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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talent Code on Nightline; ITF Montreal Grade 3; Muhammad Advances in Las Vegas; USTA Facility Awards; US Boys Play for Semifinal Spot in Jr. Davis Cup

I received an email today from Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How, alerting me to a feature about it tonight on Nightline. (If you are reading this Thursday, you may still be able to catch it by going to the Nightline website, where you should be able to view it via the "Watch Full Episodes" option). As I said in my review of the book in July, it will make you think twice before you throw around the word talent. I know I don't use it nearly as often, or with the same meaning, as I did before I read Coyle's book.

The North American ITF junior circuit moved from Illinois to Montreal this week, and the boys semifinals are set at the Grade 3 event, with a US vs. Canada final guaranteed. Americans Mitchell Krueger and Michael Lippens meet in one semi, with Edward Nguyen and Filip Peliwo of Canada in the other. Nguyen, at No. 7, is the only seed remaining. In the girls semifinals, Robin Anderson of New Jersey will play Canadian Amy He, and South Carolina's Leyla Erkan plays Marianne Jodoin, the only seed, at No. 2, of the four semifinalists. Americans Katie Goepel and Jessica Wacnik are in the doubles final. For complete results, see the ITF junior website.

Wild card Asia Muhammad won her opening match this evening in Las Vegas, leading No. 7 seed Heidi El Tabakh of Canada, the No. 7 seed, 6-0, 2-0 when El Tabakh retired. Muhammad and CoCo Vandeweghe also won their opening doubles match last night, defeating the No. 2 seeds Agnes Szatmari and Riza Zalameda 7-6(2), 6-4. Muhammad will play Lauren Albanese twice Thursday, in singles and in doubles. Albanese is playing with Madison Brengle.

In the $10,000 men's event in Laguna Niguel, wild cards Denis Kudla and Raymond Sarmiento lost their first round matches today. Ryan Harrison advanced to the second round with a win over No. 6 seed Nicholas Monroe.

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

The USTA announced its outstanding facility awards today, and I'm looking forward to visiting the Cullman-Heyman Indoor Tennis Center at Yale University in November for the ITA Indoor Championships. Congratulations to all the winners.

The U.S. Junior Davis Cup team advanced to a meeting with the Czech Republic on Thursday, as both teams won today 3-0. The seventh-seeded U.S. team beat India and the second-seeded Czech Republic beat Chile. The winner of Thursday's match will advance to the semifinals. For more, see the ITF junior website.

There is a live stream of one match every day available via this link. Tomorrow it is scheduled to show Great Britain vs. Argentina at 11 AM EDT.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

U.S. Boys Win Opening Match in Junior Davis Cup; Blue Chip Commitments; Muhammad Feature

The first day of the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup saw several upsets, with three seeded boys teams and one seeded girls team suffering opening round defeats in their round robin groups. The seeds this year are:

Junior Fed Cup
1. Russia (the team doesn't consist of the three girls I mentioned in yesterday's post--only Gavrilova, who is joined by Ksenia Kirillova and Polina Leykina)
2. Slovak Republic
3. Japan
4. Germany
5. Tunisia
6. Ukraine
7. Canada
8. Argentina

Junior Davis Cup
1. France
2. Czech Republic
3. Australia
4. Uzbekistan
5. Spain
6. Great Britain
7. United States
8. Bolivia

Tunisia lost 3-0 to China in their round robin group, and will need a win over No. 4 Germany on Wednesday to keep alive their chances of winning the group, and advancing to the semifinals. The team from Mexico, which has Fremont, Calif. resident Giuliana Olmos playing No. 1 for them, lost to German 2-1, with Olmos posting a win over Annika Beck, who reached the third round of the U.S. Open girls championships.

In Junior Davis Cup, No. 4 Uzbekistan lost to Argentina 2-1; No. 5 Spain, playing without their No. 1 player Carlos Boluda, who was ill, lost to Mexico 2-1, and No. 8 Bolivia was soundly beaten by Korea.

The U.S. boys defeated Chile 3-0, but all three matches were very close. India is next up for the U.S. on Wednesday.

For the complete Junior Davis Cup results from Tuesday, click here. For more on the competition, see the ITF junior website. For Marcos Giron's blog from Mexico, click here.

There were several blue chips who made their verbal commitments public over the weekend. Ben Guthrie of Texas will be attending William and Mary. And both Kaitlyn Christian (Southern California) and Hanna Mar (Duke) announced officially what had been rumored for many months. For more commitments, see the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Qualifying is complete at the Las Vegas Pro Circuit event, with no juniors surviving the final round. Local resident Asia Muhammad, who was given a main draw wild card, is the subject of this feature in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She and coach Tim Blenkiron have pinpointed consistency and mental strength as areas where she needs to improve. Blenkiron is quoted as saying:

"We've got a couple of pieces of the puzzle to find," Blenkiron said. "Her lack of consistency in her performance is the biggest issue in her game. One day, she's serving like a guy and she's unstoppable. The next day, she can't serve at all. When she's relaxed, she's hitting the ball super. But when she's feeling the anxiety, she struggles. And that's the key that will open up everything. She has to learn to overcome her anxiety on the court."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pan-American Acceptances; Junior Davis Cup Begins Tuesday; Golding Profile; More on Illinois ITF

Qualifying for the ITF Grade B1 in Tulsa, which I'll be covering for the third consecutive year, begins a week from Saturday. The acceptances were just released, and the fields are quite good, with eight Top 100 ranked boys and nine Top 100 ranked girls scheduled to compete. In contrast, last year there were only three Top 100 girls and five Top 100 boys. Although Beatrice Capra, the defending girls champion, is listed, I suspect she may not play, depending on how she performs in Las Vegas this week and Williamsburg next week in those Pro Circuit tournaments. Alex Domijan, the boys champion from 2008 is not defending. Finalists Pamela Montez and Ryan Lipman are in college now, at UCLA and Vanderbilt respectively. For the acceptances and the tournament's fact sheet, see the USTA ITF page.

All three of the boys on the Junior Davis Cup team--Bjorn Fratangelo, Marcos Giron and Hunter Harrington--are entered in Tulsa, although only Fratangelo doesn't need a wild card for the main draw as of now. Their defense of the world championship won in 2008 by Denis Kudla, Evan King and Raymond Sarmiento begins on Tuesday. Although the draws/seedings and players participating have not been posted, the ITF junior website does have this preview. If the Russian girls do have Daria Gavrilova, Yulia Putintseva and Irina Khromacheva, all ranked in the Top 30, as their team, they are heavy favorites, although the Slovak Republic could challenge them.

Fratangelo has been blogging the past three days for usta.com, and from the sounds of it, there has been a lot of practice rescheduling necessary due to rain in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. For the blog, which will be turned over to Marcos Giron next, click here.

For a story on the unusual childhood of one of Great Britain's Junior Davis Cup members, Oliver Golding, who wasn't choosing between golf or soccer and tennis, but rather between acting and tennis, see this from the Telegraph.

And Neil Harman follows up on his previous week's Net Post column on collegiate tennis in Europe with this encouraging information.

