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Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Honor Roll


Ashlyn Krueger, Grade A Orange Bowl

Reese Brantmeier and Kimmi Hance, Grade A Orange Bowl (dbls)

Valeria Ray, 16s Orange Bowl

Jonah Braswell, 16s Orange Bowl

Vivian Miller and Maddy Zampardo, 16s Orange Bowl (dbls)

Nicholas Godsick and Ethan Quinn, 16s Orange Bowl (dbls)


Ellie Coleman and Madison Sieg, ITF Grade 1 Bulgaria (dbls)

Robin Montgomery, ITF World Tennis Tour W25, Reims (dbls)


Emilio Nava, ITF World Tennis Tour M15 (dbls)


Robin Montgomery, ITF World Tennis Tour W25, Las Vegas


Elvina Kalieva, ITF Grade A Banana Bowl, Brazil

Martin Damm and Toby Kodat, ITF World Tennis Tour M25, Naples (dbls)


Mitchell Lee and Alexander Razeghi, Les Petits As (dbls)

Clervie Ngounoue and Brooklyn Olson, Les Petits As (dbls)

Alexa Noel, ITF World Tennis Tour W15, Cancun

Alexander Razeghi, Teen Tennis International, Bolton

Mitchell Lee and Alexander Razeghi, Teen Tennis International, Bolton (dbls)

Brooklyn Olson and Mia Slama, Teen Tennis International, Bolton (dbls)

Brandon Nakashima, ITF World Tennis Tour M25, Rancho Santa Fe

Jack Anthrop and Max McKennon, ITF Grade 1 Coffee Bowl, Costa Rica (dbls)

Jaedan Brown, ITF Grade 1 Coffee Bowl, Costa Rica (dbls)

Emma Shelton, USTA Winter Nationals 18s

Bridget Stammel and Katja Wiersholm, USTA Winter Nationals 18s (dbls)

Logan Zapp, USTA Winter Nationals 18s

Keshav Chopra and Coy Simon, USTA Winter Nationals 18s (dbls)

Katie Codd, USTA Winter Nationals 16s

Natalie Block and Aubrey Nisbet, USTA Winter Nationals (dbls)

Ethan Quinn, USTA Winter Nationals 16s

Louis Cloud and Sebastian Gorzny, USTA Winter Nationals 16s (dbls)

Susanna Maltby, USTA Winter Nationals 14s

Sage Loudon and Susanna Maltby, USTA Winter Nationals 14s (dbls)

Daniel Kong, USTA Winter Nationals 14s

Carson Baker and Lucas Coriaty, USTA Winter Nationals 14s (dbls)

Elena Zhao, USTA Winter Nationals 12s

Amy Lee and Mia Yamakita, USTA Winter Nationals 12s (dbls)

Gray Kelley, USTA Winter Nationals 12s

Jagger Leach and Roman Sancilio, USTA Winter Nationals 12s (dbls)

Happy New Year!

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I usually post a photo of fireworks to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next, but that seemed somehow inappropriate given the year we've just come through and what is facing us to start 2021. So, instead, I've found a photo that fits better with the quarantine pastimes of 2020, hoping that the fireworks (and tennis as we used to know it) will return at the end of 2021.

I will be posting again tomorrow, to link to my December Aces column at Tennis Recruiting Network, but however you mark the end of this year tonight, here's to a Happy New Year in 2021.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Looking at ITF World Tennis Tour's First Quarter in 2021; Mayot Out of Australian Open Qualifying with Injury; Update on Minnesota Men's Tennis

Planning has been difficult throughout the pandemic, and there was no logical reason to expect that once the calendar reads 2021, that would magically change.

But I don't think I was prepared to look at the ITF World Tennis Tour's calendars for men and women and see little but $15,000 tournaments, most of which are being played in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey.

The women's calendar actually features two $60,000 tournaments in January, with a tournament in Rome Georgia; it's the only one, as of now, in the United States for men or women in the first quarter of 2021. That same week, there is a $60K in France, but those are the only two tournaments above $25K in January, February or March.

The weekly $15,000 tournaments in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey are joined by two $15Ks in Spain next month, as well as a $25,000 tournament in Germany. Although I anticipate more tournaments will be added, as of now, the only tournaments showing on the women's calendar in March are three $15Ks in France.

The schedule for men in January is similar, with Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Spain the primary locations for the $15,000 tournaments, with France hosting one $15,000 plus hospitality event. Of course, any tournament for men over $25,000 is in a separate ATP Challenger schedule, and there are currently eight in February, although none currently in the United States. The February 2021 ITF WTT men's calendar has more geographic diversity than January, with Slovakia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Portugal in the mix, and in March, two $25,000 tournaments are scheduled for Switzerland, and four $15Ks are scheduled for Portugal.

I have no information to offer on the status of the USTA Pro Circuit, which has been decimated by the pandemic shutdown. As I mentioned in last night's post, UTR has picked up the slack here in the United States, but the lack of ATP and WTA points available has been dramatically reduced, and that's a void that UTR money events cannot fill. In January of 2020, three men's $25,000 tournaments were held in the US, as well as the Ann Arbor Challenger, while the women had two $25,000 events. I am hopeful that the USTA can figure out a way to get some of these tournaments back in the first quarter, but it doesn't look like that will happen until February at the earliest.

In a somewhat surprising development, the ITF World Tennis Tour junior calendar is more robust than that of the men's and women's, and includes two new events in the United States next month: a Grade 5 in Connecticut and a Grade 5 in New Jersey

Also in January is the Grade A in Colombia, a Grade 1 in Ukraine, a Grade 3 in Turkey and two Grade 2s in Tunisia, with the rest of the more than 30 events at the Grade 4 and Grade 5 levels. After January, there are no events listed for the United States, with the status of the Grade 1 in Carson and the Grade B1 Easter Bowl in Palm Springs currently in limbo. 

But South America has a full schedule of Grade 1s in February, with tournaments in Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Brazil, with another Grade A, in Brazil, kicking off March.

As with the recent postponement of the Grade 1 in the Czech Republic next month, which came after the entry deadline, there is obviously a tentative feel to all these calendars, and additional cancellations are likely.

I also need to mention news that I totally missed reporting three months ago: the 2021 Les Petits As, the premier 14-and-under event usually held at the end of January in Tarbes France, has been rescheduled for September 2-12, 2021

L'Equipe is reporting that 2020 ITF World Junior champion Harold Mayot will not be using the Australian Open qualifying wild card he received as the 2020 boys champion in Melbourne. The 18-year-old from France, who retired this month from his first round matches in Tunisia $15Ks, announced that a wrist injury is to blame. Mayot said he does not expect to return competition until mid-March.

The University of Minnesota cut men's tennis this past fall, with the program scheduled to dissolve after this academic year. Local boosters say they have raised enough money to endow the program for four or five years, eliminating the university's financial commitment, which is said to be $700,000 per year. Although the Board of Regents vote was close, with the cuts (gymnastics and track and field also were eliminated) approved 7-5, there doesn't appear to be a clear path to reverse their decision despite this development. But according to this article, revisiting the decision may be possible, although when and how is not specified.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

ATP's First Quarter Calendar Released; BNP Paribas Open Postponed; Federer Out of Australian Open; UTR January $25K Deadlines Approaching; More on USTA Junior Structure Changes

The ATP released its calendar for the first quarter of 2021 today, and the tournaments in the United States during that time are both in Florida: the 250 in Delray Beach beginning next week, and the 1000 Miami Open, scheduled for March 22 through April 4. 

