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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Miami's NCAA Champion Perez-Somarriba Will Return for Another Year; McEnroe, Adams Test Positive for COVID-19; ITF Academy Increases Free Offerings on its Educational Platform

University of Miami senior Estela Perez-Somarriba didn't wait until yesterday's meeting of the NCAA Division I committee to make her decision. In a conversation with head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews last Friday, the 2019 NCAA singles champion announced she would return to the Hurricanes for a fifth year.

Perez-Somarriba, a 21-year-old from Spain, wrote in her own words her reasons for coming back on the Miami website, and it's hard to imagine a more eloquent account of what college tennis means to many of the student-athletes that participate in it.

The NCAA will no doubt be answering many questions about the decision to allow that extra year of eligibility in the weeks and months to come, but below is the key passage from the article published on NCAA.org last night:

The Division I Council on Monday voted to allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.

Members also adjusted financial aid rules to allow teams to carry more members on scholarship to account for incoming recruits and student-athletes who had been in their last year of eligibility who decide to stay. In a nod to the financial uncertainty faced by higher education, the Council vote also provided schools with the flexibility to give students the opportunity to return for 2020-21 without requiring that athletics aid be provided at the same level awarded for 2019-20. This flexibility applies only to student-athletes who would have exhausted eligibility in 2019-20.

Schools also will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility flexibility in 2020-21.

Division I rules limit student-athletes to four seasons of competition in a five-year period. The Council’s decision allows schools to self-apply waivers to restore one of those seasons of competition for student-athletes who had competed while eligible in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 spring season

The Council also will allow schools to self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes, effectively extending each student’s five-year “clock” by a year. This decision was especially important for student-athletes who had reached the end of their five-year clock in 2020 and saw their seasons end abruptly.

Dan Wolken of USA Today discusses some of the issues that could surface when it comes to funding scholarships for these seniors, but agrees that the NCAA has done the best it could for the student-athletes given this unprecedented situation.

The tennis world is still reporting just one active player with the COVID-19 virus, 20-year-old Thiago Seyboth-Wild of Brazil, but today it learned that two major figures in the sport in the United States have contracted it: ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe and USTA immediate past president Katrina Adams. McEnroe, who was the General Manager of USTA Player Development from 2008-2016, posted a video explaining his health situation today from the basement of his home in New York. That video can be found in this USA Today article.

Adams divulged her recent bout with the virus in this podcast from Champions of Change. At the beginning of the podcast, Adams goes into detail about her symptoms and her quarantine once she was told she had been in contact with someone who had tested positive. 

The good news is that both McEnroe and Adams appear to have recovered without needing hospitalization and are well enough to speak about their illness and recovery.

The ITF has opened up more of its Academy resources for free and is also announcing several new online courses, which are available not only to coaches, but to parents, players and those looking to understand more about the sport.

Interactive online courses have recently been added to the platform for the first time, with 18 courses currently available in English and a further 6 in Spanish and 6 in French. The courses cover a variety of subjects, from an ‘Introduction to Strategy & Tactics’ to ‘Ethics in Coaching’. New courses will be added each week, with ‘Goal setting’, ‘Tennis Parents’ and ‘Teaching Methodology’ among the upcoming topics to be covered.

Registration for the ITF Academy can be found here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Orange Bowl Remains in Plantation for 2020; NCAA Approves Division I Eligibility Extension for All Spring Athletes; UTR Introduces Free Live All Access Sessions with Top Pros, Coaches

I've learned today that the ITF Grade A Orange Bowl, arguably the most important junior event in the world outside the slams, will once again be held at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation Florida in 2020, but there has been no determination regarding the venue beyond this year. This answers one of my Eight Intriguing Questions for 2020, but it looks as if I'll be asking the same question again in my 2021 column.

The NCAA Division I committee will allow an extra year of eligibility for all spring sport athletes according to Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic. This is breaking news, so it will be Tuesday before most of the implications of this decision will be explored, but it appears that extra scholarships will be allowed, although paying for them is up to individual schools.
I was unable to join the first USTA Player Development Learning Series webinar today due to it being oversubscribed, but I assume that the USTA will expand the capacity for next Monday's webinar to accommodate all that would like to participate. The question and answer segment is the component that requires live participation, but access to the webinar is available now through this link, which also contains other resources mentioned in the webinar.

UTR is enhancing and expanding its webinar feature, with two new products: an All Access Series, twice a week, featuring top coaches and pros and a Host Your Own Webinar program that provides a way for coaches and players to connect. Sam Querrey leads off the All Access Series Thursday April 2 at 2 p.m. PDT. To register for this, and the forthcoming editions of the All Access series*, set for Tuesdays and Thursdays, go to this UTR page. Webinars on using UTR are also available; some can be watched now, with others requiring registration for upcoming webinars, beginning Thursday.

March 30, 2020 (Palo Alto, CA) - Universal Tennis (MyUTR.com ) today announced the launch of two new initiatives, UTR All Access Series and Host Your Own Webinar For Coaches program, to provide free, virtual opportunities for players, coaches and organizers to stay safely connected to tennis and to each other throughout the global crisis.

