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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Honor Roll

December 2013
 Hurricane Tyra Black, 12s Junior Orange Bowl
 Claire Liu, 14s Junior Orange Bowl
 Francis Tiafoe, ITF Grade A Orange Bowl
 Tornado Alicia Black, ITF Grade A Orange Bowl (dbls)
 Brienne Minor & Jaclyn Switkes, 16s Orange Bowl (dbls)
 Amanda Anisimova, 12s Nike Junior Tour International Masters
 Adam Neff, 12s Eddie Herr International
 Sofia Sewing, 14s Eddie Herr International
 Abi Altick, 16s Eddie Herr International
 Alfredo Perez, 16s Eddie Herr International

November 2013
 Jamie Loeb, USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships
 Vicky Duval, $50K ITF Women's Circuit, Toronto, singles and doubles

October 2013
 Michael Mmoh, ITF Grade A Osaka Mayors Cup
 Tornado Alicia Black, ITF Grade B1 Pan American
 Francis Tiafoe, ITF Grade B1 Pan American
 Dasha Ivanova & Gabby Andrews, ITF Grade B1 Pan American (dbls)
 Francis Tiafoe & Michael Mmoh, ITF Grade B1 Pan American (dbls)
 Jamie Loeb, ITA Riviera All-American
 Ellie Halbauer, Pro Circuit $10K, Hilton Head, SC

September 2013
 Tornado Alicia Black, Pro Circuit $10K, Amelia Island, FL
 Martin Redlicki, US Open, ITF Grade A (dbls)

August 2013
 Collin Altamirano, USTA 18s National Championships
 Sachia Vickery, USTA 18s National Championships
 Tommy Paul, USTA 16s National Championships
 Katerina Stewart, USTA 16s National Championships
 Brian Cernoch, USTA 14s National Championships
 Kayla Day, USTA 14s National Championships
 Jenson Brooksby, USTA 12s National Championships
 Hurricane Tyra Black, USTA 12s National Championships
 CiCi Bellis, Claire Liu, Michaela Gordon, ITF World Junior Tennis 14U Championship

July 2013
 Chloe Ouellet-Pizer, USTA 18s Clay Court Championships
 Daniel Kerznerman, USTA 18s Clay Court Championships
 CiCi Bellis, USTA 16s Clay Court Championships
 Tommy Paul, USTA 16s Clay Court Championships
 Claire Liu, USTA 14s Clay Court Championships
 Noah Makarome, USTA 14s Clay Court Championships
 Carson Branstein, USTA 12s Clay Court Championships
 Steven Sun, USTA 12s Clay Court Championships

May 2013
 Jamie Loeb, Pro Circuit $10K, Sumter SC

April 2013
 Gage Brymer, ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl
 Mayo Hibi, ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl
 Jordi Arconada & Spencer Papa, ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl (dbls)
 Peggy Porter & Spencer Liang, ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl (dbls)
 Sameer Kumar, USTA 16s Spring National Championships
 CiCi Bellis, USTA 16s Spring National Championships
 Connor Hance, USTA 14s Spring National Championships
 Jaeda Daniel, USTA 14s Spring National Championships
 Adam Neff, USTA 12s Spring National Championships
 Amanda Anisimova, USTA 12s Spring National Championships
 Stefan Kozlov, ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships
 Mayo Hibi, ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships
 Ena Shibahara, International Spring Championships 16s
 Jake DeVine, International Spring Championships 16s
 Tommy Mylnikov, ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships (dbls)
 Jamie Loeb & Maegan Manasse, ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships (dbls)

March 2013
 Elliott Orkin, 18s USTA Spring Nationals
 Kaitlyn McCarthy, 18s USTA Spring Nationals
 Louisa Chirico, ITF Grade 1 Banana Bowl, Brazil
 Stefan Kozlov and Spencer Papa, ITF Grade 1 Banana Bowl, Brazil (dbls)
 Allie Kiick, Pro Circuit $10K, Gainesville, Florida
 Stefan Kozlov and Spencer Papa, ITF Grade 1 Asuncion Bowl, Paraguay (dbls)

February 2013
 Samantha Crawford and Sachia Vickery, Pro Circuit $25K, Surprise, Arizona (dbls)

January 2013
 CiCi Bellis, Les Petits As
 CiCi Bellis and Jaeda Daniel, Les Petits As (dbls)
 CiCi Bellis, Aegon Teen Tennis International
 CiCi Bellis and Jaeda Daniel, Aegon Teen Tennis International (dbls)
 Christina Makarova, ITF Grade 1 Copa Gatorade, Venezuela, singles and doubles
 Katrine Steffensen, ITF Grade 1 Copa Gatorade, Venezuela (dbls)
 Luca Corinteli, ITF Grade 1 Copa Gatorade, Venezuela (dbls)
 George Goldhoff, 18s USTA Winter Nationals
 Jamie Loeb, 18s USTA Winter Nationals
 Sameer Kumar, 16s USTA Winter Nationals
 Ena Shibahara, 16s USTA Winter Nationals
 John McNally, 14s USTA Winter Nationals
 Kelly Chen, 14s USTA Winter Nationals
 Keenan Mayo, 12s USTA Winter Nationals
 Hurricane Tyra Black, 12s USTA Winter Nationals

USTA Collegiate Team Update; Liu Leads 14U Americans Heading to Bolton, Tarbes

The resumption of college tennis is just a few weeks away (my take on the experimental format changes is here), and the USTA Collegiate team had a opportunity to keep sharp during this month's off-season at a training camp in Los Angeles.

courtesy photo

USTA national collegiate coach Dustin Taylor invited any American who was a quarterfinalist at the ITA All-American and USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships to the December 12-19 camp at the UCLA Tennis Center. Although not all could participate, with some still taking finals, other top collegiate players in the area filled in any gaps. 

The above mentioned quarterfinalists participating in the camp were: Austin Smith (Georgia), Clay Thompson(UCLA), Jared Hiltzik(Illinois),  Winston Lin(Columbia), Hayley Carter(North Carolina), Lauren Herring(Georgia), Robin Anderson(UCLA), and Sabrina Santamaria(USC).  Current USTA Collegiate Team members Lauren Embree(Florida graduate) and Marcos Giron(UCLA) also participated, as did Chanelle Van Nguyen(UCLA), Dennis Mkrtchain(UCLA), Gage Brymer(UCLA), Kyle McPhillips(UCLA), Mackenzie McDonald(UCLA), Nathan Pasha(Georgia), Nikko Madregallejo(Alabama) and Zoe Scandalis(USC).

Pros Sam Querrey, Nicole Gibbs and Rajeev Ram also worked out with the group according to Taylor.

The first few days were focused on fitness, there was a UCLA vs. non-UCLA dual match, and the final four days featured match play.  Taylor was assisted in running the camp and social activities by UCLA assistant coaches Grant Chen and Laura Gordon. In addition, two USTA guest coaches spoke to the group: Craig Boynton (former coach of John Isner, current coach of Steve Johnson and Jack Sock, and a former college player at Clemson) and Tom Gullikson (former Davis Cup Captain, top 50 ATP professional and college player at Northern Illinois).

I hope to have updates throughout the next few months on the Collegiate team, which is a significant part of the USTA Player Development's commitment to college tennis.

Two coaches from USTA Player Development will focus on the 14-and-under age division next month, when they take four boys and four girls on the annual trip to England and France for the Teen Tennis and Les Petits As tournaments.

Jay Devashetty, a USTA national coach based in New York, will be accompanying Andrew Fenty and Keenan Mayo, who won their places on the trip at a tournament in November, and Roscoe Bellamy and Axel Nefve to Bolton and Tarbes. I understand from Devashetty that the team will be playing a "friendly" with Great Britain prior to the Teen Tennis tournament.

Jamea Jackson, a USTA national coach based in Boca Raton, will be coaching the girls--Claire Liu, Abigail Desiatnikov, Elysia Bolton and Grace Joyce. Liu should be one of the top seeds after her Junior Orange Bowl 14s title last week.

