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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Part I of American Collegiate Invitational Competitors: Talking with the Women

I spoke with all 16 of the current or former collegiate players who participated in the American Collegiate Invitational last week at the US Open, and as I did last year, I'm providing two separate updates, one for the men and one for the women, starting with the latter.  I'll also have a recap of the event for the Tennis Recruiting Network next week.

Hayley Carter, 2017 University of North Carolina graduate
(lost to Ingrid Neel 4-6, 6-4, 6-2)

On joining the staff of Oklahoma State women's program as assistant coach rather than playing the tour: There are multiple reasons, honestly. You saw me in college; I was pretty banged up, ankle brace, knee brace, my wrist was in a cast every other week. [This summer] I went to the USTA training center full time and I got hurt, my hip, the first week, so that was obviously one of the factors, if my body could live up to it. Another one was I always wanted to go into coaching. I had coaches reach out to me in March, who had open positions. I thought it would be a little bit longer, I thought I would play first, but I wanted to be a coach and am happy to be one. And then, lastly, my dad passed away in March, and I played at Georgia Tech a week later, three days after the funeral. I think because I came back so quickly and so well I think people lost sight of the face of how that affected me. You look at Stevie Johnson and how well he's doing, he's playing for his dad and utmost respect for that, but for me honestly, it almost had the opposite effect. This journey was as much my dad's as it was mine, as much his dream as it was mine and I can't imagine doing it without him. That was the biggest one. It was very hard for me this semester and I needed a break.

On continuing to play: I'll play when I can and I'll play because I love the sport and when I want to. Four, five years from now, you never know, you could see me back out there, but right now I'm happy with where I am.

On choosing Oklahoma State: I interviewed for a number of positions, I had a number of offers. I was actually considering being a volunteer assistant at Oklahoma State mid-semester last season, I was going to play and coach out of there because [head coach Chris Young] knew I wanted to do that, and then it happened that the assistant's job opened up. I don't know that I was top of the list, because I didn't have experience, but I talked to Chris--I've know him since I was 16 when he recruited me--and we have a very good relationship, and I kind of slowly talked him into. I might not have experience, but I'm going to give 100 percent effort and do whatever it takes to make the girls happy and make them the best tennis players and people they can be.

Sara Daavettila, University of North Carolina sophomore
(lost to Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-1, 6-2)

On participating in the ACI after just one year of college tennis: It's amazing, the first time I've played it before, obviously. I've never been to the US Open before, so just this experience. Coming in today, I was like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. The overall experience, being treated like pros, knowing that they're showing off collegiate tennis, I think it's awesome and I hope they continue it.

On her plans for the fall season: I'm playing many tournaments: the Oracle in Malibu, the All-Americans, maybe Regionals and the, no longer National Indoors, but at Indian Wells.  I'm playing the [ITA] grass court tournament (this weekend) in Rhode Island. I've never played on grass, so I'm very excited for that. So very busy.

On her major: I'm doing Exercise/Sports Science and pre-health, pre-med, so I have a busy school schedule too. We're going on our third week and it's going to be a tough semester in school, but I'm excited.

Brienne Minor, University of Michigan junior
(lost to Ena Shibahara 6-1, 6-3)

On playing in the main draw of the US Open: It's been amazing to play in the US Open and then this Invitational. I'm so glad I had this opportunity. It was really fun, no matter how I did, it was really a fun experience and I'm grateful I got to be here.

On returning to the US Open in the future: I do want to play after college, definitely play pro. So I'm glad I got the experience and know what it's like to be around the top pro players is pretty amazing, so when I come back I know what to expect.

On her plans for the fall: I'm actually taking the fall off because I'm getting a procedure done on my knees. It'll be a Michigan; I'm going to school but I won't be playing any fall tournaments. It's about a three-month recovery, so I'll probably play a few matches over winter break if I can find a tournament, but I'll definitely be ready for January.