The new programming expands UTR Off the Court’s robust slate of free digital content:
  • ●  UTR All Access Series: UTR All Access Series is a live, hosted webinar interview series where participants can submit questions in advance to celebrity guests. The line up includes Sam Querrey, Alison Riske, Ivan Lendl, Nick Bollettieri, Dr. Jim Loehr, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Corey Gauff, Gordon Uehling, Jez Green, Vasek Pospisil, Rajeev Ram and Shelby Rogers. Prakash Amritraj, co-host of Tennis Channel Live, Kirk Spahn and Mark Leschly will serve as hosts.
  • ●  Host Your Own Webinar For Coaches: Coming in April, UTR will enable for free any tennis coach to host their own free or paid webinars on the UTR Platform and share their expertise with UTR’s global tennis community, with all proceeds from paid events going directly to the coaches. Tennis coaches who are interested can pre-register for the free program on MyUTR.com.
  • ●  UTR Webinar Series: Coaches, organizers, players and parents can access engaging live and on-demand video content offering support to organizers and coaches to develop and enhance their tennis programs, advice on how to implement UTR into their tennis communities, and guidance on how to prepare for when the tennis season picks back up.
* This is the schedule for the upcoming All Access webinars:
  • ●  Thursday, April 2 - Sam Querrey: Host Prakash Amritraj joins ATP pro and world-record service ace holder Sam Querrey (ATP #45) for a discussion on life on the tour and his journey to the top.
  • ●  Tuesday, April 7 - Alison Riske: Host Prakash Amritraj and 2019 Wimbledon semi-finalist Alison Riske (WTA #19) discuss the WTA pro’s tennis journey and what it really takes to compete on the world’s biggest stage.
  • ●  Thursday, April 9 - Nick Bollettieri: Get tips and insights from one of the most experienced coaches of all time. IMG Academy founder and the former coach of Monica Seles, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, and Jim Courier answers your questions about improving your game and what it takes to make it to the top. Hosted by Universal Tennis CEO Mark Leschly.
  • ●  Thursday, April 16 - Dr. Jim Loehr & Gordon Uehling “Inside the Mind: Making of A Champion”: Join Dr. Jim Loehr, the world renowned sports psychologist and Gordon Uehling, tennis coach, technologist and philanthropist for a discussion on developing mental fitness. Hosted by Universal Tennis CEO Mark Leschly.
  • ●  Tuesday, April 21 - Corey Gauff: Join Prakash Amritraj and Corey Gauff, father and coach of phenom Coco Gauff and 2019 PTR Touring Coach of the Year, as they answer your questions on player development, what it’s like being a tennis parent, mental fitness, and balancing tennis and teenagehood.
  • ●  Wednesday, April 22 - Vasek Pospisil : Join host Kirk Spahn and submit your questions to one of UTR’s most improved players in 2020, Vasek Pospisil (ATP #93). Get insights about Vasek's journey, breaking through, and battling to get back to the top.
  • ●  Thursday, April 23 - Ivan Lendl & Jez Green, “Maximizing Potential”: Ivan Lendl, 8x Grand Slam Champion and former ATP #1, and Jez Green, renowned movement and conditioning specialist, discuss how a player can maximize their potential to become the best. The former coaches of players like Andy Murray and Alexander Zverev join host Mark Leschly, UTR CEO.
  • ●  Tuesday, April 28 - Steve Johnson : Host Prakash Amritraj and Steve Johnson (ATP #63) discuss his journey from USC college tennis to the pros.
  • ●  Thursday, April 30 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands: The 9x Grand Slam Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist joins host Prakash Amritraj to dive into what makes a champion and how this top-20 doubles pro stays focused and fit.
  • ●  Tuesday, May 5- Rajeev Ram: The 2020 Australian Open doubles champion and Olympic Silver Medalist joins host Prakash Amritraj to dive into what makes a champion and how this top-20 doubles pro stays focused and fit.
  • Thursday, May 7 - Shelby Rogers: Host Prakash Amritraj and Shelby Rogers (WTA #113) discuss her tennis journey and what it takes to perform at the highest level.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

USTA Player Development Announces Weekly Webinar, Beginning Monday; More on Issues Surrounding NCAA's Extra Year of Eligibility

The USTA has announced that its Player Development department will begin weekly Learning Series webinars on Monday March 30 at 3 p.m. EDT. The webinars, scheduled for this 3 p.m. time slot every Monday, are free, but registration is required, via this link. The specific topics for tomorrow's webinar haven't been announced, but there will likely be an introduction and overview, as well as a way to gauge what attendees would like to see from this initiative. The usta.com webpage gives the broad outline of the series as providing "players, parents and coaches with access to resources and experts and help us to stay connected. Please join us as we learn together!" The invitation also mentions future topics to be explored as: Coaching, Strength and Conditioning, Mental Skills and Nutrition, with a reference to a question and answer session included.

Tomorrow is the day the NCAA Division I committee is expected to address the issue of an extra year of eligibility for spring season athletes, but the specter of a huge revenue drop from the cancellation of the NCAA Basketball tournaments looms over that topic. With the NCAA's annual distribution for Division I falling from $600 million to $225 million, there are plenty of questions about the impact that will have on individual schools.

Today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, Rhiannon Potkey's article asks whether this will lead more schools to drop programs that do not produce revenue, which includes all Division I tennis programs. The article also provides the drops in revenue from Division II and Division III athletics.

At USA Today, Dan Wolken explores the problems that this NCAA commitment to another year of eligibility, which is widely considered admirable, could present for some of the less prominent Division I schools.  Among the questions the committee will wrestle with are, according to Wolken:
Do you issue a blanket waiver for all seniors to come back, which would require at least a temporary suspension of scholarship limits? Do you give every spring sport athlete an extra year of eligibility? Or do you allow schools freedom to make individual decisions on whether to offer those scholarships to seniors, including the possibility of offering reduced scholarships for those who are already on partial aid and letting the athlete determine whether they want to come back under those circumstances. 
These issues are expected to have big financial implications next year, but for this year, the fact that there are no travel expenses may help keep budgets in line. Here is an Idaho Statesman article with Boise State's Athletic Director making that point.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Q and A with New USTA CEO: Illinois Senior Kovacevic Faces Big Decision; Mississippi State Players Return to Italy; Resources for Sharpening Tennis Skills at Home

The April issue of Racquet Sports Industry has the first interview I've seen with new USTA CEO Michael Dowse, who took over for Gordon Smith at the beginning of the year. This interview came before the current COVID-19 pandemic, so it obviously doesn't address any of the issues, but you have to feel for Dowse now, with both a new job and a huge crisis to contend with. The statement from Dowse that I found most interesting was this one:

The long-term health and growth of Parks & Recreation tennis must be led at the grassroots level. The USTA should act as a partial funder, facilitator and service entity to the grassroots network of providers. But we’re going to get away from just throwing money at an issue. If we’re going to invest significant funds in this—or any—initiative, we’re going to do so informed by hard metrics that validate if what we’re investing in is indeed driving new participation and retention. If validated, then we will accelerate and continue to support the program. If participation in that area continues to decline, then we will recalibrate and work to find the correct formula for that community. 