For a list of the Les Petits As competitors, see the Tennis Europe site. For the entrants in the Teen Tennis tournament, now sponsored by Nike, see this Tennis Europe page.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Junior Orange Bowl Recap; Orange Bowl Slideshow and Videos

I hope this isn't too confusing, as I know many people unclear about the distinction between the Junior Orange Bowl and the Orange Bowl. My Junior Orange Bowl (12s and 14s) recap is available today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. If you were busy the holiday, it's an ideal way to catch up on a week's worth of tennis. To maintain some kind of chronological sense to the tournaments, I spent the last couple of days working on the Orange Bowl (16s and 18s) slideshow and videos, so those, which I didn't have time to process before now, are below. I still plan to provide a slideshow and videos from the Junior Orange Bowl in the next week or two.

Videos of the Orange Bowl champions are below. For videos of the Orange Bowl finalists click on their name, and you will be able to view the videos at the TennisKalamazoo YouTube channel.
Stefan Kozlov
Ivana Jorovic
Chan-Yeong Oh
Alexis Nelson

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The New Experimental Formats in Division I College Tennis and Why I'm Against Them

Virginia's Mitchell Frank is leading student-athlete opposition to the format changes

The NCAA Division I Tennis Committee first mandated a change in the dual match format, going to a third-set match tiebreaker in singles back in 2012, but abandoned it, along with other controversial suggestions, after the objections of coaches, current coaches and players and fans.

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association, which governs college tennis, and conducts all its championships except for the NCAA team and individual championships in the spring, had meetings about format change after that, but a consensus on its necessity could not be reached.

Just over a year later, the USTA became involved, with their College Match Day promotion, and its solution was to play doubles only if the dual match was undecided after three singles.

Again, this idea proved unpopular, and the ITA Operating Committee came up with a compromise, with doubles first, but one-ad scoring, to be tried out in the first six weeks of 2014.

At this month's ITA Coaches Convention, that proposal was shot down, and the men will be playing no-ad in both singles and doubles, with tiebreakers at 5-all instead of 6-all.  The women have come full circle, and will be playing a match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set in singles, with regular scoring in doubles and singles.  For the explanation of these two experiments, see this post.

Michigan's Evan King and Florida's Bob Van Overbeek, who spearheaded the student-athlete protest against the NCAA committee's proposal, have graduated, with Virginia's Mitchell Frank now leading the campaign against the current changes. The official Facebook group is here.  Frank will be a guest on Lisa Stone's podcast Monday at noon, at blogtalkradio's ur10s network.

I have spoken to many administrators, coaches, players and fans for the last 18 months about these changes, and there's no question a sizable number feel some format change is necessary to keep college tennis relevant. Most of you know I do not share that belief.

I believe the current format is superior to anything yet proposed, and I also think this campaign is driven primarily by the unwieldy Round of 16 days at the NCAA team tournament, which occasionally produce matches that end well after midnight.  I believe it's dangerous to intertwine the two issues, and I also think the "college tennis is dying" theme that the proponents of change are using as a justification is based on dubious reasoning. The number of new facilities being built and the number of schools interested in hosting the NCAA championships does not support their contention that college tennis is disappearing with lacrosse and soccer and [insert non-revenue sport here] rapidly overtaking it.

I don't object to playing no-ad in doubles, with that format now entrenched on the ITF Pro Circuit, ATP and WTA tours, but I believe any other format changes endanger the viability of Division I tennis as a professional tennis pathway. I could be wrong about that, but for me, the risk is too great, because the goal of these format changes--shorter matches--seems so insignificant to me.

But if it turns out that a shorter dual match time somehow sparks on-campus interest in college tennis maybe these experiments will have provided some much-needed data to assist in determining how best to get to that goal. Unfortunately exactly what that goal is, other than "shorter", hasn't been revealed. And who needs to be satisfied--the USTA, their Advisory Group, the ITA, the NCAA committee, the student-athletes?

If we've learned anything in the past 18 months, it's that proposals spring from many different interest groups and none of them has the power to unilaterally implement them. Is the perfect format out there? Probably not. But it looks as if Division I college tennis is going to find it, or die trying.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Xu, Coric, Kiick and Nishioka Among Teens Capturing Titles on ITF Pro Circuit This Month

Borna Coric of Croatia, the No. 2 seed, won his fifth Futures title of the year today in Turkey, defeating unseeded 27-year-old Baris Ergudan of Turkey 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the final of the $10,000 tournament. The US Open boys champion, who turned 17 last month, has gone 36-6 since mid-August, with all but six of those wins on the Futures/Challenger circuit. He has brought his ATP ranking, now at 332, up nearly 1000 places since the end of 2012, more than sufficient to earn him a place on the Challenger Tennis blog's Players to Watch Top 10 for 2014.

Success at the US Open was not a catalyst for 15-year-old Shilin Xu of China, who lost a first round match to CiCi Bellis of the United States in three sets. But Xu has had success on the junior and the professional level since then, winning the ITF Asia Oceania B1 Closed last month, and then winning back-to-back $10,000 titles in Hong Kong earlier this month.  Xu, who played and trained in the US until she was 14, had her biggest win today in the Shenzhen China WTA International qualifying. Xu, a wild card, beat No. 3 seed and WTA No. 114 Johanna Konta of Great Britain in the opening round 7-5, 6-1.  Xu is entered in the Australian Junior Championships next month, and given her recent form, is certainly among the favorites for the title.

Eighteen-year-old Floridian Allie Kiick spent the month in Mexico, and after disappointing results in her second and third tournaments there, ended the four-week swing last week with her first $25,000 title. Kiick, seeded third, picked up her second career WTA Top 100 win when she defeated WTA No. 77 and No. 1 seed Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 in the final.

Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, also 18, is closing in the ATP Top 500 after winning consecutive $10,000 Futures tournaments in Chile this month.  Nishioka, who played all the junior slams in his final year of eligibility, as well as many other major junior events, did not get past the third round in any of the Grade As, but he did reach the semifinals of the US Open Junior Championships last year.  Nishioka has now won Futures titles in his career, including a $15,000 tournament in Mexico in February.

2012 Eddie Herr finalist Barbara Haas of Austria, 17, won consecutive $10,000 titles in Djibouti (a country in Eastern Africa), although the fields were not impressive.

Katy Dunne of Great Britain also won two $10,000 events last month, one in Greece and one in Egypt.  Dunne, 18, is another teen who lost early in all the junior slams this year, yet has experienced success on the ITF Pro Circuit.

Rebecca Peterson of Sweden won the two $25,000 tournaments in Merida, Mexico prior to Kiick's victory. The 18-year-old has now won five tournaments this year on the ITF Women's Circuit, and has brought her WTA ranking from 0 at the end of 2012 (which she spent playing primarily ITF junior events) to 273 now. Her best result in the ITF Junior Grade As is the third round.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Stewart, Ouellet-Pizer Top 18s Seeds as Winter Nationals Begin; Looking Forward to 2014 for Sports Illustrated; Nainkin to Coach Querrey Full-Time

I'm back to work (in Kalamazoo) just in time to follow the Winter Nationals, which begin today in Tucson and Scottsdale Arizona.  The top 8 seeds in each division:

Boys 18s:
1. Mitch Stewart
2. Tom Fawcett
3. Billy Griffith
4. Trevor Johnson
5. Logan Staggs
6. Trey Yates
7. Aron Hiltzik
8. John Mee

Girls 18s:
1. Chloe Ouellet-Pizer
2. Alexandra Letzt
3. Brooke Broda
4. Terri Fleming
5. Gabby Smith
6. Megan McCray
7. Caroline Dolehide
8. Kennedy Shaffer

Boys 16s:
1. Chase Colton
2. Zeke Clark
3. Connor Hance
4. Jacob Hansen
5. Grayson Broadus
6. Matthew Gamble
7. Victor Pham
8. Nathan Perrone

Girls 16s:
1. Rebecca Weissmann
2. Samantha Martinelli
3. Jada Hart
4. Sabrina Xiong
5. Nadia Gizdova
6. Elene Tsokilauri
7. Abigail Chiu
8. Alexandra Sanford

For the 16s and 18s draws, see this TennisLink site.

