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Monday, April 30, 2012

Final ITA Rankings Kept Under Wraps; Bracket Challenge at Tennis Recruiting Network; Michibata, Bradley Resign at Princeton, Geiger-Walton Out at William & Mary

For the first time since I've been covering the NCAAs, the rankings from the season's last week are not being published prior to Tuesday's selection shows.  Last year at this time, we learned Florida had leapfrogged Stanford for the top spot, but when the NCAA seedings were revealed the next day, Stanford was No. 1 and Florida No. 2.  I'm not sure what problem this lack of transparency solves, but it would be appropriate for the ITA or the NCAA to explain the reason for the NCAA committee's decision.

Fortunately, we have the Texas College Tennis blog to provide us with information the NCAA won't, and he has run and re-run the rankings (these are the ITA rankings, not his alternative rankings, which he has also provided this year) to give us an idea of what to look for tomorrow at 5 p.m., when the live stream of the selection show begins at ncaa.com. (For those interested in Division II, the regionals are underway now. For more, see the NCAA women's tennis D-II page and the men's D-II page).

In TCT's men's rankings, a significant change has seen UCLA move from No. 5 to No. 2, behind USC. That puts Georgia at 3, Virginia at 4 and Ohio State at 5, after the Buckeyes had been no lower than 3 all season. Kentucky, Duke and Pepperdine round out the top 8. Granger also has projected the seeding groups and published a nifty map to place them geographically ((blue-1, red-2, green-3, yellow-4).

In TCT's women's rankings, UCLA retains its No. 1 ranking, with defending champion Florida at 2, followed by Duke, USC and Stanford at 5. Georgia, North Carolina and Cal are 6, 7, and 8. Granger's projected women's seedings can be found in this post.

Thanks to Granger for putting in all this time. Without his efforts I would be completely unprepared to follow the selection show on Tuesday. Again, if anyone can propose a logical reason for the decision to withhold these rankings, I am eager to hear it.

The Tennis Recruiting Network is sponsoring a bracket challenge for the NCAA Division I tournament this year, which means I will not be hosting the informal one I have done in the past. Complete details will be available after Tuesday's selection show, but for an overview, see this article.

This is the time of year not only for pre-NCAA excitement, but for job changes in the coaching ranks.  Princeton lost both of its head coaches this month, with men's head coach Glenn Michibata resigning last week, and Megan Bradley-Rose announcing her resignation today. Michibata was head coach at Princeton for 12 years; Bradley-Rose just completed her third season.

William and Mary will also be looking for a new head coach for their women's team, with Meredith Geiger-Walton resigning today after four years in Williamsburg, Va. St. John's, Houston, Bradley and Southeast Missouri State are other Division I schools with women's head coaching vacancies.

The University of Wyoming recently removed the interim tag from women's coach Dean Clower.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Illinois Men Surprise Ohio State, Purdue Women Upset Michigan in Big 10; Oklahoma Men Capture Big 12 in Thriller; Baker, Oudin Win Challenger Titles; Ojai Winners

It's been quite a weekend of college tennis, with the last of the conference tournaments that decide the automatic bids to the NCAAs finishing this evening.  For the complete list, see the Texas College Tennis blog.

Last night the top-ranked USC men avenged their regular season loss to UCLA just eight days ago, beating the fifth-ranked UCLA Bruins 4-2, with Steve Johnson clinching for the Trojans, his 60th straight win. For more on that match, see this article from the Ventura County Star.

Today, the Big Ten produced two shockers, with the No. 24 Illinois men downing No. 3 Ohio State 4-3 and No. 30 Purdue women taking down No. 15 Michigan by the same score. 

Purdue's win wasn't entirely out of the blue, as they had beaten No. 17 Nebraska and No. 11 Northwestern to get to the final, but when it was 3-3 with the title on the line, the inexperienced Boilermakers, who had never won a conference title before, had to have been at a disadvantage. But freshman Lynda Xepoleas held her own against Michigan sophomore Brooke Bolender in the tiebreaker that decided the title, delivering the championship with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5) victory.

