freshmen that burst onto the scene in women's college tennis during the fall, and this year Kristy Frilling of Notre Dame is one of several filling that role. The Sidney Ohio left-hander won the Gator Fall Classic in Gainesville, Fla., beating University of Florida's Marit Boonstra and Anastasia Revzina in the semifinals and finals today, and teaming with Kelcy Tefft to take the doubles title as well. Unfortunately, Frilling isn't competing in the Riveria All-American, according to the ITA selection site, but perhaps she'll get an ITA wild card into the Indoor tournament at Virginia in November. Florida's website has an account of Frilling's win here.

Another freshman having a great fall is Georgia's Chelsey Gullickson, who beat NCAA champion Amanda McDowell 6-3, 6-3 today at the Georgia Tech Invitational. Gullickson will be at the Riveria All-American; she received a wild card into qualifying which starts next Tuesday.

Wimbledon and U.S. Open boys champion Grigor Dimitrov decided not to rest after his victory in New York and has won both the $15,000 ITF men's events he's played since then, both in Spain. He defeated former Duke star Ludovic Walter of France 6-4 6-4 today, according to this story from the Sofia news agency.

And finally, Sally Milano at usta.com has the story on how Mitchell Krueger came to be nominated for the Sports Illustrated Sports Kid of the Year. Although Krueger has been in Spain, perhaps in conjunction with an exchange centered around the Davis Cup tie, he is not on the Junior Davis Cup team. That competition begins in Mexico on Tuesday, with Evan King, Denis Kudla, and Raymond Sarmiento representing the U.S. The Junior Fed Cup U.S. team is Krisite Ahn, Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens. The ITF preview of the competition is here.

To vote for Mitchell Krueger for Sports Kid of the Year, click here. Entries close at noon EDT on Monday, September 22nd.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

News on Niu, Yurovsky; Brasseaux, Sardinha Win at Illinois ITF

Two of the top 14-year-old girls in the country, Ronit Yurovsky and Belinda Niu, were profiled in their local papers recently, in the context of high school tennis, of course.

Niu, from Portland, is apparently joining the USTA High Performance Training Center in Boca Raton, although this article says that she is going to the Evert Academy, which I think is just confusion on the part of the Portland Tribune reporter. Niu won the Oregon high school state championship 6-0, 6-0 as a freshman last spring, so it's understandable that she would leave that level of competition behind. The 16s clay court champion is ranked seventh in the USTA 16s rankings and also is seventh in the Tennis Recruiting Network's 2011 class.

Yurovsky, from the Pittsburgh area, is playing high school tennis in her freshman year this fall, according to this profile in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Yurovsky is currently ranked fifth in the USTA 14s rankings, and tenth in the class of 2012 by the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Saturday in Champaign, the ITF Grade 4 was concluded, with Garrett Brasseaux defeating Christian Harrison in three sets to win the boys title, and CC Sardinha downing Michaela Boev of Belgium, also in three sets. For complete results, visit the TennisLink site.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Short History of the Points Per Round System

Scott Gerber is not a name that will ring a bell with most of you, but what he does--providing statistical analysis of trends in junior tennis, specifically in the state of Ohio and the Midwest section--should give him a much higher profile than he has.

He recently sent me a report on the restrictions that states in the Midwest place on high school tennis players regarding USTA/ITF play, and it is a comprehensive and well-researched piece that uncovers the startling fact (for those who don't live there, of course) that Ohio prohibits all such play during the high school tennis season. I'm sure there was a good reason for this, but I can't fathom what it is from today's perspective. I am posting Gerber's chart here for those interested, but it is his history of the points-per-round system leading up to his plea for changing Ohio's rule that has the most relevance for all juniors in the U.S. Gerber writes:

In approximately 2004, the USTA moved to a points per round system for ranking players for national tournaments. This system was based on the ranking used by the pros. Players get “points” for each round in a tournament they win. Important tournaments yield far more points for each win than the smaller, typically local tournaments. Gaining enough points allows players to get into other important tournaments and obtain good seeds. Getting good wins in important tournaments is very important if a junior wants an opportunity to play college tennis.

Prior to the points per round system, a “head-to-head” process was used. A simplified example is as follows: if Player “A” beats “B” and “B” beats “C”, then “A” is better than “C”. Under points per round, if “A” beats “B” in a small tournament in Ohio but “B” travels to Chicago and beats “C” in a high level tournament, “B” could be viewed as much, much better than “A”.

The points per round system works reasonably well for professional tennis because it encourages players to participate in tournaments. Fans want to see the best players so they are more likely to purchase tickets to watch them play. The organizers are happy, the fans are happy, and the players have to deal with it. Professional tennis also has ways of dealing with the good, popular players who may not have enough points to play in a specific tournament because they do not have enough points due to an injury, etc. Unfortunately, a win over Roger Federer in this system does not yield any more points than beating the worst player on the tour (but it may help a player earn more money from a sponsor). Of course, in the pros, you also get more prize money as you win more rounds.