While the USTA may have significant funds to invest as of now, Dowse may be facing a different challenge in keeping grass roots programs going if the US Open is canceled for 2020. That decision doesn't have to be made now, and the Open is still five months away, so we are all keeping our fingers crossed, for the health of the sport in the US, that it proceeds as scheduled.

Like many seniors, University of Illinois senior Aleks Kovacevic must decide whether he will return for another year after what would have been his final year of eligibility was cut short early this month. Kovacevic, the first Illinois player to make the NCAA singles semifinals since Kevin Anderson in 2007, is now back home in Florida, where he'll take this break to think about his future, according to this Champaign News-Gazette article. Until the NCAA announces the terms of this extra year of eligibility, and until each school decides how it would fund both its freshmen and its returning seniors, many seniors will wait until they have that information.

Sports Illustrated published an article yesterday about several international student-athletes attempting to make their way home after spring sports were canceled, and two of those featured are tennis players from Mississippi State: Giovanni Oradini and Davide Tortora. Oradini and Tortora are from Italy, making their return particularly fraught, with their parents risking arrest for picking them up at the airport, with a strict lockdown in place. Oradina and Tortora describe how their country and their families are handling the quarantine as the casualties mount in both Italy and the country they just left, the United States.

Lisa Stone at Parenting Aces has begun collecting resources for those who are hoping to keep their tennis skills sharp during this prolonged layoff. You can find links to these here, and if you have others to share, please contact Lisa so you can be included.

USTA's Net Generation program is providing information in a series it is calling Tennis At Home, which includes video drills and instructional videos from Madison Keys and the Bryan brothers. Educational content via the USTA Foundation's Academic Creative Engagement (A.C.E.) Curriculum is also part of this initiative.

Friday, March 27, 2020

March Aces; USTA Announces First Results from COVID-19 Task Force; Kratzer Suspended in Anti-Doping Charge

Despite a dramatically shortened month, there were plenty of performances to feature for my regular Tennis Recruiting Network column; 17 to be exact. I've already said this several times, but given the cancellation of the NCAA championships this year, it's fortunate that we did crown six ITA National Indoor champions before college athletics was shut down. A special thanks to Division II head coaches Evan Isaacs of Columbus State and Avi Kigel of Barry for providing photos of their championship teams.

Now that no new performances are available to feature, I am considering doing a Greatest Hits column for April, highlighting prominent pros from when they first appeared in an Aces column as juniors.

The USTA has already sent out an update on the first decisions from the Tennis Industry United task force, which was formed this week, an admirably quick turnaround given the circumstances. There had been complaints about a 50 percent refund policy for those who had entered events that were cancelled, but that has now been changed to include full refund. Below is the email I received this evening:

March 27, 2020
USTA Policy Regarding Events Affected by COVID-19 Virus Cancellations and Suspensions
The USTA, with many tennis industry partners, has begun an analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 virus on the sport of tennis. A first step in this process was the creation of a joint task force to begin the collection of data and an analysis of immediate and longer-term needs for the sport of tennis. This effort would focus especially on those individuals on the front line of the sport who do so much to grow the game, and attract, engage and retain our tennis players.

Regarding junior tournaments, the USTA, which originally called for 50% reimbursement of entry fees, is now calling for 100% reimbursement of entry fees for junior tennis players who had entered National March Level 3 tournaments, as well as the Easter Bowl, that were canceled through the sport’s suspension of play directives.

Finally, the USTA, after redeploying internal resources, will create a comprehensive grant program to provide assistance to the organizers and tournament directors of the 114 Competitive Pathway events (Junior Level 1 Level 3 National events, ITF World Tennis Tour events, and ATP Challengers) that have been canceled in the March 13 to June 7 play suspension window. Details of this new grant program will be sent directly to those affected. Tournament Directors that canceled Category 1 National Adult Tournaments with an ITF status, also will receive direct communication regarding grant opportunities. For Junior Tournaments Levels 4-7, tournament directors will work with their specific USTA Section on potential assistance opportunities.

Working with the entire industry, the USTA will continue to analyze the data and formulate further plans to ensure that the tennis industry, its facilities, its professionals, and its players are in the best possible shape following the end of this pandemic crises.

The task force also has put together a page of resources for those in the tennis industry who may be seeking financial assistance due to this pandemic.

Ashley Kratzer, the 2017 USTA National 18s champion, has been suspended after she tested positive for a prohibited substance at this year's WTA 125 in Newport Beach. Kratzer, now 21, will have a full hearing on the charge. For more background on that prohibited substance and Kratzer's pro career to date, see this article from TennisLife.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Kenny Rogers' Contribution to College Tennis; 2018 US Open Boys Champion Seyboth Wild Diagnosed with COVID-19; Olympics Postponed, Wimbledon Next?

Most of the obituaries following the death last week of country and pop singer Kenny Rogers did not mention his connection to tennis, but he was instrumental in funding the ITA Men's National Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in Athens Georgia, a fact I learned during my first trip to the NCAA Championships in Athens in 2007. The ITA today published a fascinating account of how Rogers came to be associated with the University of Georgia tennis program, with a free T-shirt demonstrating how big a small gesture can be.
Thiago Seyboth Wild won the US Open boys title in 2018
Most of what news remains in the tennis world now revolves around the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2018 US Open boys champion Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil the first professional tennis player to announce that he has contracted the virus. The 20-year-old, who won his first ATP title last month in Chile, last played a match in Australia on March 6 as part of a Davis Cup tie. Now ranked 114, Seyboth Wild is isolating to avoid spreading the disease and is urging others to do the same. This article at tennis.com provides the video Seyboth Wild used to make his announcement.