The BNP Paribas Open, always held in early March, was the first tournament canceled this year due to the Corona virus, and it will not be happening in the spring of 2021 either, with the tournament making a brief announcement today.

The BNP Paribas Open will not be held March 8-21, 2021 as originally scheduled. The tournament is proactively working with the ATP and WTA Tours as well as title sponsor BNP Paribas to confirm dates later in the year to hold the event. Details will be released in the near future as plans are finalized.

This decision was made after thorough consultation with state and local health authorities and tournament owner Larry Ellison.

Speculation is that the tournament will move to the fall, possibly October.

Most of the events on the newly released ATP schedule are the lowest level 250s, with only three 500-level tournaments, in Rotterdam early in March, and in Acapulco and Dubai the same week in mid-March.

The ATP Cup, the team event similar to Davis Cup, will be played prior to the Australian Open, with teams from 12 countries, not 24 as was the case this year, taking part. Stephanie Myles has a look at what teams may participate here.

Yesterday it was announced that Roger Federer would not be participating in the Australian Open in February due to his recovery from knee surgery, and Lucas Pouille of France also pulled out, opting for a Challenger in France that week instead. Today, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also decided against competing in Melbourne, where he last played a match back in January of this year.

With no USTA Pro Circuit events (aside from the women's $60K in Rome the end of next month) currently on the calendar, the $25,000 UTR tournaments have picked up the slack, with back-to-back-to-back tournaments scheduled for the men in Naples Florida beginning on January 10th, and for the women in Newport Beach California during those same three weeks. 

The women are in Naples and the men are in Newport Beach for the tournaments in the first week of January, with registration closed for those events, but entries are being accepted for the three January tournaments, as well as those in Las Vegas, Charleston and Naples in February and March. The deadline for the January 10th tournaments is tomorrow, Wednesday, December 30, at 2 p.m. EST. See this page on the UTR website for more information on these tournaments.

The USTA's new Junior Tournament structure will debut in just a few days, and the Tennis Recruiting Network has more on the rollout in an article today. Maria Cercone, who is Director of Junior Tennis and Player Development for the USTA's Southern section, addresses some of the reasons the structure was revamped and what concerns have been at the forefront for players and coaches. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

ITF Extends Junior Reserved Status Through 2021; Teens Have Huge ATP Challenger Impact in 2020

The hope that the ITF Junior Circuit might rebound in the first quarter of 2021 has been dashed, with the postponement of the Australian Open Junior Championships and the first Grade 1 of the year, in the Czech Republic. The Grade 1 in Costa Rica, which is usually a popular destination for American juniors, never made an appearance on the ITF calendar for 2021, so the tournament most likely to draw Americans next month is the new Grade A in Barranquilla Colombia, beginning January 25th.

Due to the reduced number of ITF junior events in 2020, the ITF has made an adjustment to its junior reserved status rules. Normally, those in the Top 100 of the year-end ITF world junior rankings can use that status for entry into men's and women's World Tennis Tour events only until they turn 19. This article from the ITF website provides the information that turning 19 in 2021 will not close that window:

Additionally, to protect the ITF player pathway and in recognition of the lack of opportunities for junior players in 2020, all year-end top-100 juniors born in 2002 will be able to use their year-end junior ranking beyond their 19th birthday for acceptance into Men’s and Women’s WTT events for the entire calendar year in 2021.

The ITF also has loosened its rules, for men's, women's and junior events, regarding draw sizes and entry dates, and, for junior events, grade and ranking points could change:

Flexibility will be permitted regarding draw sizes in the qualifying and main draw of ITF World Tennis Tour tournaments, while application deadlines and entry and withdrawal dates will also remain altered across the circuits to accommodate the continuing uncertainty.  

Tournaments on the ITF Seniors and Juniors Tours will be allocated their normal grade and ranking points, but will be subject to an analysis of accessibility by the ITF. Where there are significant national border restrictions, the status of the tournament may be changed. 

The article with this information is titled "The Year in Numbers", so I wasn't expecting that kind of news to be included, but I did learn that 18-year-old Qinwen Zheng of China, who will be featured in my upcoming December Aces column, won the most ITF titles of any player in 2020, with all four of hers coming since the restart.

screen shot via ATP website

The ATP's Josh Meiseles has put together a fascinating look at the 2020 Challenger circuit, which saw teenagers Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, Lorenzo Musetti of Italy, Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic and Brandon Nakashima(Virginia) collect titles during the pandemic-shortened year. Alcaraz won three titles and 20 of the 24 matches he played on the Challenger circuit this year. 

Collegians Steve Johnson(USC), JJ Wolf(Ohio State) and Arthur Rinderknech(Texas A&M) of France, each won two titles during the year. 

The United States had the most titles of any country on the Circuit, with 11, followed by Spain's 7. Sebastian Korda, who won his first Challenger title last month, had one of the biggest improvement in ATP rankings, going from 249 to 118 during the course of the year.

Meiseles also provided 20 Storylines for 2020 on the ATP Challenger circuit, with more on all the players mentioned above, as well as a look at a significant all-American match at the Dallas Challenger last February under his Three Unforgettable Matches headline.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

2020 Junior Champions Mayot and Jimenez Kasintseva Receive Australian Open Qualifying Wild Cards; Wang, Vukic Awarded Main Draw WCs; Daniell Regrets Passing on College Tennis

With Australian Open qualifying set to begin in two weeks in Doha and Dubai, the announcement of the main draw and qualifying draw wild cards have come earlier than usual, with Tennis Australia handing out all but two over the weekend.

The 2020 Australian Open Junior champions have typically been offered qualifying wild cards for the following year, and despite all the changes prompted by the pandemic, that tradition held this year, with Harold Mayot of France and Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra receiving invitations. Mayot, who was recently named the ITF World Junior champion for 2020, has retired from his last two first round matches earlier this month at $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour events in Tunisia, so his health status could be a concern. Jimenez Kasintseva and Mayot both lost in the second round of the only other junior slam of the year in Paris, where they were seeded No. 1.

Also receiving a men's qualifying wild card is University of North Carolina sophomore Rinky Hijikata. Olivia Gadecki, an 18-year-old who is 97 in the ITF Junior rankings and 16-year-old Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz, who is 145, also received qualifying wild cards.

Men's Australian Open qualifying wild cards(Doha):

Tristan Schoolkate (AUS)
Jason Kubler (AUS)
Akira Santillan (AUS)
Rinky Hijikata (AUS)
Dane Sweeny (AUS)
Max Purcell (AUS)
Blake Mott (AUS)
Harold Mayot (FRA)

Women's Australian Open qualifying wild cards(Dubai):

Abbie Myers (AUS)
Seone Mendez (AUS)
Storm Sanders (AUS)
Ivana Popovic (AUS)
Olivia Gadecki (AUS)
Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz (AUS)
Alexandra Bozovic (AUS)
Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva (AND)

After six main draw wild cards were announced last week, all but two have now been awarded, with 2018 US Open girls champion Xiyu Wang of China receiving the wild card set aside for a player from the Asia-Pacific. Sumit Nagal of India received the men's Asia-Pacific wild card.

Former University of Illinois star Aleks Vukic was given a main draw wild card, saving him a trip to Doha for qualifying; he is currently 196 in the ATP rankings. 

