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Monday, February 29, 2016

Easter Bowl to Offer Travel Grants for ITF Grade B1; Shape Invitational Begins Tuesday; Qualifying Complete in Boca Raton, Canada Futures; Another D-I Men's Program Eliminated

The Asics Easter Bowl announced today that it would be providing travel grants for those players in the ITF Grade B1 tournament who reach the late stages of the tournament. From the tournament release:

The $10,000 in travel grants will be awarded evenly in the boys’ and girls’ ITF divisions beginning in the round of 16. The grants will take the form of vouchers for airline travel and hotel expenses.

The travel grants will be awarded as follows:

Winner: $750
Finalist: $750
Semi-finalist: $500
Quarter-finalist: $325
Round of 16: $150

According to tournament director Lorne Kuhle:

“This is not in any way to be construed as prize money. No cash will be distributed to the players. These grants are not based on performance and are based on extended expenses that families and players incur because of rising hotel and return airfare rates that occur when players reach the latter stages of the tournament.”

The complete release can be found here.

The Shape Invitational for 12 American women college players will begin on Tuesday in Charleston, SC, with the prize for the winner a wild card into the main draw of April's WTA Volvo Car Open.  Raveena Kingsley, who would have been a favorite to win, withdrew with an injury suffered last week in the Rancho Santa Fe $25K.

The four round robin groups of 3 are:
Group 1:
Katherine Schofield, College of Charleston
Lauren Herring, University of Georgia
Jacqueline Pelletier, St. Mary's (Calif)
Group 2:
Chloe Gullickson, University of Virginia
Beatrice Capra, Duke
Frances Altick, Vanderbilt
Group 3:
Caroline Dailey, South Carolina
Liza Fieldsend, College of Charleston
Kaitlyn McCarthy, Duke
Group 4:
Makenna Jones, Alabama
Sydney Campbell, Vanderbilt
Paige Cline, South Carolina

Rounds 1 and 2 are Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the final round robin match will be played, as well as the semifinals.  The finals are scheduled for Thursday, with the runner-up getting a qualifying wild card.

The only Pro Circuit event this week in the US is the men's $10,000 Boca Raton Futures, with qualifying completed there today.  Three Americans--Dennis Nevolo, Reilly Opelka and Gonzales Austin--are among the eight qualifiers.  Wil Spencer, Jean-Yves Aubone and Sekou Bangoura(3) received direct entry, while Collin Johns got in as a lucky loser. Local junior Jourdan Kast, Isaiah Strode and Sebastian Korda received wild cards to round out the American presence in the draw. Christian Lindell of Sweden is the top seed.

At the $25,000 ITF Men's Circuit event in Canada, four Americans qualified: Michael Grant, Andrew Carter, Justin Shane and Robert Galloway.  Four Americans are seeded in the main draw: Eric Quigley(3), Stefan Kozlov(4), Evan King(5) and Deiton Baughman(6). King lost his first round match today against Alexios Halebian, while Christian Harrison, receiving entry based on a protected ranking, fell to former Texas star Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain.  Other Americans in the main draw are Mico Santiago and Alex Kuznetsov. Canadian juniors Denis Shapolalov, who received a wild card, and Felix Auger-Aliassime are also in the draw.  The top seed is Germain Gigouon of Belgium.

In WTA qualifying, two-time NCAA singles champion Nicole Gibbs reached the main draw of this week's tournament in Monterrey, Mexico with three straight-set wins and will play No. 7 seed Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in the first round.  Gibbs is writing a diary for the WTA website now, and her first post can be found here.

It was announced yesterday that Division I University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville will be dropping its men's tennis (and women's golf) program.  SIE has an impressive history as one of the top Division II tennis schools in the 1980s and is the alma mater of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, a great US doubles team that won three slam titles. More on the elimination of the two programs is here.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Illinois Men Beat Virginia, Lose to TCU; Zhao's Return Boosts Stanford Women to Win over Florida; Pomona-Pitzer Wins D-III Women's Team Indoor; Rubin, King Fall in Pro Circuit Finals

Most conference seasons have yet to begin, but that doesn't mean any dearth of important matches as February comes to a close.

Last night in Champaign-Urbana, No. 11 Illinois upset No. 2 seed and defending NCAA champion Virginia, playing without its No. 1 Ryan Shane, 4-3. Today, Illinois hosted No. 8 TCU and was beaten 5-2, adding more intrigue to the Division I season. Meanwhile, in Norman, Oklahoma today, No. 51 Arkansas defeated No. 10 Oklahoma 5-2, leaving the NCAA finalists with an 0-2 record over the weekend.  No. 5 Wake Forest rebounded from its loss to Texas Saturday by blanking No. 6 Texas Tech.  It may not quite resemble the Division I basketball parity, but aside from undefeated North Carolina, who was idle this weekend, a favorite for the NCAA title has yet to emerge.

Bobby Knight of College Tennis Today was in Champaign and has extensive coverage of the Fighting Illini's win over Virginia.

In women's action, No. 9 Duke, at home, defeated No. 13 Miami 4-3 in an ACC conference match, and in an important non-conference match, No. 16 Stanford defeated No. 7 Florida 4-3.  Florida won the doubles point, just as they had done against Cal on Friday, but with Carol Zhao back in the lineup for the Cardinal, Stanford came back to win four singles matches, with Krista Hardebeck defeating Josie Kuhlman 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 to clinch the win. Kuhlman went down 0-40 serving at 4-5 in the third, but won four straight points to keep Florida's hopes alive. But after Hardebeck held by winning a deciding point, Kuhlman went down 15-40 on serve, and could only save one of those three matches points, setting off an excited celebration on the Taube Center courts.

Zhao, who had not played a singles match for Stanford since the NCAAs last May, defeated Brooke Austin 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 at No. 1 in one of the five matches that went three sets.  Every player who won the first set won the third however, and that, plus Taylor Davidson's straight-set win over Belinda Woolcock at No. 2, was enough to give Stanford the match.

Pomona-Pitzer Wins First Team Indoor Title, photo courtesy ITA

At the ITA Division III Women's Team Indoor Championships, No. 2 seed Pomona-Pitzer swept top seed Carnegie Mellon 5-0, claiming its first Team Indoor title.  For more on the match, see the ITA release.

DePauw Indoor Tennis and Track Center
2/28/2016 at Greencastle, Ind.
No. 2 seed Pomona-Pitzer 5, No. 1 seed Carnegie Mellon University 0
1. Brooke Tsu (CMUW) vs. Joy Kim (PPW) 3-6, 1-4, unfinished
2. Caroline Casper (PPW) def. Nicholle Torres (CMUW) 6-2, 6-4
3. Maryann Zhao (PPW) def. Cori Sidell (CMUW) 6-1, 6-2
4. Jamie Vizelman (CMUW) vs. Shivani Doraiswami (PPW) unfinished
5. Minami Makino (CMUW) vs. Mae Coyiuto (PPW) unfinished
6. Katie Lai (CMUW) vs. Arianna Chen (PPW) unfinished
1. Maryann Zhao/Emily Chen (PPW) def. Cori Sidell/Minami Makino (CMUW) 8-5
2. Lea Lynn Yen/Caroline Casper (PPW) def. Jamie Vizelman/Brooke Tsu (CMUW) 8-5
3. Joy Kim/Arianna Chen (PPW) def. Nicholle Torres/Abbey Hamstra (CMUW) 9-8 (7-2)
Match Notes:
Pomona-Pitzer 3-1; National ranking #7
Carnegie Mellon University 8-2; National ranking #6
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1,3); Singles (2,3)

Neither USTA Pro Circuit event this week ended with an American champion, with Noah Rubin falling in the $10,000 Plantation Futures final and Vania King losing in the $25,000 Rancho Santa Fe final.