Wimbledon announced yesterday that a decision had not yet been made about whether that tournament will go forward as scheduled at the end of June. From the tone of the announcement, it appears that cancellation is the most likely outcome, with an emergency meeting of AELTC set for next week to determine the fate of this year's event. The announcement does firmly reject the idea of playing without spectators as an option.

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, scheduled to begin at the end of July, were formally postponed until 2021 on Tuesday. With the tennis portion of the Games scheduled for later in July than Wimbledon, the suggestion was floated that perhaps Wimbledon could delay until that time, but with the Olympics featuring a much smaller field in a 10-day tournament, that doesn't seem viable.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Another Look at Taylor Fritz's Memorable 2015 Easter Bowl Comeback

Five years ago, Taylor Fritz had established himself as one of the top juniors in the world. He validated that status by reaching the final of the ITF Junior Masters in China, losing to Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday, then flying back to the United States to play in his first round match on Tuesday at the Easter Bowl ITF.

I've always thought that testing your limits is necessary to determine what exactly those limits are, and I think Fritz did just that in choosing to compete in the Easter Bowl after such a grueling trip.

I spoke with him after his first round match Tuesday and he admitted he had underestimated the impact.

"I thought it was going to be bad," said Fritz of his journey, "but I really didn't think it was going to be that bad. It was awful in the beginning. I've never done that or anything like that. I've always been like three days early at the latest before going anywhere. I'm always pretty early for everything. And then you can see, I got better as the match went on and I was lucky enough to get out of it."

Fritz also had a four-stroke hold in that 7-5, 6-3 win over Caleb Chakravarthi, with four straight aces, but it was two days later that the truly memorable match occurred, against 15-year-old Patrick Kypson. Kypson would go on to win the Kalamazoo 16s title later that year, but he was just getting started on the ITF Circuit back then and had to qualify for the Easter Bowl Grade B1 that year. My account of that match follows:

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Indian Wells, CA--

Down 6-4, 5-0 and being thoroughly outplayed by 15-year-old qualifier Patrick Kypson, top seed Taylor Fritz managed to keep alive the hope that the physical toll he was exacting by continuing to compete could help him work his way into the match.  That, and Kypson's inexperience at the top levels of the junior game, proved Fritz right, and the world's fourth-ranked boy recorded the most improbable of comebacks to earn a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory and a place in the quarterfinals.

"The first set and a half I was just playing like awful," said Fritz, who admitted the full impact of his trip from China on Monday hit him Wednesday night. "But I don't know if it really would have made a difference, the way he was playing, so tough. He was playing me really smart, moving me a lot. He was mixing up the serve a lot, never let me get a feel, especially the second serve. He wouldn't let me run around and attack it at all."

"But the way he was playing, he was doing a lot of running and digging out a lot of balls, and I just knew eventually--he could probably play like that all day--his body would stop him from playing at that level, just because he's younger. I was doing a lot of moving him, and so I felt like eventually he would slow down a little bit. And I played a lot better when I got all the way down, stuck with it."

After getting broken serving at 4-5 in the first set, Kypson won six straight games, using his drop shot effectively and staying with Fritz in all of the baseline rallies. Fritz held for 5-1, so Kypson would need to serve it out.

Kypson was broken at love, but serving at 2-5, Fritz made two backhand errors to go down 0-30.  He picked up his serving at that crucial moment however and held for 5-3. 

Serving for the match a second time, Kypson again failed to reach match point, with Fritz hitting a delicate lob winner to make it 15-30 and Kypson double faulting for 15-40. Kypson saved one break point when Fritz's forehand went wide, but the second went to Fritz courtesy of an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better backhand drop shot winner.

That shot produced a roar of 'come on' from Fritz and some enthusiastic support from the crowd, almost all of whom were squarely in his corner, not the underdog's, due to Fritz's local connections. Fritz held at love, and a shaken Kypson immediately went down 15-40 on his serve. He gathered himself to save those two break points, but a line call on a return at deuce, which Kypson called out, much to Fritz's disgust, seemed to add even more adrenaline to Fritz's game. He broke for a 6-5 lead and held at love, and although another set remained to be played, Kypson's window had closed.

Fritz had to save a break point in his first service game of the third set, but after that he lost only three points on serve and he ended the match with a 120 mph ace.

As for his decision to come straight from China to play in the tournament, Fritz said his didn't have extremely high expectations, but said: "I wanted to just come here to see if I could do it, prove it to myself, so down 6-4, 5-0, I'm thinking, I haven't come back like that in forever and I just want to do it for myself. That's what kept me in it."

Fritz went on to claim the title, beating Sam Riffice 6-2, 6-3 in the final (complete draw is here), and he continued his impressive results the remainder of the year. He reached the French Open boys final, the Wimbledon boys semifinals, the Kalamazoo semifinals and, in his final junior slam, claimed the US Open boys title. Fritz then won back-to-back Challengers in the fall, and by February of the following year, he had reached his first ATP final in Memphis. 

