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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

USTA Creates Junior Team for World Team Tennis

Thanks to a reminder from the Washington Kastles via Twitter, I was closely following the Advanta World Team Tennis draft this morning. I've always been interested in which recently graduated college players or young juniors (almost always young girls trying to get in some match play while abiding by the WTA age restrictions) are chosen for the three-week season in July.

Because there is an NCAA regulation prohibiting playing on a team with professionals, joining the WTT results in the loss of amateur status, and so when 16-year-old Sloane Stephens showed up as the first selection by the New York Buzz, I wondered when she had turned pro. Then Christina McHale was selected in the second round by the Buzz, and I was really puzzled. Soon enough I learned that the USTA Player Development had agreed to field a team made up of four promising young juniors who do not have to relinquish their amateur status, which explains why the Buzz franchise (based in Albany) did not draft a marquee player (the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi, Kim Clijsters, John McEnroe, the Bryans, Martinia Navratilova are among those making WTT appearances this summer), as that would violate the NCAA rule.

In the next two rounds, the Buzz selected Evan King and Alex Domijan. I understand that a USTA National Coach will travel with and coach the team, although I don't think he/she has been chosen yet. [update: it's being reported that Roger Smith will be the Buzz coach.]

In today's WTT press release, which headlines the junior team as the lead story in the draft, Player Development Manager Patrick McEnroe says:

“An integral part of our new player development philosophy is to foster a team concept among our rising junior talent, while providing them the best opportunities to face tough competition,” said McEnroe. “The New York Buzz will provide the perfect opportunity to fulfill both these goals for the boys and girls working with the USTA.”

The press release gives the full draft, and one U.S. junior who has turned pro will be playing for the Philadelphia Freedom, 14-year-old Madison Keys, while 17-year-old CoCo Vandeweghe will play for the Washington Kastles.

Other draftees of note are 2008 NCAA doubles champion at USC Kaes Van't Hof (Newport Beach Breakers), North Carolina's men's assistant Tripp Phillips (St. Louis Aces), Mislav Hisak, the three-time small college champion from NAIA's Embry-Riddle (Aces), Vanderbilt grad Julie Ditty (Breakers), and Washington/Pepperdine's former All-American Robert Kendrick (New York Sportimes). There are other former college players who are returning to WTT action, including Stanford's Sam Warburg, Kentucky's Jesse Witten and Florida's Lisa Raymond.

The USC vs. USTA National boys match is this evening at 6 p.m. EDT. I will have more about it in Wednesday's post, but you can follow it online at usctrojans.com.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sandgren Loses in Copa Gerdau Final; McKenna in College Spotlight; ITA's Off The Court

There's a lot of college items I want to get to today, but first a mention of the results at the just-completed ITF Grade A Copa Gerdau in Brazil. Silvia Njiric of Croatia and Jose Pereira of Brazil won the titles, but Tennys Sandgren of the U.S. had an outstanding run, reaching the singles final as the 10th seed. Pereira, the defending champion, defeated Sandgren 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, but Sandgren beat No. 2 seed Julien Obry of France in the semifinals, as well as the No. 7 and No. 4 seeds, both of whom were undoubtedly more comfortable on the red clay than he. Sandgren and partner Evan King reached the semifinals of the doubles before falling in a match tiebreaker. The ITF junior website has a brief story on the tournament, which is the last Grade A until the Italian Open in mid-May.

Now that the dual college season is in full swing, the USTA College Spotlights are coming fast and furious, with this week's Q and A devoted to Kelcy McKenna of Arizona State, the 2008 Riviera All-American champion who is currently ranked No. 3 in the country.

And speaking of rankings, this week's Texas College Tennis rankings have been released, with every team ranked from the men's No. 1 Virginia to No. 268 Northern Colorade (they can field a team and the Boulder school can't?); the women range from No. 1 Northwestern to No. 327 Utah State. It will again be interesting to compare when the new ITA rankings come out on Tuesday.

The ITA is working on creating a more interactive and dynamic website, and one of the latest additions is similar to Sports Illustrated's Pop Culture Grid, featuring short answers to non-tennis related questions. See the "Off The Court" page for that feature, one of several added to the new the ITA 360 section.

The Pro Circuit is Alabama this week, with the $25,000 women's event in Pelham and the $15,000 event in Mobile, at the same site and with the same management as the just completed Spring Nationals. Fred Saba, who earned a wild card with his win there, obviously declined it, but second and third place finishers Jack Sock and Sekou Bangoura did accept main draw wild cards. The other two went to Alex Domijan and Jarmere Jenkins. Top seed in the tournament is Ryler DeHeart, the former Illinois star, who is just coming back from surgery.

In the women's event, Asia Muhammad, Nicole Gibbs and Chichi Scholl received main draw wild cards.

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ahn Wins Challenger in Hammond; Texas A&M Corpus Christi Penalties Revealed; Buchanan Gets First Win at Ohio State

Sixteen-year-old Kristie Ahn got her first main draw victory on the Pro Circuit this year, then her second, third, fourth and fifth, as she won the $25,000 Tangipahoa Tourism/Loeb Law Firm Tennis Classic in Hammond, Louisiana today. A wild card who had fallen in the final round of qualifying at both Rancho Mirage and Surprise last month, Ahn defeated two Top 200 players last week: No. 160 Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic in the first round and No. 182 Jorgelina Cravero of Argentina in the third round. In today's final, Ahn lost the first set 6-0, but battled back to defeat Australian qualifier Sophie Ferguson by taking the final two sets 6-4, 6-4. For the complete draw, see the Pro Circuit results page.

Last week the NCAA announced penalities for violations in several sports in the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi athletic department, including men's tennis. See the NCAA website's announcement for the complete explanation.

Chase Buchanan made his (home [added 3/30/09]) singles debut today for the Ohio State Buckeyes, defeating unranked Tobias Wernet of Minnesota 6-3, 6-2 at No. 2 singles. No. 6 Ohio State beat the No. 28th-ranked Gophers 7-0 today in Columbus to stay a perfect 4-0 in the Big Ten. For complete scores, see the Minnesota website.

The ninth-ranked University of Illinois, expected to be Ohio State's strongest competition for the conference title, lost today to No. 27th-ranked Notre Dame 4-3, in a non-conference match. The Notre Dame website has the details here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

USC Teams Beat Stanford; Ole Miss Teams Beat Florida; Frost's New Venture; Help with Your Serve

Now that we're in the heart of the college tennis season, the conference rivalries take center stage, and in the Pac-10, there are some pretty excited Southern Cal women this evening. A streak of twenty-three years and 50 dual matches ended today when they beat the Stanford Cardinal 5-2 in Los Angeles, with freshman Alison Ramos clinching for USC at No. 4 singles. The USC website has a great photo and an account of the match here.

The Southern Cal men won in Palo Alto, handing Stanford its third consecutive 4-3 loss today, with the Cardinal having fallen to UCLA on Friday and Baylor last Tuesday. The Stanford website has details of the match, which came down to No. 3 singles, with Abdullah Magdas beating Ryan Thacher to clinch.

In the SEC on Friday, the Ole Miss men and women swept Florida, with the women getting their first win in ten years over the 14th-ranked Gators, 4-3. In Oxford, the 35th-ranked Rebels took the doubles point and 4,5 and 6 singles to record their first win over Florida since 1999.