Marcia Frost was at the Illinois ITF over the weekend, filing this report for collegeandjuniortennis.com.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pro Circuit, ITF Roundup

This afternoon I listened to Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com, who was calling the final of the $10,000 Costa Mesa Futures tournament between 17-year-old Ryan Harrison and 20-year-old Michael McClune. The number two seed McClune, who won the Cosa Mesa event in 2007 and was a finalist last year, won the match 6-4, 7-6(2), and according to Thomas, did it by playing aggressively throughout. The unseeded Harrison double faulted at break point at 4-4 in the first set and 5-5 in the second, but he fought back to get to a tiebreaker. You could hear his frustration as he sensed the tiebreaker and match slipping away, but it was only his second final on the Pro Circuit, and wins over top seed Lester Cook, No. 5 seed Tigran Martirosyan and Blake Strode in succession are confidence-builders. In the doubles, former Ole Miss players Robbye Poole and Erling Tveit won the title over another pair of former collegians--Arkansas's Strode and Tulsa's Will Gray. You have to say that Poole and Tveit dominated as they didn't need a match tiebreaker in any of their four wins.

In the women's $75,000 Pro Circuit event in Albuquerque, No. 3 seed Shenay Perry took the title with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over No. 2 seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic. Perry had beaten former Clemson star Ani Mijacika, who qualified for the event, in the semifinals. In the doubles final, former NCAA doubles champion Riza Zalameda, who won that title as a UCLA Bruin in 2008, teamed with Mashona Washington to defeat No. 3 seeds Melinda Czink and Lindsay-Lee Waters. Zalameda has now won five titles this year on the Pro Circuit, all with different partners.

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

Ken Skupski, the former LSU star from Great Britain, partnered with Colin Fleming to take their first ATP tour title, defeating top seeds Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra of France 2-6, 6-4, 10-5 in Metz, France. The ATP website had this story, and the second-guessing over failing to name them to the Great Britain Davis Cup team will probably begin in earnest now.

Former California Bear Bojana Bobuscic of Australia reached the finals of the $25,000 ITF Women's Circuit event in her home country as a qualifier, where she was defeated by Sacha Jones of New Zealand 6-4, 6-1.

At the Illinois ITF Grade 4 tournament, Dan McCall won his first ITF singles title, defeating top seed Dane Webb 6-1, 6-2. McCall also won the doubles title, with Eric Johnson, taking a 6-1, 6-4 decision over Webb and Mitchell Krueger. Caitlyn Williams captured the girls title, with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Blair Shankle. It is Williams' second ITF singles title. Alexus Coats and Luksika Kumkhum won the doubles, beating Williams and her partner Julia Elbaba 6-4, 7-6(5).

Americans swept the titles in the ITF Grade 5 in the Dominican Republic, with 16-year-old Floridian Morgan Mays and Texan Elizabeth Begley earning a pair of championships. Mays defeated Yohhei Kamono of Japan 6-4, 6-2 in the final, the only match in which he lost more than four games. He teamed with Eli Brown of Canada to take the doubles title too.

Begley, who has verbally committed to the University of Texas, beat fellow American Jillian Rooney 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in the final, to collect her third ITF singles title. She and partner Fausthyara Pietersz of the Netherlands Antilles earned the doubles championship.

For complete draws, see the ITF junior website.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Coaches Q and A: Why Do I Play Better When I'm Behind?

Andy Brandi of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has decades of experience in coaching. He provides the answer to today's question.

I seem to play better when I'm behind. How can I change my psychology to play more consistently no matter what the game or match score is?

How often do we games play with our own mind when we compete? How often do we talk ourselves out of winning a match? How often are we way up in a match and proceed to fumble it away? How often do we play our best when we are behind?

As competitors, we need to approach a match with a plan and not with concern about the outcome. When we have the outcome in mind, we do not play to our potential because we are tight, playing not to lose. Expectations make us tight.

Our plan should be to focus on the things that will give us a chance to win the match. It is the process that counts. Think about how loose you are when you play and you are behind. You go for your shots and you have a purpose in how you play each point. You are focused, aggressive and have a plan as to how to dictate and win each point. You take it to your opponent. You make them pay, you strike first.

Because we make winning or losing large than life, we do not allow ourselves to perform. When we are in this state of mind, we allow our opponent to control the points and the match. We react to what they are doing. Our goal should be to dictate and control what happens in the match. We need to love the battle.

To play your best:

1-Embrace pressure
2-Have a strategy and plan
3-During tense moments try to regulate your breathing to relax
4-Realize that your opponent is nervous as well
5-Use positive self talk after each point and reassure yourself
that you can succeed and you deserve to succeed.
6-Concentrate on the process and not the outcome.
7-Enjoy the battle.
8-Remind yourself that pressure begins in your head. As Charles Barkley said, pressure is the air in the tires!

Lastly, in practice try to simulate match situations, pressure situations. See how you react to them. This will allow you to get used to them and deal better with them in tournaments.

Best of luck!

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

Friday, September 25, 2009

Curtis Retiring from USTA Florida; Finals Set at Illinois ITF; Four with Momentum; Kearney Sentenced

There was a surprise in the email box this morning, when USTA Florida announced that Bobby Curtis, longtime junior tennis coordinator in the state, is retiring. Although a specific date isn't given, it sounds as if the section's annual meeting in early December will serve as the retirement party.

Bobby has been a friend of mine for quite a few years, and I've written about him several times, including a Tennis Recruiting Network article when he was honored by the Greater Miami Tennis Foundation at the Sony Ericsson Championships in 2007. It's difficult to imagine Florida junior tennis without him, and his successor is going to face a daunting task, similar to that faced by the UCLA basketball coach who followed legend John Wooden. It's great to hear that Curtis will still be consulting and volunteering, and I look forward to congratulating him on a inspiring career during our annual Florida swing in December.

The ITF Grade 4 in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. is wrapping up on Saturday. The boys final will feature top seed Dane Webb against No. 4 seed Dan McCall, and deciding the girls singles championship will be No. 9 seed Caitlyn Williams and No. 8 seed Blair Shankle. McCall and his partner Eric Johnson, the No. 3 seeds, won the boys doubles title, defeating Webb and Mitchell Krueger, the top seeds, 6-1, 6-4. Williams is also still alive in doubles; she and partner Julia Elbaba, whom Williams defeated 7-5 in the third in the singles semifinal today, play Alexus Coats of the U.S. and Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand in the girls doubles final. Both teams are unseeded. For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Bonnie Ford of espn.com has a great followup on four of the big U.S. stories at the U.S. Open; this piece looks at the next few months of competition for Melanie Oudin, John Isner, Taylor Dent and Jesse Witten.

Former University of North Carolina tennis player Chris Kearney was sentenced to 10 to 12 months in prison after pleading guilty to driving while impaired and numerous other charges related to the automobile accident that injured two female students in August 2008. The Durham Herald-Sun filed this story on the sentencing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Capra Profile; Nike Junior Tour Champions; Harrington Replaces Vinsant on US Jr. Davis Cup Team; Shane Commits to Virginia

My article this week for the Tennis Recruiting Network is a profile of Beatrice Capra, whom I spoke with several times at the U.S. Open. It was the most formal setting we've talked in; at the Open and all junior slams, interviews are formally requested via a written form with the ITF staff, and announced to the entire media center when scheduled. Over the past three or four years, I've spoken with Capra after big wins and big losses, but I can't recall a previous discussion about how she started playing, or her professional ambitions.

