Zootennis

Monday, March 8, 2021

ITF Junior Circuit Grade 2 in Dominican Republic Features 12 Americans and the Fruhvirtovas; Doubles Titles for US Juniors in El Salvador; 2021 Division III NCAA Championships Moved to Tennessee; Gatica Wins UTR $25K in Charleston

After a month in South America, most of the top US juniors have headed home for a well-deserved break before the two Grade 1s later this month in San Diego, but a dozen are playing this week at the Grade 2 in the Dominican Republic.

The big surprise of the draw is the appearance of Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, who won four ITF Women's Pro Circuit titles last month, sweeping singles and doubles in back-to-back tournaments in Tunisia. The 15-year-old, who is currently No. 13 in the ITF junior rankings, is the only top 25 player in the field, although No. 2 seed Bianca Behulova of Slovakia is now up to 28 after reaching the final last week at the Grade A in Brazil. Fruhvirtova's 13-year-old sister Brenda also was in the field, but she lost in the first round 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4 to No. 6 seed Tilwith Di Girolami of Belgium. Brenda had been 18-4 in ITF junior tournaments in the six months she has been eligible to play them. The sisters are playing doubles together, and are seeded No. 2.

The American boys who reached the main draw are lucky loser Brayden Michna, qualifier Jonah Braswell, Azuma Visaya and wild card Nicholas Godsick. The Americans girls competing this week are Katja Wiersholm, Mia Slama, Valencia Xu[3], Qavia Lopez, wild card Olivia Lincer, Elise Wagle, lucky loser Madeleine Jessup and qualifier Gracie Epps. Braswell, Visaya and Godsick won their first round matches today, with Michna losing his. Xu, Lopez and Lincer picked up wins today, with Wiersholm losing and the other four not scheduled to play until Tuesday. 

The top seed in the boys draw is Jack Pinnington Jones of Great Britain, with Leo Borg of Swedent seeded No. 2.

In addition to the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl title won by Dali Blanch and Alexander Bernard last week, three other Americans picked up doubles titles at the ITF Grade 5 in El Salvador. In the boys final, unseeded Luis Fernandez and Luca-Julian Hotze defeated unseeded Zamaan Moledina of the US and Gillian Osmont of France 7-5, 6-4 for a first ITF Junior Circuit title for both. In the girls final, top seeds Leah Kuruvilla of the US and Guatemala's Deborah Dominguez Collado defeated the unseeded Bolivian team of Anna Fabia Holweg Bustillos and Masha Alexandra Vrsalovic Gimenez 7-5, 6-3. Kuruvilla, 17, now has four ITF Junior Circuit doubles titles, all in Central America.

The ITA announced today that the NCAA Division III National Championships would be moving to Chattanooga Tennessee for this May's competition. The NCAA website is still showing the former site, Claremont Mudd Scripps in Claremont California, but as you can see from the tweet below, that is no longer the case. The tournament was originally schedule from May 24-30; it's expected to be the same dates, but that is not confirmed in the ITA's tweet.

There was also tweet from the ITA that first round sites for the Division I tournament could be consolidated; I'll have more information on that when details are released.

Last week's only UTR Pro Tennis Tour $25K event was a women's tournament in Charleston South Carolina, with Barbara Gatica of Chile collecting the first place prize money of $4000 with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 win over Kylie McKenzie. McKenzie had beaten former University of Georgia star Kennedy Shaffer in the semifinals, and Gatica had gotten past North Carolina recruit Carson Tanguilig. 

This week the women remain in Charleston, and the men resume in Naples Florida

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Lao Defeats Liu in Newport Beach $25K Final; Khan Wins First ITF Pro Circuit Title in India; Challenger Doubles Championships for Former Collegians; Tauson Earns First WTA Title

Danielle Lao won her first title since 2015 today at the $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Newport Beach California. The 29-year-old former University of Southern California star, seeded No. 7, defeated No. 5 seed Claire Liu 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in today's final, handing Liu her second consecutive loss in a final. Lao, who played the Australian Open qualifying in January, but nothing else since the restart back in August, now has three ITF World Tennis Tour singles titles, with the previous two a $15K and a $25K in 2015. She has been as high as 152 in the WTA rankings and has qualified for the US Open twice; she is now at 233 in the rankings.

Zane Khan, who turned 19 last month, played in both of the $25,000 USTA Men's Pro Circuit events in Naples last month, winning just one match, but he got to India in time for this week's $15,000 ITF World Tennis Tour tournament and, unseeded, won his first title. Khan defeated four seeds in his five victories: No. 8, No. 4, No. 5, and in the final, No. 1 Saketh Myneni, the former University of Alabama standout. Khan, who had previously not gone past the quarterfinals in a men's pro circuit tournament, didn't lose a set all week; he defeated Myneni 7-6(3), 6-3 in the championship match. 

There was no singles success for Americans in this week's three ATP Challengers, but three players from the US won doubles titles, all of them former collegians. At the ATP Challenger 125 in Kazakhstan, Jackson Withrow(Texas A&M) and Nathaniel Lammons(SMU) defeated another all-American collegiate team in the final, with the top seeds beating No. 2 seeds Nathan Pasha(Georgia) and Max Schnur(Columbia) 6-4, 6-2 in the championship match. 

At the ATP Challenger 50 in Russia, Christopher Eubanks(Georgia Tech) and Ecuador's Roberto Quiroz(USC) won the doubles title, in what I believe was their first tournament as a team. The No. 2 seeds defeated top seeds Jesper De Jong and Sem Verbeek(Pacific) of Netherlands 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

Eighteen-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark won her first WTA title today at the WTA 250 in France, beating Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland 6-4, 6-1 in the first all-qualifier final on the WTA tour since 2017. Tauson, who had success on the ITF Pro Circuit immediately after winning the Australian Open girls title in 2019, had been 9-3 in finals prior to today. Tauson, who won all seven of her matches this week in straight sets, will move into the WTA Top 100 for the first time Monday.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

National Level 1 Spring Championships Underway; USTA Sends Apology Email; San Diego ITF Grade 1 Acceptances; Liu and Lao Reach Newport Beach $25K Final


The USTA Spring Individual Championships, Level 1 National tournaments being held in two locations, began today and are schedule to conclude on Tuesday. The 14s, 16s and 18s are taking place in Mobile Alabama and the 12s are being held in Rome Georgia.

Below are the top eight seeds for each division, and if they are no longer in the main draw after today's matches, I've struck through the name.

B18s
1. Nicholas Heng
2. Waleed Qadir
3. Grant Lothringer
4. Sebastian Gorzny
5. Gavin Young
6. Colton Smith
7. Bjorn Swenson
8. Alex Cairo

B16s
1. Marko Mesarovic
2. Emil Grantcharov
3. Stephan Gershfeld
4. Jason Shuler
5. Greyson Casey
6. Carson Baker
7. Connor Smillie
8. Nikita Filin

B14s
1. Cooper Woestendick
2. Nicholas Patrick
3. Braeden Gelletich
4. A Filer
5. Calvin Baierl
6. Nicolas Iantosca
7. Andrew Ena
8. Jimin Jung

B12s
1. withdrew
2. Yannik Alvarez
3. Drew Hassenbein
4. Colin McPeek
5. Jack Secord
6. Liam Alvarez
7. Trenton Kanchanakomtorn
8. Ryan Cozad

G18s
1. Elisabeth Jones
2. Ariana Pursoo
3. Bridget Stammel
4. Emma Staker
5. Eleana Yu
6. Kaitlyn Carnicella
7. Meera Jesudason
8. Kathryn Treiber

G16s
1. Piper Charey
2. Natalie Block
3. Mika Ikemori
4. Kate Kim
5. Vivian Miller
6. Arina Oreshchenkova
7. Kavya Karra
8. Yichen Zhao

G14s
1. Amber Yin
2. Christasha McNeil
3. Aspen Schuman
4. Emily Baek
5. Sydney Jara
6. Kayla Chung
7. Claire An
8. Elena Zhao

G12s
1. Nicole Okhtenberg
2. Kayla Moore
3. Isabelle DeLuccia
4. Anita Tu
5. Meghan Rowley
6. Nancy Lee
7. Ellery Mendell
8. Sena Yoon

Both tournaments have moved from the new USTA tournament software back to TennisLink, which are the links I've given above, and where I've gotten the information posted above. As a USTA member, I received this email from the USTA yesterday addressing all the issues that have made that move back to TennisLink necessary.  Contained in the email is this:
However, as we introduced the new platform, the resulting functionality was not ready. We were not fully prepared for the challenges with the historical data housed in TennisLink, and that has led to complexities in the transfer and migration of information and data from the various events, formats, and regions into one centralized system. A number of issues resulted, and we recognize that this has adversely affected players, tournament directors and providers throughout the country.