Unfortunately for junior tennis, their points per round system was ill-conceived and poorly implemented. It is safe to say that the goal of professional players is to play professional tennis. The goals for juniors are far more numerous. Many juniors (ages 10-18) and their parents still care about doing well in elementary, junior high, and high school; playing other sports (especially the non-high school students); and just being a kid. Kids are also more prone to suspend tennis during family emergencies, family illnesses, or other family priorities. Many kids also encounter injuries as they rapidly grow while playing a demanding sport. To make matters even more difficult for kids, juniors lose their points when they move up to a new age group (at intervals of 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 years). (The points “roll off” for both pros and juniors after 12 months.) This means that many juniors play more than one “age group” so that they can “hit the ground running” when they age out of their current age group.

To make matters even more confusing, time-consuming, and expensive for juniors and their parents, there are also USTA District (i.e. Ohio Valley, Northwest Ohio, Northeast Ohio), Sectional (i.e. Midwest, Florida, Texas), and National points. (Think of this as three different currencies that cannot be exchanged for each other.) Most players try to play a combination of the three while the best players focus simply on Sectional and National tournaments. Initially, the USTA Midwest Section (which includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and parts of Wisconsin, Kentucky, and West Virginia) refrained from using points per round system for the Midwest Section. This was a wise approach because of the geography of the Midwest (i.e. numerous states with different high school rules, large geographic area, many large population centers, and great big lakes and a traffic nightmare (Chicago) to prevent easy travel throughout the Section). Eventually the Midwest succumbed to the USTA National organization in 2005 and implemented a point system for the Midwest.

Those who defend the points per round system do think it has encouraged more play, although they often concede that it has led to more expensive travel as well. There isn't a perfect system--all systems are compromises-- but I preferred the head-to-head method that serves as the basis for The Tennis Recruiting Network's rankings.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kandath Profile, Tennis Australia Hires Mantilla; Report from San Diego on SES Tennis Center Pro Am

During the U.S. Open, I had an opportunity to sit down with New York's Matt Kandath to talk about his college options. As you'll see from reading this profile at The Tennis Recruiting Network, he has some impressive ones.

Tennis Australia announced that they have hired Spain's Felix Mantilla, a former ATP Top 10 player, to run a new training site they have established in Spain. The Age has the details here, and quite a bit seems to be made of the fact that this is a "full-time" position. Is this in response or a reference to other high-profile coaches who wouldn't or couldn't commit to full-time positions with TA or other federations?

Marc Lucero, a former assistant coach of the women's team at Princeton, is now back in San Diego, and he sent me an email about a Pro-Am he played in that area last weekend that supports a very good cause.

In its fourth year at the Rancho Valencia Resort, the SES Tennis Center Pro Am supports the programs and facility in Tecate Mexico, the hometown of Rancho Valencia's pro Eduardo Sanchez.

"Eduardo always had this dream of building some public tennis courts in Tecate, Mexico (where he is from and where there are no public courts)," Lucero writes. "He started this charity, raised money, built some courts and named the facility after his late son. It has grown from a two-court facility now to a four-court facility, I believe, with great programming for the local kids. Also a beneficiary of this pro-am is a group called Empty Cradle which is a support system for families who have tragedies like this happen. It's something that I have really been happy to be a part of since I moved back to San Diego. Some awesome players played this year, guys like former ATP #1s Jared Palmer and Rick Leach, former Mexico Davis Cup #1 and ATP player Alejandro Hernandez, ATP doubles guys Tim Leonard and Devin Bowen. Plus local pros, former college players, etc. I want to bring some attention to it because I think its an awesome event and a great cause."

For more information about the Pro-Am and the SES Tennis Center, please go to their very impressive website.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

ITF B1 in Tulsa Entries Close Thursday; Cako Wins Wild Card; Update on Canadian Juniors

Although there are lower level ITF events going on in Illinois this week and Atlanta next week, the next big event points-wise in the U.S. is the Pan-American B1 in Tulsa. Coming right on the heels of the ITA D'Novo All-American college tournament, it's convenient for me to get two tournaments for the price of one plane ticket, and the Case Tennis Center is a great facility. Entries close Thursday at 5 p.m. Eastern, and last year players without ITF rankings did get in. There was a small qualifying field for boys and no qualifying for girls.

Jacqueline Cako lost in the Kentucky Grade 1 final last week, in three sets to Victoria Kamenskaya of Russia, but her great form over the week extended to a wild card tournament for the $50,000 Pro Circuit event in Ashland, Ky. Cako won three matches to earn a main draw wild card for next week's event, according to this article in the Ashland Daily Independent. Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com will be livestreaming from that event again this year. Thomas is currently covering a Pro Circuit Futures tournament in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Stephanie Myles, who writes about tennis for the Montreal Gazette was in New York covering the Open, without, alas, many of Canada's best juniors to write about. Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic didn't enter, and Rebecca Marino, who is the third player in her article entitled "Canadian Teens Take Aim at the Pros," lost in the first round, to eventual finalist Gabriela Paz. Gabriela Dabrowski, the only other Canadian in the draw, qualified but fell in the first round. Marino still has the option of attending college, presumably Georgia Tech, where she committed last fall prior to deciding to take a year off, but Raonic has signed with BEST (formerly SFX), so he will not be playing tennis for the University of Virginia. According to Myles, Pospisil was not considering college seriously. Is Tennis Canada actively discouraging their promising players from taking the college development route? If so, they are doing a disservice to the players and to the long-term success of their own federation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Higueras Named Director of Coaching for USTA High Performance; Watch Koz's TV Show From Girls 18s in Berkeley

During the U.S. Open television coverage, John McEnroe mentioned that his brother was trying to get Jose Higueras involved in the USTA's Elite Player Development. A junior's coach remarked on Higueras's attendance at a lot of the junior matches, and once I started looking for him, he seemed to be everywhere (although not at Sound Shore). I mentioned the possible hiring to Patrick McEnroe in one of our brief conversations, but he was not revealing anything then. Today's announcement (see below) from the USTA confirms that Higueras will be working for them, as Director of Coaching for Elite Player Development.