Boys 14s:
1. Patrick Kypson
2. Trent Bryde
3. Alexandre Rotsaert
4. Sebastian Mermersky
5. Kabir Sarita
6. Kento Perera
7. Robert Maciag
8. Alex Gee

Girls 14s:
1. Hannah Lairmore
2. Grace Joyce
3. Riley McQuaid
4. Elysia Bolton
5. Anna Brylin
6. Danielle Quevedo
7. Somer Henry
8. Taylor Johnson

Boys 12s:
1. Thomas Yu
2. Cannon Kingsley
3. Ronan Jachuck
4. Zane Kahn
5. Faris Kahn
6. Casey Markulike
7. Nathan Arimilli
8. Alexey Lunin

Girls 12s:
1. Caty McNally
2. Zoe Hitt
3. Alexa Noel
4. Ashley Yeah
5. Tia Mukherjee
6. Sedona Gallagher
7. Sanyukta Guwande
8. Carmen Corley

The draws for the 12s and 14s can be found at this TennisLink site.

Courtney Nguyen, Sports Illustrated's tennis blogger, asked several prominent tennis writers and commentators what they were most looking forward to in 2014.  I was flattered to be invited to contribute to the article, which is available here.  As regular readers know, I will be writing my annual "Intriguing Questions" post for the Tennis Recruiting Network next month, so consider this a sneak preview. The progress of the 1998 birth year boys can't help but be included there too.

In this USAToday article on Sam Querrey by Doug Robson, there's a reference to David Nainkin being hired away from the USTA to coach Sam Querrey full time.  I hadn't heard that Nainkin was leaving Player Development, and as one of the longest tenured coaches there, his loss is a significant one. Freddy Rodriquez, who has recently left to start the ZMG Academy Tour Team in Boca Pointe, and Troy Hahn, who will be traveling with WTA veteran Lucie Safarova, have also left the USTA in the past three months.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Today, tomorrow and Thursday are the off-season in junior tennis, with no major, or even minor tournaments on the schedule once the Junior Orange Bowl ends on the 23rd, and the USTA Winter Nationals begin on the 27th.  I'm going to take a couple of days off to spend time with my family, so it's time to wish all of you who celebrate it a very merry Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Americans Liu and Black Claim Junior Orange Bowl Titles; Argentina Sweeps Boys Championships

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--

Second seed Claire Liu collected her second Junior Orange Bowl title Monday with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over top seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the girls 14s final. For second seed Hurricane Tyra Black, the road to her 12s championship was tougher, but she came back to defeat top seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia 0-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Liu, the 2011 12s champion, said she believed her experience on the courts at the University of Miami's Neil Schiff Tennis Center helped her at the start of the match.

"In the beginning, I already knew, from two years ago, what it would feel like, about nerves and stuff," said the 13-year-old from Thousand Oaks, California. "So I was a lot better."

Liu trailed 3-1 in the opening set, but found her rhythm and her form against Vondrousova, getting the break back immediately and playing aggressively when she got another break chance at 4-4.  With Vondrousova serving at 30-40, Liu swung away, immediately putting Vondrousova on the defensive and when Liu got the short ball, she put it away with an overhead.

Serving well, Liu played a confident game at 5-4, with a good serve and an excellent forehand giving her the set.

Liu had played three consecutive three-set matches to reach the finals, spending more than nine hours on the court, and she referred to her some of her play in the quarterfinals and semifinals as "not good" and "horrible."  Speaking after Monday's final, she conceded that she had played "really well."

"I was playing my game, hitting more to her backhand, attacking and moving her a lot," said Liu.

Liu has no fear of the net when she gets the opportunity, and she had great success there, putting away overheads and volleys with regularity, despite a tricky breeze on the warm and sunny day.  Liu began the second set with two breaks of serve, leading 3-0, but Vondrousova got one of them back and held serve to make it 3-2.

Admitting it was difficult to avoid thinking ahead with a set and a two-break lead, Liu gave herself a pep talk.

"It was really hard," said Liu. "I had to tell myself to focus, to stay on the court, because I was thinking, oh what's going to happen when I win."

Once Liu held for 4-2, it was smooth sailing for her, with Vondrousova becoming more error prone with each rally, while Liu was gaining confidence from her ability to force them. After breaking Vondrousova to take a 5-2 lead, Liu closed out the second set as she had the first, getting first serves in and hitting out. At 40-15, she hit yet another good first serve, and when Vondrousova's return went long, she gave a loud c'mon and pumped her fist before jogging to the net for the handshake.

Liu, who said this win was even sweeter than her victory in 2011, is going to celebrate by sleeping in, and not playing tennis "for like a day." Then she'll return to the practice courts in Carson, California, where she trains with USTA National Coach Leo Azevedo and, among others, three girls who made the quarterfinals this week--Kayla Day, Kylie McKenzie and Ashley Lahey. In January, Liu will head to Europe with the USTA team playing the major European tournaments in England and France.

Vondrousova gave credit to Liu, but was disappointed with her own level of play in the final.

"She played very good at the net, I not good," said the 14-year-old left-hander. "And I don't like the wind here. It was problem for me."

While Liu closed out her match in less than 90 minutes, Black required a much longer time to work her way back from a poor start. Although many of the first six games went to deuce, Potapova won them all, attacking Black's second serve and staying patient in the often soft-paced rallies.  Black slipped fell to the court several times in the first set, bringing to mind the last time she and Potapova played, when Black retired at 4-3 in the first set after a fall.  Unhappy with the line calls, and a vocal group of Russian Potapova supporters, Black seemed unable to focus, when something clicked.

"I just really wanted to win," said Black, citing her loss to Potapova at the Eddie Herr as the source of her motivation. "When I want to win, I come back and I do a lot better. Down 0-5, I just started playing a lot better and I decided I wanted to come back in the second set. I wanted to hit the ball harder in the second set, and I thought it would be better if I would just hit, because I wasn't doing that well with the slice. I was hitting a little soft in the first set too."

Black won a long first game on serve to open the second set, while Potapova held at love. But that was the last time Potapova would hold serve in the set, with Black taking control. Potapova's unforced errors piled up, and she looked uncomfortable dealing the Black's forehand slice, often failing to get her replies back over the net.

Black continued to baffle Potapova at the start of the third set, going up 3-0 but Potapova stuck around, getting a hold and a break to get back on serve.  But with an untimely double fault and an inability to play the offensive game she preferred, Potapova was broken twice more, with Black serving for the match at 5-3.

Black didn't get to match point, with several unforced errors costing her, but the sixth straight break of the match gave her the win. Potapova,  increasingly desperate to avoid the long points Black was constructing, made two unforced errors and tried a drop shot that came nowhere near clearing the net to give Black two match points.  She only needed one, winning a long point when her backhand caught the baseline, handcuffing Potapova.

Potapova said she played "good in first set, bad in second set, and in third set, not good and not bad. But I don't like to play her way, I like to hit more. But she's a very good player."

Although her sister Tornado Alicia Black, who was at the match Monday, lost in the 14s final two years ago, and her sister Nicole Pitts won the title in 2000, Black said she was happy to win for other reasons, not just as a part of a family legacy.

"I really wanted to win this tournament when I came out here, because I had to default at Eddie Herr," said Black. "So I just wanted to win Orange Bowl a lot just to prove that I'm better than some people thought I was. For me the family part doesn't really matter, I just wanted to come out and win this tournament, for me, not just for my whole family."

While the United States was sweeping the girls titles, Argentina was also going for two Junior Orange Bowl winner's trophies Monday.  Juan Cerundolo, a No. 9 seed in the boys 12s, had eased past unseeded Wojciech Marek of Poland 6-2, 6-2 at Salvadore Park Monday morning, but his compatriot in the boys 14s final, Axel Geller, was down a set and break, with Alex de Minaur of Australia serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set before Geller came back to post a 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-2 victory.

In that crucial 5-4 game, de Minaur, a No. 17 seed, saved one break point to make it 30-40, but was the victim of an unusual circumstance on the second.

"I played well that game," said Geller, who, as a qualifier, was playing his tenth match in ten days. "At 30-40, I hit a forehand which bounced on top of another ball. He had missed his first serve and didn't clear the ball, and I had a bit of luck."

