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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

UCLA's Thompson, UNC's Loeb Top Seeds for NCAA D-I Individual Tournament; Chirico Signs with Octagon

The NCAA released the names of the participants in the next month's NCAA individual singles and doubles tournaments, which runs from May 21-26 in Athens, Georgia.  The seeds for the tournaments were also announced, but the draws will not come out until May 20th.

The women's singles seeds:

1. Jamie Loeb, North Carolina
2. Robin Anderson, UCLA
3. Kristie Ahn, Stanford
4. Julie Elbaba, Virginia
5. Beatrice Capra, Duke
6. Lauren Herring, Georgia
7. Hayley Carter, North Carolina
8. Jennifer Brady, UCLA

Seeds 9-16, listed alphabetically by last name:

Breaunna Addison, Texas
Emina Bektas, Michigan
Silvia Garcia, Georgia
Olivia Janowicz, Florida
Jenny Jullien, St. Mary’s (Calif.)
Anett Schutting, California
Cristina Stancu, Texas A&M
Chanelle Van Nguyen, UCLA

There are no fewer than six women in the field who made the round of 16 in last year's NCAA singles tournament but are not seeded this year: Zsofi Susanyi, Cal; Yana Koroleva, Clemson; Krista Hardebeck, Stanford; Caroline Price, North Carolina; Stefanie Tan, TCU; Petra Niedermayerova, Kansas State.

Stanford has the distinction of placing all six of their starters in the field of 64.

The men's singles seeds:
1. Clay Thompson, UCLA
2. Marcos Giron, UCLA (the USTA's College Spotlight on Giron is here)
3. Julian Lenz, Baylor
4. Mitchell Frank, Virginia
5. Guillermo Alcorta, Oklahoma
6. Alex Domijan, Virginia
7. Axel Alvarez Llamas, Oklahoma
8. Jared Hiltzik, Illinois

Seeds 9-16, listed alphabetically by last name:
Yannick Hanfmann, USC
Søren Hess-Olesen, Texas
Tom Jomby, Kentucky
Peter Kobelt, Ohio State
Patrick Pradella, Baylor
Ray Sarmiento, USC
Brayden Schnur, North Carolina
Nik Scholtz, Ole Miss

The only player who reached the Round of 16 last year who is in the field but not seeded this year is Alex Sarkissian of Pepperdine.

The women's doubles seeds:
1. Jennifer Brady and Robin Anderson, UCLA
2. Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase, Georgia
3. Jamie Loeb and Hayley Carter, North Carolina
4. Erin Routliffe and Maya Jansen, Alabama

Seeds 5-8, listed alphabetically by institution:

Beatrice Capra and Hanna Mar, Duke
Kendall Woodard and Megan Kurey, Georgia Tech
Monique Albuquerque and Clementina Riobueno, Miami
Julia Elbaba and Rachel Pierson, Virginia

The men's doubles seeds:
1. Ray Sarmiento and Yannick Hanfmann, USC
2. Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese Tennessee
3. Gonzales Austin and Ryan Lipman Vanderbilt
4. Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka Ohio State

Seeds 5-8, listed alphabetically by institution:
Becker O'Shaughnessey and Daniil Proskura, Alabama
Ben Wagland and Hernus Pieters, Georgia
Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon, Illinois
Junior Ore and Jackson Withrow, Texas A&M

Whether the committee deviated at all from the rankings won't be known until Thursday, when the ITA releases to the public the rankings the committee used.

The women's NCAA release, which lists all the participants and the alternates, is here, the men's release is here.

Octagon, one of the major sports management agencies, announced today that it had signed Louisa Chirico, meaning she has given up her college eligibility.  Chirico, who turns 18 in a couple of weeks, is 24 in the ITF junior rankings and 322 in the WTA rankings.  The release, which can be found here, says that Chirico will compete in the WTA Strasbourg tournament May 19th.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Southern Cal Men, Georgia Women Top Seeds for NCAA Division I Team Championships

After UCLA defeated Southern Cal on Saturday at the Pac-12 men's tournament, I thought that would help the Bruins and hurt the Trojans in the NCAA seedings, but it didn't, with Southern Cal staying at No. 1 and UCLA actually falling from its April 22 ranking of 5 to the No 6 seed.  The ITA rankings aren't revealed until Thursday, so we won't know until then whether the committee deviated from the rankings, but if the two teams should meet for the fifth time this year, it will be for the NCAA title, as they are in opposite sides of the draw, which was revealed a few hours ago.

The top 16 men's seeds:
1. Southern Cal
2. Oklahoma
3. Ohio State
4. Virginia
5. Baylor
7. North Carolina
8. Texas A&M
9. Texas
10. Georgia
11. Duke
12. Illinois
13. Notre Dame
14. Florida
15. Kentucky
16. Columbia

Seeds 1-15 are hosting regionals, but Columbia is not, with Vanderbilt, a 17-32 seed, serving as a host and Columbia traveling to Nashville. According to the NCAA release, "per NCAA policy, the top 16 seeds are guaranteed to host if a bid was submitted and criteria are met," so it can only be assumed that Columbia did not submit a bid.

Notably absent from the 64-team field are the following schools, with their April 22 rankings in parentheses: Alabama(36), Dartmouth(42), LSU(46), TCU(47), VCU(50) and Pepperdine(51).

The complete men's bracket is available here:

There were a few surprises in the men's seedings, but nothing compared to the what happened in the women's seedings. The 16 women's seeds:

1. Georgia
2. Alabama
3. Virginia
4. Duke
6. Cal
7. North Carolina
8. Florida
9. Vanderbilt
10. Texas A&M
11. Stanford
12. Miami
13. Clemson
14. Baylor
15. Northwestern
16. Southern Cal

All of the top 16 seeds are hosting regionals, with five each in the ACC and SEC, four in the Pac-12 and just one in the Big Ten and Big 12.

Where to start on the surprises?  UCLA was ranked No. 1 in the April 22 rankings, but they are now at No. 5, and still the highest Pac-12 seed.  Duke moved up to No. 4, despite losing to Virginia in the ACC conference tournament final, and if the Bruins and Blue Devils do get by No. 12 Miami and No. 13 Clemson in the round of 16, which is by no means a given, we could have a quarterfinal rematch of the dramatic Women's Team Indoor final, but this time in a standard scoring format.  The best projected round of 16 match is likely to be defending champion Stanford, seeded 11th, against No. 6 seed Cal, who just beat the Cardinal at home to claim its first Pac-12 title.

Georgia, who was No. 2 in last week's rankings, is now the top seed, the first time the Bulldog women have ever been the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They have looked strong recently, avenging losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama in winning the SEC tournament, but no team has separated itself from the other contenders this year, which should make for an exciting week in Athens next month.

It should be noted that last year it was No. 12 seed Stanford against No. 3 seed Texas A&M in the final.

The bubble teams that didn't make the tournament include: Illinois(37), Utah(38), Washington(39), Saint Mary's(44), Memphis(45) and Yale(47).

Also of note, Jackson State lost in the conference final to Southern University, but Jackson State received the SWAC conference bid, with Southern not eligible to take part due to an insufficient NCAA Academic Progress Rate.

The complete women's draw is here.

The NCAA deserves credit for producing a quick and efficient show that provides all the necessary information without adding extraneous fluff.

I will have more comments on the tournament in the Tennis Recuiting Network's annual roundtable. TRN has opened their May Madness challenge, so head over there to make your picks. As always, there are some valuable prizes awarded to the winners.

Tomorrow the singles and doubles selections and seeds will be announced, although just via a release, on or about 6 p.m. EDT at ncaa.com.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ohio State Earns Another Big Ten Title; Brady Wins Pac-12 Singles, Christian Claims Doubles for Third Time; ITF Junior Update

My account of the Big Ten men's championship match, in which Ohio State defeated Illinois 4-2, is now available at the Tennis Recruiting Network. Neither the Ohio State nor the Illinois release mentioned the ejection of Illinois' associate head coach Marcos Asse, but it was part of the story of the match, so it's included in my account.