Another famous tennis coach I saw a lot of in New York was Dave Kozlowski, a/k/a The Koz, who is now releasing his independently produced tennis shows on the internet via indietennis.com. Koz recently added his USTA Girls 18s in Berkeley production for free online viewing, so click here to watch. I'll post another link when the US Open show comes out, because I know Koz spoke to quite a few juniors in New York.


WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., September 16, 2008 -- The USTA today announced that Jose Higueras has been named Director of Coaching for USTA Elite Player Development. Higueras will oversee all of the program’s men’s and women’s coaching efforts and will work at the USTA Training Centers in Boca Raton, Fla., and Carson, Calif. as well as Palm Springs, Calif., where Higueras lives. He will report to Patrick McEnroe, General Manager, Elite Player Development.

Higueras, 55, won 16 ATP singles titles and was ranked as high as No. 6 in the world during his 16 year professional career. Following his retirement, Higueras made the transition from professional player to professional coach and began to pass on his knowledge and his passion for the game. He helped Michael Chang win a French Open title at age 17, helped Jim Courier on his way to seven Grand Slam titles and has also worked with Pete Sampras, Carlos Moya, Todd Martin, Jennifer Capriati and most recently Robby Ginepri and Roger Federer.

“Jose is one of the greatest minds in coaching today,” said McEnroe. “His understanding of the sport is unrivaled, and his familiarity with American tennis makes him an invaluable asset and important addition to our staff as we continue to develop the skills of the brightest young talents in tennis.”

“Jose comes to the USTA with a veteran presence, including decades of experience as a player, coach and talent evaluator,” said Arlen Kantarian, CEO, Professional Tennis, USTA. “We said the USTA was committed to providing the best possible resources to develop American champions, and with Patrick McEnroe and Jose Higueras, we are acting on that commitment.”

In the newly created role, Higueras will work with McEnroe to develop an overall strategic approach to best identify and develop future American champions. He will provide on-court guidance and coaching to both coaches and players, with a mission to build and maintain an Elite Player Development coaching staff at a world class level.

The new USTA Elite Player Development unit has been created to identify and develop the next generation of American champions by surrounding the top junior players and young pros with the resources, facilities and coaching they need to reach their maximum potential.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Vote For Mitchell Krueger for Sports Illustrated Kid of the Year; Mourning David Foster Wallce

Lynn Morrell of Kids Play For Good has passed along the exciting news that Mitchell Krueger of Texas is in the running for the Sports Illustrated Kids Sports Kid of the Year. He is the only tennis player of the ten nominees, so please support Mitchell and junior tennis by casting your online vote for him here. You have until September 22nd, but please, do it now, so he can move on to the next round.

As a commenter mentioned yesterday, David Foster Wallace, a novelist and essayist who has written brilliantly about tennis, died over the weekend. The tributes are pouring in, from all whose lives have been touched by his dense, hilarious, often exasperating and fiercely intelligent writing. I've written before about his essay in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again that centers on Michael Joyce, who, in the mid-90s was qualifying for ATP events, not coaching Maria Sharapova. It is hard to overstate the depth and insight that piece contains (sorry, no link available), but it isn't the only tennis writing he did. He discusses his junior tennis career in the same collection of essays, and Infinite Jest, his masterpiece novel, which I confess I still haven't gotten around to reading, has a tennis academy as one of its main locations. Two years ago, he wrote an appreciation of Roger Federer for the New York Times Play magazine, that is, fortunately, available online.

Tom Tebbutt of the Toronto Globe and Mail gives a brief and considered tribute, using mostly Wallace's own words here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Scattered Thoughts on the US Open Junior Championships

It's a good time to review the (mostly) dry U.S. Open Junior tournament, as it brings back memories of the sunshine and blue skies. The storm I mentioned yesterday did produce a tornado in nearby Paw Paw, but Kalamazoo escaped without damage or power outages. It's been rain, rain and more rain, however, with five inches in the last 24 hours, and we are now approaching 11 inches for the month.

A lot of the items I heard or observed in New York didn't make it into my daily posts, so I've done a kind of shorthand here on some items you may find interesting. If you were there, feel free to chime in with additions, comments, opinions, whatever.