Geller said he was putting all his effort and energy in the last few games of the second set.

"My body was just destroyed," said Geller, whose excellent English is a result of his attendance at a Scottish school in Argentina. "I just said, you've got to battle to the end, and if you lose, he's a good winner, but try to win."

Although he's not a serve-and-volleyer, de Minaur had been successful coming into the net throughout the match, rarely missing a volley, while putting constant pressure on Geller to come up with a passing shot or lob. But serving at 5-6 in the second set, de Minaur missed a forehand volley wide on set point, and that marked the beginning of the end for him.

"I think I got stuck by hoping for him to miss instead of playing my game and trying to attack," said de Minaur, who recently won the Australian National 14s championship. "That cost me badly. He was obviously really tired, he's played so many matches in a row, but I should have took advantage of that and got through that in two sets."

The third set was on serve until the sixth game, when de Minaur double faulted three straight times to give Geller a 4-2 lead. Geller held for 5-2, and when de Minaur double faulted again, then missed a forehand and a backhand volley in the next game, Geller had two match points. Geller netted a routine backhand on the first, but he won the second when de Minaur's backhand went wide, setting off a chorus of Argentina's national anthem by several family friends watching from the bleachers above the court.

Geller was well aware that the last player from Argentina to win the boys 14s title was 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

"I really like him, how he plays," said Geller. "He serves really great and he has the best forehand ever, I think. He doesn't make mistakes on his backhand, so I think it is very difficult to beat him, only the top players can. He's a bit of a model, and some day I would like to be like him."

Geller was also keenly interested in how Cerundolo, a diminutive left-hander, was doing in his championship match at Salvadore Park. "We know each other, and both were wishing good luck to each other, but we didn't even see each other, just [results] by the computer. I am really happy for him. When I won the second set, there was ten minutes [a mandatory break] and we were talking about my match, but then I asked how he had done. They told me he won, and I said, well then there will be two Argentina guys winning."

Geller and his family, including his 11-year-old sister Ana, who reached the round of 16 in the girls 12s, will vacation in South Florida for a few days before returning to Argentina after Christmas.

The consolation finals and the third place matches were also decided on Monday.

Kayla Day of the United States won the girls 14s consolation feed-in, with Hannah Lairmore, also of the US, unable to play in the finals due to illness. Vanessa Wong of Canada finished in third place when Abigail Desiatnikov of the United States did not play due to injury.

In the boys 14s, Sam Riffice of the United States won the consolation tournament, beating Yshai Oliel of Israel 6-4, 6-1. Serbia's Miomir Kecmanovic took third place, defeating Kyrylo Tsygura of the United States 6-0, 6-0.

In the girls 12s, the consolation winner was Thasaporn Naklo of Thailand, who beat Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-2, 6-3.  Amanda Anisimova of the US finished in third place when China's Xiyu Wang did not compete.

In the boys 12s, Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan took the consolation title, beating Alexander Zgirovsky of Belarus 6-2, 6-2. Sebastian Grundtvig of Denmark finished third when Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain did not play.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Johnson, Vickery Win Australian Open Wild Cards

Steve Johnson (photo courtesy Bill Kallenberg)
Sachia Vickery and Steve Johnson will be playing in the main draw of the Australian Open next month after winning the USTA's wildcard tournament over the weekend in Georgia.

Sachia Vickery (photo courtesy Bill Kallenberg)
The 18-year-old Vickery, the reigning USTA junior champion, beat longtime rival Vicky Duval 6-2, 6-3, while Johnson, who turns 24 tomorrow, saved a match point in his 4-6, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 win over Tennys Sandgren.

For more on the final matches Sunday, see this USTA press release.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Liu Looks for Second Junior Orange Bowl Title, Black Reaches 12s Final; Qualifier Geller Meets de Minaur in Boys 14s Final

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--

Claire Liu had already played six and a half hours of tennis in beating fellow Americans the past two days, so when she dropped the first set to unseeded 12-year-old Abigail Desiatnikov of Ohio on a hot and sunny day at the University of Miami's Neil Schiff Tennis Center, the 13-year-old from Thousand Oaks, California knew she faced an uphill climb.

But the No. 2 seed found a source of motivation at a key point in the second set.

"I actually kind of thought I was going to lose," said the 2011 Orange Bowl champion, who went on to post a 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 victory. "I was playing horrible and she was playing well. In the second set, I still wasn't playing well at all. But [serving] at 4-5, there was one point when everybody started cheering for her, and I got really mad. And I started playing better I guess."

Liu, who is usually not notably emotional on court, let out a huge c'mon when she held in that game, and broke Desiatnikov at love to give herself a chance to serve out the set.  But even then Liu couldn't quite shake the errors; it wasn't until the tiebreaker that she really raised her level, with good first serves, volley and ground stroke winners, even a drop shot, helping her dominate that game.

Up 3-1 in the final set, Liu again couldn't put away Desiatnikov, the 2012 Junior Orange Bowl champion. Liu admitted she had trouble with Desiatnikov's game.

"She plays really different from other people," said Liu. "It's a flat ball and she doesn't give you any rhythm, so it's hard to play against her. You know it's going to be tough, because almost nobody plays like that."

Liu held for 4-3, then broke Desiatnikov in a three-deuce game, primarily by attacking Desiatnikov's second serve. Liu's forehand return winner denied Desiatnikov the game, and then at deuce, she moved five feet inside the baseline when Desiatnikov missed her first serve. Liu's backhand return from that position was too strong and deep for Desiatnikov to handle, and even a good first serve couldn't save her on the next point, with Liu hitting another huge backhand return to take the game.

As often as Liu had been broken throughout the match, it was by no means over, but Liu closed out the two-hour and 37-minute match with a love game, getting all her first serves in play.

Liu will play top seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who lost her first set of the tournament, but recovered to defeat unseeded Vanessa Wong of Canada 6-2, 3-6, 6-0.

"It was a really tough match," said the 14-year-old left-hander, who is playing the Junior Orange Bowl for the first time. "I was tired, and second set was bad."

When Vondrousova returned to the court after the 10-minute break required between the second and third sets, she was back to the form she had displayed all week.

"I play good this week and I enjoy this week," said Vondrousova. "It's a great tournament. A lot of great players here, they're so good."

The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will play in the girls 12s final too, with Anastasia Potapova of Russia and Hurricane Tyra Black of the United States reprising their Eddie Herr final, which Potapova won when Black had to retire due to a hip injury sustained in the first set of match.

Potapova earned her chance at the rare Eddie Herr/Orange Bowl double with a convincing 6-0, 6-0 win over Xiyu Wang of China, a No. 5 seed, on spectator unfriendly Court 4.

Black, who has lost only 10 games in her five victories, beat No. 4 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States 6-1, 6-0, using her slice forehand to keep an impatient and error-prone Anisimova off balance. Black had lost to Anisimova in the semifinals of the 12s Spring Championships earlier this year, but Black believes the surface was a factor in that loss.

"Last time I played her I wasn't playing my best," said the 12-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida. "I wasn't running very well on the clay court. On a hard court I thought I was ready to play her, because yesterday, I was playing very well. So today I had a lot of confidence coming in. I'm finally playing as good as I was hoping to play."

Black joins her older sisters Nicole Pitts, the 2000 girls 14s champion, and Tornado Alicia Black, the 2011 girls 14s runnerup as a Junior Orange Bowl finalist.

"It was a little more my mom's dream for me, but I did really want to come and play this tournament," said Black. "It really didn't have much to do with my sisters, I just wanted to do it."

As for facing Potapova again, Black said the hip is fine and she is ready, although she has detected a change in Potapova's strategy this week.

"At Eddie Herr, any time you hit a hard ball, she would hit it harder back, just absorb the pace," Black said. "At this tournament, I think she's attacking a lot, so I'm going to have to be ready to keep it deep."

The boys 14s final is an unexpected one, with qualifier Axel Geller of Argentina facing Alex de Minaur of Australia, a No. 17 seed.

