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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Britton Loses to Federer in Three; Buchanan, McHale and Cecil Play Tuesday at US Open

If you had the luxury of putting aside your work today to watch NCAA champion Devin Britton play Roger Federer on Arthur Ashe, as I did, you probably directed several remarks, loudly, at the television set.

Although I really appreciated John McEnroe's defense of college tennis as a viable path to the tour (after all, he went for a year), and he was unerringly correct when criticizing Britton for playing too quickly and rallying too much from the baseline, it was apparent that his new partnership with ESPN's longtime commentator Cliff Drysdale needs polish. There was altogether too much of the flattery that always seems to be required when a former champion is in a television booth, and although McEnroe said he saw Britton play at Wimbledon, it was obvious that Darren Cahill, the courtside reporter for the match, was the only one of the trio that actually knew his game.

I can't criticize ESPN's decision to stay with the Isner - Hanescu second set tiebreaker, which Isner won 16-14, saving 10 set points, but it was difficult to get a feel for how Britton and Federer played over the course of the entire match. Britton was up a break twice, 3-1 in the second set and 4-3 in the third, but each time Federer got the break right back, never leaving any doubt as to the outcome. Britton didn't volley as effectively as he usually does, but I thought he served well--in one game he aced Federer three times--he just didn't handle the Federer returns as calmly as he does similar ones from lesser mortals.

In a tweet a few hours after his loss, Britton wrote: "Best time I've ever had losing. Actually best time I've ever had period. Unreal experience. Had a blast. Still pumped even with a Loss."

For an excellent story on Britton by someone who was not watching on TV, see Greg Garber's story at espn.com.

In other notable matches today, Isner did win his match over No. 28 Victor Hanescu of Romania and his next opponent is Marsel Ilhan of Turkey, who nearly a week ago was defeating Ryan Harrison in the first round of qualifying. Ilhan is the first man from Turkey ever to win a Grand Slam match, in fact, ever to play in a Grand Slam, and this story from the ATP website explains just how much he's overcome along the journey from his birthplace in Uzbekistan to his new home. You can hardly blame him for thinking that a few more advantages a little earlier might have put him in the Top 50 by now.

Portugal's Michelle Larcher de Brito won her opening match from a set and a break down, defeating Mathilde Johansson of France 1-6, 7-5, 6-1. Another well-known prodigy, Donald Young, couldn't get past Tommy Robredo of Spain, falling 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 to the 14th seed. Young revealed after the match that he had received a letter that he would get no further support from the USTA as long as his parents continued to coach him. Darren Rovell posted this story on Young for CNBC. Wild card Gail Brodsky lost 6-4, 6-4 to No. 20 seed Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain. Qualifier Somdev Devvarman, the NCAA champion before Britton, posted his first win at a slam with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Frederico Gil of Portugal.

On Tuesday, boys national champion Chase Buchanan gets his Devin Britton moment when he plays No. 7 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, although it will open the Grandstand action, a considerably less intimidating arena than Arthur Ashe. It should be available on the free live streaming on usopen.org (the WATCH LIVE button), although I had some trouble with the service early today. Christina McHale, the girls national champion, plays Polona Hercog of Slovenia fourth on Court 10, and Mallory Cecil faces Italian veteran Tathiana Garbin second on Court 8. For complete draws and schedules, see usopen.org

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bangoura, Goldfeld win New Jersey ITF; Features on Oudin, Querrey, Devvarman; Andy Murray Looks Back; My Post on Britton

It was difficult to follow the results from last week's ITF International Hard Courts, and I'm not even sure what grade it is--the ITF site says 2 and the TennisLink site says 3--but the final results are posted on the the latter site. Congratulations to Sekou Bangoura, Jr. and Ester Goldfeld for winning titles there. Seeded seventh, Goldfeld defeated Grace Min 6-0, 6-3 and the unseeded Bangoura beat No. 5 seed Oliver Golding of Great Britain 6-3, 7-6(10). Both are also playing in the Grade 1 in Canada on special exemptions, and won their first round matches today.

Lots of comments about what's missing from U.S. tennis on this blog over the weekend, and in this excellent feature from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Melanie Oudin, her coach, Brian de Villiers addresses an aspect of that issue:

There is a lot of talent out there,” said Brian de Villiers, who coaches Oudin out of the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross. “Personally, I don’t think [young players] are pushed enough. I don’t think they have the big picture of the dream. Life in the States is very results-now; people aren’t willing to believe in something and stick to it over the long run through the ups and downs.”

Another young American going into the Open with high expectations is 21-year-old Sam Querrey, who reached his third US Open Series final at the Pilot Pen, clinching the Series title en route. Even though he is seeded in a Grand Slam for the first time, Querrey has a lot of points to defend; he reached the fourth round at the Open last year. This story, from the Hartford Courant, looks at the young friends that have accompanied Querrey on his rise into the highest level of the men's professional game.

The Indian press has both junior No. 1 Yuki Bhambri and Somdev Devvarman to follow this week and next, now that the NCAA champion from Virginia has qualified for the main draw. Bhambri, who just won a Futures event in India this weekend, is indeed one of the favorites for the boys title in New York, as this story states. Devvarman is only the seventh Indian player ever to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam in the Open era, according to this story in the Hindustan Times.

No. 2 seed Andy Murray did a brief Q and A for the New York Times Straight Sets blog, and he remembers very well who he played on his way to the U.S. Open boys title in 2004. One win he doesn't mention is his 6-0, 6-1 first-round trouncing of Argentina's Juan Martin de Potro, who wasn't quite 15 years old at the time.

And my second entry for the Times' tennis blog, on Devin Britton's whirlwind of a weekend, can be found here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

US Open Qualifying Complete, Monday's Day Session Features Defending Champions

Danny may have put a damper on Arthur Ashe Kids Day Saturday, canceling all the interactive on-site festivities in the morning at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, but the tropical depression didn't stop the stadium event or the finish of the final round of qualifying, which was mostly washed out on Friday.

Three U.S. men and two U.S. women advanced to the main draw of the U.S. Open, the most of any country, and if you take the seedings literally, none were projected to win three matches.

Jesse Witten, Michael Yani and Donald Young were all unseeded, yet in their third round matches today, all earned straight-set wins. Witten beat unseeded Alexander Peya of Austria 6-4, 6-3, Yani, who also qualified this year at Wimbledon, took out No. 3 seed Peter Luczak of Australia 6-4, 7-6(3), and Young, who did not lose a set in his three wins, defeated unseeded Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-4. All three were slotted to take on seeds in their first round matches: Witten plays No. 29 Igor Andreev of Russia, Yani No. 22 Sam Querrey and Young No. 14 Tommy Robredo of Spain. Luczak got in as a lucky loser.

No. 25 seed Carly Gullickson, who also qualified for the French Open this year, also needed only six sets to advance; today she beat unseeded Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 7-5, 6-2. Shenay Perry, the No. 24 seed, earned her main draw spot with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Pauline Parmentier yesterday.

The last wild card still standing, 15-year-old Laura Robson of Great Britain, was down a set to Eva Hrdinova of the Czech Republic when play resumed on Saturday. Robson took the second set, then went up 4-0 in the third before squandering that advantage and ending up in a tiebreaker for a spot in the main draw. The match went to Hrdinova 7-6(6), 4-6, 7-6(4). It was one of three women's main draw berths decided by a third set tiebreaker.

Two-time NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman didn't take any detours on the route to his first Grand Slam main draw, quickly finishing his contest with 18-year-old Jerzy Janowicz of Poland in a matter of minutes. The former Virginia Cavalier was up 6-3, 5-2 when rain halted play on Friday. "Sure, I probably didn’t sleep as well as I could have last night had I put him away, but I’d rather be in my shoes than his, that’s for sure,” Devvarman said in a quote provided by USTA PR aide Steve Pratt. “It wasn’t the most ideal way to get to my first Grand Slam but I’ll take it.”

