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Monday, December 7, 2020

ITA Kickoff Weekend Draft Complete; Rain Forces Play at Orange Bowl Under the Lights; Top 16s Seed Scherer Wins Tough Opener

The ITA Kickoff draft, usually held in the summer, was understandably delayed this year, due to the uncertainty around the resumption of the college tennis season for 2021. Last month, the ITA announced its modifications for the Kickoff Weekend, which decides the teams advancing to the National Team Indoors in February. The number of teams participating in the Kickoff Weekend and advancing to the NTIs was reduced from 64 to 32 and 16 to 8 respectively which obviously creates much stronger fields. 

The women's draft went first, with North Carolina, UCLA, Texas, Ohio State, Stanford, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech hosting. The Georgia Tech site filled up first, with three additional Top 20 teams traveling to Atlanta next month: Duke, Michigan and South Carolina. Stanford was the last site to fill, with No. 36 USC, the final team to receive entry, heading to Palo Alto.  There were no passes among the women, so the teams were apparently content with the options remaining to them when they took their turn.  

While there were no passes, several high profile programs opted out prior to the draft, including No. 3 Florida State, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Miami and Kentucky. Neither the men's or women's teams from those schools are participating, and of course, the Ivy League has all its winter semester sports on hold at the moment, so they also were not in either draft.

The men's draft did feature a pass, with Alabama opting not to compete when presented with their choices, which was as a No. 4 seed at five of the sites, and as No. 3 or No. 4 at TCU.

The men's hosts are USC, North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, NC State and TCU. NC State filled up quickly, and it has the best field of any site, men or women, with all four teams in the Top 15, with Stanford, Tennessee and Ole Miss heading to Raleigh. The last men's site to fill was Texas, with Arizona placed there to end the draft. 

Slam Tennis has the drafts, the matchups, a nifty team comparison section where you can look at expected rosters for each of the teams competing in the Kickoff Weekend.  The men's page is here; the women's page is here.

Rain overnight pushed the start of the second round of 16s Orange Bowl action back five hours, and with another rain delay in the mid-afternoon, much of the day's action, including the 16 scheduled 18s first round matches, were played under the lights of the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation Florida. 

Four of the 16 boys seeds in the 16s division fell at their first hurdle, including No. 3 seed Owen Megargee, who lost to Alex Cairo 6-3, 6-2. Qualifiers Jonathan Irwanto and Alexander Aney continued their winning streaks, with Irwanto defeated No. 10 Will Mayew 6-2, 6-0 and Aney beating No. 14 seed John Lasanajak 6-1, 6-2.

Top 16s seed Sam Scherer managed to squeeze past qualifier Sean Daryabeigi 7-5, 7-5, with the 16-year-old from New York happy with his level of play in his first match, while Daryabeigi had already won four matches over the weekend. 

"At the start, I was nervous and he looked like he was used to the courts," said Scherer, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "He was more ready to play the match than me." 

Scherer admitted to being annoyed at the rain delay, which came at 1-1 in the second set, but was pleased with that he was able to collect himself mentally after falling behind 4-2 in the second set and then again when he missed an opportunity to close out the match. From 4-2 down, Scherer won three straight games, but Daryabeigi broke to get back to 5-all in the third.

"I was just trying to not let my emotions get the better of me," Scherer said. "I was obviously a little frustrated that I didn't close, played a pretty bad game at 5-4, but I was confident with how I was playing at the time, I knew what I needed to do."

Scherer broke Daryabeigi at love to get another opportunity to serve it out, and he needed to save a break point serving at 6-5, but he took the last three points to prevail.

"I was missing a lot of first serves every time I went up a break," Scherer said. "So I was trying to make a lot of first serves, play really solid and make him beat me, not beat myself."

With the win, Scherer could look back on his first match with satisfaction. 

"We both played really well," Scherer said. "Overall, I'm really happy with how I played."

(Thanks to Dan Pyser of the USTA for his assistance in getting this phone interview with Scherer for me. My second Covid-19 test, which I took two days after the first one, came back today "not detected", and with no symptoms and no contacts that would suggest that I had the virus, it is presumed that the first test was a false positive. I will continue to cover this year's Orange Bowl from home).

The second round of the girls 16s saw nearly half the seeds stumbling at the first hurdle, including the No. 5, 6 and 7 seeds.  Two qualifiers picked up their fifth wins of the tournament, with Kate Kim defeating No. 11 seed Nishitha Saravanan 6-4, 6-0 and Taylor Goetz beating No. 6 seed Krystal Blanch 6-3, 6-2. Valeria Ray defeated No. 5 seed Sonya Macavei 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-2 and Ahmani Guichard defeated No. 7 seed Aubrey Nisbet 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.

Links to the draws, order of play and live scoring is here