Over the past two months, we have worked diligently to fix and address issues with the goal to deliver correct information surrounding National Standings Lists. We have put into place, and continue to work through, an extensive audit of the rankings information, and have requested feedback from users to help us identify bugs and areas of concern, so as to increase accuracy. In addition, we have had extensive dialogue with Tournament Directors and have undergone intensive revisions on the back-end of the system to better enable the running of tournaments and events.

The acceptances for the ITF Grade 1 in San Diego, formerly the International Spring Championships in Carson, now known as the International Open of Southern California, were posted earlier this week, with many players who competed on the just concluded South American circuit coming to California for this event.

The top three entries in the boys draw are Bruno Kuzuhara, Juncheng Shang of China, and Dali Blanch. The top three entries in the girls draw are Madison Sieg, Alexandra Yepifanova and Elvina Kalieva.

The ranking cutoff for boys in the 48 draw was 133; for girls it was 174.

Claire Liu has reached the final of back-to-back $25,000 tournaments after a marathon victory today over qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil. The 20-year-old Southern Californian, seeded No. 5, defeated Haddad Maia 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(4) in three hours and 16 minutes in today's Newport Beach California semifinals. 

Liu will play No. 7 seed Danielle Lao, who defeated unseeded Conny Perrin 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Lao, a former USC star, is playing in just her second event of the year, after falling in the first round of Australian Open qualifying in January.

No. 4 seeds Vania King and Maegan Manasse(Cal) won the doubles title in Newport Beach with two victories on Saturday. In the final, King and Manasse, who is currently the volunteer assistant for the USC women's team, defeated Emina Bektas and Great Britain's Tara Moore 6-4, 6-2.

Friday, March 5, 2021

February Aces; Shang and Babel Claim Grade A Banana Bowl Titles, Blanch and Bernard Win All-US Boys Doubles Final; Liu Advances to $25K Newport Beach Semifinals

Antarctica didn't manage to make the list of continents that hosted tournaments which produced the champions in my February Aces column for Tennis Recruiting Network, but the six others did, with current and former collegians and top level juniors winning titles in North and South America, Australia, Africa, Europe and Asia last month. February may be a short month, but the 16 individuals and four college teams featured prove that tennis is back to some semblance of a pre-pandemic schedule.

Due to local pandemic protocols, the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil had to start on Monday and finish today, compressing the usual nine days of a Grade A (including qualifying) into five. No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China won the boys title, defeating qualifier Miguel Gomes of Portugal 6-2, 7-6(4). The 16-year-old, who trains in the United States, won the first Grade 1 on this four-week South American swing, and picked up his first Grade A title this week. 

Oceane Babel of France, the No. 3 seed, did not have the same level of success in that four-week stretch, but she peaked at the right time, taking her first Grade A title exactly one week after turning 17. Babel defeated unseeded Bianca Behulova of Slovakia 7-6(3), 6-4 in the final.

Babel fell one win short of a sweep, falling in the doubles final with partner Solana Sierra of Argentina. The third-seeded pair lost to the unseeded team of Kira Pavlova and Diana Shnaider of Russia 7-6(5), 6-2. 

In the all-American boys doubles final, top seeds Alexander Bernard and Dali Blanch defeated unseeded Aidan Kim and Jack Anthrop 6-2, 6-4. Bernard and Blanch won all three of the South American tournaments they contested, taking Grade 1 titles in Ecuador and Brazil before this one. Bernard didn't play the Grade 1 in Paraguay, going back to his hometown to play in the qualifying of the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit in Naples instead; Blanch played with Marko Topo of Serbia and lost in the semifinals that week.

The singles second round and quarterfinals both had to be played today at the USTA Women's $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Newport Beach California due to rain on Wednesday, with No. 5 seed Claire Liu, who made the final last week at the Boca Raton $25K, through to the semifinals.  Liu defeated Irene Burillo Escorihuela of Spain 6-1, 5-7, 7-5 in the second round and Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Liu will face qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil in Saturday's semifinals. The semifinal in the bottom half will feature unseeded Conny Perrin against the winner of the quarterfinal match between No. 2 seed Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia and No. 7 seed Danielle Lao(USC), which is still in progress. Lao defeated Hanna Chang 7-5, 6-4 in the second round.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Kuzuhara Falls in Grade A Banana Bowl Semifinals; Top Seed Kiick Ousted at Newport Beach $25K; Pegula Reaches Semifinals in Doha; Paul Advances to Quarterfinals in Rotterdam

The singles finals are set for the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil, after three days of furious action, with a couple of new faces emerging.

With three rounds of qualifying and five rounds of main draw singles matches and four round of doubles matches squeezed into five days due to Covid restrictions, it would seem unlikely that a qualifier would advance to the final, but that's exactly what happened in the boys draw, with 17-year-old Miguel Gomes of Portugal a surprise finalist. Gomes defeated No. 4 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias of Brazil 6-4, 2-6, 14-12, demonstrating just how small the margins can be when short scoring is used.  Gomes will play No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China, who defeated No. 3 seed Bruno Kuzuhara, the only American to reach the semifinals, 6-4, 4-6, 10-5. Shang had beaten No. 5 seed Alexander Bernard 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Qualifier Clervie Ngounoue lost to No. 2 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, but has advanced to the doubles semifinals with Chelsea Fontenel of Switzerland.

The girls final will feature unseeded Bianca Behulova of Slovakia against No. 3 seed Oceane Babel of France. In the semifinals, Behulova defeated Shnaider 6-3, 3-6, 10-4, the third match this week she has won in a match tiebreaker. Babel defeated unseeded Michaela Laki of Greece 6-7(6), 6-3, 11-9 in the semifinals. 

In the boys doubles, top seeds Dali Blanch and Bernard are through to Friday's semifinals as are unseeded Jack Anthrop and Aidan Kim.

The first round of the $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Newport Beach California is finally complete, after rain washed out most of the action on Wednesday.  Top seed Allie Kiick was eliminated by qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 7-5, 6-0. Haddad Maia is a former WTA Top 60 player who is coming back after a 2019 performance enhancing drug suspension. The only Americans to advance to the second round are No. 5 seed Claire Liu, who beat qualifier Emiliana Arango of Colombia 3-6, 6-4, 6-1; No. 7 seed Danielle Lao(USC), who beat qualifier Panna Udvardy of Hungary 6-0, 6-4 and Hanna Chang, who beat Catherine Harrison(UCLA) 6-3, 6-4.  Chang and Lao will meet in the second round.  Two rounds of singles are scheduled for Friday.

In WTA and ATP action, two Americans are still alive for titles, with Jessica Pegula reaching the semifinals of the WTA 500 in Doha Qatar and Tommy Paul reaching the quarterfinals of the ATP 500 in Rotterdam Netherlands.  Pegula defeated No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1 in today's quarterfinals and will play No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic next. Paul took out Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1 in today's round of 16 match, and will meet qualifier Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in Friday's quarterfinals.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Top Seeds Ousted at Banana Bowl, Americans Kuzuhara, Bernard and Ngounoue Reach Quarterfinals; Few Changes in Division I Top 10 Team Rankings; Rain Disrupts First Round at Newport Beach $25K

Clervie Ngounoue, 2020 Les Petits As
©Richard van Loon, TopTennis.photos

With the tournament required to end by Friday due to pandemic protocols, the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil has already arrived at the quarterfinals, with the first two rounds completed today. Three Americans have advanced: No. 3 seed Bruno Kuzuhara, No. 5 seed Alexander Bernard, and qualifier Clervie Ngounoue, while both the girls and boys top seeds lost.

Dali Blanch, No. 1 in the boys draw, lost to Marko Andrejic of Austria 6-4, 6-4 in a first round match today. Natalia Szabanin of Hungary, who has won two Grade 1s on the South American circuit, lost in the second round to Michaela Laki of Greece 7-6(5), 6-1.

Ngounoue has already won five matches in the past three days, with the 14-year-old posting two qualifying victories yesterday and two in the main draw today. She defeated No. 8 seed Mei Hasegawa of Japan 6-3, 6-2 and Brazilian wild card Ana Candiotto  6-0, 6-2 today to reach her first Grade A quarterfinal. She will play No. 2 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia next.

Kuzuhara played his first round match on Tuesday, so he had only one match today, and it was a short one. The 16-year-old Floridian defeated Matthew Donald of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-0 in the second round.  Bernard had two matches today, defeating Stefan Popovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-2 and qualifier Jaime Faria of Portugal 6-3, 6-2. Although none of these results show it, a match tiebreaker is being played in lieu of a third set due to the condensed schedule.