Men's Australian Open main draw wild cards:

Christopher O'Connell (AUS)
Marc Polmans (AUS)
Alex Bolt (AUS)
Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS)
Aleksandar Vukic (AUS)
Andy Murray (GBR)
Sumit Nagal (IND)

Murray also received a wild card into the ATP 250 in Delray Beach and will play his first match on Friday January 8, according to this Palm Beach Post article.

Women's Australian Open main draw wild cards:

Daria Gavrilova (AUS)
Astra Sharma (AUS)
Maddison Inglis (AUS)
Lizette Cabrera (AUS)
Arina Rodionova (AUS)
Destanee Aiava (AUS)
Wang Xiyu (CHN)

For more on the wild cards, see this Australian Associated Press article

A few days ago I read this Steve Flink tennis.com article about the charitable efforts of New Zealand's Marcus Daniell, one of the ATP's top doubles players, and was surprised to see the quote below. Most players who go on to have success on the tour don't express any regrets about the path they chose, but Daniell does.

That is a choice Daniell is happy he made. But he regrets moving from his native New Zealand to train in Slovakia at 17.

He explains, “It was a huge mistake. I had offers from colleges in the U.S. but I thought if I went to an American college I would just start partying and forget about tennis, but my generation of players proves that completely wrong with the Steve Johnson’s and the like. If I could do it over again, I would let my body mature and go to college in the U.S."

If you read the article about his charity High Impact Athletes, you'll get a good idea of how thoughtful and generous he is and how committed he is to making the world a better place. I'm sure the colleges that offered him scholarships would have benefitted even more than he would have.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Happy Holidays!

Although this is nothing remotely like the previous Christmas holidays I've had the past 15 years--no travel from tournaments, family get-togethers or parties with friends--I'm still going to take my traditional few days off from posting here. 

Usually there's only a day or two before the start of the USTA Winter Nationals when I return, but that's not the case due to yet another cancellation this year. There isn't much news in tennis right now at any level, with the junior circuit particularly quiet, but I hope to have something to report on after a few vacation days.

Snow is falling here in Michigan, and with temperatures in the teens it feels like winter for the first time this season. Whatever and wherever you celebrate, I wish you all the best at this special time of year. Even if many of our gatherings are virtual, those connections are vital, especially now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Dozen Americans Entered in ATP/WTA's First 2021 Tournaments; Sharma Among Early Australian Open Wild Cards; Entries Close Thursday for Early January UTR $25Ks; Midwest Indoor Canceled

With less than two weeks before both the ATP and WTA start a new year of competition, the names of players competing in Delray Beach, Turkey and Abu Dhabi tournaments have begun to surface.

Although no Americans are traveling to Turkey for the ATP 250 tournament there, five US men received direct entry into the 250 in Delray Beach. Always popular with Americans, the tournament moved from February to January this year, with the move to February by the Australian Open. According to the Delray tournament website, John Isner, defending champion Reilly Opelka, 2017 champion Sam Querrey, 2018 champion Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul are among the 21 direct entries. Qualifying begins on January 5, with main draw matches starting January 7. Tickets are being sold, so I believe this will be the first pro tournament with spectators in the United States since the Oracle Indian Wells Challenger/WTA 125 back in early March.

The WTA tournament in Abu Dhabi is a 500 event, and at 64, has more spots available than the two ATP 250s that week (28 Delray, 32 Turkey). According to information I saw on Twitter, seven American women are among the 51 direct entries, including Sofia Kenin, Jennifer Brady, Amanda Anisimova, Danielle Collins, Coco Gauff, Bernarda Pera and Jessica Pegula. The player list has not yet been posted to the WTA tournament website.

Astra Sharma 2020 Nicholasville $100K/photo ©Scott Gerber

The first six Australian Open wild cards have been announced by Tennis Australia, with former Vanderbilt star Astra Sharma among the four women who will not have to travel to Dubai for qualifying January 10-13th. The other main draw wild card recipients are: Daria Gavrilova, Maddison Inglis and Lizette Cabrera. Four additional women's main draw wild cards, including one designated for an Asia-Pacific player, will be announced later.

The two men's wild cards just announced are Christopher O'Connell and Marc Polmans. Six others, including an Asia-Pacific wild card, are to be determined. There will be no reciprocal wild cards with French and US Opens this year.

For more on the Australian Open entry lists, see this article from Stephanie Myles. Myles also provides a detailed look at how the qualifying/lucky loser scenario is impacted this year by the travel restrictions and quarantine required in Australia.

While the only USTA Pro Circuit tournament currently on the calendar for January 2021 is a women's $60K in Rome Georgia at the end of the month, there are two UTR $25K events in Florida and California the first week of January.

Entries close Thursday for the women's tournament in Naples Florida, and the men's tournament in Newport Beach California January 3-10. Currently Jenson Brooksby and Maria Mateas are the entrants with the best UTRs. For more on Brooksby's decision to turn pro after an abbreviated semester at Baylor early this year, listen to this Cracked Racquets Mini-Break podcast interview with the 2018 Kalamazoo 18s champion. 

Last week I mentioned the $7500 Midwest Indoor Championships, scheduled for after Christmas in the Columbus area, but that tournament has now been canceled due to Covid-19 protocols. See the TennisLink site for more information on that decision.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Stanford Signs Ma and Yepifanova; ITF Features Montgomery, Rune, Fruhvirtova, Alcaraz, Sherif in Class of 2020 Articles

I've found only one major Division I women's announcement this week, but it's a big one, with Stanford signing Alexandra Yepifanova and Connie Ma for the fall of 2021.  

Ma has never played regularly on the ITF Junior Circuit, due to her commitment to attend school in person and prioritize academics, but when she has played her results have been impressive. In September of 2019, she led the US Junior Fed Cup team, which included Robin Montgomery and Katrina Scott, to the title; a year earlier, she had been on the 2018 Junior Fed Cup team with Coco Gauff and Alexa Noel that also secured the coveted ITF team title for those 16-and-under. Ma is No. 1 in the Class of 2021 Tennis Recruiting Network ratings, with Yepifanova No. 2. 

Yepifanova made her breakthrough at the 2019 US Open Junior Championships, making the final as an unseeded qualifier. She has been ranked as high as No. 14 in the ITF Junior rankings, and is currently 29. 

There were several men's Division 1 signing announcements in the past week.

Illinois has signed Alex Petrov, who had initially signed with Iowa, which announced this summer that it was cutting men's tennis after this academic year.

Kentucky has signed Yasha Zemel of Israel, who will join the team next month.

Oklahoma has signed Jordan Hasson of Israel.

Tulane has signed Luc Hoeijmans of Switzerland.

Virginia Tech has signed Alvaro Saez-Royuela Ariza of Spain and Hugo Maia of Brazil. Both will join the Hokies next month.

Last week the ITF published a series of five articles called the Class of 2020, highlighting some of the top young players of the year and their relationship with the ITF. 

The first is the announcement of the ITF World Junior Champions for 2020: Elsa Jacquemot and Harold Mayot of France. Jacquemot is the third straight French ITF World Junior Champion, following Clara Burel and Diane Parry, while Mayot is the first boys World Junior Champion from France since Gael Monfils in 2004.

The second article, on the ITF's Player Development Grants, features former Pepperdine star Mayar Sherif of Egypt and Sumit Nagal of India.

The third article shines the spotlight on the breakthrough performances at this year's French Open by Iga Swiatek of Poland and Hugo Gaston of France.