On the upcoming rehabilitation: It's definitely a long process. I've been through the rehab and physical therapy before and it's long. But I have to do it. I have to do it for my team to get ready for the season. I've had a long summer, so maybe a break won't be bad, but my knees have been in a lot of pain, so I think it's time to take care of that.

On four US women in the US Open semifinals: I definitely look up to especially Venus; I've looked up to her my whole life because I've watched her ever since I was little. To see that it's an all-American semifinal, I hope can use that to get to that point some day in my career.

Alexa Graham, University of North Carolina sophomore
(lost to Sydney Campbell 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6))

On her first year in college: It was unbelievable. Being able to play for a team, rather than just yourself, being on court with your nine best friends, like my family, and no matter how I'm doing, it's about how we're all doing. I think it was a great learning experience for me and probably the most fun I've ever had.

On selecting a major: Technically I'm still undecided and I do change my mind every five minutes, but I think right now I'm going to go with an Exercise and Sport Science major, a pre-health route, and maybe go to PT (Physical Therapy) school.

On her success over the summer: I played a lot of professional events and I think the highlight was that I actually won one. Winning the $15K Futures, that was my second pro title, but it feels great to win one.

On the improvements in her game since entering college: I think staying tough out on the court. I think I'm playing with less pressure on myself, just enjoying the game more. My short court game, my volleys, have also gotten better.

On prospects for North Carolina this season: Like any team we want to win the conference, win a national championship and do the best we can. But we've also spoke about having smaller goals that we can control: being more professional on the court, taking care of ourselves, getting enough sleep, eating right, and I think that's going to help us a lot too.

Ena Shibahara, UCLA sophomore
(Shibahara defeated Brienne Minor 6-1, 6-3, lost to Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-4, 6-1)

On returning to New York after winning girls USO doubles title in 2016: It was an amazing experience winning junior US Open doubles and before that, playing the women's main draw. Definitely I wanted to come back; I had withdrawal [anxiety] after it was done thinking, oh I want to be back there. I'm so happy I got to come back and play on these courts again; it's an amazing experience.

On her outstanding freshman year: Yeah, it went better than I expected. I just took it one match at a time and I was able to get some great wins and learn from my losses.

On her plans for the fall: I'll play the Oracle Masters and the All Americans, the Indian Wells tournament too. I'll play all those and hopefully make sure I get some pro matches.

On playing long games with more than one deuce with the event using traditional scoring: We had a couple of long games. It's definitely different when you have ads and no-ads. I don't really mind whichever one. If it's no-ad and you win that deuce point, it's really good for you, but when there's ads, it takes away some of the pressure. I guess I'm glad there was ads today.

On what's improved in her game in the last year: Definitely my serve percentage. Making my first serves has improved and mixing it up. And the returns, getting the first ball back, has really improved for me and I've worked really hard over the summer to get that done

On her goals for next season: I want to see myself winning the NCAAs. I hope to get more consistent in making my aggressive shots, if that makes sense. Even though I take a lot of risk, I want to be able to make those shots. Teamwise, I think we'll do a lot better than last year. No one left and we're getting two more players, so hopefully we'll get to the Sweet 16 and see how it goes from there.

Sydney Campbell, 2017 Vanderbilt graduate
(Campbell defeated Alexa Graham 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6) and lost to Ingrid Neel 6-4, 1-6, 6-2)

On her decision not to pursue a pro career: I've been hurt for a while, battling a shoulder injury for the past couple of years that's really not getting any better. I took the summer off and it is still lingering, so if I play, will I be able to play at the caliber I want, train like I want with this shoulder? Probably not, so it's probably time to hang it up, since I finished so well.

On the next chapter in her life: I've always wanted to do business. I really been into entrepreneurship, so I'm actually joining my parents and doing real estate in Nashville. I've already started, I love it, so that's the plan, to keep building that.

On closing out her career at the American Collegiate Invitational: New York is one of my favorite cities and the US Open obviously has great energy. I've never actually gotten to play on the courts before, so it was cool to be able to do that, come out of retirement for that. It was so fun, it's a great opportunity and I'm so glad the USTA does it.