Devvarman, who won in 2007 and 2008, joins two other NCAA singles champions in the main draw (not counting Bob Bryan, who is in the doubles draw): 2004 champion Benjamin Becker of Germany, and 2008 winner Devin Britton. Britton will play top seed Roger Federer on Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday, not before 1 p.m. Devvarman's match against Portugal's Frederico Gil and Becker's against No. 10 seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain are not likely to be given the same prominence. Defending women's champion and No. 2 seed Serena Williams plays U.S. wild card Alexa Glatch after the Federer - Britton match.

Monday's complete order of play is now available. For that and the complete draws, see usopen.org.

Friday, August 28, 2009

US Open Qualifying Delayed by Rain; ATP Site Features Britton; Qualifying Underway for ITF Grade 1 Canadian Open

There are five players who can sleep on the knowledge that they'll be playing in the main draw of the U.S. Open next, but there are 54 others who will have to wait for Danny to pass before their fates will be determined. No. 24 seed Shenay Perry of the U.S. is one of the lucky ones, having finished her 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 9 seed Pauline Parmentier of France just a few minutes before the rain returned. No. 32 seed Marta Domachowska of Poland's quick win over Russia's Anastasia Pivovarova was the only other women's qualifying match to finish. The men who qualified today are No. 2 seed Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, No. 31 seed Alejandro Falla of Colombia and No. 10 seed Michael Berrer of Germany. India's Somdev Devvarman was three points away from his first main draw Grand Slam appearance, leading Jerzy Janowicz of Poland 6-3, 5-2, when play was suspended. Great Britain's Laura Robson had lost a first set tiebreaker to Eva Hrdinova of the Czech Republic.

Although the weather forecast is not great for the morning, and Arthur Ashe Kids Day has been set back an hour, to 10:30 a.m., it appears likely that the remaining matches will be completed Sunday at the latest, and they will try to finish them Saturday, beginning at 2 p.m.

Since it was announced that Devin Britton would be playing Roger Federer in the first round, a small media storm has gathered around him. Bill Gray talked with Britton for tennis.com (I personally haven't heard anyone call Britton the "future of American tennis," but I guess Gray has), Rick Cleveland of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger speaks with Britton and his former coach at Ole Miss, Billy Chadwick, about his match with Federer, and the ATP website also spoke with Britton for this story. I'm also hoping to add to the mix with a post for the Straight Sets blog at the New York Times in the next few days.

In junior news, the Grade 1 in Canada began today with qualifying, and there are a handful of U.S. juniors competing the week before the Open Junior Championships. The boys in the main draw are: Denis Kudla, Mitchell Frank, Junior Ore, Raymond Sarmiento and Matt Kandath. The girls are: 2008 finalist Nicole Gibbs, Alexandra Cercone, Sachia Vickery, and two special exempts, who are in the final at the New Jersy ITF, Ester Goldfeld and Grace Min. The tournament has its own website, but I found the results of today's qualifying at the ITF junior website.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Veterans Move Closer to Main Draw Berths at US Open; Britton, Buchanan Get World Class Tests in First Round Next Week

With one notable exception, it wasn't the youngsters or the wild cards that made the biggest impact in the second round of qualifying Thursday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It was three U.S. veterans who survived of the women's side, all of them seeded: Angela Haynes (27), Carly Gullickson (25) and Shenay Perry (24). Perry was given a real test by University of Florida freshman and wild card Lauren Embree, who kept the 25-year-old Floridian on the court nearly two and a half hours before falling 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 6-4. Perry will play No. 9 seed Pauline Parmentier of France in Friday's final round of qualifying.

Wild cards Asia Muhammad and Kristie Ahn lost in straight sets, leaving 15-year-old Laura Robson of Great Britain as the only wild card still playing in either men's or women's qualifying. Robson defeated Aniko Kapros of Hungary 6-4, 7-5 Thursday and will become the youngest player in the main draw if she can get by Eva Hrdinova of the Czech Republic Friday. The BBC posted this story about Robson's victory today.

On the men's side, four U.S. players have reached the final 32: Donald Young, Scoville Jenkins, Jesse Witten and Michael Yani. Jenkins won the battle of the former Kalamazoo 18s champions, defeating wild card Michael McClune 6-3, 6-4, while Donald Young, a two-time winner at Kalamazoo in 2005 and 2006, defeated Spain's Guillermo Olaso 7-5, 6-2 in an evening match that Ken Thomas broadcast on radiotennis.com. Young plays Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic on Friday, while Jenkins faces the challenge of No. 1 seed Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil.

Both Yani and Witten got off to very slow starts in their second round matches, but were able to adjust to take the last two sets. Yani overtook Raven Klaasen of South Africa 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-2 and Witten, who stopped by to chat with Ken Thomas after his match, came back for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory over No. 21 seed Stephane Bohli of Switzerland. The former Duke Blue Devil Yani will play another former collegiate star, Australia's Peter Luczak, who competed for Fresno State. Luczak, who is seeded No. 3, has been on a serious run on European clay this summer, and has raised his ranking to 78. Witten will play unseeded Alexander Peya of Austria in the final round of qualifying.

The draws were released at noon today in a 30-minute ESPNews program featuring Patrick McEnroe and Mary Joe Fernandez. NCAA champion Devin Britton didn't have to wait long to see his name, as he appeared immediately as five-time defending champion Roger Federer's first round opponent. The 18-year-old from Mississippi is at least assured of a televised Grand Slam debut. National junior champion Chase Buchanan drew No. 7 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.

The women's NCAA champion Mallory Cecil will make her debut as a professional against unseeded Tathiana Garbin of Italy. Cecil has decided not to return to Duke, and the Spartanburg, SC Herald-Journal talked with her about her decision and her opening round match in this story. Christina McHale, the national junior champion, also drew an unseeded player, Polona Hercog of Slovenia, who is 18.

For the complete draws, see usopen.org.

For additional coverage of the qualifying, see College Tennis Examiner.

Talking with Paul Goldstein; Dolehide, Cohen Get Top 100 Wins in Bronx Challenger

Before the day's US Open qualifying action gets underway, I wanted to post a link to my Tennis Recruiting Network interview with Paul Goldstein, who has a great many wise and measured remarks about college and professional tennis. I really enjoyed talking with him and I hope after a productive midlife career outside tennis, he'll return to the sport.

With all the attention focused on the U.S. Open qualifying, and the Pilot Pen event in New Haven, the $100,000 ITF Women's challenger in the Bronx is flying way under the radar. Part of the reason for this is no publicity (I would wonder about the effectivenes of my sponsorship if I were EmblemHealth), with scores unavailable until the next day, but yesterday there was some very good news for two young American players. The University of Miami's Julia Cohen defeated the WTA's 95th ranked player Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-1, and 17-year-old wild card Courtney Dolehide joined Cohen in the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 82 Patricia Mayr of Austria. This is a very strong field, with most of the competitors already assured a main draw berth in the U.S. Open, so reaching the quarterfinals is especially impressive. Miami's hurricanesports.com had this story on Cohen's victory, which incorrectly states that she's in the round of 16. It is a 32 draw, so two wins puts a player in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wild Cards Ahn, Muhammad, Robson, Venus and Smyczek Advance to Second Round in US Open Qualifying; ESPNews Airs Draw at Noon Thursday

The first round of qualifying for the US Open is complete, and wild cards enjoyed more success on Wednesday than they did on Tuesday.

Fifteen-year-old Laura Robson of Great Britain, who was something of a surprise wild card, started off the morning with a 7-5, 6-1 win over No. 21 seed Stephanie Foretz of France. Although Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com called the Court 11 match, I wasn't able to listen, but later in the day, he mentioned that Foretz "went away" in the second set. I was able to log in for the next match, in which wild card Alex Domijan lost a 7-6(4), 7-5 decision to Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico, and I stayed close to the computer for most of the remaining matches.

