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Friday, January 31, 2014

Arconada Reaches Grade I Final in Ecuador; Tiafoe into Futures Quarterfinal; Oklahoma State Upsets Tennessee; Great Britain Leads US 2-0 in Davis Cup

Usue Arconada reached her first Grade 1 final today in Guayaquil Ecuador, defeating top seed Sonya Kenin, also of the US, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Arconada, the No. 9 seed, has played four matches this week, with three of them going the distance.  She meets fellow 15-year-old Olga Fridman of Ukraine in Saturday's final, after the No. 4 seed defeated No. 2 seed Greetje Minnen of Belgium 6-2, 7-6(7).  Fridman is one of the hottest players on the ITF junior circuit now, having won the last two Grade 1s in Venezuela and Colombia, giving her a 15-match winning streak.  Fridman was out for six months in 2013, returning to competition in November, and she has gone 26-2 in ITF junior tournaments since her return.

The boys final will feature the top two seeds, each of whom won a Grade 1 title earlier this month. No. 1 Nicolas Alvarez of Peru beat No. 4 seed Orlando Luz of Brazil 6-2, 6-4 to set up a final against No. 2 seed Matias Zukas of Argentina. Zukas ended American Alex Rybakov's run 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.

At the Pro Circuit $10,000 Futures in Palm Coast, Florida, matches resumed after two consecutive washouts, with some of the first round matches still needing to be played.  Qualifier Alfredo Perez won his match against Nathan Ponwith 6-4, 6-4 to earn his first ATP point, joining Taylor Fritz and Francis Tiafoe as teens making that breakthrough this week. Perez and Fritz both lost their second round matches this afternoon, but Tiafoe returned after his 6-4, 6-3 first round victory over Pavel Krainik of Canada to take on No. 4 seed Markus Eriksson of Sweden, and the Orange Bowl champion won that as well, 6-4, 6-4.  Tiafoe, who won four matches in qualifying, plays No. 5 seed Pedro Sakamoto of Brazil in the quarterfinals, and if he should win that, would play a semifinal match later in the day.

A big surprise in college tennis today, with the No. 6 Tennessee men falling to No. 50 Oklahoma State 4-2 in Stillwater.  The recap from the Tennessee website is here, and the results are below.

No. 50 Oklahoma State 4, No. 6 Tennessee 2

January 31, 2014 | Stillwater, Okla. | Greenwood Tennis Center

1. #1 Libietis/Reese (TENN) def. Sude/Sachs (OSU) 6-5 (4)
2. Kadhe/Bohrnstedt (OSU) def. #28 Fickey/Chaplin (TENN) 6-3
3. Kerner/Dromsky (TENN) def. Gerch/Campbell (OSU) 6-4

Order of finish: (2, 3, 1)

1. Jakob Sude (OSU) def. #16 Mikelis Libietis (TENN) 6-5(2), 6-5(4)
2. #34 Hunter Reese (TENN) def. Sebastian Sachs (OSU) 6-0, 6-4
3. Arjun Kadhe (OSU) def. Jarrod Chaplin (TENN) 6-5(1), 4-6, 6-3
4. Lucas Gerch (OSU) def. Bartosz Sawicki (TENN) 6-3, 6-5(3)
5. Brady Bohrnstedt (OSU) def. Andrew Dromski (TENN) 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
6. Chris Haworth (OSU) vs. Markus Kerner (TENN) 6-4, 4-6, 1-3 uf.

Order of finish: (2, 4, 5, 1, 2)

At the USA versus Great Britain first round world group tie in San Diego, the American team started badly and ended worse, with Donald Young losing, not unexpectedly, to Andy Murray 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. The day's second singles match was presumed to be a formality for the US, with Sam Querrey taking on James Ward, whose ATP ranking is 175. It looked that way at the beginning, with Ward not getting a break point until the fourth set, when Querrey was already up 2 sets to 1 and a break. Then the roof caved in, if such a thing can be said to have happened in an outdoor baseball park, with Querrey losing 10 of the next 11 games to go down 1-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Even if the Bryans win the doubles point on Saturday, it seems unlikely that Querrey will beat Murray in the fourth match on Sunday, relegating the US to a playoff to stay in the World Group this fall.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Recap of Michigan's Victory over Yale; Young Named to Replace Isner at Davis Cup; Rybakov, Kenin, Arconada in Grade 1 Semis; Stanford Women, Virginia Men Retain Top Rankings

Much of the discussion at Sunday's ITA Kickoff Weekend final between Michigan and Yale centered on the format change, and in my recap, posted today at The Tennis Recruiting Network,  Michigan's head coach Ronni Bernstein and No. 1 player Emina Bektas give some of their thoughts.  It's still early in the experiment of using a match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set; I intend to discuss it with as many coaches as I possibly can at the women's Team Indoor next weekend to gauge its popularity, at least among the upper echelon of Division I women's tennis.

Davis Cup weekend begins tomorrow, and the United States received some bad news today when John Isner was declared out of the tie with Great Britain, due to the ankle problem that caused him to retire in Australia. Donald Young, who was in San Diego with the team, I presume because there was always doubt about Isner's condition, will substitute for Isner. This is Young's first appearance in Davis Cup, and he will take on Andy Murray in the first match, with Sam Querrey facing James Ward in the second match Friday.  The Bryan brothers will be playing doubles for the United States against Colin Fleming and Murray, although former Virginia star Dominic Inglot was also named to the team, so he could play if Murray doesn't.

Eighteen-year-old Nick Kyrgios of Australia will make his debut in the world group first round tie with France.

There are many, many former college players competing for their countries, and at least two current ones tapped for singles. Nik Scholtz of Ole Miss is playing for South Africa against Monaco, and John Morrissey of Stanford is playing for Ireland against Belarus.

For a complete list of all the nominations, see tennispanorama.com.

At the ITF Grade I in Ecuador, three Americans have reached the semifinals.  Top seed Sonya Kenin defeated No. 6 seed Maria Herazo Gonzalez of Colombia 7-5, 3-6, 6-0 to set up a meeting with fellow 15-year-old Usue Arconada. Arconada, the No. 9 seed, defeated No. 15 seed Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.  The other girls semifinal is between No. 4 seed Olga Fridman of Ukraine, who has won the last two South American Grade 1s, and No. 2 seed Greetje Minnen of Belgium, who beat No. 8 seed Dasha Ivanova of the US 6-1, 6-2.

Three of the top four seeds in the boys draw have reached the semifinals, with the lone exception No. 6 seed Alex Rybakov of the US.  Rybakov beat No. 2 seed Joao Menezes of Brazil 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals and will play No. 3 seed Matias Zukas of Argentina.  Top seed Nicolas Alvarez of Peru will play No. 4 seed Orlando Luz of Brazil, with Luz beating No. 9 seed Henrik Wiersholm of the US 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in today's quarterfinals.

The new ITA team rankings were released on Wednesday, with the defending NCAA champion Stanford women and Virginia men keeping the No. 1 positions.  With no real upsets on the women's side during Kickoff Weekend, there was little movement there; on the men's side, Kentucky and Ole Miss dropped out of the Top 10 after Kickoff weekend losses, with Pepperdine and Vanderbilt also moving down.  Texas moved up six spots and Notre Dame moved up seven spots. Mississippi State and Texas A&M moved into the Top 10.  The ITA release is here.

The rankings page is available here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

College Match Day Schedule Announced, with 10 Matches Set for ESPN3 Streaming; Luke Jensen Resigns at Syracuse; Six US Players in Ecuador Grade 1 Quarterfinals

The University of Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex
will host two USTA College Match Days

The USTA has announced the schedule for their College Match Day promotion this spring, with at least ten of the matches confirmed for streaming on ESPN3.

I had thought the doubles last and only if tied at 3-3 format was off the table, but apparently that's not the case for these matches and they will play singles first.  If you're counting, that's four different formats this season (men with no-ad, women with match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set, doubles only if tied at 3-3, and for the NCAAs, a return to the format used in the past).