On what she'll miss about college tennis: College tennis is so fun. The team aspect. If you have a bad day, your team can pick you up. Sometimes you can win not playing well, because you have the energy from the crowd, from your teammates, from the coaches. There's nothing like it, at all, and I miss it so much.

On winning the NCAA team title: It's incredible. I was able to be on the first team to win an SEC [tournament] title and an SEC regular season. It's so cool to make history. We were kind of underdogs in all three of those tournaments and to be able to win it for your school, see the excitement that the school had, because it was the first one, was really special.

Ingrid Neel, turning pro after freshman year at University of Florida

(Neel defeated Hayley Carter 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, defeated Sydney Campbell 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, lost to Francesca Di Lorenzo 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

On her decision to not return to school: I'm really excited for this decision to play on the tour. I love the game and I couldn't give that up for anything. I know it's going to be really tough, but there's nothing I'd rather be doing.  In my mind, I pretty much decided that I wasn't going to return in the middle of the semester, so winning the title was just basically everything coming to fruition. I was so ecstatic that we were able to do that and the feeling of winning was nothing you can ever describe. But I found it was just too different from the pro life and I have to be doing this if I ever want to be at the top. That's my goal and I felt I was not going to wait any longer. I had to go for it and I think college really helped me make that decision. I'll never look back and wonder what I was missing, so I'm very, very glad I went.

On her plans for this rest of the year:  After this I might go to some of the American tournaments, the $80Ks, $25s, whatever the schedule is. I'm also looking at maybe going to China to play some this fall, so we'll see. I've never gone that far and I also know I want to get better and it's not about, right now, chasing points, but we'll see. Maybe if I'm over there for an extended amount of time it shows you what life on tour is like far, far away from home, literally living out of a suitcase. I think I have to get these experiences while I'm still very young so I can deal with it in time.

On where she'll be training: I'm based in Florida, my family's in Jacksonville and I was also at the USTA in Orlando a couple of weeks ago.  Somewhere in Florida, I definitely want to be based out of. The weather's great. I'm searching for a coach. Leaving college I didn't have the plan, so it's going to take searching and trials, so I had to start that process now and that's another reason I decided to leave.

On her goals for the next 12 months: By this time next year, I'd love to playing in the [US Open] qualies off my own ranking. That would be a major goal for me. Maybe in a little more than a year, try to get my ranking so I can get into the grand slam qualies and that would be a very successful year in my mind. You have to have a really sound game, and I need to shore up some weaknesses to get there. I'm aware of that and I'll train to try to become that level.

Francesca Di Lorenzo, Ohio State University junior
(Di Lorenzo defeated Sara Daavettila 6-1, 6-2, defeated Ena Shibahara 6-4, 6-1 and defeated Ingrid Neel 4-6, 6-4, 6-4)

On her fall schedule: I'm going to Las Vegas, then a 60 out in California, then a 25 in Texas and I'll see how it is, then probably do some 60s and 25s to finish out the year.

On returning to the Buckeyes in January: I'm not committed to come back. I'm going to make that decision in the next month or two. My coaches have been really helpful in that aspect, haven't been pushy at all so I'll wait probably another month and then I'll make a decision.

On the full house that watched the last set of the women's final: It was really nice to see for two college girls on court 5. It's a great court, but it's not like it's some stadium court, so it was nice to see it packed at the end. It was cool.

On the benefit of winning the American Collegiate Invitational: It secures the qualies wild card for next year, so it's definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders in terms of trying to get a wild card or qualifying myself with my ranking. It's a sense of security and it's gives me some confidence going forward in these Pro Circuit tournaments that I'm going to play. I haven't won three matches in a row in a while, so it's really nice to get that confidence.

On recovering after playing women's qualifying and doubles before competing the ACI at the US Open:
I went back home [to the Columbus area] last Friday for three, four days and I think that really helped me mentally. As much as I like New York, it's really exciting, there's a lot of craziness and stuff, so to be able to go back home, see my family before I go off on the road for a few tournaments was really helpful.