Wild card Asia Muhammad posted an impressive 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 victory over Jorgelina Cravero of Argentina, ranked 181, and another wild card, Kristie Ahn, kept her US Open qualifying record perfect with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Nathlie Vierin of Italy, ranked 221. Ahn, who qualified as a wild card last year, only to draw Dinara Safina in the opening round, stopped by to talk with Ken Thomas while he was calling the Julie Ditty loss to Anna Lapushchenkova. She revealed that she's still planning on college, most likely Stanford, but will be moving temporarily to the USTA Training Center in Carson to work with National Coach Tom Gullikson and others. Ahn said it was currently a three month trial. I'm not sure, but I think I heard her say she isn't going to play the US Open juniors this year. She is still showing in the acceptances as of Monday, however.

The only other U.S. woman reaching Thursday's second round today was No. 27 seed Angela Haynes, who beat Lindsay Lee-Waters 6-3, 6-2. In all, there are seven U.S. women still alive, with three of them--Lauren Embree, Ahn and Muhammad--wild card entries.

In addition to Mike McClune, who reached the second round late Tuesday evening, two other wild cards earned another match today: Tim Smyczek and Michael Venus. Smyczek beat former ATP Top Ten player and Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement of France. Smyczek, who is at a career high of 282, beat 20th seeded Clement 7-6(6), 6-4. Venus, the former LSU standout, had a similar scoreline, in dismissing Marcel Felder of Uruguay 7-6(5), 6-4.

Two-time Kalamazoo champion Donald Young also won a tight two-setter, taking out Marco Crugnola of Italy 7-6(2), 6-4 and former Duke star Michael Yani had a convincing 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 29 seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France. Kentucky wildcat alum Jesse Witten also had an easy win over Go Soeda of Japan 6-2, 6-1; Steve Pratt wrote this story about Witten's victory. There are eight U.S. men remaining, three of them wild cards.

In addition to Marcia Frost, who is covering the qualifying for College Tennis Examiner, other mainstream media has checked in. Peter Bodo of Tennis Magazine and tennis.com, wrote about 2007 US Open Junior finalist Jerzy Janowicz in his TennisWorld post today, and Tennis Week's Scoop Malinowski is also out checking out practice and qualies. He is particularly enamored of 2008 US Open Junior champion Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who faces No. 1 seed Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil in the second round of qualifying Thursday.

For complete Thursday schedule, see usopen.org.

And don't forget to watch ESPNews at noon EDT Thursday for the US Open draw. I'm particularly eager to see who the NCAA champions and 18s champions will play next week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Day of US Open Qualifying a Long One

If you started following the US Open like I did this morning, listening to Ken Thomas at radiotennis.com, you heard him say that he would be doing internet play-by-play for the five matches scheduled for Court 11. Because the first two went so long, he ended up only doing three, and the other matches were moved from his court. In the first match on Court 11, Alison Riske, who has turned pro and will not be attending Vanderbilt after all, battled for nearly three hours before succumbing to cramps and Yulia Fedossova of France 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. That court's next match saw Sam Warburg, the former Stanford star, go out in a third set tiebreaker to No. 10 seed Michael Berrer of Germany in another contest that took almost three hours to settle. Another former Cardinal, Lilia Osterloh, followed Warburg on Court 11, and even though she had a routine 6-4, 6-1 over Catalina Castano of Columbia, it was the last match Thomas broadcast.

Osterloh's win was one of several for Americans today, wild cards or otherwise. On the men's side Alex Kuznetsov and Ryler DeHeart lost, as did wild cards Blake Strode and Ryan Lipman. Several former Kalamazoo 18s champions were in action on Tuesday, with 2004 winner Scoville Jenkins posting a straight set win over No. 30 seed Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia, but 2001 champion Alex Bogomolov, seeded No. 16, losing to two-time NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman 6-3, 6-3. Jenkins will meet another Kalamazoo champion, 2007 winner Michael McClune, who outlasted Todd Widom 7-6(13), 2-6, 6-4 in the night's last match. No. 9 seed Michael Russell, the Nats 16s champion in 1994, advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 7-6(6) win over David Guez of France. Twelve other U.S. men play their first round matches on Wednesday.

The only wild card success for U.S. women on Tuesday was assured when Lauren Embree met Irina Falconi in the first round. Embree, who received her wild card for reaching the girls 18 final in Berkeley, took out Falconi, who received her wild card for performing well in this summer's Pro Circuit events, 6-4, 6-1. There was a lot of coverage of this match. Steve Pratt, the Easter Bowl press aide who last year worked for usopen.org, is this year working for the USTA publicity department during qualifying, and he spoke with Embree for this story. The Gatorzone is keeping tabs on Embree's results, and spoke with Florida's assistant coach Dave Balogh, who was at the match. Marcia Frost also wrote this for College Tennis Examiner. A big thank you to Marcia for confirming with Riske her professional status.

Embree's next opponent will be another American, Shenay Perry, the 24th seed, who also advanced in straight sets.

Wild card Sloane Stephens dropped her match 6-3, 6-2 to Portugal's Neuza Silva and wild card CoCo Vandeweghe, last year's US Open girls champion, also fell, losing to No. 11 seed Ekaterina Bychkova of Russia 6-0, 6-3. As Pratt pointed out, the omens should have been better, as Vandeweghe was assigned the same court, No. 7, where she had won her title last year over Gabriela Paz, but none of that magic could be conjured this year. American Carly Gullickson, the No. 25 seed, was the fourth American woman to advance to the second round of qualifying. Nine others play their first round matches on Wednesday.

For complete draws, visit usopen.org

Monday, August 24, 2009

US Open Qualifying Draws Released: Bhambri and Tomic Prepare for Junior Open; Info on October Men's Futures in Austin

The US Open qualifying draws have been released, with 17 U.S. women and 22 U.S. men competing for main draw spots beginning tomorrow. The order of play is here, and Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com will again be doing audio play-by-play beginning on Tuesday at noon EDT. Marcia Frost will also be covering the qualifying at College Tennis Examiner.

As I mentioned a few hours ago on Twitter, there was a lot of late movement in the men's qualifying singles, with Scoville Jenkins, Grigor Dimitrov and Lester Cook moving into the qualifying on their own rankings, and freeing up the three wild cards they had been awarded. They were given to Michael McClune, Jordan Cox and Tennys Sandgren. There were no changes in the women's wild cards, but there was some bad luck for three of the U.S. wild cards, with Irinia Falconi, Lauren Embree (who play each other) and Sloane Stephens all in the same qualifying section, along with No. 24 seed Shenay Perry.

There were two recent stories about India's Yuki Bhambri, who will be the top seed in the boys draw in New York, and Australia's Bernard Tomic, who will probably be seeded third, based on his ATP ranking. It will be Bhambri's first junior slam since he won the Australian; Tomic played both the French and Wimbledon juniors, losing in the third round in Paris and the semifinals in London. Both are currently training at IMG/Bollettieri in Bradenton.
For the most recently updated acceptance list for the U.S. Open Juniors, click here.

Granger Huntress of the Texas College Tennis blog tweeted today about a new location for the October Pro Circuit Futures event in Texas, which will now be in his hometown of Austin and known as the 10sportal.com Classic. Unfortunately for me and a lot of juniors, it is the same week as the ITF B1 in Tulsa. This release gives dates for the pre-qualifying wild card, wild card, pro-am and other events that are planned for the tournament, which is taking the date of the Mansfield, Texas event.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Coaches Q and A: Should Boys and Girls Practice Together?

Grand Slam mixed doubles is the one area of professional tennis where men and women compete against each other, but for practicing, both genders tend to use male hitting partners at the sport's highest level. In this month's edition of Coaches Q and A, Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida comments on the benefits of junior boys and girls practicing together.

Q. Should boys and girls practice together?

A. We always have the boys and girls at our academy practice together. It is a given that boys and girls hit the ball differently. Boys tend to hit the ball with far more top spin than the girls and a boy's second serve, which is usually a kick, will jump up far higher than a normal girl's second serve.