Last night I mentioned UCLA's win over Southern Cal for the men's Pac-12 tournament title in Ojai, but I didn't have time to delve into the other results.

In the Pac-12 individual tournament, UCLA freshman Jennifer Brady took the singles title, beating Zoe Scandalis of Southern Cal 6-4, 6-0 in the final. Kaitlyn Christian of Southern Cal won the Pac-12 doubles title for the third straight year, this time with Giuliana Olmos, after winning in 2012 and 2013 with the currently injured Sabrina Santamaria. Christian joins Stanford's Alice Barnes as the only woman to win three consecutive Pac-12 titles.

Top seed Dennis Novikov won the men's Open title, defeating fellow former Bruin Haythem Abid, the No. 2 seed, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. The women's Open title went to former Sacramento State All-American Katrina Zheltova, who was unseeded. She defeated top seed Emma Higuchi 6-4, 6-4.

The CIF boys singles title went to UCLA recruit Austin Rapp, who defeated Michael Genender 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4. The girls 18s singles championship went to Hanna Chang, who beat Ryan Peus 7-5, 6-1.

A complete list of all the winners crowned in Ojai can be found at here. A link to the various TennisLink draws is available on the tournament home page.

A recap of the tournament can also be found in this article from the Los Angeles Daily News.

Madison Bourguignon won her third ITF title in the past two months at the Grade 4 in Trinidad and Tobago. Bourguignon, the No. 1 seed, beat No. 2 seed Nandini Das of India 6-1, 6-3 in the final. Stephanie Hazell of the US won the doubles title, teaming with Vera Alescheva of Russia to defeat unseeded 13-year-old twins Ashley and Jenna Dean of the US 6-2, 6-4. Hazell and Alescheva were seeded No. 3.

Fourteen-year-old Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia won the boys title, his third straight ITF title in the past two months. The No. 13 seed defeated No. 2 seed Rasheed Carey of the Bahamas 5-7, 6-1, 7-6(1).

At the Grade 1 last week in France, No. 2 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France ended the winning streak of Juame Munar Clar of Spain, beating the top seed 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-1 in the final.  Clar had won three Grade 1s in succession since February. Tatlot's titles (he also won the doubles) moved him back into the ITF Top 10 and pushed Michael Mmoh of the US out.

Spain's Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, who won the Banana Bowl last month, picked up another Grade 1 title in France. The top seed beat unseeded Seone Mendez of Australia 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 and has now moved to a career-high ITF junior ranking of 5.

ITF play returns to the US this week in Coral Gables, Florida, with a Grade 4 tournament. This tournament had been held in Daytona Beach the past several years. Fajing Sun of China is the top boys seed and Yolimar Ogando of Puerto Rico is the top seed in the girls draw.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Townsend Wins $50,000 Charlottesville Tournament; Virginia Sweeps ACC Tournaments; Baylor Sweeps Big 12 Tournaments; Ohio State, UCLA Men, Northwestern Women Earn Titles

Taylor Townsend, who turned 18 earlier this month, won her first two professional titles today, sweeping the singles and doubles at the $50,000 Pro Circuit challenger in Charlottesville, Virginia. Townsend, who received a wild card into the tournament, beat 19-year-old qualifier Montserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay 6-2, 6-3 in the singles final, then partnered Asia Muhammad in the doubles final.  Townsend and Muhammad, the No. 2 seeds, defeated top seeds Maria Sanchez(USC) and Irina Falconi(Georgia Tech) 6-3, 6-1 in today's final, with the champions winning all four of their matches in straight sets.

Townsend is now very much in the running for the French Open wild card awarded in the USTA Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge with one tournament remaining, the $50,000 challenger in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida next week.

Australian Nick Kyrgios, who turned 19 today, won his second straight Challenger title, beating Jack Sock 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 in the final of the $50,000 Savannah tournament. Michael Venus(LSU) and Ilija Bozoljac of Serbia won the doubles, defeating Facundo Bagnis of Argentina and Alex Bogomolov 7-5, 6-2 in the final.  The third and final leg of the USTA Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge for men is at $50,000 tournament in Tallahassee. The final round of qualifying Monday includes 17-year-old wild card Alex Rybakov, who beat No. 1 qualifying seed Erik Crepaldi of Italy 7-6(4), 6-4 today.

I spent the day in East Lansing covering Ohio State's 4-2 win over Illinois in the Big Ten Conference tournament championship. My complete account will be available Monday at the Tennis Recruiting Network, and from actually being there, I can report that there was some excitement and some controversy, despite Ohio State's eighth tournament title in the past nine years.

If twists and turns are more your style, the Northwestern women beat Michigan 4-3 to win the tournament title, with Northwestern losing the doubles point, but going way up in singles, only to watch Michigan roar back to take a 3-1 lead. Northwestern's Belinda Niu ended up clinching the win, saving two match points and coming back from a 5-2 deficit in the third set to beat Ronit Yurovsky 6-1, 6-7(2), 7-5 at line 2.  For more on that thriller, see the article on the Northwestern website.

In the ACC, the Virginia men and women captured the tournament titles, with the men beating North Carolina 4-0, and the women beating Duke 4-2.   It was the men's eighth straight ACC title, but a first for the women's program, after they tied with three other teams for first in the regular season.

Baylor swept the Big 12 titles, with the men edging Oklahoma 4-3 (I wasn't there so I can't tell you what the controversial call referred to in the Oklahoma release was) and the women beating Oklahoma State 4-1.

Late last night in Ojai, UCLA defeated Southern Cal 4-2 to win the Pac-12 tournament.  The Bruins took the doubles point and got wins from the bottom of their lineup, with Gage Brymer, Karue Sell, and Adrien Puget, playing No. 6 in his return to the singles lineup, getting points. Southern Cal's two wins came at No. 1 and No. 2. with Hanfmann and Sarmiento beating Giron and Thompson, respectively. The two teams have now split their four meetings this year.

The NCAA will be announcing the draw on Tuesday at 5:00(men) and 5:30(women) EDT, at ncaa.com.  There will be no new ITA rankings released until Thursday.

College Tennis Online hasn't completed its updates of all the automatic qualifiers yet, but they can be found on this page.

I'll have more on the ITF junior results and the Ojai results on Monday.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Easter Bowl Slideshow, Videos

This post wraps up the California junior swing, with photos of the 12s, 14s and 16s singles semifinalists at the Easter Bowl, and the ITF singles semifinalists and doubles finalists. My recap of the Easter Bowl was published on Monday at the Tennis Recruiting Network.

Short videos of all eight champions are available below. Videos of the finalists are also available at the TennisKalamazoo YouTube Channel, by clicking on the links below.

Nathan Ponwith
Katie Swan
Zeke Clark
Claire Liu
Keenan Mayo
Ashley Yeah
Ronan Jachuck
Katie Volynets

Friday, April 25, 2014

My Interview with USTA's Tom Gullikson; Uspensky Reaches Semifinals of ITF Grade 1 in France; Bektas, Gosea Named Big Ten POYs; Rain Causes Scheduling Headaches

Last month in Mobile I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Gullikson, a Lead National Coach in USTA Player Development, and today that interview was published on the Tennis Recruiting Network. Gullikson's job description in Player Development encompasses nearly every age group, and as a tennis "lifer," his thoughts on what's changed and what's stayed the same in the sport of tennis in the past forty plus years were of particular interest to me. If you're curious about the theme of Dave Haggerty's term as USTA president, CEO and chairman, Gullikson explains it concisely at the end of the interview.

Dennis Uspensky hasn't played any junior events in the US since the Orange Bowl last year, and with a current ITF junior ranking of 101, the 17-year-old is unlikely to make the main draw of the two junior slam this summer in Europe unless he can improve that.  He's helping his cause this week at the Grade 1 in France, where he's reached the semifinals, despite being unseeded. Uspensky defeated No. 16 seed Domagoj Biljesko of Croatia in the second round and No. 3 seed Clement Geens of Belgium in the third round and reached the semifinals with a win over unseeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. Uspensky will now play top seed Juame Antoni Munar Clar of Spain, who is seeking his third straight Grade 1 title in the past four weeks.