Most head-scratching result:

Victoria Kamenskaya def. No. 1 Seed Arantxa Rus 6-4, 6-1 --first round
Borut Puc & Juan Spir def. No. 3 seeds Chase Buchanan & Ryan Harrison 7-6(5) 6-4 --first round

Most entertaining match all-U.S. division:

CoCo Vandeweghe def. Kristie Ahn 6-3, 6-4 --second round
Devin Britton def. Bradley Klahn 6-4, 6-3 --third round

Most entertaining match non-U.S. division:
Grigor Dimitrov def. Tsung-Hua Yang 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 --semifinals
Gabriela Paz def. Rebecca Marino 6-4, 7-6(7) --first round

Most unexpected performance:

Devin Britton, qualifier, reaches singles final
Alex Llompart lucky loser, reaches singles third round and doubles semifinal

Most debatable officiating:

Taunting game penalty to Katarzyna Piter vs. Sloane Stephens --second round
No racquet abuse warning to Rhyne Williams vs. Ryan Harrison --third round

Not again:
Jarmere Jenkins retires vs. Krajinovic --first round
Gail Brodsky gets point penalty for racquet abuse at set point vs. Kristina Mladenovic --quarterfinals

First time for everything:

Paz def. Oudin in semifinals after going 0-4 against her in '07-08
Rhyne Williams def. Ryan Harrison for his first win ever over 16-year-old rival

You'll be missed:

Faye Andrews, ITF

Awesome addition:
Andrew Labovitz USTA PR

Most overpriced item at thr USTA BJK NTC:

Ice cream bar $5
Racquet stringing $30

Best scheduling decision:

Finishing doubles on Friday

Worst scheduling decision:

Playing boys and girls final simultaneously

Hope you're back next year:

Tennis Channel coverage of the junior finals
Steve Pratt, usopen.org

Pro tennis writers most interested in juniors:

Neil Harman, The Times of London
Joel Drucker, The Tennis Channel

Radar gun on court 11 or any outside "show" court
Match stats that include winners & unforced errors

Heard lots of praise for
Player food
"Coming Attractions", a new USTA publication highlighting juniors

Heard lots of griping about:
The junior locker room
Scheduling first round matches for Tuesday

Best hitting partners:
Nathan Pasha: Rafael Nadal
Chase Buchanan & Ryan Harrison: Andy Roddick
Christian Harrison: John McEnroe
Evan King: Sam Querrey

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Not Ike, but a Storm Approaches

The National Weather Service is giving us here in Kalamazoo about a half an hour to prepare for a storm, which could leave us without power again. We've already had 24 straight hours of rain, but it has been of the relatively calm variety. Now the tornado watches are being posted, quite rare for this time of year.

No results yet from the Grade 1 in Kentucky, but I did run across this Cleveland story about Lauren Davis and Kyle McPhillips, who are playing high school tennis this year in Ohio. Davis, of course, is the USTA girls 16s champion, while McPhillips was an integral part of this year's ITF World Junior championship-winning team. Those two accomplishments didn't warrant a story, but high school sports are a whole different ballgame, so to speak, for local newspapers, who have regular beat writers for high school sports, but not for tennis.

Friday, September 12, 2008

ITA All-American Tournament Selections; Kentucky News

The selections for the fall ITA majors, the Riveria All-American for women and the D'Novo All-American for men, have been out for a couple of weeks now, but with all the US Open distractions, I didn't have a chance to study them until today. The women have a 64 pre-qualifying draw, a 64 qualifying and a 32 main draw. The men have a 256 pre-qualifying. 128 qualifying and 64 main draw. All I can say to that pre-qualifying expansion, which is new this year, is I hope it doesn't rain. That's a lot of matches to complete in ten days. I'll be there for the main draw and will be staying for the ITF B1 that follows, as I did last year.

As Tech Girl mentioned below, Amanda Craddock is now at Texas, Blake Boswell is now at Oklahoma and Leo Rosenburg appears to have surfaced in Hawaii. Texas Tech has two excellent recruits, Raony Carvalho of Brazil and Gonzalo Escobar from Eucador. Escobar won the Eddie Herr 16s in 2005, a match I covered. You'll probably recognize the names of most of the finalists from that year.

The complete list of the selections for the men's A-A is here. The women's list is here. If there are any inclusions or omissions that strike you, please feel free to comment.

The ITF Grade 1 in Lexington is drawing to a close, with unseeded Matt Kandath and Ryan Lipman winning the doubles with a straight set victory over No. 4 seeds Tankanyi Garanganga of Zimbabwe and Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia. Kandath and Lipman are demonstrating that the team formed at the last second in New York is going to be tough to beat this year. The unseeded Lipman reached the semifinals of singles, as did Bo Seal, who was beaten by Hiroyasu Ehara of Japan for the second tournament in a row. On the girls side, Lauren Embree and Jacqueline Cako, both of whom lost in the first round of qualifying in Flushing Meadows, played for a spot in the finals, with Cako winning 7-6, 6-3. Cako and partner Courtney Dolehide, the 2008 Clay Court doubles champions, fell in the doubles finals to Beatrice Gumulya and Jessy Rompies of Indonesia. In the final, Cako plays Victoria Kamenskaya of Russia, who defeated top seed Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands in the U.S. Open Junior last week. No. 3 seed Mirza Basic of Bosnia will face Ehara in the boys final.

For complete results, see the usta.com ITF site.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

US Open Junior Wrap; Bollettieri's Legacy; More US Open Junior Talk

I'm far from finished with the U.S. Open Junior Championships, despite spending the past four days working on stories and photos about them. My weekly post for The Tennis Recruiting Network is a synopsis of the tournament with a particular focus on the path to the finals for Vandeweghe and Britton.

There are transcripts available for all four of the interviews with the junior finalists at ASAP Sports.