The Ole Miss men were in Gainesville, where rain delayed play until late Friday evening, but it was the visitors who survived, with the No. 2 ranked Rebels defeating the seventh-ranked Gators 4-2. Mississippi is now 5-0 in SEC play.

In his post match remarks at the Blue Gray Classic, Tennessee men's head coach Sam Winterbotham said that Alabama would be a Top Ten team before the year was out, and the Crimson Tide took a big step toward fulfilling that prediction yesterday, when No. 17 Alabama beat No. 13 Kentucky in Lexington 4-3.

Marcia Frost has been hired as the college tennis expert for examiner.com, so make sure you bookmark the site and check out her posts there as the season moves toward College Station.

And sponsor OTZ Sports has begun a video series with Coach Dan, with the first installment, "The Tennis Serve Made Simple" available on YouTube. Click here and scroll down to view the video.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Coaches Q and A: What is the purpose of developing rituals?

Most of the top professional tennis players have recognizable rituals, so familiar to most of us that Novak Djokovic can cause a sensation when he uses them in his impersonations. Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida explains why they are helpful, and how juniors can benefit from establishing their own.

Harold Solomon:

It is my experience that human beings perform at their highest levels when they operate inside of certain routines which for the purpose of this article we can call rituals. We seem to take comfort in and operate the best when we there is consistency in our actions. Many of the rituals that tennis players develop and perform are to keep the player fully engaged in the moment.

Many players have developed rituals that they use after every single point win or lose. One of the first ones that comes to mind is the way that Maria Sharapova turns her back before every serve, bounces up and down, and clears her mind before getting up to the line to serve. Other players retreat 5 or 6 feet behind the baseline, turn their back and either play with their strings, or bounce the ball a certain amount of times before getting ready to serve or return serve. This ritual allows the player to take the time necessary to process the information from the last point, let go of any anger or frustration, and focus on the task at hand. It stops the player from rushing and allows the player to slow down and think right in the middle of the battle. I would imagine that playing against Djokovic can be very frustrating when you have to deal with the ritual of his incessant bouncing of the ball before he serves. That bouncing of the ball helps get him in a certain frame of mind and into a certain rhythm before he goes up after his serve.

Jim Loehr has done a lot of research on rituals and teaches rituals as part of his mental training. He has studied top players and has noticed that many of them perform similar rituals. Many top players carry their racket in their non-playing hand and hold it a certain way between points. Jim has also noticed that many top players walk and hold their bodies in a certain consistent way on the court. Some players will close their eyes and almost seem to meditate during the change overs during their matches. Before matches some players will insist on watching the first set of the match on the court that they are waiting to go on to in order to get themselves visually accustomed and mentally ready to play. Many players have developed a timeline for when they like to hit or eat before a match, for some players it's 2 hours, for others it could be 30 minutes.

Rituals are individual creations. Junior players should think about rituals they can copy or develop which fit their personality and playing style. Remember the purpose of the ritual is to provide a sense of sameness and continuity which will help you stay focused on the task at hand.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More on Blue Gray; Kimbell Profile; Easter Bowl Acceptances

As promised, I wrote a more formal account of the Blue Gray Tennis Classic for The Tennis Recruiting Network, which is available here. Although I spent only a few hours there, it was obvious that this is an event with a history. The signs, the trophies, the attendance, the media coverage--it was all reminiscent, to me, of Kalamazoo. For an excellent photo gallery, see the Montgomery Advertiser, which provided excellent coverage before and during the event.

ESPN's Rise recently posted a feature on Spring Nationals doubles champion Lilly Kimbell, emphasizing her interest in a balanced life and in attending high school and college. For the complete story, click here.

There was also a short account of ITF World Junior No. 1 Yuki Bhambri's first round loss to Diego Junqueira at the Sony Ericsson in this story by the Miami Herald.

The Easter Bowl acceptances were released a few days ago. For the 14s and 16s competitors, click here. For the 18s, click here. The wild cards are still to be named, but the girls field is very strong, with Lauren Embree, Kristie Ahn, Nicole Gibbs, Christina McHale, Beatrice Capra and Jacqueline Cako among those scheduled to compete.

On the boys side, several of the top 1991 birth years aren't competing, although Bo Seal, Matt Kandath and Tennys Sandgren are entered, but all of the top 1992s are in, including the four who went to Spain, as well as Evan King and Jordan Cox.

Several of that group will also be competing in another exhibition match against a college team, when they take on Southern Cal on March 31. I'll have more on that early next week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mobile Wrap; Slide Show

It's a day early, or six days late, since I didn't have a column last week, but the Tennis Recruiting Network has posted my Mobile Spring National Championship story today.

For additional coverage of the Spring Nationals, see collegeandjuniortennis.com.

I also completed the tournament slideshow this afternoon, but due to a lens problem on the Canon, the point-and-shoot had to do more than it is accustomed to last week, and the photos are not the best quality.

I'm embedding short videos of Capra and Saba from the finals below. For more videos from Mobile of Sock, Scholl and Davis, see my YouTube channel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Alternative College Ranking System; Cronin on the Decline of U.S. Tennis

Rankings are one of those subjects, like the weather, that everyone complains about, but feel they can't do anything about. Well, those of us with limited math skills feel that way. But over at the Texas College Tennis blog, the proprietor is doing something about it, (D III Tennis also does his own rankings), and he or she has published a men's Top 20 that looks like this (the official ITA rankings from today are in parentheses):
1 University of Virginia---------------(1)
2 Ohio State University---------------(6)
3 Stanford University-----------------(4)
4 University of Georgia---------------(3)
5 Univ. of Mississippi-----------------(2)
6 University of Tennessee-Knoxville-(5)
7 Univ. of Southern California--------(8)
8 Univ. of Texas at Austin------------(12)
9 UCLA---------------------------------(11)
10 University of Florida---------------(7)
11 Baylor University-------------------(10)
12 University of Illinois----------------(9)
13 Florida State University------------(15)
14 University of Alabama--------------(17)
15 Texas A&M University--------------(14)
16 Pepperdine--------------------------(18)
17 University of Kentucky-------------(13)
18 Univ. of Arizona--------------------(20)
19 Virginia Tech-----------------------(21)
20 Univ. of Louisville-----------------(19)

The only team that is ranked in the top 20 by the ITA that does not make this list is University of South Carolina, which is 16th. In the women's rankings, there is also one team ranked top 20 by the ITA and not ranked by Texas College Tennis, University of Alabama, which is 17th. Arkansas assumes their place in the top 20 at tct. (For the complete ITA rankings, click here). So, there aren't dramatic differences, although I hope this is a regular exercise, so we can see how they compare as the season works its way to the NCAAs. Rankings are used to decide who hosts NCAA regionals, a very important reason to be confident in their accuracy. For the complete post on the methodology used, see this post on texascollegetennis.com.