Geller, who has now won nine matches in nine days, again posted a straight set victory, beating Kyrylo Tsygura of the United States 6-3, 6-3.  Geller was up 6-3, 5-0 in the second set, failing to convert on two match points, and he admitted nerves were a factor.

"I was really, really nervous," said Geller, who cited his serve as the shot that bailed him out in the end. "It helped me close out the match, so I would say it was great."

Geller is perhaps the less heralded of the Argentinian boys of his age, but he attributes that to a shoulder injury that kept him out of competition for five months in 2012.

"I've played with Camilo Ugo [Carabelli] 14 times, with [Juan] Otegui I've played nine, with Etcheverry also I think nine," said Geller, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, while the three boys he mentioned all lost before the fourth round. "So we know each other a lot. With Camilo, I've won nine and lost five. The last tournament we played twice and won one each. In Argentina, there are other guys at this level that couldn't come, but it's nice to have good competition, so we can come over here and be at the level of everyone."

It's a long trip from Argentina, but it's nothing like the distance that Australian de Minaur traveled just to play the Orange Bowl.

"It's pretty far away from everywhere," said de Minaur, who won the Australian National 14s at the end of November before making the trip to Miami. "It's 40 hours, just to play one tournament, it better be good."

It's been better than good for de Minaur, who took down Nike Junior Tour International Masters champion Max Stewart in the quarterfinals, and in today's semifinal, beat No. 2 seed and Eddie Herr champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-2.

De Minaur said he beat Kecmanovic by not getting "sucked into his game."

"I like to attack, so I tried to attack his backhand, come in, mix it up with slices, not give him a lot to work on," said de Minaur, who lived in Spain for eight years, but now lives and trains in Sydney.

"I didn't expect to get this far, but now that I'm here, I'm here to win," said the 14-year-old, who is playing in his second Junior Orange Bowl.

The day's most dramatic match was at the boys 12s at Salvadore Park, where unseeded Wojciech Marek of Poland defeated Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(7) in three hours and 50 minutes.

Marek was cruising along in the third set, serving at 5-2, 40-15, when the wheels came off. He netted a forehand and missed an overhead, and Alvarez Varona, who gave Marek no help with any unforced errors, went on to win the game. After his forehand went way long on game point for Alvarez Varona, Marek bounced the ball in anger high in the air, and it came down on court 1, where a consolation semifinal match was in progress. Because Marek had already received a point penalty for racquet abuse earlier, he was penalized a game, which meant Alvarez Varona didn't have to serve, but won the game to make it 5-4.

Marek still had an opportunity to serve out the match, but after a good loud cry at the changeover, he still wasn't fully recovered from the trauma, with a few sobs escaping after he double faulted to make it 30-all. At 30-40, Alvarez Varona played some world class defense, running back to the back fence several times to get the ball back in play, and Marek finally netted a forehand to make it 5-5.

Alvarez Varona couldn't hold serve in the next game, but neither could Marek serve out the match for the second time, so a tiebreaker would decide the finalist.

Marek had two more match points at 6-4 in the tiebreaker, making an error on the first. But Alvarez Varona came up big on the second one, and the fourth overall, with a huge inside in forehand winner to make it 6-6. When Marek's return went long on the next point, Alvarez Varona had a match point, but it was Marek's turn to be brave. He hit a forehand volley winner too good for Alvarez Varona to track down to make it 7-7. Marek won the next point when Alvarez Varona shanked a backhand, and after a long point on match point number five, Alvarez Varona netted a backhand to put Marek in the final.

Marek raised his arms in triumph, and Alvarez Varona, composed but disappointed, spent a moment with his face in his towel before heading to the net and then to his racquet bag.

Marek will play Argentina's Juan Cerundolo, a No. 9 seed, who came back to beat Sebastian Grundtvig of Denmark 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The boys 12s final will be played at 9:00 on Monday at Salvadore Park, while the girls 12s and girls 14s go on at the same time at the University of Miami, with the boys 14s to follow.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Liu, Desiatnikov Reach Junior Orange Bowl 14s Semifinals; Tsygura Advances to Boys 14s Final Four

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--

The Junior Orange Bowl champion's bowl of oranges in the girls 12s went to Claire Liu in 2011 and Abigail Desniatnikov in 2012.  On Sunday, they will meet in the girls 14s semifinals, with the winner getting a shot at a second silver bowl in Monday's final.

The unseeded Desniatnikov, still only 12, had the easier of the two quarterfinal matches, with the Ohio resident beating unseeded Canadian Maria Tanasescu 6-3, 6-3, then returning to the pathway between courts 2 and 3 at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center at the University of Miami to see who she would play.

Second seed Liu, just 13 herself, was in a tough third set with unseeded Kylie McKenzie, who trains with the USTA at Carson along side Liu.

After winning the first set 7-6(3), Liu had been overwhelmed by McKenzie's power and her own unforced errors in the second set, losing it 6-1.  Trailing 2-0 in the third set, Liu collected herself, got the break back, then broke McKenzie to take a 4-3 lead.  Liu, who qualified for the US Open Junior Championships and won a round in the main draw, came up with some big shots when she needed them, including a perfectly executed drop shot winner serving at 4-3, 30-all in the third.

McKenzie saved two match points serving at 3-5, one on an outstanding defensive lob, the second when Liu made an unforced error.

Once McKenzie won the game, she asked for a trainer, and received treatment on her leg, while Liu went to her serving position on the court and began jogging around.

"I just kept moving my feet," said Liu, who is from Thousand Oaks, California. "I was doing mirroring shots, and thinking just one point at a time. Because I had two or three match points in the other game, and the same thing happened yesterday, so I kind of knew what to do this time."

McKenzie helped Liu keep her focus by continuing to hit with great depth and pace, and Liu was down 15-30 in the final game. But she raised her level, hitting two consecutive forehand winners to get to match point, then put away a swinging volley to claim the 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-4 victory.

"She's had a really great tournament," Liu said of McKenzie. "She was basically hitting it hard and really deep and getting everything back. She's good, obviously. And it kind of helped that I wasn't playing my best too."

Liu credits her experience in big matches with helping her get through difficult encounters like this one.

"All the experience has helped with my confidence," said Liu. "I know if I'm put in a bad situation, I can still come out winning."

Desiatnikov would be the underdog Sunday even if healthy, but she said after her win over Tanasescu that she was dealing with both a blister on her racquet hand and a sore right shoulder.

"It is a really sharp pain when I serve," Desiatnikov said of the shoulder injury. "Sharp pains go through my arm, so I have to just block it out and just play."

Desiatnikov can't match Liu's power, and she knows what she'll be facing, as she's competed mostly in the 16s division this year.

"You have to control the point better," Desiatnikov said of the challenges in the older divisions. "You give one weak shot to the girl and she's going to hit a really good ball off that. It might not be a winner, but then she's going to approach and hit a volley winner. So you have to make every ball at least a decent ball."

Liu acknowledged she has the pressure on her in their upcoming semifinal, but doesn't think it will be a problem for her.

"I'm sure when I get on the court, it won't matter at all," said Liu. "Just as later on, it doesn't matter who's older or not."

The other semifinal in the girls 14s will feature top seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic against unseeded Vanessa Wong of Canada.  Vondrousova defeated Ashley Lahey of the United States, a No. 5 seed, 6-1, 6-0 in less than an hour, while Wong won a tough battle with Kayla Day of the United States, also a No. 5 seed, 6-4, 7-5.

In the boys 14s, the only player expected to be in the semifinals who actually got there is No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, who beat Sam Riffice of the United States 6-4, 6-4.  He will play Alex de Minaur of Australia, a No. 17 seed, who beat Max Stewart of Great Britain, a No. 5 seed, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.

Kyrylo Tsygura of the United States earned his way into the semifinals with a 6-2, 7-6(7) win over fellow No. 9 seed Alexei Popyrin of Australia, who had beaten top seed Samuele Ramazzotti of Italy in Friday's fourth round.

Tsygura gave Popyrin fits with his retrieving and defensive skills, but Tsygura also had to stay with his game plan trailing 4-1 in the second set.