Having said that, boys and girls can benefit from working together.

Girls’ balls tend to be flatter and go through the court more. For boys this can help them with their preparation and footwork. Boys can work on taking more little adjustment steps to get ready for the girls’ balls and getting their rackets in position earlier. Boys will also have to bend more and use their legs more to get down for the girls' shots.

Girls can practice moving up to the ball and taking it earlier since the boys shots tend to jump up more than they go through the court. Since boys hit the ball harder, the girls will have to increase their foot speed to be effective and since the guys will attack the girls' second serves, it puts more pressure on the girls to go after their second serves instead of just getting them in.

Girls will need to learn how to initiate right from the beginning of the point so that they can get in control and not let the boys' quicker speed of shots and feet come into play. It is also effective for the boys to work on serving and volleying and coming into the net when playing against the girls. The girls tend to pass well and have effective returns of serve, so many times we will make the boys play with one serve which puts pressure on their second serve and forces them to think through the point instead of just blasting for winners.

Finally, there can also be a good dynamic of both the girls and boys trying to impress each other, which we have experienced will make them work harder and more effectively.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

ESPN.com's Greg Garber Delves Into State of U.S. Tennis

Federer beating Murray, ESPN failing to promote and market; two things that don't happen often, but both did this past week. Federer beat Murray for the first time this year in the Cincinnati semifinals today, and last week Greg Garber wrote an exhaustive, three-part feature on the state of tennis in the U.S.A. which is downright hard to locate on the Worldwide Leader's tennis page. That's a pity, because Garber did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people and covered many different issues facing the sport, and wrote a very readable synopsis of his exploration.

Part I, entitled "What is tennis' place in America today?" focuses on where tennis fits in the vast U.S. sports landscape, what's unique about the sport and its prospects for finding a wider audience.

Part II, entitled "Luring U.S. Kids Gaining Traction?", Garber talks with coaches and former players about the rise of the Eastern European domination, the "hunger" issue and the too comfortable American lifestyle, as well as the source of the love of the game that has kept so many of them still involved in it, long after their playing days are over.

Part III, entitled "U.S. taking a more unified approach", explores the USTA's Player Development changes under Patrick McEnroe, the QuickStart initiative, how these programs are paid for, and some of the cycles that are inevitable in tennis success.

I spoke with Greg about many of these issues last month, when he was researching the story, and although I ended up on the cutting room floor, after reading these pieces I certainly understand why. He reached out to so many people and wove their insights so seamlessly into the narrative that it's easy to overlook what a difficult task that is. After reading this, I'm very encouraged about both the current state of tennis in the U.S. and the sport's future, and so are many, many people for whom tennis is so much more than a job.

Friday, August 21, 2009

USTA Announces US Open Junior Wild Cards; My First Post for New York Times Tennis Blog

The PR department at the USTA has been busy this week with all the wild card announcements, and another one, for the US Open Junior championships, appeared in my mailbox this afternoon.

Main Draw:
Gonzales Austin
Chase Buchanan
Bjorn Fratangelo
Dennis Novikov
Junior Ore
Jack Sock
Raymond Sarmiento
Bob van Overbeek

Julia Boserup
Gail Brodsky
Jacqueline Cako
Alexandra Cercone
Lauren Davis
Ester Goldfeld
Grace Min
Asia Muhammad

Qualifying Draw:
Marcos Giron
Alexios Halebian
Mitchell Krueger
Nathan Pasha
Shane Vinsant

Courtney Dolehide
Victoria Duval
Ellen Tsay
Chanelle Van Nguyen
Sachia Vickery

I was pleasantly surprised to see Jack Sock get a main draw wild card; three years ago when Ryan Thacher lost 7-6 in the third to Brennan Boyajian in the Kalamazoo 16s final, he was only offered a qualifying wild card. That Julia Boserup, Gail Brodsky and Asia Muhammad are playing the juniors again is a little surprising, but for Boserup especially, it is a chance to play some matches.

For the complete release, click here.

I've been invited to contribute to the New York Times Straight Sets blog during the US Open, and my first entry, about Chase Buchanan and Christina McHale, was posted today.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

USTA Announces Women's US Open Wild Cards

The USTA has announced the women's US Open wild cards:

Main Draw:

Gail Brodsky

Mallory Cecil

Kim Clijsters

Alexa Glatch

Vania King

Christina McHale

Kristina Mladenovic (France trade)

Olivia Rogowska (Australia trade)

Qualifying Draw

Kristie Ahn

Lauren Embree

Irina Falconi

Nicole Gibbs

Asia Muhammad

Alison Riske

Laura Robson

Sloane Stephens

CoCo Vandeweghe

The only surprise to me is Laura Robson, and perhaps Brodsky, for being elevated above Embree after finishing third in Berkeley.

For the complete release, click here.

Also, the men's wild card traded with France has been given to Michael Llodra.

Kalamazoo Wrap; YouTube Videos; Local Stories on Champions

Before the US Open women's wild cards are released, I wanted to post a link to my Kalamazoo wrap-up story for The Tennis Recruiting Network, and two of the four brief videos from the Kalamazoo finals that I've posted to my YouTube channel.

The Columbus Dispatch posted this story on Buchanan's win, and he talks about the lesson he learned from his loss to USC's Daniel Nguyen in the NCAA team finals.

Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald wrote this feature on that city's hometown champion, Gonzales Austin.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

USTA Announces Men's Wild Cards for US Open

The much anticipated announcement on men's wild cards for the US Open was emailed to me a few minutes ago, and because it is of such interest, I'm posting it right away.

Main Draw:

Devin Britton

Chase Buchanan

Taylor Dent

Brendan Evans

Jesse Levine

Rajeev Ram

Chris Guccione (trade with Australia)

TBD (trade with France)

Qualifying Draw

Lester Cook

Grigor Dimitrov

Alex Domijan

Ryan Harrison

Scoville Jenkins

Ryan Lipman

Tim Smyczek

Blake Strode

Michael Venus

For the complete release, click on this link.

If the previous pattern holds, the women's wild cards will be announced on Thursday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kalamazoo Slide Show

This slide show features the top eight finishers in singles and top four in doubles, as well as the sportsmanship award winners.

I have short videos of both singles finals that I will post to YouTube sometime this week.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Other National Champions and an In-depth Look at the Junior Tennis Champions Center

After ten days of concentrating on Kalamazoo, it's time to check in on the other winners of National titles.

Girls 12s (Alpharetta, GA):
Kenadi Hance (2) def. Carolyn Xie (6) 2-6, 6-3, 6-0
Boys 12s (North Little Rock, AR):
Henrik Wiersholm (3) def. Spencer Furman (6) 7-5, 5-7, 7-6

Girls 14s (Peachtree City, GA):
Hayley Carter (17) def. Christina Makarova (9) 7-5, 6-1
Boys 14s: (San Antonio, TX):
Jake Albo (6) def. Gregory Garcia (4) 1-6, 6-3, 6-2

Girls 16s (San Diego, CA):
Lauren Davis (1) def. Chanelle Van Nguyen (10) 6-0, 6-4

Girls 18s: (Berkeley, CA):
Christina McHale (3) def. Lauren Embree (4) 6-0, 6-1

McHale will be playing in her second Grand Slam main draw in New York. Back in December, she won the USTA wild card for Australia. For more on the girls 18 Nationals, see Marcia Frost's coverage for ustagirls.org.

Davis was defending her title in San Diego, a rarity in the 16s division, but she had little trouble earning that precious US Open Junior wild card for the second time, losing only 24 games in seven matches. She admits that the Jr. Open wild card was the reason she played down in this story from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Tennis Recruiting Network will have coverage of all the National tournaments later this week. Click here for the schedule.

The Washington Post Magazine has published this long feature about the Junior Champions Tennis Center in College Park, Md., focusing on Denis Kudla, Mitchell Frank and Junior Ore. The magazine's editor, Tom Shroder, spent time with Kudla and Frank at this year's French Open Juniors, but he also goes into detail about their daily routine when at home.