Fritz, now 22, is currently No. 24 in the ATP rankings, a career-high.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

New Tennis Task Forces Wants Your Input; US Open Changes Surface Provider; NCAA Champion Perez-Somarriba Ponders Future

In what is being referred to as an Industry Call to Action, a task force has been formed to look for ways to help the tennis community deal with the issues the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. They are soliciting ideas from those in the tennis industry on ways to mitigate the effects of this long layoff, but would like to have those suggestions by this Thursday, March 26.  Although the focus appears to be on getting local clubs through this difficult period, I think the junior and collegiate tennis community can provide some valuable guidance on the third item mentioned below. My input will focus on the need for advance preparation and flexibility in rescheduling USTA junior tournaments should tennis actually return by the current date of May 3, (which I consider highly unlikely) and what the contingency plans for the pent-up demand will be.  I also will suggest that a qualifying tournament for this summer's Level 1 events, including the Clay Courts and Kalamazoo, might be appropriate this year, should those be played in July and August, given that many other means of qualifying might not be available this year. I also would welcome a major ITA individual tournament this summer that could stand in for the canceled May championships. Of course, there is no guarantee that tennis will be able to get back to normal this summer, but being prepared for the possibility is a prudent way to spend this current downtime. Below is the email I received today, which I believe is a major step forward in the usually fractured tennis framework.

As all of us confront the many uncertainties caused by this rapidly-shifting environment, the entire tennis industry is coming together to provide guidance and support with the difficult decisions, decisions regarding ourselves, our families and our communities, we are all facing.

To that end, the USTA, USPTA, PTR, TIA, ITA, industry media partners, and other stakeholders, have formed an industry task force charged with creating an action plan and a centralized informational hub as our industry responds to the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 virus.  Now, more than ever, it is important that our industry faces this challenge with a unified front. 

The task force’s work is focusing on three main areas:

1. How to ensure the best health and safety standards at this time for facilities, pros and players

2. Helpful information for facilities and individuals to access potential financial support and other recommendations on finances and resources for the front line of tennis

3. How to use the near-term downtime to best prepare our sport/industry to come back strong.

First, the task force will circulate an industry survey so that we can assess the true state of where our sport is at this moment.  Second, we are calling on providers, tennis facilities, manufacturers, subject matter experts and others in this industry to provide us with the most common and pressing concerns we are all facing in the near-term, and what are suggested actions and best practices we can take as we move forward from this immediate situation. 

We ask that all individuals please submit this information to www.usta.com/industryunited by Thursday, March 26.  This location within usta.com will now serve as an accessible hub for this information and for your concerns.

We recognize the stress and uncertainty that all members of the tennis community are facing during this period as we all deal with the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 virus, and we are striving to serve tennis providers, partners and players in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Yesterday the USTA announced that the US Open has changed surface providers, with Laykold scheduled to be in place for this year's Open. The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center had previously been played on DecoTurf.

Today the Miami Herald checked in with 2019 NCAA women's singles champion Estela Perez-Somarriba, a senior at the University of Miami, who did not get an opportunity to defend her title when the NCAA canceled all spring championships for 2020. Perez-Somarriba is currently still in Miami, with her home country of Spain one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Perez-Somarriba will undoubtedly wait to make a decision about returning to the Hurricanes until after the NCAA announces the details of the extra year of eligibility next week, but the article explores all the factors that will inform her decision.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Evans Commits to Texas Tech; USTA Extends Event Suspension to May 3; USTA Junior Points Table for Upcoming National Restructuring

Although a lot has happened since I spoke with blue chip Kailey Evans a couple of weeks ago, I am happy I was able to talk with her about her commitment to Texas Tech for this article at the Tennis Recruiting Network. Evans wasn't considering the Red Raiders in her initial research into schools, but an unexpected visit convinced her that Lubbock was the place for her. The 17-year-old high school junior will join the team in the fall of 2021.

The USTA announced today that it was extending the suspension of all its events until May 3, which is two weeks past the April 20 date they had provided originally. The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the National Campus will also remain closed until that date. Below is today's announcement:

USTA Statement on Suspension of Events

Due to the continued situation surrounding the COVID-19 virus, and after discussions with the USTA Medical Advisory Committee, effective immediately the USTA will extend the suspension of USTA sanctioned products and events, including Adult and Junior Tournaments, USTA League, Junior Team Tennis, Team Challenge, Team Tournaments, USTA Schools programs, Tennis on Campus and Wheelchair events through May 3. Additionally, recognizing the evolving and fast-changing nature of this situation, the USTA will continue to monitor and assess conditions to make future determinations about events and activities taking place after May 3.

All Category 1 and Super Category 2 National Adult Tournaments with an ITF status, all ITF Junior events, and all USTA Pro Circuit and professional events will align with the same calendar as the ITF, ATP and WTA, and be suspended through June 7.

Both the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., and the USTA National Campus, in the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Fla., will remain closed for play and instructional opportunities through May 3. Any patron who wishes to cancel participation in a scheduled activity should contact the specific location for refund information. These policies will be in effect pending additional guidance or directives from each local governmental agency and the CDC. The USTA will continue to monitor and assess conditions to make future determinations about all activities at these facilities.

The USTA's streamlining of its junior competition structure is still scheduled to be implemented in 2021, and new information, with more details, has been posted in the past few months. A look at this year's shadow rankings and the new points tables is now available here. Whether there will be enough second quarter results to publish shadow rankings in the third quarter of 2020 remains to be seen, but this might be a good time for coaches, parents and players to begin to familiarize themselves with this information so they are better prepared when USTA tournaments resume.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Tennis Channel Begins Live Studio Show Monday, with 2002 Kalamazoo Champion Amritraj, 1981 Doubles Semifinalist Annacone as Contributors

With tennis fans hungry for any connection to the sport, Tennis Channel has announced a live daily show at noon eastern to talk about the sport, which has been shut down for the past ten days and is not scheduled to return before June at the earliest.  According to Adam Jacobson at Radio and Television Business Report:

The programming will fill the Noon-3pm Eastern block and aims to serve as a central tennis news and conversation platform with updates from the sport’s leaders, social media interaction with players and fans, and other topical information during this unprecedented shutdown.
With a general talk-show format, Tennis Channel Live will explore a different theme each for the next five weeks – Greatest of All Time, History, Roland Garros (the French Open), Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
The channel will run encore editions each evening at 8pm Eastern, and again at 8pm Pacific, to help fill large gaps in programming caused by a lack of tournament coverage.
Jacobson goes on to name next week's Tennis Channel panelists: host Steve Weissman, Lindsay Davenport, Paul Annacone and Prakash Amritraj. with the latter two former USTA Boys Nationals participants here in Kalamazoo.

