Sunday, April 18, 2021

Brooksby Claims Second Challenger Title in Orlando; Sharma Earns First WTA Title in Charleston, McNally and Baptiste Win Doubles Championship; Aney Nabs Second Straight $15K

Jenson Brooksby defeated No. 5 seed Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-3 Sundat at the ATP Challenger 80 on the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona Florida.

For the 20-year-old Californian, who won the USTA National 18s title in 2018, it marks the second Challenger title of his career and the second this year, with the first coming in South Africa in February. In between those two titles, Brooksby reached the final of the Cleveland Challenger in March, with his 2021 record at that level now 14-2, after being out of action with injuries for most of 2020.

Brooksby looked very sharp today, and his combination of offense and defense, as well as a tendency not to miss many balls, left Kudla without much to attack. Brooksby did not lose a set all week, wasn't even taken to a tiebreaker, and with the title has now moved into the ATP Top 200 for the first time. 

He is playing next week's Challenger 80 in Tallahassee, where he has drawn 17-year-old wild card Martin Damm in the first round. Bruno Kuzuhara, Ozan Colak and Perry Gregg received wild cards into the qualifying, which begins Monday.

Astra Sharma

Former Vanderbilt All-American Astra Sharma won her first WTA tournament title, with the unseeded Australian defeating top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 today at the MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston South Carolina.

Sharma said she had no ideas how to counteract the level Jabeur displayed in the first set. 

"I thought Ons played an amazing first set, I didn't know really what to do," said the 25-year-old, who graduated from Vanderbilt in 2018. "She was wrong-footing me, dropshoting me, making me cover a lot of court and I couldn't really read what she was doing. I thought, that's just too good from her, if she can keep pulling off these really good shots, whatever, but maybe if I keep competing, keep showing up, keep doing the right things, those are inherently tricky shots, so maybe she'll waiver and I'll get an opportunity to get it closer."

Sharma has said earlier in the week that her ability to keep matches physical has been a key to her run to the second WTA final of her career and first since 2019. 

"That is the basis of my game," Sharma said. "To be athletic, to be dynamic, for one match, two matches, three matches and to use it more offensively, coming in, is what I've tried to do more this tournament. I may not have the straight up weapons that a player like Ons has, but I do have the speed to close and finish at the net, so I've been trying to do that more, instead of hitting really good shots and not be able to close it out."

Sharma acknowledged the debt she owed her Vanderbilt coaches Geoff Macdonald and Aleke Tsoubanos.

"Both of them were so great to me, saw what they thought I could become," Sharma said. "They never stopped helping me out, giving me time...it was great for me having those two people in my corner, because I think coaches before that didn't really connect with me, like I connected to them and responded to their feedback."

With the title, Sharma's WTA ranking rises to 120, but she will not be heading to Europe for the clay events there, with the USTA Pro Circuit $100K events in May her preferred alternative.

"I will probably stay and try and play some of the ITFs," Sharma said. "My ranking before was not good enough that I could go to Europe, because I was not going to get into Madrid and Rome, even Saint-Malo looked a little bit dicey. So I thought I would stay and play these ITFs, where I knew for sure I was going to get some match play, so that's the plan."

Caty McNally and Hailey Baptiste

Another player won her first WTA title today in Charleston, with Hailey Baptiste and partner Caty McNally winning the doubles championship. Baptiste and McNally, both 19, defeated top seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) and Storm Sanders of Australia 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-6 for Baptiste's first title and McNally's third.

For more on the two women's finals today in Charleston, see this article from the WTA website.