Last weekend the Nike Junior Tour National event was held in California to select the four boys and girls who would represent the U.S. in the international competition in the Dominican Republic next month. In the 14s, unseeded Elliott Sprecher and Alexandria Stiteler were the champions. Sprecher is from Wisconsin, and according to this USTA Northern article about his win, he is the first from that section to represent the U.S. in the competition. Stiteler, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., was a finalist in the Junior Orange Bowl 12s last December. The 12s winners are two well-known prodigies: No. 3 seed Stefan Kozlov of Florida, an Eddie Herr 12s finalist last year, and top seed Carolyn Xie of Southern California, who was a finalist at the USTA 12s hard courts this year. For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

The USTA formally announced the Junior Davis Cup team, and Hunter Harrington of South Carolina is replacing Shane Vinsant, who has a stomach injury. Harrington joins Marcos Giron and Bjorn Fratangelo in an attempt to defend the world title won by Denis Kudla, Evan King and Raymond Sarmiento last year. For the complete release, click here.

A second boys blue chip has given a verbal commitment for the fall of 2010, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network. Justin Shane, who reached the round of 16 this year at Kalamazoo, has chosen Virginia.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pro Circuit Notes; Q & A with Michael Shabaz; Nina Pantic Reports on UCLA

The Pro Circuit events this week include the $10,000 Men's tournament in Costa Mesa, Calif. and the $75,000 women's tournament in Albuquerque, NM. There is also a $50,000 women's event in Canada that has drawn quite a few notable juniors. US Open girls champion Heather Watson qualified and in her first round match yesterday took No. 2 seed Valerie Tetreault of Canada to three sets before falling 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-5. Christina McHale returned to action there for the first time since her U.S. Open loss to Maria Sharapova, and today she beat No. 8 seed Rebecca Marino of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. THe 18-year-old Marino, who had committed to Georgia Tech before deciding to turn pro instead last year, is now ranked 169. For more on the today's matches, see the Tennis Canada website.

In Albuquerque, former Clemson star Ani Mijacika, who I heard has turned pro, qualified and has reached the second round with a straight set win over wild card Brittany Augustine. Top 10 junior Ajla Tomljanovic also qualified, defeating NCAA champion Mallory Cecil in the final qualifying round, then posted a first round win, taking out No. 4 seed Anna Tatishvili, another Evert Academy student. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand used her junior exemption into the field and advanced to the second round with a win over Argentina's Agustina Lepore.

There were/are several juniors in the Costa Mesa draw, No. 4 seed Yong-Kyu Lim of Korea, Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, Mousheg Hovhannisyan and Americans Ryan Harrison and Jordon Cox. Cox received a special exemption into the main draw when he reached the quarterfinals last week in Claremont. Among the current and recent former college players are qualifiers Olivier Sajous, Holden Seguso, Robbye Poole, Erling Tveit and Tyler Hochwalt, as well as Michael Venus and Blake Strode. Lester Cook, now 259 in the ATP rankings, must have been a late entry, as he went through qualifying, although he is the top seed.

For complete draws, see the Pro Circuit results page.

The women move on to Las Vegas next week, and an email from Ryan Wolfington of USTA Nevada about the event mentioned that junior players Krista Hardebeck and Nicole Melichar won wild card tournaments for spots in the qualifying and former ASU No.1 Sabrina Capannolo was given the third qualifying wild card. Asia Muhammad has received a main draw wild card.

In college news, the University of Virginia's website has an interesting Q & A with Cavalier junior Michael Shabaz in advance of this weekend's UVA Ranked Plus One tournament, which will feature more than 30 nationally ranked players. Shabaz, who won the NCAA doubles title with Dom Inglot in May, is expected to play primarily with freshman Jarmere Jenkins this year.

And UCLA's Nina Pantic provides a look at the preparations the Bruins are making for the fall season, as well as how several of them experienced this year's U.S. Open from the inside.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

College Tennis in Europe Gets a Boost; USTA Announces Indianapolis Regional Training Center; USC Men Holding Ring Ceremony Sat.

One of the byproducts of the huge global surge in tennis interest in the past 20 years, primarily attributed to the sport regaining Olympic status, is an increasing number of international players competing on teams in U.S. colleges and universities. The college sports infrastructure in this country provides a unique opportunity for student athletes to continue to compete at a high level, while advancing their education. There are those in Europe who are trying to change that however, by creating similar opportunities for students in their own countries.

Neil Harman of the Times explains in his weekly Net Post column the vision of Euan McGinn and Jamie Pilkington, who have established the European Collegiate Tennis Association. Speaking of the British doubles team of Ken Skupski and Colin Fleming, Harman writes:

There is more than a single way to skin a tennis-playing cat; not everyone leaps from the junior to senior ranks in a single bound, there are so many potential pitfalls along the way, for every Andy Murray and Roger Federer there are a hundred Flemings and Skupskis. Which is why a new venture, designed to enhance competition at university level in Europe deserves a wider degree of support and interest than it has yet received.

Euan McGinn, Fleming's coach, is one of the masterminds behind the European Collegiate System, having been a graduate of the University of Arkansas himself. The aims of are very straightforward and uncluttered - to govern the game of tennis at the university level in Europe; to help provide the opportunity for university students to enjoy their favourite sport and to experience new cultures while in an educational environment.

McGinn and Pilkington were in Tulsa for the NCAAs back in 2008, and I spoke with both briefly about their dream of someday hosting a similar event in Europe. They were in Tulsa to speak with USTA and ITA officials, who have met with them regularly since, and if a sponsor is found, the Ryder Cup-like event mentioned in the story could become a reality. (This is not related to the Master U International University Challenge of Tennis that the United States competed in last December.)

Should the ECTA succeed in emulating the U.S. system, the obvious result would be more players staying nearer their homes to compete, where they wouldn't have the same daunting language and culture obstacles. The level of tennis played here would decline, as would the diversity, but looking at it from the global perspective, another avenue can only help the sport in the long run. And with the current dissatisfaction with the LTA's progress in Great Britain, brought to a head this past weekend with the relegation of the Davis Cup team to the third tier, other options are certainly going to get some attention.

The USTA today announced that the Indianapolis Tennis Center has been named a Regional Training Center, and will be the main site in the Midwest, with the three Chicago facilities named earlier also part of the Midwest network.

I also wanted to mention that although there hasn't been much information released about the specifics yet, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will serve as a National Training Center, similar to Boca Raton and Carson, with programs expected to begin later this fall.

As usual, I'm having difficulty keeping up with the college results during this hectic fall tournament season, and if you can find the results, which isn't easy, it's hard to tell who is playing in the top flights and which are the major tournaments of interest. I usually follow the Southern Intercollegiate tournament closely, because the results are easy to find and it attracts top programs, but this year the heavy rains in the area caused all sorts of problems, with walkovers outnumbering matches played. Georgia's Javier Garrapiz and Georgia Tech's Guillermo Gomez were declared co-champions, but if you want to see just how muddled the tournament was, go to georgiadogs.com.

Granger Huntress of the Texas College Tennis blog has his wrap-up on the events featuring players of interest from that state. I can only say that I wish every state had a similar blog.

The University of Southern California men's team will receive their National Championship rings in a ceremony on Saturday, according to this release on their website.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Woodbridge Added to Australian High Performance; Saba and Bolender Make Verbal Commitments

The news that Todd Woodbridge, who won 22 Grand Slam doubles titles, was joining Tennis Australia as Davis Cup coach and head of men's tennis, isn't exactly news. When it was announced, shortly after Wimbledon, I missed it and didn't see any reference to it in the Australian press until this story by Richard Hinds appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald a few days prior to the start of the U.S. Open.