The Big Ten announced its award winners and all-conference teams last night.  Emina Bektas of Michigan and Farris Gosea of Illinois were named athletes of the year, with Michigan's Ronni Bernstein and Ohio State's Ty Tucker coaches of the year.  For the women's awards, see this release. For the men's awards, see this release.

Rain in North Carolina disrupted the ACC men's and women's conference championships, with matches still be played this evening indoors. The Duke women did avenge their loss last weekend to Clemson, posting a 4-0 win earlier today, and will play North Carolina in the semifinals Saturday.  Miami will play the winner of the Virginia - Georgia Tech match tonight in the other women's semifinal.   The men's semis will feature top seed Virginia against No. 4 seed Notre Dame and No. 2 Duke against the winner of the North Carolina - North Carolina State match tonight.

In the Big Ten, rain also caused a few problems, but all semifinal matches are set. In the men's tournament at East Lansing, it will be top seed Ohio State against No. 5 seed Northwestern and No. 2 seed Illinois against No. 6 Michigan. At the women's tournament at Northwestern, top seed Michigan will play No. 4 seed Purdue and No. 2 seed Northwestern will meet No. 3 seed Ohio State.

The women's $50,000 Pro Circuit event in Charlottesville saw only one match completed today, with rain wiping out play for the day midway through the match between Grace Min and Nicole Gibbs, which Gibbs led 6-0, 2-2.  The winner of that match will play qualifier Montserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay, who beat Francoise Abanda of Canada in three sets before the rains came. The semifinals will also be played on Saturday, so playing first today turned into a big advantage for Gonzalez.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Virginia's Brian Boland Named National Coach of the Year by USOC; Five Americans in Charlottesvile $50K Quarterfinals; Herring, Scholtz Named SEC POYs; Conference Tournaments Underway

The USTA provided a release announcing the USOC's 2013 coaching awards for tennis, with University of Virginia's men's head coach Brian Boland named National Coach of the Year.  Boland's team went undefeated in 2013, winning the National Indoor team and the  NCAA team championship after finishing runner-up to the University of Southern California the previous two years. Virginia senior Jarmere Jenkins was a finalist in singles and won the NCAA doubles title with Mac Styslinger last May in Illinois.

As previously announced at the USTA's Coaches Awards at the Easter Bowl earlier this month, Joseph Gilbert was named Developmental Coach of the Year.  Gordon Uehling was given the Doc Counsilman Award for Sports Science and Jan Beeman was named Volunteer Coach of the Year.

The complete release can be found here.

The second leg of the women's USTA's Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge is in Charlotteville this week for a $50,000 tournament, and as was the case in Dothan last week, Americans are doing very well.  No. 8 seed Grace Min, who won Dothan to take the lead in the points race for the French Open wild card, reached the quarterfinals with a win today, and she will play Nicole Gibbs, who at this time last year, was preparing to defend her 2012 NCAA titles.  Min and Gibbs met in the final of the $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Innisbrook this winter, which was also on the green clay, with Min winning 7-5, 6-0. 

Vicky Duval, who reached the final last week in Dothan, is still in the running for the wild card, and she will play Sanaz Marand(North Carolina) in the quarterfinals Friday.  Sixth seed Duval and the unseeded Marand split their meeting last year, with Marand winning in three sets in Charlottesville and Duval winning in three sets indoors in Midland.

The fifth American in the last eight is Taylor Townsend, who, like Marand, is a wild card recipient. Townsend beat No. 4 seed Irina Falconi in the first round and Anastasia Rodionova of Australia today 6-3, 6-1. Her next opponent is Sesil Karatantcheva of Kazakhstan.

Seventeen-year-old qualifier Francoise Abanda of Canada has also reached the quarterfinals.

This week's men's $50,000 Challenger in Savannah has only one US player remaining eligible to win the wild card, with No. 5 seed Alex Kuznetsov, who won the Har-Tru Challenge last year, reaching the quarterfinals today. Kuznetsov defeated Evan King (Michigan) 6-1, 6-3, and will play 18-year-old Nick Kyrgios of Australia tomorrow in the quarterfinals. Kyrgios won the Sarasota Challenge last week. The other American still in the draw is Jack Sock, the No. 2 seed, who is already in the main draw of the French.

The SEC, which completed its tennis season last week with the conference championships, announced its awards. Georgia's Lauren Herring and Mississippi's Nik Scholtz were named Players of the Year.  Jenny Mainz of Alabama was named Women's Coach of the Year, and Steve Denton of Texas A&M was named Men's Coach of the year.  The complete list of all-conference teams are here for the women, and here for the men.

Most conference tournaments are being held this weekend, with the majority of the top teams starting play on Friday. The only exception to that was the Duke women, who are the No. 5 seed in the ACC tournament, and so had to play in today's second round. They beat Wake Forest 4-0, to set up a quarterfinal meeting Friday with Clemson, who beat Duke last weekend.

The ITA has links to all the tournaments' live scoring and video, if available, at their Matchday Central page.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

USA Teams for Upcoming ITF World Junior Tennis and Junior Davis and Fed Cups Qualifying; Garage Sale Trophy Revives a Legacy

USTA coaches Jamea Jackson and Kathy Rinaldi will coach the US girls teams

These are the players who will be representing the United States next month in Montreal at the North/Central America and Caribbean qualifying for the ITF's World Junior Tennis 14-and-under competition and the ITF's Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup for juniors 16-and-under.

World Junior Tennis (the two teams qualifying play in Prostejov, Czech Republic, August 4-9, 2014)

Andrew Fenty
Keenan Mayo
Steven Sun
USTA Coach: Jay Devashetty

Elysia Bolton
Claire Liu
Rachel Lim
USTA Coach: Jamea Jackson

Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup (only one team will advance to the finals in San Luis Potosi Mexico Sept. 23-28, with Mexico automatically qualifying)

William Blumberg
John McNally
Nathan Ponwith
USTA Coach: Erik Kortland

Usue Arconada
Sofia Kenin
Raveena Kingsley
USTA Coach: Kathy Rinaldi

Both qualifying tournaments are in Montreal, May 8-10.  For a complete list of all qualifying tournaments around the world, see this PDF from the ITF. 

This Doug Robson article from yesterday's USA Today is only distantly related to junior and college tennis, but it is a great story, with my friend and Easter Bowl media liaison Steve Pratt playing a prominent role.  Joe Hunt, who was killed in World War II, won the National junior 15s in 1934 and the National 18s in 1937, before the competition moved to Kalamazoo in 1943. He also won the Intercollegiate tennis championship--the NCAA records say at Navy in 1941, not 1938 as the article states--and the US singles title in 1943 at Forest Hills.  An Ojai trophy purchased at a garage sale in Beverly Hills started Pratt in pursuit of its history and he ended up eventually connecting with Hunt's great nephew, who was trying to revive his great uncle's legacy on his own. 

On Thursday, at Ojai, where Pratt also works as media liaison, the trophy will be presented to the nephew and his family in a ceremony honoring Hunt. I hope the International Tennis Hall of Fame extends them an invitation to attend this year's ceremony, since none of the family knew about Hunt's induction back in 1966.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

UCLA Women, Southern Cal Men Take Top Spots in ITA Rankings; Loeb in College Spotlight; New Academy in Charleston SC; Do British Players Need to be Hungrier?

As expected after the Southern Cal men's win over UCLA and the Duke women's two losses, the new ITA rankings have two new No. 1 teams. Southern Cal has moved past Ohio State and is now the top-ranked men's team, while UCLA has moved into the women's top spot, with Duke falling to No. 6.