The fourth article focuses on Holger Rune of Denmark and Robin Montgomery of the US, both of whom won ITF World Tennis Tour tournaments this year while using an ITF Junior Exemption for entry. Junior exemptions for WTT events are available to those who finish the year in the Top 20 of the ITF Junior rankings.

The fifth and last article is entitled "Ones to Watch" and features Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, named ATP Newcomer of the Year yesterday, and 13-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, who has won two ITF Junior tournaments since she began competing on circuit this fall.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Alcaraz, Tiafoe Claim 2020 ATP Awards; Donaldson Talks Development, Eyes Life After Tennis; ITA Winter Circuit Champions

Carlos Alcaraz is the 2020 ATP Newcomer of the Year

With the ITF World Tennis Junior Tour done for the year, there won't be much in the way of results to report over the next few weeks, but the year-end recaps are still being written and awards are being given for the bizarre year of 2020.

The ATP announced its award winners today, and although Djokovic, Nadal and Federer were among the regular recipients, there were a few that veered from the usual.  Seventeen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain was voted by his fellow ATP professionals as the Newcomer of the Year, after improving his ATP ranking from 491 to 136 this year despite fewer opportunities to compete due to the pandemic.  Andrey Rublev of Russia was named Most Improved by his fellow players, after rising from 23 to 8 in the ATP rankings, and his coach, Fernando Vincente was named Coach of the Year. 

Frances Tiafoe received the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award, awarded by the ATP, for his charitable work for Covid-19 relief and his advocacy for social justice.

For the complete list of the 2020 ATP Award recipients, see this article from the ATP website

The ITA Tour Winter Circuit by UTR has concluded, with the three-week session featuring 11 events ending this weekend. Below are the champions:

Week 1:

Newport Beach: Men, Eric Hadigian; Women, Kayla Day

Lawrenceville: Men, Kweisi Kenyatte; Women, Mackenzie White

Week 2:

Lawrenceville: Men, Jake Beasley; Women, Abigail Solomon

San Diego: Men, August Holmgren; Women, Maxine Murphy

Chatham: Men, Ryan Goetz; Women, Sophia Zaslow

Lexington: Men, Matthew DeGroot

West Palm Beach: Men, Jorge Santamaria

Houston: Men, Kenner Taylor; Women, Maria Kononova

Week 3:

Houston: Women, Rhiann Newborn

Chatham: Men, Michael Zheng; Women, Leila Epstein

Waco: Men, Charles Broom; Women, Hailey Zhang

Mike Cation and Noah Rubin spoke recently with Jared Donaldson about his absence from the ATP Tour on their Behind The Racquet podcast, giving his account of the knee injury and two surgeries that have kept him from competing for most of 2019 and all of 2020.  When I interviewed the now 24-year-old Donaldson during his junior career, I was always struck by how introspective and analytical he was, and after more years maturing and learning, with time away from the grind of professional competition, he is even more so in this conversation. Donaldson talks about his development plan, his status as "third string" in juniors when compared to Stefan Kozlov and Rubin, his run to the 2013 Kalamazoo 18s final; his hope to return to tennis, but why realistically he needs to prepare for his future beyond the game, what he likes and doesn't like about the sport, poker, his medical setbacks, the perils of early pro success and many other topics.  Very few players are so candid, and so engaging, when discussing their relationship to the sport. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Orange Bowl Finalists Claim ITF Junior Circuit Titles in South America; Ramanathan Wins $25K UTR Event in Naples; ITF 2019 Junior Champion Wins First Title

Last week 16-year-olds Ignacio Buse and Adolfo Vallejo were competing in Orange Bowl finals, this week they ended the ITF Junior Circuit year with titles in their home countries of Peru and Paraguay.

Buse, who reached the Orange Bowl 16s final, losing to Jonah Braswell of the United States, won his first ITF Junior Circuit title at the Grade 5 in Lima yesterday. The top-seeded Buse defeated No. 2 seed Gianluca Ballotta, also of Peru, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the final.  Fourteen-year-old American Patricia Grigoras, who was unseeded, lost in the girls final 6-2, 7-6(1), to No. 7 seed Lucciana Perez Alarcon of Peru.

Vallejo, who reached the Grade A boys doubles final at the Orange Bowl  after winning back-to-back titles at Grade 4s in Florida this fall, swept the titles at the Grade 5 in Asuncion. The top seed in both singles and doubles, Vallejo defeated No. 7 seed Juan Manuel La Serna of Argentina 7-6(3), 7-5 for the singles title. He and Martin Vergara, also of Paraguay, won the doubles title with a 6-0, 6-1 decision over No. 2 seeds Giovanni Branchetti and Thiago Messa of Argentina. 

The only American to claim a title this final week of 2020 ITF junior play is Monika Wojcik, who won the girls doubles at the Grade 5 in Bolivia.  The 15-year-old Wojcik and her partner, Yaelle Vaissaud of France, the No. 2 seeds, defeated the unseeded Bolivian team of Ana Fabia Holweg Bustillos and Masha Alexandra Vrsalovic Gimenez 4-6, 6-0, 10-6 in the final.

The $25,000 UTR Pro Series men's tournament in Naples Florida concluded today, with top seed Ramkumar Ramanathan of India taking the title. Ramanathan, who had beaten Dusty Boyer(Nebraska) 6-3, 6-4 in Saturday's semifinals, defeated Cristian Rodriguez of Colombia 6-2, 6-0 in the final of the playoffs that featured eight players who finished No. 1 in their round robin groups.  Rodriguez had trailed Cannon Kingsley by a set and a break in the semifinals, but the Ohio State sophomore fell 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.  

2019 Kalamazoo 16s champion Alex Bernard, who reached the quarterfinals at the Orange Bowl last week, finished in ninth place, after winning the playoffs for those that finished second in their round robin groups. Bernard, who lost to Ramanathan 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-1, in his round robin group, defeated Virginia Tech sophomore Matthis Ross of Great Britain 6-3, 7-6(4) in the final. The only losses for Bernard the past two weeks were to the tournament's champions, as he also lost to Orange Bowl champion Arthur Fils of France.  Bernard earned $600 for finishing ninth; Kingsley made $1200 as a semifinalist and Ramanthan received $4000.

Normally I would save this result for my monthly Aces column, but because it's her first singles title at the pro level, I wanted to highlight Diane Parry's performance tonight. The 18-year-old from France, the 2019 ITF Junior Champion, was the top seed at the ITF World Tennis Tour $15,000 tournament in Turkey, but she had never reached the final of a Pro Circuit event before, with many of her points coming from a French Open main draw win last year. Parry was dominant this week, losing just 15 games in her five victories; today she defeated No. 8 seed Berfu Cengiz of Turkey 6-3, 6-1 in the final. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

WTA Announces Early 2021 Schedule; Australian Open Begins Ticket Sales Wednesday; ATP University Graduating Class Announced; Stanford's Fery Claims British Tour Masters Title

The WTA finally announced its schedule late last night, confirming earlier reporting on what the tour would look like from the beginning of January through mid-February.

Having recently announced a change in several areas, including designating tournaments in the same manner as the ATP, the WTA will have its first 500 event beginning January 5th in Abu Dhabi, followed by the Australian Open qualifying in Dubai. After the required 14-day quarantine, women will compete the week prior to the Australian Open at two 500 level tournaments in Melbourne, with the fields evenly divided. The second week of the Australian Open will feature another women's event, that one a 250 level. 

For more on the early 2021 WTA schedule, see this article from the WTA website.