Annacone was unseeded in 1981, losing in the third round to No. 4 seed Jonathan Canter in 18s singles and making the doubles semifinals. He went on to win three ATP titles and rise to No. 12 in the rankings after playing three years at the University of Tennessee. He is more widely known now for his role as a coach, with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer among the professionals he has worked with in the past three decades. Amritraj won the Kalamazoo 18s title in 2002, just a few months after clinching the NCAA team title for the USC Trojans as a freshman. Amritraj, who I see occasionally now at Wimbledon while we both are waiting for players to arrive for interviews, peaked at No. 154 in the ATP rankings. He reached the final of the Hall of Fame tournament in Newport Rhode Island in 2008.

Although I was working on the Kalamazoo website ustaboys.com when Amritraj won the Kalamazoo title, that was pre-Zootennis.com, so I don't have any coverage of his win, but the draws are available online. Brian Baker was the top seed that year, but he lost to No. 8 seed Doug Stewart in the semifinals. Amritraj was the No. 2 seed that year, John Isner, seeded No. 20, lost in the round of 16 after beating No. 3 seed Rajeev Ram in the fourth round.

The photos below are from the Kalamazoo programs for those years, with the late Helen Handelsman the photographer.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

What's Ahead for Zootennis.com

Before I begin to address what my plans are for this site in the next couple of months, I want to preface this by acknowledging the limited significance of what I note below in the face of this serious global health crisis. I am hopeful life can return to normal this summer, but I recognize that if the tennis world does not resume then, we will all have much bigger problems to worry about.

I knew once the ITF shut down tournaments last week that the day would come when I would have to address the issue of my daily posts on this website. I thought, frankly, that it would be before today, but keeping up with the various cancellations and reactions to the Corona virus pandemic in the tennis world has provided a steady stream of news to report in the past ten days. Traffic to the site has been steady, but with little news, no tournament coverage and no results for the next couple of months, at least, I'm going to have to go in a different direction to keep posting daily.

I'm proud I developed a habit of posting every day, with just a couple of days off per year, for the past 15 years, and I am loathe to discontinue that, particularly because I am at home and have the time. Those who advertise directly on Zootennis.com--IMG Academy, OTZ Sports and John McEnroe Tennis Academy--have done so for many years, and I want to keep providing exposure to their products.

So I have decided I will continue to post every day, but as all the major sports channels have done, I will turn to my archives for content on days when there isn't other news. My Throw Back Thursday photos on Twitter have been well received and have given me the opportunity to look back more than I normally do--when junior tennis is your beat, the focus is the future--and I will be posting those types of photos more regularly, as well as links to memorable matches that I've reported on.

The best decision I made when I began to build this site back in 2005 was to partner with the Tennis Recruiting Network, and I will still be writing my weekly articles for them, with my interviews conducted entirely by telephone now. (And if you are college recruit who has made a verbal commitment you would like to announce, please email me at clewis at zootennis.com).  And because I have none of my usual travel expenses, the impact on my bottom line shouldn't be too severe. Yet I have seen a drop in revenue from Google Ads and from my affiliate relationship with Tennis Warehouse in the past year, so I fear a significant decrease in Zootennis traffic in the next few months could have an impact.

I have not gone to a Gofundme, subscription or Patreon model and do not intend to, but if you do wish to contribute, donations are accepted via Paypal, with a link on the left. And thank you to those who have already thought of me and made a donation in these chaotic times for all of us.

To kick off Zootennis Classic, here is a link to one of the most dramatic semifinals I've covered in Kalamazoo, when Bob van Overbeek defeated Denis Kudla 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) back in 2010. One of the reasons I remember that match so vividly was the way Kudla, a few days away from his 17th birthday, handled his interview in the Tower after that crushing loss, which kept him from no worse than a US Open qualifying wild card. A chance to acknowledge that composure again, after 10 years, is a fitting way to start this new feature.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Tennis Academies Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic; Structure of NCAA D-I Eligibility Relief Expected by Month End; ITF Announces Ranking Freeze; USTA Closes National Campus and BJKNTC

Tennis academies with boarding students have been faced with tough decisions in their response the COVID-19 virus pandemic, and not all have taken the same route.

Today Patrick Mouratoglou announced that all 200 boarding students at his academy in France have returned to their homes, after the country's prime minister order all "non-essential living areas" closed as of last Saturday. This article from Forbes gives the timeline and the thought process behind closing the Mouratoglou Academy indefinitely.

In Spain, which has been one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, both the Rafael Nadal Academy and the Sanchez-Casal Academy still have boarding students in residence. Sanchez-Casal's statement on their current shutdown is here. Nadal provided an open letter detailing how his academy is handling the students who remain there.

IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida also has boarding students on its campus, but their spring break began last week, and any students who left are not allowed to return. IMG is providing regular updates on the latest restrictions, and has announced it will activate a distance learning program for all students beginning March 30.

With still much to be discussed and decided about the NCAA's decision to provide an extra year of eligibility for Division I student-athletes in spring sports, this article from Inside Higher Ed provides insights from a player, an athletic director, two professors and two administrators,  including ITA CEO Tim Russell. The questions yet to be answered by the NCAA will no doubt decide how many schools and student-athletes decide to take advantage of that extended eligibility.

The Division I committee released a few minor updates today, but the NCAA release says a discussion and vote on the eligibility issue is not scheduled until March 30.

The Division III decision to extend eligibility, which may have fewer facets because it lacks athletic scholarships, was announced Wednesday.

The Division II regulation and policies, including those on eligibility, were announced Thursday.