The men's rankings didn't change much except for that shuffle, with Texas A&M moving from 11 to 8 by virtue of their SEC conference tournament title. In the always important area around No. 16, on or above which a team will host an NCAA regional, Clemson has moved up to 16, with Cal, who lost to Stanford over the weekend, dropping to 19.

The men's Top 10:

1. Southern Cal
2. Ohio State
3. Oklahoma
4. Virginia
6. Baylor
7. Texas
8. Texas A&M
9. North Carolina
10. Georgia

For the Texas College Tennis blog's rankings, click here.

In the women's rankings, Georgia moved from No. 6 to No. 2 after winning the SEC team tournament, and Cal moved from 10 to 4 after beating Stanford. The Clemson women, who beat both Duke and North Carolina over the weekend, moved into a hosting position, going from 17 to 12.

The women's Top Ten:

2. Georgia
3. Alabama
4. Cal
5. Texas A&M
6. Duke
7. Virginia
8. Florida
9. Stanford
10. Vanderbilt

These are the last ITA rankings released before the NCAA selection show, which is scheduled for April 29, at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time for the men and 5:30 p.m. EDT for the women, on ncaa.com. The rankings provided to the NCAA committee will be released by the ITA on May 1.

In the individual rankings, Jamie Loeb of North Carolina and Clay Thompson of UCLA continue to hold down the No. 1 positions. Loeb is the subject of the USTA's College Spotlight, where she answers questions about her decision to go to college, her expectations prior to joining the Tar Heels and her goals for this year, which include NCAA titles, both team and individual.

The women's Top Ten in singles:

1. Jamie Loeb, North Carolina
2. Robin Anderson, UCLA
3. Kristie Ahn, Stanford
4. Julia Elbaba, Virginia
5. Hayley Carter, North Carolina
6. Lauren Herring, Georgia
7. Beatrice Capra, Duke
8. Cristina Stancu, Texas A&M
9. Jenny Jullien, Saint Mary's
10.Emina Bektas, Michigan

The men's Top Ten in singles:

1. Clay Thompson, UCLA
2. Julian Lenz, Baylor
3. Marcos Giron, UCLA
4. Mitchell Frank, Virginia
5. Guillermo Alcorta, Oklahoma
6. Axel Alvarez, Oklahoma
7. Peter Kobelt, Ohio State
8. Jared Hiltzik, Illinois
9. Nik Scholtz, Ole Miss
10. Ray Sarmiento, Southern Cal

Sarmiento and Yannick Hanfmann have taken over the No. 1 spot in men's doubles, with UCLA's Jennifer Brady and Robin Anderson retaining the top ranking in women's doubles.

Complete rankings can be found at the ITA website.

I received a press release today announcing a new tennis academy for the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Beginning July 1, Jeff Wilson and Bryan Minton's MWTennis will take over for Instinctive Tennis Academy, offering beginner, after-school, adult and high performance tennis, as well as fitness and nutrition instruction. In addition, Michael Joyce, who was Maria Sharapova's coach for seven years and has been recently working with Jessica Pegula, will become Director of Professional Tennis at the academy. The complete release can be found here.

The LTA's Michael Downey, recently hired to head the British tennis federation after working for many years at TennisCanada, spoke about the need for more urgency from Great Britain's coaches and players according to this article from the Daily Mail.

"'Does the average coach know what it takes? Does the average prospect know what it really takes?' he asked. 'We need to make them hungrier. We are competing with countries where it’s about getting to a better life, and that provides a different level of fight, but we do have a lot of talent out there. We have to let the talent exceed expectations."

Can you make someone hungrier? To me that seems more an internal engine than an external one, but it will be interesting to see what form the LTA's attempts to do it take.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Bowl Recap; Teens Have Big Weekends on Pro Circuit; Kosakowski, Min Lead Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge After Week One; ITF Junior Update

My Easter Bowl recap is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. It's overview of a very busy week at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and I hope to have the slideshow and videos from that tournament available by this weekend.

Croatia's Donna Vekic, who turns 18 in June, had already appeared in two WTA finals prior to yesterday, when she won the WTA event in Kuala Lampur, beating top seed and Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 5-7, 7-5 7-6(4).  It was Vekic's first Top 10 win, and she is the first 17-year-old to win a WTA title since Vania King won in Bangkok in 2006.  For more on Vekic's title, see this article from the WTA website.

On the Pro Circuit in the US, teens Nick Kyrgios of Australia and Grace Min of the US collected titles.  The unseeded Kyrgios, who will be 19 next week, hadn't played in a couple of months due to an elbow injury, but he collected his second career Challenger title at the $100,000 tournament in Sarasota. Kyrgios beat unseeded Filip Krajinovic of Serbia 7-6(10), 6-4 in the final, returning him to the ATP Top 200, the only teenager in that group.

Kyrgios defeated wild card Dan Kosakowski(UCLA) in the semifinals 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, but Kosakowski was the only US player (not already in the main draw of the French Open) to earn points in the USTA's Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge.  He leads the race, which includes this week's $50,000 Challenger in Savannah and next week's $50,000 Challenger in Tallahassee. A French Open wild card will go to the American with the best two results in terms of ATP points in the three Challengers. Kosakowski received a special exemption into the main draw in Savannah this week, and he will play Jarmere Jenkins(Virginia) in the first round.

Grace Min leads the women's Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge after winning the $50,000 title in Dothan, Alabama yesterday.  The unseeded Min, who will be 20 next month, defeated No. 8 seed Vicky Duval 6-3, 6-1 in the final.  Min picked up 80 points, while Duval now has 48.  A total of 13 US players earned points in Dothan; the next two events are the $50,000 tournament in Charlottesville, Virginia this week, and the $50,000 tournament in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida next week.

The Har-Tru Challenge points tables can be found here.

Another notable result from last week came from Uzbekistan, where 16-year-old Roman Safiullin of Russia captured his first Futures title. Safiullin, a wild card who had no ATP points, had played only three Futures before last week, losing in qualifying in all three. He defeated top seed Dennys Molchanov of Ukraine 6-3, 6-4 in the second round, and in the final, downed unseeded 19-year-old Temur Ismailov of Uzbekistan 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.

In the ITF Juniors, Caroline Turner, who lost in the first round of the Easter Bowl to eventual champion CiCi Bellis, won her first title last week at the Grade 4 in Barbados. Second seed Turner, who has committed to Auburn for 2015, beat top seed Sabrina Faybyshev of the US 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the final.  Qualifier Emanuel Llamas of the US won his first ITF title in Barbados, beating top seed Rasheed Carey of the Bahamas 6-3, 7-6(2) in the final.

Johnnise Renaud, who also lost in the first round of the Easter Bowl, won the Grade 4 in Guadeloupe as the top seed. Renaud beat No. 3 seed Maria Portillo Ramirez of Mexico 6-2, 6-1 in the final.  Reigning Eddie Herr 14s champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia swept the boys titles, partnering Gabriel Pilones of the US for the doubles championship.

Several other exceptionally young players had impressive results in ITF tournaments last week.  Thirteen-year-old Destanee Aiava of Australia claimed her third ITF title since February, with the No. 1 seed cruising past No. 2 seed Maddison Inglis of Australia 6-0, 6-2 in the final of the Grade 4 in Australia.

Eddie Herr 12s champion Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who just turned 13 in March and only then became eligible for ITF junior play, won the first ITF she entered, the Grade 4 in Israel. A qualifier, Potapova won all of her matches in straight sets, a total of eight matches in all.

Fourteen-year-old Anastasia Mikheeva of Great Britain won the Grade 4 in Nottingham, England.

At the Grade B1 Asian Closed in India, 16s Orange Bowl champion Yunseong Chung of Korea won the boys title, with the No. 3 seed defeating top seed Duck Hee Lee of Korea 7-6(1), 7-6(3). Top seed Kamonwan Buayam of Thailand won the girls title, defeating No. 4 seed Tamachan Momkoonthod, also of Thailand, 7-6(2), 6-3 in the championship match.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Georgia Women, Texas A&M Men Win SEC Tournament Titles; Cal Women Claim First Pac-12 Championship; Major Conferences Complete Regular Season

The Georgia women and Texas A&M won SEC tournament titles today, claiming that conference's automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, which begins with regional action three weekends from now.