In the cover story of the April issue of Inside Tennis, Matt Cronin asks the question Has American Tennis Become Too Soft? Cronin tackles the "hunger" issue head on, and talks with Jose Higueras, Jim Loehr, Pam Shriver, Tracy Austin and Syracuse women's head coach Luke Jensen, among others. Surprisingly, it's sports psychologist Loehr who brings up the issue of the expense of tennis and the impact that has. But as interesting as I found the story and these varied opinions, I came away without a clear answer to the question posed. If the answer is yes, how do we change that? If the answer is no, then how do we attract and challenge those who have what it takes?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Acceptances for International Spring Championships; Grade A Copa Gerdau Underway; Final Junior Blog from Spain; Barrick in College Spotlight

The acceptances for the upcoming International Spring Championships, the ITF Grade 1 in Carson, California, were released on Friday. Although there aren't a great many foreign players in the field, there is a strong group of U.S. players who are hoping to succeed Melanie Oudin and Bradley Klahn as champions. For the acceptance lists, see the USTA's ITF website.

There is a contingent of U.S. juniors in Brazil this month, playing in the Grade 1 Banana Bowl last week and the Grade A Copa Gerdau this week. Fourteen-year-old Madison Keys reached the semifinals at the Banana Bowl, while Mitchell Frank had the best finish of the U.S. boys, getting to the third round. For the ITF preview of the Copa Gerdau, click here.

The group of U.S. boys training in Spain have returned to the States, with Rhyne Williams writing the final blog for usta.com. One of the original players on the trip, Chase Buchanan, returned home with a knee injury, and received NCAA clearance to join Ohio State for the academic year's final quarter, as I mentioned in a tweet last Thursday. He accompanied the team to Pepperdine for today's match, but did not play in the Buckeyes' 6-1 win.

The USTA College Spotlight was directed toward Virginia's Houston Barrick in this Q and A on usta.com.

Tribute to University of San Diego's Tom Hagedorn

I received word today from my colleague Marc Lucero that his friend and mentor, Tom Hagedorn, the men's tennis coach at the University of San Diego, passed away on Saturday after an 18-month battle with leukemia. Lucero's tribute to Hagedorn can be found on Lucero's blog, and it is a testament to the influence that one person can have on the life of another. For additional information about Hagedorn and the memorial service information, see the USD website.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tennessee Claims Blue Gray with 4-2 Victory over Alabama

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Montgomery, AL--

I've been hearing about the Blue Gray Tennis Classic since I started covering college tennis back in 2005, but today was my first opportunity to see the tradition and excitement of the event, in its 60th year.

The current format brings 16 men's teams to Montgomery, where they are guaranteed three matches during the four day event, with the finalists getting four. With outstanding weather and two "local" teams--Alabama and Auburn--in Saturday's semifinals, tournament chairman Paul Winn told me that the crowds were packed into the bleachers at Lagoon Park Tennis Center, a municipal facility.

Attendance was impressive this afternoon, with Alabama in the final against Tennessee, who had beaten Auburn 4-2 on Saturday. Most were in Crimson Tide sportswear, but here and there some block "T"s and neon orange could be spotted in the non-conference SEC matchup.

The doubles point, so critical to setting the tone for the match, was close as expected. Due to Davey Sandgren's jammed finger, an injury sustained when he was playing catch with a tennis ball Sunday morning, the Volunteers' doubles teams were re-configured, with Boris Conkic and Matteo Fago playing No. 1, J.P. Smith and Matt Brewer playing No. 2 and Christian Hansen and Bryan Swartz at No. 3. Alabama picked up the first doubles win when Ricky Doverspike and Andrew Felsenthal beat Hansen and Swartz 8-4, and it looked as if it would come down to No. 1 doubles, when Brewer and Smith went up a break at No. 2. Smith was broken however, to briefly get the Tide's Billy Mertz and Saketh Myneni back on serve, but Myneni couldn't hold in the next game, and Tennessee recorded an 8-6 win. During that exchange of breaks at No. 2, Alabama's No. 1 team of Dan Buikema and Mathieu Thibaudeau lost a service game for the first and only time at 4-4, and Tennessee took the 8-6 win and the doubles point.

Although Alabama head coach Billy Pate said afterward he didn't feel the doubles point was a "must-have," he went on to say how difficult it was to win four of six singles matches against a good team. And what he said he really needed was a first set at one of the top three singles positions, once Buikema at No. 4 and Michael Jung at No. 6 had gotten off to impressive starts against Brewer and Christopher Williams.

But Fago had taken a quick 6-2 first set at No. 3 singles over Alabama's Michael Thompson, Thibaudeau had dropped the first set to Conkic at No. 2, and Smith won the opening set from Myneni at No. 1. The crowd watching the first bank of courts didn't have much to cheer about, and even when Alabama took a 2-1 lead with wins at Nos. 4 & 6, there wasn't much optimism, especially when Mertz fell behind a set and 4-1 against Christian Hansen at No. 5.

Conkic brought Tennessee even with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Thibaudeau, and Smith, Fago and Hansen were all in match games. After a late break in the second set, Smith gave the Vols a 3-2 lead with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Myneni. Fago was serving at 6-5 at No. 3, but Hansen beat him to the fourth point, taking a 6-4, 6-4 decision over Mertz.

After the match, an impressive percentage of the fans stayed for the trophy presentations. In addition to the team champion trophies, there were awards for MVP (Smith, who went 4-0 over the weekend in singles) and sportsmanship (Myneni) and for the winning coach, a bright blue blazer.

Tennessee Sam Winterbotham admitted that he wasn't much of a jacket kind of guy, but was happy to have earned the honor. He was also impressed by Winn's ability to gauge his size, as he was unable to help the chairman out when he was asked earlier in the day what his measurements were.

"He guessed pretty good," Winterbotham said. "I'll wear it for special occasions. I've got three young children, and they'll love to see Dad in the blue blazer."

Another of the Blue Gray's traditions is the hosting families, who take in several players from each team for the duration of the tournament. In the team photograph after the final match, four families who shared their homes with Tennessee players were included, and from all accounts, these are bonds made that will last for many, many years.

"The families just make you feel so good," said Winterbotham. "The experience, the atmosphere, the sense of community--that's really what makes this tournament special."

For the complete results of the tournament, see the tournament's website, bluegraytennis.com.

For the University of Tennessee's account of the win, see utsports.com.

I'll have more about the Blue Gray Classic later this month for the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saba and Capra Claim Spring National Titles

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL--

The week didn't start well for top seed Beatrice Capra, but it ended with a National Championship Saturday, in weather so beautiful the dreary first few days of the event were nearly forgotten. Capra defeated unseeded Chichi Scholl 6-2, 6-2 in the girls final, and in the boys championship, No. 11 seed Frederick Saba secured his first gold ball with a 7-5, 6-2 win over No. 4 seed Jack Sock.

Capra, who was traveling alone, had suffered flight delays, and when she finally arrived in Mobile, at 1 a.m., her luggage didn't. But the rain delays gave her time to settle in, and she was determined not to start the year like she had in 2008.

"Last year I got off to a bad start and didn't win a match until Carson," Capra said, referring to the early April ITF event in California. "That was kind of in my head again--I didn't want to go without winning a match again--but I have, because I went to Australia and didn't win a match, and then I played two pro tournaments and I didn't win a match. I was really nervous coming into this tournament, but I was able to push through it."

After dropping a set to Lauren Davis in the third round, a match Capra believes was the turning point in her tournament, she didn't lose another set, and in fact only dropped 12 games in her next four victories.