The article refers to Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code, which I reviewed last month and Geoff Colvin's Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, which I've just begun to read, as reflecting the philosophy of the JCTC, and I think it's also important to recognize that there is a tennis "angel," Ken Brody, who has made much of this possible financially.

There are a few errors in the final update section at the end. Frank lost in the round of 32, not the round of 16 at Kalamazoo, and Ore is not in the main draw of the US Open Juniors yet. He is four spots away, but likely to get a wild card if he doesn't get in via withdrawals.

Speaking of wild cards, last year the USTA released the women's US Open main and qualifying wild card selections on Wednesday and the men's on Thursday of the week after the Junior Nationals. Although there was no formal release on the US Open Junior wild cards, it was on that Thursday that an updated acceptance list appeared with names in the WC spots. (The current acceptance list, updated last week, can be found at the ITF Junior website.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Buchanan Downs Lipman for 18s Title, Austin Suprises Sock to Earn 16s Championship

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Kalamazoo MI--

The 2009 Kalamazoo champions' paths to the titles couldn't have been more different. No. 2 seed Chase Buchanan had one of the most dominating runs this decade in the 18s division, culminating in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 8 seed Ryan Lipman. Gonzales Austin, the No. 8 seed in the 16s division, won five consecutive three-set matches including the final, where he upset top seed Jack Sock 3-6, 7-5, 6-0.

Buchanan, 18, lost four games in a set only once prior to the final, and on a steamy Sunday afternoon on Stowe Stadium's center court, he looked in complete control from the beginning. Even a game penalty, assessed when he was late returning from the restroom during the heat break after the second set, couldn't disrupt the composure he showed from the start.

"I stayed really calm, even if there were some bad games or some bad points, to try to figure everything out," said Buchanan, a freshman at Ohio State, who plans on returning to college later next month. "My overall demeanor and the way I was I coming through showed out there today."

Buchanan also surprised Lipman with his strategy.

"He played a lot different than I thought he was going to play, that's for sure," Lipman said. "Last couple of times I've played him, he was a little bit erratic, and didn't like the slice or the high balls, but today he was just really solid and made me press."

In the first set, Buchanan got an early break, and although he went down 0-40 in the fifth game, he survived one of the match's longest games, saving four break points to keep his lead. The two traded backhand slices with regularity in the opening set, and often it was Buchanan who forced the error.

"He sliced great, he beat me to the net, which was frustrating, because that's usually my game, trying to slice and get into the net," the 18-year-old Lipman said. "But he played it well, played smart."

In the second set, Buchanan again got an early break when Lipman didn't win a point on serve in the fourth game, making several errors, both forced and unforced. Buchanan made almost none of either kind, and when Lipman was able to come to the net on his own terms, he was frequently passed with all variety of Buchanan shots: topspin forehands, cross court dips, driving two-handed backhands.

After trading breaks in the third and fourth games of the third set, the latter the only time Buchanan was broken in the match, the games went by quickly until 4-4. With Lipman serving, Buchanan feasted on the Vanderbilt freshman's second serve, pounding two backhand return winners at 15-15 and 30-40 to give himself the opportunity to serve for the match.

Buchanan seemed determined to avoid a second serve in that final game, taking a lot of pace off and relying on his second and third shots to win the points. Lipman had a break point chance when Buchanan put a short forehand into the net, but Lipman's slice backhand went long, and on the next point Lipman, at the net, let a backhand pass go and it fell on the baseline to give Buchanan a match point. Another error, this one a slice backhand, brought it back to deuce, but Buchanan hit a clean backhand volley winner on the next point to earn match point number two. When Lipman's backhand sailed longed, Buchanan let out a loud laugh, dropped his racquet and pumped his fists, before trotting to the net to exchange an embrace with Lipman.

"This is a tournament I've been at for four years," Buchanan said. "I've watched players and seen people who have been here and won it, and been here and played in it, and it's really motivating. I've got a lot more work to do, but it's great to have this every once in a while."

With a U.S. Open main draw wild card now a reality, Buchanan was asked who he would like to draw for his first round match, perhaps Federer?

"You've got to hope to play someone like that," he said. "I've just turned 18, so I want to be playing somebody like that, whether you do well or you don't."

After he returns home to Columbus to celebrate with his Buckeye teammates, Buchanan hopes to spend a few days relaxing on a lake before beginning preparations for his Grand Slam debut.

Lipman, who begins classes at Vanderbilt later this month, will also be heading to New York with the wild card into qualifying that he's earned by reaching the Kalamazoo final.

"If my parents will let me go, yes, absolutely," Lipman said when asked if he planned to use it. "That would be a blast. I think it would be a good experience and would be fun."

New York was the goal for 16s top seed Jack Sock, who played the younger division expressly for the US Open Junior wild card that goes to the winner. But after an excellent first set, Sock couldn't sustain that level, and late in the second set began experiencing the same stomach problem that had surfaced early in the tournament.

The eighth-seeded Austin shook off any nerves that would understandably accompany a first trip to a national final, using his big serve and excellent returns to keep Sock on the defensive throughout most of the second set. Austin, who, like Sock, will turn 17 later this year, began to find a rhythm, using the advice that his friend and fellow Floridian Connor Smith had given him prior to the match.

"I think it was really important to keep it to the middle of the court, because when his arms are stretched he creates angles all over the place," said Austin, a solidly built left-hander from Miami. "If I got him stretched out on the forehand, he'd pretty much hit a winner every time. There was one shot where he just flicked his wrist and the ball went right by me, and I said I don't know if I'm going to beat this kid if he's doing this."

Near the end of the second set, when Sock was trying to hold serve to force a tiebreaker, he began to bend over, hands on knees, between points. He seemed more eager to end the points that he had before, serving and volleying, especially on second serves, and Austin kept putting the ball right at his feet. Sock saved one set point with an overhead winner in the four-deuce game, but a forehand slice error on the second gave Austin the second set.

The 10-minute break gave Sock a chance to regroup, but it didn't help him shake his stomach woes.

"I sat down and tried to ease my stomach, but it wouldn't go away," Sock said. "I played smart in the first set, I had chances in the second, if I hadn't lost my serve so much, but he started playing a little bit better at the end of the second, and in the third he just ran away with it."

Austin wasn't distracted by Sock's distress, and his body language throughout the third set telegraphed that he was ready to win regardless of Sock's physical problems.

"I wanted to win so bad, I didn't really care," Austin said. "It sounds bad, but I wanted to win. But he was playing so well in the first set I couldn't do anything. In the second set, I had a lucky break at the end; he was up 40-15 serving to go to the tiebreaker. But I held him off and I noticed something was wrong on those last two points. So I said now is my chance to take it to him."

The thousand or so spectators adopted Austin after he lost the first set, and as the underdog, his winners were cheered more loudly during the second set. But the crowd became more subdued and even tried encouraging Sock at the opening of the third set with a round of applause, hoping for more of the entertaining tennis of the previous two sets.

But it wasn't to be, with Austin playing with focus and confidence throughout the quick third set, and earning his way into the US Open Junior championships.

"I'm going to go to New York to visit my sister--she lives up there, and maybe train a little bit for the U.S. Open," he said with an almost disbelieving laugh. "This is my best achievement ever, nothing could top this, unless I win the US Open. Then that might top it."

The third place and consolation final matches were also played on Sunday. No. 13 seed Raymond Sarmiento finished third in the 18s with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Mousheg Hovhannisyan, and fourth seed Tennys Sandgren took fifth place with a 6-2, 7-5 win over David Holiner. Sekou Bangoura, Jr. was named the recipient of the Stowe sportsmanship award.

In the 16s, No. 3 seed Bjorn Fratangelo collected a bronze ball with a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory over No. 4 seed Jackson Withrow. Fratangelo was also named the Bobby Kaplan sportsmanship winner. Fifth place went to Nick Chappell, who defeated Robert Stineman 6-4, 6-2.