Georgia, the No. 3 seed, avenged last week's 4-3 loss to No. 1 seed Alabama in Athens, a loss that cost the Bulldogs a tie for the SEC regular season championship, which Alabama won. Today in Missouri, sixth-ranked Georgia won 4-0 over third-ranked Alabama, with Silvia Garcia, Maho Kowase and Lily Kimbell adding singles points, all with straight-set wins, after Georgia had taken the doubles point.

In the men's SEC tournament final today in Nashville, Texas A&M beat No. 4 seed Florida 4-2. A&M had also lost a chance to tie for the SEC regular season title with a surprising loss to Ole Miss last weekend, leaving Georgia alone at the top. But in the tournament, No. 2 seed Texas A&M regrouped, and after Georgia was upset by Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals, the Aggies were the favorites, and they beat South Carolina and Kentucky 4-1 en route to the final.  Against Florida, Texas A&M took the doubles point and got singles wins from Shane Vinsant, Jackson Withrow and Jordan Szabo earn the victory.

Cal coach Amanda Augustus was on the court in 1999,
 the last time the Bears won at Stanford
The women's Pac-12 bid was decided on Saturday, with Cal winning its first Pac-12 title, which is a bit hard to believe, since the Bears made the NCAA finals in both 2008 and 2009.  Cal defeated Stanford 6-1 in Palo Alto, and after the Bears win over UCLA in Berkeley the previous week, they finished the Pac-12 regular season with a perfect 10-0 mark.  The men play a team tournament next week in Ojai, but the Pac-12 women do not, opting for an individual tournament instead.

Things were not so neat in the ACC, where Clemson's wins over Duke and UNC over the weekend, and Miami's defeat of Virginia today left the women's regular season conference in a four-way tie between North Carolina, Miami, Clemson and Virginia, all with 12-2 records in conference play. Top-ranked Duke's 4-3 loss to Georgia Tech Saturday kept it from being a five-way tie at the top.

Virginia won the ACC men's regular season title, with the Cavaliers completing their eighth consecutive undefeated conference season with a 7-0 win over Virginia Tech.

In the Big Ten, the Michigan women won the regular season title, finishing undefeated in conference play with a 7-0 win at Purdue today, and will head into the conference tournament next week at Northwestern as the No. 1 seed.

The top-ranked Ohio State men completed their ninth straight undefeated conference regular season with a 6-1 win over Nebraska today in Columbus, and have extended their record for consecutive home wins in any NCAA sport to 189.  They will travel to East Lansing for the Big Ten tournament next weekend, and I will be covering that final for the Tennis Recruiting Network.

In the Big 12, the Baylor women claimed the regular season conference title, beating Texas 4-3 Friday night to finish 9-0. The men's regular season Big 12 title will be shared by Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor, who all went 4-1 in conference play, with all their losses to each other.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

International Spring Championships Slideshow, Videos

My recap of this year's ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson ran last week at the Tennis Recruiting Network, but due to the back-to-back scheduling of it and the Easter Bowl, I wasn't able to put together the slideshow or process the videos until this week.

In addition to the slideshow of the singles semifinalists and doubles finalists, short videos of the champions are available to watch here. For videos of the finalists, click on their names below the embedded videos to go to the tenniskalamazoo YouTube Channel.

Francis Tiafoe

Raveena Kingsley

Patrick Kypson

Kalani Soli

Friday, April 18, 2014

USC Defeats UCLA, Vanderbilt Tops Georgia; Five Questions with Steve Johnson; USTA's College Information Session in Athens

The Pac-12 men's regular season conference title was on the line today at the University of Southern California, with UCLA visiting Marks Stadium, and the Trojans won it, beating the Bruins 4-2.

In their third meeting of the year--USC won in the semifinals of the Team Indoor, and UCLA taking the match in Westwood back in February--UCLA won the doubles point, taking advantage of the return to the lineup of Adrien Puget. He and Mackenzie McDonald clinched the doubles point for UCLA with an 8-4 win over Eric Johnson and Max de Vroome at line 3, but Puget did not play singles.

In singles, which featured 10 ranked players of the 12 on the court, one of the unranked ones, Johnson, got the Trojans' first point, beating Karue Sell 6-1, 7-5 at line 5.  Yannick Hanfmann made it 2-1 USC with his 6-4, 7-5 victory over No. 1 ranked Clay Thompson at line 1, but UCLA pulled even with Marcos Giron's 7-5, 6-3 win over Raymond Sarmiento. The remaining three matches all went to a third set, with UCLA's three freshmen on the court. Gage Brymer fell to de Vroome 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 at line 4 to make it 3-2, and McDonald lost to Roberto Quiroz 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 at line 3.  Joe DiGiulio and Michael Grant were at 4-4 in the third when Quiroz clinched.

The match was televised by the Pac-12 Network, and the final point can be viewed here.  Unlike most match points, it was a long and tense one, but the celebration after it was over was the usual dog pile.

The next likely encounter between the two teams will be next weekend at Ojai, in the finals of the Pac-12 men's team tournament.

An article and the complete box score are available at the Southern Cal website.

At the men's SEC conference championships in Nashville, host Vanderbilt upset top seed and regular season conference champions Georgia 4-2. Vanderbilt, the No. 8 seed, won the doubles point and collected wins from Ryan Smith at 6, Gonzales Austin at 2, and Rhys Johnson at 4.  Georgia's points came from Austin Smith at 1 and Nick Wood at 5.  The complete box score is here.   A post-match video interview with Vanderbilt coach Ian Duvenhage is available here.

The women's SEC conference championships are in Columbia, Missouri, and so far, favorites have prevailed, with No. 1 seed Alabama, No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 3 Georgia advancing to the semifinals. Florida, seeded 4, and Texas A&M, seeded 5, are just starting their quarterfinal match.

ESPN's Greg Garber talked with Steve Johnson, who is currently home in Orange County, resting, practicing and no doubt attending today's match with UCLA, before heading to Europe, and the French Open, next month.

The USTA's 2012 College Information Session during NCAAs in Athens, Georgia

Two years ago at the NCAAs in Athens, Johnson's father, Steve Sr., was part of the panel at the USTA's College Information Seminar. The Southern section and the USTA will again be providing a similar session at this year's NCAAs in Athens, although it will include different panelists.  Scheduled for Sunday, May 18th at 10:00 a.m., the cost to attend is $10, and includes tickets to the men's quarterfinal matches. For more details, see this flyer.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

ITF Announces Masters Events for Top Eight Juniors; The Wild Card Dilemma; Clemson Women Beat Top-Ranked Duke

The ITF today announced a Junior Masters event, scheduled in April 2015, for the top eight boys and top eight girls in the ITF Junior World rankings at the end of this year.

Since the demise of the Sunshine Cup in 2002, which was an 18-and-under team event, the ITF has not had any special events for that age group. Rumors were circulating that this Masters event might be held during the second week of the Sony Open in Miami or the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, but today's announcement means that will not happen, at least until 2018, with Chengdu, China signing a three-year contract to host the event.

Instead of a round robin format as is used in the ATP and WTA year-end events, this tournament will feature single elimination, but three matches are guaranteed, so every player will end the tournament with a position--first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth.

Stefan Kozlov and Ziyue Sun of China are quoted in the release, as is ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti.

This is now the second major junior event introduced this century in Asia. The Youth Olympic Games were held in Singapore in August of 2010 and this year are in Nanjing in August. The ITF is obviously making an effort to grow the game there with these events. It will be interesting to see who will travel to Nanjing this August--the first YOG had a good field, but not a great one. The fields at the Orange Bowl have rarely included the top 18-year-olds recently; perhaps this carrot will help bolster that event and the Mexican Grade A, which was moved from the beginning of the calendar year to the middle of November.