Kuzuhara's quarterfinal opponent is unseeded Viacheslav Bielinskyi of Ukraine, and Bernard will take on No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China.  

The first round of doubles is being played tonight, with a two-match day required either Thursday or Friday for that competition.

The new ITA Division I Team Rankings are out, and there were no changes in the top seven positions in either the men's or women's polls. This is the first week that the lists have been expanded from 25 to 50 teams, although the rankings are still being done by poll, not by computer.

The Stanford women have returned to the rankings, after playing their first match of the season last week and blanking Santa Clara, but they are at 28, not at No. 4, where they placed in the preseason rankings. Duke moved back into the Top 10, with NC State dropping from 9 to 11.

In the men's rankings, Alabama and Ole Miss are now in the Top 25, while Florida moved into the Top 10, with Texas A&M falling to 11. Ole Miss defeated then No. 12 Georgia 4-3 in Athens over the weekend, so they moved up despite a 3-5 record.

Division I ITA Women's Top 10 Team Rankings 3-3-21
(previous ranking in parentheses)

1. North Carolina(1)
2. Texas(2)
3. Georgia(3)
4. Pepperdine(4)
5. Florida State(5)
6. UCLA(6)
7. Northwestern(7)
8. Duke(11)
9. Vanderbilt(10)
10. Ohio State(8)

Division I ITA Men's Top 10 Team Rankings 3-3-21

1. North Carolina(1)
2. Baylor(2)
3. Tennessee(3)
4. Virginia(4)
5. TCU(5)
6. Texas(6)
7. Ohio State(7)
8. USC(9)
9. Illinois(8)
10. Florida(11)

The USTA Women's Pro Circuit event in Newport Beach California got a late start today due to rain and before any of today's 13 first round matches could be completed, rain returned. The revised Wednesday schedule now shows only the six matches that were in progress.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Grade A Banana Bowl Resorts to Short Scoring with Competition Allowed on Weekdays Only; Kiick Top Seed at Newport Beach $25K; ITA USTA College Coach Mentorship Program Accepting Applications Now

After January's ITF Grade A tournament in Colombia was introduced and then canceled, the pressure on this week's Banana Bowl in Brazil, as the first Grade A of 2021, increased accordingly. Unfortunately, although it looks as if it will in fact be played, it's already undergone several unfortunate changes. News came on Friday that the 32-player qualifying event could not begin until Monday, rather than Saturday, as originally planned, due to pandemic protocols. 

Competition in the 12s division was postponed, but the 14s and 16s are still being played, and according to the Grade A order of play, only six courts are available for the ITF portion of the event. 

As a result, today's two qualifying matches were played with sets to four, with a tiebreaker at 4-all, and then the normal match tiebreaker if a third set is necessary. The first round of singles began today, and although those were played with regular sets (and regular scoring, as far as I know), the third set was also a match tiebreaker.

I believe that is necessary, because, according to this article, the finals are going to be played on Friday, meaning that two matches in a day will be necessary, beginning on Wednesday.  I can't imagine what health benefit would accrue from limiting competition in the state to Monday through Friday, but that appears to be the source of all this chaos. As per the article about the 12s postponement: 

Due to the lockdown regime imposed in the State during this and next weekend, which allows the organization of competitions only between Monday (1) and Friday (5) in Criciúma (SC), the realization of the matches in these categories became impossible because of the short release period.
Aidan Kim and Clervie Ngounoue were the two Americans to win three qualifying matches; Ellie Coleman[4], Alexis Blokhina and Jack Anthrop[7] have won their first round matches, but several other first results from Tuesday have yet to be posted, even though it is after 9:30 p.m. now in Brazil.

Wednesday's schedule, eight matches deep, with a lot of blank v blank entries later in the day, is available here.

Qualifying is complete for this week's $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit event in Newport Beach California, with two Americans among the eight players who earned places in the main draw. Former Michigan star Emina Bektas defeated Maria Mateas(Duke) 6-1, 6-4 and Alycia Parks beat Peyton Stearns(Texas) 7-6(3), 6-0 today to qualify.

Allie Kiick, who has played sparingly since the restart, is the top seed this week, with Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia the No. 2 seed. Wild cards were given to 15-year-old Liv Hovde, 16-year-old Katrina Scott, Texas freshman Lulu Sun and Kayla Day. 

The ITA and USTA are again teaming up to offer, for the second consecutive year, a College Coach Mentorship Program for assistant coaches with less than seven years of experience and head coaches with less than three years of experience. Those accepted into the program will be paired with a mentor from the ranks of veteran college coaches and will spend 10 months, from July of 2021 to May of 2022, learning more about collegiate coaching best practices and forming a relationship with an experienced coach that can continue past the formal parameters of the program.

Applications opened Monday and will close on April 4th. The application is available here.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Top Seeds Columbus State and Indianapolis Claim Division II Team Indoor Titles; Three Singles Titles for Americans at ITF Grade 4s Last Week; Sarkissian Wins UTR $25K in Newport Beach

Columbus State defended their ITA Division II Men's National Team Indoor title while the University of Indianapolis won the second annual ITA Division II Women's National Team Indoor Championships, and both top seeds did it in impressive fashion. 

Columbus State, who won the inaugural Division II men's team indoor last year, defeated No. 6 seed University of Indianapolis 4-0 in last night's final, with the Cougars winning all three of its matches over the weekend via shutouts. For more on the final, see this article from the ITA website.

In the women's final, Indianapolis defeated No. 7 seed Southwest Baptist 4-0, and they also did not surrender a point in their three victories. If scores are a reliable judge(and they often are not in the clinch format at national tournaments), the women's tournament was more competitive than the men's, with three 4-3 matches and a couple of 4-2s, while the men had nothing closer than one 4-2 match.  For more on the Indianapolis title, see this article from the ITA website.

While the American juniors in the Top 100 were competing at the Grade 1 in Brazil last week, those with lower rankings were winning titles in Mexico, El Salvador, and India.

In Cancun, two American qualifiers, Morgan Pyrz and Preston Stearns, fought through to their first ITF junior circuit titles at the Grade 4 in that resort city. Pyrz, a 16-year-old Texan, won three qualifying and five main draw matches, defeating unseeded Ashton Bowers of the United States 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final. 

Stearns, 17, didn't begin playing ITF junior events until last fall, but this year he has qualified for all three ITF junior tournaments he's played and made the semifinals in the previous two before taking the title this week. Eerily, Stearns defeated his opponent in the final, No. 3 seed Emiliano Aguilera Guerrero of Mexico, by the same score as Pyrz defeated Bowers, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3. Stearns, the younger brother of Texas freshman Peyton Stearns, also made the doubles final, with Lucas Brown and Nicolas Godsick, the No. 3 seeds beating the unseeded Stearns and Ekansh Kumar 6-4, 6-4 in the championship match.

At the Grade 4 in El Salvador, Daniella Benabraham won her first ITF Junior title since 2018, with the 17-year-old from New York defeating unseeded Jade Haller of Switzerland 6-1, 6-1 in the final. The No. 5 seed, Benabraham didn't drop a set in her five victories.

At the Grade 5 in India, 16-year-old Aayush Bhat of the United States partnered with Heerak Vora of India to win the boys doubles title. The No. 3 seeds defeated No. 2 seeds Sanjith Devineni of the US and Maanav Jain of India 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

Former Pepperdine star Alex Sarkissian won the UTR $25,000 Pro Tennis Tour tournament in Newport Beach California last week. The 2014 NCAA singles finalist took first place when Great Britain's Ryan Storrie retired after winning the first set 7-5, and trailing 2-3 in the second set.  Sarkissian earned $4,000 and Storrie $2,200.

The men are off this week on the UTR Pro Tennis Tour, while the women are competing in the first of two $25,000 tournaments in the Charleston South Carolina area

Sunday, February 28, 2021

McDonald, Harrison and Lepchenko Win Titles; Vliegen and Gille Claim ATP Singapore Doubles Championship; Kuzuhara Falls in Brazil Grade 1 Final

After getting shut out last week in the two $25,000 Florida tournaments in Florida, Americans picked up titles today in Boca Raton and Naples

Christian Harrison, who lost in last week's Naples final, came through with his first title since 2017, with the No. 8 seed defeating No. 6 seed Corentin Denolly of France 6-4, 6-2. The 26-year-old, who has had multiple illnesses and surgeries over the past eight years, has lost only two matches this year, in the semifinals of the ATP 250 in Delray Beach and last week's $25K final.