Steve Wood and Craig Tiley established a complete break with the old system when they took the reins back in 2004, but their approach alienated many of the great Australian players of the past, who felt their experience and hard-won wisdom from years in the upper echelons of the game was being ignored. Woodbridge acknowledges this when he says:

"I know the challenge, and I know I can't create miracles,' Woodbridge says. "I think we've done a really good job over the past four years trying to reorganise the pathway of the sport - the development programs and things, but we didn't have a players' voice and that was becoming an issue.

"That is why someone from my peer group who had the performances to back it up needed to come in and say, 'No, you're wrong in this instance. This is what is going on from the inside of the sport.'"

Although Bernard Tomic was the only Australian boy in the Open junior event, Woodbridge could be found at all his matches, including those at the Sound Shore Club in Port Chester that rainy Saturday. I've heard that junior tennis has been de-emphasized in Australia, with players encouraged to play only ITF mens and womens events once they've reached the age of 16, and there are no separate junior rankings; all players from Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur on down are included in one ranking system. For a complete pdf of the current Australian ranking guidelines, click here. It's interesting, given the free-ranging or commingling aspect of the rankings that there's this restriction:

All athletes must play ‘in age’ at National Championships (12s, 14s, 16s) when these tournaments are played concurrently. Once an athlete wins a National Championship, they can apply to Tennis Australia to play out of age when age group nationals are placed concurrently. This application will be assessed by the National Selection Panel. If national championships are not played concurrently, athletes can play in older age group championships.

I'm not urging the USTA adopt that rule, but it is something to think about. It also is interesting to note that there are four national junior championships in the 12-and-under and 14-and-under age groups, two in the 16-and-under age group and only one in the 18-and-under age group.

Anyway, Woodbridge has done a lot in his first two months, according to the story, and if you are interested in hearing his plans, and the names of the boys he believes may help take the pressure off Bernard Tomic, watch this video from Tennis Australia, filmed right after he was named to the position.

The college commitment announcements for 2010 are beginning to trickle in, and two big ones surfaced today on The Tennis Recruiting Network. Brooke Bolender has verbally committed to Michigan, and Fred Saba has verbally committed to Duke. Saba is the first blue chip to announce on the boys side; for the other blue chip girls' verbals, click here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Watson Turns Pro; Courier's "Unstrung" Available on DVD; Looking to Asia for New Tennis Stars

The Times published this story about Heather Watson today, which includes her decision to forego college for professional tennis. It isn't exactly a surprising decision, (anyone have any idea who the last junior girls champion attending college was?) and I had thought she had relinquished her amateur status when she agreed to a sponsorship agreement with Sportingbet.com, but I'm far from an expert on that topic.

Bollettieri's admission that he thought she needed to attend college prior to the US Open win, but has now changed his mind, is interesting. What changed, exactly, between the first round losses at the French and Wimbledon Juniors and her impressive play barely two months later? I'm sure Bollettieri has seen this kind of breakthrough happen many, many more times than I have, and it may just be an Outliers-type phenomena. She'll now get more attention, have more confidence and be surrounded by better players, which will provide great support during her transition to the pros.

This question comes up in an interview Jim Courier did with usopen.org prior to the Open, when he talks about the seven boys featured in his movie "Unstrung," which is now available on DVD. Here's Courier's answer when he was asked if he was surprised by the path taken by any of the players he filmed four years ago:

I looked at Donald Young Jr. and he is a player with great promise still but he has somehow been challenged to translate his experience and the confidence he should have taken from his junior success into pro success. I think he has the tools. I’m not sure what is holding him back. That is something I find interesting because in our film he looks like a can’t miss prospect. His success has been rather limited at the pro level. That is a story we have seen before – that juniors have trouble translating their game to the professional ranks but when they are as successful at such a young age as Donald was it is rare that they do not fulfill that promise, so that is a story I am continuing to follow closely.

Courier then goes on to say he is particularly intrigued by the future of Greg Hirschman, who is currently a junior at Stanford.

The education vs. tennis achievement debate gets more attention in this Wall Street Journal article about Yuki Bhambri (who won the dead rubber against Old Dominion graduate Izak Van Der Merwe of South Africa in India's Davis Cup win today) and the rise of tennis in Asia. Bhambri's parents are going against the grain in allowing their son to pursue tennis as a career path, with the emphasis on education so great in that country, according to the story.

Vijay Armritraj, the Indian champion from the 1970s, said the biggest obstacles for Indians and other Asians is their size. Since they tend to be smaller and slighter on average than people in other parts of the world, they will have trouble advancing in a game where strength and power have become integral to success, Mr. Armritraj said. His culture's emphasis on education over athletics also doesn't help.

"People always ask why there aren't more great atheltes(sic) coming out of India," Mr. Armritraj said. "My answer is, you don't see a lot of great software engineers coming out of Spain."

Somdev Devvarman, who is the country's Davis Cup hero after his come-from-behind victory to clinch the tie today, is trying to have it both ways, with a college degree and a successful professional career. Fellow Cavalier Sanam Singh, a semifinalist at the NCAAs last year, is also on that path, as is Karunuday Singh, who will be attending the University of Illinois in January, according to the article.

And speaking of freshmen, there were some notable results in the rain-plagued Southern Intercollegiate Championships. Vanderbilt freshman Ryan Lipman beat Duke's Reid Carleton in a match tiebreaker, and newcomer Henrique Cunha of Duke defeated top seed JP Smith of Tennessee, also in a match tiebreaker. Tennessee freshman Rhyne Williams won a close two-setter over John Peers of Middle Tennessee State. For match results, see georgiadogs.com.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Klahn Reaches Claremont Final; Surprise Winners in Kentucky ITF; Big Things Expected of Cunha at Duke

Stanford sophomore Bradley Klahn has reached the finals of the $10,000 Pro Circuit event in Claremont, California after defeating No. 4 seed Daniel Danilovic of Montenegro in today's semifinal 7-6(6), 6-3. The 19-year-old from the San Diego area defeated top seed Yong-Kyu Lim of Korea (who lost in the second round at the U.S. Open Junior championships last week) 6-3, 6-2 on Friday. Klahn, who is 15th in the ITA preason rankings, played three Futures this summer as a member of the USTA Summer Circuit team, going 4-3 in main draw matches, so this is easily his best showing. Two former college players--Ashwin Kumar of Harvard and Brett Joelson of Texas A & M--were awarded the doubles titles when one of their opponents was unable to return in time from a qualifying match in Costa Mesa, the site of the next Futures event.

For more on the Claremont Futures, see this release, courtesy of Steve Pratt.

In the Tulsa Challenger, Wayne Odesnik will face Taylor Dent in the final. Tulsa's team of Phillip Stevens and Ashley Watling reached the doubles final before falling to top seeds David Martin and Rajeev Ram.

For complete draws, see usta.com's Pro Circuit results page.

At the ITF Grade 1 in Lexington Kentucky, No. 4 seed Duilio Beretta of Peru defeated No. 6 seed Nikala Scholtz of South Africa 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to take the boys title, while the girls championship was won by No. 4 seed 14-year-old Irinia Khromacheva of Russia, who beat No. 7 seed Sai-Sai Zheng of China 6-3, 6-4. Interesting that all four finalists lost in the first round of the U.S. Open juniors: Beretta to Julien Obry of France; Scholtz to Arthur De Greef of Belgium; Khromacheva to Lauren Davis and Zheng to Julia Boserup of the U.S. Nick Chappell of the U.S., who won the Kalamazoo 16 doubles last month with Marcos Giron, reached the semifinals as a qualifier. Dennis Novikov and Shane Vinsant reached the quarterfinals. Americans Sachia Vickery and Monica Turewicz reached the girls singles quarterfinals, while Turewicz and Ellen Tsay reached the doubles semifinals. Brooke Bolender, playing with Croatian Ajla Tomljanovic, reached the doubles final. Shaun Bernstein and Campbell Johnson advanced to the boys doubles final. For complete results, see the ITF Junior website.

The Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga. are being delayed by rain, with all top flight singles postponed until Sunday according to georgiadogs.com. JP Smith and Nate Schnugg are the top seeds, with several high profile freshman also entered. Ryan Lipman of Vanderbilt and Rhyne Williams of Tennessee both won their opening matches. Henrique Cunha of Brazil, a former ITF Top 10 junior, has begun his career at Duke, and he plays Smith next, which will be a good gauge of his level. This story, from the Duke Chronicle, suggests he may supplant Reid Carleton at the top of the Blue Devils' lineup. It also explains the role assistant coach Josh Goffi and teammate Alain Michel played in recruiting Cunha.

Two more, unrelated items, an interesting story on the failure of the United Arab Emirates to provide infrastructure for its juniors, driving them to the U.S. and a great slide show from the U.S. Open (not juniors) from Rustam Tahir at Westminster Road.

Friday, September 18, 2009

US Open Junior Boys Slideshow

I'm completing the coverage of the 2009 US Open Junior championships with this boys slideshow. All the great photography work last week was done by my husband, Paul Ballard, who does a fantastic job. I truly miss his contribution when he's helping run a tournament site as he does at the Junior Orange Bowl, Easter Bowl, Mobile, Kalamazoo and Eddie Herr, but I know he's very valuable in that capacity too. Again, the slideshow format is all U.S. boys who competed in the main draw with the round they lost in noted, and the quarterfinalists, regardless of nationality.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Twelve Observations from US Open; McHale, Dolehide, Kimbell Features; Hewitt vs. Tomic

Friday I'll wrap up the US Open Junior Championships with the boys slideshow; today my Tennis Recruiting Network entry is not my usual synopsis, but a collection of a dozen observations that didn't find their way into the daily zootennis coverage, or twitter.

With so much time writing, watching tennis and talking last week in Flushing Meadows, I missed a few articles that I would normally post.  Scott Price of Sports Illustrated filed this feature on Christina McHale and her experience of playing Maria Sharapova in a second round night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.  McHale's thigh was inhibiting her movement, so on doctors' advice, she withdrew from the junior championship, but is expected to be back training soon.

Courtney Dolehide also got a taste of the US Open women's main draw, when she and Kristie Ahn were given a wild card into the doubles.  The Hinsdale, Ill. publication Suburban Life filed this lengthy feature on her experience there and in the juniors, where she qualified and reached the second round.  Dolehide made this comment on how high school tennis prepared her for playing at Flushing Meadows:

“It (the U.S. Open) was a different feeling,” she said. “At high school state, one similar aspect was having a huge crowd cheering. I am glad I played high school tennis for three years because it got me prepared for a big crowd. But what was very different was looking to the court next to you and seeing Maria Sharapova playing or looking around and seeing Arthur Ashe Stadium."

The Clark Co. Washington Columbian recently published this story on another dedicated high school tennis participant, three-time Texas state champion Lilly Kimbell, who unlike Dolehide, has not yet decided on the college she will attend.  Listed in the story as possibilities are Florida State, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois.

There has been quite a raft of press about boys junior champion Bernard Tomic in Australia.  Darren Walton talks with Nick Bollettieri on why it didn't quite work out for Tomic in Bradenton and with Todd Woodbridge and Bollettieri on Tomic's professional and Grand Slam prospects.  Bollettieri also advocates more independent practice in this story.

Linda Pearce of The Age also discovered that there is a rift between Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt over the junior's lack of interest in serving as a hitting partner this year at Wimbledon.  In this followup story, swine flu is given as the reason, not the insufficient respect perceived by Hewitt and his manager.  I'm not sure why this would take over two months to surface, but Tennis Australia can not be happy about more drama from both the Tomic and Hewitt camps.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

US Open Junior Girls Slideshow

I decided to divide the US Open Junior Championships into two slide shows. The first one below contains all of the U.S. girls who played in the main draw, with the round they lost noted in the caption. It also includes all eight singles quarterfinalists and the doubles finalists.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ITA Campbell Preseason Rankings; All-American Fields; USTA Becomes Sponsor of ITA National Indoor

While I've been concentrating on the juniors, there's been plenty of news in college tennis.

The ITA preseason rankings have been released, with Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State topping the men's list, and Maria Mosolova of Northwestern No. 1 for the women. JP Smith of Tennessee, Robert Farah of Southern Cal, Nate Schnugg of Georgia and Guillermo Gomez of Georgia Tech round out the Top 5. Click here for the complete men's list. Behind Mosolova are Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia, Marrit Boonstra of Florida, Jana Juricova of Cal and Hilary Barte of Stanford. The complete women's list is here.

Davey Sandgren and Smith are the top-ranked men's doubles team, while Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhova of Fresno State are No. 1 in women's doubles.

The first major college tournaments of the year, the women's Riviera and men's D'Novo All-Americans, begin with prequalifying on October 3rd. The fields have been released, and the wild card into the 32-draw women's event went to Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee. Girls 18s runnerup Lauren Embree received a wild card into the qualifying. Her new teammate, Allie Will, has gotten off to a great start in her first tournament, beating three ranked players to win the top flight of the SEC Coaches Fall Classic last weekend: No. 41 Yvette Hyndman of Georgia, No. 29 Ana Zubori of South Carolina and No. 46 Catherine Newman of Vanderbilt.

For the complete Riviera All-American field, click here.

The men's D'Novo All-American in Tulsa, which I'll be covering for the fourth year, has a larger field than the Riviera, with a 64 draw. Ohio State sophomore Chase Buchanan, the Kalamazoo champion and US Open junior boys finalist, received a wild card into the main draw. Kalamazoo doubles champion and USC freshman JT Sundling received a wild card into qualifying. For the complete field, click here.

The USTA announced that it has signed on as the title sponsor of the ITA National Indoor Championships, an individual tournament that is held in November. Beginning in 2010 through 2012, the tournament will be held at the new indoor facility at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. (This year's tournament is at Yale University.) For the complete release, including comments from Patrick McEnroe and Todd Martin on the importance of college tennis as a development option, click here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

US Open Junior Winners News; Pro Circuit Returns from Hiatus; Cecil Qualifies in Quebec

A smooth travel day, but still tired from nine days at the Open, so this will be short. Heather Watson is getting her well-deserved time in spotlight after becoming the first British girl to win the U.S. Open Junior title. If I remember correctly, there was much more of a British press frenzy over Murray's junior win five years ago, but perhaps that's more a function of the decline in the number of employed journalists than anything else.

The Daily Mail gets predictions from LTA head Roger Draper on Robson and Watson's professional prospects in this article, and the Guardian talks to Nick Bollettieri, who says in this story that he is going to start to work more with Watson now.

Darren Walton, an Australian reporter covering the U.S. Open for the Australian version of AP, filed a story on Sunday that I linked to on Twitter yesterday, saying that Tomic was leaving Bollettieri's Academy in Bradenton, although Tomic's agent, Lawrence Frankopan of IMG, told me it wasn't necessarily a permanent departure. Tomic is returning to Australia later this month however. Walton wrote this story on Tomic's win over Buchanan, although he incorrectly says that Tomic didn't face a break point. Buchanan had four break points in Tomic's second service game.