In addition to receiving ESPN3 coverage (the format is mandated as doubles last only if ESPN3 is involved), eight matches will feature a 53-foot College Match Day trailer, an interactive Fan Experience where fans can engage in a number of activities before and during the match.

Below is the schedule that was distributed in today's press release (which can be found in a google document here).

In other college news, Syracuse announced that Luke Jensen, women's head coach since 2006, is leaving the program. In this Associated Press item on his departure, Jensen is quoted as saying:

"I loved my time at Syracuse. It was a great opportunity and the experience exceeded my wildest expectations. Moving forward, I very much want to return to the national tennis scene and pursue new opportunities."

Associate head coach Shelley George is taking over the head coaching position on an interim basis while a search is conducted, according to the Syracuse website.

Juniors from the United States had another successful day at the ITF Grade 1 in Guayaquil Ecuador, with three girls and three boys advancing to the quarterfinals.

Top seed Sonya Kenin defeated No. 13 seed Morgane Michiels of Belgium 6-3, 6-2, No. 9 seed Usue Arconada downed No. 7 seed Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov of Spain 7-5, 6-3 and No. 8 seed Dasha Ivanova beat qualifier Anastasia Gasanova of Russia 6-2, 6-4.

The three US boys advancing all won tiebreakers today. Unseeded Logan Smith beat No. 12 seed Peter Bertran of the Dominican Republic 1-6, 6-6(4), 7-5.  No. 9 seed Henrik Wiersholm downed Jordi Arconada, seeded No. 8, 6-3, 7-6(0) and No. 6 seed Alex Rybakov defeated No. 10 Alejandro Tabilo of Canada 7-6(3), 6-1.

Wiersholm and Rybakov, who won the doubles title last week at the Grade 1 in Colombia, are into the semifinals, as is Jordi Arconada, who is playing with Alexander Sendegeya of Great Britain.

For results and draws, see the ITF Junior website.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kenin Top Seed at ITF Grade 1 in Ecuador; Teens Impress at Palm Coast Futures; Makarova Commits to Duke; Finishing a Match When Hurt

The ITF Junior Circuit features only one Grade 1 this week, in Ecuador, and a large contingent from the United States is participating.

Fifteen-year-old Sonya Kenin in the girls top seed. This is Kenin's first junior action since she reached the semifinals of the Orange Bowl in December.  In addition to Kenin, No. 8 seed Dasha Ivanova and No. 9 seed Usue Arconada have also reached the third round. No. 10 seed Madison Bourguignon, No. 16 seed Nicole Frenkel and Sofia Sewing lost in today's second round, as did qualifier Ndindi Mwaruka, who was known until this year as Ndindi Ndunda.

Unseeded Logan Smith, who reached the final of last week's Copa Barranquilla in Colombia, has reached the third round, beating No. 7 seed Alexander Sendegeya of Great Britain 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, joining No. 9 seed Henrik Wiersholm and No. 6 seed Alex Rybakov in the final 16. Wiersholm faces No. 8 seed Jordi Arconada, who lives and trains in the US but represents Argentina, next.

Several US boys stayed in Florida, rather than travel to the ITFs in South America, and have had success in the last Futures of the month, the $10,000 tournament in Palm Coast.  Eddie Herr 16s champion Alfredo Perez, Orange Bowl champion Francis Tiafoe, Nathan Ponwith and Martin Redlicki all qualified, with all but Redlicki winning four matches to do so.  Wild cards went to teens Dennis Uspensky, Deiton Baughman and Taylor Fritz, and Fritz collected his first ATP point today, defeating former University of North Florida standout Moritz Buerchner of Germany 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.  Uspensky and Baughman lost their first round matches.  Ponwith, 15,  and Perez, 16, play each other in first round play Wednesday, with the winner picking up his first ATP point. Seventeen-year-old Ernesto Escobedo received direct entry and will play No. 3 seed Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic in his opening round match.

The Tennis Recruiting Network continues to post commitment articles, with Marcia Frost's piece on Christina Makarova's decision to sign with Duke featured today.

Much has been written and said about Stan Wawrinka's surprise win over Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open men's final on Sunday, but this piece by Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite sportswriters, but one who writes only occasionally about tennis, was a thoughtful look at the dynamics of playing injured. There's no right or wrong answer on the vexing question of finishing a match versus retiring, with each case unique to the injury and the player who has it, but in a grand slam final, I believe Nadal made the correct choice in playing on.  Please read the entire article if you have time, but if you don't, read these last few paragraphs:

And I think Nadal didn’t want to retire, didn’t want to give in, because he wanted Wawrinka to WIN his championship, to face his demons and, if he could, overcome them. I think Nadal — perhaps without even thinking about it — thought Wawrinka deserved the chance to defeat a worthy opponent. So he tried to be as worthy as he could. He shook Wawrinka’s spirit in that third set. He got into Wawrinka’s head. He won the set though he could barely move at all. It was now up to Wawrinka to settle himself and finish the job.

Wawrinka did finish the job in the fourth set. He was shaky for much of the set and Nadal still showed an uncanny talent for anticipating where the ball would be hit and for testing Wawrinka’s nerves. We’ll never know for sure if Wawrinka could have put away a healthy Rafa Nadal, but that’s playing what-if history. And it’s beside the point.

When Wawrinka did win, he did not celebrate much out of deference to his friend Nadal. Instead he leaned over the net to check on Nadal’s health. And while we could not precisely hear what Nadal said at that moment, you could tell that he was saying: “I’m fine. Enjoy your moment. You won.”

And then afterward: “Stan, he really deserved to win that title. I’m happy for him. He’s a great guy, a good friend of mine.”

He did deserve it. Nadal made sure of it. That’s the beautiful gift Rafa Nadal gave Stan Wawrinka in Melbourne. He played through pain and put up a fight and made his friend Stan Wawrinka win it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Formats, but Few New Faces Advance to ITA Team Indoor Championships; Stanford's Men's Recruiting Class Ranked No. 1

North Carolina returns to Charlottesville to defend its Team Indoor title
The Kickoff Weekend is now complete, so we know the 16 teams who will be playing for the ITA Team Indoor Championship next month.

The men's teams competing in Houston,  Feb. 14-17:

Ohio State
Southern California
Notre Dame
Mississippi State
Texas A&M (host)

The women's teams competing in Charlottesville, Feb. 7-10:
Texas A&M
North Carolina
Southern California
Virginia (host)

On the men's side, there were four hosts, seeded No. 1, who did not advance: Pepperdine(12), Kentucky(8), Mississippi(10) and Vanderbilt(15). Mississippi and Vanderbilt lost their first round matches, to No. 4 seeds Michigan(T26) and Texas(20), while Pepperdine and Kentucky both went down in close matches in the finals, Pepperdine 4-2 to Cal(16) and Kentucky 4-3 to Notre Dame(29).

Because this is a new men's format, with no-ad scoring being used in both singles and doubles and tiebreakers at 5-all rather than 6-all, I decided to go back and research how often that many No. 1 seeds failed to advance. It turns out this is the most since the Kickoff Weekend, with its draft, was instituted in 2009.  Here are the numbers:

2009: 12 of 15 advance
2010: 13 of 15 advance
2011: 15 of 15 advance
2012: 14 of 15 advance
2013: 13 of 15 advance

I have no way of knowing whether the no-ad scoring is responsible for this year's record. Many more years of results would be necessary to get a meaningful sample size. But perhaps parity, which as you can see by the numbers, isn't the norm in men's Division I tennis, will be one of the side effects if the experimental format is adopted permanently.

The men's teams playing in this year's Team Indoor tournament who did not qualify last year are: Texas, Illinois, Notre Dame and Baylor, who chose not to play the tournament last year.