Britton's plans for the future are also mentioned in this feature that appeared yesterday in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Britton has been at IMG/Bollettieri's for three years, and although he isn't mentioned in this espn.com piece on Nick Bollettieri by Greg Garber, several juniors are. No longer a junior, Donald Young also is getting advice from Bollettieri these days. I saw Nick at many junior matches last week: Rhyne Williams vs. Ryan Harrison; Britton vs. Bradley Klahn; Filip Krajinovic vs. Jarmere Jenkins, keenly interested in the tennis technique and strategy, despite what he says in this story. I only hope I am able to see half as many tennis matches as Nick Bollettieri in my lifetime, and to enjoy them all as much as he does.

I will be a guest on the Friday, September 12th webcast of tennisliveradio.com, where Todd Skovron and I will talk about the U.S. Open Junior Championships. It's a free service, so sign up now and log in, whether it's during the live show Friday at 6 p.m., or to listen to archives. My July 29 Kalamazoo preview is available in the "Interviews" section.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

US Open Junior Championship Slide Show

This slide show is not the typical one, focusing instead on the U.S. girls with only the U.S. boys who made the quarterfinals included. Photos of the boys who competed in the main draw can be seen at ustaboys.com, by clicking see all in the photo section of the home page.

The caption gives the round the player lost in singles. There are a few early round girls doubles photos, but does not include everyone. The doubles finalists and the singles semifinalists are also included.

It's a long show, but worth your time. The short, musical animoto version is below:
For the same video via YouTube, click here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

AP Retracts Account of Christian Harrison Racquet Throwing; Unstrung in Atlanta; Kids Play For Good in LA

The original AP story on racquet throwing (I've always used the old-fashioned spelling; it's a style thing) that was the source of some discussion here because it included a reference to Christian Harrison, has been corrected, or at least the part of it that refers to him has. Here is the correction from AP:

Correction: US Open-Such a Racket story

Sep 8, 5:34 pm EDT

NEW YORK (AP)—In a Sept. 4 story about players at the U.S. Open abusing their rackets, The Associated Press reported erroneously that a tennis official told junior player Chris(sic) Harrison to stop hitting the sponsors’ signs. No such warning was issued to Harrison, nor was there any warning or penalty for throwing rackets.

Since I hadn't seen the entire match, I couldn't categorically say the incident hadn't happened, but I did speak to the AP's Ben Walker on Sunday in the media center to make sure he knew that there were people who did see the entire match and disputed his account. He defended his sources, but apparently he shouldn't have.

Jerry Magee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, spoke to Coco Vandeweghe's agent about her future, and he made this rather rash statement.

"The way women's tennis is being played, if you're not at least a six-footer and can't hit hard and deep and never miss, you have no chance.” Have we forgotten Justine Henin so soon?

There is a screening of "Unstrung" Wednesday, September 10th at the Georgia Tech Bill Moore Tennis Center that will also include a pro set between John Isner and Donald Young.

And TJ Pura and Joe DiGiulio, two of the top 14-and-under players in the U.S., who starred in the documentary 50,000 Balls, are going to Rally For The Cure on Saturday, September 13th at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA, as part of the Kids Play For Good initiative. For more information about this event or Kids Play For Good, click here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Curtain Drawn on 2008 US Open

We got home in time to see the second and third sets of the Federer win over Murray (Federer has won every grand slam I've covered, Murray won the first junior slam I covered, the 2004 U.S. Open boys title), and after ten days of watching tennis, I need to start writing the stories that pay the bills this week. (A nine-day stay in New York generates a number that will get your attention, believe me.) Which reminds me, please use the links to Tennis Warehouse and Amazon on the right when you make purchases at those two sites. It helps underwrite my travel expenses.

With deadlines all week, I may not be able to devote too much time to catching up on what I missed while I was gone. But I did want to provide links to the usopen.org coverage of the juniors, which was excellent all week(much better than any of the other Grand Slams) primarily due to the diligence of Steve Pratt, a Southern California-based tennis writer. Pratt wrote the website's account of Vandeweghe's victory over Paz Sunday; Brian Cleary did usopen.org's story on the Dimitrov - Britton match. (I did provide a correction of his reference to Tomic in the comments.)

The only other mainstream media story of any length I've come across about the juniors is this coverage of Vandeweghe's championship by the Star-Ledger.

Marcia Frost's three weeks of Open coverage can be found at collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Vandeweghe Wins First Title, Dimitrov Ends Junior Career with Second Straight Slam

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

American Coco Vandeweghe made her entrance, while Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov exited junior tennis with his second straight Grand Slam trophy Sunday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

On a day as clear as Saturday was wet, wild card Vandeweghe, a 16-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. won her first significant tournament, defeating unseeded Gabriela Paz of Venezuela 7-6(3), 6-1. Dimitrov, the Wimbledon junior champion, put an end to the unprecedented run of qualifier Devin Britton of the U.S. 6-4, 6-3, and will now focus exclusively on his goal of reaching the Top 10 on the ATP tour.

Vandeweghe, the first wild card to reach the junior final, didn't lose a set in the junior tournament, but her dominance all week, fueled by her powerful serve, wasn't immediately evident against Paz. The first set took nearly an hour to complete, and at one stage featured four consecutive breaks of serve, the last of which came when Vandeweghe was serving for the set at 5-3.

"I wasn't serving too well," said Vandeweghe, who now trains with 1992 girls US Open champion Lindsay Davenport's coach Robert Van't Hof. "Then in the second set, I kind of got my serve back going in, especially my first serves and I started being a little bit more aggressive with my second."

