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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Unseeded Hibi and Smith Claim ITF Claremont Titles; International Spring Championships Preview; Kentucky Men Beat Georgia 4-3 in Athens

Two unseeded 15-year-olds took the singles titles Saturday at the ITF Grade 4 tournament in Claremont, Calif. Mayo Hibi, who turns 16 on Tuesday, beat No. 2 seed Julia Elbaba 6-4, 6-2 to win her first ITF junior title. Logan Smith, playing in his first ITF 18-and-under event, won the boys title, beating Deiton Baughman 3-6, 6-1, 7-5.

The first round of qualifying is complete at the International Spring Championships at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, with the final two rounds in the 18s scheduled for Sunday. Hibi did not receive a wild card into the main draw, but she did have a bye today as the No. 3 seed, and will need to win two matches on Sunday to make the main draw. Smith is entered in the 16s, where he will now be even more of a favorite than he was before his Claremont victory.

Steve Pratt, who has been doing the USTA's daily summaries in Carson for several years now, wrote an International Spring Championships preview, which can be found at Tennis Panorama. Taylor Townsend, who has not played since winning the Australian Open girls championship two months ago, will be blogging for usta.com. Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com will begin his three days of coverage on Monday. I will begin my live coverage on Tuesday this year. Draws can be found on the tournament page.

Mitchell Krueger, the top seed in the Carson boys field, talked with the Dallas Star-Telegram about his recent trip to Switzerland where he played doubles with Marat Safin and competed in the Talent division of the ATP Champions event. He also spent time hitting with Sam Querrey in Dallas before heading out to California according to this article.

In a rain-delayed match in Athens, Georgia last night, No. 9 Kentucky beat No. 3 Georgia 4-3, with the winner decided in a third-set tiebreaker at No. 4 singles. Kentucky's Tom Jomby, who had lost to Ohio State's Ille Van Engelen 7-5 in the third in a similar situation at the Team Indoor quarterfinals, won with the match on the line this time, defeating Ignacio Taboado 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(1) to give the Wildcats sole possession of first place in the SEC. For more on the match, see ukathletics.com.

Friday, March 30, 2012

USTA Junior Competition FAQs; Three Unseeded Players in Claremont ITF Finals; Family Circle Qualifying Starts Sat; NorCal Junior Advocate Manning Dies

The USTA has posted documentation of the recently passed junior competition tournament restructuring, including an Frequently Asked Questions section. Please take note of the 2014 sample calendar, which has been revised to remove the extra 14s and 16s tournament that was showing in the March/April time frame. I expect there will be a few more clarifications and changes in the months to come as sanctions are applied for and new tournaments organized.

The ITF Grade 4 in Claremont, California is down to the singles finals, with three unseeded players among the four finalists. Two unseeded 15-year-olds from Southern California, Logan Smith and Deiton Baughman, have reached the final. Baughman defeated doubles partner Brendan McClain 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in today's semifinal, while Smith beat Nicholas Crystal 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. None of the semifinalists were seeded. Baughman received a wild card into the Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson next week, but Logan was still on the alternate list at the freeze date, so I hope they are able to find a wild card for him in the main draw. (NOTE: Smith is entered in the 16s, so I assume he will play that age division next week.)

Julia Elbaba, the No. 2 seed, will play unseeded Mayo Hibi in the girls final. Hibi beat unseeded Jana McCord today 6-1, 6-0. McCord had beaten top seed Gabby Andrews in a third set tiebreaker in the quarterfinals. Elbaba, who will be joining the University of Virginia this fall, got past No. 3 seed Denise Starr 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.

The boys doubles title went to Robbie Bellamy and Gregory Garcia, who beat Baughman and McClain 7-6(3), 3-6, 10-1 in a battle on unseeded Southern Californians. Zoe Katz and Maegan Manasse, who finished fourth at the recent Spring Nationals in Mobile, won the girls doubles, beating Andrews and Elizabeth Profit 6-1, 1-6, 10-7 in another final featuring unseeded Southern Californians. Complete draws can be found at the tournament page.

Qualifying for the ISC begins Saturday. The draws should be posted soon at the tournament page.

Qualifying for the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina begins tomorrow, with many juniors and college players in the draw. Syracuse senior Emily Harman received a wild card, as did former Syracuse player Simone Kalhorn. USC grad Maria Sanchez also received a wild card, as did Shelby Rogers. Hayley Carter won her qualifying wild card in a Southern sectional tournament last month. Grace Min did not need her wild card, and she will play No. 19 seed Camila Giorgi of Italy in the opening round. Min has beaten Giorgi twice in straight sets, in back-to- back tournaments last fall, but both victories came on hard courts, not Har-Tru, the Family Circle Cup surface.

The draw and order of play can be found here.

I had the sad news relayed to me today that Mark Manning, a dedicated junior tennis advocate in the Northern California section, has died. His death brought an immediate outpouring from many in the section, and many of those that worked with Manning, who was the first African-American President of a USTA section's board, spoke about his contributions and their loss in this article on the section's website. Manning was also featured in this USTA Black History article from 2008.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Study on Transition from ITF Juniors to Pros; WTA Will Try to Stop Grunting on Junior Level

I was sent Peter McCraw's Pathway to the Top 100 study several weeks ago, and then with all the USTA Junior Competition Schedule changes and the Spring Nationals, I neglected to post it. (By the way, it appears the third 14s and 16s "Masters" event I mentioned in yesterday's post was mistakenly inserted in the 2014 example calendar by the USTA, and there will not be an additional tournament for that age group going up against the Easter Bowl.)

There isn't a lot of earth-shattering information here, and the study is from 2009, but it does provide some interesting statistics, including the now well-known increase in the average age of the Top 100. But the age of first ATP/WTA ranking hasn't followed that trend.

As for the predictive value of making the ATP/WTA Top 100 after being Top 10 in the ITF Juniors, there's this statistic:

Percentage of Top 10 Juniors who made transition to Top 100 ATP / WTA Rank:

1985-1991 (7 years): Boys – 52% / Girls – 51%
1996-2005 (10 years): Boys – 58% / Girls – 72%

So for boys, it's pretty much a toss-up, girls are more likely to make that transition, but even though it seems like a lot of data, I would caution that only 85 boys and 90 girls were studied.

McCraw has a website where he has posted separate and more detailed studies for both boys and girls. The site also includes more on the advancing age topic.

Now it would be interesting to see a study on how many Top 10 ATP/WTA players over the past 15 years were never top 10 in the juniors. I've done a tiny bit of that research on the current ATP/WTA Top 10s and here's the numbers, with the player's highest ITF singles ranking in parentheses.

1. Novak Djokovic (24)
2. Rafael Nadal (145)
3. Roger Federer (1)
4. Andy Murray (2)
5. David Ferrer (-)
6. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2)
7. Tomas Berdych (6)
8. Mardy Fish (14)
9. Janko Tipsarevic (1)
10. John Isner (93)

1. Victoria Azarenka (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (6)
3. Petra Kvitova (27)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (1)
5. Samantha Stosur (27)
6. Caroline Wozniacki (2)
7. Marion Bartoli (2)
8. Na Li (20)
9. Vera Zvonareva (3)
10. Andrea Petkovic (36)

Not many conclusions to be drawn from that either, I don't think.

The WTA board held meetings this week at the Sony Ericsson, and one of the issues addressed was the grunting that has proven such an irritant to so many fans. According to this article by Doug Robson for USA Today, the organization has given up trying to change the current players, but will instead focus on the juniors. This seems like buck-passing to me, and enforcing the hindrance rule at junior tournaments, where there are so few officials to begin with, is a lot more difficult than the WTA is making it out to be. Fearing the current grunters would suffer if made to stop, the board decided to put its efforts elsewhere.

Officials hope to partner with prominent tennis academies and the ITF to teach about optimizing play without excessive grunting as well as the repercussions once a player turns pro.

A second effort includes stricter enforcement of the existing hindrance rule at the junior level, Walker said.

Why should or would officials enforce it at the junior level, when they won't enforce at the professional level? Because juniors haven't got the power to ignore them, while the women on the WTA tour apparently do?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

USTA Releases Sample Calendar for 2014 National Junior Events; DecoTurf Boys High School Championships This Weekend; Pollock's Attorney Speaks Out

The USTA today released an official announcement of the changes to the national junior tournament structure which were ratified earlier this month at the annual meeting in La Costa California. The complete release:

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., March 28, 2012 – The United States Tennis Association today announced a series of reforms to the National Junior Tournament Schedule designed to make the system more efficient, effective and affordable for current players and those who will enter the pipeline through the association’s 10 and Under Tennis initiative. The new system also aims to foster more local and sectional competition as well as fortify two historically important elite national championships in the summer—the USTA National Clay Court Championships and USTA National Championships. The new structure aligns the Junior Tournament Schedule with the current USTA Player Development philosophy and goals for training and competition.