In the doubles final, played on Saturday, Junior Ore(Texas A&M) and Alejandro Gomez(Kentucky) improved on their runner-up finish last week in Naples, with the No. 2 seeds defeating unseeded Diego Hidalgo(Florida) of Ecuador and Cristian Rodriguez of Colombia 6-4, 7-6(4) in the final. 

Varvara Lepchenko, like Harrison a No. 8 seed, has also gone a long time between titles, with the 34-year-old last earning a title in 2018. Lepchenko defeated unseeded 20-year-old Claire Liu 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 in today's Boca Raton $25,000 Women's USTA Pro Circuit final, battling through a 74-minute second set to take control of the match. 

Mackenzie McDonald at Wimbledon 2018

Mackenzie McDonald claimed his third ATP Challenger title today at the 100 in Kazakhstan, dominating No. 6 seed Jurij Rodionov of Austria 6-1, 6-2. McDonald, the 2016 NCAA singles and doubles champion, had no trouble handling the pace of the hard-hitting left-hander, with McDonald's serve and return especially effective throughout the match. After a round of 16 performance at the Australian Open and this title, McDonald is closing in on the Top 100 again, which is where he was when he suffered his serious injury back in June of 2019.

A day after Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk won the doubles title at the WTA 500 in Adelaide, another all-collegian team took a championship at the ATP 250 in Singapore. Top seeds Sander Gille(East Tennessee State) and Joran Vliegen(East Carolina) of Belgium defeated JP Smith(Tennessee) and Matt Ebden of Australia 6-2, 6-3 in the final. Gille and Vliegen, who are a perfect 5-0 in ATP tour finals, did not drop a set all week. For more on their title, see this article from the ATP website.

Bruno Kuzuhara fell short of his second consecutive ITF Grade 1 title today in Porto Alegre Brazil, with the 16-year-old Floridian losing to Swedish qualifier Leo Borg, the son of tennis legend Bjorn Borg. The 17-year-old Borg, who had never contested a Grade 1 final before today, came from behind to defeat No. 3 seed Kuzuhara 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Natalia Szabanin of Hungary won her second title of this South American circuit, with the top seed defeating No. 2 seed Diana Shnaider of Russia 6-4, 6-4 in the final. 

The order of play is out for the ITF's Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil, and because no qualifying was allowed over the weekend, only qualifying matches are on the schedule, with both first round and second round matches expected to be played.  The main draws have been posted, with the same group of US boys who played the event in Porto Alegre: Dali Blanch[1], Kuzuhara[3], Alex Bernard[5], Jack Anthrop[7], Victor Lilov and Ozan Colak, with Aidan Kim, who qualified last week, in qualifying again this week. Just three US girls are in the main draw: Ellie Coleman[4], Alexia Harmon and Alexis Blokhina, with Clervie Ngounoue the top seed in the qualifying. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Kuzuhara Faces Borg's Son in Third Straight Grade 1 Final; Qualifying Delayed for Grade A Banana Bowl; Liu, Lepchenko in Boca Raton $25K Final; Harrison Advances at Naples $25K; Krawczyk and Guarachi Claim Adelaide Doubles Title

Bruno Kuzuhara avenged his loss to Juncheng Shang of China in the Ecuador Grade 1 final--the only loss Kuzuhara has suffered in the past three South American Grade 1 tournaments--today in Brazil, defeating No. 2 seed Shang 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals. The 16-year-old No. 3 seed, who won last week's Asuncion Bowl in Paraguay, will face 17-year-old Swedish qualifier Leo Borg in Sunday's final, after Borg defeated No. 5 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias of Brazil 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(2). Borg, who will be playing in his first Grade 1 final, is the son of tennis legend Bjorn Borg. 

Sunday's girls final will feature the top two seeds, with No. 1 Natalia Szabanin of Hungary facing No. 2 Diana Shnaider of Russia.

The first Grade A of 2021, next week's Banana Bowl in Brazil, has run into difficulties with local Covid protocols and the qualifying, which was scheduled to begin today, will not begin until Monday, according to this announcement. The qualifying draws have been posted on the ITF junior website, but nothing else has been communicated there regarding the schedule. With draws consisting of just 32 players, instead of the usual 64 for Grade As pre-pandemic, the tournament can begin on Wednesday with no serious affects, but those in qualifying are facing a lot of tennis in the first three days of the week. Americans competing in the qualifying are Timothy Phung, Aidan Kim, Azuma Visaya, Joseph Phillips and Clervie Ngounoue. 

Twenty-year-old Claire Liu and 34-year-old Varvara Lepchenko will meet Sunday for the singles championship at the $25,000 USTA women's Pro Circuit event in Boca Raton Florida. The unseeded Liu defeated No. 4 seed Usue Arconada 7-5, 6-2 and the No. 8 seed Lepchenko beat wild card Hailey Baptiste 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-2 in over three hours to reach the final. 

Arconada did leave the tournament with a winner's trophy, partnering with Caroline Dolehide for the doubles title. The top seeds defeated the unseeded team of Maria Osorio Serrano of Colombia and Conny Perrin of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4 in today's final. 

Christian Harrison has advanced to the final of the $25,000 USTA men's Pro Circuit tournament in Naples Florida after defeating unseeded Cristian Rodriguez of Colombia 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in today's semifinals. Harrison, the No. 8 seed, will face No. 6 seed Corentin Denolly of France in Sunday's championship match.

Mackenzie McDonald is through to the final at the ATP Challenger 100 in Kazakhstan after defeating No. 5 seed Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-2, 6-1 today. UCLA's 2016 NCAA singles and doubles champion will face No. 6 seed Jurij Rodionov of Austria for the title. 

In the doubles final, former Oklahoma State star Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan and his partner Denys Molchanov of Ukraine took the title, with the top seeds defeating No. 2 seeds and former collegians Nathan Pasha(Georgia) and Max Schnuur(Columbia) 6-4, 6-4 in the final. 

At the ATP Challenger 80 in Spain, 2015 NCAA doubles champion Lloyd Glasspool(Texas) of Great Britain partnered with Harri Heliovaara of Finland for the title. The No. 2 seeds defeated unseeded Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium and Sergio Martos Gornes of Spain 7-5, 6-1 in the final. 

Adelaide champions Krawczyk and Guarachi won 
their second WTA title last September in Istanbul

The all-collegiate battle at the WTA 500 in Adelaide went to No. 3 seeds Alexa Guarachi(Alabama) of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State), who defeated Luisa Stefani(Pepperdine) and Hayley Carter(North Carolina) 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-3 in the final. It's the third WTA title for the French Open finalists. 

Nineteen-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland won the singles title, beating Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-2, 6-2 in the final. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

All-American Semifinals at Women's $25K in Boca Raton; Kuzuhara's Win Streak Continues in Brazil; Collegians Abound in WTA Adelaide's Women's Doubles Final; McDonald Advances to Semifinals at Kazakhstan Challenger

 All four American women competing in Friday's quarterfinals at the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Boca Raton won today, setting up two all-US semifinals on Saturday. Only one quarterfinal, No. 4 seed Usue Arconada's 7-5, 6-1 win over Gabriela Talaba of Romania, was decided in straight sets, with the other three all three sets and at least two hours and 45 minutes in duration. Arconada will play unseeded Claire Liu, who won the battle of former junior slam champions with a 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-2 decision over Maria Osorio Serrano of Colombia.

No. 8 seed Varvara Lepchenko, who needed over three hours to eliminate Canadian qualifier Katherine Sebov 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, will play 19-year-old wild card Hailey Baptiste, who took out Tereza Mrdeza of Croatia 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

At the men's $25,000 tournament in Naples, Christian Harrison is the sole American to advance to the semifinals. Harrison, the No. 8 seed, defeated top seed Mitchell Krueger 7-6(3), 4-6, 7-5 in three hours and 17 minutes to reach Saturday's semifinal. He will play unseeded Cristian Rodriguez of Colombia for a place in the final. Martin Damm lost to Gonzalo Villanueva of Argentina 5-7, 7-6(0), 7-6(6) in three hours and eight minutes. Villanueva will face No. 6 seed Corentin Denolly of France in the bottom half semifinal. 