Ohio State, which had a 92-match winning streak over Big 10 teams snapped with their loss, led the Fighting Illini 3-1 by taking the doubles point and getting wins by Chase Buchanan at 1 and Peter Kobelt at 3. Illinois, which had an early point from Tim Kopinski at 4, picked up two more points at the bottom of the lineup, from Ross Guignon at 6 and Stephen Hoh at 5 to tie it up. That left the match to be decided at No. 2, where Roy Kalmanovich beat Blaz Rola 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to end Ohio State's streak of consecutive tournament titles at six.  The last time Ohio State lost in the tournament it was also to Illinois, in 2005, when Craig Tiley was in his final year as coach of the Illini. The Big 10 Network will carry a tape-delayed broadcast of the final on May 10th at 4 p.m.

In the Big 12, the Texas women's 4-2 win over Texas A&M was close and hard-fought, but it paled in comparison to the men's final, which was, like the Big 10 women's, decided in a third set tiebreaker with the match tied at 3.  In fact, Oklahoma's David Pultr and Baylor's Julien Bley played three tiebreakers and over four hours at line 6 before Pultr emerged with a 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 7-6(4) victory, giving Oklahoma a tournament title to go with their regular season conference title.

The last rankings before the NCAA selections will be released on Monday, and the selection show is Tuesday, May 1 at 5:00 pm EDT at ncaa.com.

At the $50,000 Pro Circuit championships today, qualifier Brian Baker won his first Challenger since 2004, beating unseeded Augustin Gensse of France 6-4, 6-3. Baker, who clinched the French Open wild card with yesterday's win over Blake Strode, has moved his ATP ranking up to 214 with the victory.  For more, see this Savannah Morning News article. Bobby Reynolds and Carsten Ball, the No. 1 seeds, beat second seeds Travis Parrott and Simon Stadler 7-6(7), 6-4 for the doubles title.

Melanie Oudin has struggled for much of the past two years, with her WTA ranking falling to 370, but she concluded a great week in Charlottesville by winning the title as an unseeded wild card. In today's final, she beat second seed Irina Falconi 7-6(0), 3-6, 6-1, which also enhances her shot at the USTA's French Open wild card. The third and final tournament where results count toward the wild card race is this week in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. Former college stars Maria Sanchez and Yasmin Schnack, the No. 4 seeds, won the doubles title, beating unseeded Elena Bovina and Julia Glushko 6-2, 6-2 in the final.

See the Pro Circuit page at usta.com for results of this week and draws for next week. The men's Pro Circuit is a $10,000 Futures in Vero Beach, Fla.

The 112th Ojai tournament came to a close today, with the following winners:
Pac 12 team (men): USC
Pac 12 singles (women): Nicole Gibbs-Stanford
Pac 12 doubles (women): Kaitlyn Christian & Sabrina Santamaria-USC [link to draws]
Boys' CIF: Gage Brymer [link to draws]
Men's Open: Artem Sitak
Women's Open: Sachia Vickery [link to draws]

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Baker Beats Strode, Reaches Savannah Challenger Final, Wins French Open Wild Card; Northwestern Women's Impressive Streak Ends; US Jr Teams Qualify


Brian Baker is still one win short of his first Challenger title since his comeback began last July, but his match in the Savannah final against Augustin Gensse almost seems anticlimactic after his win today.  Baker beat fellow qualifier Blake Strode 6-1, 6-1 and with the victory claimed the USTA's wild card for next month's French Open. It will be Baker's first main draw match in a slam since the 2005 US Open, where, as a 20-year-old, he beat French Open champion Gaston Gaudio in the first round, lost to Xavier Malisse in the second round and shortly thereafter, had the first of five surgeries that would keep him from competing for more than five years.

As ESPN commentator Darren Cahill said tonight on twitter, "The type of comeback story you rarely see in tennis. Can't help but feel good for the guy."

In my interview with Baker at the Sunrise Futures back in January, he said, "I always wanted to come back, that was never the issue, it was just if the body would hold up." He also talks about getting out of the Futures and back into grand slams. In just over three months' time, he has done just that.  Listen to the complete interview (about five minutes in length) by clicking on the link above.