Against Scholl, Capra came out really "pumped," breaking Scholl at love to open the match and again in Scholl's next service game. Capra made virtually no unforced errors in that stretch, while Scholl was so erratic that she began to berate herself loudly in German, her parents' native language. Despite being broken in her next service game, Capra was confident that all she needed to do was to stick to her game plan.

"She started to play better and she started to keep a lot more balls in play," Capra said. "I think I got really anxious, really wanted to win, but I wasn't worried because I knew what I had to do to win."

Scholl moves very well and can take control of a match from the baseline, but Capra's defensive genius can frustrate even the most patient player. Scholl admits that quality eluded her Saturday morning.

"I know her game, I play doubles with her," said Scholl, when asked about regularly seeing a sure winner come back as a deep lob from Capra. "I wanted to finish the points too fast, and that was a problem."

Scholl took her first lead by winning the opening game of the second set, but that was also her last lead. Capra broke her the next three times she served to eliminate any thought of a dramatic comeback from Scholl.

"I needed to push her around, push her deep and mix it up a little; get it out of her strike zone," said Capra, who turns 17 next month. "I knew if I always kept getting one more ball back, she was eventually going to get frustrated."

Despite reaching the final unseeded, Scholl wasn't entirely happy with her tournament.

"A lot of my matches were close, and I didn't feel I played well," said Scholl, who turns 17 in July. "I won the matches, I won the deciding points and that was good for me. I fought well but I don't think I played well throughout the tournament."

Saba, who like Capra, trains at Nick Saviano's academy in Sunrise, Fla., is one player who will admit to playing well throughout the tournament. In his first National Level 1 final, Saba showed no nerves and no weaknesses in upending the much more experienced Sock. Down 4-2 in the first set, Saba held and broke, and it was Sock who blinked serving at 5-6. A double fault put Sock behind 0-40, and although he saved the first set point with a nifty drop shot, on the next one, his forehand went into the bottom of the net.

At the start of the second set, Saba held his first service game while Sock, who wasn't staying in the points long enough to get any rhythm, was broken. In the next game Saba had a 40-0 lead, then lost four straight points, but won the next three to take a 3-0 lead.

Sock had one other glimpse at breaking back, with Saba serving at 4-2 0-30, but an ace, a serve and volley winner, a Sock error and forehand winner gave him the 5-2 lead. Even then, Saba refused to let his impending win disrupt his focus.

"What I try to do, which is probably the hardest thing to do in tennis, is one point at a time, one ball at a time, live in the moment," Saba said when asked about those chances to surrender his early break. "I pushed a few volleys wide, but I said no big deal, just keep coming forward and playing your game."

Sock, who was not familiar with Saba's game, admitted he was caught off guard by the Floridian's style.

"He played phenomenal today," Sock said. "He surprised me with some of the things he did, being aggressive. I didn't know he came to the net as much as he did today. His forehand was on today, he put it wherever he wanted to."

Saba's forehand is undoubtedly his strongest shot, but that willingness to move into the court to hit it was the difference in the match. Sock was not passing well, but part of that was Saba's unerring sense of when to approach the service line to finish.

"I thought I played extremely well," said Saba, who did not drop a set in his seven victories. "I was moving well, making a lot of balls, and whenever a short ball came up around the court, I tried to get up to it as quick as possible and take control of the point."

With his first ball of any kind, Saba also earned a wild card into the upcoming Futures event at the Mobile Tennis Center, but will discuss the opportunity with his family and his coach before deciding whether he will accept it.

For Sock, it was the first silver ball of his junior career, but he collected gold ball No. 15 in the doubles, as he and partner Ian Chadwell, the top seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Chris Cha and Lawrence Formentera 6-3, 6-4.

Chadwell and Sock, playing together for the first time, used the prevailing teenage method of orchestrating a partnership, using Facebook and cell phone to connect only two days before the tournament began.

"His 150-mph serve is pretty good and helps me at the net," Sock said when asked how they meshed so quickly. "It's usually a guaranteed hold for him. His power and aggressiveness is good with my touch and feel around the net."

"I think our games are somewhat opposite, so we both complement each other," Chadwell said. "What I don't have, he has, and what he doesn't have, I have. I think that's what was the big difference between everyone else and us."

In the other matches played on Saturday, fifth place in girls singles went to Lauren Davis, a No. 17 seed, who defeated seventh-seeded Stephanie Hoffpauir 6-1, 6-1. Christopher Mengel won the boys back draw when fellow 17 seed Spencer Wolf was unable to play the consolation final. Wolf and partner Connor Smith, the fourth seeds, took the bronze balls in boys doubles, defeating No. 3 seed Christopher Schultz and Joshua Tchan 6-4, 6-3. No. 2 seeds Ester Goldfeld and Ellen Tsay took third in the girls doubles, leading 6-2 over No. 5 seeds Capra and Scholl when Capra retired with a foot injury.

Unseeded Monica Turewicz won the bronze ball in girls singles with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Mary Clayton, who was also unseeded. No. 13 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. finished third in the boys singles when No. 2 seed Smith was unable to compete.

The USTA sportsmanship awards were won by Wolf and Clayton.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Tomorrow, my coverage shifts two hours north to Montgomery, where Alabama and Tennessee are playing the final of the Blue Gray Classic. See that tournament's website for the results of previous matches.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sock and Saba Meet for Boys Title, Capra and Scholl to Decide Girls USTA Spring National Championship

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL--

Jack Sock has been there many times before; for Frederick Saba, it's a new experience. And when they take the court on Saturday morning with a gold ball on the line at the USTA Spring National Championships, they will be meeting for the first time.

In contrast, the girls finalists, top seed Beatrice Capra and unseeded Chichi Scholl, are doubles partners who frequently train together in Florida and have known each other since the 12s. But whether strangers or friends, all four are looking forward to capturing a national title.

The fourth-seeded Sock, who is the reigning 16s Winter champion, has won 14 gold balls in his illustrious junior career, earning his chance for another with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 13 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. Sock fell behind 2-0 in the opening set, but broke back immediately and then again at 2-2, and held for the first set.

"I used my forehand really well to move him around as much as possible," said Sock, 16, of Lincoln, Neb. "I played pretty well and it didn't seem like he had his day. I moved well and attacked when I could. He's one of those guys who you have to attack on the right shot or he'll pass you, so I waited for my time."

Bangoura, generally very quiet on the court, became increasingly frustrated as the unforced errors mounted, and he expressed his disappointment in his level of play both verbally and with his body language. But he couldn't dent Sock's confidence as he finished off the second set with great efficiency.

Saba, a 17-year-old from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., will be playing in his first National Championship final after downing No. 2 seed Connor Smith 7-5, 2-1, ret. inj. in Friday's other boys semifinal.

Serving at 5-4 in the first set, Smith had six set points, but couldn't convert any of them, and after ten deuces, Saba finally pulled even when Smith's forehand went long. A deflated Smith was broken again at 5-6, and at the set break called the trainer due to problems with his feet, his left foot in particular. He managed to hold serve once, but when Saba held for a 2-1 lead, Smith retired.

"I had heard that his foot was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad," said Saba, the 11th seed. "What I usually like to do with my opponents is move them around and make them play a lot of balls, and that actually translated into helping me win the match."