For complete results, see ustaboys.com.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Buchanan Meets Lipman for 18s Title; Sock and Austin Vie for 16s Crown in Kalamazoo

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Kalamazoo MI--

When they last met, Chase Buchanan and Ryan Lipman needed a third set tiebreaker to decide their third round qualifying match in a Florida Pro Circuit Futures event seven months ago, with Buchanan posting the victory.

The prize on the line Sunday is significantly more important--the national junior title, and with it, a main draw wild card into the U.S. Open.

Buchanan and Lipman arrived at that coveted destination in vastly different ways on a day that saw the heat index exceed 90 degrees on the Stowe Stadium courts. Second seed Buchanan could do no wrong in his 6-0, 6-1 destruction of unseeded Mousheg Hovhannisyan, while the eighth seeded Lipman had to come from behind to eliminate No. 13 seed Raymond Sarmiento 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Buchanan has rolled to the finals without dropping a set, or even needing a tiebreaker, and he was at the top of his game in Saturday's semifinal. Hovhanniysan, who had eliminated the No. 10, 6 and 14 seeds in his previous three victories and also reached the doubles semifinals, appeared fatigued from all that tennis, and the unforced errors that he avoided in those previous rounds surfaced often against a relaxed Buchanan.

Like Buchanan, Lipman had faced no serious challenge in his first five matches, but he played much more nervously against Sarmiento who came out firing, breaking Lipman in the opening game and holding that advantage throughout the set.

In the second set, it was Lipman who got an early break and made it stand up, and with the heat rule in effect, there was a 10-minute rest period before the start of the third set.

"My coach (Bill Tym) just rolled in from Nashville, and I knew if I had him in the ten minutes, he'd really help me out," said Lipman, who will begin classes at Vanderbilt this fall. "That was the 'trick up my sleeve' that Raymond was talking about yesterday."

Sarmiento double faulted on game point in to open the third set, and trailing 2-1, he asked for the trainer for a calf muscle cramp. The delay didn't affect Lipman, and he maintained his lead. Trailing 5-3 in the third was a familiar position for Sarmiento, as he had come back from that to beat Kevin King in the quarterfinals Friday, but in the final game against Lipman, his forehand let him down. Lipman couldn't make anything happen on his first two match points, but he didn't have to do anything on the third, as Sarmiento double faulted to end the match.

Lipman said that he had been practicing best of five sets at home to prepare, although neither he nor Buchanan had played that format in competition.

"I definitely don't have a problem going three sets," Buchanan said. "I'm sure for everybody here five sets is a different beast."

Lipman is looking forward to his rematch with Buchanan.

"We always have tight matches, I'm excited, it should be fun," Lipman said. "He is playing good, but I don't think he's played anybody like me, that are crafty, with finesse; he's played guys who hit right in his strike zone, so I'll mix it up a little bit."

Two other players who had cruised through their draws met in the 16s semifinal Saturday, with top seed Jack Sock and No. 3 seed Bjorn Fratangelo engaging in a very entertaining battle before Sock emerged with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory.

Fratangelo served very well in the opening set, and had his chance to take the lead when Sock was down 0-40 serving at 3-3. But Sock saved five break points, a theme that would be repeated throughout the match, held for 4-3, then broke Fratangelo to earn the first set.

"He came out firing and pretty much kept it up for three sets, which is pretty rare actually," said Sock. "I thought if I moved him a lot, he would try to go for broke, miss more than he made. I played too far behind the baseline, too defensive, let him play his own game. I don't know how I won. I was serving awful."

After being broken three times in the second set, Sock came back from the 10-minute break and was broken again. But he got the break back immediately and started to serve better, especially when he got down 0-40 at 3-3 and had aces on two of three points.

Fratangelo, who had played so well for so long, finally wilted in the third, with two double faults contributing to his demise. He saved one match point with a blistering forehand, but on the second, his forehand didn't make it over the net, and Sock had survived.

While Sock and Fratangelo were each playing in their first three-setter, the other 16s semifinal featured two veterans of extended play. No. 8 seed Gonzales Austin had played deciding sets in three previous rounds, while No. 4 seed Jackson Withrow had come back from a set down in his fifth round and quarterfinal matches.

So when Austin finally claimed a 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-3 victory over a cramping Withrow, the large weekend crowd voice their appreciation for the energy and intensity that both players displayed during their nearly three-hour encounter.

Withrow appeared to be fighting off cramps late in the third set, when he was desperately trying to get back the break he'd surrendered at 2-2. Austin held firm, however, and with Withrow serving to stay in the match at 3-5, the cramps got worse. Withrow saved the first match point with a good second serve, and another with an overhead, but after that shot, he fell to the ground in pain near the net and a trainer was called to assist him. He eventually resumed play, but Austin showed effects of the delay, winning the next two points to take the match.

"I was thinking I should have finished the match already," Austin said of his thought process during Withrow's treatment. "I wasn't sure if he was going to quit, I didn't think he would, but I wondered if it was a tactic to break my momentum. But apparently he actually was cramping."

Against Sock, whom he lost to in three sets in the National team competition last week, Austin has a definite strategy.

"Keep it away from Sock's forehand. His forehand is just huge, he hits winners off that side all day long. But if I can do that and serve well, I think I can beat him."

The left-hander from Miami has never been beyond the round of 16 in a National Championship before, but says that he has seen big improvement in his game this summer. Sock will have an obvious advantage in the big match department, having won 17 gold balls already.

"It might be a pretty big factor, actually," said Sock, envisioning his opponent as being "pretty nervous starting out. I'll be a little nervous, but I'm used to it, so we'll see."

The 16s finals are scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m., with the 18s final following at approximately 1:30 p.m.

For complete results, visit ustaboys.com

Sundling and Nguyen Capture 18s Doubles Title; Chappell and Giron are 16s Champions

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Kalamazoo MI--

Thousand Oaks, California can claim two national champions after residents JT Sundling and Marcos Giron shared the 18s and 16s doubles titles decided on Saturday evening.

Giron and partner Nick Chappell of Indianapolis, the No. 15 seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Emmett Egger and Shane Vinsant 6-2, 6-2 on center court at Stowe Stadium.

Playing together for the first time, Giron and Chappell had played each other in singles a couple of times previously, but weren't really friends. Two weeks before the tournament, each was in need of a partner, and via Facebook, they agreed to play together. After several three-set matches early in the tournament, they began to play as a team, saving their best performance for the final.

"It was really the beginning of the points that we started dominating," said Giron. "We were making first serves, setting up the poaches, making returns at their feet, so they really couldn't come up with good shots."

Chappell and Giron admitted to surprise at the relative ease of their victory over Egger and Vinsant.

"At the beginning they got two easy holds," said Chappell. "And we thought, okay, this is going to be pretty tough, but we ended up breaking them."

Consecutive breaks of Egger and Vinsant gave Giron the chance to serve out the first set, which he did. In the second set, Vinsant double faulted twice, giving Chappell and Giron a 3-2 lead, and when Egger was broken at 2-4, the outcome was decided.

Even though they were barely seeded, and had no experience as a team, Chappell was confident they could contend.

"I thought if we played well we had a good chance, and we did."

Sundling, the other Thousand Oaks resident, and his partner Nguyen where teaming for the first time when they won the Kalamazoo 16s title back in 2007, but since then have established themselves as one of the top junior teams. Semifinalists in the 18s last year, top seeds Nguyen and Sundling added a second Kalamazoo title to their resume and secured a US Open main draw wild card with a 7-6(2), 6-3 victory over No. 8 seeds Sekou Bangoura Jr. and Nathan Pasha.