And don't overlook the great tournament Blake Strode had, with wins over Marinko Matosevic, Tim Smyczek and Peter Polansky. Will he put off Harvard Law for another year?

Complete results are at the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

In the women's $50,000 tournament in Charlottesville, unseeded wild card Melanie Oudin will play No. 2 seed Irina Falconi in the final. Falconi is already in the French Open main draw, but Oudin is still in the running for the USTA's wild card, with next week's tournament the final chance to earn the points that will decide it.

Results are at the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

The Pac-12 men's final between USC and UCLA is still in progress, and the Big Ten and Big 12 finals are on Sunday, but there was a major upset today in the Big Ten women's conference tournament. Top seed Northwestern, who shared the regular season title with Michigan, lost to No. 5 seed Purdue 4-2, ending their streak of conference tournament titles at 13. Last year I was in Michigan for the Big Ten women's tournament, and it looked as if Northwestern's streak would end in the final there when Michigan led 3-0, but Northwestern came back to win it. They couldn't do that today, however, and Michigan, who beat Illinois in a very close 4-0 match today, will play Purdue for the title and automatic NCAA bid.  Ohio State and Illinois will meet for the men's title for the sixth time in the last seven years. 

The US junior ITF teams competing in Mexico all went 3-0, assuring all four teams a spot in the World Junior Tennis 14-and-under finals in the Czech Republic in August and Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup in Spain in September.  Complete results can be found at the ITF junior website.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Baker, Strode and Sweeting Down to the Wire for USTA's French Open Wild Card; Big Ten, Mountain West Conference Awards; US ITF Clay Circuit Begins in Daytona

The men's wild card for Roland Garros that the USTA receives in a reciprocal agreement with the French Tennis Federation will be decided in Savannah, possibly tomorrow. Still in the running are the three Americans in the semifinals: Blake Strode, Brian Baker and Ryan Sweeting. Strode, the 2009 NCAA semifinalist while at Arkansas, and Baker, who reached the Roland Garros boys final in 2003, are both qualifiers, while Sweeting is the No. 7 seed. Sweeting, who plays unseeded Augustin Gensse of France in one semifinal, needs to win the tournament to claim the wild card, while the winner of the Baker - Strode match tomorrow will get it if Sweeting loses to Gensse. This is all based on the calculations made by Steve at ShankTennis, and I thank him for doing the math. (I believe he has erred in the headings, with the Sarasota numbers the lower ones and the Savannah numbers the higher ones.)  Certainly a reason to follow the live scoring tomorrow, which I will undoubtedly be doing with temperatures expected to stay in the 40s all day here in Michigan.

The women's wild card is based on the best two of three tournaments, not just the two the men's wild card is based on, with this week's $50,000 in Charlottesville being the middle one. Rain washed out singles play on Thursday, so two rounds were played today, and Julia Cohen has put herself in an excellent position by reaching the semifinals for the second week in a row. She plays Melanie Oudin in one semifinal, while doubles partners CoCo Vandeweghe and Irina Falconi meet in the other. Falconi, the No. 2 seed, is the only seeded player remaining.

The Har-Tru company, which mines and distributes the green clay surface used nearly everywhere in the United States, is based in Charlottesville, and they sponsor many tennis-related events there. This week they are doing brief video interviews with some of the players, including Carly Gullickson and Irina Falconi, which can be found on their Facebook page.

Complete tournament results are available at the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

The Big Ten and Mountain West announced their conference awards at banquets prior to their tournaments last night, and they are as follows:

Big Ten men:
Player of the Year: Evan King, Michigan
Freshman of the Year: Leandro Toledo, Minnesota
Coach of the Year Ty Tucker, Ohio State

Big Ten women:
Player of the Year: Mary Weatherholt, Nebraska
Freshman of the Year: Emina Bektas, Michigan
Co-Coach of the Year: Ronni Bernstein, Michigan
Co-Coach of the Year: Scott Jacobson, Nebraska

Mountain West men:
Player of the Year: Javier Pulga, San Diego State
Freshman of the Year: Nick Chappell, TCU

Mountain West women: 
Player of the Year: Lucia Batta, UNLV
Freshman of the Year: Stefanie Tan, TCU