The women are also playing a new format, with a match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set, but if that had any impact on the results, it's hard to spot.  This year, 14 of the 15 women's No. 1 seeded hosts advanced to the tournament, with only Nebraska(25) failing to make it to Charlottesvile. The Cornhuskers lost their opening match to Georgia Tech(19), with Vanderbilt(16) beating the Yellow Jackets 4-3 in the final. Here are the women's numbers from past years:

2009: 12 of 15 advanced
2010: 12 of 15 advanced
2011: 13 of 15 advanced
2012: 12 of 15 advanced
2013: 14 of 15 advanced

Only two teams are competing in Charlottesville this year that weren't in the tournament last year: Clemson and Florida, with the Gators electing not to participate last year, and those are not new faces in any true sense of the word. But Texas A&M is establishing itself as a regular participant, and its run to the NCAA final last year is an indication that there is some upward mobility available, at least to teams who compete in one the the "super" conferences. Later this week, I will have a report on Michigan's win over Yale for Tennis Recruiting Network later this week, with the Wolverines also now a regular member of the field at the Indoor Championships and the NCAA Sweet 16.

For complete results of the Kickoff Weekend, see the ITA website. The ITA release, which features accounts of some of the weekend's most dramatic matches, is here.

The Tennis Recruiting Network revealed its January recruiting class rankings for Division I men today, with Stanford coming out on top. Close behind were South Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Alabama. Definitely some new faces there.  I am one of the 23 voters participating in the rankings.  The complete list of 25 teams is available here.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Andreescu and Roumane Win Les Petits As Titles; Klahn Claims Maui Challenger; Kumar, Kingsley, Lebedev Capture ITF TItles

I just returned from Ann Arbor, where I covered the Michigan women's 4-0 win over Yale at ITF Kickoff Weekend competition. I will have a thorough recap of that match for the Tennis Recruiting Network later this week. I will also do a complete rundown of all the Kickoff Weekend action in tomorrow's post.

Canadian Tennis has been much in the news lately, with Milos Raonic, Vasek Posipsil and Eugenie Bouchard reaching the highest levels of professional tennis, and although the country had no presence in the Australian Junior Championships this year, the younger age divisions look to be in taking inspiration from the trio above.  Today at Les Petits As, No. 12 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada defeated No. 4 seed Claire Liu of the United States 6-4, 7-5, giving her country both the major European 14-and-under girls singles championships in January.  Maria Tanasescu won the Nike International Teen Tennis title last week in Bolton.

Liu looked as if she was going to force a third set when she went up 4-0 and had points for 5-0, but Andreescu held there and broke Liu. Liu broke again, for a 5-2 lead, but that would be the last game she would win. Liu had at least three set points serving for it at 5-4 (the live scoring would freeze and then jump ahead, so I can't be confident I have it completely correct), but didn't convert.  There were 173 points played in the match in 22 games, meaning the two girls averaged nearly eight points per game, and yes, it certainly seemed as if nearly every game went to deuce and beyond.

The boys title went to unseeded wild card Rayane Roumane of France, who defeated No. 11 seed and Teen Tennis champion Nicola Kuhn of Germany 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.  Roumane beat four seeds, including top seed Alen Avidzba of Russia, en route to the title.

For complete results, see the tournament website.

On the USTA Pro Circuit, Bradley Klahn was the only American to pick up a singles title.  The 2010 NCAA champion from Stanford won the $50,000 Challenger in Maui, beating 2008 ITF World Junior Champion Tsung-Hua Yang of Taiwan 6-2, 6-3 in today's final. Klahn didn't drop a set in the tournament, and will now see his ATP ranking go up to the low 80s with this win, his third Challenger title since last August.

Denis Kudla and Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan won the doubles title, beating former UCLA teammates Nick Meister and Daniel Kosakowski 6-3, 6-2. Both teams were unseeded.

In Florida, at the $10,000 Weston Futures, veteran Victor Crivoi of Romania ended 19-year-old Kyle Edmund's winning streak, beating the Sunrise Futures champion 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-0 in today's final.  For more coverage of that tournament see the Challenger Tennis blog.  The doubles title went to Markus Eriksson and Milos Sekulic of Sweden, the No. 3 seeds, who beat top seeds and former Michigan teammates Evan King and Jason Jung 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 17-15.

At the $25,000 Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Daytona Beach, Anna Tatishvili of Georgia, who won three events in the United States last fall and made the final of two others, claimed another title, beating Allie Kiick of the United States 6-1, 6-3 in today's final. Tatishvili was seeded No. 1, Kiick was the No. 4 seed.  Nicole Melichar of the United States and Teodoro Mircic of Serbia won the doubles title. The No. 3 seeds beat top seeds Allie Will(Florida) and Asia Muhammad 6-7(5), 7-6(1), 10-1.

There are no ITF junior tournaments in the United States until late March, so those Americans looking to collect points must travel outside the United States this time of year.  Raveena Kingsley and Sameer Kumar have made the trip to India, with Kingsley winning the singles title last week at a Grade 2, and Kumar taking the boys doubles title.  At this week's Grade 3, Kingsley kept her streak going, taking the singles title again, and Kumar picked up another doubles title, as well as the singles championship.  Kumar, the No. 5 seed, didn't lose a set in the tournament, beating unseeded Mandresy Rakotomalala of France 6-4, 6-1 in the final.  He teamed with Isa Mammetgulyyev of Turkmenistan for the doubles title, with the No. 3 seeds defeating top seeds Wei-De Lin and Cing-Yang Meng of Taiwan 3-6, 6-4, 10-5.

The 15-year-old Kingsley, unseeded again this week, beat unseeded Ojasvinee Singh of India 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in the final, with her winning streak now at ten matches.

At the Grade 4 in the Czech Republic, New Yorker Alex Lebedev, who has recently verbally committed to Notre Dame, won his first ITF title.  The unseeded Lebedev, who has been playing in European ITFs all month, beat No. 5 seed Pawel Zawisza of Poland 7-5, 6-2 in the final.

At the Grade 1 Copa Barranquilla in Colombia, which I didn't follow as closely as I would have liked due to Australia and Tarbes, Americans had a good tournament.  Dasha Ivanova, the No. 4 seed, reached the semifinals, and on the boys side, Henrik Wiersholm, the No. 8 seed, and Jorde Arconada the No. 9 seed, who is playing ITF events under the Argentina flag, but is eligible for USTA events, also reached the semifinals.  Unseeded Logan Smith made the final, but lost to No. 2 seed Matias Zukas of Argentina 6-1, 6-1.

Ukraine's Olga Fridman, who won the Grade 1 Copa Gatorade last week, won the girls title, with the No. 4 seed beating top seed Domenica Gonzalez of Ecuador 6-4, 6-4 in the final.

Alex Rybakov and Wiersholm, the No. 3 seeds, won the doubles title, beating No. 2 seeds Zukas and Nicolas Alvarez of Peru 6-4, 7-6(2) in the final.  Usue Arconada and her partner Rafaella Baquerizo of Ecuador won the girls doubles championship, with the No. 5 seeds beating top seeds Jaqueline Cristian of Romania and Ivanova 6-3, 6-3 in the final.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Zverev and Kulichkova Claim Australian Open Junior Titles; Liu Reaches Les Petits As Final

Alexander Zverev of Germany and Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia saved their best tennis for last on Saturday, rolling to Australian Open championships on Rod Laver Arena.

Top seed Zverev, who was 0-4 against Kozlov coming into the match, started shakily, but once he got over his nerves, the 16-year-old raised his level, taking a 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Kozlov failed to take advantage of any of his ten break point opportunities, and once he rolled his left ankle down 2-0 in the second set, needing medical attention in mid-game, there wasn't much doubt about the outcome.