Rubin, the No. 2 seed, lost to unseeded Andrea Collarini of Argentina 6-3, 7-6(3).  Rubin was broken in the fourth game of the first set and Collarini made that stand up. The 24-year-old left-hander didn't face a break point until the fourth game, and Rubin did take advantage of that rare opportunity, but he was immediately broken back, and was broken in his next service game as well. Rubin got that break back immediately, but in the tiebreaker, the 20-year-old New Yorker did not get a point on his serve until he trailed 6-2.  Collarini made 87 percent of his first serves for the day to help secure his 10th Futures singles title, all of them on clay.

King, unseeded, lost to top seed and WTA No. 67 Shuai Zhang of China 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 in California.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

McNally, Wolf Commit to Ohio State; Rubin Reaches Plantation Final; Fenty, Plambeck Take Grade 4 Titles in El Salvador

There was no shortage of news in college tennis today, with the 26th-ranked Texas men beating No. 5 Wake Forest 4-3 by claiming three third-set tiebreakers, and the No. 4 UCLA men squeezing past No. 29 Stanford 4-3, but those headlines may take a back seat to the news that both JJ Wolf and John McNally have verbally committed to Ohio State University.  Just a day after Wolf's sister Danielle, who plays for Indiana, posted on Instagram that her younger brother would join the Buckeyes, McNally tweeted that he too was committing to Ty Tucker's program.  The two Cincinnati blue chips, ranked 3 and 4 in the Tennis Recruiting Network's Class of 2017, were presumed to be favoring Ohio State, but had not gone public with their choices until now.

While Wake Forest was losing a tough match today, its 2015 No. 1, Noah Rubin, won a tough match to advance to the finals of the $10,000 Plantation Futures.  Rubin, the No. 2 seed, defeated former ITF World Junior No. 1 Jason Kubler of Australia 7-6(1), 5-7, 6-4 in a two hour and 42 minute battle. Rubin will play unseeded Andrea Collarini of Argentina in the final, with Collarini, who played briefly for the United States before returning to Argentina, beating No. 5 seed Jonathan Eysseric of France 6-2, 0-6, 6-1 in the other semifinal.

At the $25,000 Rancho Santa Fe women's tournament in California, the final will feature Vania King and top seed Shuai Zhang of China. King beat Asia Muhammad 6-3, 6-1 and Zhang, who reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year, defeated Julia Boserup 6-4, 7-6(5).  The doubles title went to top seed Muhammad and Taylor Townsend, who downed No. 3 seeds Carol Zhao of Canada and Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4.

The ITF Grade 4 in El Salvador, the all-American finals saw one top seed claim the title, while another fell.  Fifteen-year-old Andrew Fenty won his second ITF singles title, taking out top seed Liam Caruana 6-4, 7-5. Fenty's ITF junior ranking is 241, while the 18-year-old Caruana's is 64.  Caruana did get a title however, partnering William Woodall to take the doubles title. The No. 2 seed beat No. 3 seeds Juan Ignacio Batalla Diez of Mexico and Zachary Garner 6-2, 6-3 in the final.

Top seed Melissa Plambeck, 16, earned her fourth ITF singles title, beating No. 2 seed Jimena Rodriguez-Benito 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Like Caruana, finalist Rodriguez-Benito earned a doubles title, with partner Alexandra Angyalosy.  The No. 3 seeds beat Natalie Espinal Sanchez and Ana Zavala Mata of Honduras 7-5, 6-0 in the final.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Comeback Propels Cal Past Florida in Key Non-conference Match; Kingsley Added to Shape Invitational Field; Rubin into Plantation Semifinals; D-III Women's Team Indoor Underway

Cal freshman Olivia Hauger clinched the National Team Indoor title earlier this month with a come-from-behind win against North Carolina with the match tied at 3-3, and today in Berkeley, she posted another huge point for the Bears.

Cal trailed Florida 3-1, and Hauger was down 6-4, 5-2 to Brianna Morgan at line 5.  Denise Starr got a big win at No. 3 over Florida's Josie Kuhlman 6-3, 6-4 to make it 3-2, but Morgan had match points on deciding points at both 5-3 on her serve and 5-4 on Hauger's serve, both of which Hauger won. The 18-year-old from Oklahoma then broke Morgan again and held to send the match to a third set. Lynn Chi served out her match against Kourtney Keegan to make it 3-3, and by that time, Hauger was up 3-1 in the third set against Morgan. Morgan eventually tied it at 4-all, but Hauger broke and held to give the nation's top-ranked team the 4-3 decision over No. 7 Florida, in just under four hours of competition.

Florida now travels to Stanford on Sunday to renew that always fierce rivalry, while Cal doesn't play again until next Friday against Arizona State.

I wrote last month about the Shape Invitational, a new tournament for collegiate players that has its prize wild cards (singles and doubles) into the main draw of the WTA Volvo Car Open (formerly Family Circle Cup) in Charleston, South Carolina in April. The schedule, which begins on Tuesday March 1 and ends on Thursday March 3, is as follows, which includes three round robin matches:

Tuesday, March 1st, 9am - Round One
Tuesday, March 1st, 1pm - Round Two
Wednesday, March 2nd, 10am - Round Three
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2pm - Semifinals
Thursday, March 3rd, 11am - Finals 

There is also a single elimination doubles tournament scheduled. Draws have yet to be released, and four more players will need to be added, but the current list, which I received this morning, is below. (UPDATE: there will be just 12 participants, not the 16 originally announced in January). LSU recruit Raveena Kingsley has been added, as has Hadley Berg of South Carolina, but Jamie Loeb and Alexa Graham, who were on the initial list, are not included now.

Hadley Berg - University of South Carolina sophomore
Raveena Kingsley - Louisiana State University (incoming Fall 2016)
Sydney Campbell - Vanderbilt University junior
Chloe Gullickson - University of Virginia (incoming Fall 2016)
Beatrice Capra - Duke University senior
Frances Altick - Vanderbilt University senior
Caroline Dailey - University of South Carolina junior
Liza Feldsend - College of Charleston junior
Kaitlyn McCarthy - Duke University freshman
Makenna Jones - University of Alabama (incoming Fall 2016)
Lauren Herring - University of Georgia, 2015
Paige Cline - University of South Carolina freshman

Speaking of Kingsley, she lost today in the $25,000 Rancho Santa Fe tournament to Asia Muhammad 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. CiCi Bellis lost to Vania King 6-3, 6-4.  Julia Boserup is also into the semifinals, with the No. 5 seed beating Chloe Paquet of France 6-2, 6-4. 

No. 2 seed Noah Rubin advanced to the semifinals of the $10,000 Plantation Futures with a 6-2, 7-5 win over qualifier Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador. Rubin will face another qualifier, Jason Kubler of Australia, on Saturday.  Quiroz did receive a special exemption into the main draw of next week's Boca Raton Futures, as did Juan Pablo Ficovich of Argentina, who lost today to Kubler.

The ITA Division III Women's Team Indoor is underway at DePauw, with the two afternoon/evening matches still in progress.  In the early matches No. 6 seed Suwanee defeated No. 3 MIT 5-4 and No. 2 seed Pomona-Pitzer downed No. 7 seed Washington St. Louis 7-2.  Top seed Carnegie-Mellon is playing host DePauw, the No. 8 seed, and No. 4 seed Washington and Lee is facing No. 5 seed Johns Hopkins.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rubin, Kingsley, Bellis Advance in Pro Circuit Events; Clark into Argentina Grade 2 Semifinals; BNP Paribas Prequalifying Draws, Collegiate Event

For the second week in a row at the $10,000 Futures in Plantation, Florida, only one American has advanced to the quarterfinals.  Last week Stefan Kozlov was the sole US representative; this week only No. 2 seed Noah Rubin survived second round action.

Rubin, currently 217 in the ATP rankings, had a tough match with 16-year-old Patrick Kypson, who had just earned his second ATP point on Wednesday.  Rubin needed two hours and 37 minutes to get past Kypson 7-5, 5-7, 6-3.  Teens Isaiah Strode and Oliver Crawford were beaten in straight sets, as were Alex Kuznetsov and wild card Wil Spencer, who lost to recent USC graduate Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador. Quiroz is one of three qualifiers to advance to the quarterfinals where he will next face Rubin.