The changes were proposed by the USTA National Junior Competition Committee after more than a year of research. The amendments received overwhelming support from the USTA Executive Committee (comprised of the 17 USTA section delegates, the USTA board of directors, presidential appointees and past presidents of the USTA) at the USTA Annual Meeting held earlier this month.

“The changes to the Junior Tournament Schedule were not taken lightly; they were heavily researched and well-vetted, ensuring we proceed down the right path to develop future world-class players as well as lifelong players and fans,” said Jon Vegosen, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA. “These changes are part of our overall long-term strategy to grow tennis in the United States and make sure tennis is the sport of opportunity for everyone regardless of their socio-economic background or geographic location. With more kids coming into the sport through 10 and Under tennis, this new calendar will make sure that there are more opportunities for kids to compete locally, translating to lower travel expenses and less time away from school.”

The majority of changes will take effect in two years. A sample of the 2014 USTA National Junior Tournament Schedule is attached.

“We believe this is the right way forward for developing players at all levels of competition,” said Patrick McEnroe, General Manager, USTA Player Development. “Our goal is more competitive matches at the right levels along with more opportunities to train, and this new approach works well on both counts. It also places a greater premium on sectional and regional competition, meaning more players will have the opportunity to challenge themselves and compete close to home.”

Changes to the schedule include:
· Converting the USTA National Winter Championships to a team event in 2014
· Eliminating the USTA National Spring Championships in 2014 to avoid a major national championship being contested during the school year
· Create more local player opportunities and enhance the standing of the current flagship national events—the USTA National Clay Court and USTA National Championships
· Change in draw size to 128 singles players and 64 doubles teams for the USTA National Clay Court and USTA National Championships for the 18s, 16s and 14s age groups and to 64 singles and 32 doubles for the 12s
· Creation of new tournaments including the USTA National Grand Masters (a progressive event that will feature the top finishers in younger divisions advancing to compete with the best older players), the USTA National Winter Team Championships and starting in 2013 the USTA National Doubles Championships
· Creation of more local competitive match play opportunities while reducing the expense and time of travel through new regional events

A sample of what the junior calendar will look like in 2014 can be found at this link.

There is no reference to the Easter Bowl, other than the ITF Grade B1, but note the calendar says, "the intent is to sanction the BG18 Easter Bowl ITF and To Be Named Event at the same site." This is a 32-draw for 12s, 14s, and 16s, but it appears a third "Masters" for the 14s and 16s has been introduced that wasn't in the proposal I linked to back in February. If it is held concurrently with the To Be Named event, it obviously weakens the TBN event and further segregates players at an age when breakthroughs from one level to another are common.

I can't see how this furthers the goal of making the system "more efficient, effective and affordable," and I don't understand what problem that particular scheduling is solving.

I'm sure many of you will have thoughts on the calendar, but remember to use a name, as anonymous comments will not be posted.

The DecoTurf High School Boys Tennis Championships are this weekend with 24 teams competing for the title in Louisville Kentucky. The girls championship, held last weekend, was won by Baylor, who beat Girls' Prep, also from Chattanooga, Tenn., 5-2.

There are plenty of excellent players heading to the Bluegrass State, with Jared Hiltzik playing for New Trier,(Ill.), Brett Clark for Baron Collier(Fla.), and Blaine Willenborg and Roy Lederman for Pine Crest (Fla.). For more on the tournament, including results from the girls competition, see the USTA Kentucky website.

Georgia Tech men's assistant tennis coach Conor Pollock was arrested in Atlanta over the weekend, charged with rape and possession of marijuana and cocaine. His attorney, J Tom Morgan, is quoted in this Atlanta Journal-Constitution update as saying his client is "absolutely not guilty."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fish, Isner, Bryans Named to Davis Cup, with Krajicek, Kudla and Williams Practice Partners; Sock Has Surgery; USC Men, UCLA Women Remain No. 1


The US Davis Cup team was officially announced today, with Mardy Fish, John Isner and the Bryan brothers named to face the French team of Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra April 6th-8th in Monaco in the World Group quarterfinals.

Captain Jim Courier was on a conference call today to answer questions, so, as I always do, I asked about the practice partners. Courier made it clear that USTA head of men's tennis Jay Berger is responsible for selecting the practice partners, who are Rhyne Williams, Austin Krajicek and Denis Kudla.

Andy Roddick said after the team beat Switzerland without him in February that he wasn't going to ask to be included this time, and Ryan Harrison will not be traveling with the team either, unless there is an injury between now and then. Harrison was named to the Davis Cup team against Colombia in September of 2010 and was also on the team that shut out Switzerland in Switzerland last month.

For a complete transcript of Courier's conference call, see ASAP Sports.

The Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star reported today that Jack Sock had surgery to repair an abdominal muscle tear earlier this month. Sock hopes to return to the court in a couple of weeks and is aiming to return to competition by late June at Wimbledon, but with his ATP ranking at 332, he will need a wild card to compete there.

The latest Campbell/ITA rankings have been released, and the undefeated UCLA women and USC men remain at the No. 1 positions. USC is followed by Ohio State, who didn't fall from No. 2 after their loss to Georgia, Georgia, who moved up a spot following that win, Virginia and UCLA.

One of the best matches of this week is in Malibu tomorrow, where the No. 7 Pepperdine Waves host No. 8 Stanford. Pepperdine has made a big jump the last couple of weeks, up from No. 15 three weeks ago.

The UCLA women are followed by Florida, Duke, USC and Miami. Stanford has fallen to No. 6, but will have their opportunity to move up when they host USC and UCLA on April 13th and 14th. The big jump in the women's rankings was made by Illinois, who, following wins over Texas and Nebraska, went from 50 to 21.

In the new individual rankings, Allie Will of Florida and Mitchell Frank of Virginia continue to hold the top spots. Will is followed by Duke's Beatrice Capra, Stanford's Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette and Cal's Jana Juricova, who is finally back competing after being out most of the season with an injury.

After Frank is USC's Steve Johnson, Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins, Illinois' Dennis Nevolo and Ohio State's Blaz Rola. Jenkins assumed Duke's Henrique Cunha's No. 3 place after beating him 7-6(4), 6-1 to clinch a 4-3 win for the Cavaliers over the Blue Devils last Friday. Cunha is now ranked sixth.

In the doubles rankings, Ohio State's Rola and Chase Buchanan continue to hold the top men's ranking, but the women have a new team at No. 1--Will and Sofie Oyen of Florida.

For the complete rankings, see the ITA website.

Monday, March 26, 2012

International Spring Championship Wild Cards; Georgia Tech Assistant Pollock Arrested

Qualifying for the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson, California begins Saturday, with main draw matches starting on Monday. The wild cards for the 18s event are as follows:

Girls Main Draw:
Louisa Chrico
Cassandra Vazquez
Jamie Loeb
Sydney Riley
Kimberly Yee
Elizabeth Profit
Alicia Black

Girls Qualifying:
Kiah Generette

Boys Main Draw:
Deiton Baughman
Gage Brymer
Ronnie Schneider
Nikko Madregallejo
Jared Donaldson

Boys Qualifying:
Ernesto Escobedo
Joseph DiGiulio
Philip Antohi
Terrell Celestine
Robbie Bellamy
Justin Butsch

The two special exempts in each draw are not used in Carson, because ITF regulations stipulate they must come from a tournament one grade higher or one grade lower, and there are neither Grade As nor Grade 2s in the North America region this week. But the tournament has in the past reserved a wild card for the Grade 4 Claremont winner should he or she need one, and I believe Sabrina Santamaria received a wild card into Carson in 2010, when she won Claremont.

The wild cards for the 16s can be found at the ISC tournament home page at usta.com, in the acceptance lists. Interesting to see the boys 16s qualifying did not fill, while the girls did, a very unusual circumstance in an ITF tournament. Please also note that Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com will be webcasting from Carson for the first three days.

There is no easy segue into the next story, which is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's report that the men's assistant coach at Georgia Tech, Conor Pollock, was arrested on Saturday, charged with rape and possession of marijuana and cocaine.

I do not know anything more about the arrest of Pollock, who was an All-American at Texas A&M, other than what appears in this article at ajc.com, and it is always dangerous to speculate in cases like this.

Yet I can't help but recall the case of Chris Doerr, the Mississippi State tennis player who was charged with rape and providing alcohol to a minor in November of 2008. Doerr was exonerated the following January, but there's really no happy ending. For a very detailed look on the incident and how it changed his life, see this February 2009 interview at the Daily Mail.