And a quick note about former UNC Tar Heel Jessie Aney, who has now won two consecutive $15,000 tournaments in Kazakhstan. Aney, who turns 23 tomorrow, was unseeded in both events, but after beating No. 5 seed Tamara Curovic of Serbia 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-0 in three hours today, she now has a 10-match winning streak, which started with a first round win over Curovic.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Brooksby and Kudla Reach Orlando Challenger Final; Sharma Advances to Second WTA Final; Daryabeigi Earns First ITF Title at J4 in Cancun; Doubles Titles for Americans in Cancun and at J3 in Costa Rica

An all-American is final is set for Sunday at the ATP Challenger 80 on the USTA's National Campus in Lake Nona, with unseeded Jenson Brooksby taking on No. 5 seed Denis Kudla.  Brooksby defeated Christian Harrison 7-5, 6-1, rebounding in the first set after letting a 5-1 lead slip away, while Kudla outlasted former USF star Roberto Cid of the Dominican Republic 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. 

Kudla is looking for his second Challenger title since the restart, having won the Cary Challenger last November, while Brooksby is looking for his second career Challenger title, with the first coming in February in South Africa. The 20-year-old, who enrolled at Baylor, but due to injuries and then the pandemic shutdown did not play for the Bears, also reached the final of the Cleveland Challenger last month. 

In today's doubles final, Mitchell Krueger and Jack Sock took the title, saving two match points in the match tiebreaker against Harrison and Dennis Novikov, who were also unseeded. Krueger and Sock had seen three match points slip away when up 9-6, but shook that off to post a 4-6, 7-5, 13-11 win. 

Former Vanderbilt star Astra Sharma advanced to her second career WTA final today at the MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston, ending the run of Bogota champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia 7-6(5), 6-1 in today's semifinal. 

Sharma lost her first WTA final, at the 2019 tournament in Bogota to Amanda Anisimova. I asked her today how the pressure of college matches compared to the pressure of playing in a pro final.

"If anything, I felt a lot more pressure playing in college," said the 25-year-old Australian. "You know six girls, depending on you to win. That always gave me, if anything, more stress or focus; every point counts, I don't want to let anyone down. I think I played really well on a team because of that; I was so focused on every point, not to let the team down."

Sharma said that same mindset wasn't there when she began to play professionally after graduation.

"For a while it was almost a little bit less intense or focused for me, because it was just myself," Sharma said. "If I was down 4-1, it wasn't like someone was counting on you, it would be easier almost to find an excuse to not push myself that extra bit, whereas in college, I felt like, oh man, I'm 4-1 down, it was like, I'd better get my act together, let's go. That was a big learning experience for me, getting out professionally and finding that own fire and support within myself. No one's here, no one's cheering you on, no one's holding you accountable, it's just yourself out there. How do you want to talk to yourself, how do you want to push yourself...I've learned along the way how to be my own little college team, supporting myself on court, honing my focus on each point."

Sharma will face top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who defeated Danka Kovinic of Montenegro 6-3, 6-0.

Sunday's doubles final will feature two 19-year-old Americans who have been steamrolling through the draw this week. Caty McNally and Hailey Baptiste at one stretch had won 22 consecutive games, with three straight 6-0 sets. Their second set against Bogota champions Elixane Lechemia(South Carolina) and Ingrid Neel(Florida) ended that streak, but their 6-0, 6-2 win put them in the final, where they will face top seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) and Storm Sanders of Australia. 

Two ITF junior tournaments this week attracted a substantial number of Americans, with the J4 in Cancun and the J3 in Costa Rica featuring three US singles finalists. Sixteen-year-old Sean Daryabeigi was the sole champion, coming through qualifying to earn his first junior circuit title with a 6-4, 6-2 win over top seed Emiliano Aguilera Guerrero of Mexico. The Cancun tournament was just Daryabeigi's fourth ITF tournament, with the other three Grade 4s in Florida, where he lives.

Ashton Bowers, the No. 6 seed, lost 6-1, 6-1 in the Cancun final to top seed Martyna Ostrzygalo of Canada. 

Tianna Rangan partnered with Switzerland's Jade Haller for the Cancun doubles title, beating Leah Kuruvilla and Mexico's Barbara Martinez 6-3, 6-4 in the final. Kurt Miller and Mexico's Santiago Arredondo Delgado won the boys doubles title, beating the American team of Quang Duong and Felipe Pinzon Moreno 6-1, 6-0.