With the state of Victoria finally giving official approval, Tennis Australia announced more details regarding the 2021 event, set to begin on February 8, on its website. This article from The Age contains the information that mixed doubles will be played; that competition was eliminated from the US Open and French Open this year. This article from The Age says ticket sales will be capped at 50% capacity, although it is possible spectator numbers will be limited further if there is an increase in virus cases. 

Additional information on the protocols facing the players can be found in this Australian Associated Press article

The ATP announced its annual University graduating class, which could not be held in its normal times and places this year due to the pandemic. Former UCLA Bruin Marcos Giron is one of the players quoted in the ATP's article.  The players are listed below; I have added bold type for those who played college tennis. 

Filippo Baldi, Nikola Cacic, Kimmer Coppejans, Federico Coria, Enzo Couacaud, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Gonzalo Escobar, Daniel Elahi Galan, Robert Galloway, Marcos Giron, Emilio Gomez, Andre Goransson, Tallon Griekspoor, Andrew Harris, Cem Ilkel, Nicola Kuhn, Nathaniel Lammons, Gianluca Mager, Joao Menezes, Nikola Milojevic, Sumit Nagal, Christopher O’Connell, Danilo Petrovic, Max Purcell, Emil Ruusuvuori, Thiago Seyboth Wild, Jannik Sinner, Carlos Taberner, Alejandro Tabilo, Mikael Torpegaard, Botic Van de Zandschulp, Juan Pablo Varillas, Aleksander Vukic, Yosuke Watanuki, J.J. Wolf, Mikael Ymer, Bernabe Zapata Miralles and Zhizhen Zhang.

Stanford freshman Arthur Fery has not had the typical first semester as a college student, but he has been able to pile up victories in the tournaments the Lawn Tennis Association has organized in his home country of Great Britain. Fery won another title today, that of the LTA British Tour Masters, which was a two-day event at the Roehampton training center. The 18-year-old Fery, currently No. 12 in the ITF junior rankings, defeated former Clemson standout Luke Johnson 6-4, 6-1 in the final.  Former ITF Junior No. 20 Emma Raducanu, who turned 18 last month, won the women's title, beating Marni Banks 6-1, 6-4.  Results from the tournament can be found here

Friday, December 18, 2020

My Orange Bowl 18s Recap; Podcast Chat with Alex Gruskin of Cracked Racquets; Kingsley Reaches UTR $25K Semifinals; Entries Close Monday for $7500 Midwest Indoor in Ohio

My Tennis Recruiting Network recap of last week's Grade A Orange Bowl, which featured two unseeded champions in Ashlyn Krueger of the US and Arthur Fils of France, was posted today. My 16s Orange Bowl recap went up at TRN yesterday. Given the lack of any reliable junior schedule throughout this year, surprises were to be expected, especially in the boys draw. With no Top 25 boys entered, there wasn't a big favorite there, unlike in the girls draw, which featured three Top 10 players, including No. 1 and No. 2, both of whom were reigning junior slam champions. But I would still argue that Fils' title was more unexpected than Krueger's, primarily because she won the 16s last year, and was also the 16s Eddie Herr champion, so had proven herself in international events before. Fils, with little experience on those big stages, hadn't played an ITF event above a Grade 4 before this fall.

I had the opportunity to talk with Alex Gruskin of Cracked Racquets today for his Mini-Break podcast, with the Orange Bowl one of the main topics of our conversation. We also discussed how the pandemic has affected junior tennis, the role of height in assessing upcoming talent, the 2015 Kalamazoo 18s final, the US women's pipeline, why I started Zootennis, and what could be in store for 2021. We didn't get to college tennis, which Alex knows inside and out, but we hope to get together next month to talk about the ITA Kickoff Weekend and Team Indoor Championships. 

The round robin portion of the $25,000 UTR tournament in Naples Florida concluded on Wednesday, and the quarterfinals of the playoff round for those finishing No. 1 in their group were completed Thursday, with the semifinals set for Saturday.  Ohio State sophomore Cannon Kingsley defeated JanMagnus Johnson, who has transferred from Central Florida to Florida Gulf Coast, and will play Cristian Rodriguez Sanchez in the semifinals. Rodriguez Sanchez defeated No. 2 seed Felix Corwin(Minnesota) in the quarterfinals. The other semifinal, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, features top seed Ramkumar Ramanathan against former Nebraska star Dusty Boyer.  Links to live streaming via Playsight, and live scoring can be found here.

The Midwest section sent out an email today promoting the Midwest Indoor Championships, a tournament scheduled to take place December 27-30 at the Elysium Tennis Club outside of Columbus Ohio . There are adult age group events, as well an an open division, with the prize money $7500. The deadline for entry is Monday, December 21st.  For more information, see the TennisLink site.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Orange Bowl 16s Recap; Australian Open Moving to February; ATP Announces 2021 Calendar Update, Including Delray in January; USTA Adding National Level 2s

2020 hasn't been a great year for junior tennis in the United States, but last week's Orange Bowl 16s championships provided an big opportunity for Americans, who swept all four titles in Plantation Florida. If you weren't able to follow my daily coverage last week, check out my recap, posted today at the Tennis Recruiting Network.  The 18s recap will be out on Friday.  

I would be remiss if I didn't thank the USTA's Dan Pyser for all his assistance in getting interviews during the tournament. I really wanted to be there, and am still getting over my disappointment that a false positive covid-19 test kept me from covering it in person, but having live scoring, and someone to organize interviews, made it possible for me to cover it remotely, and for that I am grateful. Thanks go to Bill Kallenberg of CapturedInAction.com too, who was able to provide me with a number photographs from his time on site. 

Although there is nothing currently posted on the Tennis Australia website, many media sites, including the BBC, are reporting that the tournament will indeed be pushed back by three weeks, starting on February 8th, due to quarantine requirements in Victoria, the state where Melbourne is located. Other tournaments will take place in Melbourne in the two weeks prior to the slam, but qualifying has been moved to the Middle East, with women in Dubai and men in Doha. 

Tennis Australia announced a few weeks ago that its Junior Championships will not be played this year. (CORRECTION: the Junior Championships will not be played at the same time as the professional event. TA is still considering holding the event later this year).

The ATP has officially announced its schedule for the first seven weeks of 2021, with the Delray Beach Open kicking off the year. Usually in February, the 250-level tournament will run from January 5-13, which is oddly Tuesday through Wednesday. Another ATP 250 tournament is being held on those same days in Istanbul, followed by the Doha Australian Open qualifying and then the Melbourne events. Although the announcement does not get into March, I've read several reports stating that Indian Wells will be postponed, possibly until next fall.

The ATP also announced the first Challenger events for five weeks beginning Monday January 18, 2021; unfortunately none are being held in the United States, with Turkey, France, Italy and South Africa the countries hosting those ten events. 

As of today, the WTA has yet to officially announce any dates for its 2021 tournaments. See this post from Stephanie Myles for the likely schedule.

Lisa Stone of Parenting Aces spoke with Dan Holman, the USTA's National Manager for Youth Tournaments today, with that interview available now on YouTube. The focus of their conversation is the USTA's new national junior tournament structure for 2021, but Lisa reports that due to the cancellation of the Winter Nationals, the USTA will now double the number of Level 2 events scheduled for February 6-8, in part to provide more geographically regionalized options for top juniors.