At the $25,000 women's tournament in Rancho Santa Fe, teens CiCi Bellis and Raveena Kingsley have reached the quarterfinals, with Hanna Chang coming agonizingly close to her first $25,000-level quarterfinal. Chang was beaten by No. 5 seed Julia Boserup 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) in a match that took two hours and 34 minutes to complete.  Bellis defeated qualifier Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada 6-2, 6-3, with Kingsley taking out another Canadian, lucky loser Francoise Abanda, 6-4, 6-4.  Kingsley will play Asia Muhammad, a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 winner over Sonya Kenin, while Bellis will face Vania King.

The last of the ITF Grade 2s in South America is this week in Argentina, with the semifinals set for Friday.  Four US girls made the quarterfinals, but  Morgan Coppoc(3), Raquel Pedraza(5), Victoria Emma(7) and Chiara Lommer(16) all dropped their matches to seeded players.  Zeke Clark, the No. 7 seed, has advanced to the semifinals after a 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 3 seed Genaro Alberto Olivieri of Argentina. Olivieri won the Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano last November, so beating a clay courter on his home surface is a notable accomplishment for Clark.

It's unusual for a Top 100 player to enter a Grade 4 tournament, but Liam Caruana, currently No. 64, is in El Salvador this week, where he is, of course, the No. 1 seed. He has advanced to the semifinals, as has Andrew Fenty, the No. 3 seed. Three US girls have reached the semifinals: top seed Melissa Plambeck, No. 8 seed Alexandra Angyalosy and No. 2 seed Jimena Rodriguez-Benito.

Indian Wells Tennis Garden, site of BNP Paribas Open next month

The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has posted the draws for the prequalifying tournament it holds annually, which begins on Monday, February 29th.  The draws are more fluid than most, with many no shows and withdraws, but the top seeds in the men's draw are Nick Meister, Clay Thompson and Evan Song.  The top seeds in the women's draw are Mandy Minella(LUX), Alla Kudryavetseva(RUS) and Julia Boserup.  Claire Liu, Kayla Day, Alexandra Sanford, Sonya Kenin and Alexa Graham are among the many juniors who are entered in the event as of now.

The tournament also announced the field for its third annual Collegiate Tennis Challenge, with two women's teams--Baylor and USC--competing for the first time.  The complete release is below:


Collegiate Tennis Challenge Returns for Third Consecutive Year

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – February, 24, 2016 – The BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge presented by Oracle will be held over the final weekend, March 18-20, of the BNP Paribas Open, the largest ATP World Tour and WTA combined two-week event in the world, it was announced today by Chief Executive Officer Raymond Moore.

This year the BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge, which launched in 2013, will feature both men’s and women’s teams. Baylor University and University of Southern California will bring men’s and women’s teams, and the University of Illinois, University of California-Berkeley and University of Oklahoma will bring men’s teams. The event will be held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, one of the preeminent tennis venues in the world.

“The BNP Paribas Open has a rich history of featuring up-and-coming talent in our main draw, and the Collegiate Tennis Challenge presented by Oracle allows us to showcase some rising stars on the collegiate level,” said Moore. “This event gives fans another great experience to add to the final weekend of the BNP Paribas Open.”

The men’s teams from Baylor University and University of Illinois will face-off on Friday, March 18 to kick off the Collegiate Tennis Challenge. Saturday’s schedule contains three matches – the first two are men’s matches with Baylor University taking on University of California-Berkeley and University of Oklahoma (men) battling University of Southern California, and they are followed by a women’s matchup between Baylor University and University of Southern California. Sunday’s final day of competition includes two men’s matches; Baylor University vs. University of Southern California and University of Oklahoma vs. University of California-Berkeley.

“Oracle is proud to debut both men’s and women’s teams at this year’s BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge,” said Oracle Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd. “The opportunity to play at a world-class venue like the Indian Wells Tennis Garden provides an amazing experience for the student-athletes and gives fans a chance to see some of the finest talent and programs in collegiate tennis.”

All matches will count toward the official collegiate team records for the 2016 season. The Collegiate Tennis Challenge is free for patrons with BNP Paribas Open tickets or event credentials for the respective dates.
For more information, visit www.bnpparibasopen.com, and for continuing coverage of the BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge presented by Oracle, follow @OracleTennis, @BNPPARIBASOPEN and @ITATennis on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cal Women, North Carolina Men Stay No. 1 in First Computer Rankings; Crawford, Strode Earn First ATP Points, Kypson Wins to Face Rubin in Plantation; Liu, Bellis Advance in Rancho Santa Fe

The ITA released the Division I dual match rankings yesterday, the first set of team rankings generated by the computer rather than a poll. The Cal women and North Carolina men, who won the Team Indoor championships, remained at No. 1, but there were significant changes elsewhere, especially on the women's side.

The Ohio State women moved from 5 to 2, and Michigan, who beat North Carolina last weekend, rose to 3 from 8. Florida, still undefeated, dropped from 3 to 7. The Gators will play Cal in Berkeley on Friday, a non-conference blockbuster that's particularly important for Florida, who did not play the Team Indoor, denying themselves that opportunity for highly ranked wins.

Ohio State freshman Francesca Di Lorenzo remained No. 1 in the singles rankings and Hayley Carter and Whitney Kay of North Carolina continued to top the doubles rankings.

The links in the headers below will direct you to the ITA rankings page.


Feb 23                                         Feb 17
    Ohio State
    North Carolina
    Texas Tech

Women Top 10 singles:
1. Francesca Di Lorenzo, Ohio State
2. Hayley Carter, North Carolina
3. Danielle Collins, Virginia
4. Luisa Stefani, Pepperdine
5. Klara Fabikova, Cal
6. Belinda Woolcock, Florida
7. Sinead Lohan, Miami
8. Stephanie Wagner, Miami
9. Breaunna Addison, Texas
10. Maegan Manasse, Cal

Women Top 5 doubles:
1. Whitney Kay and Hayley Carter, North Carolina
2. Aldila Sutjiadi and Mami Adachi, Kentucky
3. Taylor Davidson and Caroline Doyle, Stanford
4. Anna Sanford and Miho Kowase, Ohio State
5. Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips, UCLA

In the men's team rankings, No. 1 and No. 2 are the same, with Ohio State moving up to 3, and Texas Tech from 10 to 6, a new program high. Oklahoma State has moved into the Top 10, jumping from 15 to 9.

Feb 23                                         Feb 17
    North Carolina
    Ohio State
    Wake Forest    
    Texas Tech
    Texas A&M
    Oklahoma State

Dominik Koepfer of Tulane remains No. 1 in singles, and Gordon Watson and Diego Hidalgo of Florida held on to the top spot in doubles.
Northwestern's Konrad Zieba moved into the Top 10, and North Carolina's Ronnie Schneider jumped from 23 to 10. The top ten represent 10 different schools this week.

Men Top 10 singles:
1. Dominik Koepfer, Tulane
2. Cameron Norrie, TCU
3. Thai Kwiatkowski, Virginia
4. Tom Fawcett, Stanford
5. Roberto Cid, South Florida
6. Mikael Torpegaard, Ohio State
7. Andre Goransson, Cal
8. Konrad Zieba, Northwestern
9. Aleks Vukic, Illinois
10. Ronnie Schneider, North Carolina

Men Top 5 doubles:
1. Gordon Watson and Diego Hidalgo, Florida
2. Hugo Dojas and Felipe Soares, Texas Tech
3. Mackenzie McDonald and Martin Redlicki, UCLA
4. Brett Clark and Robert Kelly, North Carolina
5. Ben Wagland and Austin Smith, Georgia

Bobby Knight has more details on this week's rankings at College Tennis Today.