Forbes magazine's Miguel Morales provides this in-depth look at the considerations, conflicts and politics associated with wild cards. I don't have the strong feelings on this topic that many people do--I think wild cards have their place and often serve the greater interests of the sport--but I do believe there's a distinction between winning a wild card in a tournament, like the USTA Har-Tru wild card challenge, Kalamazoo, or the NCAAs, and being awarded one at the last minute when no big name requests one.  This article has input from a tournament director, agents, Robert Lansdorp, and the USTA, and is helpful in sorting out who controls wild cards, who gets wild cards and why.  A couple of quibbles: the Australian Open does have a regional wild card tournament for Asian players which is not mentioned, and Wimbledon does not trade wild cards, as is implied in the paragraph quoting Jose Higueras.

The consensus that this year's NCAA titles are up for grabs gained even more traction today, when the 17th-ranked Clemson women beat No. 1 Duke 4-3 in Clemson, Clemson's first win ever over a top-ranked team.
Sophomore Joana Eidukonyte, who was on the roster at the Team Indoor but did not play in Clemson's three matches in Charlottesville, saved two match points in the second set against Marianne Jodoin at line 6 and went on to clinch the match 6-7, 7-5, 6-0.  The Tigers won the doubles point, and also earned points from Yana Koroleva's 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 win over Trice Capra at line 1, and Romy Koelzer's 3-6, 7-6, 6-1 victory over Chalena Scholl at line 2.

For more on the match, see the Clemson website. North Carolina and Virginia now are in the best position to win the ACC title, with each having just one loss.  North Carolina travels to Clemson for its final conference match, and Virginia is at Florida State and Miami this weekend.

In a match between two Top 10 men's teams last night in the Big 12, No. 6 Baylor defeated No. 7 Texas 5-2 in Waco.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Signing Day; NCAA Rule Change; Kozlov Blogs; Bencic Feature; French Open Entry List

Today is the first day of 2014 that seniors can sign National Letters of Intent (August 1 ends the 2014 signing period), and the Tennis Recruiting Network will be providing signing announcements throughout this week. For those just getting started in the process of college recruiting, TRNet today published a helpful article from the NCAA Eligibility Center that contains links to guides, online courses, videos and Power Point presentations that address most situations a prospective student-athlete encounters.  I can't stress enough how important it is that coaches, players and parents are familiar with the timing and language of college recruiting, and the academic requirements that are so important to every high school student, whether they are studying online or in a traditional school environment.

The NCAA has announced several rule changes that will take effect when expected approval comes from the board on April 24.  Effective August 1, Division I student-athletes "can receive unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their athletics participation, the Legislative Council decided Tuesday. The rule, which applies to walk-ons as well as scholarship student-athletes, is an effort to meet the nutritional needs of all student-athletes."

For the NCAA release, click here.

Stefan Kozlov has been blogging for the ITF Junior website.  In the three installments, the last of which was published today, the 16-year-old Floridian has written about his training (which is split between the USTA and his father Andrei), his performances in the finals of the Orange Bowl and Australian Open Juniors, his experience hitting with and competing against established pros, and his goals for 2014, which include a junior slam title.

CNN published a feature on Belinda Bencic, the Swiss 17-year-old who, while still the No. 1-ranked ITF junior, has climbed to 91 in the WTA rankings following her semifinal appearance recently at the Family Circle Cup. Just a year ago, Bencic was ranked No. 3 in the juniors and No. 493 in the WTA, proving that teen phenoms are still emerging on the women's side.

Bencic, who won the girls title at Roland Garros last year, will be in the main draw this year. The French Open entry lists have been published, with seven US men and 11 US women receiving direct entry.  The men are: John Isner, Bradley Klahn, Steve Johnson, Sam Querrey, Donald Young, Jack Sock and Michael Russell.  The women are: Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Varvara Lepchenko, Christina McHale, Vania King, Lauren Davis, CoCo Vandeweghe and Anna Tatishvili, who just changed her country affiliation from Georgia to the United States last week.

The men's complete entry list is here.  The women's complete entry list is here.

Stephanie Myles of the Open Court blog has an update on former USTA National Coach Hugo Armando, whom you may have seen in the doubles draw of the Sarasota Challenger, even though the ATP lists him as inactive. Armando has an academy in Bradenton, just north of Sarasota, which is probably all the explanation needed for why he played for the first time since 2008.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ohio State Men, Duke Women Maintain Top Spots in ITA Rankings; Steve Johnson Feature; Har-Tru Pro Circuit French Open Wild Card Challenge Underway

I've missed a lot in college tennis during my past two weeks in California, but nothing has changed at the top of the rankings in either singles or doubles.

The Duke women continue to hold the No. 1 spot, with their final regular season conference matches on the road this week against No. 17 Clemson and No. 27 Georgia Tech, with the ACC tournament following on April 24-27.  Alabama was the big mover this week, with the Crimson Tide rising to No. 3, the highest ranking ever for the program, after beating Georgia in Athens on Friday 4-3. With their win over Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday, Alabama clinched the SEC conference title for the first time.  Florida, who lost to Alabama 4-3 last month in the doubles-last tiebreak shootout, also made a big jump this week, going from 11 to 4.  Vanderbilt fell out of the Top 10, dropping from 5 to 11, and Virginia fell from 4 to 9.

The women's Top 10:
1. Duke
3. Alabama
4. Florida
5. Stanford
6. Georgia
7. North Carolina
8. Texas A&M
9. Virginia
10. Cal

Despite their 4-1 loss to No. 14 Kentucky in Lexington last Wednesday, the Ohio State Buckeyes retained their No. 1 ranking, and will look to extend their NCAA-record home winning streak, now at 187 matches, against Iowa and No. 63 Nebraska this weekend before the Big Ten tournament the following weekend.  The big match between UCLA and Southern California is at USC Friday, and a win could push either team past Ohio State into the top spot.  The two Los Angeles teams are also expected to meet in the final of the Pac-12 conference championships, held (for the men only, the women do not have a conference team tournament), in Ojai the following week.  The men's SEC conference championships are at Vanderbilt, beginning this Wednesday.  The women's SEC championships are at Missouri, also beginning tomorrow.

The men's Top 10:
1. Ohio State
2. Oklahoma
3. Southern California
4. Virginia
6. Baylor
7. Texas
8. North Carolina
9. Georgia
10. Illinois

There were also no changes in the individual rankings, which now come out weekly, with Jamie Loeb of North Carolina and Clay Thompson of UCLA still No. 1 in singles.  The Tennessee team of Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese stay No. 1 in men's doubles and Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady of UCLA continue to be No. 1 in women's doubles.

In Division III, Williams has taken over the women's top spot, while Claremont-Mudd-Scripps stay at No. 1 in the men's rankings.

The complete rankings can be found at the ITA website.

The Texas College Tennis blog's men's rankings are here.

In the past few weeks, the top three American men in the ATP rankings are four-year college players: John Isner(11), Bradley Klahn(65) and Steve Johnson(68). Johnson has had a remarkable three months in 2014--he was ranked 160 to start the year--and with so few American men to focus on, Johnson was bound to begin getting more attention. After Johnson reached the second round at the ATP Clay Courts in Houston, he spoke with the Tennis Channel's Steve Flink.  Johnson discusses his decision to stay in school, his relationship with USTA coach Craig Boynton, and the state of his backhand in this article at tennischannel.com.

Johnson is taking a break from tournaments before heading to Europe and because he has secured a spot in the main draw of the French Open, he is not playing the three Challengers that are part of the USTA Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge.  Last year, Alex Kuznetsov won a wild card into the French Open via this method, as did Shelby Rogers.

Below are the tournaments that make up the Wild Card Challenge, with the best two results, in ATP/WTA points, added together to determine the winners.