Paz, who surprised No. 2 seed Melanie Oudin of the U.S. in Saturday's semifinal indoors, cited two strokes of Vandeweghe's that gave her trouble.

"She has a really good serve and a really good forehand," said Paz, who trains with Diego Dominguez at the Extreme Tennis Academy in Hollywood, Fla. "I think it was really close in the first set. I think I got a little negative at some calls and just got a little mental. But I think she played a really good game."

Paz, who played virtually error-free tennis in her 6-4, 6-4 win over Oudin, was less consistent on Sunday, and was broken to start the second set. Vandeweghe took control with a second break at 1-3, and as she had done against No. 12 seed Kristina Mladenovic of France in Saturday's semifinal, ended the match by pounding a forehand return winner of a second serve.

Describing herself as "on cloud nine" in her post-match press conference in the main interview room, Vandeweghe, a finalist at the girls 18s Nationals last month, admitted that her game fell into place in New York.

"I kind of figured out what I've been trying to practice for the past couple months or month, and it kind of just worked," said the 6-foot-1 right-hander. "I was really confident even in the beginning of the tournament. Just starting out, I had a rocky first match, but then as it went on I got better and better and my serves got better and better."

Vandeweghe, who turns 17 in December, intends to continue playing junior events as well as pro tournaments.

"I've got to get match play in, so whatever's available, I'm going to try and do," she said.

Dimitrov, who will take over the No. 1 ranking in the ITF Junior World Rankings Monday, on a different path. Playing only three junior tournaments in 2008 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open) and winning two of them, Dimitrov is headed back to Spain, where he trains with Pato Alvarez at the Sanchez-Casal Academy, the place where 2004 US Open boys champion Andy Murray trained at a similar age. ITF Futures events in Spain are next for the smooth right-hander, who will begin making the climb from the 700s in the ATP rankings.

In Sunday's final, Dimitrov faced only three break points in the match, all in the third game of the second set. Britton converted on the second, but he was immediately broken back, and was unable to put any real pressure on the Dimitrov serve after that.

"I could have put more returns in play," said Britton, who is the first qualifier to make the US Open junior finals since qualifying began in 2001. "Even then, I probably wouldn't have broken that much. His groundstrokes are solid. I think in order to break him I have to go for a little bit more on the return and get on the offense from the start. But that wasn't really working out for me..."

Dimitrov, who had cruised past Britton in the finals of the Eddie Herr 16s in 2006, was impressed with Britton's play on Sunday.

"There was a couple of things that, you know, I saw in his game that he developed well and stuff. He just--he just played well. I just, you know, played over him. That's it."

Britton's serve and volley game was perhaps not quite as sharp as it had been leading up to the final, with Dimitrov returning well throughout the contest, but the entertainment factor and the quality of many of the points was jaw-droppingly good. There were no signs of nervousness from either player, perhaps not surprising for the two-time junior slam winner, but Britton had never won a junior slam singles match prior to this week.

"I was in the match and I had a lot of chances," said the Bollettieri-trained Britton, who is from Jackson, Miss. "He returns well and he passes well, but I was there on most of the volleys. I got broken a couple of times from double faulting and missing normal volleys, but he came up bigger on the big points. It could have gone either way I think, but he definitely played well. I mean, it was a good match."

Dimitrov, who says he has no particular interest in winning the World Junior Championship at year's end, said he entered the US Open juniors, because he likes the tournament and wanted to improve on his second round performance last year.

"This year, I just wanted to come here and do my best," he said. "Goal is to be top 10 player in ATP, right? Everyone wants to do it, so we'll see what's going to happen."

For tournament draws, see usopen.org.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Qualifer Britton and Wild Card Vandeweghe Earn US Open Junior Final Berths Indoors

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Port Chester, NY--

The U.S. Open Junior Championships will feature an American boy and an American girl for the first time since 1992 when Devin Britton and Coco Vandeweghe earned hard-fought wins at the Sound Shore Indoor Tennis facility Saturday. Britton overtook unseeded Serbian Filip Krajinovic 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, while Vandeweghe eased past No. 12 seed Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-2, 7-6(5). They are hoping to duplicate the results of Americans Lindsay Davenport and Brian Dunn, who raised the winners' trophies 16 years ago.

By the middle stages of the boys' matches, tropical storm Hanna's rains had begun to fall, throwing the U.S. Open men's and women's schedule into chaos, delaying the women's final until Sunday and the men's final until Monday. But the junior finals will proceed on schedule, with only one player, third seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, carrying a number next to his name.

The sixteen-year-old Vandeweghe, whose serve is the linchpin of her game, was expected to reap the advantage of the indoor setting, but Mladenovic also made great use of that shot and was broken just twice in the match, serving at 2-3 in the first and in the second set's opening game. Vandeweghe was moving exceptionally well and cracking plenty of first strike winners throughout, but she found it difficult to shake the tall, lean right-hander.

With a 3-1 lead in the second set, Vandeweghe, who had a vocal cheering section that included her uncle Kiki Vandeweghe, General Manager of the NBA New Jersey Nets, was broken. From then on the match was extremely close and consistently well-played, with winners outnumbering errors by a wide margin. Mladenovic saved a match point against Gail Brodsky in Friday's quarterfinal in a second set tiebreaker, so Vandeweghe was relieved to take advantage of her first chance to end it, jumping on a second serve and crushing a forehand winner.