The ITF announced today that it is freezing its rankings, including its junior rankings:

Following the extended suspension of professional tennis until Monday 8 June 2020, the ITF World Tennis Ranking is being frozen in line with the ATP and WTA rankings.

The ATP, WTA and ITF are working together to determine the fairest way to re-introduce the rankings whenever professional tennis is resumed.

The ATP and WTA rankings were frozen with matches played in the interrupted week of 9 March, including ITF World Tennis Tour matches, counting towards the frozen ranking.

The World Tennis Tour Junior rankings, the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour rankings, the Seniors Tennis Tour Rankings and the Beach Tennis World Tour rankings have also been frozen, with more details on their resumption to be provided in due course.

The USTA has not announced anything regarding their junior rankings, but they do have a FAQ up now and it sticks to the April 20 date for additional decisions. The National Campus in Lake Nona and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York are both closed through March 29.

After initially planning to hold the USTA annual meeting at the end of the month remotely due to the pandemic, it has now been canceled, with the Governance committee and Annual Meeting of voting members held primarily via proxies.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

College Coaches on Sudden End of Season; Feature on CMS Senior Parodi; A Look at Frozen ATP, WTA and ITF Junior Rankings of Top 100 Americans

The Tennis Recruiting Network published a roundtable today featuring eight head coaches, six from Division I and two from Division II, with the discussion centered on the circumstances and reactions of their teams when they heard the NCAA had canceled the spring national championships. As several said, I think it will take some time before we all realize how much is now missing from the sport come April and May, with no college tennis. But of course there is no other level of tennis either, so everyone who is part of tennis community is still coming to terms with the prospect of months without the sport.

The Division III tennis blog has been publishing reactions from players, parents and coaches, and Amy Bryant of Emory has a particularly detailed account of that day last week when everything changed for her team.

In keeping with the college reaction to the end of the spring tennis season, here is an article from the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps website about senior Nikolai Parodi, who was an All-American every year of his career, but did not get that final shot at a national championship.

Thai Kwiatkowski, the 2017 NCAA Division I singles champion while a senior at Virginia, is featured in this article about the overall impact of the current pandemic on sports teams, fans and athletes. Denis Kudla is also quoted in the article, which is centered on the Washington DC area.

With the ATP releasing their latest rankings today, I decided to look at where Americans in the Top 100 of the ATP, WTA and ITF Junior stand with no tennis being played until June. Unlike Tennis Recruiting Network, which is letting the results in its system roll off as normal, the ATP and WTA have frozen their rankings. (Tennis Recruiting Network uses head-to-head result, not points per round, so this has a different impact in that system). There has been no guidance from the ITF on their ranking decision, but I am assuming they will freeze their rankings too. How entries will be handled for the Junior Championships at Wimbledon, the next junior slam on the schedule, has not yet been addressed.

Americans in ATP Top 100
(current ranking/career high, bold if same):
John Isner 21/8
Taylor Fritz 24/24
Reilly Opelka 39/31
Sam Querrey 45/11
Tennys Sandgren 55/41
Tommy Paul 57/57
Steve Johnson 63/21
Frances Tiafoe 81/29

WTA Americans in WTA Top 100
(current ranking/career high, bold if same):
Sofia Kenin 4/4
Serena Williams 9/1
Madison Keys 13/7
Alison Riske 19/18
Amanda Anisimova 28/21
Sloane Stephens 37/3
Jennifer Brady 48/45
Danielle Collins 51/23
Coco Gauff 52/49
Bernarda Pera 60/60
Lauren Davis 62/26
Venus Williams 67/1
Taylor Townsend 73/61
Madison Brengle 79/35
Jessica Pegula 80/55
Christina McHale 88/24
Kristie Ahn 96/87

American boys in ITF Junior Top 100
(current ranking/career high, bold if same):
Martin Damm 5/4
Toby Kodat 18/5
Dali Blanch 30/24
Bruno Kuzuhara 51/45
Aidan Mayo 57/55
Alex Bernard 58/55
Max McKennon 62/61
Jack Anthrop 67/53
Benjamin Kittay 95/66

American girls in ITF Junior Top 100
(current ranking/career high, bold if same):
Robin Montgomery 5/5
Alexa Noel 7/4
Alexandra Yepifanova 23/14
Elvina Kalieva 26/26
Madison Sieg 49/44
Katrina Scott 60/38
Ellie Coleman 65/48
Savannah Broadus 67/26
India Houghton 87/73

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

My Article on COVID-19 Virus Leading to Abrupt Ending of ITF World Junior Event in Dominican Republic; ITF, ATP and WTA Extend Suspension of Tours Through June 7; Free "How to Improve Sport-Family Conversations" Webinar Thursday

I spoke to both Nishesh Basavareddy and USTA National Coach Jose Caballero after they returned from last week's ITF Grade 2 in the Dominican Republic for this article, posted today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. As if all the uncertainty that began circulating after the cancellation of Indian Wells wasn't producing enough anxiety, Basavareddy had a bag (not his tennis bag) stolen at the site, and discovered the next day that his passport had been in it. Fortunately, an emergency passport was issued by the US Embassy and the USTA coaches and players in their care all returned home safely.

Basavareddy hopes to continue training privately in the Indianapolis area, but Caballero told me he will be confined to off-court work for at least the next two weeks, and as that conversation was two days ago, that may have been extended by now.

Both told me that because cases of the viral infection had not been reported in Costa Rica or in the Dominican Republic, they were not particularly frightened while there, but understood the reason that everyone had to leave as soon as they were able to make arrangements.

The ITF, ATP and WTA announced today that the professional tennis suspension has been extended from April 20 to June 7, and that also includes the ITF junior circuit. The ITF announcement is here; the joint ATP and WTA announcement is here, with another shot at the French Federation for its unilateral date change for the French Open announced yesterday. The ATP and WTA are freezing rankings; there is no mention of how rankings will be handled in the ITF release.