For more resources regarding the upcoming changes, see Parenting Aces.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

More Division I College Signings; Stanford Out of ITA Team Indoor Championships; Add Birchmore to 1960s Women's Sports Pioneers

The Division I signings for 2021 have lessened in the past weeks, but they haven't stopped, and below are those that have been announced in the past 10 days. The only coaching major announcement I have seen since then is this one from Miami, where Darragh Glavin, who played for Miami head coach Aljosa Piric at Old Dominion, was named assistant coach.


Baylor has signed Sara Ziodato of Italy, who will join the team next month in Waco.

Central Florida has signed Marion Deloziere of France, who will join the team next month in Orlando.

Giulia Pairone, who played two years at Arkansas before transferring to Michigan, has joined Florida State as a graduate transfer.

Vanderbilt has signed Amy Stevens of Australia.


David Tesic of Germany has signed with Louisville and will join the team in January.

Michigan has signed Will Cooksey, Patorn Hanchaikul of Thailand and Alexander Zederbauer of Ecuador. Zederbauer is the nephew of former ATP Top 10 player Nicolas Lapentti, who has coached him during his junior career.

Cracked Racquets broke the news recently that Stanford would not be playing in the upcoming ITA Kickoff Weekend next month and the subsequent ITA Team Indoor Championships in February, due to the school's late start to the semester. The Stanford men were the first team to select a destination in last week's Kickoff draft, and they chose to travel to North Carolina State. But as this release from Ole Miss announces, Alabama, who had originally passed out of the event, will take Stanford's place in Raleigh, with the region reseeded.

According to this ITA update today, Pepperdine will now host in place of the Stanford women, and Wisconsin, the first alternate, will take Stanford's place.

Since I wrote my Tennis Recruiting Network article on Roberta Alison Baumgardner, who was the first woman to compete in an SEC varsity sport in the 1960s at Alabama, two other similar stories have been published. A short time after my article, the University of Virginia posted an article on Mary Slaughter, who played for the men's team in Charlottesville, even before women were admitted as students at Virginia.  And recently, the University of Georgia, inspired by the football pioneer Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt, provided this history lesson on Becky Birchmore, who played for the Bulldogs shortly after Alison began competing for the Crimson Tide. None of the three were determined to break down the gender barriers in college sports, and it was years before women were provided with real opportunities to compete in college athletics, but these three, and doubtless many others, showed that it could be done.  Unlike Alison Baumgardner, Slaughter and Birchmore are still alive to tell their stories, and we are all fortunate that this part of collegiate tennis history has not been forgotten.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

UTR Pro Tennis Series Underway in Florida, First of UTR's $1 Million Commitment to US Events in 2021; Big Ranking Jumps for Orange Bowl Champions; LA Times Talks with Nakashima

Last week, while I was focusing on the Orange Bowl, UTR announced a 20 million dollar commitment to a three-year professional tour, which will provide playing opportunities for those hoping to earn enough to support a career in the sport.  Forty of the 2021 events, for both men and women, are scheduled for the United States, with over a million dollars committed to the prize money pool. 

The initial group in the series of US tournaments, which are scheduled through mid-March, are offering a minimum of $20,000 in prize money, and the first one, for men, is underway right now Naples Florida

These tournaments are different from the standard single-elimination event, with eight round robin groups of four to start. Then comes the playoff rounds, which are single elimination, with three separate draws based on where the players finished in their round robin groups. Despite these innovations, UTR has decided not to go for any of the shortened formats, with best-of-three, regular scoring being used.

The field in Naples is a good one, with most of the 32 players sporting UTRs above 13 and a couple above 14, including recent Challenger finalist Ramkumar Ramanathan of India. Several players who competed in the ITF World Tennis Tour $15Ks in the Dominican Republic the past two weeks are playing in Naples, including Felix Corwin(Minnesota) and Nick Chappell(TCU). 

Playsight is providing live streaming, and live scoring and results available here.

Below are the dates for the US $25K(financial commitment is $25K, prize money is $20K) tournaments announced so far:

Naples, FL: Sanchez-Casal Academy

December 14, 2020 - Men

January 4, 2021- Women

January 11 - Men

January 18 - Men

March 8 - Men

Newport Beach, CA: The Tennis Club at Newport Beach

January 4 - Men

January 11 - Women

January 18 - Women

January 25 - Women

Las Vegas, NV: Darling Tennis Center

February 8 - Women

February 15 - Women

February 22 - Men

March 1 - Men

Charleston, SC: LTP Academy 

March 1- Women

March 8- Women

For more on the Global UTR Pro Series Tour, see this article from Forbes.

Although there are still six ITF Junior Circuit events on the calendar for 2020, all of them are Grade 5s, so any change in the final rankings is likely to be minimal.

I'm sure one of the reasons that the USTA went ahead with the Orange Bowl this year was the opportunity it provided to Americans for points they did not have a chance to earn here in the United States in the spring and summer, as well as the Grade B1 in Lexington in the fall.

That paid off particularly for one American, champion Ashlyn Krueger, who rose 367 spots in the girls ITF Junior rankings, reaching No. 73. With the 2002 birth years dropping out at year-end, Krueger should rise into the Top 50, putting her in great position for any junior slams played in the summer of 2021.

Boys champion Arthur Fils of France also made a big jump, going from 165 in the rankings to 44.  Fils is now one of nine French junior boys in the Top 50.

The current ITF junior rankings can be found here.

Former Virginia Cavalier Brandon Nakashima ended his season with his first Challenger title in Orlando last month, reaching a career-high ATP ranking of 166.  Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times spoke with the 19-year-old, and his mother Christina, about how he developed into one of the top prospects in the United States. The stories about his focus as a child are interesting, and anyone who has seen him play more than once can attest to his skill when it comes to concentrating and avoiding distractions.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Rahman Captures ITF Grade 4 in Costa Rica; Crawford and Kodat Reach Finals at $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour Tournaments; Black Earns First Pro Title, in Doubles

This will be a short post today, to catch up on the other ITF tournaments last week I wasn't able to follow as I focused on the Grade A Orange Bowl.

With the Orange Bowl drawing most of the Americans last week, and the number of events on the ITF Junior Circuit dwindling, there was just three US champions last week, aside from Orange Bowl champions Ashlyn Krueger, Reese Brantmeier and Kimmi Hance.

That was 17-year-old Yannik Rahman, a blue chip from Miami, who won his first ITF Junior Circuit title last week at the ITF Grade 4 in Costa Rica. The third-seeded Rahman, who reached the final of the Grade 4 in Guatemala last month, defeated No. 2 seed Timothy Phung, also of the United States, 7-5, 6-0 in the final. Rahman also advanced to the doubles final with Costa Rica's Julian Rozano, with the No. 2 seeds losing to unseeded Hans Christian Bustiman Gonzalez of Chile and Costa Rica's Paulo Pocasangre 5-7, 6-4, 14-12 in the final. 

Unseeded Americans Ria Bhakta and Sage Loudon won the girls doubles title in Costa Rica, beating No. 4 seeds Sarah L'Allier and Martyna Ostrzygalo of Canada 2-6, 6-1, 10-3 in the final. Bhakta reached the semifinals in singles, falling to Ostrzygalo, who went on to claim the title.

Oliver Crawford reached his second consecutive final at the back-to-back $15,000 tournament in the Dominican Republic, but unlike two weeks ago, he was not able to win the last match. The unseeded 21-year-old, who turned pro this spring after his junior year, lost to No. 6 seed Nick Hardt of the Dominican Republic 6-4, 6-0 in the final. 