"I was kind of happy when she missed her first serve," said Vandeweghe, who is now working with Robert van't Hof, who coached Lindsay Davenport for many years. "I saw her chuck her racquet when I won the first point off her serve, and was like, please call a point penalty, because she's been killing me on her serve. It would have been a terrible way to win, but I was at the point where I said I've got to get something here. But getting a second serve is almost as free a gift as getting a point penalty."

Vandeweghe's opponent will be Gabriela Paz of Venezuela, who surprised No. 2 seed Melanie Oudin 6-4, 6-4, her first win over the Georgian in five tries.

"I lost to her four times maybe," said the sixteen-year-old Paz, who trains in N. Miami Beach. "And today's the day I decided it isn't going to happen again. I fought really hard, I didn't get too negative, but she fights, she doesn't give up, so it was really tough."

Paz showed off a much improved serve, which had been a liability in the past, and recorded many more winners than unforced errors, another area where she struggled in previous losses to Oudin.

"It definitely improved," Oudin said of Paz's serve, "and I think she's improved all around. She didn't miss anything today. If I wasn't going to stay in there long enough, she would definitely win the point. She wasn't going to miss. I had to win the point, she's not going to lose it."

Paz, who lost in the first round of qualifying in the U.S. Open junior championships last year, has never played Vandeweghe.

"I'm not really sure how she plays," Paz admitted. "Maybe run her around, but play my game."

The boys finalists have a bit more familiarity with each other. Dimitrov, a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 winner over top seed Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei, and Britton met in the 16s finals at the 2006 Eddie Herr, with Dimitrov taking a 6-2, 6-1 decision.

"That was not pretty at the Eddie Herr," said Britton, who like Dimitrov is 17. "He's a good player, it's going to be tough, but I'll try to do the same thing I did today, without the first set."

In the match against Krajinovic Saturday, Britton lost the first set in a matter of minutes against his fellow Bollettieri student.

"The first set was scary," said Britton, from Jackson, Miss. "He didn't miss a pass the first set; he was hitting two inches from the line, he didn't miss a ball, he was playing unbelievable. I wasn't serving so good; I had maybe five or six double faults and wasn't making a lot of first serves at all. But I wasn't playing that bad."

Britton turned it around quickly in the second set, however, breaking Krajinovic in the opening game and protecting his serve throughout.

"Second set, I started making a lot more serves and I think I was mixing it up better," Britton said. "Out wide to the forehand was working pretty well. I was volleying well and I was hitting my ground strokes pretty well today, especially in the third set."

As he had done in the second set, Britton opened the third with a break of Krajinovic, who seemed increasingly frustrated with his inability to handle Britton's first volley. When Britton got his second break, and then a third to take a 5-0 lead, the unlikely seemed inevitable, until he was broken at love serving for the match.

"I was definitely a little nervous in the 5-0 game," Britton admitted. "No first serves, missed a couple of volleys. But I played a really solid last game at 5-2."

Two aces--one to open the game and one to end it--helped Britton to a love hold and his seventh straight victory since last Friday's first qualifying match.

"It's not likely at all," said Britton of his run this week in New York, where he was the 19th alternate when the first acceptance list was published in early August. "But the confidence is there now--I think I'm a different player than before--and I'll do my best to go farther tomorrow."

Dimitrov, who had been cruising through the draw, had an inexplicable lapse serving at 5-6 in the second set, and before he knew it, Yang had taken the second set and a 2-0 lead in the third. But six games later, the reigning Wimbledon junior champion had reached his second junior slam final of the year.

"I saw he was getting tired and I decided to take my chances while I can," said the Bulgarian, who was content to hit from the back court for the first two sets. "I can try this, to hit the ball right away."

Dimitrov is guarding against overconfidence against Britton, who is an obvious underdog on Sunday.

"He's a pretty good player," Dimitrov said. "He is solid, and I think I'll have to be focused."

The girls and boys finals will be played simultaneously at noon on courts 7 and 11 Sunday, weather permitting.

For more coverage of the action at Sound Shore, see Steve Pratt's account at usopen.org.

girls at noon, boys to follow

Vandeweghe 6-2. 7-6
Paz 6-4, 6-4.
Krajinovic 6-1.Britton 6-4. Britton 6-2.
Dimitrov 6-3. Yang 7-5. Dimitrov 6-2.

Semifinals Indoors at US Open Junior Championships

The semifinals are scheduled for noon at Sound Shore. I am not sure what my internet options will be. The phone number at Sound Shore is 914 939 1300.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Britton Wins Again; Vandeweghe and Oudin Also Reach Semifinals in New York

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

It's a rare tennis tournament where American quarterfinalists outnumber those of all other countries, but at this year's U.S. Open Junior Championships, the Red, White and Blue claimed seven spots, while nine other countries had one each. After Friday's action the U.S. contingent was down to three--Devin Britton, Coco Vandeweghe and Melanie Oudin--the first time since 2000 the U.S. had three semifinalists, and that year it was all boys: winner Andy Roddick, runner-up Robby Ginepri and Ytai Abougzir.