The Pro Circuit restarts after a four week break at the Tulsa Challenger and the Claremont Futures. There are many former college players in the Tulsa draw, and some current college players and juniors in the Claremont draw. See the usta.com Pro Circuit page for draws.

The juniors are at the ITF Grade 1 in Lexington, Kentucky this week. See the ITF junior website for qualifying results and draws.

NCAA champion Mallory Cecil qualified for the WTA event in Quebec this week. See the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour website for results and draws.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tomic and Watson Capture US Open Junior Titles

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

Heather Watson had a secret weapon when she took the court Sunday against Yana Buchina of Russia in the championship match of the U.S. Open Juniors--her nail polish.

"I did my nails the same color, because I thought it was good luck," said the first British girl to win the girls title in New York, presenting her navy blue nails for examination. "No one believed me, but it did work."

It wasn't just luck that led the No. 11 seed to the title, however. It was a dominating performance of three matches in two days that culminated in a 6-4, 6-1 victory over the hard-hitting Buchina.

"My first round, I think was my only three-setter, and after that I've just been playing really, really good tennis," said the 17-year-old Watson, who is from the island of Guernsey, but currently trains at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy in Florida.

Watson pointed to her decisive quarterfinal win over Wimbledon girls champion Noppawan Lertcheewakarn as the match that propelled her to the title.

"I felt really solid that game. I was stepping in and hitting everything, and I (had confidence) I could keep it going."

Against the unseeded Buchina, Watson fell behind early, but quickly adapted to the ferocious pace of the powerful 17-year-old from Moscow, using top spin to Buchina's backhand to force errors. In her semifinal match against Watson's compatriot Laura Robson Saturday, Buchina was able to recover from the loss of the first set, but the six sets and five hours of tennis she played took their toll Sunday.

"I had cramps in my legs and it was hard way to move around the court," said Buchina. "Yesterday was too tough matches and now I don't feel anything, you know. I'm not sad, I'm not happy, I'm just a little bit shocked."

In the second set, Watson got an early break, and Buchina simply couldn't keep enough balls in the court to challenge her. Buchina's signature inside out forehand was erratic, and Watson refused to give her any short balls that might increase her confidence. It was a very assured performance by a girl playing her first junior slam singles final, but Buchina was not impressed.

"She's not doing something fantastic, not so strong shots, not so good serve," Buchina said. "She's playing just normal, nothing special and for me that's no problem to play against such good players like Robson, Capra, Tomljanovic. They have very good shots and I had tough matches with them, but today I just couldn't do a thing because of my health, because of everything."

In the boys final, Bernard Tomic of Australia added a second junior slam title to his list of accomplishments, defeating unseeded wild card Chase Buchanan of the U.S. 6-1, 6-3.

Tomic, the No. 3 seed, saved four break points serving at 1-1 in the first set, but some effective slicing and unforced errors by Buchanan got the 16-year-old from Queensland out of trouble.

"It was the turning point of the match, I think," Tomic said. "You know if he had got that game, it would be totally different. I hit the right shots at the right time and got that game...he wasn't really serving big, and I figured out what I had to do...and after that I cruised through the first set and it gave me big confidence."

Hitting the right shot at the right time is an apt description of Tomic's style, and although he can put pace on the ball, he appears to prefer winning points with placement not power.

"That's my game, the way I'll play anyone," Tomic said. "I tend to hit hard and then soften it up for a bit. It works a lot against these guys because they don't like the low sort of bounce on these surfaces, which I don't mind really."

In the second set, both held serve until 3-3, when Buchanan, who got very few first serves in that seventh game, was broken. He couldn't dent Tomic's confidence after that, and the match ended when Buchanan was broken for a second time, hitting yet another forehand long.

"He honestly did what I expected him to do," said Buchanan, who had defeated top seed Yuki Bhambri and No. 8 seed Gianni Mina in the quarterfinals and semifinals on Saturday.

"I just didn't do what I needed to do. Once you get your chance and get the right ball, you pin him to a corner and run him side to side. But I didn't hit my shots, I missed them, and I definitely got a little flustered. I felt it was so within reach and I was so capable of doing it, but I was missing so much. I don't really know what happened."

Tomic was aware of Buchanan's strategy and sensed frustration when he was unable to execute it.

"He was going into the phase of rushing a lot and trying to hit winners," Tomic said. "I think that was his plan--to move me and just go for a big winner. I think I handled it pretty well."

Tomic wasn't sure how he would celebrate his second junior slam title, but he said several times that it would be his last junior match and he was committed to shifting his focus to his professional ranking, now at 324.

"It definitely will be in my head for a few weeks and I'm definitely happy to win it. I had a bad exit last year, I was disappointed," said Tomic of his first round loss to qualifier and eventual finalist Devin Britton. "But I really worked hard for it, and I got it in the end."

Both the doubles finals were decided in match tiebreakers. The unseeded girls team of Valeria Solovieva of Russian and Maryna Zanevska of Ukraine surprised 2009 French Junior champions and No. 3 Elena Bodgan of Romania and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand 1-6, 6-3, 10-7. Lertcheewakarn was defending her Open title, won last year with Sandra Roma of Sweden.

The boys doubles champions are Marton Fucsovics of Hungary and Cheng Peng Hsieh of Chinese Taipei, who defeated another unseeded team, Julien Obry and Adrien Puget of France 7-6(5), 5-7, 10-1.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Buchanan Faces Tomic in US Open Boys Final; Watson and Buchina Vie for Girls Crown

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

Chase Buchanan had been looking forward to attending the Ohio State - University of Southern California football game Saturday evening. He ended up watching it on television instead, because he's still in New York, where he'll be competing for the US Open Junior Boys title against Australian Bernard Tomic on Sunday.

The 18-year-old Buchanan, who received a wild card into the junior tournament for winning the USTA boys 18s title in Kalamazoo, played for his hometown Buckeyes this spring, helping them advance to the NCAA team final. On Saturday at the Sound Shore Indoor Tennis center in Port Chester, NY, Buchanan played as if he didn't want to miss the kickoff, defeating both No. 1 seed Yuki Bhambri of India and No. 8 Gianni Mina of France in straight sets.

As the steady drizzle continued outside, quarterfinals and semifinals in singles were played on four courts, with doubles semifinals in between. Buchanan and Bhambri were the last pair to begin a quarterfinal match, after Yana Buchina of Russia and Beatrice Capra of the U.S. took nearly two and a half hours to decide their match, which went to Buchina 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Buchanan played nearly flawless tennis in the first set against Bhambri, taking it 6-3, and went up 2-0 in the second, only to see Bhambri even it with a break at 2-1. There were no other breaks, and in the subsequent tiebreaker, it was Bhambri's forehand that let him down. Four errors on that side gave Buchanan four match points at 6-2 and he converted on the third to set up a semifinal meeting with Mina. Mina, the Gael Monfils look-alike who plays a similarly elastic style, had come back to defeat No. 16 seed Denis Kudla 2-6, 7-6(4) 6-3 in the quarterfinals.

Whether it was that effort or other physical issues (Mina twice had treatment from the trainer), the 17-year-old from France couldn't match Buchanan's consistency, although he certainly had some brilliant stretches during the 6-3, 6-3 win by Buchanan.