The good news for Ohio State didn't end with the release of the rankings, with both their men's and women's teams now Top 3 and Di Lorenzo No. 1 in the singles rankings.

The United States Davis Cup team was announced yesterday, and former Buckeyes Connor Smith and Peter Kobelt have been selected as practice partners for the upcoming tie with Australia.  John Isner, Jack Sock and the Bryan twins will compete against Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic, Sam Groth and former Baylor star John Peers on Kooyong's grass courts March 4-6.  The complete release on the US team is available here.

I'm home now from my trip to the $10,000 Plantation Futures, where today two American teens emerged with their first ATP points. Qualifier Oliver Crawford, 16, defeated 28-year-old German Peter Torebko, ATP No. 356, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6(3) to earn his first point, while 18-year-old wild card Isaiah Strode claimed his first ATP point with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 win over qualifier Gonzales Austin. While Crawford was successful in winning a main draw match in his fifth tournament, all this year, Strode broke through in his 29th Futures tournament. Strode will play Andrea Collarini of Argentina in the second round Thursday. Crawford faces No. 5 seed Jonathan Eysseric of France.

Kalamazoo 16s champion Patrick Kypson secured his first ATP point last November in Niceville, Florida, coming through qualifying at his first Futures tournament, then winning a round.  He earned his second point today, beating ATP No. 389 Patricio Heras of Argentina 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. Kypson led 3-0 in the third set on Tuesday when the match was suspended due to rain, but the 16-year-old was able to close the deal today.   Next up for Kypson is a fellow Kalamazoo champion, No. 2 seed Noah Rubin, who won the 18s in 2014.  Rubin defeated Orange Bowl champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-3, 6-1 in the first round on Tuesday. Wild card Wil Spencer and Alex Kuznetsov are the other two Americans who advanced to the second round with wins today.

Results were not as notable for the US qualifiers in the first round of the $25,000 Rancho Santa Fe women's tournament, with Maria Mateas, Carson Branstine, Michaela Gordon and Alexa Graham all falling in their first round matches.  Mateas lost to fellow teen Raveena Kinsgley, while Gordon, Branstine and Graham lost to veterans Mandy Minella(LUX), Asia Muhammad and Vania King respectively.  Claire Liu was the sole American teen qualifier to advance to the second round, beating Basak Eraydin of Turkey 7-6(3), 6-3.  Liu had lost to Eraydin in three sets last week in the second round at the Surprise, Arizona $25K.

CiCi Bellis, a finalist last week in Surprise, is through to the second round with a 6-4, 6-4 win over wild card Jacqueline Cako. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rubin Wins Opening Round at Plantation Futures; Five Junior Girls Qualify at Rancho Santa Fe $25K, Chang Beats Min; Fritz Downs Chardy, Moves into Top 100

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

My last day at the $10,000 Plantation Futures was the most frustrating of the five I spent at the Veltri Tennis Center, with rain washing out all eight first round doubles matches and delaying the completion of three of the five first round singles matches scheduled today.

No. 2 seed Noah Rubin was one of two players to post wins, with the recently turned 20-year-old beating 16-year-old Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-3, 6-1.

Kecmanovic, whose last competition at Veltri saw him leave with the prestigious ITF Grade A Orange Bowl title, was playing the tournament with a junior exemption, a perk of finishing in the ITF Junior Top 10 at year end.  His last competition was at the Australian Open Junior Championships, while his opponent was picking up his first main draw slam win over No. 17 seed Benoit Paire of France in Melbourne.

Since that win in Australia, Rubin has also reached the semifinals of the Maui Challenger, and last week, was awarded a last-minute Delray Beach wild card, where he defeated Sam Groth of Australia 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(6).

"I'm at a tough ranking point right now at 217," Rubin said of his decision to enter the $10,000 Futures event. "I could have gone to Acapulco (qualifying)--Tommy (Paul) got in as an alternate, but he was taking a chance. So I thought if I play two Futures, maybe final, win one, semi, just to pick up points here and there to move up."

The wild card into Delray Beach meant that Rubin couldn't play the first of the two Futures at Plantation, but with family to stay with in the area, he decided to stick around for this week's event.

"I think there's a lot to work on here. I haven't played a clay court tournament since Junior French Open 2014," said Rubin. "That's a year and a half. So I think I have a lot to gain mentally from this tournament, more than anything else. I think I hit the ball well, moved well, but he won Orange Bowl here, is Top 5 junior in the world.  I think I kept my composure. Early on, he had a couple of break points he didn't convert on, and it's stuff like that. It's playing every match, being professional every match, building good habits."

The win over Groth last week in Delray Beach, in which he saved three match points, was significant for Rubin.

"He's a pretty big boy, I guess you could say," Rubin said of Groth, known as one of the hardest servers in the men's game. "But I think I had something to prove. A lot of people were taking credit away from me in the Benoit Paire match--he wasn't playing well, this, that--but then again he took out Wawrinka last week, so you never know. So another Top 75, Top 80 win, I think it proved I actually deserve to be here, playing against those top guys. It wasn't just a fluke, and I want to keep the momentum going."

Rubin is hoping for a wild card into Indian Wells, qualifying or main, a tournament he referred to as "the fifth grand slam."

"We'll see if it works out, but if not, I'll play the 25s in Cali, just to get inside the top 200 at that point," Rubin said.

Rubin is now the virtual top seed in the Plantation tournament, with No. 1 seed Darian King of Barbados pulling out, and Raleigh Smith taking his place as a lucky loser.

The only other first round match to finish Tuesday was Facundo Mena's 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory over wild card Vasil Kirkov. Mena looked to be cruising to an easy win over the 16-year-old in the first set, but Kirkov improved his play, while Mena's dipped considerable.  Mena led 3-1 in the final set, but Kirkov got the break back and took a 4-3 lead. The teen's inexperience showed in his service game at 4-all, however, and he was broken at love, with Mena serving out the match with no drama in the next game.

The other 16-year-old wild card, Patrick Kypson, served for the match against Patricio Heras of Argentina at 6-2, 5-4, but he was unable to convert, losing that game and then two more to drop the set 7-5. Unforced errors cost Kypson at the end of the second set, but he was able to come out strongly in the third set, taking a 3-0 lead before heavy rain postponed the match until Wednesday.

Wild card Wil Spencer was up 6-2, 3-1  over No. 8 seed Caio Zampieri, but the Brazilian got the break back and won the subsequent tiebreaker 8-6, despite what could have been a crushing volley miss on his first set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker.  Spencer held in the opening game of the third set, when the rain, light at first, intensified into a court-flooding downpour.

Lucky loser Smith, playing Argentina's Andrea Collarini, was serving to stay in the match at 4-6, 4-5 when play was called.

The final round at the $25,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Rancho Santa Fe California produced five teenaged American qualifiers: Maria Mateas, Claire Liu, Michaela Gordon, Carson Branstine and Alexa Graham.

Mateas, 16, will make her debut at the $25K level after beating former Pepperdine star Lorraine Guillermo 6-4, 6-3.  Fifteen-year-old Liu, who qualified and won a round in the Surprise $25K last week, defeated former Tennessee and USC standout Brynn Boren 7-5, 6-3. Sixteen-year-old Gordon advanced to the main draw with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Lou Brouleau of France, and 17-year-old Alexa Graham defeated Francoise Abanda of Canada 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(0). The 15-year-old Branstine has warmed up for her Madison Square Garden Showdown appearance on World Tennis Day by qualifying for her first professional level event.  In fact, Branstine's three qualifying wins--over Carol Zhao of Canada, Alexandra Sanford and Ena Shibihara--were her first three wins on the Pro Circuit, having played qualifying in only two $10,000 tournaments and losing in the first round of both.  Megan McCray, who beat Taylor Townsend,  and Pepperdine freshman Luisa Stefani of Brazil, who defeated Quirine Lemoine of the Netherlands, also qualified.