During that crucial game, Saba blamed his return for giving Smith so many set points.

"It was quite funny, because on the deuce points I would miss the return, and on each set point, I was playing amazing points," said Saba, who has not lost a set in his six victories. "I just tried to execute one ball at a time and it helped me come back and win the set."

Saba isn't too concerned about his lack of experience in National Championships, saying it's not a "huge deal, it's just a game after all," while according to Sock, the familiarity with the big match is "a little bit" of an advantage.

"I've never seen him play before this tournament, never even heard of him before this tournament," Sock admitted. "But he's a good player, and I'll have to play well to beat him."

In the girls final, Capra and Scholl are also approaching the championship match from different directions.

Capra, the 16-year-old from Maryland who now trains in Florida, has been in the final of the Clay Courts, Grass Courts and Pan American ITF Grade 1 in the past eight months and is ranked 32 in the ITF World Junior rankings. Scholl, from Pompano Beach, has been playing Open and Pro Circuit events in Florida and wasn't surprised that she was unseeded in Mobile.

"I've been playing well lately, and have had pretty good junior results, but I just haven't been playing that many big national tournaments," said Scholl, who battled past unseeded Monica Turewicz 6-3, 6-2 to earn her berth in the finals.

Capra, who took out unseeded Mary Clayton 6-1, 6-1 in a match that took quite a bit more effort than that score might indicate, said the top seeding wasn't any burden for her.

"I came to play this tournament to get some matches in and to work on my game," Capra said. "I'm really actually surprised how well I've done so far, keeping to my game plan, so there's not really any pressure."

According to Capra, she and Scholl used to play doubles in the 12s all the time, but until a recent pairing in a Pro Circuit event in Florida, they hadn't teamed up. But Capra is well aware of Scholl's strengths.

"Chichi's a grind," Capra said. "She gets a lot of balls back and she's going to fight until the end, so I think I'm going to have to be really aggressive and take control of the match, and not let her push me around."

In the girls doubles semifinals played late Friday afternoon, Capra and Scholl lost to the eventual champions, Emina Bektas and Lilly Kimbell 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. After a brief dinner break, the girls final was played under the lights, with attendance increased by a charity tennis tournament being played on adjacent courts.

Bektas and Kimbell, the No. 4 seeds, defeated Julie Sabacinski and Brittany Sanders, a No. 9 seeded team, 6-3, 6-1.

Bektas and Kimbell, who train together at the John Newcombe Academy, had won a National Open in their only previous tournament as a team.

"I had a good feeling about this tournament," said Kimbell, who was stranded overnight in the Dallas airport last Saturday and close to missing her first match time. "But you never know who you're going to run into."

Bektas and Kimbell ran into the defending champions, Lauren Herring and Grace Min, in the third round, and got over that hurdle 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

As for the keys to their success as a team, Kimbell and Bektas had ready answers.

"Emina's really powerful and she comes into the net a lot too," Kimbell said. "I just help put away the volleys."

"Lilly's poaching off my serve often helps," Bektas said.

In the boys doubles semifinals, played at the same time as the girls, the top two seeded teams advanced to the finals, but it was anything but easy.

No. 2 seeds Chris Cha and Lawrence Formentera overcame No. 4 seeds Smith and Spencer Wolf 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4 in a match that lasted more than two and-a-half hours, while top seeds Ian Chadwell and Sock took a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 decision from No. 3 seeds Christopher Schultz and Joshua Tchan. With Sock's involvement in both championship matches, the boys doubles will be played Saturday afternoon.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Smith Heads Florida Trio in Spring National Semifinals; Three Unseeded Girls Reach Final Four

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL--

USTA Winter Championship 18s finalist Connor Smith is one win away from duplicating that feat in the next seasonal USTA championship, but girls Winter champion Hanna Mar isn't going back-to-back, as the No. 2 seed fell to unseeded Monica Turewicz in Thursday's quarterfinal play.

Smith, the No. 2 seed, hasn't lost a set this week in Mobile, and today, in his 6-3, 6-2 victory over Christopher Mengel, a No. 17 seed, I was fortunate to see the turning point in the match. (Again, all matches were played simultaneously, so I was watching eight at once). With Mengel serving at 3-4 in the first, Smith went up 15-40, but after missing two second serve returns, it looked as if he might have let Mengel off the hook. As the deuces and ads piled up, the significance of the game grew, until Smith finally got the break.

It took a spectacular shot to do it, however, a reflex stop volley after retrieving a couple of sure volley winners from Mengel.

"I didn't even know," said Smith, who had been turned in every direction fending off Mengel's attempts to pass him. "I just felt something hit my racquet. I might as well have been blindfolded."

With a 5-3 lead, the 18-year-old Smith served out the set, and agreed that taking that game was a psychological advantage.

"That was a game to distance myself, definitely and I think it might have gotten into his head a little bit too."

In the semifinal, Tampa's Smith will face a frequent sectional foe, 17-year-old Frederick Saba of Ft. Lauderdale, the No. 11 seed, who defeated unseeded Dennis Novikov 6-4, 7-5. The third Floridian, No. 13 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr. of Bradenton, also advanced in straight sets, beating No. 17 seed Spencer Wolf 6-3, 6-3.

"It's the opposite of Winters, which seemed like was all SoCal," said Smith, who lost to JT Sundling of Thousand Oaks, Calif. in the final. "It's good to see the Florida guys doing well in Alabama."

The fourth semifinalist is No. 4 seed Jack Sock, of Lincoln, Neb., who won the Winter Nationals in the 16s division. Sock put an end to the run of Max Ando Hirsh of Texas 6-4, 6-4 in a hard-fought, and at times contentious, match.

In contrast to the boys semifinalists, of the girls remaining, only one is a seed, No. 1 Beatrice Capra. Capra played a very clean match against No. 10 seed Alexandra Anghelescu, who made too many errors to challenge the 16-year-old from Maryland, and fell 6-1, 6-2. Capra's opponent in the semifinals is unseeded Mary Clayton, who defeated Alina Jerjomina, a No. 17 seed, 6-4, 4-2 ret. Jerjomina had been having problems with her feet throughout the tournament and her long three setter with Kristin Norton and a three set doubles match on Wednesday probably contributed to her retirement today.

Unseeded Chichi Scholl continued her strong play, eliminating Chanelle Van Nguyen 6-1, 6-3. Scholl was dictating from the baseline throughout the match, moving Van Nguyen from side to side and forcing her to play defensively. An unseeded finalist is assured from the bottom half, with Turewicz's win over Mar.

Turewicz and Mar were the last match to finish, and when I arrived it was 4-4 in the second set, Turewicz having won the first 6-4. Turewicz held for 5-4 and Mar was under pressure to extend the match. After three unforced errors, leaving the score at 15-30, Mar pounded a forehand into the corner that produced an error from Turewicz. At 30-30, Mar tried to force the action, but when she got into the net, she couldn't volley the high ball Turewicz gave her and it was match point. Mar saved one with another forehand that forced an error after a lengthy rally, but her next forehand caught the tape for match point number two. Mar never got her teeth into that point, and her backhand moonball went well long to give Turewicz the win.