Bruno Kuzuhara, who won last week's Grade 1 in Paraguay, is through to the semifinals of this week's Grade 1 in Brazil, putting his win streak at eight. The 16-year-old from Florida, who is 12-1 this year in Grade 1 tournaments, defeated Alvaro Guillen Meza of Ecuador 6-2, 6-4 in today's quarterfinals. Kuzuhara, the No. 3 seed, will take on No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China, who beat him in the final of the Grade 1 in Ecuador two weeks ago. Shang defeated No. 7 seed Jack Anthrop 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, while No. 4 seed Alex Bernard lost to No. 5 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias of Brazil 6-4, 6-2. Boscardin Dias will face Swedish qualifier Leo Borg, son of Bjorn Borg, who advanced to the semifinals via walkover.

No. 3 seed Madison Sieg lost to unseeded Solana Sierra of Argentina in today's quarterfinals 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and also fell in the doubles final. Sieg and Ellie Coleman, the top seeds, lost to unseeded Michaela Laki of Greece and Lola Radivojevic of Serbia 6-4, 6-4. 

Top seeds Bernard and Dali Blanch won their second Grade 1 doubles title on this South American swing, in dominating fashion, defeating unseeded Marko Adrejic of Austria and Mili Poljicak of Croatia 6-1, 6-3 in the final. Blanch and Bernard didn't lose more than four games in any of the eight sets they played this week.

Coco Gauff fell to No. 2 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the semifinals of the WTA 500 in Adelaide Friday 7-6(2), 6-7(4), 6-2. Gauff will earn a new career-high ranking after her wins this week however, moving into the Top 40 for the first time. Bencic will face French Open champion Iga Swiatek of Poland in the singles final. 

The doubles final in Adelaide is guaranteed to produce an American champion and a collegiate one with Hayley Carter(UNC) and Brazil's Luisa Stefani(Pepperdine) facing off against Chile's Alexa Guarachi(Alabama) and Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State). The third-seeded Guarachi and Krawczyk, who reached the French Open final last fall, will be looking for their third WTA title as a team. Carter and Stefani, who are not seeded this week, also have two WTA titles as a team. 

At the ATP Challenger 100 in Kazakhstan, Mackenzie McDonald is through to the semifinals after defeating Frederico Silva of Portugal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3) today. McDonald will play No. 5 seed Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland on Saturday. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Damm One of Three Americans in Quarterfinals at Naples $25K; Four US Women Advance at Boca Raton $25K; Four Americans Move On at Grade 1 in Brazil; Gauff Makes Semifinals in Adelaide

Although he hasn't played a junior tournament in more than a year, 17-year-old Martin Damm is still, thanks to the rankings freeze, No. 3 in the ITF world junior rankings. Opting to concentrate on the ITF's Men's World Tennis Tour, Damm hasn't had much success since last fall's restart, going 4-8 in $15,000 and $25,000 tournaments until this week. 

But this week Damm has made his first quarterfinal since last November at the Arkansas $15,000, and on the same courts where he made his only final in 2019, at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Naples Florida. Damm defeated qualifier Evan Zhu(UCLA) 6-1, 6-1 today, after taking out No. 5 seed JC Aragone(Virginia) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on Wednesday. Damm, who is also through to the semifinals in doubles with Govind Nanda(UCLA), will play unseeded Gonzalo Villaneuva of Argentina in Friday's quarterfinals.

The other two Americans in the quarterfinals will play each other with top seed Mitchell Krueger taking on No. 8 seed Christian Harrison. Krueger defeated Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern) 6-4, 6-4, while Harrison needed three hours to eliminate 19-year-old wild card Zane Khan 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-5.

Four Americans advanced to the quarterfinals of the $25,000 USTA Women's Pro Circuit tournament in Boca Raton, ranging from 19-year-old Hailey Baptiste to 34-year-old Varvara Lepchenko.  Baptiste won the match between teens who learned their tennis skills at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park Maryland, beating Robin Montgomery 6-3, 6-3. Wild card Baptiste will face unseeded Tereza Mrdeza of Croatia, who beat top seed Olgo Govortsova of Belarus 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 today. No. 8 seed Lepchenko, who defeated 16-year-old wild card Ashlyn Krueger 6-3, 6-4 today, will play qualifier Katherine Sebov of Canada in Friday's quarterfinals.

In the bottom half, Claire Liu, the 2017 Wimbledon girls champion, will play 2019 US Open girls champion Maria Osorio Serrano of Colombia in one quarterfinal after Liu defeated qualifier Catherine Harrison(UCLA) 6-4, 6-2 and Osorio Serrano took out No. 2 seed Caroline Dolehide 6-3, 7-6(5). No. 3 seed Usue Arconada, the only seed other than Lepchenko remaining, needed three hours and 26 minutes to get past qualifier Katie Volynets 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4. Arconada will face former Texas Tech star Gabriela Talaba of Romania in the quarterfinals. 

Three US boys and one US girl are through to the singles quarterfinals of this week's ITF Grade 1 in Brazil. No. 3 seed Madison Sieg will play unseeded Solana Sierra of Argentina on Friday and will also contest the doubles final, with partner Ellie Coleman. The top seeds will play the unseeded team of Michaela Laki of Greece and Lola Radivojevic of Serbia for the title Friday. 

Alexander Bernard is also still alive in both singles and doubles. The 17-year-old, seeded No. 4 in singles, will play No. 5 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias of Brazil in the quarterfinals. Bernard and Dali Blanch, the top seeds in doubles, face unseeded Marko Andrejic of Austria and Mili Poljicak of Croatia in the final.

No. 3 seed Bruno Kuzuhara, last week's Grade 1 champion in Paraguay, will play unseeded Alvaro Guillen Meza of Ecuador in the quarterfinals, and No. 7 seed Jack Anthrop takes on No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China. 

Qualifier Coco Gauff is through to her third WTA semifinal, but the first at the 500 level after defeating Shelby Rogers 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in Adelaide. Gauff, who turns 17 next month, has won her last four matches in three sets, coming from a set down in three of them. She will take on No. 2 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in Friday's semifinal. Iga Swiatek, who advanced to the semifinals when Danielle Collins retired trailing 6-2, 3-0, will play unseeded Jil Teichmann of Switzerland in the other semifinal. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

No Change Atop ITA Division I Team Rankings; Illinois Signs Former ITF Top 10 Junior; Collins Beats WTA No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, Joins Gauff and Rogers in Adelaide Quarterfinals; ATP Feature on Brooksby

This week's Division I team rankings didn't produce any changes at the top, with the North Carolina women and North Carolina men both retaining the No. 1 spots. The Texas women stayed at No. 2, as did the Baylor men, but for the women, the shuffling began with Georgia moving up to No. 3. After UCLA's 4-3 loss to Cal over the weekend, the Bruins dropped to six, while Cal moved from 17 to 12.

Unranked women's teams moving into the top 25 this week are No. 21 Auburn, who beat South Carolina and Florida over the weekend, and No. 24 Arkansas, who earned wins over Mississippi State and Mississippi.

In the men's rankings, Ohio State was the instigator of the changes in the Top 10, with the Buckeyes' win over Illinois dropping the Illini to No. 8 and Ohio State and Texas moving up as a result.  Oklahoma State's losses to USC and Pepperdine over the weekend dropped them from 14 to 23. Memphis, who did not play last weekend, has moved into the Top 25 for the first time. 

This is the last week for rankings to 25; next week's rankings will extend to 50, which will be the case at least through March. All these rankings are determined by a poll, not by a computer algorithm. There is still no sign of any individual rankings, which haven't been updated since the preseason.

Division I ITA Division I women's top 10 team rankings 2-24-21,
(previous ranking in parentheses)

1. North Carolina (1)
2. Texas (2)
3. Georgia (5)
4. Pepperdine (4)
5. Florida State (6)
6. UCLA (3)
7. Northwestern (7)
8. Ohio State (8)
9. NC State (10)
10. Vanderbilt (9)

Division I ITA men's Top 10 team rankings 2-24-21

1. North Carolina (1)
2. Baylor (2)
3. Tennessee (3)
4. Virginia (4)
5. TCU (5)
6. Texas (7)
7. Ohio State (9)
8. Illinois (6)
9. USC (8)
10. Texas A&M (10)


There have been a few men's signings for fall of 2021, with the biggest that of Karlis Ozolins of Latvia committing to Illinois. Ozolins, who reached the singles semifinals and doubles final of the Australian Open Junior Championships last year, has been ranked as high as No. 6 in the ITF World Junior rankings. 

Roni Hietaranta of Finland has signed with Nebraska, and Joel Pierleoni of Great Britain has signed with New Mexico.

On the WTA tour, Danielle Collins earned her first win over a No. 1 player, beating Ashleigh Barty of Australia 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals of the 500 level event in Adelaide. The two-time NCAA singles champion will face French Open champion Iga Swiatek of Poland, the No. 5 seed, on Thursday.