"My plan was to make him hit shots on the run," said Buchanan. "When he's running and I'm running, I think I'll win the point. In the end, I just broke him down a little bit."

Tomic had no difficulty in the quarterfinals with unseeded Tiago Fernandes of Brazil, posting a quick 6-1, 6-4 victory there before facing another unseeded player, Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France. Herbert, who had taken out Raymond Sarmiento 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the quarterfinals, also got off to a slow start against the 16-year-old Australian, but he made a match of it in the second set before falling 6-1, 7-6(5).

"I was lucky to get through that semifinal, that second set," said Tomic.
"He even told me in the locker room that it took him a while to figure out my game. Once he picked up everything I was lucky to get through that."

Tomic and Buchanan have never played, but both are well-known players on the junior circuit. Tomic won the Australian Open boys title in 2008, while Buchanan, a U.S. Open junior quarterfinalist last year, will be playing in his first Grand Slam junior final, a difference in experience that Tomic believes favors him.

"I always play well in finals of any tournaments," Tomic said, "and hopefully when I come out, I can play aggressive, because that's the way I think I'll win."

Buchanan is simply looking to savor the moment in his last junior match.

"I just want to play it and have fun," he said. "I wanted to test myself against those my age, so I’m going to play free and enjoy it and I think I’ll do fine."

"If I can turn the match into a more athletic contest, I can win," Buchanan said. "He's a good ball striker who takes care of his service games, but I think I have an advantage in athleticism."

The girls championship match will feature two unexpected finalists: the unseeded Buchina and No. 11 seed Heather Watson of Great Britain.

Watson had the easier day of the two on Saturday, breezing past No. 2 seed Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand in the quarterfinals 6-2, 6-1 and No. 9 seed Daria Gavrilova of Russia 6-3, 6-0 in the semifinals.

"These are definitely the best two matches I've played," said Watson, 17. "I was just very consistent, but aggressive as well. I was just banging winners, getting tough balls back, today I was just really on my game."

The 17-year-old Buchina prevented an all-British final by defeating Laura Robson, who had reached the semifinals with a hard-fought 6-2, 6-3 win over Lauren Davis. Buchina was down a set before she realized what was happening, but she got her second wind to record a 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory.

Robson was up 3-1 in the final set, but could not keep the advantage, and serving at 5-5, the errors she had avoided for most of the day began to surface. Buchina never let up, winning the battle of the punishing forehands, and was proud of the mental and physical strength she displayed in her sixth set of tennis.

"I played more than five sets, like a professional men's player," Buchina said, smiling. "In the third set of my second match, I didn't feel like I was tired or anything. I just tried to play ball by ball. Sometimes when I'm playing a third set or tiebreak, I'm really excited, because it's hard, but this match, I never think about it. I just hit everything in, and it was just my day."

Watson and Buchina played last year in the quarterfinals of the Eddie Herr, with Watson winning easily.

"I don't think she was playing her best," said Watson, who reached the finals of the Eddie Herr. "I know her forehand is definitely her strength--it's a killer shot--so I'll have to watch out for that tomorrow."

The only U.S. doubles team remaining was defeated in the semifinals, with unseeded Matthew Kandath and Jack Sock falling to Julien Obry and Adrien Puget of France 6-4, 6-7(6), 10-5. Obrey and Puget will play another unseeded team, Marton Fucsovics of Hungary and Cheng Peng Hsieh of Chinese Taipei. Hsieh won the Australian Junior boys doubles title this year with Frances Alcantara of the Philippines.

Lertcheewakarn will be seeking her third consecutive Grand Slam junior doubles title, and four of the past five, when she and Elena Bodgan take the court against Valeria Solovieva of Russia and Maryna Zanevska of Ukraine. Lertcheewakarn and Bogdan won the French title this year, Lertcheewakarn won Wimbledon with Sally Peers of Australia in July, and last September, Lertcheewakarn won the U.S. Open girls doubles with Sandra Roma of Sweden.

Play begins at noon on Sunday.

For complete results, visit usopen.org.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Talking with Great Coaches on a Rainy Day; Plans for Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

With the persistent rain, I had an opportunity to do a story for the New York Times Straight Sets blog that I would ordinarily not have had time to write while covering a major junior tournament. I'm posting it here in its entirety, because it hasn't yet been put up there.

Because girls between 14 and 18 are restricted in the number of tournaments they can play by the ITF and WTA, it's more common to see those with high professional rankings in the junior majors, while boys, who face no such restrictions and mature later, aren't as highly ranked. Ksenia Pervak, who won the Australian Open Juniors this year, was ranked around 150 by the WTA at the time.

I spoke to three outstanding coaches today about the pros and cons of playing junior and pro events: the famous Nick Bollettieri, Laura Robson's coach Martijn Bok and Lauren Davis's coach Rich Mostardi. The conversations were of course much longer than the quotes in the story, and in fact, I will be doing an additional post devoted specifically to Lauren Davis and the training plans Mostardi has for her in the coming months given her breakthough here, but it was interesting to talk to them about a complicated issue. It is similar to the "playing up" question, just a little more dramatic than whether to play 14s or 16s.

The Saturday plans are similar to last year's, when the singles semifinals were moved to the Sound Shore Indoor Tennis in Port Chester New York. This year there are twelve more matches to be played (the doubles were completed on Friday last year) so it will be a long day, and I'm not expecting any internet access, as there was none last year. I will tweet for as long as my battery holds out, so please sign up to follow me on twitter or check the feed to the left.

Junior Girls Face Balancing Act

In any of the girls Junior Championships at the four majors there will be girls like Irina Khromacheva of Russia, a 14-year-old prodigy who has yet to play a professional event, and American Gail Brodsky, an 18-year-old who has played 16 events on the International Tennis Federation and Sony Ericsson Women’s Tour. What brings such diverse levels of tennis experience together four weeks each year is not just the prestige of playing for a Grand Slam title, but the opportunity to play period.

From the day she turns 14, when she becomes eligible to compete in professional tournaments, until her 18th birthday, there are strict limits to the number of tournaments a girl can play, a rule enacted to try to stem the tide of injury and burnout.

Seeking additional competition, junior girls with SEWTA rankings as high as the Top 200 can be found in the draws of junior slams. It isn’t for financial reasons--there is no prize money in junior tournaments—but it may be a chance to snare an endorsement contract if already a professional, or perhaps more support from the country’s federation if still an amateur.

Stepping in and out of the worlds of junior and professional tennis has it perils however, according to longtime coaching legend Nick Bollettieri.

“For some people it’s very confusing, to play with the pros and play with the juniors,” Bollettieri said.

“If you’re doing well on the ladies tour and you go backwards and don’t do well (in the juniors), that has an effect on getting wild cards and also a psychological effect. So that’s a tough call that the individual coaches and families have to make.”

But, Bollettieri adds, those girls who do opt to play juniors after having success on the professional level are also sending a message about their confidence.

“If you put yourself back down in juniors, that means you have so much confidence that you can whip the juniors.”

For Timea Babos, a 16-year-old Hungarian who has played three ITF Women’s Circuit events this year, winning one and making the final in the other two, competing in this year’s U.S. Open Junior Championships is a way to keep working on her game.

"Because of my age I can play only 12 tournaments, so that’s why I have to play a lot of juniors,” said Babos, the world’s third-ranked junior. “I think the younger players need more matches, so that’s why we still play juniors, that’s really important.”