The fans arriving early for the Bryan brothers championship contest on Ashe stopped by court 10 to see surprising qualifier Devin Britton of Jackson, Miss. claim his sixth victory of the week, this one over No. 11 seed Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Spectators who do not regularly follow the junior game could be heard exclaiming "that boy can really volley," with Britton again sticking to his serve and volley game plan against the quick left-hander from Germany.

Britton got the only break he needed in the opening set when Stebe served at 1-2, but Britton was broken for the first time in two matches to fall behind 2-0 in the second set.

"I played a really solid first set, making a lot of first serves." Britton said. "After the first set I relaxed a little bit I think...I was hitting a lot of second serves and I wasn't getting good looks at volleys. I didn't serve great at the beginning of the third but I got out of a couple of games, got some confidence, and started serving better."

Stebe was broken at 2-1 in the third, but threatened to get the break back in Britton's final two service games. Serving at 4-2, Britton was down 15-40 when Stebe nailed two excellent returns, but four straight points by Britton--a touch volley, an ace and two service winners--gave him a 5-2 lead. Stebe indulged in some unplesantries in his native language while heading to his chair, but his frustration did not prevent him from holding and forcing Britton to serve out the match.

After Stebe pounded a second serve return winner to go up 0-15, Britton came back with three service winners, two of them on second serves, to reach match points. But Stebe again hit a return winner, and at 40-30 Britton misjudged a weak return, letting it drop into no man's land and then netting it. But Stebe couldn't take advantage of that error, missing a return wide to give Britton another match point. The 6-foot-3 right-hander thought he had once again finished a match with an ace, letting out a c'mon as soon as he hit it, but the serve was called out, and he took a moment to re-group. His second serve was a good one however, and Stebe's backhand return went well wide, putting Britton into the semifinals, a result he admits was unexpected.

"I guess I didn't see it coming," said the 17-year-old, who has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals of a Grade 1 ITF tournament. "I was happy to be in the second round...I was happy to be in the main draw," he corrected himself. "I'm definitely happy to be in the semifinals."

Awaiting him there is fellow Bollettieri student and roommate Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who downed No. 4 seed and Wimbledon finalist Henri Kontinen of Finland 7-6(6), 7-6(5). Britton defeated Krajinovic in the final round of qualifying on the grass of the Grade 1 in Roehampton in June.

One berth in the other semifinal was filled by No. 3 seed and Wimbledon boys champion Grigor Dimitrov, who defeated Chase Buchanan 6-4, 6-3, the tenth consecutive Junior Grand Slam match the Bulgarian has won in straight sets. He will clash with No. 1 seed and French boys champion Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei, who eliminated wild card Rhyne Williams 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3.

U.S. girls made up half of the quarterfinalists, with Oudin and Vandeweghe advancing and Gail Brodsky coming ever so close to joining them before losing 5-7, 7-6(8), 6-4 to No. 12 seed Kristina Mladenovic of France. Brodsky had a match point serving at 7-6 in the tiebreaker, but Mladenovic hit a cross court forehand winner to save it. At 9-8 in the tiebreaker, Brodsky was given a point penalty for racquet abuse, a call that she understood.

"I wish I hadn't of done it, but I didn't control myself at the moment, so that's life," said Brodsky, 17. "I deserved it; I have no problem with him giving me the point penalty, it was just a rough time."

There were no rough times for wild card Vandeweghe, who has yet to drop a set in the juniors with a 6-2, 6-0 rout of No. 11 seed Tammy Hendler of Belgium. Vandeweghe feasted on Hendler second serve, with the 6-foot-1 Californian using an observation from last year's Orange Bowl to her advantage.

"I could tell she wasn't confident in it," Vandeweghe said. "From playing her at Orange Bowl last year, her served had changed, so just seeing that I knew she wouldn't be confident in it. I thought if I put pressure on that second serve, she might choke on her serve, or push her first serve...because I was waiting to pounce on it."

The other semifinal will be the fifth in a series, with No. 2 seed Oudin once again trying to get the better of unseeded Gabriela Paz of Venezuela. Oudin overcame a shaky start to defeat Madison Brengle 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

"I think I am in better shape than she is, and the longer I made the match, the better for me," said Oudin, who turns 17 later this month. "I played better in the third set, I think she missed a little more, I don't know if she was moving slower, but I got stronger and she slowed down a little bit."

Brengle, a two-time junior Grand Slam finalist, was philosophical about her quarterfinal exit from her final junior Slam.

"She's a really good player," said Brengle, who, although she had never played Oudin, had seen her play many times at both junior and professional tournaments. "She gets a lot of balls back and she's really fast. I made some random errors that I shouldn't have made in the third. But the juniors was sort of fun for me. I won my first round in the (women's) qualies so I got some points, and now I've got six tournaments in a row coming up, fifties and seventy-fives, and I'm playing well, so hopefully it will go well."

Paz, who upset No. 5 seed and French finalist Elena Bogdan of Romania 6-3, 6-0, has lost four matches to Oudin in the past year, all in straight sets.

"I really haven't played my best game every time I've played her," said Paz, who trains in N. Miami Beach and competes exclusively in the United States. "I don't know why. But I feel I'm playing good, and if I keep playing the same way, I shouldn't have problems."

Due to the expected landfall of tropical storm Hanna on Saturday, plans are being made to move the semifinals indoors at Sound Shore Club in Port Chester, NY. The final decision will be made at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time, with matches expected to start at noon.

For complete draws, see usopen.org.

For additional coverage, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.