Again, I do not have any information to suggest these cases are similar, but it does serve as a reminder that arrests are not convictions, and should not be confused.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Danilina, Bourgue Take Grade A Copa Gerdau Titles; Claremont Grade 4 Kicks Off California ITF Swing; Baker Wins Costa Mesa Futures

Sixteen-year-old Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan swept the titles at the Grade A Copa Gerdau in Brazil, a week after winning both singles and doubles at the Grade 1 Banana Bowl. Currently ranked 17th, Danilina will make a big jump when the new ITF junior rankings are released on Monday. Danilina, seeded 10th, beat home country favorite and No. 12 seed Beatriz Hadda Maia 6-2, 6-3 in today's final. Danilina and Zuzanna Maciejewska of Poland, the top seeds, beat No. 5 seeds Gerny Angeles Paz of Peru and Maria Constanza de las Mercedes Vega of Argentina 2-6, 6-3, 10-1 in the doubles final Saturday.

Thirteen-year-old American Tornado Ali Black, a wild card, reached the semifinals, losing to Danilina 6-4, 6-4.

The boys Copa Gerdau title went to 18-year-old Mathias Bourgue of France, the 11th seed, who beat No. 8 seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium 6-3, 6-2. Bourgue, who won the Copa Gerdau title in 2010, had lost all his points from winning the Banana Bowl last year, and had fallen to 145 in the ITF junior rankings, but this win get him back to where he needs to be to play the remaining junior slams.

The boys doubles title went to the British pair of Luke Bambridge and Joshua Ward-Hibbert, the fourth seeds, who defeated unseeded Pedro Cachin of Argentina and Quentin Halys of France 7-5, 7-5.

In addition to the Grade A in South America, there were two Grade 1s going on in Europe and Asia this week. Unseeded Storm Sanders of Australia won the Grade 1 in the Philippines, beating No. 4 seed Anna Tyulpa of Russia 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. Top seed Nikola Milojevic of Serbia beat No. 11 seed Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-0, 7-5 in the boys final.

In the Croatia Grade 1, second seed Daniel Masur of Germany defeated No. 9 seed Eduard Esteve Lobato of Spain 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 for the boys title. The girls champion is unseeded Bernarda Pera of Croatia, who beat No. 4 seed Elena-Teodora Cadar of Romanian 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(4).

A number of teenagers took home Women's ITF Pro Circuit titles this week, with 15-year-old Donna Vekic winning a $25K in India, 17-year-old Margarita Gasparyan of Russia winning the $25K in Russia, 17-year-old Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, the 2010 Roland Garros girls champion, won a $25K in Tunisia, beating 2011 Roland Garros girls champion Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the semifinals, and 15-year-old Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain won a $10K in her home country.

Another big splash by a Spanish teenager was wild card Garbine Muguruza Blanco's upset of No. 24 seed Flavia Pennetta in the third round of the Sony Ericsson today. The 18-year-old, playing in her first WTA main draw, beat the Italian veteran 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(6).

The three-tournament ITF California swing began this weekend with qualifying for the Grade 4 in Claremont. There has been rain in the area today, but it appears they finished the qualifying. The main draws should be posted this evening at this tournament page at usta.com.

At the $15,000 Futures in Costa Mesa, California, Brian Baker continued his comeback, winning his second Futures title of the year today with a 6-1, 6-2 win over former Florida Gator Gregory Ouellette. Although he was beaten soundly by Baker in the semifinals, former Texas Longhorn Josh Zavala had a great tournament, qualifying and beating top seed Andre Begemann of Germany in the first round.

Current UCLA Bruin Nick Meister and former Baylor Bear John Peers of Australia won the doubles title on Saturday. The third-seeded pair beat top seed Carsten Ball and Begemann by the impressive score of 6-3, 6-7(1), 17-15. That's five change of ends before the match tiebreaker was decided.

There is no men's event this week in US, with the women taking center stage on the Pro Circuit at the $50,000 tournament in Osprey. Qualifying began today, and results can be found at the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Laura Granville Update; Anderson Seeks US Citizenship; Kriek Academy to Relocate; Edmund Downs Krueger in Zurich; US Teens Out at Sony Ericsson

A former member of the WTA Top 30 and a two-time NCAA champion at Stanford, 30-year-old Laura Granville retired from professional tennis two years ago and returned to Palo Alto to finish her degree. She will graduate soon, and this lengthy feature from the Peninsula Press explores her post-tennis life (marriage to former Northwestern tennis player Scott Kurtis, new job, new city) as well as what she meant to the Stanford tennis program. Several of the team's current players are interviewed, as is head coach Lele Forood and former players Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette. Although no two players' circumstances are alike, there's no question Granville serves as a role model for young women who want to attend college, play on a team, get an education and play professional tennis.

Earlier this week, the South African tennis federation announced that ATP No. 28 Kevin Anderson would not be playing Davis Cup for that country next month against Slovenia. The former NCAA doubles champion while at the University of Illinois recently married an American, and is pursuing a US green card and citizenship. His decision not to play obviously did not go over well with captain John-Laffnie de Jager, as is evident from this article, but it is not the first time Anderson and the South Africa federation have had a disagreement about his participation. This also means, according to this article, that South Africa will not be represented in tennis at the London Olympic games this summer.

One of South Africa's greatest players, two-time Australian Open champion Johan Kriek, is moving his junior tennis academy from Roanoke, Virginia to Charlotte, North Carolina. Kriek initially started his Academy in Sarasota, Florida before moving to Virginia in 2010. For more on the move, see this Charlotte Observer article.

John Isner will be playing Davis Cup for the US next month, against France in Monte Carlo, but this New York Times article by Ben Rothenburg emphasizes Isner's recent rise and how his college tennis career at Georgia helped him prepare for it.

The final of the 8-player junior "talent" draw at the BNP Paribas Zurich Open was between Mitchell Krueger of the US and Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, with Edmund winning 6-3, 4-6, 10-6. This round robin competition was an exhibition held in conjunction with the ATP Champions tour, which was won by Carlos Moya over Stefan Edberg. For complete results, see the tournament website.

It was a good tournament for young Americans this year at the Sony Ericsson, but Madison Keys, Ryan Harrison and Sloane Stephens have finished their runs in Key Biscayne. Keys and Stephens both qualified, with Keys losing her second round match to No. 5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-1 yesterday, and Stephens losing her third round match to No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-2 today. Wild card Harrison lost to No. 3 seed Roger Federer 6-2, 7-6(3) in the second round today. For complete results, see the tournament website.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mobile 18s Spring Nationals Recap, Slideshow, Videos

My recap of the USTA 18s Spring Nationals is now available at the Tennis Recruiting Network, with a condensed version of the seven days of live coverage I provided last week.

My usual slideshow program mysteriously changed somehow leaving me unable to get the photos to fit in the frames properly, so the one below is the only alternative I could find until I learn what might have happened. It doesn't give me the same options, (it moves too fast for my taste and I prefer my other caption system), but it should do in a pinch.

The YouTube videos of champion Brooke Austin and Ronnie Schneider are below.

To see videos of finalists Lexi Borr and Jared Hiltzik, click on their names to be taken to the tenniskalamazoo channel.

Dave Kozlowski did phone interviews with most of the tournament's "Players of the Day" for the Tennis Channel. Click on the player's name to go to the Tennis Channel website for the interview.

Josie Kuhlman
Ronnie Schneider
Ronnie Schneider and Sam Shropshire
Rachel Pierson
Jonathan Ho
Sydney Campbell
Josh Levine
Madison Bourguignon
Richard Del Nunzio

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tornado Ali Black Sole US Player In Grade A Copa Gerdau Quarterfinals; USTA National Playoffs Registration Underway; Pros Aren't Perfect

After the success of Chalena Scholl and Spencer Papa in the ITF's South American junior swing, it's a bit disappointing that only one American reached the quarterfinals of the ITF Grade A Copa Gerdau in Brazil this week, 13-year-old wild card Tornado Ali Black. Papa and Stefan Kozlov, the only American boys of the eight in the main draw who advanced to the second round, lost in Thursday's third round. (Scholl was not in the field at Copa Gerdau). The unseeded Kozlov lost to No. 8 seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium 6-3, 6-2, while No. 3 seed Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy avenged his loss to Papa in last week's Banana Bowl, beating the 16th seed 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Five American girls reached the third round, with all but Black losing today, including No. 1 seed Kyle McPhillips, who fell to No. 13 seed Laura Pigossi of Brazil 6-4, 6-1. Unseeded Denise Starr lost to No. 10 seed Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-4; unseeded Kelsey Laurente lost to No. 12 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-1; eighth seed Sachia Vickery had what must have been a crushing loss, falling to No. 9 seed Ellen Allgurin of Sweden 6-2, 0-6, 7-6(13). Black beat No. 7 seed Marcela Zacarias of Mexico 6-3, 6-0 and will face No. 4 seed Maria Ines Deheza of Bolivia in the quarterfinals.