Nguyen and Sundling, who will be teammates in just a few weeks at the University of Southern California, shot out to a 4-0 lead, but Bangoura and Pasha roared back to tie it at 4. The tiebreaker was all Nguyen and Sundling, but Bangoura and Pasha regrouped in the second set, and were on serve until Bangoura was broken serving a 3-4. With Sundling serving for the match, he and Nguyen earned a match point, but a missed first volley brought it to deuce, and Bangoura and Pasha had a break point to get back on serve. They couldn't convert it and when Sundling and Nguyen got their second match point, they didn't let it get away, with Sundling delivering a second serve winner to take the title.

"We've been playing together for so long, we just pretty much know we'll find points when we're deep in matches," Sundling said. "That we're always in the right place at the right time."

The next right place and time for the pair will be Flushing Meadow, New York, where they will play in the main draw of the U.S. Open men's doubles competition.

Disappointed that they were not given a doubles wild card into the US Open junior championships two years ago, Sundling and Nguyen are especially looking forward to their debut on the sport's highest level.

"Hopefully we can go out there and have a solid match," Sundling said. "I can't even imagine it, if we play someone like the Bryan brothers. I haven't really thought that far yet."

Asked who he would like to see across the net in New York, Nguyen wasn't interested in the big names.

"Maybe another wild card," he said, laughing. "Or Kaes Van't Hof, former USC Trojan, that would be fun."

Sundling and Nguyen are two of the rare players who end their Kalamazoo experience with a victory, but Sundling has another way of assessing his performance during the tournament.

"You know if you make the Clambake you've had a pretty good week," Sundling said of the party for the semifinalists and tournament supporters held on the second Friday of the tournament. "The food is amazing."

Nguyen also mentioned the Clambake as a favorite memory, along with "being on center court Each day players leave and it's definitely a highlight being the last four people left in the tournament."

"Oh, and blueberries and cream."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hovhannisyan's Dream Run Continues in 18s; Sock Rolls into Semifinals in 16s

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Kalamazoo MI--

Unseeded Mousheg Hovhannisyan claimed another big win in Friday's quarterfinals at the USTA Boys 16 & 18 National Championships at Stowe Stadium, taking out No. 14 seed Bob van Overbeek 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-3.

Unwilling to settle for one upset, Hovhannisyan has taken down four seeds in his march to the semifinals, and against van Overbeek he looked ready to breeze through after a very composed and error-free first set. The 17-year-old from Los Angeles was down 3-1 in the second set, but broke right back, and both players held serve the remainder of the way. Hovhannisyan took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker, but van Overbeek, perhaps remembering a similar situation in his match against Sandgren on Thursday, reeled off seven straight points to even the match. But because van Overbeek played so well, Hovhannisyan didn't panic.

"He just started hitting his shots, everything went perfect for him, I couldn't really do anything." said Hovhannisyan. "Usually I get mad when I'm up and I start losing, but he played well, I've got to give him credit. He was serving really big."

Until the eighth game of the third set, anyway, when van Overbeek double faulted three straight times to give Hovhannisyan the game and an opportunity to serve out the match.

What followed in that final game was some of the most entertaining tennis of the tournament, with long points and great patience by both players. Hovhannisyan joked that the two were pushing "like 10-year-old girls," but the dozens of times the ball went over the net on each point only heightened the tension, and the appreciative lunchtime crowd was solidly behind the underdog.

Hovhannisyan had his first match point at 40-30, but van Overbeek played aggressively and pounded an overhead winner. Match points two and three slipped away, and on match point number four, Hovhannisyan tried to end a 30-odd stroke rally with a drop shot/lob combination. When the lob drifted wide, he let out a shriek, but on the next point blasted a forehand that produced an error from van Overbeek. The final point was another lengthy rally of deep but safe ground strokes until Hovhannisyan finally got the backhand down the line he wanted and he ripped it for a winner. The fans, perhaps expecting yet another deuce, waited a beat before breaking into prolonged applause for the efforts of both players.

Hovhannisyan's next challenge is a formidable one, with No. 2 seed Chase Buchanan playing at the top of his game this week. Buchanan, who has yet to lose more than four games in a set in the tournament, got an early break against No. 7 seed Jarmere Jenkins and cruised to a 6-3, 6-3 win over his longtime friend and rival. Buchanan and Hovhannisyan have never played in competition, although they know each other's games from practice matches at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton.

"I know his game from practicing down at Evert's when he was there and I was with the USTA. He's not to be underestimated--he's a hell of a player."

No. 8 seed Ryan Lipman spent his morning practice hitting session with his mother Lisa working on his running forehand and it paid off at 5-4 in the first set of his win against No. 3 seed Denis Kudla. After a seven-deuce game that lasted over ten minutes, Lipman tracked down a blistering shot of Kudla's and hit a Sampras-like running forehand to claim the set. Kudla never recovered, and Lipman continued his dominance over the 2008 Kalamazoo 16s finalist.

"It's my patience, I think," Lipman answered when asked what about his game matches up well with Kudla's. "I make him play so many balls and he's used to wearing people down, and I don't he's used to having people wear him down. The slice just irritates him, he can't really dictate points, he has to work points, which allows me to get into the match and frustrate him."

Lipman's opponent in the semifinals is No. 13 seed Raymond Sarmiento, who overcame No. 19 seed Kevin King 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. Sarmiento was down 5-3 in the final set, but he didn't let it affect his mental state or his passing shots, breaking left-hander from Georgia Tech the last two times he served.

"He played a great match," Sarmiento said. "I just told myself to hang in there in each point and it fell my way. I made a lot of returns (in the first set), but I got on top of his serve more. He serves and volleys to mix it up, so it's tough to get a rhythm."

King has excellent feel around the net, a talent that Sarmiento also displayed, helping keeping King off balance. And if King didn't putaway the first volley, he was unlikely to get a chance at a second, with Sarmiento's passing shots finding their targets regularly.

Lipman, who will be 19 in October, and Sarmiento, who turned 17 last month, haven't played often, the last time in the second round of the Grass Courts in 2008, a match Lipman won in straight sets. Although Sarmiento feels he knows what to expect from Lipman, whom he described as "crafty," he knows it won't be easy.

"He does have tricks up his sleeve," Sarmiento joked.

Even an emergency root canal on Thursday couldn't throw 16s top seed Jack Sock off his game, as he rolled past unseeded Nick Chappell 6-0, 6-1 in under an hour. Sock, who had accidentally taken a putter in the mouth from his older brother Eric during a round of golf, was out practicing only a few hours after a local dentist performed the procedure, and it was Sock who was surgical Friday morning. Chappell has been consistent and powerful all week, but couldn't find the court often enough, and Sock made sure to attack when he got a high or short ball.

Sock will play No. 3 seed Bjorn Fratangelo, who has also sailed through the draw without dropping a set. Playing on court 4 on Friday, Fratangelo took out No. 7 seed Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4, getting a late break in both sets to secure the victory.

The other 16s semifinal will feature No. 8 seed Gonzales Austin against No. 4 seed Jackson Withrow. Austin defeated giant-killer Dane Webb, seeded 29, 7-5, 1-6, 6-2, his third consecutive three-setter. But the 16-year-old from Miami, who admits that no one he meets for the first time ever gets his name in the correct order, feels he's in shape for that kind of challenge.

"I just came from Clay Courts, and I had about 10 matches there. It was in Delray Beach, where it's 95 degrees and 100 percent humidity, so I think I'll be okay here."

Withrow, who lost his opening set for the second straight match before taking out No. 21 seed Morgan Mays 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, just wanted to stay out of the back draw.

"Going into the semis, that was the goal," said the 16-year-old from Omaha. "It's a lot more of a grind, people don't want to go home in the back draw, so it's always nice to stay in the main."

The 16s doubles final on Saturday will feature No. 2 seeds Emmett Egger and Shane Vinsant against No. 15 seeds Chappell and Giron. Egger and Vinsant breezed by No. 13 seeds Ashok Narayana and Michael Riechmann 6-2, 6-0 and Chappell and Giron cruised past No. 9 seeds Tyler Gardiner and Alexios Halebian 6-1, 6-3.