Zverev's serve was particularly effective; in addition to eight aces, he also came up with some excellent second serves when he needed them. On the Orange Bowl Har-Tru courts, where Kozlov had beaten Zverev 7-6, 6-0 last month, Zverev's serve didn't have the same impact as it did on the much faster hard courts in Melbourne. Kozlov's drop shot, which is usually effective against baseliners, wasn't particularly good the few times he used it, with Zverev's frequent trips to the net keeping Kozlov guessing.

The highlight for Kozlov probably came with Zverev serving in the sixth game of the first set, when he got four consecutive Zverev overheads back into play during a 28-shot rally, which Kozlov ended up winning. That made the score deuce, but rather than get frustrated by that amazing defense, Zverev won the next two points, helped by his big serves.

Kozlov was asked about that point in the press conference.

Q.  You had that one good point against him where you returned four overheads and won that point.  You remember that?

Q.  Was that a first for you, returning four overheads?

STEFAN KOZLOV:  No.  I do that once a week.

Of course Kozlov was joking; no one does that once a year, let alone once a week, but it was yet another demonstration of his extraordinary court sense and anticipation.

A year older than Kozlov, Zverev, who has already won the ITF World Junior championship for 2013, may be done with junior events after bagging his first junior slam title.  Once his ankles (he turned his right ankle in the semifinals) are back at 100%, Kozlov will concentrate on pro events until this summer, but is still expected to play the remaining three junior slams this year.

Girls champion Kulichkova, who beat unseeded Jana Fett of Croatia 6-2, 6-1, will turn 18 in April, is unlikely to play another junior event, having already reached 264 in the WTA rankings. Using a good first serve and some powerful groundstrokes, the fourth-seeded Kulichkova overcame the pressure of being the favorite and the unfamiliar surroundings to play freely.  From the transcript:

But I was surprised that I didn't feel any pressure.  I felt like I'm exactly where I should be.  I felt really good on court. 

Like I said, I felt I'm going to do this.  I was pretty sure.  I was really confidence.  I was the girl who was expected to win.

I suspect the confidence she got from winning a $25,000 ITF Women's tournament earlier in the month in Hong Kong also was a factor, and Kulichkova fully expects to return to the Australian Open next year in the women's draw.  As the girls champion, she will automatically receive a qualifying wild card, should she need it. Last year's champion Ana Konjuh, who, like Kulichkova won both singles and doubles, used her qualifying wild card to earn her way into the main draw. Kulichkova says her goal for 2014 is top 100; if she reaches that and stays there, she won't need to play qualifying.

The four transcripts from the junior press conferences are available at the Australian Open website, and I recommend you read them all. Zverev's comments on the difference between the pros and the juniors (not much) are especially interesting.

Also take some time to read the interview with doubles champions Robert Lindstedt and Lukasz Kubot, who defeated Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen 6-3, 6-3 in the final.  Lindstedt, who played college tennis at Pepperdine, had reached three straight Wimbledon finals with Horia Tecau from 2010-2012, losing them all, before breaking through for his first slam title this year in Melbourne, at age 36.

Junior Orange Bowl champion Claire Liu of the United States has reached the final at Les Petits As, the prestigious 14-and-under competition in Tarbes, France.  Liu, the No. 4 seed, beat Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine 6-2, 6-4. The 13-year-old from Thousand Oaks will play No. 12 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada in the final, after Andreescu came back to post a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded Elysia Bolton of the US.

The boys final will be between unseeded wild card Rayane Roumane of France and No. 11 seed Nicola Kuhn of Germany.  Roumane defeated Canadian Nicaise Muamba of Canada 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(4), while Teen Tennis champion Kuhn topped No. 12 seed Roscoe Bellamy of the US 7-5, 6-1. 

Roumane already has one title, winning the doubles, again as an unseeded wild card, with Hugo Gaston. Roumane and Gaston defeated No. 8 seeds Evzen Holis and Tomas Jirousek of the Czech Republic 7-5, 2-6, 10-6. The girls doubles title went to top seed Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who beat Andreescu and Maria Tanasescu of Canada, the No. 3 seeds, 7-6(4), 6-2.

For complete draws, see the tournament website.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Eight Intriguing Questions for 2014; Kozlov Reaches Australian Boys Final; Liu, Bolton, Bellamy in Les Petit As Semis; ITA Kickoff Weekend Underway

One of my Eight Intriguing Questions for 2014 could be answered as soon as late tonight, when Stefan Kozlov takes on Alexander Zverev of Germany in the Australian Open boys final.

In my annual column for the Tennis Recruiting Network, published today, I ask “Will any of the American boys born in 1998 win a junior slam?”, seeing it as the next level for that impressive birth year.

Kozlov, the No. 2 seed, earned his way into the final with a 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-3 victory over No. 7 seed Quentin Halys of France, while Zverev, the No. 1 seed, overcame unseeded Brad Mousley of Australia 6-4, 1-6, 6-1.

Kozlov had just one break point in the first set, which he didn’t covert, while Halys didn’t have many—only two—but won them both.  Kozlov was up 4-2 and 5-4 in the second set, lost the break both times, but never trailed in the tiebreaker.  In the third set, Kozlov’s 3-0 lead was constantly in peril when he served, saving two break points in the fifth game and three break points in the seventh game. But he held both times, and when it came time to serve out the match he earned the luxury of two match points at 40-15. Halys saved the first, but not the second, putting Kozlov through to his second straight Grade A final.

I tweeted last night that Kozlov held a 3-0 head-to-head advantage over Zverev, but that's just in ITF junior and Futures events. Kozlov is actually 4-0, with an additional victory back in the semifinals of the 2011 Junior Orange Bowl 14.  Kozlov's most recent victory over Zverev is last month's 7-6(2), 6-0 win in the Orange Bowl semifinals. For his part,  Zverev won the Grade 1 at Traralgon last week, so he is now on an eleven-match winning streak.

For an interesting interview with Kozlov, see this from Tennis Panorama. I've been watching him play since he was eight years old, and I didn't know he was named after Stefan Edberg.

According to ESPN3, the boys and girls singles finals, on Rod Laver Arena, will be streamed, although I do recall some issues with the streams last year.  Kozlov and Zverev are scheduled for 9 pm Eastern, with the girls final, between No. 4 seed Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia and unseeded Jana Fett of Croatia, to follow.

While Mousley avoided two losses on the same day, Halys did not. Mousley defended his boys doubles title, won last year with Jay Andrijic, when he and Austria's Lucas Miedler claimed a 6-4, 6-3 decision over Halys and Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France. Miedler had lost in last year's doubles final to Andrijic and Mousley.  

Kulichkova already has secured her first junior slam title, winning the girls doubles final with Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine 6-2, 6-4 over No. 2 seeds Ivana Jorovic of Serbia and Katie Boulter of Great Britain.

For more on the singles finalists and doubles champions, see Simon Cambers' article on the ITF Junior website.  See the Australian Open website for complete draws.

Three Americans are still alive in the prestigious 14-and-under Les Petits As tournament in Tarbes, France.  Roscoe Bellamy reached the boys semifinals, with Claire Liu and Elysia Bolton getting to the final four on the girls side.  

Bellamy, the No. 12 seed, beat No. 4 seed Nikolay Vylegzhanin of Russia 6-3, 6-1 in today's quarterfinals and will play Teen Tennis champion Nicola Kuhn of Germany, the No. 11 seed, in Saturday's semifinals. Bellamy lost to Kuhn 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals at the Teen Tennis tournament in Bolton last week, and was the only player to win a set from Kuhn.  The other boys final features wild card Rayane Roumane of France, who upset top seed Alen Avidzba of Russia 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, against No. 15 seed Nicaise Muamba of Canada. Muamba ended unseeded American Keenan Mayo's run with a 6-1, 6-2 victory today.