The six Americans who reached the quarterfinals of the doubles were all eliminated today.

At the Grade 1 in the Philippines, American Jordan Daigle, the No. 13 seed, has reached the quarterfinals.

And I neglected to note earlier that Austin Siegel reached the finals of two Grade 2 tournaments in South Africa this month, results that have boosted his ITF junior ranking to a career-high of 69.

Registration is now open for the third annual US Open National Playoffs, which feature sectional tournaments whose winners qualify for a national tournament that ultimately decides a US Open qualifying wild card (a main draw US Open wild card for the mixed doubles national winners). I covered the finals of the Midwest section's tournament last year, won by Kentucky All-American Eric Quigley, but I've been disappointed by the dearth of prominent college players competing in this event. It is a lot of tennis for a qualifying wild card, but for many, it is their best chance to earn a wild card while still in school. It's also a great way for juniors to get matches during the summer, as the event is open to any player 14 and older who is a USTA member. There are no domicile or citizenship requirements. For more on the dates and locations, see the tournament page at usopen.org.

Lisa at the ParentingAces.com blog went to the BNP Paribas Open last weekend and wrote this spot-on piece about her observations entitled "If the Pros Do It..." What I found so refreshing about this post is Lisa's unwillingness to buy into preconceived notions about top professionals. Because they are so consistently good at winning tennis matches, we tend to assign all kinds superhuman powers to them, and then when we watch tennis matches, we seek to confirm that they are somehow different, distinctive, oblivious to the pressures and emotions of competition. Lisa was having none of that, and she makes a good point, after seeing Nadal and Djokovic pout and slump, that maybe we shouldn't expect quite so much of junior players, who are still developing and maturing, after all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Georgia Men Down Ohio State 4-3, Tennessee and Texas Women Upset; Hayley Carter Earns Family Circle Qualifying WC; Bollettieri's New Tournament

The Ohio State - Georgia match in Athens turned out to be every bit as exciting as anticipated, with the fourth-ranked Bulldogs pulling out a 4-3 win over the No. 2 Buckeyes after dropping the doubles point. Georgia got victories from KU Singh at line 2, Ignacio Taboada at 4, Nathan Pasha at 6 (winning the last four games after trailing Connor Smith 4-2 in the third) and Sadio Doumbia at 3. After pushing top-ranked USC in the semifinals of the Team Indoor and beating Ohio State today, Georgia can only be gaining confidence as May's NCAAs loom. As for Ohio State, playing in Athens in front of 1100 fans today can only provide valuable experience should they face the Bulldogs again in the late stages of the NCAAs. For more on the match, see georgiadogs.com.

There were two major upsets in women's play today, with No. 67 UNLV defeating No. 12 Tennessee 4-3, with the Volunteers missing their usual top two--Natalie Pluskota with an injury and Brynn Boren with illness. They forfeited the point at line six, and Caitlyn Williams retired midway through the first set of her match, leading UNLV to what their website calls its best win in program history.

No. 9 Texas was also short-handed in their match against No. 50 Illinois, with No. 1 Aeriel Ellis out, but the Longhorns did field six players in Austin, so their 4-3 loss to the Fighting Illini has to top the list of today's surprising victories. For more, see the Illinois website.

In Ann Arbor this afternoon, No. 20 Michigan women lost the doubles point to No. 17 Notre Dame, but came back to post a 5-2 win over the Fighting Irish. For more, see the Michigan website.

While I was busy with the Wayne Bryan/USTA discussion and the Men's Team Indoor, I neglected to monitor the annual Southern tournament that provides the girls 18s winner with a qualifying wild card into the Family Circle Cup in Charleston. Formerly the Smash Cup, Dunlop took over sponsorship this year, and Hayley Carter defeated Mariana Gould, both No. 5 seeds, 6-7(4), 6-2, 10-5 to earn the qualifying wild card. The the tournament's qualifying begins on Saturday, March 31st. The complete draws are available at the TennisLink site.

Nick Bollettieri is introducing a new tournament in Bradenton, called the Discovery Open, for age divisions 11, 13 and 15. The tournament, held at the IMG/Bollettieri academy, is June 1-4, 2012, with a week at the academy given to the winners of the six 32-draw fields. The overall winner will receive a year's scholarship at the academy. Entires close May 1. For more information, see the IMG website.

Today at the Sony Ericsson Open, qualifiers Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens advanced to the second round with three-set wins. Keys beat Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1 and Stephens defeated Pauline Parmentier of France 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4. Christina McHale is just beginning her first round match against Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Easter Bowl Acceptances; UCLA, USC Remain No. 1 in College Rankings; Hampton, Stephens and Keys Qualify for Sony Ericsson

The Easter Bowl acceptances are out, with the ITF B1 tournament having nearly the same field as the International Spring Championships in Carson the week before, minus the international players. Mitchell Krueger and Taylor Townsend are likely to be the top seeds in both tournaments. Krueger is currently in Zurich, Switzerland playing alongside Marat Safin, who is there competing in the BNP Paribas Zurich Open Champions tournament. Krueger and several other top-ranked ITF juniors are playing doubles with the older players and playing exhibition matches among themselves.

There are a couple of interesting 18s vs. 16s choices made by competitors who are playing both California events. Michael Mmoh, who is 15 (actually Mmoh is 14, thanks for the correction), has opted for the 18s in both tournaments, but 14-year-old Stefan Kozlov has decided to play the 16s at the Easter Bowl, although he would have easily qualified for the 18s. Like Koslov, rival Henrik Wiersholm will be playing the 18s in Carson and the 16s in Rancho Mirage. I can't figure out which division Jordi Arconada will be playing as he is showing in the acceptances for both the 18s and 16s at the Easter Bowl.

Kyle McPhillips will return to defend her 2011 Easter Bowl ITF title, and Chalena Scholl, who has gone from 41 to 14 in the ITF junior rankings with her two recent titles in South America, will be among the top seeds.

I'm disappointed not to find Frances Tiafoe's name among the competitors, but perhaps he is requesting a wild card for the 16s. 2011 Easter Bowl 14s finalist Katerina Stewart is another name that doesn't appear in any of the age groups, so I hope there is a chance she will receive a wild card. Another name missing from both tournaments is Vicky Duval, last year's top girls seed in Carson, who withdrew from the Eddie Herr last November with an injury and hasn't played since.

Three of the semifinalists at the USTA 18s Spring Nationals in Mobile expressed interest in the wild cards that are reserved for them, so Lexi Borr, Ronnie Schneider and Jared Hiltzik will added to the fields if they choose to play.

The 16s and 14s fields are at their TennisLink site. The 18s fields are at their TennisLink site.

For all of the acceptances, both 16s and 18s, at the International Spring Championships in Carson, see the tournament page at usta.com.

The new Campbell's ITA Division I team rankings were released today, with no change in either top 2. The UCLA women remain at 1, followed by Florida, USC, Stanford and Duke. USC and Stanford switched places this week. The USC men, currently on a 38-match winning streak, are No. 1 and Ohio State remains No. 2, followed by Virginia, Georgia and UCLA. Virginia moved up from fifth place the previous week. For complete rankings, see the ITA website. For the Texas College Tennis blog's alternate national rankings, click here.

Tomorrow's big men's match is No. 2 Ohio State at No. 4 Georgia, who have only two losses between them, both losing close matches to USC at the ITA Team Indoor last month. Ohio State has beaten Georgia their last three meetings. There will be a live blog, scoring and video of the match beginning at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. For more on the match, see georgiadogs.com.

Today at the Sony Ericsson, Madison Keys, Jamie Hampton and Sloane Stephens all won their final round qualifying matches to advance to the main draw. No. 17 seed Hampton beat No. 12 seed Mandy Minella of Luxembourg 6-3, 6-2, wild card Keys beat No. 19 seed Anastasia Rodionova of Australia 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, and, on her 19th birthday, No. 10 seed Stephens defeated Sania Mirza of India 6-2, 6-4.

The Sony Ericsson website features a question and answer session with Keys about her comeback win, the improvement in her game, and favorite Food Network shows.