In main draw action, wild card Hanna Chang, who turns 18 in two days, defeated Grace Min 6-2, 6-4, and 17-year-old Sonya Kenin ousted No. 8 seed Hiroko Kuwata of Japan by a 6-2, 7-5 score.

At the ATP 500 in Acapulco, qualifier Taylor Fritz defeated No. 8 seed Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round, a win that will put Fritz into the ATP Top 90.  The 18-year-old Fritz had set his goal for 2016 as ATP Top 100, but he'll need to recalculate that now.

Ryan Harrison, who is defending semifinalist points, got his biggest win since last year in Acapulco, beating No. 3 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Cilic had not lost to an American since 2008, a streak of 26 straight wins against players from the USA, according to Jonathan Kelley of On The Rise (a tennis blog).

Monday, February 22, 2016

Teens Crawford, Ambrozy Qualify for Plantation Futures; Emory Wins Men's Division III Team Indoor; Nanda, Corley Claim Titles in Guatemala Grade 4

 ©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

Oliver Crawford may give up a foot or more in height to Reilly Opelka, but the 16-year-old from South Carolina did not consider that a disadvantage at all, and he proved it Monday afternoon, with a quick 6-3, 6-4 victory over the reigning Junior Wimbledon champion in the final round of qualifying at the $10,000 Plantation Futures.

"I enjoy playing big people like that, big servers and guys who hit the ball hard," Crawford said of the 6-foot-11 inch Opelka. "I had fun today. I enjoyed figuring out how to beat someone taller, who had a lot of power, and I managed to get a few sneaky returns and stuff, so that was good. I played the best tennis that I've played in a while, so I was pleased."

After taking the first set in approximately 20 minutes, Crawford continued to return well, often catching Opelka off guard, while getting Opelka's volleys and smashes improbably back in play.  When Crawford held for 3-3 in the second set, Opelka, who frequently provides a running commentary on the state of his game during his matches, said, "this is the best player I've ever been on a court with, ever," and with the shots that Crawford was making, Opelka didn't appear to be exaggerating.

Opelka held at love to make it 4-3 in the second set, and had two break points to serve for the set, after Crawford ran into the back corner attempting to retrieve a ball and crashed to the Har-Tru court.  Opelka immediately asked if he was ok, and asked a second time as Crawford stumbled a bit on his way back to the baseline. Opelka told Crawford to take his time, but Crawford showed no ill effects, hitting a good first serve that Opelka didn't get back in play to save the first break point.  On the second break point, Opelka netted a backhand, and two points later, Crawford had held for 4-4.

"I played two good points there," said Crawford. "I decided I was going to go for it and that if I didn't get it, I didn't get it. I had gotten a bit tentative. At 30-40 I hit a good shot and he hit a backhand that caught the top of the net, so I was a bit fortunate."

Crawford then broke Opelka at love, continuing with his outstanding play, anticipating an overhead and sending it back with more pace than Opelka could handle.  Opelka said "he should be in Acapulco right now," referencing the ATP event there this week, and Crawford continued to play like it, finishing the game with a return that just caught the baseline and sideline.

Serving for the match, and his first main draw appearance in a Futures, Crawford benefited from three unforced errors by Opelka, ending his streak of 12 straight points to close the match with a perfectly struck backhand cross court pass with Opelka at the net.

But despite what was certainly the biggest win of his junior career, Crawford didn't want to read too much into the result.

"He's been injured lately," said Crawford, who will travel with the USTA to Brazil for the ITF Junior Grade 1 and Grade A events next month. "He's been practicing a fair bit, but hasn't been playing that much. This is first few tournaments back, and I caught him on a good day. We're good friends. I have a lot of respect for Reilly and he's a great guy."

Crawford will play Peter Torebko of Germany in the first round on Wednesday. 

Adam Ambrozy also reached his first main draw of a Futures event, beating former ATP No. 137 Carlos Salamanca of Colombia 6-4, 6-2, but the 18-year-old Columbia recruit was not exactly celebrating, with a school project back at St. Petersburg High awaiting him Monday night.

"I have to go back to St. Pete today," said Ambrozy, who, as a qualifier, will not play his main draw match until Wednesday. "I have to go to school tomorrow. I may have a late night tonight doing that project."

Ambrozy got his first straight-set win in his four qualifying matches against No. 14 seed Salamanca, a 33-year-old who reached 137 in the ATP rankings back in 2010.

"He was the first lefty I'd played in this tournament, so I had to change my mindset going into the match," Ambrozy said. "He ran around his forehand really well, so getting it to his backhand was tough to do, so I would play to his forehand, make him run for it, and he wasn't as good there. So that was my mindset, put him wide to the forehand, get it to the backhand, come in, hit a bunch of drop shots. I returned well; he had a pretty good serve."

Ambrozy, who had beaten No. 2 seed Gianni Mina of France in a third set tiebreaker on Sunday, didn't know that Salamanca had been so highly ranked.

"I don't like to psych myself out," Ambrozy said. "I looked at his current ranking and saw he was in the 800s, had a good amount of points. But I went to it as a winnable match. I'm a good player. I have a lot of confidence right now, so my mindset right now is that I could beat anyone at this point. But that's pretty impressive, that he was 150 in the world."

Ambrozy has drawn No. 3 seed and ATP No. 246 Christian Lindell of Sweden as his first round opponent.  Salamanca will be in the main draw as a lucky loser.

A third teenager, Juan Pablo Ficovich of Argentina, made the main draw, beating Joao Walendowsky of Brazil 2-6, 7-5, 7-5, with Walendowsky getting the second lucky loser spot in the main draw.

Gonzales Austin is the only other American to qualify, with the No. 11 seed beating No. 5 seed Felipe Mantilla of Colombia 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.  Seventeen-year-old Evan Zhu fell just short of the main draw for the third time, losing to David Fleming of Chile 7-6(6), 7-6(8) in a match that took over three hours for two sets.

Martin Alund of Argentina, Jason Kubler of Australia and recent USC graduate Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador also qualified for the main draw with straight set wins on Monday.

Five matches are on the schedule for Tuesday, with young wild cards Patrick Kypson and Vasil Kirkov drawing Argentina's Patricio Heras and Facundo Mena respectively .  Orange Bowl champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia will play No. 2 seed Noah Rubin, top seed Darian King will face Andrea Collarini of Argentina and wild card Wil Spencer meets No. 8 seed Caio Zampieri of Brazil. All eight first round doubles matches will also be played on Tuesday.

Emory University won its sixth men's Division III ITA Team Indoor title yesterday in Cleveland, with the No. 3 seed defeating No. 4 seed University of Chicago 7-2.  Host Case Western Reserve finished in third place with Carnegie Mellon coming in fourth. For more on the championships, see the ITA tournament page.

#5 Emory University 7, #6 University of Chicago 2 
Feb 21, 2016 at Pepper Pike, Ohio
1. Rafe Mosetick (EUM) def. Chua, Nicolas (UCM) 7­5, 6­7(4­), 10­6
2. Jonathan Jemison (EUM) def. Kranz, Sven (UCM) 6­4, 6­3
3. Aman Manji (EUM) def. Pei, Charlie (UCM) 7­5, 6­4
4. Adrien Bouchet (EUM) def. Leung, Peter (UCM) 6­4, 6­4
5. Liu, David (UCM) def. Josh Goodman (EUM) 6­1, 6­1
6. Liu, Max (UCM) def. Andrew Harrington (EUM) 7­5, 7­5
Doubles competition
1. Scott Rubinstein/James Spaulding (EUM) def. Chua, Nicolas/Liu, David (UCM) 8­6
2. Rafe Mosetick/Jonathan Jemison (EUM) def. Leung, Peter/Pei, Charlie (UCM) 8­5
3. David Omsky/Andrew Harrington (EUM) def. Selin, Michael/Tsai, Luke (UCM) 8­4

Order of finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (5,4,2,3,1,6)

In ITF Junior action last week, American juniors swept the singles titles at the Grade 4 in Guatemala.