The 18s doubles semifinals were much more dramatic, with a third set deciding both.
Top seeds Daniel Nguyen and JT Sundling came back for a 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 win over No. 7 seeds Mitchell Frank and Junior Ore. At one stage, Nguyen and Sundling captured nine straight games to take a 3-0 lead in the third set, but Frank and Ore fought back and hung tough until Ore was broken serving at 4-5.

Challenging Nguyen and Sundling for the title and the US Open main draw wild card will be No. 8 seeds Sekou Bangoura Jr. and Nathan Pasha, who defeated unseeded Ryan Cheung and Hovhannisyan 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 in the last match completed on Friday evening.

For complete results, including consolation matches, see ustaboys.com.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Unseeded Hovhannisyan Shocks Cox; van Overbeek Saves Match Points in Win Over Sandgren

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Kalamazoo MI--

Thursday wasn't a good day for former Kalamazoo 16s champions, with 2008 winner Jordan Cox, the sixth seed, falling to unseeded Mousheg Hovhannisyan 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and 2007 champion Tennys Sandgren, seeded fourth, eliminated by No. 14 Bob van Overbeek 5-7, 7-6(8), 6-3 in fifth round singles action at Stowe Stadium.

Cox was cruising along, up a set and a break, when Hovhannisyan, a 17-year-old from Los Angeles, decided he needed to change his tactics.

"I started out just trying to play my game, but he was stepping in early, taking all my short balls and hitting winners," said Hovhannisyan, who is planning to join Pepperdine in January. "Then I realized I had to hit it higher and make it loopier, to take time away. In the second set, when I was down 4-2, I started to doubt it, but when I broke him back I was like, yeah, I've got this match, I can take it. So I'm really happy to be in the quarters at Kalamazoo for the first time."

Cox, who was a finalist at the Wimbledon Junior championships last month and turned pro shortly thereafter, served well in the first set, but not in the third, and two double faults when he was serving at 2-4 contributed to that critical second break. Serving for the match, Hovhannisyan went up 40-15, but a forehand winner by Cox saved the first match point. On his next chance, Hovhannisyan came up with an ace, but not with a 120 mph heater.

"I've been working on that serve for a while, a kick serve out wide," he said. "It works in doubles too, and that's why we're unseeded and in the semifinals. I've got that extra couple of feet to stand."

As for being unseeded, Hovhannisyan said it wasn't just the tournament seeding committee that had low expectations for him.

"My dad actually booked a flight for Monday, this past Monday," he said. "He thought I was going to lose, he didn't have any confidence in me. So I'm thinking to myself, I'm going to show this guy--I'm going to go out and try and win the tournament. He expected me to win one round at most."

Hovhannisyan will try to extend his surprising run against 14th seed van Overbeek, who saved three match points on his way to a win over his friend Sandgren.

Sandgren served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but wasn't able to reach match point. In the tiebreaker, van Overbeek's forehand was responsible for several crucial winners, but it didn't keep him from being down 5-6. The 17-year-old from Boca Raton saved that match point with a huge first serve and a forehand behind Sandgren. Van Overbeek didn't get his first serve in on the next point, and when his forehand caught the tape, Sandgren had his second chance to end the match. But his forehand went into the net, making it 7-7. A first serve winner gave Sandgren a third match point, but van Overbeek drove him back with a forehand and then hit a short ball that Sandgren couldn't run down before it bounced twice. A van Overbeek ace gave him a set point, and he took advantage of his first opportunity, hitting a big forehand that Sandgren couldn't handle.

At 3-all in the third set, Sandgren was broken at love and van Overbeek held easily for 5-3. In the final game, van Overbeek needed three match points, but it was enough for him, and he had a rare win over his friend and frequent training partner.

"I was very excited to get that win," said van Overbeek, who was 1-4 in ITF play against Sandgren, including a recent 6-3, 6-1 loss in the semifinals of the Easter Bowl. "We're really good friends, train together, travel together a lot. It was definitely unnerving at the end, trying to close it out, but I'm really glad to get the win today."

With the classic big serve, big forehand hard court game, it isn't surprising that van Overbeek would excel on the Stowe Stadium courts, but it was actually his trip to Spain's clay courts earlier this year that helped play a role in his success today.

"During the USTA trip to Spain, defense is the thing. You can miss balls when you're attacking, but they don't want you to miss balls on defense ever. I saw immediate results from that training this spring, and then I worked on it again between the French and Wimbledon, and it obviously is coming in handy now."

The other quarterfinal in the bottom half is another edition of a longtime junior rivalry, with No. 7 seed Jarmere Jenkins facing No. 2 seed Chase Buchanan. Buchanan had his first tough set of the tournament against No. 26 seed Dan Kosakowski, but he got by the hard-hitting Californian 6-4, 6-2. Jenkins got off to a slow start against unseeded Frank Carleton, but came back to post a 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 win. Jenkins and Buchanan met in the consolation final in Kalamazoo last year, with Buchanan winning 6-3, 4-1 ret. inj., and the Ohio State Buckeye holds a 2-1 lead in their ITF junior encounters, but Jenkins, who is already enrolled at the University of Virginia, won their last match in the spring of 2008, on Carson's hard courts.

No. 19 seed Kevin King, who eliminated top seed Alex Domijan on Wednesday, continued his run with a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 22 Sekou Bangoura Jr. and will meet No. 13 seed Raymond Sarmiento in the quarterfinals Friday. Sarmiento didn't try to hit with No. 25 seed Justin Shane, who can trade ground strokes with the best of them, and Sarmiento's variety and tactics resulted in a 6-3, 6-1 victory.

No. 3 seed Denis Kudla, following a pattern he has employed all week, broke open a tight first set and cruised in the second over unseeded Clarke Spinosa 6-3, 6-2. Kudla's quarterfinal opponent will be No. 8 seed Ryan Lipman, who subdued the dangerous Fred Saba, the No. 16 seed, 6-2. 6-2.

The 16s singles fifth round featured some very long and tense matches, although top seed Jack Sock was not tested in his 6-4, 6-0 win over unseeded Michael Rinaldi. Unseeded Nick Chappell needed almost three hours to claim a 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-2 win over unseeded Alex Petrone, and will play Sock in the quarterfinals. No. 3 seed Bjorn Fratangelo has yet to drop a set in the tournament, posting a 6-4, 6-1 victory over unseeded Robert Stineman and faces No. 7 seed Marcos Giron. Giron's 6-4, 6-4 win over unseeded Daniel Ho sounds routine, but it was a very close and exceptionally long two-setter.

It took No. 4 seed Jackson Withrow a set to get on track, but he overcame No. 26 seed Ashok Narayana 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 to set up a meeting with No. 21 seed Morgan Mays, who was a 6-2, 6-3 winner over No. 20 seed Keaton Cullimore.

No. 29 seed Dane Webb, who upset No. 2 seed Shane Vinsant on Wednesday, saved set points against No. 14 seed Hunter Callahan, winning the hour-and-twenty-minute first set 7-6(5), and used his momentum to capture the second set 6-2. He will play No. 8 seed Gonzales Austin, who let six match points get away from him in the second set against No. 12 seed Spencer Simon, but ultimately prevailed 6-0, 6-7(8), 6-4.

The 16s doubles semifinalists were decided on Thursday evening. Chappell and Giron, the No. 15 seeds, defeated No. 11 seeds Andrew Korinek and Jose Martinez 6-2, 7-5, and will play No. 9 seeds Tyler Gardiner and Alexios Halebian. Gardiner and Halebian beat No. 14 seeds Jason Luu and Quoc-Daniel Nguyen 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3. No. 13 seeds Narayan and Michael Riechmann came back for a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over unseeded Tim Kopinski and Michael Redlicki. Their semifinal opponents will be No. 2 seeds Emmett Egger and Vinsant, who defeated Ho and Jacob Jung 7-6(3), 6-3.

For complete results, including the consolation draws, see ustaboys.com.