Monday, March 19, 2012

USTA Passes Changes to Junior Competition Schedule; Sandgren Wins Rain-Delayed Calabasas Futures

Today at the USTA meeting in La Costa, Californina, the proposed changes to the formats and schedules of junior competition were passed by a vote of 16-1, with the Southern section the only section to vote against the proposal.

As I noted back in February, it is much too complicated for me to go into detail about, but here are some of the major changes for 2014:

  • 18s Spring Championships will be eliminated
  • The Easter Bowl, now including the 12s, will be reduced to 32 draws except for the ITF, which will remain 64
  • The clay and hard courts will be 128 draws (starting in 2013) for the 14s, 16s and 18s,; the 12s will be 64 draws.
  • The Winter Nationals will now be team events for the 14s, 16s and 18s, with the 12s competition eliminated.
  • There will be a National Doubles tournaments for the 16s and 14s age divisions.
  • Two new "Sweet 16" events for 14s and 16s and a new "Grand Masters" event, with small compass draws in 14s, 16s, and 18s have be introduced.
  • Quotas have been changed to emphasize strength of competition in the section, not simply membership, which is the case now.
  • Regional tournaments are restricted geographically.
For those interested, I published coach Tom Walker's objections to this plan last week. The vote was decisive in favor of the plan, so now the task of explaining all these changes, clearly and concisely, to every junior player and his or her parents and coach is the USTA's next major undertaking. I look forward to learning along with all of you.

I do not have the proposal as actually passed available, but it's my understanding that the only changes were in the regions. Everything else is as it is explained in this document.

Please remember that if you are going to comment, do so using a name. Anonymous comments will not be posted.

Tennys Sandgren won the $15,000 Calabasas Futures singles title today, after rain Friday night and Saturday required one quarterfinal and both semifinals be played on Sunday. The unseeded Sandgren, who turned pro last summer after two years at the University of Tennessee, beat former UCLA Bruin and No. 5 seed Dan Kosakowski 6-3, 7-5 in Monday's final. Top seeds Carsten Ball of Australia and Andre Begemann, the former Pepperdine All-American, won the doubles title 7-6(7), 6-4 over No. 2 seeds Nima Roshan of Australia and Artem Sitak of New Zealand.

For more on today's final, see Steve Pratt's article, available at Tennis Panorama.

The men stay in California for another $15,000 event, this one in Costa Mesa, where qualifying will be completed on Tuesday.

US Open girls champion Grace Min reached the final of the $25,000 Clearwater Pro Circuit event, but evidently her three consecutive three-set wins, including one over WTA No. 65 and top seed Anastasia Yakimova of Belarus, took their toll. She fell 6-0, 6-1 in Sunday's final to 18-year-old qualifier Garbine Muguruza Blanco of Spain, who received a main draw wild card into the Sony Ericsson this week.

Monica Puig also lost in the final of a $25,000 ITF tournament in Mexico yesterday, with No. 2 seed Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan defeating the unseeded Puig 6-1, 6-2. Puig had beaten top seed and WTA No. 95 Patricia Mayr-Achleitner in the semifinals.

Two former college stars collected Futures titles over the weekend, with University of Wisconsin's Mortiz Baumann of Germany winning the $10,000 Futures in Switzerland and Baylor's Denes Lukcas of Hungary winning the $10,000 Portugal Futures.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Papa Wins ITF Grade 1 Banana Bowl; Grade A Copa Gerdau Begins Monday; Sony Ericsson Wild Cards, Qualifying Draws Released

Spencer Papa, who reached the semifinals of the Grade 1 Asuncion Bowl in Paraguay last week, collected his first Grade 1 singles title yesterday, winning the Banana Bowl in Brazil as an unseeded wild card. Papa, who trains at the USTA's Boca Raton National Center, beat No. 15 seed Daniel Santos, No. 3 seed and Asuncion Bowl champion Gianluigi Quinzi, and No. 10 seed Juan Ignacio Galarza on the red clay before taking out qualifier Quentin Halys in the semifinals. In the final, Papa beat unseeded Pietro Licciardi of Italy 6-2, 6-3, completing his run to the title without dropping a set.

Chalena Scholl, who won the Asuncion Bowl to bring her ITF ranking into the Top 20, beat top seed Montserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay in the quarterfinals of the Banana Bowl, but fell in the semifinals to eventual champion Anna Danilina of Kazakhstan. That ended Scholl's South American win streak at 13, as she had won the Uruguay Bowl two weeks ago as well.

Danilina won the doubles title too, with she and partner Zuzanna Maciejewska of Poland, the No. 1 seeds, beating unseeded Ferny Angels Paz of Peru and Katrine Steffensen of the US 6-1, 6-2 in the final. Quinzi, of Italy and Christian Garin of Chile, the No. 2 seeds, won the boys doubles title with a 4-6, 6-0, 10-7 victory over No. 8 seeds Jorge Panta Herreros and Santos of Peru.

The main draw of the Grade A Copa Gerdau begins Monday, also in Brazil, with three Americans reaching the main draw through qualifying. Jared Donaldson, Louisa Chirico and Rima Asatrian will join 16 other Americans in the main draw. In what seems like a violation of the separation of players from the country procedure called for in the ITF rules, Donaldson and Chirico have both been placed against other Americans in the first round. Chirico will play top seed Kyle McPhillips, while Donaldson has been drawn to face Papa, seeded 16th. The other US players competing in the main draw are Mackenzie McDonald(14), Thai Kwiatkowski, Luca Corinteli, Stefan Kozlov, Martin Redlicki, Trey Strobel, Denise Starr, Blair Shankle, Stephanie Nauta(16), Tornado Ali Black, Sachia Vickery(8), Steffensen, Kelsey Laurente and June Lee. Thiago Monteiro of Brazil is the top seed and defending champion. The ITF preview, which doesn't quite have the seedings right on the girls side, is available here.

The main draw wild cards for the Sony Ericsson were announced yesterday, and the lack of young American girls among that group was surprising. Venus Williams is the only US woman to receive a wild card. The others went to: Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada, Olivia Rogowska of Australia, Alisa Kleybanova of Russia, Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia, Heather Watson of Great Britain, Garbine Muguruza Blanco of Spain and Zhang Shuai of China.

Three American men did receive wild cards: Ryan Harrison, Denis Kudla and Jesse Levine. The other two went to Marinko Matosevic of Australia and Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who is retiring after the tournament.

The qualifying draws were posted this evening, and include more wild cards. The men's qualifying wild cards went to Gastao Elias of Portugal, Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland, Sergi Bubka of Ukraine, Dan Evans of Great Britain and Tim Smyczek of the US.

The women's qualifying wild cards went to Lauren Davis and Madison Keys of the US, Naomi Broady of Great Britain, Caroline Garcia of France, Indy De Vroome of the Netherlands and Anastasia Pivovarova of Russia. Young American women in qualifying who did not receive main draw wild cards are Sloane Stephens, Jamie Hampton, Alison Riske, Irina Falconi and Varvara Lepchenko. Stephens plays the 15-year-old De Vroome in the opening round of qualifying Monday. The qualifying draw and Monday's order of play can be found at the tournament website.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Indiana Pair Sweeps USTA 18s Spring National Titles

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

When USTA 18s Spring National champions Brooke Austin and Ronnie Schneider return to Indianapolis, their next practice match might have a bit more on the line than usual. The title of overall Mobile champion is at stake, after both won tight three-set victories in Saturday morning finals.

Schneider is fortunate Austin didn't demand an immediate playoff, as the 17-year-old from Bloomington, Ind. started cramping late in the final game of his 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over Midwest rival Jared Hiltzik.

With Hiltzik serving at 4-5, 0-30, Schneider cracked a forehand winner to earn three match points, only to feel cramps setting in.

"I said, oh, no, this is bad, this is really bad," said Schneider. "One point away, and then I lose the next two points, and think if this goes to deuce, I'm in serious trouble."

Hiltzik saved the first match point with an aggressive forehand putaway, and the second with an ace. The third, a deep and aggressive forehand that Hiltzik had a play on, let go and called out, was not saved, when the chair umpire overruled Hiltzik's call and immediately announced, game set and match Schneider.

"It felt good coming off my racquet, and it surprised me when it was called out," said Schneider. "But the thing was, where I was, I didn't see it land."

Hiltzik had been overruled earlier, and he apologized to Schneider and the chair umpire after realizing he had mistakenly called a ball out that was actually in. But of the match-ending call, Hiltzik thought the mistake was the chair's.

"I had a chance to play the ball and I knew it was going out," said Hiltzik. "I let it go, it was out, but I can't help it."

The unusual ending overshadowed an entertaining encounter that featured more drama than their previous two matches, which ended with 6-0 third sets.