In an all-American quarterfinal in Adelaide, qualifier Coco Gauff and Shelby Rogers, who, like Collins, are unseeded, will meet for the first time. 

While American women are doing well in the sole WTA event this week, all six American men competing in the main draw of the three ATP 250 events have bowed out, with only Sebastian Korda and Maxime Cressy winning a match. Mackenzie McDonald opted for the ATP Challenger 100 in Kazakhstan this week, and after beating top seed Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan in the first round, he is through to the quarterfinals.

And speaking of Challengers, the ATP website has posted an article on last week's first-time Challenger champion Jenson Brooksby.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Krueger and Govortsova Top Seeds at Florida $25Ks; Cleveland Hosts First 2021 US Challenger Next Month; Division II Men's and Women's Indoor Championships Begin Friday in Oklahoma

Qualifying is complete at the two $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournaments this week in Florida, with the women moving to Boca Raton and the men playing a second straight week in Naples. 

Mitchell Krueger is the top seed in Naples, with Bjorn Fratangelo the No. 2 seed. Darian King of Barbados played qualifying, but is seeded No. 3 in the main draw now that he made it through qualifying. 

Americans qualifying for the main draw are Dennis Novikov(UCLA), Evan Zhu(UCLA) and Christian Langmo(Miami). The wild cards, all of whom are in the top quarter of the draw, went to Govind Nanda(UCLA), Fletcher Scott(Illinois), Jesse Witten(Kentucky) and Zane Khan. Martin Damm entered with as a junior exempt and last week's champion Clement Tabur of France received a special exemption into the main draw.

Olga Govortsova is the top seed in Boca Raton, with Caroline Dolehide, who has returned from competing in Australia, the No. 2 seed.  

Americans qualifying for the main draw are Maria Mateas(Duke), Jamie Loeb(North Carolina), Catherine Harrison(UCLA) and Katie Volynets. 

Wild cards were awarded to Ashlyn Krueger, Elli Mandlik, Gabby Price and Hailey Baptiste. Baptiste played the only main draw match on Tuesday's schedule, beating No. 7 seed Varvara Flink of Russia 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(5).

Robin Montgomery used her option for a junior exempt for entry, and last week's Orlando champion Katie Swan of Great Britain is the main draw with a special exempt entry. 

The USTA released a new men's Pro Circuit calendar yesterday, and has been the case since last August's return to competition, opportunities remain sparse. Hopefully more events will be added, but as of now, there is nothing on the $15,000 or $25,000 level after this week until May 17th.

There are three ATP Challenger 80s scheduled, with the first one in the United States this year set for Cleveland March 15-20. For more on the Cleveland Challenger, which will be restricting access to the event, see this recent release.  JJ Wolf, who would normally be on the entry list for the event in his home state, is currently out with an injury and is not expected to compete.

The other two Challengers are both in Florida, in Orlando the week of April 12th and in Tallahassee the week of April 19th.

The women's USTA Pro Circuit calendar, released earlier this month, shows another $25K next week in California, but nothing else until mid April after that. Currently, there are no $15,000 tournaments on the schedule until June. A couple of $60Ks and two $100Ks in April and May are the spring highlights for women.

The ITA Division II Team Indoor Championships were introduced last year, and thank goodness, because in less than two weeks the entire season was sunk by the pandemic. The tournaments are again in Oklahoma, with the men's event hosted by Midwestern State University in Oklahoma City and the women's event hosted by University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond

Barry, the women's defending champions, is not competing this year, with the University of Indianapolis the top seed and Columbus State No. 2.  The schedule for Friday:

8:00 AM CT – (3) University of West Florida vs. (6) Angelo State University
11:15 AM CT – (2) Columbus State University vs. (7) Southwest Baptist University
2:30 PM CT – (1) University of Indianapolis vs. (8) Midwestern State University
5:45 PM CT – (4) University of Central Oklahoma vs. (5) Flagler College

Columbus State is defending its men's title as the top seed, with the University of West Florida seeded second. The men's schedule for Friday:

8:00 AM CT – (3) Flagler College vs. (6) University of Indianapolis
11:15 AM CT – (2) University of West Florida vs. (7) Delta State University
2:30 PM CT – (4) Drury University vs. (5) Concordia University Irvine
5:45 PM CT – (1) Columbus State University vs. (8) Midwestern State University

The ITA announced two weeks ago that Division III would not be having Team Indoor Championships this year.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Changes to May's NCAA Division I Championships; ITF Grade 1 in Brazil Underway; Strode Wins UTR $25K in Newport Beach; More UTR Pro Tennis Tour Events Added

The NCAA Division I men's and women's tennis committee met(virtually) earlier this month and made some adjustments to this year's tournament at the USTA's National Campus in Lake Nona. 

In 2019, a new format was introduced, with Super Regionals played on campuses, with those eight winning teams advancing to the finals site. That has been changed for this year, with the tournament going back to 16 men's and 16 women's teams at the finals site. From the NCAA committee report:

The proposed format change helps to minimize preliminary-round sites and reduces responsibilities for campuses that otherwise would host. By eliminating the 16 super-regional round locations, the committee will be able to provide the most effective and efficient competition as it relates to health and safety, given the increased restrictions in testing and gathering protocols.

This means starting competition at the finals site with round of 16 matches Sunday May 16th(women) and Monday May 17th(men).  With that change, the quarterfinals have been moved up a day to Wednesday May 19th(women) and Thursday May 20th(men) from when they were originally scheduled. Tuesday May 18th is an off day for everyone and it will serve as a rain day if the round of 16 matches cannot be played. As the release notes:

There are only six indoor courts available in Orlando. In the event of a complete rainout, eight matches cannot be completed indoors in one day with six courts. The advancing teams from the super-regional round [round of 16] have two days of rest before their next match in the quarterfinals.

The 2018 tournament was played at the National Campus and miraculously did not feature any rain, but the committee appears to recognize that it will be unlikely to be so lucky this year. 

The team finals will now be on Saturday, rather than Sunday, and the individual tournament will begin on Sunday and run through Friday, rather than as originally scheduled Monday through Saturday. 

Tennis Channel is mentioned as covering the team event from the quarterfinals on (which is good news for most, but I no longer have access to it).

The recommendation also moves the start of the quarterfinal round up one day to accommodate available television windows for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the team tournament on the Tennis Channel.

The third consecutive South American Grade 1 is underway in Porto Alegre Brazil, with five American girls and seven American boys in the 32-player singles fields. The US boys are qualifier Aidan Kim, Dali Blanch[1], Bruno Kuzuhara[3], Alexander Bernard[4], Jack Anthrop[7], Victor Lilov and Ozan Colak. The US girls are Alexia Harmon, Madison Sieg[3], Ellie Coleman[5], Rebecca Lynn and Alexis Blokhina.

For the third straight week, top seed Blanch hasn't gotten to the quarterfinals; today he lost to Viacheslav Bielinskyi of Ukraine 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.  Colak, Coleman and Harmon also lost their first round matches today, with Sieg, Blokhina and Bernard getting victories; the others will play their first round matches Tuesday.

Isaiah Strode won last week's UTR $25K Pro Tennis Tour tournament in Newport Beach California, beating former USC Trojan Connor Farren 6-1, 5-7, 6-1 in the final. Strode takes home $4000 and Farren $2200 for their week's work.

Several more UTR $25K tournaments have been added in the United States and Mexico for this spring, with several in the Atlanta area and Cancun in March and April, and in Bradenton Florida in late May and June. See the complete schedule here.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Brooksby Claims First Challenger Title; Harrison, Anderson Fall in $25K Florida Finals; Lincer, Ford and Evans Win ITF Junior Circuit Titles

Jenson Brooksby, who decided to play college tennis, but spent more than a year recovering from a toe injury and so never actually competed while attending Baylor, won his first Challenger title today at the ATP Challenger 80 in South Africa. Brooksby, who started the year by winning a UTR $25K tournament in California, had played only three tournaments on the pro circuit since 2019, getting to the semifinals of a $25K in Spain before losing his first round match two weeks ago at the first ATP Challenger 80 in South Africa. This week the unseeded 20-year-old from Northern California found his form, with the 2018 Kalamazoo 18s champion defeating unseeded Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in today's final. 

Brooksby will move to a new career high with his title this week, cracking the ATP Top 250 for the first time. Brooksby joins Brandon Nakashima and Sebastian Korda as 20-and-under Americans to capture ATP Challenger titles in 2021.

The two $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournaments in Florida this week didn't produce an American singles champion, with both Christian Harrison and Robin Anderson falling in today's finals. 