USTA Pro Circuit Men’s Events:
  • $100,000 Sarasota (Fla.) Open (week of April 14)
  • $50,000 Savannah (Ga.) Challenger (week of April 21)
  • $50,000 USTA Tallahassee (Fla.) Challenger (week of April 28)
USTA Pro Circuit Women’s Events:
  • $50,000 Dothan (Ala.) (week of April 14)
  • $50,000 Charlottesville, Va. (week of April 21)
  • $50,000 Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. (week of April 28)
At the Sarasota Challenger this week, most of the American men have already lost, but Daniel Kosakowski(UCLA) and Donald Young did advance to the second round.

In Dothan, Alabama, American women were more successful.  Wild card Louisa Chirico, Melanie Oudin and Allie Kiick all won their opening matches today, with eight more, including Rogers, seeded No. 2, schedule for first round matches on Wednesday.  Florida recruit Peggy Porter and Danielle Lao(USC) qualified, with Taylor Townsend receiving a wild card. Porter will play Vicky Duval, the No. 8 seed, Wednesday, and the match should be streamed through the USTA's Pro Circuit page.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Visit to UCLA; USTA Honors Coaches at Easter Bowl

After a very long Sunday at the Easter Bowl, today was a "vacation" day for me in Southern California. My husband and I were invited to visit UCLA by men's assistant Grant Chen, and because in my nine previous Carson/Easter Bowl California trips I had never done so, today was the day.

The UCLA men were off today, after returning yesterday from their weekend matches against Utah and Arizona, although a few of them, including freshmen Joe Di Giulio and Mackenzie McDonald, were at the Los Angeles Tennis Center to hit. Sloane Stephens was also there practicing in preparation for the Fed Cup tie with France this weekend in St. Louis, and the women's tennis team was practicing in the perfect Southern California weather.

Chen took us on a insider's tour, as we visited Pauley Pavilion, the Hall of Fame with its 110 NCAA championship trophies, the training room, the weight room and the sports information area. We then walked along Bruin Way, to the original buildings on campus, including Powell library, before stopping at the Ackerman Union for lunch.  It was a great way to decompress from an intense two weeks of covering tennis, and a walk along Marina del Rey, looking at hundreds of boats of all sizes and shapes, also provided some much needed relaxation.

General Manager of USTA Player Development Patrick McEnroe, with Jerry Baskin

Wednesday evening during the Easter Bowl, the USTA honored for coaches for their contributions to tennis in this country: Jerry Baskin, Jack Sharpe, Nick Bollettieri and Robert Lansdorp.  Lansdorp and Bollettieri disagreed often, and even when they did agree, they didn't seem content to leave it at that. Bollettieri said he believed college was an appropriate path for world class juniors now, given the changes in the game and the lack of sponsorship money available to help juniors transition to the level where they can be self-supporting.  Lansdorp disagreed, saying he was all for education, but studying at college and developing as a tennis player were not compatible.

Sharpe and Baskin spoke much less, although Patrick McEnroe attempted to direct more audience questions to them, so they could contribute their knowledge as well.

Joseph Gilbert was honored as the 2013 USOC Developmental Coach of the Year, and the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland was named the 2013 Team USA Developmental Program of the Year.

Next year's honorees are likely to fewer in number than this year's, but if you have nominees, I would suggest submitting them to Kent Kinnear, Director of Player ID and Development, via email at Kinnear(at)usta.com.

The USTA provided this release on the event, and Steve Pratt, the Easter Bowl media director, wrote this summary for usta.com.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tiafoe, Bellis Win ITF Easter Bowl Titles; Stewart and McNally Claim 16s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Indian Wells, California--

Although CiCi Bellis isn't sporting a necklace with a small crown hanging from it as boys champion Francis Tiafoe is, there's no question the 15-year-old Californian is the queen of the Asics Easter Bowl. After her 6-3, 6-1 victory over No. 9 seed Katie Swan Sunday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Bellis has now won two consecutive titles, adding the ITF Grade B1 title to the 16s championship she won last year.

The 16-year-old Tiafoe, who like Bellis is a former Les Petits As and World Junior Tennis Team champion, has never had the success he coveted at the Easter Bowl, but he erased some of those bad memories--and the pain of last week's third-set tiebreaker loss in the final of the International Spring Championships in Carson--with a 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2 victory over unseeded Nathan Ponwith in Sunday's final.

"Finally, I got over the hump," said Tiafoe, who had won only three matches at the Easter Bowl in the past three years. "I never thought I would. I'm happy I won the title here and happy to go home with a title."

The silver necklace with a tiny crown attached was a gift from another player's parent at the Junior Tennis Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, where Tiafoe trains, and was meant to commemorate his Orange Bowl title last December.

"A lot of people have been asking about that, and thinking I'm getting big-headed for it," said Tiafoe, smiling. "He gave it to me, saying, you're the king now. I wasn't going to say no to that, I took pride in that as soon as he said it. We had a bet going in before that I would get a necklace, and I thought it was going to be a cross, but he was like, no, you're going to get a crown. You're the king. So I said, all right, I'll wear it with pride."

Tiafoe looked as if he would cruise to the title after taking a 5-2, two-break lead in the opening set, but Ponwith shook off the nerves of playing in his first Grade 1 final. Ponwith, who will be 16 next week, saved two set points with Tiafoe serving for the set at 5-4, but Tiafoe controlled the tiebreaker, ending it with a forehand cross court winner on his fourth set point.

Ponwith broke Tiafoe in the opening game of the second set and never trailed, swinging freely and using his forehand to keep Tiafoe on defense.

Ponwith served the opening game of the third set, and led 40-15, but Tiafoe kept pressing, saving four game points in total, while Ponwith saved two break points before Tiafoe finally cracked a backhand winner to take a 1-0 lead.

"The first game of the third is always huge, always, and even the second game was pretty long," said Tiafoe. "The majority of the time I usually win those games and I'm happy I did today, because I could have been down 2-0 or up 2-0."

Ponwith acknowledged the importance of that game.

"It was a super long game," said the Scottsdale, Arizona resident. "I had a bunch of game points and saved a bunch of break points. I think on my game points, I didn't play aggressive enough, and I think he stepped up and played well."

Tiafoe kept the pressure on Ponwith's serve throughout the final set, and the new balls gave his forehand some extra zip. He hit an 119 mph ace to get to match point at 5-2, but missed a forehand wide.  A big backhand into the corner gave him a second match point and he converted it, with a good first serve leading to a forehand error by Ponwith.

Despite the loss, Ponwith left Indian Wells in a positive frame of mind, after a wrist injury kept him from playing for two months early this year.

"It was a great week," said Ponwith, who received the tournament's Sportsmanship Award. "I'm going to come back next year and be really excited. It's a great place to play and a great town to play in."

Tiafoe will move to No. 2 in the ITF world junior rankings next week, moving past fellow 16-year-old Stefan Kozlov for the first time.

"If I am two in the world, I'll be very happy," said Tiafoe, who will train in Europe for a few weeks, and play a few Futures in Spain before heading to the French Open Junior Championships.

"That's somewhere I'm really looking forward to being. I've seen it every year on TV since I was about six years old, and having a chance to play there is going to be great. I'm going to get on the grounds early, hit with some of the pros, like Sam, Stevie and Jack, so I can get used to the clay before the juniors start the second week."

Bellis, seeded No. 4 this week, has yet to lose in ITF junior play this year, running her winning streak to 18, and becoming the first girl since Kyle McPhillips in 2010 and 2011 to follow a 16s title with an 18s championship.

Although Bellis and Swan are good friends, and spent time together before their match watching the boys final, Bellis showed no mercy on the court. Despite playing 12 singles matches in the past 14 days, with her title at the International Spring Championships in Carson, Bellis didn't display any lack of energy or focus.

"Yeah, I'm tired," admitted Bellis, who had her knee taped a few days ago, but said it wasn't bothering her anymore. "Two tournaments in a row, it's hard."