At 1-1 in the third, that possibility was gone, but Schneider won the next 3 games, and Hiltzik had to scramble to get back on serve. An overrule that went against Schneider and two errors led to a break with Hiltzik holding in the next game to make it 4-4. Schneider held at 15 to make it 5-4, and managed to stay upright for the final five points of the match.

"That shot ended up going in, and I was very thankful, because as soon as it did, my legs were done," said Schneider, who lost to Hiltzik last month 6-3, 5-7, 6-0. "With Jared, you're going to have to do a lot of running, and I had to put all my energy into every single ball I hit. Against Jared, you have to hit like four or five winners to actually win the point."

Schneider was able to hit his usual assortment of forehand winners, but Hiltzik's backhand, especially when he hit it down the line, wasn't up to its usual standard, with that exchange nearly always ending in Schneider's favor. Schneider never conceded a point, and was even prepared for Hiltzik's excellent tweener in the fifth game of the third set, volleying it away for a winner.

Winter National champion Hiltzik, who suffered his first loss since Schneider beat him 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 in November, wasn't happy with his level of play.

"I don't think either of us played our best out there," said Hiltzik. "I became very passive, which was not my goal, and he just took advantage of that. We keep going back and forth, and if the streak continues, I'll win next time, I guess. But he's always fun to play against."

Schneider assessed his own play differently.

"I played well, especially in the first and third sets," said Schneider. "I was really aggressive with my feet and really worked the point well."

Although Schneider was able to leave the court under his own power, he did receive medical assistance after the match, leading him to concede that Austin would probably win if she insisted on playing the set immediately.

"The one time she would actually win would be now," said Schneider. "I feel like if I got two games in, I'd be cramping and I'd probably just try to drop shot and peg her."

It's not as if Austin breezed through her 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over unseeded Lexi Borr. Austin trailed by a set and 2-0 before she finally found the answer to the 16-year-old left-hander, playing in her first Level 1 USTA National Championship final.

"It took me a while to get adjusted to her," said Austin, who had separated her shoulder at a National Open last month and was unsure if she would play Mobile up until the last minute. "She hits topspin and then backspin, mixes it up. It's sort of different and it took me a while to get used to it. And I wasn't really moving my feet that well in the first set and a half."

Borr put Austin on the defensive from the beginning of the match, which is not how Austin likes to win points. She prefers to stand on or inside the baseline and go for the lines, but Borr's depth and placement, plus her own errors, took her out of that comfort zone.

After Austin evened the match, she got some advice from Schneider's coach Bryan Smith, the son of Jeff Smith, who is Austin's primary coach in Indianapolis.

"He told me to hit a lot more to her forehand, and in the third, it started breaking down," Austin said. "I started figuring out how to get her off-balance, get her to hit more short balls, and take more balls out of the air."

Borr broke Austin to open the third set, but then lost five straight games to give Austin a chance to serve for the match. She was unable to finish on her serve, admitting that she began to feel a few nerves, but Borr wasn't able to capitalize. In the long final game, Borr attempted to inject more of the aggressive play that had worked so well for her earlier, but when her forehand volley went wide on match point, Austin had the title.

"I was probably feeling a little fatigued from the past few matches," said a disappointed Borr, playing in just her second National Level 1 in the 18s. "She played really well, started making a lot of shots, and I probably should have been more aggressive at that point, but I let it get away from me."

Despite the loss, Borr knows she will ultimately look back on the positives.

"It was a great tournament for me, and I learned a lot," said Borr, her voice full of emotion, a tear spilling down her cheek. "I learned I could compete with these girls."

With her tenth gold ball, Austin wasn't facing those questions, but she was pleased to end a fall and winter full of injuries.

"It's been a while," said the 16-year-old, who was out more than four months with stress fractures in her foot. "I'm still in shock right now, because two days before the tournament started I couldn't lift my arm. So it's a nice surprise for me, that's for sure."

The girls doubles championship was also played Saturday morning, with future North Carolina Tar Heels Whitney Kay and Ashley Dai, the No. 2 seeds, taking the title 6-1, 7-5 over top seeds Madeline Lipp and Jamie Loeb.

Kay and Dai, who start their college careers in Chapel Hill this fall, had not played together prior to pairing up in Mobile, and were fortunate to escape an early upset.

"It was a little struggle in the first match," said Kay. "We had a bye and then got a walkover, so we were playing our first match in the third round. We saved one or two match points and won 13-11 in the (match) tiebreaker."

Despite a lack of experience playing together, Kay and Dai had a ready explanation for their chemistry.

"It works together well because we're good friends and try to keep each other positive, stay upbeat," said Kay, who ends her junior career with 13 gold balls. "I feel we know where each other is going to go, even though it's our first time playing together."

"She keeps me calm," said Dai, who now has five gold balls. "And that's good, I don't get really pissed with her. And it's fun."

Third place in girls doubles went to No. 8 seeds Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum and Spencer Liang, who defeated No. 5 seeds Zoe Katz and Maegan Manasse 6-1, 6-3. Bernard-Feigenbaum had survived a full body cramp after a late night singles match on Tuesday, requiring an ambulance and hospitalization, but after an IV, she was back on the court for two doubles matches the next day.

The bronze balls in singles went to Ryan Shane and Manasse. No. 15 seed Shane defeated No. 5 seed Gage Brymer 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-4 in a three-hour marathon. Manasse collected third place in the girls singles when Dai withdrew prior to Saturday's scheduled match.

In the consolation finals, Rachel Pierson, a No. 17 seed, avenged her main draw loss to Josie Kuhlman, beating the unseeded wild card 6-4, 6-2 to finish in fifth place. Henry Craig, also a 17 seed, beat unseeded Andrew Schafer 5-7, 6-1, 6-3. The match should have been decided in a match tiebreaker, but a full third set was played in error.

In addition to the gold balls for singles and doubles, Ronnie Schneider also won the sportsmanship award. Whitney Kay received the girls sportsmanship award.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hiltzik and Schneider Renew Rivalry in 18 Spring Nationals Final; Austin and Borr Meet for Girls Championship


©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

With a gold ball on the line this time, Ronnie Schneider and Jared Hiltzik will play the rubber match in their current rivalry Saturday morning in the final of the USTA 18s Spring National Championship. The last two times the Midwesterners have played, in finals of National Opens in November and last month, each won 6-0 in the third set.

"We both got off to awful, awful starts in those third sets," said Schneider, who dealt Winter National champion Hiltzik his last loss back in November. "We both had chances to make those sets respectable, but we both played awful in the sets we lost."

So far this week, neither has played an awful set, or even a mediocre one, with both winning all six of their matches in straight sets, including Friday's semifinals.

Schneider, the No. 3 seed, beat No. 15 seed Ryan Shane 6-2, 6-3, while top seed Hiltzik had a bit more difficulty with No. 5 seed Gage Brymer, taking a 6-2, 7-5 decision on a clear and unseasonably warm day at the Mobile Tennis Center.

Hiltzik thought his defense was a major factor in his defeat of Brymer, who served for the second set at 5-4.

"I got a little anxious in the second set," said Hiltzik, of Wilmette, Ill. "I just had to start making a lot of balls. I think Gage played pretty well, but my game was a little tougher for him to play against. I get a lot of balls back, and he's used to hitting a lot of winners."

Schneider was confident he could handle Shane, having beating him in straight sets at last month's National Open.

"I beat him pretty handily there, but I knew this was going to be tougher, because he beat Nick (Wood, the No. 6 seed) really bad and Jonathan (Ho, the No. 12 seed), in straight sets, and looked really, really good," said Schneider, from Bloomington, Ind. "But I knew my game of staying close to the baseline and getting the ball back to him quicker, working the point in a different way than the other two had, well, when I went on the court, I was confident of what I was going to do. And I did all those things."

Even though Schneider triumphed in one of the toughest pressure situations in American junior tennis, the final of Kalamazoo, he knows he has no advantage over Hiltzik in that department.

"If Jared hadn't played that Winter final, I would say I definitely would have an advantage, but having played and won that final, I know he has the confidence," said Schneider, a junior who has committed to North Carolina for 2013. "He's got some great shots. He uses his backhand well and his speed really well. It's a different game than you see from most players--rip, rip the forehand."

"We've been going at it since boys 12s," said Hiltzik, who will join the University of Illinois in the fall and is superstitiously alternating between his two lucky Fighting Illini shirts, one of which has his coach Billy Heiser's name on the back. "It's always been really competitive matches. We've only had a few straight-set matches. It's whoever's better that day."