At the men's tournament in Naples, 21-year-old qualifier Clement Tabur of France defeated the unseeded Harrison 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 in a two-and-a-half hour final. Great Britain's Katie Swan defeated Robin Anderson(UCLA) 6-1, 6-3 in another battle between unseeded finalists, this one in Orlando.

The US did pick up the doubles titles in the Florida tournaments, with Great Britain's Tara Moore and Emina Bektas(Michigan) winning in Orlando and the Johnson twins claiming the title in Naples.

Moore and Bektas defeated Maria Osorio Serrano of Colombia and Conny Perrin of Switzerland 7-5, 2-6, 10-5 in the final between two unseeded teams. Moore and Bektas are now two-for-two in USTA Pro Circuit events, having also claimed the title last month at the $60K in Rome Georgia.

Hunter and Yates Johnson(SMU), the No. 2 seeds, defeated No. 3 seeds Junior Ore(Texas A&M) and Alejandro Gomez of Colombia(Kentucky) 6-1, 1-6, 12-10 to claim their 13th ITF Pro Circuit title. 

At the Australian Open, Rajeev Ram(Illinois) and Great Britain's Joe Salisbury(Memphis) fell one match short of defending their title, with Filip Polasek of Slovakia and Ivan Dodig of Croatia taking the men's doubles final 6-3, 6-4. It's their first slam title as a team, although Dodig won Roland Garros with Marcelo Melo in 2015.

Novak Djokovic collected his ninth Australian Open men's singles title with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win over Daniil Medvedev. 

Americans added three more ITF junior singles titles to the Grade 1 championship Bruno Kuzuhara won in Paraguay, with Olivia Lincer sweeping the titles at the Grade 4 in Guatemala and Karsyn Evans and Zane Ford taking the titles at the Grade 4 in Cancun.

No. 6 seed Lincer, a 16-year-old blue chip from Connecticut, won her first ITF junior title on Friday, taking the doubles title with Ashton Bowers. The No. 3 seeds, who didn't drop a set in their run to the title, defeated unseeded Jacqueline Soloveychik and Monika Wojcik, also from the US, 6-1, 6-3 in the final. 

In the singles final on Saturday, Lincer defeated No. 5 seed Deborah Dominguez Collado of Guatemala 6-3, 6-2 for her second ITF junior title.  No. 4 seed Sebastian Sec of the US lost in the boys singles final to unseeded Christopher Li of Peru 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(10).

Texan Karsyn Evans won her first ITF Junior Circuit title in Cancun, with the unseeded 15-year-old defeating unseeded 13-year-old Maya Iyengar 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the final. Qualifier Zane Ford, a 16-year-old from Pennsylvania, won his first ITF Junior Circuit title in another all-US final, beating Alexander Frusina 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. It was Ford's eighth win of the week and that first set was the only one he lost in those eight victories.

Unseeded Luc Boulier Santelices of Chile and Zamaan Moledina of the US won the boys doubles title, beating No. 3 seeds Juan Carlos Prado Angelo of Boliva and Joseph Phillips of the US 6-4, 4-6, 10-6 in the final. 

No. 3 seeds Gracie Epps and Aubrey Nisbet won the girls doubles title, defeating unseeded Cecilia Alcobe Garibay of the US and Ana Paula Chavez Sanchez of Mexico 6-1, 6-2 in the final. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Kuzuhara Wins Grade 1 Asuncion Bowl; Brady Falls in Australian Open Final, Ram Claims Mixed Title; Brooksby into Challenger Final; Wake Forest's Response to Salon Article

Last year Bruno Kuzuhara reached the final of the Grade 1 Asuncion Bowl in Paraguay, and last week the 16-year-old from Florida advanced to the final of the Grade 1 in Ecuador. Today he got past those disappointments, winning this year's Asuncion Bowl title with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 3 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias of Brazil. Kuzuhara, the No. 4 seed, who moved into the ITF Top 10 last week, did not drop a set in his five wins to earn his first Grade 1 title. His previous three titles were at the Grade 5 level.

No. 8 seed Petra Marcinko of Croatia, who turned 15 in December, earned her first Grade 1 singles title today, beating unseeded Solana Sierra of Argentina 6-4, 7-5. Marcinko, who made the semifinals last week in Ecuador, won five ITF Grade 4 and Grade 5 singles titles and won the doubles and reached the singles final of a Grade 1 in Serbia last September. 

Jennifer Brady, the first former collegian to reach a women's grand slam singles final since Kathy Jordan in 1983, fell to Naomi Osaka of Japan 6-4, 6-3 Saturday at the Australian Open. Despite a nervous start, Brady got back to 4-all in the first set and had a break point to serve for the set, but Osaka held and Brady was broken in the next game, with her usually reliable forehand shaky when she needed it. Osaka took a 4-0 lead in the second set, but again Brady got herself back in it, although she could get only one of those two breaks back, and Osaka served out her fourth slam title without any drama. 

The WTA website has a good recap from Brady's post-match press conference, touching on why she was disappointed in her performance, what she thinks she needs to improve, and how she'll spend the next few days before heading to her next tournament.

Rajeev Ram and Czech Barbora Krejcikova, the No. 6 seeds, won their second Australian Open mixed doubles title on Saturday, defeating the Australian wild card team of Matthew Ebden and Samantha Stosur 6-1, 6-4. Ram and Krejcikova won the mixed doubles title in Melbourne in 2019. Ram will go for his fourth grand slam doubles title, all in Australia, on Sunday, when he and former Memphis standout Joe Salisbury defend their men's title against Filip Polasek of Slovakia and Ivan Dodig of Croatia.

2018 Kalamazoo 18s champion Jenson Brooksby is into the final of the ATP Challenger 80 in South Africa, after he defeated qualifier Lucas Miedler of Austria 7-5, 6-2. The 20-year-old Californian will face unseeded, but former ATP Top 50 player Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia, who beat No. 4 seed Liam Broady of Great Britain 1-6, 6-4, 6-4. 

The top seeded South African team of Raven Klaasen and Ruan Roelofse(Illinois) won the doubles title, beating unseeded Julien Cagnina of Belgium and Zdenek Kolar of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4 in the final. 

Wake Forest released a response to the recent Salon article about Sean Hannity and the Wake Forest tennis team, which can be found here.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Eight Intriguing Questions for 2021; Ivy League Cancels Spring Season; Kuzuhara Through to G1 Final; Ram and Salisbury Return to Australian Open Doubles Final; Brooksby Advances to First Challenger Semifinal

It's a month later than usual, and with the pandemic still disrupting everything, it's hard to say what 2021 will bring in the way of tennis competition. But I still managed to come up with my annual Eight Intriguing Questions column for the Tennis Recruiting Network, which gives me the opportunity to look at the big picture, rather than the results of tournaments week to week, and pick out a few issues I think could have a significant impact in the years to come.

I probably could have added several more college tennis questions, including how much disruption we're likely to see during the conference seasons getting underway now. One of the questions hanging over the season was answered yesterday by the Ivy League, which has opted not to offer conference play in spring sports. According to the release:

Due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, and in order to maintain compliance both with campus travel, visitor and gathering policies and also with the state guidelines governing each institution, the Ivy League will not conduct conference seasons or conference postseason events in any spring sports.

This means the tennis teams will not be able to participate in the NCAA championships this year; only the Columbia men were in the Top 25 of the ITA preseason rankings, but losing an entire spring season after last season was cut short is a huge blow to all the student-athletes in the conference.

Bruno Kuzuhara has advanced to the final of the Asuncion Bowl, the Grade 1 in Paraguay. It's the second week in a row that the 16-year-old from Florida has reached the championship match in singles. Kuzuhara, the fourth seed, defeated No. 8 seed Joao Victor Couto Loureiro of Brazil 6-3, 6-4 to set up a meeting with another Brazilian, No. 3 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias, in the final. Boscardin Dias defeated unseeded Max Rehberg of Germany 7-5, 0-6, 6-3 in today's semifinal.

The girls final will feature No. 8 seed Petra Marcinko of Croatia against unseeded Solana Sierra of Argentina. 

Valencia Xu won her first Grade 1 title with Annabelle Xu of Canada. The fourth-seeded pair defeated No. 3 seeds Marcinko and Serbia's Lola Radivojevic 4-6, 6-1, 10-3 in today's final.

The boys doubles final featured two unseeded German teams, with Maximilian Homberg and Neo Niedner defeating Rehberg and Filip Florig 6-3, 3-6, 10-8.