No. 7 seed Govind Nanda, who just turned 15, won his first ITF junior title, defeating unseeded Neil Oberleitner of Austria 6-3, 6-0 in the final. Eighteen-year-old Paris Corley, the No. 2 seed, took the girls title, the second of her ITF junior career, beating No. 1 seed Jimena Rodriguez-Benito 6-1, 6-2 in the championship match.  Rodriguez-Benito did get a win over Corley in doubles, partnering Alexandra Angyalosy for a 6-3, 6-7(4), 10-7 win over Corley and Salma Ewing in the all-American final.

At the Grade 2 in Chile, American success came in the doubles draw, with Zeke Clark and Gui Gomes, the No. 5 seeds, taking the boys title.  Clark and Gomes defeated No. 6 seed Juan Carlos Manuel Aguilar of Bolivia and Nicaise Muamba of Canada 3-6, 6-4, 10-8 in the final.  Raquel Pedraza and Melany Krywoj of Argentina, the No. 2 seeds, beat No. 5 seeds Chiara Lommer and Anna-Lena Neuwirth of Austria 6-7(4), 6-3, 10-3 in the girls championship match.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ambrozy, Zhu Among Six Teens to Reach Final Round Qualifying in Plantation; Loeb Captures $25K Title; Querrey Wins Delray; Fritz, Paul Qualify for ATP Acapulco

©Colette Lewis  2016--
Plantation, Florida--

Six teenagers have advanced to Monday's final round of qualifying for the $10,000 Plantation Futures, with four of them--Oliver Crawford, Adam Ambrozy, Alexandre Rotsaert and Evan Zhu--in search of their first opportunity for an ATP point.

The 16-year-old Crawford, who reached the fourth and final round of qualifying in the Palm Coast Futures earlier this month, advanced with a 6-2, 6-4 win over fellow teen Oscar Ortiz of Argentina, and he will play Reilly Opelka, who defeated Trey Hilderbrand 6-3, 6-2.  The 18-year-old Opelka has 11 ATP points, and Juan Pablo Ficovich of Argentina, the other teenager in the final round of qualifying, has 4.

Rotsaert, who, like Crawford, is 16, also came within one win of a Futures main draw, losing in the final round of qualifying a year ago in Palm Coast.  He advanced to this week's final 16 with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Piotr Zbroja, and will face No. 3 seed Jason Kubler of Australia Monday.

Ambrozy, an 18-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, will be making his first appearance in the final round of Futures qualifying after he picked up the best win of his career, beating No. 2 seed Gianni Mina of France 7-6(3), 4-6, 7-6(2) in three hours and 15 minutes.

Ambrozy did not break Mina's serve once in the match, but his own serve was strong enough to stay competitive.

"He had a pretty big serve, but my game's big enough at this point now that I can hang in there," said Ambrozy, who has won three consecutive three-setters. "I just needed to hang in there, which I did. I just got lucky in the tiebreakers--it could have gone either way--and I'm fortunate to have won."

A key juncture in the match came at 1-1 in the third set, when Ambrozy got behind 0-40 on his serve, but won the next five points to hold.

"When I'm down 0-40, I'm thinking, I've never broken this guy," Ambrozy said. "I have to some how get this hold even if it kills me. I just battled it back. If I would have lost that game, it would have been very tough for me to recover from that situation."

In the third set tiebreaker, Ambrozy was up a mini-break at 3-1, and although Mina got the mini-break back, he promptly lost both his service points when Ambrozy applied pressure with a good return and then a well-struck backhand. Two backhand errors by Mina gave Ambrozy the win, and some confidence.

"I think I just proved today that I can play at a high level, and beat someone who is really, really good," said Ambrozy, who meets No. 14 seed Carlos Salamanca of Colombia Monday. "Obviously I was the underdog here, but I think I proved to myself and other people that I belong at the pro level, and we'll see what happens tomorrow."

Ambrozy, who has committed to Columbia, is on his own this week, having driven from St. Petersburg, but is staying with Andrew Heller, a friend and fellow Ivy League recruit (Yale), who also played in qualifying here.

Zhu has twice advanced to the final round of qualifying, both in this week's Plantation Futures and in Laguna Niguel in September of last year.

Today he defeated No. 16 seed Nathan Pasha, the former Georgia star, 6-4, 6-2 to once more be one win away from the main draw.

"I'm playing really solid," said the 17-year-old, who trains at the Taylor Dent Academy in Southern California. "I'm playing tight, not as in nervous, but no loose points on the big points. That's what's helped me get through the tough matches."

Zhu said the final game of the first set was instrumental in his win over Pasha.

"At 5-4 in the first set, it was pretty tight until then," said Zhu. "There were a couple of deuces, it was a really close game and pulling that one through really shifted the momentum."

Zhu has played four of this year's Futures qualifying tournaments in Florida, even though he hasn't had much chance to train on the Har-Tru surface so prevalent in the state.

"I used to train a lot on clay when I was 12, 13," Zhu said. "But since I've been in California, I don't think I've been on clay once. It only took me two or three days to adjust, and I like playing on clay, I think it's really fun."

Zhu's opponent in the final round of qualifying is unseeded David Fleming of Chile.

The main draw was released tonight, with Darian King of Barbados the top seed, and Noah Rubin seeded No. 2.  Rubin will play Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, who last played at the Veltri Tennis Center in December, when he won the Metropolia Orange Bowl.  The draw is also showing two lucky loser spots available, so 10 of the 16 players remaining will be in the main draw.

In the final of the previous week's tournament, No. 7 seed Juan Carlos Saez of Chile defeated No. 3 seed Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5), saving a match point in the process.  Hanescu, who had saved a match point in his quarterfinal win over Stefan Kozlov Friday, served for the match at 5-4 in the final set. At 40-30, he had a routine forehand volley that he put into the net, with Saez going on to take the game.  In the tiebreaker, Hanescu committed to serving and volleying and was successfully executing that strategy until 5-5, when Saez rifled a forehand return winner to give himself a match point.  Another good forehand forced a Hanescu forehand into the net, and Saez had his eighth Futures title, all on clay.

In Surprise, Arizona, Jamie Loeb won her fifth Pro Circuit title and her second at the $25,000 level, beating CiCi Bellis, the No. 8 seed, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Jacqueline Cako and Danielle Lao, seeded fourth, won the doubles title, beating qualifiers and former University of Michigan teammates Emina Bektas and Sarah Lee 6-2, 4-6, 10-8.

In the all-American final at the ATP Delray Beach, Sam Querrey defeated Rajeev Ram 6-4, 7-6(6) to earn his first ATP title since 2012. For more on the championship match, see this article from the ATP website.

Qualifying is complete for next week's ATP tournament in Acapulco with both Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul advancing to the main draw with wins today.  Fritz, the No. 2 seed in qualifying, beat No. 7 seed Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain 6-3, 6-2 and Paul defeated No. 5 seed JP Smith of Australia 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.  Fritz has drawn No. 8 seed Jeremy Chardy of France in the first round, with Paul facing Illya Marchenko of Ukraine.  Ryan Harrison, who reached the semifinals in Acapulco last year, also qualified, beating Alex Sarkissian 6-1, 6-4.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Opelka, Cernoch Move into Third Round of Qualifying in Plantation; Loeb and Bellis in Surprise Final; Ram, Querrey Make Delray Final

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Plantation, FL--

One Futures tournament in Plantation is wrapping up, with Victor Hanescu of Romania and Juan Carlos Saez of Chile playing for the singles title on Sunday, but 32 players are still alive in the qualifying for next week's tournament at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center, including teenagers Reilly Opelka and Brian Cernoch.

Cernoch played two Futures qualifying tournaments in Florida last January as a 15-year-old, winning a total of three matches.  He stuck to junior events until this month's two Futures in Plantation, losing in the first round last week, but picking up his second win today, beating fellow teen Robert Loeb 6-4, 6-3. 