Canada also has a girls semifinalist, with Bianca Andreescu, the No. 12 seed, putting an end to the run of qualifier Ulyana Shirokova of Russia 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.  Andreescu will play unseeded Bolton in the semifinals, another rematch from Teen Tennis. Bolton, who beat Teen Tennis finalist Anda Karanusic(8) of Croatia 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 in today's quarterfinals, lost to Andreescu 6-2, 7-6(6) in the third round last week.

Liu, the No. 4 seed, came back to beat No. 7 seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, and will play No. 11 seed Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine, a wild card, in the semifinals. Zavatska outlasted unseeded Grace Joyce of the United States 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3 today.

Andrew Fenty and Axel Nefve lost in the doubles semifinals, falling to unseeded wild cards Roumane and Hugo Gaston of France 6-0, 5-7, 10-8.

For complete results, see the tournament website.

The ITA Kickoff Weekend is underway, with the 15 winners of the four-team tournaments this weekend qualifying for the ITA Team Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Virginia and Houston, Texas.  I will be covering the Sunday final of the women's event the University of Michigan is hosting, weather permitting, for the Tennis Recruiting Network. 

The approved lineups were posted yesterday and can be found at the hub page. It's great to see the Florida women back in the Team Indoor mix, and as far as No. 1 seeds who are in for a battle, I expect the North Carolina men, with freshmen Brayden Schnur and Ronnie Schneider at the top of the lineup, to challenge host Duke, especially if the Blue Devils are still without Michael Redlicki, as they were in their loss to Elon last week.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kozlov Reaches Semifinals at Australian Open Juniors; Three US Girls, Two US Boys in Les Petits As Quarterfinals

No. 2 seed Stefan Kozlov had no reason to think his boys quarterfinal match with Andrey Rublev of Russia at the Australian Open would be quick and easy, after the two had gone three sets in the same round at the Eddie Herr last month, with Rublev winning 6-3, 1-6, 6-4.

I wasn't there, so I can't so how easy it was, but Kozlov's 6-2, 6-1 victory was quick, taking just over an hour. Rublev had gone 14-12 in the third set of his match with Harry Bourchier of Australia the day before, the equivalent of a best-of-five match, so that may have contributed to the result.  Next up for Kozlov is No. 7 seed Quentin Halys of France.  The last time the two met was in the third round of Les Petits As in 2010, with Halys, the eventual champion, beating Kozlov 6-1, 2-6, 6-2. 

For more on Kozlov, with comments from USTA General Manager of Player Development Patrick McEnroe, see this article by Matt Cronin for usta.com.

Top seed Alexander Zverev of Germany and unseeded Brad Mousley of Australia play in the other semifinal, after both collected straight set wins Thursday.  Mousley is no stranger to success at Melbourne Park, as he won the boys doubles title at last year's Australian Open, and he is close to repeating, with time with Lucas Miedler of Austria.  The No. 3 seeds face Halys and Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France in Friday's final.

For more on Mousley, see Simon Cambers' report at the ITF Junior website.

Cambers also talks with unseeded Jana Fett of Croatia, who ended the surprising run of Olivia Hauger with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory.  Hauger dropped the first set in a hurry, but kept fighting, even taking a 2-0 lead in the final set before the 17-year-old Fett came back to reach her first junior slam semifinal.

Fett plays unseeded Kimberly Birrell of Australia, a 15-year-old playing in just her second junior slam. Birrell lost in the first round of the Australian Open last year, but has made great strides in twelve months, beating No. 3 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, No. 15 seed Fiona Ferro of France and No. 10 seed Anastasiya Komardina of Russia--all with considerably more experience on the ITF junior circuit--en route to the semifinals.

Qualifier Ziyue Sun, the No. 7 seed, beat No. 2 seed Ivana Jorovic of Serbia 6-3, 7-5 and will face No. 4 seed Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia in the other girls semifinal.  Kulichkova , a semifinalist last year in Melbourne, dropped her first set of the tournament to No. 6 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia on Thursday, but came through by a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 score.

Kulichkova is also in Friday's girls doubles final, which features the top two seeds. No. 1 Kulichkova and Kalinina face No. 2 Jorovic and Katie Boulter of Great Britain.

For draws and the schedule, see the tournament website.

Keenan Mayo, 2014 Winter Nationals
(courtesy photo)
In the third round at Les Petits As, unseeded Americans continued to make their presence felt, with three advancing to the quarterfinals.  Unseeded Keenan Mayo had no trouble with No. 10 seed Alexander Zgirovsky of Belarus, defeating him 6-2, 6-2, while Grace Joyce and Elysia Bolton are two of three unseeded players to reach the girls quarterfinals.  Joyce defeated unseeded Selma Cadar of Romania 7-6(5), 6-3 and Bolton took out unseeded Maria Budin of Great Britain 7-5, 7-5.   Joyce will play No. 11 seed Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine in the quarterfinals Friday; Bolton gets No. 8 seed Anda Karanusic of Croatia.  Mayo will face No. 15 seed Nicaise Muamba of Canada.

No. 12 seed Roscoe Bellamy advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory over No. 5 Mykhailo Kvantaliani of Ukraine.

No. 4 seed Claire Liu defeated unseeded Romanian Mihaela Marculescu 6-2, 6-2 and will now play Eddie Herr 12s champion Anastasia Potapova of Russia, the No. 7 seed.  Abigail Desiatnikov, the No. 16 seed, lost to qualifier Ulyana Shirokova of Russia 6-4, 6-2.

Andrew Fenty, seeded No. 14, lost to top seed Alen Avidzba of Russia, 6-1, 6-1, but he and Axel Nefve have reached the semifinals of doubles.  The two US girls teams lost in the quarterfinals today.

For complete results, see the tournament website.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hauger and Kozlov Reach Quarterfinals at Australian Open Junior Championships; Seven US Players in Les Petits As Rounds of 16

Olivia Hauger is among five unseeded players still in the hunt for an Australian Open Junior title, with the quarterfinals scheduled for Thursday in Melbourne (tonight in the United States).

Hauger, who defeated top seed Varvara Flink in the second round, advanced to the quarterfinals Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-1 win over unseeded Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia, and faces another unseeded player in Croatia's Jana Fett for a place in the semifinals.  Simon Cambers talked with Hauger about her great run in Melbourne for this article on the ITF junior website.

The third unseeded quarterfinalist in the girls draw is also in the top half, 15-year-old Kimberly Birrell, who defeated No. 15 seed Fiona Ferro of France 6-4, 6-1. Ferro had beaten Birrell last week in the third round of the Grade 1 in Traralgon.  Birrell will play No. 10 seed Anastasiya Komardina of Russia.

The bottom half of the girls draw is more to form, with the 2, 4, 6 and 7 seeds advancing to the quarterfinals.  Eddie Herr champion Jelena Ostapenko, the No. 6 seed, had the most dramatic victory, overcoming six match points held by Australian Naiktha Bains in the second set of Ostapenko's 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory.  Ostapenko meets No. 4 seed Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia, a 2013 semifinalist in the quarterfinals.  No. 7 seed Ziyue Sun of China, who needed a wild card into qualifying after not entering on time, plays No. 2 seed Ivana Jorovic of Serbia.

No. 2 seed Stefan Kozlov of the United States needed less than an hour to win his third round match, defeating Boris Pokotilov of Russia 6-1, 6-2. After two long matches in which he was only a few points from defeat, Kozlov was undoubtedly glad to have a routine win.  He and Michael Mmoh, the top seeds in doubles, were beaten in the quarterfinals however, losing to No. 7 seeds Omar Jasika of Australia and Kamil Majchrzak of Poland 6-2, 5-7, 10-8.

Kozlov may have cruised into the quarterfinals, but his opponent Andrey Rublev of Russia certainly didn't.  Rublev, the No. 10 seed, needed just short of three hours to get past Australian Henry Bourchier 7-5, 6-7(7), 14-12.  Rublev and Kozlov last played in the quarterfinals of the Eddie Herr, with Rublev winning 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. 