Braden Shick, the No. 3 seed, fell in the final of the J3 in Costa Rica, to top seed Gonzalo Bueno of Peru, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. 

Cooper Williams and Mexico's Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez, the No. 4 seeds, won the Costa Rica doubles title, beating Santiago Giamichelle of Argentina and Luis Carlos Alvarez Valdes of Mexico 6-1, 6-3 in the final. No. 3 seeds Ava Krug and Bolivia's Maria Olivia Castedo won the girls doubles title, beating No. 4 seeds Mia Kupres and Victoria Mboko of Canada 6-3, 7-6(5) in the final. Kupres also lost in the singles final, to fellow Canadian and top seed Annabelle Xu.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Easter Bowl ITF Videos; Kudla, Harrison and Brooksby Advance at Orlando Challenger; Sharma Defeats Fruhvirtova to Reach Charleston Semifinals

The videos of the Easter Bowl ITF finals are below, with the videos for the 12s, 14s, and 16s, still to come. 

A photo gallery from the Easter Bowl by photographer Derrick Tuskan is available at Tennis Recruiting Network.

Americans Denis Kudla, Christian Harrison and Jenson Brooksby and former South Florida star Roberto Cid of the Dominican Republic have advanced to the semifinals of ATP Challenger 80 in Orlando

No. 5 seed Kudla, the only seed who made the quarterfinals, defeated Michael Mmoh 7-5, 6-3 and will face Cid, who advanced when former UNC star Brayden Schnur of Canada retired trailing 3-6, 6-2, 4-0. Harrison downed Jack Sock 7-6(3), 6-3 and will play Brooksby, who beat wild card Zane Khan 6-4, 6-3.

Sock and Mitchell Krueger will play Harrison and Dennis Novikov in the doubles final Saturday.

Astra Sharma

 The run of 15-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova ended this evening at the WTA MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston South Carolina, with former Vanderbilt star Astra Sharma advancing to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

"I honestly don't really look at the age," Sharma said when asked about playing someone so young. "Look at Linda, she's an amazing player who plays as if she was born to hold a racquet her whole life."

Sharma, 25, will face 19-year-old Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, who advanced to the semifinals when 18-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark retired trailing 6-4, 1-0. 

"Same with Maria," Sharma continued. "She's just come off a really good win in Bogota and she's been backing it up here in Charleston against really top quality opponents. So I don't think age has anything to do with it. She might be fresher than me, since she has younger legs. I'm really looking forward to playing her tomorrow, I think she's been playing really well, it will be a really good challenge to see how I match up against her."

Sharma, who will be playing in just her second WTA semifinal, was asked about her decision to play college tennis.

"I was really undercooked as a junior," said Sharma, who uses Nashville as her training base during most of the post-Australian Open year. "I wasn't played that many touraments, I also played soccer and everything, so I didn't really have a traditional tennis background in terms of the quantity and quality that I put in compared to the other girls. I just had too many things going on, so my decision to go to college was more, let's see, if I focus one hundred percent on tennis how good can I get. And honestly, college for me was the perfect time to do that. All the facilities are open, you have eight other girls willing to hit with you, you have coaches and physios. So for me it was a perfect kind of environment for developing a tennis player, which I really needed. I think I was behind, in terms of maturity, on court and off court, so that was really good for me."

In the other semifinal, top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia will play Danka Kovinic of Montenegro. Jabeur defeated Nao Hibino 6-0, 6-1, while Kovinic took out No. 3 seed Shelby Rogers 7-5, 6-1.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

NCAA Allows Resumption of In-Person Recruiting June 1; Orlando Challenger Quarterfinals Feature Six Americans; Fruhvirtova Downs Navarro to Reach MUSC Quarterfinals

The long-awaited end of the recruiting dead period was announced today by the NCAA, with in-person recruiting and campus visits, which have not been allowed since March of 2020, set to resume on June 1.  