"I had to change the spins and change the heights on the ball," said the 14-year-old from Washington, DC. "I had to move the guy around, which I think I did really well. He was a big guy, camping out on the forehand side and just blasting them."

The success of his strategy in the first set led to a lack of focus in the second.

"I kind of got unfocused, I was looking around at my friends, and I couldn't convert my opportunities," Tsygura said. "I sat down at the changeover, put a towel over my head and told myself to refocus completely. I went through the game plan in my head and I brought it back to 4-all."

Tsygura saved a set point trailing 6-7 in the tiebreaker.

"I just closed my eyes and hit a backhand," Tsygura said. "And it was on the line. That always helps. Then I hit a really good forehand passing shot when he tried to come in. On match point, I was just running side to side, and he missed."

Once Popyrin's backhand went wide, Tsygura turned toward his friends, raising both hands in the air and yelling c'mon.  A semifinalist at both the USTA Clay and Hard Court Championships this year, Tsygura said this trip to the final four is more meaningful.

"It definitely feels different, I think," said Tsygura, who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland. "It's international, a lot of different kids, a lot of different faces. It feels much better to be in the semis of Orange Bowl."

Tsygura will face qualifier Axel Geller of Argentina, who won his eighth match in eight days Saturday, ending Yshai Oliel's quest for a consecutive Orange Bowl titles. Geller, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, beat 2012 12s champion Oliel, a No. 17 seed, 6-4, 6-2.

The girls 12s will semifinals will move from the Biltmore Tennis Center to the University of Miami on Sunday, and there will be an all-American semifinal in that age division too.

No. 2 seed Hurricane Tyra Black continued her march through the draw, but she did surrender more games in her 6-2, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Serbia's Olga Danilovic than she had in her previous four victories.  Blalck will play Amanda Anisimova, the No. 4 seed, who downed unseeded Thasaporn Naklo of Thailand 7-6(5), 6-2. Anisimova, who won the Nike Junior Tour International Masters title last week, beat Black in the semifinals of the Spring Nationals this year.

The other girls 12s semifinal has Eddie Herr champion Anastasia Potapova of Russia, the No. 1 seed, taking on Xiyu Wang of China, a No. 5 seed. Potapova defeated Natasha Subhash of the United States, a No. 9 seed, 6-1, 6-2, while Wang won the only three-set match in the girls 12s quarterfinals, beating No. 3 seed Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Three of the four boys 12s quartefinals went three sets, with the lone remaining No. 1 seed, Adam Neff of the United States, losing to Sebastian Grundtvig of Denmark, a No. 5 seed, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-1. Cannon Kingsley, the other American in the quarterfinals, lost to fellow No. 9 seed Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain 6-3, 6-1.

Alvarez Varona will play unseeded Wojciech Marek of Poland, after Marek defeated No. 5 seed Mihailo Popovic of Serbia 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.
Grundtvig will face another No. 9 seed, Juan Cerundolo of Argentina, who beat No. 5 seed Alexander Zgirovsky of Belarus 2-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(4).  Because the Salvadore Park surface is clay, they boys 12s will remain there through the end of the tournament.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Neff Wins Marathon Match in Junior Orange Bowl 12s; Last Year's 12s Champions Keep Hopes for Another Title Alive by Reaching 14s Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--

The morning turned into the afternoon, and Adam Neff played on. One of four No. 1 seeds in the boys 12s, the Bradenton, Florida resident had served for his fourth round match against  unseeded Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan back in the second set, more than two hours after the 10 a.m. contest had started. But Neff lost that game, the subsequent tiebreaker, and the first three games of third set, two of them on his serve. Nothing was going right for him on a blustery day on the Salvadore Park clay, with his forehand regularly finding the net, and his spirits sinking with every one missed.

But his return of serve didn't desert him in the third set, with Neff breaking Tseng for 3-1, holding in a long, physically taxing fifth game, then quickly breaking Tseng again to bring it back to 3-all before finally, after three hours and 40 minutes, Neff claimed a 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4 victory.

"I'm very relieved," said Neff, the Eddie Herr 12s champion, who beat Tseng there in third round, also in three sets. "He was taking it to me and I was getting a little worried in the third set, going down 3-0, but I managed to pull it out."

Neff held easily to take a 4-3 lead, but Tseng wasn't done yet. Having little difficulty with Neff's pace, Tseng was able to stay in the points long enough to get an error from Neff, with Neff exclaiming "just get it over the net" when yet another forehand found the black cords. Serving at 4-4, Neff saved a break point, then hit a big swinging volley for a winner to take a 5-4 lead.

Tseng had proven his ability to get a break when he had to have it back in the second set, but holding when he had to was a bigger challenge, especially after being on court for over three and a half hours. He double faulted to start the game, and after a backhand from Neff went long for 15-15, Tseng shanked a forehand, then hit a backhand long to give Neff two match points.

Tseng knew he couldn't afford to miss his first serve again, with Neff hitting return winners off his second serve time and again in the match, but Tseng didn't get his first serve in.  Neff moved two feet inside the baseline to return Tseng's second serve and although it wasn't a bad one, Neff crushed a forehand return winner to take the match.

"It was a choice that I made to be more aggressive," said Neff, who said he thought the windy conditions helped him once he adjusted to them. "I knew if I got into long rallies and was on the defense against him that I would lose. When he gets a chance, he'll strike and he does it well."

Neff admitted his was tired, expressing relief that he broke to end the match, because "if I had lost that game, I don't know what I would have done."

Neff said he could go for a nap, but he would do a lot of stretching and get help from his aunt, a physical therapist, who is with him this week, to get ready for Saturday's quarterfinal. The length of the match brought back memories for Neff, who said today's contest was the second longest he had played.

"The longest was back when I lived in Ohio and I was nine," said Neff. "It was four and a half hours--76, 67, 76. I won. But this was more tiring, because the points were a lot longer and there was a lot more stress."

Neff, who will play No. 5 seed Sebastian Grundtvig of Denmark in Saturday, was not the only American who pulled off an impressive comeback in the third set.  Cannon Kingsley, a No. 9 seed, trailed Thiago Tirante, a No. 5 seed from Argentina, 5-2 in the final set, but won the final five games of the match for a 6-4, 0-6, 7-5 victory.

"I was down 5-2, 30-15, so I had to fight back," said Kingsley, who trains at the John McEnroe Academy in New York. "It was very tough, but I pulled it off."

Kingsley, who says clay is his favorite surface, expressed surprise at reaching the quarterfinals in his first Junior Orange Bowl. "It's my first international tournament," he said with a smile.

Kingsley will play Nicolas Alvarez Varona of Spain, a No. 5 seed, who ousted No. 1 seed and Nike Junior Tour International Masters champion Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

The two other boys 12s quarterfinals will feature Argentina's Juan Cerundolo, a No. 9 seed, against Belarus' Alexander Zgirovsky, a No. 5 seed, and unseeded Wojciech Marek of Poland against Mihailo Popovich of Serbia.

After winning two consecutive three-setters, boys 14s top seed Samuele Ramazzotti of Italy lost one Friday at the University of Miami, falling to Alexei Popyrin of Australia, a No. 9 seed,  6-3, 2-6, 6-3. Popyrin will play one of two Americans left in the draw in Saturday's quarterfinals, Kyrylo Tsygura, a No. 9 seed, who beat qualifier Jonas Ziverts of Sweden 7-6(3), 7-6(1).

The other American quarterfinalist is Sam Riffice, a No. 9 seed, who defeated Rudolf Molleker of Germany 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-1 to earn a match with No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia. Kecmanovic defeated Patrick Kypson 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a rematch of the Eddie Herr final.

The 2012 boys 12s Junior Orange Bowl champion Yshai Oliel of Israel now has an 11-match winning streak going in Coral Gables. The 13-year-old left-hander, a No. 17 seed, defeated unseeded Toru Horie of Japan 6-3, 7-6(2) to set up a quarterfinal encounter with qualifier Axel Geller of Argentina. In the other quarterfinal, Max Stewart of Great Britain, a No. 5 seed, will play Australia's Alex de Minaur, a 17 seed.