The doubles are still underway, but the semifinalists will be decided by the end of the evening. For complete results, including the doubles and consolation draws, see the TennisLink site.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Van Nguyen Among Four Unseeded Girls in 18s Spring Nationals Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL--

Top seed Beatrice Capra and No. 2 seed Hanna Mar reached the quarterfinals as expected, posting straight set wins on a warm and sunny Wednesday, but there were plenty of surprises too, with four unseeded players advancing along with them.

Fifteen-year-old Chanelle Van Nguyen led the way, with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Courtney Dolehide, who had lost only five games in her first three matches. Although with 16 matches being played at once, I couldn't watch more than a few games of any one, in the two or three games I saw, Van Nguyen was playing at a very high level, comparable to how she played in winning the Orange Bowl 16s title last December. When Dolehide gave her an opening, Van Nguyen found it, and finished the point at the first opportunity. Next up for the Miami native is 16-year-old Chichi Scholl of Pompano Beach, another unseeded player, who took out No. 8 seed Ester Goldfeld 6-3, 6-4.

A third unseeded Floridian cruising through the draw is Mary Clayton, who had little difficulty with No. 12 seed Caryssa Peretz, especially in the first set, recording a 6-0, 6-4 victory. The fourth unseeded quarterfinalist is Monica Turewicz, 16, who eliminated 14-year-old Grace Min, the ninth seed, 6-3, 7-5. Again, I saw only a few games, but Min wasn't able to capitalize on her opportunities late in the second set. Turewicz served for the match at 5-4, but Min broke her with some aggressive shotmaking. At 5-5 however, Min was broken--her overhead seemed to let her down late in the match--and Turewicz didn't falter with her second chance to close out the match.

Turewicz will play second seed Mar, who had her hands full with No. 14 seed Danielle Collins in the opening set. With Mar serving for the first set at 5-4, they two girls played a long, tough game, and Collins had a point to pull even. But her return of serve didn't find the court when she really needed it, and on set point, Mar brought Collins into the net and passed her. Collins went quietly in the second set, with Mar taking a 6-4, 6-0 decision.

Top seed Capra downed No. 13 seed Kate Turvy 6-3, 6-0 and will meet No. 10 seed Alexandra Anghelescu, who defeated No. 7 seed Stephanie Hoffpauir 6-3, 6-3 in match of long points and long games. The only girls match to go three sets was Alina Jerjomina's 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 16 seed Kristin Norton. Jerjomina, a No. 17 seed, hits hard and flat, and Norton is also accomplished at that kind of baseline slugging. Many of the points I saw in the third set cleared the net by mere millimeters, although the margin for error was so small I was always anticipating one would catch the tape. Jerjomina, who jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the third set, immediately found herself back on serve with some sloppy play in the fifth game, but Norton couldn't get back even. She took a 30-0 lead serving at 3-2, but lost four straight points to make it 4-2 and Jerjomina kept pounding away until Norton relented.

The boys quarterfinals featured only two three-setters, with No. 4 seed Jack Sock going the distance with No. 15 Billy Federhofer before posting a 7-5, 1-6, 6-1 win. Next for Sock is the surprising Max Ando Hirsh of Austin Texas, who rolled past Harry Seaborn, also unseeded, 6-1, 6-1. Ando Hirsh lost the first game of his first match, but has been impressive since then, taking straight-set wins over Jadon Phillips and Shaun Bernstein Tuesday.

In the other three-set match, Christopher Mengel downed fellow 17 seed Daniel Whitehead 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-1. Mengel will play No. 2 seed Connor Smith, who posted a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 17 Daniel Kreyman. Smith, who is willing to hit an approach shot and finish the point with a volley, had trouble closing out Kreyman in the final game, but eventually secured his fourth straight-set victory of the week.

Spencer Wolf, who had upset top seed Ian Chadwell on Tuesday, reached the quarterfinals with a 7-5 6-3 win over Brian Alden. Wolf will face No. 13 seed Sekou Bangoura Jr., who beat No. 7 seed Zachary Leslie 6-1, 7-5.

Perhaps the day's most impressive performance was turned in by No. 11 seed Frederick Saba, who obliterated No. 8 seed Filipp Pogostkin 6-0, 6-1 in less than 45 minutes. Saba will play unseeded 15-year-old Dennis Novikov, who had a considerably longer match against No. 17 seed Jamin Ball, but also got through in two sets, 7-6(3), 7-6(2).

The doubles are still not quite caught up from Sunday and Monday's rain, with some teams through to the quarterfinals and others still in the round of 16.

For complete results, see the TennisLink website.

And for a story from the Mobile Press-Register about Grace Min and Lauren Herring and their longtime friendship and doubles partnership, click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wolf Upsets Top Seed Chadwell at Spring 18s Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile AL--

There was no time to savor victory or dwell on defeat Tuesday morning at the USTA Spring Nationals, after Monday's all-day rain forced a second round of singles for everyone Tuesday afternoon, whether main draw or consolation.

One player who did get to sleep on a big win was Spencer Wolf, a 17 seed, who upset top seed Ian Chadwell 6-4, 6-4 in the third round. I had just made the trek from watching girls top seed Beatrice Capra quell the threat from 17 seed Lauren Davis on the opposite side of the 60 court facility, arriving courtside with Wolf serving for the match at 5-4. I wish I could provide more insight on the key to the future Northwestern Wildcat's win--I heard he served well--but it was a day of too many matches and too little time.

No. 3 seed Walker Kehrer was also upset on a sunny and warm St. Patrick's Day, losing to Tyler Brown of New Braunfels, Texas 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(5). I came by when Kehrer was up 4-1 in the third set, and he served for the match at 5-3, but Brown, the son of former two-time Kalamazoo champion and ATP professional Jimmy Brown, won the next three games to put himself in position to close it out on his serve. He lost four points in what seemed like 30 seconds, prompting him to remark that it was the "quickest four points I've lost in my life," and Kehrer had new life.

Brown had an opportunity to come unglued in the tiebreaker, when, up 2-1, he was given a point penalty by the courtside umpire for saying oh my god, a violation of the facility rule. Brown didn't protest, and Kehrer didn't take advantage, double faulting to give Brown a 3-2 lead. At 5-4, Brown uncorked an ace to earn two match points. Kehrer saved one, ending a long rally with a slick backhand angle for a clean winner, but on the next, his forehand sailed long to give Brown the win.

Less than two hours later, Brown was back on the court, and he wasn't able to extend his win streak, losing to Jamin Ball, a No. 17 seed, 6-2, 6-2.

Ball was one of four boys seeded 17th to reach Wednesday's round of 16, and there are also five unseeded players, including 15-year-old Dennis Novikov, who has yet to lose a set in his three victories.

The girls draw has gone more to form, with only one No. 17 seed, Alina Jerjomina, and four unseeded players reaching the round of 16.

Jerjomina won her third round match over No. 3 seed Lilly Kimbell 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, after Kimbell had barely survived against unseeded CC Sardinha in their second round contest. Sardinha served for the match at 5-4 in the third, but Kimbell rallied for a 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-5 win. Monica Turewicz, 16s Orange Bowl champion Chanelle Van Nguyen, Mary Clayton and Chichi Scholl are the four unseeded girls in the last 16. Of the seeds, No. 4 Courtney Dolehide has been particularly impressive, losing only five games in her three wins.