In the other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the draw, No. 7 seed Quentin Halys of France will play unseeded Petros Chrysochos of Cyprus.

The top half of the boys draw is still led by No. 1 Alexander Zverev of Germany.  He meets No. 11 seed Hyeon Chung of Korea, while unseeded Brad Mousley, the sole Australian remaining in the boys draw, plays Eddie Herr champion Majchrzak, the No. 9 seed.

For the draws and schedule for Thursday's matches, see the tournament website.

Today at Les Petits As, seven of the eight Americans advanced to the round of 16.  No. 4 seed Claire Liu and No. 16 seed Abigail Desiatnikov both posted straight set victories, and are two of only seven seeds who made it to the third round.  Unseeded Elysia Bolton and Grace Joyce continued their fine play, with Bolton taking out No. 3 seed Tatiana Makarova of Russia 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 and Joyce beating Great Britain's Ali Collins 6-3, 6-3.  Joyce had beaten No. 2 seed Olesya Pervushina of Russia in the first round.  Liu is now the highest seed remaining in the girls draw.

Andrew Fenty, the No. 14 seed, Roscoe Bellamy, the No. 12 seed, and unseeded Keenan Mayo won their second round matches, with Mayo defeating No. 8 seed Alexander Shevchenko of Russia 6-4, 6-7(0), 6-4.  Fenty gets top seed Alen Avidzba of Russia next, Bellamy faces No. 5 seed Mykhailo Kvantaliani of Ukraine and Mayo meets No. 10 seed Alexander Zgirovsky of Belarus.  Axel Nefve lost to Teen Tennis champion Nicola Kuhn of Germany, the No. 11 seed, 4-6, 7-5 ,6-1.

Both girls doubles teams are into the quarterfinals, but Teen Tennis champions Bellamy and Mayo, who were surprisingly unseeded, lost to the third-seeded German team of Kuhn and Rudolf Molleker. Fenty and Nefve, also unseeded, advanced to the quarterfinals in straight sets.

For complete results, see the tournament website.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hauger Upsets Top Seed Flink in Australian Open Juniors; Top Seed Yastremska Loses at Les Petits As; Giron Wins Sherwood Cup; Rubin, Altamirano Join Davis Cup as Hitting Partners

Genunine upsets are rare at the junior slams, primarily because not all of a country's best juniors play the ITF circuit.  Two recent US Open junior champions--Jack Sock and Samantha Crawford--were unseeded wild cards, and even though last year's Australian Open boys finalist Thanasi Kokkinakis was unseeded, he had results in the ITF Pro Circuit that kept his run to the final from being characterized as a string of upsets.

Tuesday in Australia, we had a true upset, with Olivia Hauger of the United States defeating top seed and ITF No. 3 Varvara Flink of Russia 6-4, 6-3 in the second round of the girls junior competition.  The 16-year-old Hauger, ranked 144, is playing in her first junior slam, while this is the 17-year-old Flink's seventh. The Tulsa resident, who trains at Trent Tucker's Regional Training Center, had never played a Grade A event before; Flink has been in four Grade A finals, winning two of them, including last month's Orange Bowl.  When the two met last month in the second round of the Eddie Herr, Flink came away with a 6-0, 6-2 victory, and there was no reason to expect a different result in Melbourne, with Flink coming off a title run at the Grade 1 in Traralgon last week.  But Hauger changed the script, getting through several difficult stages in the match to record one of the biggest upsets I can recall at the junior slam level, at least involving an American junior.

Up just one break in the first set at 4-1 and 5-2, Hauger lost the break serving for it at 5-3, but broke Flink to take the first set.  Top boys seed Alexander Zverev of Germany had lost the first set to qualifier Ryotero Matsumura of Japan, but he managed to scrap by 4-6, 6-2, 9-7, and that same result seemed likely in this match, especially when Hauger was broken in the third game of the second set.  But she got the break right back, winning three games in a row to take a 4-2 lead. She wasn't able to keep the break, but Flink couldn't take advantage, losing her serve again to give Hauger a 5-3 lead and the chance to serve for the match.  Because I was only watching the live scoring, I have no idea how the final game really progressed, but Hauger held to 15, leaving the top half of the draw, already missing No. 3 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, wide open for a surprise finalist.

Hauger plays unseeded Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia Wednesday(tonight in the US), while Stefan Kozlov will meet unseeded Boris Pokotilov of Russia.  Complete draws can be found at the tournament website.

On the other side of the world, in Tarbes France, top seed Dayara Yastremska of Ukraine was beaten in the first round of Les Petits As. Yastremska, who lost to qualifier Ulyana Shirokova of Russia 7-6(0), 6-3, joins No. 2 seed Olesya Pervushina of Russia and Teen Tennis winner Maria Tanasescu of Canada, the No. 15 seed, on the sidelines.  All four US doubles teams won their first round matches today, with Andrew Fenty and Axel Nefve taking out No. 2 seeds Alen Avidzba and Savriyan Danilov of Russia 6-2, 4-6, 10-6.

See the tournament website for draws and results.

Marcos Giron, Billy Martin and Clay Thompson (courtesy photo)

At the Sherwood Cup, one of the top West Coast singles tournaments before the dual match season begins this week, UCLA dominated the singles competition, with all four semifinalists Bruins.  Clay Thompson beat freshman Gage Brymer 6-4, 6-3 and Marcos Giron beat freshman Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-4 to set up the final, a reprise of a Southern California junior rivalry.  No. 3 seed Giron defeated No. 1 seed Thompson 7-5, 6-3 in yesterday's final.  Giron then caught a flight to Hawaii, where he received a wild card into the Maui Challenger.
Clay Thompson has received a wild card into the Dallas Challenger the first week of February.

For results prior to the semifinals, see this article from the UCLA website.

The United States Davis Cup team was announced Monday, with John Isner, Sam Querrey and the Bryan brothers named to compete against Great Britain January 31- February 2 in San Diego.

Noah Rubin and Kalamazoo 18s champion Collin Altamirano are the practice partners.

See the complete release at usta.com.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Les Petits As Starts with Upsets; Kingsley Wins Grade 2 Event in India; Abanda Takes $25K in Port St. Lucie; Kozlov into Third Round in Australian Open Juniors

Opening day at Les Petits As in Tarbes, France began with two major upsets: Yshai Oliel and Olesya Pervushina, the No. 2 seeds, both were beaten in their first round matches. Oliel, of Israel, lost to Jake Hersey of Great Britain 6-4, 6-4, while Pervushina of Russia was eliminated by Grace Joyce of the United States 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.  Although the first round is not yet complete, with some matches scheduled for Tuesday, all eight Americans were in action today, and all advanced to the second round.

Elysia Bolton defeated Emma Bardet of France 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, No. 4 seed Claire Liu beat Neli Sunjic of Croatia 7-5, 6-0 and No. 16 seed Abigail Desiatnikov got past Simona Waltert of Switzerland 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2.

Roscoe Bellamy, seeded No. 12, advanced to the second round with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Georgia's Nikoloz Davlianidze, and Teen Tennis finalist Andrew Fenty, the No. 14 seed, beat Zura Tkemaladze of Georgia 6-2, 6-4.  Unseeded Keenan Mayo and Axel Nefve also advanced, with Mayo beating Daniils Batmanovs of Latvia 6-1, 6-1 and Nefve defeating wild card Nicolas Tepmahc of France 6-0, 6-3.

Top seeds are Alen Avidzba of Russia, who won today, and Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, who doesn't play her first round match until Tuesday.  Draws and live scoring can be found at the tournament website.

Fifteen-year-old Raveena Kingsley of the United States picked up her first ITF junior title in India last week.  The unseeded Kingsley beat No. 7 seed Zhanlan Wei of China 6-4, 6-3 in the final, and did not lose a set in the Grade 2 tournament.  With the title, her ITF junior ranking is now inside the Top 200.  Anudeep Kodali and Sameer Kumar both lost in the first round of singles, but won the doubles title.