Last year's girls 12s Junior Orange Bowl champion Abigail Desiatnikov has also reached the quarterfinals in the 14s, with the 12-year-old beating qualifier Tatiana Pieri of Italy 6-1, 6-2 today at Crandon Park. The unseeded Desiatnikov is joined in the quarterfinals by four other Americans: Ashley Lahey(5), Kayla Day(5), Kylie McKenzie and Claire Liu(2).  Lahey will play top seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, Day faces unseeded Vanessa Wong of Canada, Desiatnikov meets unseeded Marie Tanasescu of Canada and McKenzie takes on Liu, assuring an American semifinalist. The girls 14s will move to the University of Miami for the quarterfinals Saturday.

The girls 12s has gone to form with the top four seeds into the quarterfinals. The two Russians, Anastasia Potapova and Ekaterina Makarova, and the two Americans, Amanda Anisimova and Hurricane Tyra Black, again won their fourth round matches in straight sets.

In the quarterfinals, Potapova meets Natasha Subhash of the US, a No. 9 seed; Makarova faces Xiyu Wang of China, a No. 5 seed; Anisimova gets the sole unseeded player in the quarterfinals, Thasaporn Naklo of Thailand. Black, who has lost only four games in four matches, will play Olga Danilovic of Serbia, a No. 5 seed.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

My Orange Bowl Recap; USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Tournament Begins Today

My review of Francis Tiafoe's history-making title and Varvara Flink's comeback win at the Orange Bowl is available today at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

The annual USTA wild card tournament for the Australian Open begins today outside Atlanta, with eight men and eight women playing for the wild card the USTA receives in exchange for a similar one it extends to Tennis Australia for the US Open.  The women participating, with seeds in parentheses, are: Shelby Rogers(1), Madison Brengle(2), Grace Min(3), Vicky Duval(4), Sanaz Marand, Maria Sanchez, Nicole Gibbs and Sachia Vickery.

The men's participants: Denis Kudla(1), Rhyne Williams(2), Steve Johnson(3), Tennys Sandgren(4), Jamere Jenkins, Austin Krajicek, Bjorn Fratangelo and Chase Buchanan.

With the popularity of the USTA's new system to decide the French Open wild card and one of their US Open wild cards (which uses results in Pro Circuit challengers over a series of weeks), this could be the last such tournament for the Australian Open wild card.

For extensive onsite coverage of the event, see the Tennis East Coast blog.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Top Seed Ramazzotti Survives Scare; Second Seed Kecmanovic Eases into Eddie Herr Final Rematch with Kypson

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--

Top seed Samuele Ramazzotti was in a precarious position in his third round boys 14s match Thursday against Trent Bryde, a No. 17 seed. Serving at 3-4 in the third set, the 14-year-old Italian had seen a 40-0 lead disappear, and he was cramping.

Bryde had blasted two straight forehand return winners off Ramazzotti's second serve, then fired a perfect forehand pass down the line to earn a break point. A blustery crosswind added to the challenge, but Ramazzotti managed to come up with a big shot when he needed it, hitting a backhand overhead winner to save the break point.  Bryde, from Suwanee, Georgia, earned another break point, but netted the second serve return he had twice hit for winners earlier in the game. Ramazzotti closed out the game with a difficult overhead, and Bryde's chance was gone. He was broken in the next game, when Ramazzotti hit a backhand drop volley winner that Bryde could only applaud.

Ramazzotti served out the final game at love, but admitted after the match that he was struggling physically, and he had an extensive stretching session later.

One player who showed no signs of physical problems is 13-year-old Nicaise Muamba of Canada, who defeated Juan Otegui, a No. 5 seed from Argentina, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.  Muamba, a No. 17 seed, has now won three straight three-set matches, two from a set down.

"I played very well," said Muamba, who lost to Otegui last week in the semifinals of the Nike Junior Tour International Masters tournament in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, but brought a new strategy into this contest. "I played more on his forehand, because his backhand is better. I'm happy to beat him; he's a pretty good player."

Muamba, who has been at Tennis Canada's National Training Centre in Montreal for three years, is playing in his first Junior Orange Bowl.

"It's a good tournament, tough matches, and it's a very big draw," Muamba said.

Otegui was one of three No. 5 seeds to exit in third round play at the Schiff Tennis Center at the University of Miami.  Ergi Kirkin of Turkey fell to qualifier Jonas Ziverts of Sweden 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, and Brian Cernoch, the reigning USTA boys 14s champion, suffered a hip injury and had to retire to Rudolf Molleker of Germany. Leading 7-5, 1-0, Cernoch had extensive wrapping on his right hip, but was only able to dink serves in, with the big left-hander losing the next six games before retiring.

While I was watching the Ramazzotti - Bryde match, which was engrossing and well played, there was drama on another court when No. 17 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia was defaulted in his match with Kento Perera of the United States, with Perera leading 6-3, 1-2.  I didn't see the progression of point penalities, but according to reports, it was an overrule on a line call that sent Mejia over the edge and he was defaulted. There was then an argument between the two players' coaches that resulted in the police being called, but when the officer arrived, Perera's coach lodged his complaint against Mejia's coach and asked for an escort off the property, and the matter was considered closed.

Three of the matches in the boys 14s Thursday were all-American affairs between No. 9 seeds and No. 17 seeds, with the 9 seeds winning all three.

Sam Riffice defeated Vasil Kirkov 6-4, 7-5, Kyrylo Tsygura beat William Howells 6-1, 2-6, 6-2, and Patrick Kypson downed Gianni Ross 6-4, 6-1.

Tsygura said he went away from his usual game style to overcome Howells.

"I was moonballing and hitting drop shots," said Tsygura, a semifinalist at both the USTA Clay Courts and Hard Courts this year. "It's my usual style, but it was working against who I was playing. I was giving him short balls, because he was struggling putting them away. I was giving him no pace, and it worked."

Tsygura figures he will have to adjust against his opponent Friday, qualifier Ziverts.

"I'm going to have to play differently," Tsygura said. "I'm going to have to change the pace more and I'm going to have to hit it deep, because I know my opponent is a big hitter."

On Friday, Kypson will be facing No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia for the second time in three weeks, eager to get another shot at Kecmanovic after losing to him in the Eddie Herr final 6-2, 6-1.

"I didn't play very well the last time we played," said Kypson. "At 2-all in the first set, we played a long point and I got tired. My fitness was kind of lacking, but I'm ready for tomorrow, fresh."

Kypson escaped in his second round match Wednesday with Andrew Fenty 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, and he admitted he hadn't seen his opponent as a serious threat.

"Going into the match, I kind of doubted my opponent a little bit," said Kypson, who often trains with Fenty at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland. "I thought it was going to be a little bit easier than it was. I kind of took him lightly, and I definitely learned a lesson from that. But I actually don't mind playing long matches. I like being out on the court, so keep me out there as long as you want."

Kecmanovic advanced to the rematch with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Alafia Ayeni on one of the site's back courts.

The top two seeds in the girls 14s, Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic and Claire Liu, had straightforward wins Thursday at Crandon Park, but No. 4 seed Olesia Pervushina of Russia was beaten by qualifier Tatiana Pieri of Italy 7-6(4), 7-5.  That quarter of the draw, which includes Americans Jada Robinson and 12-year-old Abigail Desiatnikov, the Junior Orange Bowl 12s champion last year, has no seeded players left in it.

The top four seeds in the girls 12s continued to breeze, with Anastasia Potapova of Russia, Hurricane Tyra Black, Ekaterina Makarova of Russia and Amanda Anisimova all winning their third round matches in straight sets. Natasha Subhash(9), Lea Ma, Jessi Muljat, Sanyukta Gawande and Sophia Edwards(9) also won, giving the United States seven of the players in the final 16.

The three remaining No. 1 seeds in the boys 12s advanced, with Adam Neff, Brandon Nakashima and Bulgaria's Adrian Andreev advancing to Friday's round of 16 in straight sets. Nathan Han(9), William Grant and Cannon Kingsley(9) are the three other Americans in the round of 16.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

McKenzie Defeats Mikheeva; Top Girls 14s Seeds Vondrousova and Liu Advance to Junior Orange Bowl Third Round

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Coral Gables, FL--

Today was my day to travel out to Key Biscayne's Crandon Park, the site for the early rounds of the Junior Orange Bowl girls 14s. Going out there more than once is impractical--with Miami traffic, an hour is the minimum from Coral Gables--and the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals all move to the University of Miami's hard courts, allowing another opportunity to see the survivors.