For complete results, see the TennisLink website.

And a special thanks to Melissa and Lloyd Clayton at YourGameFace.com for their help while I sort out some camera issues.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Update on Rain Delay at Spring Nationals and Other News

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL

The bulk of the rain appears to be moving out, and the plan remains to finish the eight boys first round singles matches in progress and play the second round singles matches. Even with 60 courts, this will make for a late night, and I'm not sure how much time I'll have to do a review tonight. So look for some Twitter updates, and perhaps a short summary of the highlights of the night action.

In the meantime, there are a few items I wanted to post while they are still timely. The first is the Tennis Recruiting Network's schedule for the upcoming spring signing period, with coverage beginning this coming Thursday. During all this rain, I've been able to work on one of the live announcements coming out the first full week of April, an assignment that has helped make the hours in the hotel room a bit more productive these past few days.

The USTA's website is featuring a short video on Ryan Lipman, one of the Talbert Sportsmanship Award winners, and a College Spotlight feature on Northwestern's Lauren Lui. After a week off, the U.S. Pro Circuit action resumes in Redding, Calif., where the women are contesting a $25,000 event. Among those playing in qualifying are Nicole Gibbs, Christina McHale, Anna Orlik and Ajla Tomljanovic. Laura Granville is returning to action after a long absence, and yesterday defeated Jacqueline Cako in the first round of qualifying. See the Pro Circuit page for complete results.

Charleston's The Post and Courier recently featured a brief article about local junior Shelby Rogers's trip to Costa Rica, where she was a semifinalist in the ITF Grade 3 there.

And finally, please check out the new spring merchandise at the Tennis Warehouse, via the link at the top of the sidebar. Purchases made through that link help pay my travel bills, and I appreciate your support!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Most First Round Singles at 18s Spring Nationals Squeezed in Amid Rain Storms

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL--

The sun made an appearance in Mobile Sunday afternoon, drying the courts at the tennis center and allowing the first round of girls singles to be completed before it began to rain again, just after the lights were switched on.

The 60 courts and four-plus rain-free hours kept disaster at bay, and I was faced with a tennis buffet of cruise ship proportions. As I reported on Twitter, I spent some time watching unseeded Mary Clayton down No. 6 seed Ellen Tsay 6-2, 6-3. Tsay, who wins with guile and placement, not power, made many more unforced errors than usual, and Clayton kept blistering her two-handed forehand and backhand into the corners. Of the two, Clayton showed more consistency and Tsay is unlikely to post a win when that happens.

It wasn't a good day for No. 6 seeds, as Lawrence Formentera, who, like Tsay, can claim an Easter Bowl 16s title, also lost, falling to Gonzales Austin of Miami, Fla. 6-2, 7-5. I didn't see any of that match, nor did pick up any buzz when top seed Ian Chadwell dropped the first set to Omar Aly before finding his way to a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory. Chadwell, who will join Alabama in the fall, was the only top eight seeded winner, boy or girl, to drop a set Sunday afternoon. Beatrice Capra, the girls No. 1 seed, didn't lose a game, and Hanna Mar, the No. 2 seed, had too much variety for Madison Cohen in a 6-2, 6-2 win. The same was true of boys No. 2 seed Connor Smith, who defeated Roger Anderson 6-2, 6-1.

I had hoped to see more of the Chichi Scholl - Emina Bektas contest, but it was played on a far court on the "old" part of the complex, where the viewing is not good. As I had expected, it was a tough match, with Scholl taking out Bektas, a 17 seed, 7-5, 6-4. No. 8 seed Ester Goldfeld and Elizabeth Epstein also played on that side, and I did see Goldfeld begin her comeback in the second set, where she trailed 4-1, two breaks, before recording a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory. In addition to Bektas, several other 17 seeds bowed out--Maria Belaya, who was eventually subdued by wild card Liz Begley 6-3, 4-6, 6-2; Marivick Mamiit, who lost to Nicole Melichar 6-4, 7-5 and Brittany Dubins, who fell to Erin Vierra 6-1, 7-6(3).

The boys first round was not completed before the evening rain began, but a couple of double-digit seeds were put out, with No. 14 Chris Cha losing to Dennis Novikov 6-4, 6-3 and Ben Chen, a No. 17 seed, going out to Shaun Bernstein 6-3, 6-1.

Please see the TennisLink site for all the scores of the matches that were completed on Sunday.

And for those of you interested in college tennis, there is a blog devoted to Texas college tennis called, what else? texascollegetennis.com. He is also on Twitter, so I was able to follow Viriginia's 4-3 win over Texas today in Austin while I was out covering the Spring Nationals. He also is the bearer of sad news, as Texas A & M, a 4-3 winner over Illinois today, played without Wil Spencer, due to the death of his father.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rain in Mobile Threatens to Disrupt Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Mobile, AL--

About two hours into registration for the 2009 USTA 18s Spring Nationals, the predicted rain finally materialized here, and five hours later, nearly two inches has fallen on the 60 courts of the Mobile Tennis Center.

This is no quickly passing spring storm, and depending on the source, there are predictions of rain through Monday, which would cause major scheduling headaches, even with such a huge number of courts. There are almost no indoor courts in the area, so there can be no relief on that front and at the beginning of the tournament, with so many matches the first two days, there's nothing to do but hope there's a window that allows utilization of all the courts at the site. That of course makes it difficult for a tennis journalist, who can watch two or three matches at a time, but not 40 or 50. So should I miss a big upset, I hope the circumstances will be considered.

I didn't find any must-see first round matches in the boys draw, but there are a few that caught my eye in the girls side. No. 6 seed and 2008 16s Easter Bowl champion Ellen Tsay faces unseeded Mary Clayton, the youngest of the Ft. Lauderdale clan that includes Chris, Alex and Missy. Number 17 seed Emina Bektas has drawn unseeded Chichi Scholl, who reached the round of 16 at the Orange Bowl and has been playing Pro Circuit events most of this year. The match between No. 8 seed Ester Goldfeld and Elizabeth Epstein, who was the eighth seed last year, could also be an entertaining one.

Watch the Twitter Updates section in the sidebar Sunday for weather reports, and, I hope, some first round match commentary and news.

Friday, March 13, 2009

In Mobile; McEnroe's Remark Got Me Thinking

Our trips to Mobile have always turned out well, but they rarely start that way, what with missing luggage two years ago and seven hours on the Memphis tarmac last year. This year was the exception, with everything going perfectly, although the weather forecast is adamantly stating that rain is coming tomorrow and will likely continue into Sunday morning. I'll try to twitter tomorrow with updates on registration and any other information of interest. For more tournament information, see the TennisLink site.

Today I read the April issue of Tennis magazine cover-to-cover (plane trips are where I do the bulk of my print reading these days) and was interested to find a piece by Peter Bodo on Patrick McEnroe's role as head of Elite Player Development at the USTA (sorry, there's no link available). There isn't much new or controversial in the article, just an introduction of sorts to the changes that McEnroe has made since taking the job last April. There's an upbeat quote from former USTA Development director Eliot Teltscher about the revival taking place in Carson and, of course, several quotes from McEnroe. This one stood out:

People think I identify future champions, but the truth is I don't identify anybody. Everybody knows who the gifted kids are (emphasis mine). My job is to make sure those kids get the best kind of help and support from the USTA.