"Last week I lost in the first round of qualies 6-3 in the third, like a three-hour match," said Cernoch. "But I played really well. This week, my first round of qualies (a 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3 win over No. 6 seed Maciej Rajski of Poland), I had the exact same score, but I was able to turn it around."

Although he faced another junior player in Loeb today, those like Rajski, who is 24 years old, are providing Cernoch with a different side of the game.

"I want to get experience playing professionals and it's a different atmosphere out here," Cernoch said. "Everybody has a different style, everybody competes for every single point because they're playing for money, for their living.  In the juniors, a lot of players just go away, when they're losing, because it doesn't really matter to them."

The left-hander from Maryland will face a player with years of professional experience in the third round of qualifying on Sunday: unranked Martin Alund of Argentina, a 30-year-old who in 2013 reached a career-high of 84 in the ATP rankings, and has lost only two games in two qualifying matches.

Cernoch, who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park Maryland, will stay in Florida for a USTA training session in Boca Raton before heading to Brazil for the Grade 1 and Grade A tournaments there.

Opelka, who has two more years of top level junior and professional experience than Cernoch, is one of those playing for his living after turning pro last spring. Opelka's first tournament in three months was last week in Plantation, after suffering stress fractures in his foot last year.

"I started feeling pain right around Kalamazoo," said Opelka. "I didn't get an MRI until US Open. They thought I had arthritis and told me to keep going. I played Las Vegas Challenger, Charlottesville, Knoxville and I was hobbling around. It really wasn't fun, I wasn't enjoying it. I didn't want to play anymore because it was so annoying, I had it for so long.  I got another MRI in Miami and they saw two stress fractures."

"I was about five weeks out in a boot. The problem is coming back from those, because the boot completely shuts your whole foot down. I lost my cardio, my lungs, everything, so we spent two weeks just getting the foot and ankle stronger. Everything's so gradual, it just take times. For eight weeks now my priority is fitness, fitness. Physically I feel pretty strong. I'm feeling a bunch of aches right now but that's because I haven't played in a while."

After an easy opening round match, Opelka was tested by No. 7 seed Juame Pla Malfeito of Spain, needing well over two hours to claim a 7-6(5), 7-6(4) win.

"His best chance of beating me was exactly how it was today," said Opelka. "Qualies of a Futures, windy, they don't change the balls, the court wasn't in good shape. That's how I could see it happening. I didn't play well, no one can play well in that really, but I had tons of good looks at the ball."

Opelka was broken in the first set after missing several overheads on high lobs by the 20-year-old Spaniard, who had a set point serving at 5-4, but failed to convert. Opelka served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4 before ultimately surviving in another tiebreaker.

"We played 26 games with the same balls," said Opelka, who is not a fan of the 128-player qualifying draws of the Florida Futures. "It's not fun. You don't want to be at [this level] too long.  This is the only country where there's four matches to qualify. The draws should be cut in half. I don't know, but there's got to be a better system."

Opelka's opponent on Sunday is 15-year-old Trey Hilderbrand, who has played his first four Futures qualifying tournaments in Florida this year, picking up five wins.

Other teens who have reached the third round of qualifying are Sam Turchetta, Oliver Crawford, Evan Zhu, Sam Turchetta, Alexandre Rotsaert, and Adam Ambrozy of the United States, Juan Pablo Ficovich and Oscar Ortiz of Argentina, Daniel Mora of Colombia, and Mark Chepurnoy of Russia.

At the $25,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Surprise, Arizona, Jamie Loeb and CiCi Bellis will play Sunday for the title.  Loeb defeated Sonya Kenin 7-5, 6-2, while the eighth-seeded Bellis beat qualifier Chiara Scholl 6-3, 6-0.

The ATP Delray Beach final will also feature two Americans, with Rajeev Ram facing Sam Querrey in Sunday's championship match.  Ram defeated No. 4 seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-3 in the afternoon, running his head-to-head record against the Bulgarian to 4-0, to reach his third career ATP final.  In the evening semifinal, unseeded Sam Querrey didn't face a break point in his 7-5, 7-5 win over Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. Querrey has a 5-2 head-to-head record against Ram, which spans more than ten years.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Alyvia Jones Profile; Pro Tennis in Florida; Kenin, Bellis, Loeb and Scholl in Surprise $25K Semifinals; Men's Division III Team Indoor Underway, Top Seeds Already Out

When I was Midland for the Dow Corning Classic two weeks ago, I spoke with 15-year-old blue chip Alyvia Jones about growing up there and her path to becoming one of the top juniors in her age group. That article appeared today on the Tennis Recruiting Network.

It was a busy day in Florida for me. It started in Plantation, where both the quarterfinals of this week's $10,000 men's Futures and the first round of qualifying for next week's $10,000 Futures were taking place at the Veltri Tennis Center.

Stefan Kozlov was the only American in the quarterfinals, after he had won a four hour and nine minute match on Thursday against Agustin Velotti of Argentina 7-6(3), 3-6, 7-6(5). Down 4-0 in the final set, Kozlov had four match points with Velotti serving at 4-5, but didn't convert, and had three more at 6-3 in the tiebreaker, the last of which he won.

Today against No. 3 seed Victor Hanescu who was once No. 26 in the ATP rankings, No. 5 seed Kozlov was the victim of a comeback, this one in the second set, losing to the 34-year-old Romanian 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4.  Hanescu was down 5-1 in the second set ,and the 18-year-old from nearby Pembroke Pines had a match point at 5-2, 40-30, but he double faulted. Two errors and another double fault gave Hanescu the game, and in his next opportunity to serve out the match, Kozlov was unable to stem the tide of unforced errors that had started to swamp his game.

Hanescu played well, but not spectacularly, during this stretch, demonstrating the patience and composure of a veteran professional. Kozlov, who did not appear tired from his previous match, still had a chance to get out of the match in two sets, and led 2-1 in the tiebreaker, but one error after another gave Hanescu the final six points of the game, and the set.

I was unable to stay for the third set, but Hanescu won the only break point Kozlov gave him, while not facing one himself.

Hanescu will play No. 6 seed Facundo Mena of Argentina in one semifinal Saturday. The other semifinal will feature unseeded Kaichi Uchida of Japan against No. 7 seed Juan Carlos Saez of Chile.

I missed the final set of the Kozlov - Hanescu match due to an appointment I had in Delray Beach with USTA General Manager of Player Development Martin Blackman. I was able to interview Blackman for an article I'll be writing for Tennis Recruiting Network in the next few weeks between tennis matches.  I don't often watch many ATP or WTA level matches live, so it was a treat to catch the final set of Rajeev Ram's 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Benjamin Becker. Ram made every first serve, six out of six, in the final game, an impressive way to finish a match at any level.  He will play No. 4 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in Saturday's semifinal.  The next match featured two players I knew and followed from their junior days, with Sam Querrey defeating Tim Smyczek 6-7(1), 7-6(4), 6-4.  Querrey will play Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in the other semifinal, after del Potro finished Friday's night session with a 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 5 seed Jeremy Chardy of France. Del Potro is returning to competitive play this week after nearly a year's absence due to numerous wrist surgeries.

At the $25,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Surprise, Arizona, the semifinalists are all Americans: unseeded Sonya Kenin, Jamie Loeb, Chiara Scholl and No. 8 seed CiCi Bellis.

Kenin defeated qualifier Kayla Day 6-2, 6-3 for her second quarterfinal win over the 16-year-old Californian in a $25,000 Pro Circuit event this year.  Kenin will play Loeb, who beat Canadian qualifier Aleksandra Wozniak, once No. 21 in the WTA rankings, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.  Scholl, a qualifier, defeated Basak Eraydin of Turkey 0-6, 7-5, 6-0 to advance against Bellis, who won over Danielle Lao, who retired trailing 6-0, 1-0.