The weather was again perfect today, with sunny skies, temperatures in the mid-70s and not much breeze by Key Biscayne standards.

I got my first look at top seed Marketa Vondrousova and was impressed with the left-hander from the Czech Republic. Rachel Papavasilopoulos of the United States stuck with Vondrousova throughout the match, trying to throw off her rhythm with drop shots, angles and moon balls, which was often successful. But the forehand of Vondrousova was there when she needed a point, and she came away with a 6-3, 6-4 victory. 

Another player I had heard about but hadn't yet seen was Anastasia Mikheeva of Great Britain, who won the Nike Junior Tour International Masters championship last week in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Mikheeva, seeded a surprisingly low No. 9 at the Junior Orange Bowl, wasn't at her best today, while her opponent, Kyle McKenzie was, leading to a 7-5, 6-3 victtory for McKenzie.

McKenzie, a 14-year-old from Arizona who trains at the USTA's Player Development Center in Carson, California, hit her forehand for countless winners, and stayed in every point much longer than Mikheeva could.  Even when she failed to serve out the first set at 5-3 in one of her rare poor games, there was no sign of frustration or any sense she felt she'd missed an opportunity.

"I knew what I did wrong," said McKenzie, who wasn't familiar with her opponent, but had gotten some tips on playing her from USTA coach Leo Azevedo. "I had a few loose mistakes, and I knew I had to pull that back together, and it was fine."

After Mikheeva held for 5-all, McKenzie held at love, then took advantage of Mikheeva's two unforced errors and a double fault to grab the first set.

McKenzie was broken in the opening game of the second set, but Mikheeva was unable to sustain any momentum she might have had, committing another double fault and several unforced errors to get broken right back.  

With McKenzie giving Mikheeva almost no free points while still hitting deep and close to the lines, McKenzie fashioned a 4-2 lead. She was broken back, but Mikheeva again failed to generate any kind of surge, losing serve again to give McKenzie a chance to serve out the match.  

If she was nervous, there was no sign of it, as she continued to serve well, hit out on her shots and put pressure on Mikheeva. At 40-0, Mikheeva netted a backhand, and after the quietest of celebrations, McKenzie approached the net for the handshake.

"I knew it was going to be a tough match, but if I played my best I could pull through," said McKenzie, who rated her level of play in the match at 8 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. "I thought I played really well today. I came out ready."

Although pleased with her performance, McKenzie is not satisfied with picking up a big win over one of the top players in Europe, and says she believes she can win the tournament.

Claire Liu, the No. 2 seed, who also trains with the USTA in Carson, advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Maria Kozyreva of Russia.

In the boys 14s, No. 4 seed Noah Makarome fell to Alan Rubio of Mexico 7-5, 6-1. Top seed Samuele Ramazzotti of Italy dropped a set to Noah Schachter, but advanced by a 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 score and will face another American, Trent Bryde in Thursday's third round.

No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia cruised past Kaloyan Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-2, 6-1 and will face Alafia Ayeni, a No. 17 seed, in the third round.

In the boys 12s, Thomas Yu, one of the four No. 1 seeds, was beaten by Tom Leblanc-Claverie of France 6-4, 6-3. Adam Neff, Brandon Nakashima and Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria, the other No. 1 seeds, all advanced in straight sets.

In the girls 12s, the top four seeds, Anastasia Potapova of Russia, Hurricane Tyra Black, Ekaterina Makarova of Russia and Amanda Anisimova, all moved into Thursday's third round.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site. 

Division I Tennis Format Changes Revised with Men and Women Going in Different Directions: Men to No-Ad, Women to Tiebreaker in Lieu of Third Set

As the result of the recently concluded ITA College Coaches Meeting in Naples, there have been tweaks to the previously announced experiments with formats.  Below are two emails sent from the ITA's David Benjamin, one to Division I men's coaches and one to Division I women's coaches. These changes will be implemented through the first six weeks of the season, through the team indoor championships, but will not be used for the regular dual match season or the NCAAs.


Dear Coach:


We would like to update you on the recent decisions reached by the ITA Men's Operating Committee at its annual meetings during the ITA Convention this past week in Naples, FL specific to the ITA Experimental Format.

Based on meetings and discussions throughout the fall and during the ITA Convention (including input from the Division I ITA Roundtable Meetings), the ITA Men's Operating Committee has approved and mandated a revised "ITA Men's Experimental Format, " to be played from January 1, 2014 through the ITA Men's Team Indoor Championships, Monday, February 17th  (detailed below, linked for your reference and available on the ITA Rules page).

Revised "ITA Experimental Format" for men's Division I only:

* The dual meet will consist of three doubles matches played first (worth a total of one point), followed by six singles matches, each individual match worth one point. Four points are required to win the team match.

* The three doubles matches will each consist of one set to 6, with no-ad scoring and a tie-breaker at 5-all. Once a team has won two doubles matches, the remaining doubles match shall not be completed. (NB. this "clinch" policy is the current rule in the ITA Men's Kick-off Weekend, ITA Men's National Indoor Team Championships and the NCAA Men's Team Championships).

* Six singles matches will follow the doubles. Each singles match is two out of three sets, with each set using no-ad scoring, and a tie-breaker at 5-all in each set.

* All singles matches will be played to completion unless both coaches agree to do otherwise.  (NB. the "clinch" policy is the current rule in the ITA Men's Kick-off Weekend, the ITA Men's National Indoor Team Championships and the NCAA Men's Team Championships. Therefore once four points have been reached, the remaining singles matches will not be completed in these events).

* There will be no warm-up against opponents before the first point is played in doubles and singles: players will be expected to warm-up with their own team prior to the scheduled match time.  A written pre-match protocol will be made available in early January.

Please note that we will be providing summary notes of the Division I meetings after the holiday season.  And in closing, we would like to thank the ITA Operating Committee for its outstanding work on this very important issue, and we wish you and your family very Happy Holidays!


Dear Coach:


We would like to update you on the recent decisions reached by the ITA Women's Operating Committee at its annual meetings during the ITA Convention this past week in Naples, FL specific to the ITA Experimental Format.

Based on meetings and discussions throughout the fall and during the ITA Convention (including input from the Division I ITA Roundtable Meetings), the ITA Women's Operating Committee has approved and mandated a new "ITA Women's Experimental Format" to be played from January 1st through the ITA Women's Team Indoor Championships, February 10th 2014 (detailed below, and linked for your reference and available on the ITA Rules page).

"ITA Experimental Format" for women's Division I only:

* The dual meet will consist of three doubles matches played first (worth a total of one point), followed by six singles matches, each individual match worth one point. Four points are required to win the team match.

* The three doubles matches will each consist of one set, with regular scoring and a tie-breaker at 6-all. Once a team has won two doubles matches, the remaining doubles match shall not be completed. (NB. this "clinch" policy is the current rule in the ITA Women's' Kick-off Weekend, ITA Women's National Indoor Team Championships and the NCAA Women's Team Championships).

* Six singles matches will follow the doubles. Each singles match is two out of three sets, with each set using regular scoring, and a match tie-breaker in lieu of the third set.

* All singles matches will be played to completion unless both coaches agree to do otherwise. (NB. the "clinch" policy is the current rule in the ITA Women's Kick-off Weekend, the ITA Women's National Indoor Team Championships and the NCAA Women's Team Championships. Therefore once four points have been reached, the remaining singles matches will not be completed in these events).

* There will be no warm-up against opponents before the first point is played in doubles and singles: players will be expected to warm-up with their own team prior to the scheduled match time. A written pre-match protocol will be made available in early January.

Please note that we will be providing summary notes from the Division I meetings after the holiday season. In closing, we would like to thank the ITA Operating Committee for its outstanding work on this very important issue, and we wish you and your family very Happy Holidays!