Fifteen-year-old Laura Robson, the 2008 Wimbledon girls champion who had immediate success in professional events and won two women’s qualifying matches at the Open two weeks ago, is playing the U.S. Open juniors for the first time this year.

“It’s very important to keep playing junior tournaments to keep the right balance between winning matches and feeling confident,” says Robson’s coach Martijn Bok. “The senior tournaments are good of course, to see what still can be improved on, and measure themselves with the bigger players, but junior tournaments are still important to keep their confidence going and get the matches.”

Bok believes the psychology of playing on two levels can help a junior girl’s development, but acknowledges that Robson, Brodsky, Kristie Ahn and other U.S. Open junior competitors who have already played main draw Grand Slam matches don’t face the same pressures against seasoned professionals.

“I think they definitely play with a different mindset in the seniors when they play up, way up,” said Bok. “They have nothing to lose and play freely. Then when they go back to the juniors, they feel like they need to win a certain match, but that’s also a very good experience for them.”

“What happens in the juniors, if the player becomes good, is the exact same thing that happens on the WTA tour.”

Vinsant, Fratangelo and Giron to Represent USA in Junior Davis Cup

The three boys representing the United States in the BNP Paribas Junior Davis Cup competition September 29 through October 4 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico:

The U.S. girls did not qualify for this year's competition. Both the boys and girls won the titles in Mexico last year.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Five U.S. Players Still Contending for Singles Titles At Junior Championships

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

The cool temperatures and gusty winds at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center were a constant reminder Thursday that summer is drawing to a close, but seven American juniors aren't quite ready to leave New York and head back to school.

Chase Buchanan, Denis Kudla, Raymond Sarmiento, Lauren Davis and Beatrice Capra have reached the singles quarterfinals, while Matt Kandath and Jack Sock will play Friday for a spot in the boys doubles final.

Buchanan was the only player to get through in two sets, with the 18-year-old wild card defeating Marton Fucsovics of Hungary 6-2, 6-3.

"It was very bad conditions, but it really didn't affect me at all," Buchanan said. "It's not easy to play in that kind of wind. I served really good--I don't think he had a break point all match."

Buchanan reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open juniors last year, losing to champion Grigor Dimitrov, so he is hoping to improve on that showing this year. His opponent Friday is top seed Yuki Bhambri of India, who has yet to lose a set in the tournament and on Thursday defeated wild card Jack Sock of the U.S. 6-4, 6-3. Bhambri beat Buchanan two years ago in the US Open junior qualifying, the only time they have played.

"He's a solid player, he doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Buchanan said of Bhambri. "He's the kind of player who sticks around, puts a ton of balls in the court. He's a smart player, he's good. It'll be a tough match."

Kudla reached his first junior slam quarterfinal with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Arthur De Greef of Belgium. Kudla, who admitted to being thrilled with the result, used his experience in Kalamazoo against Ryan Lipman to avoid a loss.

"Even though I lost the first set, I had plenty of chances to break serve," Kudla said. "It took me back to Kalamazoo, when I played Ryan Lipman it was 6-4, really close, and then I ended up losing the second 6-0. And my coach said you should have stayed with things; you did everything right, it was just a couple of points...so that's what I had in my mind, and it worked."

Kudla admitted that handling his nerves in the final game was a challenge, but he drew from lessons taught him by Melanie Oudin this week.

"They all say the reason that she's winning so much is that she's not afraid to win, she's not afraid of the moment, and that's something that's hurt me in the last few months in big matches. So I thought this was my chance to prove myself."

Kudla drew on his improved serve for an assist, hitting an ace at 5-4 30-30, and then seized his first match point with a backhand winner down the line.

Across the net from Kudla in the quarterfinals will be No 8 seed Gianni Mina of France, the French Open finalist this year.

"It should be a good match," Kudla said. "It looks like he's interesting to play against."

The third American boy in the quarterfinals, Sarmiento, got there by downing unseeded Sebastian Lavie of New Zealand 7-5, 2-6, 6-1.

"It was like a whirlwind," Sarmiento said of the gusty conditions. "But then in the third set, I got a rhythm with the wind, and started using the wind more to my advantage." Sarmiento took control in the third set, and he credits his improved serving with much of his recent success. Lavie couldn't put much pressure on Sarmiento's serve in the final set, and the early breaks gave Sarmiento the luxury of playing relaxed tennis.

In addition to his parents and cousins, Sarmiento had a some fans that he didn't know in his cheering section, with local people of Phillipine heritage adding their support.

"They just came out," he said. "You know a friend of a friend, like that. But there were some relatives that live here."

In the girls action Thursday, No. 16 seed Beatrice Capra overcame the first-set nerves, compounding by playing on Louis Armstrong Stadium, to dismiss wild card Asia Muhammad 3-6, 6-1, 6-1. Capra's defensive skills were much in evidence as usual, but her return of serve also a key, as she did not let Muhammad play first strike tennis.

"It was definitely a streaky match," said Capra, who lost the last four games of the first set. "I told myself to make her play, because toward the second set, she was making a lot of errors, and it was really windy. I was more consistent, and I felt like I was the smarter player in the wind."

Capra kept the ball out of Muhammad's strike zone, and by the middle of the second set, it was obvious that the match was being played on Capra's terms.

"She kind of went away after five balls," Capra said. "So just keeping one more ball in play was how I won."

Match point typified that, as Capra returned one overhead smash by Muhammad, who put the second into the net.

"I read the ball really well, it's not because I'm fast. I wish I was fast," Capra said. "I just went to the open court, trying to make her play, and after she hit the ball in the net I was just, oh my god. I was so happy."

Capra plays unseeded Yana Buchina of Russia in the quarterfinals.

Lauren Davis is accustomed to winning and she has not lost a junior tennis match since falling to Lauren Embree in the third round of the Carson Grade 1 ITF in April, a streak that is now at 38. Few, if any, of the players she has beaten have been smaller than she is, and it certainly wasn't the case Thursday against 2008 French Open finalist Elena Bogdan of Romania, who is six feet tall.

The 5-foot-2 Davis defeated Bogdan 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, and it was a dramatic win. Davis took a 5-1 lead in the third set, saw it melt away when Bogdan stepped up her return game and eliminated her errors. But if the 2008 European Junior champion was expecting to see dismay and fear in Davis, she couldn't find it, with Davis, looking at her strings, concentrating and getting ready for the next point.

Davis broke Bogdan at love, and serving for the match the third time, she finished it, putting a backhand on the baseline for the victory.

"I actually wasn't too nervous," said Davis. "In the third set, all I tried to do was keep my composure, and at 5-all I just tried to stay aggressive and take the ball early."

That Davis's model is Melanie Oudin is no surprise.

"We're both kind of not too tall," Davis said. "We just have a lot of heart--that's what I'm best at. Before this tournament, I won a ton of Nationals, but no one really ever noticed me, and I guess this is a great tournament to show them what I've got."

Next up for Davis is Laura Robson, who will also have a decided advantage in height and weight if not speed and footwork.

No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens was defeated by No. 14 seed Jana Cepelova of Slovakia 4-6, 6-1, 6-0, leaving Wimbldeon champion and No. 2 seed Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand, the only one of the top four seeds remaining.

In the doubles quarterfinals, three of the four U.S. teams were defeated, but unseeded Matthew Kandath and Jack Sock have reached the semifinals. They defeated unseeded Sandro Ehrat of Switzerland and Alexandros Georgoudas of Germany 7-6(2), 7-5, winning the final four games of the match.

For complete results, see usopen.org.