Defending champions Rajeev Ram(Illinois) and Great Britain's Joe Salisbury(Memphis) will go for another Australian Open title Saturday after defeating No. 6 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil 6-4, 7-6(2). The No. 5 seeds will play No. 9 seeds Filip Polasek of Slovakia and Ivan Dodig of Croatia, who took out No. 2 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic of Croatia 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the other semifinal. For more on the Ram and Salisbury win Friday, see this article from the ATP.

Before that final on Sunday, Ram will have another opportunity for a grand slam title, as he will play in the mixed final after Saturday's women's final. Ram and Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic will face the wild card team of Samantha Stosur and Matt Ebden, who beat Salisbury and Desirae Krawczyk 7-5, 5-7, 10-8 in the semifinals Friday. 

The women's doubles title went to No. 2 seeds Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who defeated No. 3 seeds Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 6-3 in Friday's final. 

Jenson Brooksby avenged his first round Challenger loss last weekend to Cem Ilkel of Turkey today in the quarterfinals of the ATP Challenger 80 in South Africa, beating the No. 7 seed 6-1, 6-4. The 20-year-old Brooksby, who was playing in his first Challenger quarterfinal today, will meet qualifier Lucas Miedler of Austria for a place in the final. The top half of the draw will feature a semifinal between No. 4 seed Liam Broady of Great Britain and unseeded Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Brady Reaches Australian Open Final; Ojai Tournament Canceled; Brooksby Advances to South Africa Challenger Quarterfinals; North Carolina's Cernoch Heads ITA Men's D-I Indoor All-Tournament Team

Jennifer Brady defeated Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 Thursday at the Australian Open to reach her first grand slam final. The former UCLA Bruin will face Naomi Osaka in for the title, after Osaka defeated Serena Williams 6-3, 6-4 earlier in the day.

Brady, the No. 22 seed, got an early break in the third set and held on, although just barely. She had to save three break points in the 18-point final game, with Muchova, the No. 25 seed, saving four match points before she sent a forehand long on the fifth.

Brady is the first former collegiate woman to advance to a grand slam singles final since 1983, when Kathy Jordan, a former Stanford star, reached the Australian Open final, losing to Martina Navratilova. Kevin Anderson is the only former collegian to reach a slam final this century on the men's side, with the former Illinois All-American advancing to the 2017 US Open final and the 2018 Wimbledon final. 

Another Australian Open finalist who went to college is Rajeev Ram, who advanced to the mixed doubles final with Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic. Ram and partner Joe Salisbury(Memphis) of Great Britain, the defending men's doubles champions, play their semifinal against Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil Friday(tonight in the US). Salisbury, who is playing mixed doubles with Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State), can advance to the final against Ram and Krejcikova if they defeat wild cards Samantha Stosur and Matt Ebden of Australia later tonight. 

Some of the many trophies usually awarded at The Ojai,
 canceled again this year.

For the second consecutive year, The Ojai Tennis Tournament, one of the most storied tennis tournaments in the country, has been canceled due to the Covid pandemic. The tournament usually takes place at the end of April. From the release:

Ojai Valley Tennis Club President Duane Williamson and Ojai Tennis Tournament Executive Director Katrina Rice Schmidt released a joint statement on the tournament’s cancellation:
“We were busy making plans for a scaled-down version of The Ojai Tennis Tournament with no spectators, but the decision to cancel this year's tournament simply came down to the fact that in this environment we could not ensure the safety of all of the players and coaches, our staff and volunteers, and the greater Ojai Community. We are all very disappointed that we will not be holding this year's event and, yet, at the same time feel it is the correct and responsible decision to make. We are encouraged that as the ongoing vaccination rollout continues, we’ll be able to return to the courts and be back for play in 2022.”
Jenson Brooksby, the 2018 Kalamazoo champion, returned to competition this month after a semester at Baylor last year that was marred by injuries and then the Covid shutdown. He reached the semifinals of a $25K in Italy, lost in the first round of the South African Challenger last week, but has advanced to the quarterfinals of this week's South Africa Challenger 80. The 20-year-old's 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 win over No. 2 seed and ATP 137Benjamin Bonzi of France is his third best by ranking, behind only his win over No. 96 Tomas Berdych at the 2019 US Open and No. 133 Yuichi Sugita in the US Open qualifying that year. Brooksby will play No. 7 seed Cem Ilkel of Turkey Friday, with Ilkel having beaten Brooksby 6-3, 6-4 last week.

On Wednesday, the ITA announced the All-Tournament team for last weekend's Men's Division I Team Indoor Championships, along with the Most Outstanding Player, which was awarded to North Carolina junior Brian Cernoch.

The results that led to the recognition for these players can be found here.

No. 1 singles: Carl Soderlund, Virgina
No. 2 singles: Luca Fomba, TCU
No. 3 singles: Micah Braswell, Texas
No. 4 singles: Brian Cernoch, North Carolina
No. 5 singles: Charlie Broom, Baylor
No. 6 singles: Simon Soendergaard, North Carolina

No. 1 doubles: William Blumberg and Cernoch, North Carolina
No. 2 doubles: Bradley Frye and Stefan Dostanic, USC
No. 3 doubles: Inaki Montes de la Torre and Jeffrey von der Schulenburg, Virginia

Most Outstanding Player: Brian Cernoch, North Carolina. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Kuzuhara, Colak and Blokhina into Paraguay Grade 1 Quarterfinals; Dead Period Extended Again; North Carolina Men and Women Number One in Latest ITA Rankings; Parenting Aces on LSU Mess; Salon Looks at Wake Forest and Hannity

Three of the eight Americans competing this week in the singles draws of the ITF Grade 1 Asuncion Bowl in Paraguay are still alive for a title, with Ozan Colak, Bruno Kuzuhara and Alexis Blokhina winning their second round matches today.

Kuzuhara, the No. 4 seed and a finalist last week at the Ecuador Grade 1, defeated Peter Privara of Slovakia 7-6(5), 6-4 and will take on Mili Poljicak of Croatia in Thursday's quarterfinals. The unseeded Colak, who also reached the quarterfinals in Ecuador, defeated No. 5 seed Marko Topo of Serbia 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 and will face No. 3 seed Pedro Boscardin Dias of Brasil next. Unseeded Alexis Blokhina, who beat the top seed on Monday, defeated Tijana Sretenovic of Serbia 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 and will play unseeded Bianca Behulova of Slovakia in the quarterfinals. 

Top seed Dali Blanch and No. 3 Madison Sieg both lost today in straight sets.

The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach is reporting that the NCAA has extended the Division I recruiting dead period from April 15th to May 31st. That means it will have been nearly 15 months since coaches were allowed any in-person contact with prospective student-athletes and since the recruits could make official visits to campus.

The latest Division I rankings are out, with little changing in the women's coaches poll, but a big shuffling occurring in the men's, due to last weekend's ITA Team Indoor results. The USC men dropped from first to eighth after going 0-3 in Champaign, while Illinois jumped from unranked all the way to sixth after beating USC and Virginia.

Both Stanford teams have disappeared from the rankings, with the recent decision made that, since they have not played any matches, they should not be a part of the rankings until they do begin to post results. The rankings page explains that the polls will continue later than usual this year, and expand to 50 teams, while tweaks to the algorithm are considered given the reduced number of matches this year. A release date for the singles and doubles rankings is still unknown at this time.


ITA Division I Women's Team Rankings, 2-17-21
(previous ranking in parentheses)

1. North Carolina (1)
2. Texas(2)
3. UCLA(3)
4. Pepperdine(4)
5. Georgia(5)
6. Florida State(7)
7. Northwestern(8)
8. Ohio State(10)
9. Vanderbilt(15)
10. NC State(12)

ITA Division I Men's Team Rankings, 2-17-21 (last ranking from 2-3-21)

1. North Carolina(2)
2. Baylor(4)
3. Tennessee(10)
4. Virginia(7)
5. TCU(3)
6. Illinois (unranked)
7. Texas(5)
8. USC(1)
9. Ohio State(8)
10. Texas A&M(9)

The competition and excitement of the Team Indoor Championships held earlier this month is the positive side of college tennis, but there are less inspiring stories that also need to be told.

Salon looks at the relationship of Sean Hannity with the Wake Forest men's team, where his son, who is referred to on the roster as Sean Patrick, has been on the team since 2017. Although the article makes it clear that the investigation doesn't approach the Varsity Blues level, it is still a fascinating look at the many ways wealthy parents can influence programs that accept their children.

Lisa Stone at Parenting Aces spoke with the father of Jade Lewis, the former LSU tennis player whose abuse by a football player was not reported as required by Title IX, on her podcast, available at the Parenting Aces website. USA Today reported on this and other issues at LSU in this article back in November.