In college tennis, the Division III Men's Team Indoor is underway at Case Western, and the first day produced two major surprises with top seed Washington University St. Louis losing to the eighth-seeded hosts 6-3 and No. 2 seed Pomona-Pitzer  knocked out in the opening round 5-4 by Carnegie Mellon, the No. 7 seed.  For much more on today's upsets, see the Division 3 Tennis Blog.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

ITF Junior Rule Changes for 2016

The updates to the ITF Junior rules have been finalized and the 2016 version is now available.  Below are what I consider the notable changes for 2016, but please be aware that these are not all the changes. There is an entire new section in Appendix C about eligibility to represent a nation in ITF team or Junior Olympic competition, which I am not including here, but can be found at the ITF Junior website. (I've been told by the ITF that the final regulations, particularly regarding Appendix C, are different from what appeared when I first read the regulations. The FINAL version can be found here. The time frame for appeals of Code of Conduct - Major Offenses has also changed.

I'll begin with an important change in age eligibility and restrictions for those 12 and under.

The following rules set forth eligibility rules and restrictions for competitions and other events (including Games) for players who are 12 and under:
a) There shall be no 11 and under, no 10 and under and no 9 and under (or younger) age category international or regional individual or team competitions or Games.
b) In any calendar year players may only compete in a maximum of ten tournaments for 12 and under events sanctioned by the ITF, or by a Regional Association or by the *USTA and Tennis Canada.
c) Players under the age of 10 shall not be eligible for entry into any international individual tournament, team competition, or games sanctioned by a Regional Association, a National Association and/or any other national or international organisation. In accordance with the ITF Junior Age Eligibility Rule, the player’s age as of the first day of the tournament Main Draw shall be used.

Players are allowed to play in a 12 and under event from the year they turn 10 years of age, and have reached their 10th birthday on or before the start of the Singles Main Draw, until [sic] SHOULD BE THROUGH the year the player turns 12 years of age.

d) Players eligible to compete in 12 and under Competitions may also compete in tournaments for players age 14 and under sanctioned by the ITF, or by a Regional Association or by the *USTA and Tennis Canada, but participation in such tournaments will count towards the maximum of ten events permitted.
e) Competition for players 12 and under organised by a Regional Association must be a team competition.
f) Players aged 12 and under shall not compete in 16 and under international or regional individual or team competitions.
g) There shall be no international or regional rankings for players aged 12 and under.
h) The title ‘World Champion’(or any similar title) shall not be awarded to a player winning an event restricted to players who are 12 and under.

*Note: For the purpose of this Rule only National Championships in the USA and in Canada count as tournaments covered.

My comments: I’m not sure how this will affect the Little Mo tournaments, who do have age divisions 9, 10, and 11. But because those tournaments are not sanctioned by the USTA, there may be no impact.

For the Eddie Herr and Junior Orange Bowl, as well as all the USTA 12s Nationals, however, these rules will apply. This includes a maximum of ten tournaments per year and no entry for those not yet 10 years of age.

RULE: A player who played in the Qualifying of ITF Pro Circuit tournament is allowed to accept a Wild card into Main Draw of ITF Junior Circuit tournament during the same week provided he lost in the tournament prior being offered the Wild Card. In all other circumstances, a player may not compete in an ITF Junior Circuit tournament if he/she has competed in another tennis tournament in the same tournament week.

My comments: Playing in a Pro Circuit qualifying event the same week as a junior tournament is now allowed (previously it was prohibited under the one-tournament-per-week rule) but only if the player is given a wild card into the junior tournament after he/she is out of Pro Circuit qualifying. In other words, signing up for both is not allowed.

RULE: Once a player has competed in an ITF Junior Circuit tournament he/she may compete in an “Other” tennis tournament (not ITF sanctioned) during the same week, provided that he/she:
a) notifies the ITF Referee of his/her intention to do so before his/her first match;
b) has played and been eliminated from the ITF Junior Circuit tournament; and
c) is released by the ITF Referee after his/her last match in the ITF Junior Circuit tournament to play in the other tournament. A player who withdraws or retires from either singles or doubles main draw in any round may not participate in any other tournament during the same week.
My comments: This sets out the procedure for competing in ITF and, for example, USTA tournaments in the same week.

a) Grade B1/1 Tournaments
The ITF Referee shall be a minimum White Badge Referee standard (except with the written approval of the ITF). If other age category events will also take place on-site during the tournament week, it is strongly recommended that the ITF Referee officiates only the U18 ITF Junior Circuit event for the duration of the tournament week.

There shall be a Chair Umpire for every match in the main draw.

There shall be at least two Line Umpires for each match from the semifinals.

For qualifying draw matches, a suitable number of off-court umpires must be provided.

b) Grade B2/2 & B3/3 Tournaments
The ITF Referee shall be a minimum White Badge Referee standard (except with the written approval of the ITF). If other age category events will also take place on-site during the tournament week, it is strongly recommended that the ITF Referee officiates only the U18 ITF Junior Circuit event for the duration of the tournament week.

There shall be a Chair Umpire for each match from the quarterfinals.

There shall be at least two Line Umpires for each match from the semifinals.

My comments: This is clarification of the 2015 rules requiring chair umpires for all Grade 1 matches, and for quarterfinals on in Grades 2 and 3 specifically adding grade B1s B2s and B3s, meaning the Easter Bowl will now need to chair matches from the first round on.  The following language was added to all grades: a suitable number of off-court umpires must be provided. (Off-court meaning roving umpires of course).

RULE: It is the player’s responsibility to ascertain whether they are eligible to accept a particular Wild Card. Players and tournaments should retain written confirmation of the offer and acceptance of a Wild Card. Acceptance of the offer of a Wild Card constitutes a player’s commitment to the tournament.

My comments: An acceptance of a wild card is now specifically said to be a commitment to the tournament, so accepting one and not showing up will probably result in the usual suspension points for being a no-show.

Other rules changes include:
If the singles or doubles event of a tournament is cancelled, e.g. due to poor weather, before the tournament is concluded, loser points for the round achieved will be awarded to players. If a tournament is officially terminated and the final(s) have not been completed, the finalists will each receive runner-up points.

If a Qualifying is not held, On-Site Alternates may fill any available spaces in the Main Draw.

If a player is forced to retire from the final round of Qualifying due to illness or injury, he/she will retain his/her Lucky Loser status provided he/she has received clearance from the Tournament Doctor or Sports Medicine Trainer.

There will be no sign-in requirement for players accepted directly into the Main Draw at Grade A or Grade 1 or B1 tournaments.

If at the Freeze deadline the total number of entered players on the Main Draw and Qualifying acceptance lists is less than or equal to the main draw size (all positions including DA, SE, Q but not WC), there shall be no Qualifying event. All Qualifying acceptances shall be moved to the Main Draw acceptance list as Direct Acceptances. There shall be no Qualifying sign-in. For those tournaments which have Main Draw sign-in, on-site Alternates may sign in on or before the time announced for the Main Draw sign-in in order to take any vacant positions at this time.

Practice facilities shall be provided free of charge for players still in the main draw.

If a player is involved in the singles and doubles finals, he/she shall be allowed a rest period of one half hour. A player may play before the end of the rest period if all participants are in agreement.

a) Grade B1/1 tournaments:
Main Draw/Qualifying
In Main Draw and Qualifying there shall be a minimum of four (4) new balls for each match; another four (4) new balls shall be provided for any third set in singles only.
b) Grade B2/2 - 5 tournaments:
Main Draw/Qualifying
In Main Draw and Qualifying there shall be a minimum of three (3) new balls for each match; another three (3) new balls shall be provided for any third set in singles only.

Non Permitted Commercial Identifications
No identification shall be permitted on players’ clothing that promotes/displays betting companies, tobacco products, alcohol products, political activity or other category deemed to be detrimental to the sport of tennis.

Again, the rule changes I've highlighted and the comments I've made are not meant to be a complete or definitive review. The ITF underlines all changes from the previous year in the current rule book, so please look through that pdf document for a comprehensive look at the changes for 2016.