The third Midwesterner in the finals is Brooke Austin, who frequently trains with Schneider in Indianapolis. Austin, the No. 6 seed, overcame a stern challenge by No. 15 seed Maegan Manasse to record a 6-0, 6-7(5), 6-2 semifinal victory.

"She was making a lot of unforced errors," Austin said of Manasse's slow start. "In the second, she got it together, and literally didn't miss for the first three games. She started playing really well."

In the second set tiebreaker, Austin lead 5-2, but Manasse coaxed three unforced errors from Austin, and hit two winners to take the final five points and force a third set.

With the temperatures in the mid-80s, a third hour of tennis might have been daunting for Austin, who is playing only her sixth tournament since stress fractures in her foot kept her off the court from early August through late December. But while she was unable to compete, she worked on her fitness.

"I did fitness two-a-days all the time I was out," said the 16-year-old Austin. "I feel pretty good."

She looked fresh to open the third set, taking an early 4-1 lead, but Manasse, a 16-year-old from Redondo Beach, Calif., made Austin earn her win. Manasse went down 15-40 serving at 2-5, but saved five match points before Austin finally wore her down, forcing a forehand way long on the sixth match point.

Unlike Hiltzik, Schneider and Austin, all of whom have gold balls, Lexi Borr, the fourth finalist, is making her first appearance in the late stages of a National Level 1 event.

On Saturday, the 16-year-old from New Jersey beat her third seed in a row, defeating No. 8 seed Ashley Dai 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.

The second set, which Dai won quickly, was the first set Borr had lost in the tournament, but it didn't change the momentum in Dai's favor. Borr didn't trail in the final set, although she wasn't able to finish it serving at 5-3.

"I was disappointed I couldn't serve it out," said the left-hander, who hadn't been beyond the quarterfinals in a Level 1 tournament prior to today. "But I had broken her a bunch of times throughout the match, so I still knew that I could do it.

With her coach not with her, Borr consulted with her mother during the 10-minute rest period between the second and third sets.

"She told me to be aggressive, to keep going for my shots, and that the outcome doesn't matter," said Borr. "Dai is a great competitor, and I knew she comes back a lot, but in the third set, I think it was just whoever was being more aggressive and coming in. I just got a few more points than she did."

Both singles finals will be played at 9 a.m. CDT on Saturday.

The semifinals and the finals of the boys doubles were both played on Friday, with Schneider and partner Samuel Shropshire taking the gold balls. Sixth seeds Schneider and Shropshire beat Hiltzik and Brian Page, the top seeds, 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals, then downed No. 5 seeds Nolan Paige and Aaron Revzin 7-6(3), 6-4 for the championship.

Shropshire and Schneider hadn't played together before this tournament, although Schneider knew who to call when his regular partner, Yale Goldberg, didn't enter in Mobile.

"We played against each other in the semis of Kalamazoo," said Schneider, who took the gold ball in Kalamazoo with Goldberg.

"We tried to play together at a regional tournament a little while ago," said Shropshire, who finished third in Kalamazoo with partner Conrad Harron. "And then this guy ended up winning Kalamazoo, so he had to go to the US Open instead. So this is our second try, and it worked out."

Shropshire and Schneider were down a break early in the opening set, but got it back, breaking Revzin when serving at 4-3. They played a solid tiebreaker, with Shropshire particularly effective in finishing points.

"Sam was all over the net," said Schneider. "They really didn't know what to do. They tried to lob, but I don't think Sam missed an overhead the whole tournament, I'm not kidding."

Shropshire and Schneider needed only one break in the second set, taking a 2-1 lead, and never trailing. Shropshire served out the match at love to capture his first gold ball.

Hiltzik and Page collected the bronze ball, beating unseeded Hunter Goertz and Josh Hagar 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The girls doubles final Saturday morning will feature the top two seeds. In Friday's semifinals, top seeds Madeline Lipp and Jamie Loeb beat No. 8 seeds Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum and Spencer Liane 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 and will face No. 2 seeds Dai and Whitney Kay. Dai and Kay beat No. 5 seeds Zoe Katz and Maegan Manasse 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

The consolation finals will also be played Saturday morning. Josie Kuhlman will play No. 17 seed Rachel Pierson again. It was Kuhlman who eliminated Pierson from the main draw in the fourth round.

The boys consolation final features unseeded Andrew Schafer against Henry Craig, a No. 17 seed. Craig received two walkovers to advance to the final, while Schafer won twice via match tiebreakers.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Top Seed Hiltzik, Unseeded Borr Reach Semifinals at USTA 18s Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

Thursdays's summer-like weather could have been difficult for those just emerging from the indoor courts so necessary to the northern winter, but Illinois' Jared Hiltzik and New Jersey's Lexi Borr had no trouble adjusting to temperatures in the mid-80s, with both advancing to the semifinals of the USTA 18s Spring National Championships.

Hiltzik, the top seed and Winter National champion, has not lost a set in his first five wins, but in his 7-6(0), 6-2 victory over No. 8 seed Nicholas Naumann, he got a glimpse of how that might happen, blowing a 5-1 lead in the first set. Hiltzik recovered in time to end Naumann's five-game streak and force a tiebreaker, and the future member of the Fighting Illini dominated in the tiebreaker.

Down 3-0 in the tiebreaker, Naumann's forehand was called wide by Hiltzik and the chair agreed with Hiltzik's call. Naumann, who had already received a point penalty for an audible obscenity earlier in the set, argued with the chair then lost the next two points to go down 6-0. In what appeared to be a delayed reaction from the call at 3-0, Naumann then asked the chair umpire "How much did he pay you?" and the chair gave him a game penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which ended the tiebreaker.

Hiltzik held his lead in the second set, surviving a very tough game serving at 4-2 with the assist of the chair's let call on a ball approaching near the backstop that gave him a first serve when he was in his motion for his second serve on break point. Naumann, who understandably couldn't help but feel persecuted by that chain of events, argued, but Hiltzik hit a great first serve on his second opportunity, and went on to hold for 5-2, then broke Naumann for the match. Naumann did shake the umpire's hand after the match, and had no further reaction to the loss.

Hiltzik's opponent in the semifinals is No. 5 seed Gage Brymer, who needed three sets to get past Josh Levine, a No. 17 seed, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. After Brymer had leveled the match, he used the 10-minute break to consult with his father about strategy.

"In the first two sets I was playing more to his backhand side," said Brymer. "My dad saw that he forehand seemed a little weaker, so I started playing that a little more and that seemed to help. He was dictating more with his backhand, hitting aggressive shots mostly from his backhand, so once I concentrated on his forehand, I eliminated that factor."

Both players were frustrated with their performance at times, with soliloquies frequent after any unforced errors. Levine broke to open the third set, with Brymer throwing in multiple double faults, but Levine was unable to consolidate the break, and only held his serve once in the final set.

Brymer and Hiltzik haven't played, although Brymer said he has seen Hiltzik around tournaments since the 12s.

"I know he's a tough player," said Brymer, who just turned 17, while Hiltzik will be 18 in July. "He's had good results and won the Winter Nationals. I try to go into every match knowing a little bit about how every player plays, but I know he's a solid player, and I'll have to play my best, try my hardest and see what happens."

No. 3 seed Ronnie Schneider earned his place in the semifinals with 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 13 seed Brian Page. Page is known for his big serve, but each player held only once in the first set, giving the much smaller Schneider a definite advantage. Schneider's opponent on Friday is No. 15 seed Ryan Shane, who defeated No. 12 seed Jonathan Ho 6-2, 7-5. Although the match was decided in straight sets, and the first set went relatively quickly, the second set was full of multi-deuce games and much anguish when opportunities weren't seized.

In the girls quarterfinals, Borr, a 16-year-old lefthander, continued her breakout tournament, beating No. 3 seed Frances Altick 6-2, 6-2, the third seed the unseeded Borr has beaten this week.

"I lost to her in Winters in the back draw, so I was just trying to play a little bit closer than last time," said Borr, who lost that match 6-4, 6-1. "I was playing really aggressive and getting off the court and finishing up at the net. I kept doing it, and it turned out I won a lot easier than she beat me."

Borr knew she needed to change her game style as she advanced to the 18s division.

"The girls are bigger and stronger and you just can't outsteady them anymore, you have to do something different," said Borr, who lives and trains in Westfield, New Jersey. "So I am trying to be more aggressive with my game. I'm feeling pretty good about my game right now."

Borr will play No. 8 seed Ashley Dai, who won her fifth consecutive match in straight sets Thursday, beating unseeded wild card Josie Kuhlman 6-1, 6-4.