Does everybody know who the gifted kids are?

I'm more inclined to agree with Steve Tignor, who wrote an entry recently in his Concrete Elbow blog at tennis.com entitled Nobody Knows Anything, a reference to the screenwriter William Goldman's comment about the uncertainty of predicting the Hollywood blockbuster in advance. I've never heard Joel Drucker venture more than a "who knows" when asked about a young player's potential. In my own personal experience, the more gifted players I see, the more confused I am. Take, for example 2004, my first year covering the US Open Juniors. On a "gift" scale, I would have placed Phillip Simmonds above Andy Murray. Simmonds is now ranked 411 and Murray is 4.

Maybe McEnroe is right; maybe everybody does know who the gifted kids are. But the future champions? To quote another famous Hollywood personality, Samuel Goldwyn, “Gentlemen, include me out.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Playing at the Right Level--A Conversation with Chris Woodruff

I had the opportunity to talk with former Top 30 ATP professional and current University of Tennessee associate head coach Chris Woodruff about his transition between college and professional tennis and the resulting question-and-answer session is available today on The Tennis Recruiting Network.

Playing at the right level may seem obvious in retrospect, but playing at the wrong one is a mistake I see being made again and again. Woodruff candidly discusses the perils of too much too soon, with his own recent career as a case in point. As he told me in Chicago:

Not playing at the right level after I won the NCAAs single-handedly set my career back two, three years, to the point where it almost drove me out of the game.
That's not an outcome any of us who love the sport would want. Please take a few minutes to read what someone who's "been there and done that" has to offer on the subject.

A couple of features on college players on the opposite ends of the experience spectrum were published today. University of Kentucky's senior Bruno Agostinelli, currently ranked No. 2 in the country, leads off this story about the Wildcats by the Kentucky Kernel (gotta love that name). Mississippi's Devin Britton, who is the second highest-ranked freshman in the country at 32 (Florida's Carlos Cueto is 19th), is the subject of this article from the Daily Mississippian.

Tomorrow is a travel day as we leave temperatures stuck in the teens here in Michigan for the balmy early spring (I hope) of Alabama. This is my fifth year covering the USTA Spring Nationals, and I have always had a great time there while watching outstanding tennis. I am hoping to use my new Twitter account to post match updates from my iPhone throughout the tournament. The "tweets" will appear in the Twitter Updates section on this site, in the sidebar, or at twitter.com/zootennis. For those not familiar with Twitter, it is basically a free-text-message-over-the-internet service that confines posts to 140 characters or less. It also can be accessed via most mobile phones. You can follow individuals, organizations, businesses, friends, family, celebrities, the president, anyone who has a Twitter account, by simply finding them via a keyword and clicking follow. (For a funny story about one of Twitter's most famous users, click here.) Right now most of the updates are just feeds of my blog posts, but I expect that to change starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring Nationals Fields; Easter Bowl Moving to Clay?; Sarmiento Blogs from Spain; More on Oudin, Brodsky, Stephens

The USTA 18s Spring Nationals begin on Sunday in Mobile, Ala. This is the fifth year of the event, which was created when the Easter Bowl 18s was converted to an ITF event. The boys field isn't particularly strong this year, particularly with the recent withdrawals of Ryan Noble and Ryan Lipman, but the girls field features Beatrice Capra, Kate Fuller, Ester Goldfeld, Lilly Kimbell, USTA Winter Champion Hanna Mar, Chichi Scholl and a strong group of wild cards including Grace Min, Lauren Herring, Chanelle Van Nguyen and Liz Begley. For the complete list of competitors, see the TennisLink site.

Inside Tennis is now putting their local edition news online, and Steve Pratt has written on the Easter Bowl's past and future for that publication. Lew Brewer, the director of junior competition for the USTA, is quoted as saying they have explored the idea of playing the tournament on clay, which would most likely mean a move from Palm Springs, where hard courts are the norm, to Florida, where Har-Tru is prevalent. For the complete story, click here.

The U.S. juniors currently in Spain, another sign the USTA is serious about development on clay, are taking turns with the blog for usta.com. The current entry, by Raymond Sarmiento, (photos by National Coach Mike Sell) can be found here.

Melanie Oudin certainly raised her professional profile with her Fed Cup win last month in Arizona, with a New York Times profile of her published yesterday.

And Bonnie Ford of ESPN provides a bit of detail on the competition between Gail Brodsky and Sloan Stephens that kicked off Tennis Night in America's Madison Square Garden exhibition. It doesn't sound like they got the diva treatment, but then, it's not everyone who can get in the Knicks' locker room. Scroll to the bottom of Ford's column for the part about Brodsky and Stephens.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

LTA Again Under Fire; Venus & Corrie Features; Virginia Back on Top in Rankings

The recent Davis Cup debacle in Great Britain, when Andy Murray dropped out of the Europe Africa Zone tie at the last minute and the team was drubbed by the Ukraine in Scotland, has generated the usual spate of articles about what's wrong with British Tennis. The Independent's Paul Newman talks with LTA head Roger Draper, who remains upbeat, apparently because a sponsor, Aegon, is underwriting development grants. Newman writes,

A key reason for Draper's optimism is a new system of support for the country's elite competitors. Thirty-six players, including 15 juniors, have been given performance-related "Team Aegon" contracts. Aegon, a financial services company, last year signed a £25m sponsorship deal with the LTA.
And then the story goes on to detail who gets what and how much among the top British players.

There's one commenter, Simon Reed from Eurosport, who's pretty certain this whole scheme is a bad idea.

Neil Harman of The Times relayed an expansive quote from Steve Martens, who Harman calls "head honcho" of men's tennis at the LTA, in his weekly Net Post column (scroll down to the "On Track Message" heading if you don't want to read about Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova). Harman is trying to nail down what the LTA means when it says its players are on track. After reading it, I'm as confused as Harman about what Martens means.

But it is Mark Petchey, formerly head of men's tennis at the LTA and now a television commentator, who has come out and said that the entire organization should be disbanded, and then goes into great detail about how to rebuild it, where to spend the substantial funds to achieve the greatest impact and who to ask to help with it. For the complete story, click here.

Britain's Ed Corrie, who plays No. 2 or 3 singles for the University of Texas, has his own take on the British press in this feature from The Daily Texan.
Corrie plans to return to the U.K. after graduation and play professionally, so he’ll have to deal with even more pressure when he is done at Texas, as the British press and tennis community are known for their criticism of professional tennis players. Currently, Andy Murray is the only {male} British tennis player ranked in the top 150 worldwide.

“Everyone wants a big player to emerge, but they’re so negative as well,” Corrie said. “Anytime you are making positive strides, they love you, but when it’s not going well, they quickly jump on you,” he said. “That’s just the way a lot of the British media is.”
In other college tennis news, D'Novo ITA All-American champion Michael Venus of LSU is the subject of the latest USTA Collegiate Spotlight. Click here for that question and answer session. And the Virginia men have regained their No. 1 ranking after Stanford's one week in the top spot, with Ole Miss going from 10th to third after beating Georgia and Tennessee over the weekend. The women's top spot remains in the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats. For the complete Campbell's team rankings (no new individual rankings this week), see the ITA website.