If in that best-case scenario tennis does resume on June 8th, the Oracle Pro Series has a women's $60K in Fort Worth and a men's ATP Challenger 80 in Dallas on the schedule. There is a USTA Pro Circuit women's $15K in Fountain Valley California and men's $25K in Wichita Kansas that week as well. The ITF Junior Circuit in the US features three South Florida Grade 4s in May that are now postponed, with the first ITF junior event in the US when play resumes the Grade 4 International Grass Court Championships in Philadelphia, beginning June 22.

With so many of us spending much more time at home now, it's a great time to explore many of the online educational options available, and one that might be of interest to tennis families is David Benzel's Growing Champions for Life series. I spoke to David many years ago for a tennis parenting article I wrote for the USTA Champions magazine and I have been on his mailing list ever since. I can't say I've had the time to participate in many of these free webinars, but I always read the emails about them, which provide a lot thoughtful approaches to making youth athletics a positive force for a family. This is not a tennis-specific series, but I've seen very little that would not be relevant to junior tennis.

Tomorrow's (March 19, 9 p.m. EDT) webinar is "How to Improve Sport-Family Conversations" and you can register for the free webinar here. Below is a screenshot from the email I received about the webinar topic:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

French Open Announces Move to September; Wimbledon, US Open Still On; Final UTR/ITA Players of the Week Include Former Prodigy Shishkina

The cancellations continue, with several conferences officially announcing the end of spring sports, and probably most important to the average sports fan, no spring football for the Southeastern Conference. Here is today's SEC announcement and today's ACC announcement, neither of which is a surprise, given the NCAAs decision to cancel all spring sports championships in all three of its divisions last week. The Pac-12 canceled its spring schedule on Saturday and the Big Ten on Thursday. The Big 12 announced Friday it was canceling its conference and non-conference competition schedules, but is only suspending team activities and practices until March 29, as of now, at least.

The French Open shocked the tennis world with an announcement today that it was moving the 2020 tournament from May 24 to June 7 to September 20-October 4. This is a week after the US Open is scheduled to end in New York.

A few hours after the French Open announcement, Wimbledon responded with its own update:

London, UK, Tuesday 17 March 2020: The AELTC is continuing to monitor and respond to the coronavirus situation on an active basis, working closely with the government and the relevant health authorities.

Following the government’s recommendation to individuals to avoid any non-essential social gatherings and work from home where possible, the AELTC has taken the decision to close the Wimbledon Museum and Tours, Shop, and Community Sports Ground, while the All England Club and Wimbledon Park Golf Club outdoor facilities will remain open to Members on a partial basis only for the time being.

At this time, we continue to plan for The Championships and the grass court season, and we intend to maintain the Estate with a limited team onsite, with the rest of our business operations taking place through remote working.

And this evening, the USTA provided this update on the US Open. The consensus from insiders is that the French federation made this decision without input from the other slams, the tours or the players, and many tournaments on both tours already have tournaments scheduled for those new dates. The USTA statement, while not singling out the French federation by name, is obviously unhappy about the lack of any coordination on this decision and announcement.

March 17, 2020
USTA Statement on US Open Schedule

The USTA is continuing to plan for the 2020 US Open and is not at this time implementing any changes to the schedule.

These are unprecedented times, though, and we are assessing all of our options, including the possibility of moving the tournament to a later date.

At a time when the world is coming together, we recognize that such a decision should not be made unilaterally, and therefore the USTA would only do so in full consultation with the other Grand Slam tournaments, the WTA and ATP, the ITF and our partners, including the Laver Cup.

Maria Shishkina won the Eddie Herr 12s title in 2009
The ITA released its final edition of Players of the Week today, and one of those honored was Georgia Gwinett's Maria Genovese. Those who followed junior tennis ten years back will remember her as Maria Shishkina, who was a protege of Nick Bollettieri's as a 10-year-old from Russia. Now 21, Genovese competed for Tyler Junior College prior to joining the NAIA powerhouse this academic year, and is currently No. 2 in the ITA NAIA national singles rankings. 

For all the Players of the Week, which does not include any Division I entries, see this from the ITA website.

The Division III tennis blog has been collecting reactions from coaches, players and parents to the ending of the season and is publishing them here

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Ojai Canceled, NJCAA, NAIA Cancel Spring Sports; Tennis Recruiting Network Provides Cancellation, Rankings Update

As quickly as things are changing all across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, it's probably safer to start out with the premise that the event is either already canceled or about to be, particularly with the new guidelines suggesting no groups larger than 10 people.

Ojai's Libbey Park
The 120th edition of The Ojai, scheduled for April 22-26, was officially canceled today. The tournament, a mind-boggling array of Southern California tennis competition, was not likely to go on once the NCAA canceled spring sports, with the men's and women's Pac-12 conference tournament one of big draws at the event. The first and only time I went to Ojai (I was planning on returning this year) was in 2017, and although I had heard nothing but great things about it, it still managed to exceed my expectations. The article I wrote about that trip for Tennis Recruiting Network is my valentine to the tournament, and I am now even more determined to return in 2021.

It seems it has been weeks since the NCAA canceled its spring sports, and with that the NCAA Division I tennis Championships in Stillwater Oklahoma, but it was actually only five days ago. The Division II Championships in St. Charles Missouri and the Division III Championships in St. Louis Missouri were also canceled at that time, but the NAIA and the National Junior College Athletic Association did not cancel its spring sports until today. The NAIA National Tennis Championships in Mobile Alabama are now canceled, as are the NJCAA Championships in Tyler Texas. The NAIA's announcement is here; the NJCAA announcement is here.

Tennis Recruiting Network has a comprehensive look at all the cancellations for junior and college tennis in its recap today, while also explaining how they will deal with their weekly rankings. I was familiar with most of what is in this post, but was not aware that National Letters of Intent in Division I and Division II are not to be signed until after April 15th and possibly beyond that.