The highest girls seed remaining is No. 6 Brooke Austin, who is just a few months into her comeback after an ankle injury she suffered at the Hard Courts last August. Austin defeated No. 12 seed Sydney Campbell, who had beaten top seed Jamie Loeb on Wednesday, 7-5, 6-3 in Thursday's quarterfinal.

Austin, who finished in sixth place in Mobile last year, faces No. 15 seed Maegan Manasse, who ousted No. 4 seed Madeline Lipp 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

Manasse, a 16-year-old from Southern California, trailed 4-2 in the final set before she got what she called a "sudden burst of energy" to take the final four games of the match.

"I think we were both playing tired in the third set," said Manasse, who just began home schooling this semester. "Like I said, I just got this one burst of energy, and she tried to pick it up, but it was too late."

Lipp, playing in her third three-setter of the week, hit two consecutive double faults to give away her break serving at 4-2. Manasse made her share of unforced errors, but with Lipp serving at 4-5, trying to stay in the match, Manasse held tough at the most critical juncture. With Lipp serving at 15-30, the longest rally of the third set consisted of at least a score of backhands crosscourt until Manasse finally found a short angle on her backhand, giving it a bit more oomph to send Lipp lunging fruitlessly for it.

With two match points, Manasse needed only one, with Lipp double faulting to end the three-hour and 10 minute match.

"I'm excited," said Manasse, who has never reached the semifinals of a National Level 1 before. "I'll play my best, try my best tomorrow. I'm playing against Brooke Austin, and she's a really good player, so it'll be a good match."

The top seeds in doubles are still in the running for gold balls, with Lipp and Loeb, the No. 1 seeds in the girls doubles, and Hiltzik and Page, the No. 1 seeds in the boys doubles, advancing to the semifinals with straight-set wins this evening.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

For additional interviews of previous Players of the Day by Dave Kozlowski, listen to Jonathan Ho, Sydney Campbell, and Rachel Pierson at the Tennis Channel website.

My Article on Kalamazoo Champion Schneider's Commitment to North Carolina

Before we get started with today's quarterfinals at the Spring Nationals in Mobile, I wanted to post a link to my Tennis Recruiting article about Ronnie Schneider, the top recruit in the Class of 2013. I spoke to Schneider and his coach Bryan Smith this week during one of the rain delays, and you should be able to tell from the story how carefully he explored all his options before deciding on North Carolina. Schneider, the No. 3 seed here, plays Brian Page, the 13th seed, later this morning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Campbell Ends Top Seed Loeb's Winning Streak, Ho Beats Second Seed Clark in Fourth Round of 18s Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Mobile, AL--

The rain stayed away from the Mobile Tennis Center for the first time in three days, but the upsets kept coming, with girls top seed Jamie Loeb ousted by No. 11 seed Sydney Campbell 7-5, 7-6(5) and boys second seed Brett Clark losing to No. 12 seed Jonathan Ho 6-1, 6-2.

Loeb, the Winter National 18s champion, had won nine consecutive USTA Level 1 matches until she ran into Campbell, who matched her shot for shot, and made very few errors. With Loeb serving at 5-6 in the first set, Campbell's level of her play, already high, went up a notch, and she finished points with aggressive net play while making virtually no unforced errors. Loeb, who displays an admirable combination of serenity and determination on the court, was broken in the fourth game of the second set and was down 5-2, albeit just one break, before she began her comeback.

In building her lead, Campbell continued to blast her ground strokes, with her backhand especially effective. She saved two break points at 4-2 with outright winners from that side, and also finished points with well-timed swinging volleys and tricky overheads into the bright afternoon sun. Loeb held at love for 5-3, and with Campbell serving for the match, Loeb took advantage of her third break point to get back on serve. Loeb reasserted her forehand, hitting two winners from that side to get to 5-5.

With Campbell playing so well, Loeb had to hope her opponent's level would drop, and it finally did when Campbell made three wild errors off the ground and double faulted to hand Loeb a 6-5 lead.

Serving for the set, Loeb saw Campbell bounce back, with two winners and her own unforced error making it 0-40. Loeb saved two break points, but not the third, settling for a tiebreaker when she netted a backhand at 30-40.

Campbell was determined not to let the match get away from her, as she believed she had done in her previous meeting with Loeb at the Winter Nationals two years ago.

"That actually had happened before, when she won it (from 5-2 down) in the first set, so I said, I've been here before and I told myself that this is not going to turn out the same way," said Campbell, from Franklin, Tenn. "I had to really dig deep and fight."

In the tiebreaker, Campbell fell behind 2-1 when she was overruled by the roving umpire on a shot on the baseline that she had called out, but it didn't affect her, as she went on to take the next four points to lead 5-2, with two serves coming. She lost both however, to make it 5-4, and Loeb pulled even when Campbell's backhand went wide. Campbell again stayed calm, and constructed two similar points to win the match, sending Loeb running wide to her forehand and forcing errors with her angle and depth.

"This is a very good win," said Campbell, who although just a junior, has already committed to Vanderbilt for 2013. "She's a very talented player, obviously the one seed, and she won Winters last year. I played really well, and felt it was one of my more solid matches. So it feels good."

Campbell will play No. 6 seed Brooke Austin, who won the battle of the Junior Orange Bowl champions in the fourth round. Austin, the 2010 14s champion, beat unseeded Katerina Stewart, the 2011 winner, 6-3, 6-1.

The other quarterfinal in the top half has No. 4 seed Madeline Lipp against No. 15 seed Maegan Manasse. Lipp down Emily Safron, a 17 seed, 7-5, 6-2, and Manasse took care of unseeded wild card Madison Bourguignon 6-1, 6-2.

Unseeded Lexi Borr surprised No. 5 seed Lynn Chi 6-1, 6-2, using her consistency and defense to frustrate the Floridian.

"I knew she was a really aggressive opponent so I knew that if I could be consistent and keep my ground strokes deep and not let her attack me too much, I could keep it tight," said the 16-year-old from New Jersey. "I didn't know that it was going to be that quick."

Borr, who is playing in just her second 18s National Level 1, is seeing improvement in her game this week.

"I playing better now than I was a few months ago. I've been working on my game a lot," said Borr, who trains with Ed Poole at the Westfield Indoor Tennis Club. "I wasn't that confident coming in, but my first few matches I built more and more confidence and now I'm feeling pretty good about my game and I'm excited for tomorrow."

Borr will play No. 3 seed Frances Altick, who defeated Gabrielle Otero, a No. 17 seed, 6-4, 6-1.

The fourth quarterfinal match Thursday will feature No. 8 Ashley Dai and unseeded wild card Josie Kuhlman. Dai beat No. 10 seed Kourtney Keegan 6-3, 6-1, while Kuhlman defeated Rachel Pierson, a No. 17 seed who had beaten second seed Whitney Kay on Tuesday, 6-1, 6-3.

Of the day's 16 main draw matches, 14 of them were decided in straight sets, with No. 13 seed Brian Page and Josh Levine, a No. 17 seed, the only winners needing three sets to advance. Page beat wild card Maxx Lipman 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 to set up a meeting with No. 3 seed Ronnie Schneider, who downed Harrison Richmond, a 17 seed, 6-3, 6-2.

Levine also came from a set down, beating No. 14 seed Casey Kay 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-1, and will now face no. 5 seed Gage Brymer. Brymer and Becker O'Shaughnessey, a 17 seed, had a very close and entertaining match with Brymer ultimately taking a 6-3, 7-5 decision. Levine, who was named Player of the Day for his win over No. 4 seed Nolan Paige on Tuesday, was interviewed by Dave Kozlowski for Tennis Channel here.

Top seed Jared Hiltzik was in top form against unseeded Andrew Schafer, winning 6-0, 6-1 to set up a quarterfinal match with No. 8 seed Nicholas Naumann. Naumann beat No. 9 seed Brendan McClain 6-1, 6-3.

The two major upsets were in the bottom quarter, with No. 15 seed Ryan Shane blitzing No. 6 seed Nick Wood 6-2, 6-0, and No. 12 seed Jonathan Ho routing No. 2 seed Brett Clark 6-2, 6-1.

"I had a good game plan coming out," said Ho, who will be starting at Wake Forest this fall. "I knew I had to be solid off both sides and not give him too much of an opening, move him side to side and make sure he's not getting a rhythm."

Ho had taken Clark to three sets at a regional tournament last July, and was able to build confidence and a game plan from that match.

"I learned from that match, remembered the stuff he did well and the stuff I did well that was working," said Ho. "I thought I played really, really well, and didn't play out of myself, just controlled. I knew he was always going to fight hard, so I tried not to let off the gas too much. I really didn't have any focus lapses, so that was good."

For complete results, including doubles and consolation, see the TennisLink site.