After falling behind 2-0 in the first set, Bellis won six of the next seven games to take the set, and continued to dictate points with her forehand in the second set, while Swan's serve began to become less effective. Swan called for a trainer at the end of the first set, with her shins the source of the discomfort.

"Yesterday both my shins started to hurt. I think the tissue is rubbing on the bone," said Swan, a 15-year-old from Bristol, England, whose family now lives in Wichita, Kansas. "But it will be okay soon."

Swan had nothing but praise for Bellis.

"She's such a great player," Swan said. "It's great to play against someone like that, so I know the level I need to get to. She's just looking always to dominate, and has a great forehand. She's just an amazing player."

Bellis will head to Europe for the Italian ITF junior swing, which ends with the Grade A Italian Open, before going on to the French Open Junior Championships, and after winning the ITF World Junior Team Championships last year on the red clay in the Czech Republic, she is excited to get on the surface again.

But first, Bellis will take a few days off, leaving the racquet in the bag for two or three days.

"I'm just going to be relaxing," said Bellis, of Atherton, California. "It's going to be nice to just hang out for the next few days, and let my body rest and recover until getting back to training again."

While Bellis had nothing but good memories of Easter Bowls past, boys 16s champion John McNally, who also won the title last week in Carson, had to again relive his loss to Connor Hance in the 2013 14s final. McNally had a match point he failed to convert then; and this year against No. 2 seed Zeke Clark, McNally was serving at 6-3, 5-4, 40-0 only to lose those three match points and another one, before pulling out a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory.

"This year, I've grown a lot as a tennis player," said the ninth-seeded McNally, a 15-year-old from Cincinnati. "Just being able to close that match out is a huge sigh of relief. I'm still shaking from the match."

Clark, a 15-year-old from Tulsa, stayed with McNally throughout the tiebreaker, with the first eight points going to the server.  Clark surrendered the first mini-break, when a McNally forehand forced a short ball that McNally put away to make it 5-4.  On the next point McNally went for the sideline and caught a part of it according to the line judge and the chair umpire, but Clark was not convinced.

With his fifth match point, McNally finally converted, with another forehand forcing a forehand from Clark that sailed over the baseline.

"It was getting hard to breathe after those match points," said McNally, who learned tennis from his mother, the former Lynn Nabors, who played at Northwestern University with Katrina Adams, the USTA first vice president, who was in attendance at Indian Wells. "I was pretty worried. I think I said last year in my interview that all the best players blow match points and bounce back, and I bounced back this year."

McNally credited his serve with his effectiveness against Clark, who he dubbed a "pit bull."

"I think I lost my serve just once, in the second set," said McNally, who hit back-to-back aces in the tiebreaker to win the sixth and seventh points. "It was awesome to see my serve speed--I hit one 120. That was unbelievable. Against Zeke you have to make first serves, because if you give him a second serve, the point's going to last 40 balls. You want to try to end the points as quickly as possible."

The only downside to the win for McNally was the fact that last year the Easter Bowl was a gold ball event, while this year it is not.

"I'm a little disappointed it's not a gold ball," McNally said. "But it's still nice. Back-to-back weeks in California, it has been a great two weeks, two huge tournaments, and I won them both."

Girls 16s champion Katerina Stewart, the No. 1 seed, lost only eight games in her first five matches, but the 16-year-old from Coral Gables, Florida had her hands full in the final, eventually prevailing over unseeded 13-year-old Claire Liu 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Up 5-0 in the first set, Stewart couldn't be blamed for envisioning her ninth 6-0 set of the tournament, but Liu took three straight games before Stewart finally served it out.

"Basically up until 5-0 it was all about nerves, who could control it better, I think," said Stewart, who lost in the 14s Easter Bowl final in 2011. "At 5-0, we both started relaxing, and she started playing her game more, and it became more of a battle, like it should have been. She was playing really well in the second set, and I kind of pulled back a little bit. I stepped in there and regrouped in the third set."

Stewart, who turns 17 in July, will now play the 18s Clay Courts and Hard Courts this summer, in hopes of winning a wild card into the US Open junior championships.

"It's my last 16s tournament, so it's a good way to end," Stewart said.

In the girls 14s final, No. 3 seed Rachel Lim defeated Ashley Yeah 6-1, 7-6(2).

"I think I played really well overall," said Lim, who trains at the USTA's National Tennis Center in New York. "She's a really good player, so I had to hang in there and stay tough because she was really consistent and driving the ball really well."

"In the first set, I came out playing really well, I was stepping in and being aggressive, then in the second set I kind of got a little tight, especially when I was up 5-3. I didn't really hit the ball as I'd want to, as I did in the first set, but I hung in there for the tiebreak and I feel like it paid off."

The boys 14s champion is top seed Steven Sun, who defeated No. 2 seed Keenan Mayo 6-0, 4-6, 6-1.

"I think I got too excited in the second set," said Sun, who was down 6-1, 3-1 in his semifinal match with Andrew Fenty on Saturday before posting a 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 victory. "I went back to my game plan, got things under control."

Sun, who won the USTA Clay Courts in the 12s last year, said he believes this title was more difficult to secure.

"This one was a lot tougher," said Sun, who trains at the Sly Black Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. "Better opponents, just a lot tougher."

The girls 12s title went to No. 9 seed Kacie Harvey, who beat No. 6 seed Katie Volynets 6-2, 6-1.

"She was a really good runner, so I had to be smart with my shots, move it all around," said the 12-year-old Harvey, who trains in Braintree, Mass. with Calin Mateas, father of Maria and Catalin Mateas. "I couldn't go to the same spot every time, and she's really good at running side to side, so I had to go behind her a lot, and I usually had to hit a couple of extra shots more than I'm used to, so it took a lot of energy."

For Harvey, the Easter Bowl represented a big step forward.

"I usually have lost third round in every other tournament," Harvey said. "So I'm pretty excited that I finally won."

Harvey is also eager to get back home to New England, because her parents were not able to travel to California with her.

"I'm excited to see them," said Harvey. "I wish they were here to watch me, but they keep texting me and calling me, and saying good luck. I haven't talked to them yet, but I'll call them soon."

Unseeded Daniel Sharygin won the boys 12s title, beating No. 16 seed Ronan Jachuck 7-6(4), 6-2.

The 12-year-old left-hander from Indiana said he was not surprised that he wasn't seeded in the tournament.

"Since I've been playing a lot of 14s tournaments, my ranking kind of dropped in the 12s," said Sharygin, who will turn 13 in October. "I kind of expected that, but I didn't really worry about the seeds too much."

Sharygin was well aware of the Easter Bowl's history and importance, with his coach Stephanie Hazlett, who went on to earn All-America honors at the University of Florida, the 16s champion back in 1995.

"She's an excellent coach," said Sharygin, who admitted he was nervous when he took the court for the final after learning of the significance of the tournament from Hazlett.

A veteran of the 12s Spring Nationals, which were played in Delray Beach, Florida prior to this year, Sharygin, who didn't lose a set in the tournament, said he preferred the Easter Bowl.

"I actually like this tournament better," said Sharygin. "It's a much better environment--it's California."

For complete 18s results, see the TennisLink site.

For complete results from the younger age divisions, see the Tennis Link site.

The doubles finals:

Boys 12s: 
Nathan Arimilli and Connor Fu(2) def. Eliot Spizzirri and Billy Suarez(4) 9-7.

Boys 14s:
Paul Barretto and Timothy Sah (5) def. Cody Lin and Kento Perera 8-2

Boys 16s: 
Caleb Chakravarthi and Evan Zhu def. Mark Vasat and Brenden Volk 8-4

Girls 12s:
Carmen Corley and Amber Hochstatter def. Isabella Harvison and Jillian Taggart 8-6

Girls 14s:
Malkia Menguene and Natasha Subhash def. Kolie Allen and Meg Kowalski (6) 8-4

Girls 16s:Katie Chang and Claire Liu (3) def. Abigail Chiu and Elizabeth Porter(4) 8-3