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Monday, July 20, 2020

Kumar and Coleman Win ITA Summer Circuit Titles in Grand Rapids

For the first time since February, I saw a tennis match in person today, as I traveled an hour north to Grand Rapids for the finals of ITA Summer Circuit tournament there. I'll have a complete rundown of the event for Tennis Recruiting Network this Friday, and that will focus on what the finalists told me about returning to tennis after this four-month layoff and why a tournament usually held on a college campus ended up on high school courts instead.  But tonight, I'm going to go back to what I used to do regularly: report on the actual tennis, although like many players right now, I'm certainly out of practice.

The courts at the Northview High School were in excellent shape, but there were no wind screens and little viewing for any courts other than 1 or 2, so the ambiance certainly didn't rival a national junior event. Thunderstorms for most of the day Sunday meant the semifinals didn't finish until around 8 p.m., with the quarterfinals also on the schedule. The men were sent indoors, which required the consent of all players and their coaches or parents, while the women did manage to finish outside.

Fortunately Monday dawned clear and much less humid than the first two days of the tournament, so any fatigue the finalists may have felt for their fifth match in three days wouldn't be magnified by conditions. All four finalists are teenagers, with the women rising high school seniors and the men rising high school juniors.

Grand Rapids ITA Summer Circuit Champions Ekansh Kumar and Ellie Coleman

Top seed Ellie Coleman, who trains at the Grand Rapids Racquet Club, just down the street from the high school, was the top seed, with the best UTR in the field.  She faced Nibedita Ghosh of New Jersey, who was the No. 2 seed and had the second best UTR among the girls, with the 6-3, 7-5 decision in favor of Coleman hinging on a couple of deciding points in the last two games.

Ghosh was playing her first event since February, but said once she got through the first couple of matches, she began feel comfortable again.

"It was hard to get started," said Ghosh, who drove from New Jersey to play in the event. "I feel my first few rounds were shaky and everyone had a tough time. Everyone was nervous; they were just trying to get back in the groove of things."

Ghosh had to contend with Coleman's strategy of serving and volleying on nearly every point.

"It’s something that I’ve been trying to work on," said Coleman, who had played the ITA Summer Circuit event in Lake Nona the previous weekend. "I thought it was a good time to incorporate it into a match situation, see how it played out in some real points."

Coleman was often successful, but Ghosh also came up with enough passing shots and lob winners to keep Coleman guessing. 

"Most girls I play don’t do that, but when I go to Garden State [Tennis Center], I can play with a lot of boys and they do that a lot," said Ghosh, a rising senior. "It was a little bit unusual, but I was able to adjust pretty quickly."

Despite Ghosh's adjustment, Coleman continued to rush the net, although when Ghosh was serving, the points were much longer.

"I think she did well keeping the points long and keeping the ball deep," said Coleman, who has committed to Duke for 2021. "So yeah, there were definitely some good tight points in there and a good match overall."

Ghosh served for the second set at 5-4, but was broken at love. She had three opportunities for another break when Coleman fell behind 15-40, but Coleman saved all three, winning the deciding point to take a 6-5 lead. The next game also went to a deciding point, and Coleman was again able to take it, this time ending the two-hour match.

Finalists Noah Hernandez and Nibedita Ghosh

In the men's final, No. 3 seed Ekansh Kumar defeated No. 2 seed Noah Hernandez 7-6(5), 4-6, 10-5, with the first set taking over an hour to complete.

"He’s a great player and he gave me a tough battle, likes to keep rallies long, so it was fun to find angles and stuff," said Kumar, who like Ghosh drove to Grand Rapids from the east coast, in his case Virginia. "I think the whole match was kind of above average, level was always up there. I just found a way towards the end, to make him miss, make him feel tight, pushed him off the court, came in, put my points away when I needed to. Got it done when it mattered I think."

Kumar had the most tournaments under his belt of any of the finalists, having played the American Clay Court Nationals at The Greenbrier last month and a men's open in Louisville Kentucky over the 4th of July weekend.

"The Clay Courts at Greenbrier was my first one back, I was a little bit rusty there, but it was a good tournament, got a couple of solid wins," Kumar said. "[Louisville] was a good tournament; I also played well there, lost in the semis. There were a bunch of college players there. We just decided to drive out here for the ITA and it was a good tournament, a high level. I had a pretty solid experience, played well and my opponents played well. Now I’m finally starting to feel like I’m coming back."

Hernandez was also coming off a semifinal appearance, having reached that stage at the Summer Circuit event in Indianapolis last weekend. 

"I did pretty well at that one, my first tournament back, and I did even better here than that last tournament, so I’m happy with my result I guess," said Hernandez, who drove to the tournament from the Chicago area. "This tournament was a lot better than the last one. I got used to playing a tournament again and I don’t feel physically and mentally tired right now, which is good. I guess I’m getting a feel for tournaments again."

I asked all four finalists their thoughts on the recent cancellation of the USTA National Hard Courts and unsurprisingly, they were all disappointed, although all will have another opportunity to play that tournament in 2021. Ghosh said she was anticipating the cancellation before it happened. 

Except for Coleman, who committed to Duke early this year, the other three finalists have seen their college recruiting process disrupted.

"I was going to take some visits in the spring but with the recruiting dead period it’s been hard for me to commit," Ghosh said. "I want to see a campus before I commit, so it’s been really tough."

Kumar misses seeing coaches on sidelines for his matches.

"I kind of want them to come because they give me more of a purpose to put everything into a match," Kumar said. I did that today, but sometimes it’s a little bit de-motivating. I’m looking forward to when they can come and watch; it would be nice to talk with the ones that might want me."
Like Kumar, Hernandez is still in the early stages of the recruiting process.
"It’s definitely different than what I expected," Hernandez said. "I’m spending a lot of time texting coaches and on the phone, but it’s still pretty exciting."

Tomorrow I'll have a recap of the other three ITA Summer Circuit events that made up Week 5. 

Registration links for the nine Week 6 events coming up can be found at the ITA website.