The three-week ITF junior clay swing in Florida gets underway tomorrow in Daytona Beach, followed by tournaments in Plantation and Delray Beach. They are all Grade 4s.  But if you look on the USTA's Junior ITF schedule page you will see the International Hard Court tournament has moved this year and been upgraded from a Grade 4 to a Grade 2, which it was until 2010. It will now be held at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md. August 20-25, and as a Grade 2, will offer hospitality to those in the main draw, a welcome change from the downgrading of tournaments we've since the ITF banned private housing as hospitality. I expect it will be especially popular with East Coast juniors who might not otherwise play any other ITF save the Grass Courts.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

All US Junior Teams Win Opening Matches at ITF Qualifying; Lagardere's Tobias Honored; SEC, ACC, Big East Announce Conference Awards

The North/Central American and Caribbean qualifying began today in Mexico, with the four US teams all taking their opening matches in the round robin play.  The girls 14-and-under World Junior Tennis team did it without Easter Bowl champion Emma Higuchi, who was ruled ineligible by the ITF at the last minute, with Nicole Frenkel taking Higuchi's place. The ITF rule that Higuchi ran up against is below:

Higuchi's application was a few days short of the three months required by this rule and the ITF would not waive the requirement. She should not have any difficulty playing for the US in the World Finals in August if the US qualifies this week.

The other three teams competing were the players that were announced.  The Junior Davis Cup team of Stefan Kozlov, Jared Donaldson and Ernesto Escobedo beat Mexico 3-0, and the Junior Fed Cup team of Brooke Austin, Taylor Townsend and Gabby Andrews also defeated Mexico 3-0.  The boys World Junior Tennis team of Michael Mmoh, Frances Tiafoe and William Blumberg won 3-0 over Canada and the girls team of Frenkel and Raquel Pedraza (Jada Hart is also on the team, but did not play) beat Canada 2-1, having clinched the win before losing in the doubles.

Francoise Abanda of Canada is back after being out six months with a shoulder injury; she was on the 2011 team that reached the final last October, but did not play from then until earlier this month. She will get a test of her level when Canada plays the US on Saturday.

For all the results from today's play, see the ITF tournament page.

I'm still getting through all my google reader items after two weeks away, and this article by colleague Rhiannon Potkey for the Ventura County Star is definitely worth passing along.  Lagardere Unlimited's president of tennis, John Tobias, recently was named one of SportsBusiness Journal's 40 Under Forty, and given his list of clients, that's hardly surprising. Tobias represents No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 6 Caroline Wozniacki on the WTA side, and John Isner, Mardy Fish and the Bryan brothers from the ATP. Tobias explains the marketability an agency looks for when scouting a young player and why he couldn't be at the gala held for those honored by SBJ.

Three major conferences held their tournaments last weekend, so the ACC, SEC and Big East were able to release their conference awards this weekend. The all-conference teams are available by clicking on the links below.  (For an easy-to-follow list of schools that have won automatic bids to the NCAA Division I tournament, see the Texas College Tennis blog.)

Player of the Year: Beatrice Capra, Duke
Freshman of the Year: Beatrice Capra, Duke
Coach of the Year: Brian Kalbas, North Carolina

Player of the Year: Jarmere Jenkins, Virginia
Freshman of the Year: Mitchell Frank, Virginia
Coach of the Year: Brian Boland, Virginia

SEC Women:
Player of the Year: Lauren Embree, Florida
Freshman of the Year: Lauren Herring, Georgia
Coach of the Year: Jenny Mainz, Alabama

SEC Men:
Player of the Year: Eric Quigley, Kentucky
Freshman of the Year:  Nik Scholtz, Ole Miss
Coach of the Year: Dennis Emery, Kentucky

Big East Women:
Player of the Year: Shannon Mathews, Notre Dame
Freshman of the Year: Jasmin Kling, DePaul
Coach of the Year: Jay Louderback, Notre Dame

Big East Men:
Player of the Year: Greg Andrews, Notre Dame
Freshman of the Year: Sebastian Stiefelmeyer, Louisville
Coach of the Year: Rex Ecarma, Louisville