Hardt also won the doubles title, with Japan's Shintaro Mochizuki, with the No. 3 seeds claiming their second straight doubles championship by virtue of a 4-6, 7-6(2), 10-5 decision over Nick Chappell(TCU) and Keegan Smith(UCLA).

At the $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour event in Egypt, two teenagers met in the final, with Argentina's Juan Bautista Torres defeating American Toby Kodat 6-3, 6-3. The 18-year-old Torres, who made the final of the Orange Bowl last year, did not drop a set in collecting his first Pro Circuit title. The 17-year-old Kodat, who reached the 2019 French Open boys final, was competing in a ITF World Tennis Tour singles final for the first time. Both used ITF Junior exemptions for entry.

The $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour tournament in Turkey last week was the site of Hurricane Tyra Black's first professional title. The 19-year-old from Florida and her partner Svenja Ochsner of Switzerland took the doubles championship, with the unseeded pair defeating No. 4 seeds Gergana Topalova of Bulgaria and Daniela Vismane of Latvia 7-6(2), 7-5 in the final.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Wild Card Krueger Claims Second Straight Orange Bowl Title; Unseeded Fils Defeats Top Seed Fajta to Capture Boys Championship

Ashlyn Krueger did not know the game of Jana Kolodynska of Belarus, her opponent in the Orange Bowl final Sunday morning at the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation Florida. But the 16-year-old wild card proved a quick study, taking the championship match 6-4, 6-4 to earn her first Grade A title in just her second Grade A tournament.

Both Krueger and Kolodynska had reached the finals of the Orange Bowl last year, with Krueger winning the 16s and Kolodynska falling to Robin Montgomery in the 18s, so neither could claim an advantage there, but their contrasting game styles made for an intriguing final. In the battle between Kolodynska's defense and Krueger's offense, it was Krueger who prevailed, drawing on the maturity she has gained in the past 12 months.

"In the beginning I had to figure it out," said Krueger, who broke Kolodynska in the fifth game, then defended her own serve in three consecutive lengthy games to close out the first set. "But I remembered, I have time, I have time to figure it out. She threw a lot up, so I could hit swinging volleys, volleys. She hits really good lobs, on the back of the line every single time, so I didn't want to get pushed back too much. I had to move forward and figure it out."

Krueger said that her tennis didn't change much over the course of the week, which included wins over the No. 16 seed, the No. 2 seed and Kolodynska, the No. 7 seed, but that her mindset did.

"I think I found a level of fight I didn't know I had, if that makes sense," Krueger said. "In these matches, from the very first one. In the 16s, I kind of worked my way in, but the first match (this week) was tough, and I wasn't used to that. I think it's just mentality now....Last year I did get way more upset than I did this year. And for me, it's really about staying positive. Because when I get negative, I don't play well."

Krueger needed all of those newly acquired skills in the final three games of the match, when she had built a 5-1 lead. Kolodynska held for 5-2, then broke Krueger for just the second time in the match. At 5-3, Kolodynska faced downed a match point to hold, putting the pressure right back on Krueger as she served for the championship for the second time. Although she never faced a break point in the game, Krueger was unable to convert her first three ads. On the fourth, she went big, using the strategy that had proven effective earlier in the match.

"I hit a kick serve and we just had a very long point," Krueger said. "She hit a lob, and I just decided to come in, and I hit a swinging volley."

Krueger was not frustrated by her own play on the preceding opportunities to end the match.

"She played good points on those match points," said Krueger, the first player since Canadian Bianca Andreescu in 2014 and 2015 to win the Orange Bowl 16s and 18s titles back to back. "She didn't quit; she played really well. She's a tough player." 

Kolodynska, who spoke after the match with coach Pavel Kotliarov serving as translator, was determined stay in the match as long as she could, even though the physical and mental strains from beating France's Elsa Jacquemot, the ITF Junior No. 1, in Saturday's semifinal took a toll Sunday.

"She's a fighter so she says she always plays no matter what's happening; so fight, fight, win doesn't matter," said Kotliarov. "If you are on the court, it's a good day. Physically, she had two matches, three sets, three hours every time, so today was tough to play physically, difficult to be ready with full power today. Yesterday, she played amazing, beat first in the world, and it's hard to play next day. It's tennis, sometimes you are up, sometimes down."

Kolodynska also credited Krueger for her play in the final.

"Ashlyn is good, good attack, good thinking, mentally good, aggressive," Kolodynska said. "Congratulations to Ashlyn, keep going."

Returning to a junior tournament as a finalist is rare, but Kotliarov said Kolodynska was eager to make the trip back to Plantation this year, despite all the new pandemic protocols in place.

"I want to take the trophy, I want to take first place," Kotliarov said Kolodynska told him. "We have to go, we must go again. I like to play in America, I like America organization, courts, everything. I love America, I want to come, I want to play, I want to be here."

Kolodynska, who as a 17-year-old has one more year of ITF Junior competition remaining, expects to compete in any junior slams that are held in 2021, and begin playing more lower level ITF World Tennis Tour events. 

Krueger, the fourth straight American girl to win the Orange Bowl title, has set a goal that can't happen now until this coming summer, with the 2021 Australian Open Junior Championships recently canceled.

"I would love to play a junior slam," said Krueger, who has been working with Dave Licker at the Lakes Tennis Academy in Frisco Texas for the past 18 months. "That's been a goal of mine for a really long time. Any of them, I'm not picky."

While Krueger has yet to play her first junior slam, boys champion Arthur Fils owes his Orange Bowl title to his performance at his initial appearance in one, when he received a wild card into October's French Open and won two rounds, earning enough points to assure the 16-year-old's entry into the main draw this week.

Fils, unseeded, took full advantage of that opportunity, surprising top seed Peter Fajta of Hungary 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 in Sunday's final.

Fajta had needed over two-and-a-half hours to get by another unseeded French 16-year-old, Luca Van Assche, in the semifinals, and both players considered that a factor Sunday.

"I was a little bit tired today because I played a very long match yesterday," said the 18-year-old Fajta, who trailed 6-1, 3-0 before holding serve for the first time. "I tried to fight for every point, and I'm very happy that I can win the second set. I'm a bit upset after this match, because I lost, but I think my opponent played very good today, so I have to say congratulations for him and his team also."

While acknowledging Fajta's tough semifinal match, which was followed by the doubles final Saturday, won by Fajta and Zsombor Velcz, Fils was not happy with his own concentration after an easy first set.

"Yes, he was tired," agreed Fils, who does speak English, but not fluently. "I was winning 6-1, 3-0 and then I did some bullshits. I made some mistakes. But in the third set, I was focused, and that was good."

One reason that Fils, who defeated the No. 3, No. 8, No. 12 and No. 1 seeds, was able to play so freely throughout his six wins, was his victory in the first round, after facing a match point against American wild card Michael Zheng.

"I played an opponent who was playing very, very well," Fils said (in French on the Zoom call, which was translated for me by a friend). "And when I saved the match point, I told myself maybe this is where it all kicks in. Maybe this is the moment to take the match and go all the way. With every round, I felt better and better. I had some good rounds; some of them were complicated. But I was quite confident with each match I played."

Fils, who had never played a tournament above the Grade 4 level on the ITF Junior Circuit prior to the French Open two months ago, may not have had the experience of some of his opponents this week, but he has always set ambitious goals.