The winners of the Grade 1 Copa Gatorade singles titles were unseeded Olga Fridman of Ukraine and No. 6 seed Nicolas Alvarez of Peru. Alvarez overcame No. 2 seed Orlando Luz of Brazil 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, while Fridman defeated  Greetje Minnen of Belgium 6-2, 6-3.

Jessica Ho of the United States and Anna Blinkova of Russia won girls doubles title, with the No. 5 seeds defeating No. 3 seeds Rafaella Baquerizo of Ecuador and Luisa Stefan of Brazil 6-3, 6-3. Jordi Arconada, who plays under the Argentina flag but lives and trains in College Park, Maryland, partnered Alex Sendegeya of Great Britain to win the boys doubles title. The No. 3 seeds beat No. 4 seeds Tallon Griekspoor and Tim Van Rujthoven of the Netherlands 6-1, 2-6, 11-9.

At last week's Grade 1 in the Czech Republic, Czech Zdenek Kolar, a 17-year-old qualifier playing in his third ITF junior tournament won eight matches to claim the boys singles title. Unseeded 14-year-old Evgeniya Levashova of Russia won the girls singles title.

On the Pro Circuit in Florida, two Canadian qualifiers met in the final of the $25,000 event in Port St. Lucie, with 16-year-old Francoise Abanda collecting her first title on the professional circuit thanks to a 6-3, 6-4 win over 27-year-old Heidi El Tabakh. Abanda, who has struggled with injuries in the past two years, won eight matches--three in qualifying and five in the main draw--losing only two sets during the week.

At the $10,000 tournament in Sunrise, 19-year-old Kyle Edmund of Great Britain won his fourth Futures title, all of them on clay, defeating 18-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 6-0, 6-3 in the final. Edmund's name has come up regularly as a possible member of the British Davis Cup team which will travel to San Diego next month to play the United States on clay.

This week's Pro Circuit events are a $25,000 women's tournament in Daytona Beach and a $10,000 men's tournament in Weston, Florida as well as a $50,000 Challenger for men in Maui.  Marcos Giron of UCLA has been given a wild card into the Maui Challenger.

At the Australian Open junior championship, No. 2 seed Stefan Kozlov came perilously close to defeat for the second straight day, trailing Simon Soendergaard of Denmark 7-6(8), 3-0 in their second round match. But the 15-year-old from Florida battled back to win 6-7(8), 7-5, 6-0 and will have the day off from singles Tuesday to recover, although he is scheduled in doubles.

Kozlov's doubles partner Michael Mmoh was not as fortunate, with the No. 5 seed falling to unseeded Marc Polmans of Australia 6-3, 7-5 in the second round. For more on Polmans and the success of the Australian boys, see the ITF junior website's coverage.

Katrine Steffensen and Olivia Hauger play their second round matches tonight (Tuesday in Australia), with Hauger up against top seed Varvara Flink of Russia and Steffensen getting another crack at 13-year-old Australian Destanee Aiava, who beat Steffensen in the second round at last week's Grade 1 in Traralgon.

For complete draws, see the tournament website.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Chuck Kreise Explains His Opposition to Division I Format Changes

Chuck Kreise, a member of the ITA Collegiate Hall of Fame, longtime men's head coach at Clemson Univeristy and current head coach at The Citadel, does not support the experimental format changes voted on at last month's ITA Coaches Convention in Naples, Florida.  He has given me permission to publish his thoughts on the format changes and the vote leading to them.

           The Vote of 21-19’                                                by chuck kriese

The Scoring System of tennis is one of its most sacred heirlooms.  The fluctuation of pressures from one lead to the next is why tennis dwarfs other racquet sports in comparison.  The tennis player must not only become adept in skill-sets of physical performance, but the scoring forces him/her to develop good abilities in mental and emotional aspects as well.  The intrigue and drama of the game happen largely because of the implications of rapidly changing momentum swings enhanced by a scoring system established over 100 years ago.

The ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) had its annual convention and coaches meeting in December.  The hottest and the most pressing topic of 2013-14 has become ‘Collegiate Dual-match Formats and Scoring Systems.’  The overused talking point being promoted this year is: ‘College tennis will not survive unless dual match format starts and finishes under 3 hours.”  Interestingly, this same issue was also the hot topic in the spring of 2012 a collegiate committee had randomly injected a radical system destined to drastically change college tennis’ long-used traditional format. There had been obvious scheduling problems at the 2012 NCAA tournament as 32 teams (16 men and 16 women’s) had to play late into the night making the event looked much less than professional. 

The college committee reacted to long days of tennis at the NCAA event by trying to push forward a deviation from the normal format.   The new dual match proposal in summer of 2012 was met with 10,000-plus signatures of protest from around the country.  An internet site had been set up by tennis student-athletes in protest. Tennis coaches, players and college tennis supporters expressed serious disapproval.  To slow down the fire-storm, the committee tabled their idea and waited.  The movement continued this summer as a joint USTA/college group introduced a ‘morphed’ version of what they had tried to do a year earlier.

 Prior to 2006, men and women’s teams played at different sites.  A 51-2 vote by men’s coaches in 2005 wanted to keep it that way, but the board pushed forward an agenda to combine all men and women’s teams to be the same site anyway.  Scheduling before that move was always a challenge, but it was never a great issue as the unique needs of both groups were handled well.

Multiple collegiate coaches believe that the 3-hour time limit for college match is a talking-point and a potential ‘Ruse.’  It is primarily based on entertainment objectives with little regard for player development issues.  ‘Brian Boland, coach of the National Championship Virginia Cavaliers stated at the ITA meeting, “The real problem is not the time, but more it is that there were too many moving parts at our NCAA championships with 32 teams to take care of.”  “It has created a logistical nightmare.”  In agreement are traditional coaches who believe that the educational aspects of tennis are a more important part of the college game.  Those coaches disdain the abbreviated and bastardized formats for scoring.  To not use traditional scoring drastically deemphasizes important elements of work ethic, conditioning and important learning aspects that only come from tough matches.

The December meeting of the ITA brought the fight between ‘Education vs. Entertainment’ to the floor.  After nearly 5 hours of debate and heated emotions of philosophical divisions, the board members eliminated all options but two from the black-board and gave the men’s coaches a choice and a vote.  Both were designed to shorten the matches and no-other option would be acceptable for the first one third of the season of 2014. .  There was never an agreement of the coaches in the room that ‘Time’ was the true reason for the problems of college tennis’.  That early talking- point and need to shorten the match seemed to have become as an assumption of truth. 

The two formats were presented.  The First format was that singles matches would be 2 out of 3 sets with traditional scoring.  However, a tie-breaker would be played at 5-5 instead of 6-6.  The doubles would only be a 6 game set instead of a pro-set.  The Second proposed format was that the players would play full singles matches and a pro-set for doubles.  However, the abbreviated system of no-ad would be used.   The vote was made.  Coaches voted to protect the integrity of traditional tennis scoring with a 21-19 vote in favor of using regular scoring with TB’s at 5-5 instead of 6-6.   A vote had been made, and most left the room feeling that a small victory had been won in the preservation of a scoring system that would not diminish the game. 

The board of directors met for a separate meeting later that day to finalize the matter.   It was decided that the vote taken in the afternoon was too close to call, and there was definitely not a mandate for either system.  In a turn-of-events, the decision made by the board was that it should therefore be allowable for another format to be promoted as the solution.  As if an election between two political candidates was too close to call, an outside candidate was put into place.  The format decided on to be played for the first six weeks of the season would therefore be abbreviated sets with TBs at 5 and the use of No-ad scoring. Arguably, this new option actually took the worst aspect of the first two proposals and pushed them into play.   The mandate to be put into place had never been debated by the general coaching body nor had been brought up as an alternative in the coaches meeting. 

The great game of tennis should be protected and not be compromised by political agenda.  College tennis is one of the most important developmental tools that our country has for our youngsters to hone their skills and develop important leadership abilities.  It is simplistic at best to conclude that the saving of a few minutes in a tennis match is worth all that is lost by the dismantling of its scoring system.      

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Kozlov Just Gets By Injured Mott; Mmoh, Steffensen and Hauger Also Reach Second Round at Australian Open Junior Championships

I'm usually required to write about junior slam matches outside of New York with what I can gather from following the live scoring, but thanks to Watch ESPN and Australian Open Junior Championship tournament officials, who knew to put Stefan Kozlov and Blake Mott on a televised court, I've got plenty of visual evidence for my coverage of the nearly three-hour first round match.

The 15-year-old Kozlov, seeded No. 2, won the match 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-5 ret., with Mott unable to move in the last two games of the match due to what was being reported as an ankle injury, as well as cramping. (There was no commentary on the ESPN feed to clarify the injury).

That did not keep Mott from having a match point however.  When he returned to the court following a five-minute medical timeout after being broken serving for the match at 5-3, the 17-year-old Australian could barely move as took his position to return serve. At 30-15, Kozlov double faulted for 30-30, then stared in amazement as Mott's return of a good first serve hit on the baseline for a clean winner. With his serve both an asset and a liability throughout the match--he had 12 aces and 10 double faults, three of the latter when he was serving at 3-4 in the third set--it was anybody's guess what would happen on that match point, but Kozlov got a first serve in and this time Mott was not as fortunate with his return, sending it wide and long.  Doubled over in pain after that point, Mott again tried his backhand, but he had no control of it, and two errors later Kozlov had leveled the match.

Things did not improve for Mott in the next game, even though the large crowd on Show Court 3 continued to clap and chant for him.  He managed to double fault only once, but three more missed backhands, game Kozlov the game, and rather than go to this chair for a changeover, Mott made his way slowly to the net to shake hands with Kozlov.

Just a few games earlier, the prognosis seemed much brighter for Mott, who had played only ITF Men's Circuit events since last March, earning an ATP ranking of 653. After Kozlov had double faulted on set point serving at 4-5 in the second set, Mott had jumped on him quickly in the third set, taking a 3-0 lead by breaking Kozlov at love in the second game.  Serving at 4-2, Mott had a game point for 5-2, but an unlucky net cord, a double fault and an error-forcing cross court backhand by Kozlov put the match back on serve.  Kozlov's double faults kept him from pulling even in that game, but Mott couldn't take advantage. He didn't reach match point on his own serve, up 5-3, losing four straight points after a backhand volley winner gave him a 30-15 lead. At 30-all, Mott went down on the court after a Kozlov backhand winner, and although he got up and continued play, it may have been there that he sustained his ankle injury, costing him any chance to win the match.

So Kozlov, who had lost in the first round of last week's Grade 1 in Traralgon to another Australian wild card, Brad Mousley, manages to post his first win in Australia, but only just.

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Hauger, playing in the first junior slam, also picked up a win Sunday, coming from a break down in the second set to defeat wild card Chloe Hule of Australia 6-2, 7-5.

In Saturday's action, Katrine Steffensen of the United States, seeded No. 14, picked up her first career grand slam victory, defeating Simran Kaur Sethi of India 6-4, 6-2.  No. 5 seed Michael Mmoh of the US won his opening round match over Daniel Windahl of Sweden 6-4, 6-4.  For more on Mmoh's victory, see the ITF junior website article by Simon Cambers.  Michaela Gordon, the fifth US player competing in the main draw in Melbourne, lost to Jasmine Paolini of Italy 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.

A number of upsets have already occurred after just one round, in the boys draw particularly. No. 3 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France was beaten by Martin Blasko of Slovakia 6-4, 0-6, 6-4, and No. 6 seed Filippo Baldi of Italy went out to Jaume Munar Clar of Spain 7-6(2), 7-6(9). On Sunday, No. 4 seed Roman Safiullin of Russia lost to another unheralded Slovakian, Alex Molcan, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4.  Top seed Alexander Zverev did advance, 6-3, 6-4 over Croatia's Nino Serdarusic.

For complete results and draws, including the doubles draws, where Mmoh and Kozlov are the top boys seeds, see the tournament website.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Australian Open Junior Preview; Kuhn, Tanasescu Win Teen Tennis Titles; Rubin, Abanda Reach Florida Pro Circuit Semis

My preview of the Australian Open junior championships, which begin Saturday (tonight in the US), is now available at the Tennis Recruiting Network.  Three of the five Americans in the draw are on the opening day schedule, with No. 5 seed Michael Mmoh taking on Daniel Windahl of Sweden, No. 14 seed Katrine Steffensen facing Simran Kaur Sethi of India and Michaela Gordon meeting Jasmine Paolini of Italy.  Olivia Hauger, who plays wild card Perra Hule of Australia, and No. 2 seed Stefan Kozlov, who plays wild card Blake Mott, will play Sunday.

It's the second week in a row that Kozlov has drawn an Australian wild card, with the 17-year-old Mott sporting one of the best ATP rankings in the field at 653, which is not quite high enough to earn seeding at a junior slam (550 is the cutoff). Kozlov, whose own ATP ranking is 1080, lost to Brad Mousley of Australia in the first round of the Grade 1 in Traralgon last week.  For more in depth coverage of the Australian junior in the draws (18 girls and 13 boys) see the Aceland Tennis website.

An interesting note in the girls draw involves No. 7 seed Ziyue Sun of China, who missed the sign-in deadline and was given a wild card into qualifying (as was Qiu Yu Ye of China). With Sun and Ye qualifying, China now has seven girls in the main draw.  Sun's seeding, which couldn't be projected until she qualified, cost Great Britain's Isabelle Wallace the No. 16 seed.

The junior draws are available at the tournament website.

In the men's and women's draws, the Thursday losses of Sam Querrey, Alison Riske and Lauren Davis leave just three Americans left in singles: Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens and Donald Young.  The latter two play Saturday, with Stephens taking on former Roland Garros girls champion and Wimbledon girls finalist Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, while Young meets No. 16 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan.

All the US juniors are out of singles at the Grade 1 Copa Gatorade in Venezuela, but unseeded 15-year-old Raveena Kingsley has reached the final of the Grade 2 this week in India.

At the Nike International Junior Teen Tennis in Bolton, England, Germany's Nicola Kuhn and Canada's Maria Tanasescu took the titles, with No. 2 seed Kuhn beating No. 8 seed Andrew Fenty of the US 6-3, 6-1 and the unseeded Tanasescu outlasting top seed Anda Karanusic of Croatia 7-6(3), 6-7(6), 7-6(4). Add that to the archives of all-tiebreaker major finals, along with last year's Eddie Herr ITF final between Andrey Rublev and Kamil Majchrzak.  This is the first year since 2009 that the United States failed to win at least one of the singles titles.  Complete results can be found at the Tennis Europe tournament website.

At the Pro Circuit events in Florida, the last player from the United States still alive is 17-year-old Noah Rubin, who reached the semifinals of the $10,000 Sunrise Futures with a 6-3, 6-3 victory today over No. 6 seed Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic.  Rubin will play unseeded 18-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, who beat him in three sets in the first round last week in the Plantation Futures, for a spot in his second Futures final.

Former Michigan teammates Evan King and Jason Jung won the doubles in Sunrise, with the No. 2 seeds beating unseeded 15-year-olds Francis Tiafoe and William Blumberg 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-6.

At the $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Port Saint Lucie, wild card Jamie Loeb(UNC) lost to 16-year-old Francoise Abanda of Canada 6-4, 6-2 in today's quarterfinals, with Loeb the last American in the draw.  Abanda will play fellow qualifier Teodora Mircic of Serbia in the semifinals.  Jan Abaza and Louisa Chirico of the US have reached the doubles final.