"I always told myself I wanted to win a junior Grand Slam before turning pro," said Fils, who won his first ITF Junior Circuit tournament, a Grade 4, in September. "So it doesn’t change my goals. I’m just going to continue on the right path, let’s say."

Although Fils had not been one of the top French boys coming into the event, he has now raised his profile among  a talented group of juniors from that country. In addition to Australian Open champion and 2020's ITF World Junior champion Harold Mayot, there is AO boys finalist Arthur Cazaux, who won a $15,000 ITF Pro Circuit tournament today, and five other French boys in the Top 50. ITF No. 52 Sean Cuenin, who reached the Orange Bowl quarterfinals, and semifinalist Van Assche, both 16, will continue to provide Fils with accomplished training partners, even as the older players move into the pro ranks.

"It’s super positive," Fils said of the competitive environment surrounding his peers. "We see one play well and we say to ourselves, ‘Let’s go. We can do just as well.’ Especially this year, I find that we’ve all played quite well. Harold, who won a Grand Slam. Sean, who also played well. It's given us all a push because we train together a lot."

As with all competitive tennis players, Fils is not sure of his 2021 schedule, especially give his unanticipated success this week.

"My goal next year is to try to play all the junior Grand Slams," said Fils, who traveled to the tournament with French federation coach Tarik Benhabiles, who owned a junior academy in South Florida for many years. "In terms of my ranking, it’ll be fine. But I don’t want to get too hung up on the juniors; maybe I’ll move on to the Futures. But I’ll discuss that with my coach."

For the full draws, see the tournament website.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Krueger Advances to Second Straight Orange Bowl Final, Faces Two-Time Finalist Kolodynksa; Top Seed Fajta and Surprise Finalist Fils in Boys Title Match; Brantmeier and Hance Claim Doubles Title

Last year Ashlyn Krueger arrived at the Veltri Tennis Center as the Eddie Herr 16s champion, forced to make a quick transition from the hard courts in Bradenton to the Har-Tru clay in Plantation. Having come through that challenge with the Orange Bowl 16s title, Krueger arrived at the Grade A Orange Bowl this year with much less match play, thanks to the pandemic. That change of circumstances proved her adaptabililty however, as the 16-year-old from Texas defeated unseeded Laura Hietaranta of Finland today 6-3, 6-2 to reach her second consecutive Orange Bowl final. 

Krueger, who had beaten No. 2 seed Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra in the third round, was happy with her level of play in today's semifinal, especially from the back of the court.

"I switched it up a lot today," said Krueger, who trains with Dave Licker at the Lakes Tennis Academy in Frisco Texas. "I didn't just keep cross court rallies, I went down the line, made her run, made her think whenever we were in cross court rallies. My ground strokes were on; my serve was a little off today, I didn't make a lot of first serves, but from the back, I was pretty solid and I made her miss. She pulled the trigger too early and that's how I won a lot of points."

Although Krueger didn't play many events in the summer, she did compete in all three of the Grade 4s in the United States this fall, winning a singles and a doubles title, and reaching two other finals. Those events prepared her for the level she would face once she encountered the level of competition in what was just her second Grade A tournament.

"I think those tournaments helped a lot," Krueger said of the Grade 4s in Georgia and Florida. "Just figuring out my body, reacting to that level again. I'm not surprised. The first couple matches of this tournament were kind of like final level there, so I worked my way into this tournament."

Krueger is the first girl to reach back-to-back 16s and 18s Orange Bowl finals since 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada won both titles in 2014 and 2015. 

Krueger will not have any advantage in Orange Bowl final experience against her opponent, 17-year-old Jana Kolodynska of Belarus. Kolodynska, who lost in the Eddie Herr Grade 1 final and the Orange Bowl final last year, defeated top seed and ITF World Junior champion Elsa Jacquemot of France 6-1, 1-6, 6-1 in the semifinals. Jacquemot had needed nearly four hours to defeat No. 6 seed Sofia Costoulas of Belgium in Friday's quarterfinals.

The boys final will present a contrast in expectations, with top seed Peter Fajta of Hungary facing unseeded 16-year-old Arthur Fils of France for the title.

The unseeded Fils needed less than an hour to defeat No. 12 seed Juncheng Shang of China 6-2, 6-0.

The 16-year-old Fils, who had never played a tournament above the ITF Junior Circuit Grade 4 level prior to receiving a wild card into the French Open this fall, pronounced his performance today as “good” but tempered his enthusiasm by noting that Shang took a medical timeout in the second set and appeared to have an injury. 

With no points from top level tournaments, and his only title at a Grade 4 in September, Fils would never have made it into the main draw without his two wins at the French Open, which boosted his ranking from 395 to 153. His belief that he belonged in bigger tournaments grew with those victories, and rose even higher when he took out No. 3 seed Lukas Neumayer of Austria in this week's second round, with the loss of just one game. 

His coach said the difference in the players competing in ITF 4s and 5s and the top events is both physical and mental, but that Fils had quickly made the adjustment.

Yet, for all the strides Fils has made since the restart, he did admit that winning more than a match or two this week surprised him.

As the No. 1 seed, Fajta was in a much different position from Fils coming into the tournament, and was in a much different position in today’s semifinals, trailing unseeded 16-year-old Lucas Van Assche of France in the first and third sets before coming through with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win.

Fajta, an 18-year-old from Hungary, had made the semifinals of an ITF World Tennis Tour $15,000 tournament in Slovakia last month, and although that was played on an indoor hard court, he arrived in Plantation with high hopes. He didn't drop a set until today, but he needed all his experience to overcome Van Assche, who served for the first set at 5-4 and was up 3-1 in the third.

Fajta, who is aiming to become the first Hungarian to win an Orange Bowl singles title, has already earned one winner's crystal bowl of oranges, taking the doubles title this afternoon. No. 2 seeds Fajta and partner Zsombor Velcz, also from Hungary, defeated No. 8 seeds Shang and Adolfo Vallejo of Paraguay 6-4, 6-3 to close out the day's action.

The girls doubles final was an all-American contest that came down to a couple of points, with Reese Brantmeier and Kimmi Hance defeating Elise Wagle and Katja Wiersholm 6-1, 4-6, 10-8.

Brantmeier and Hance, who have played together before, but not since the restart, took the first set in short order, breaking their opponents all four times they served.

"I think we were both so excited to have the opportunity to play in the finals," said Brantmeier, a 16-year-old from Wisconsin. "We were really looking forward to it, were in a really great mindset and came out playing really well. We were trying to focus on being aggressive at the net, coming forward a lot, and I think we were executing that really well."

Wagle and Wiersholm kept themselves in the match by winning three deciding points, all on their serves, while breaking Brantmeier and Hance once in the second set.

"It's tricky, when it can go either way," said Hance, a 17-year-old from California. "We were getting a little frustrated, because it can go either way, but we were both happy with how we were playing, so we weren't freaking out or anything. We were just going to keep playing our game style; we were pretty confident in how we wanted to play, so we felt pretty good even though we were losing those deuce points."

Wagle and Wiersholm led 7-5 at the second change of ends, but were able to win only one of the next six points. Hance took care of her two service points to make it 9-8, and they converted the match point when Wiersholm missed a volley at the net.

As for a celebration, Hance and Brantmeier both treated themselves to a Chipotle dinner, and are planning to do nothing but relax Sunday.

"Tomorrow I'm sleeping in and taking the day off," Hance said. "I have tomorrow off, so anything's possible,  Brantmeier said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."