In addition, some of the restrictions on who can contact a prospective student-athlete have been loosened:

Council members also granted a waiver to allow school staff to participate in a call with any number of uncommitted prospective student-athletes in any sport and to allow student-athletes to participate in phone calls with a coach and prospective student-athletes or at the direction of a coach. Additionally, student-athletes cannot be directed to make calls on a day off.

The Council also approved a blanket waiver allowing full-time institutional staff members, current students and all coaches, including volunteer coaches, to initiate recruiting calls (for example, telephone calls, video calls) involving prospective student-athletes whom an institution is permitted to call. The waiver is in effect from June 1 through Dec. 31, 2021, and requires staff who are not making or receiving calls to prospects under an existing legislated exception (for example, academic advisors and compliance administrators) to pass the recruiting exam before making or receiving calls.

It will be great to see college coaches back at junior tournaments--they were certainly missed by everyone at last year's Orange Bowl and the recent tournaments in San Diego--and the June 1 date allows them to attend most of the important closed events in sections, typically held in that month. The French Open Juniors would also be a possibility with the new dates, although I imagine it would be even more difficult than usual to find a credential for that event.

Four second round matches were on the schedule today at the ATP Challenger 80 in Orlando, with six Americans playing. Michael Mmoh and Christian Harrison won the two all-US battles, with Mmoh defeating Christopher Eubanks 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and Harrison taking out University of Illinois senior Aleks Kovacevic 6-4, 6-3.  In the other two matches, No. 5 seed Denis Kudla defeated Tim Van Rijthoven of the Netherlands 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 and Jack Sock beat No. 6 seed Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India 6-3, 6-4. 

Friday's quarterfinals will feature Sock versus Harrison, Mmoh versus Kudla, Jenson Brooksby versus Zane Khan, and in the former collegiate battle, Roberto Cid of the Dominican Republic(South Florida) versus Brayden Schnur of Canada(North Carolina).  Kudla is the only seed remaining.

Free live streaming of all the matches is available here.

The action today at the WTA MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston didn't begin until 1 p.m. and two matches that were two-and-a-half hours in length made for a late night for teens Emma Navarro and Linda Fruhvirtova, who were fourth on. 

The 15-year-old Czech came out on top, overcoming a 4-2 deficit in the first set for a 6-4, 6-2 win and a place in the quarterfinals against Astra Sharma of Australia.

Earlier in the day, 19-year-old Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia came back to defeat Christina McHale 2-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(1) and former Vanderbilt star Sharma outlasted No. 8 seed Madison Brengle 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. In between, top seed Ons Jabeur downed qualifier Alycia Parks 6-4, 6-0. 

Shelby Rogers, the No. 3 seed, plays Volvo Car Open finalist Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, Jabeur faces Nao Hibino of Japan and Clara Tauson of Denmark meets Osorio Serrano in a battle of former junior slam champions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Navarro, Draxl Top New ITA D-I Singles Rankings, North Carolina Women, Florida Men Remain No. 1; Brooksby, Khan and Nakashima Reach Quarterfinals at Challengers

The latest ITA Division I rankings released today feature two rankings, computer and poll, for teams, and computer rankings for singles and doubles. The ITA is still struggling with these rankings, which isn't surprising given the lack of consistent play due to individual schools and conferences Covid protocols, but their latest explanation for publishing two different rankings doesn't reveal much. It's clear that the ITA is hearing from coaches with strong opinions on both sides of the issue, particularly when it says:

"A simple solution that attempts to balance all of the various interests and includes consensus support is currently not available."

The team rankings are all over the place, although it's not obvious in the Top 10.  Take the Michigan men, for example, who I follow more closely than other teams due to geography. The computer rankings show Michigan at 30, the coaches poll at 19, and the current Tennis Channel/USTA poll has them at 7.  That's quite a disparity. I'm sure there are other similar examples; feel free to post a comment if you have one. Again this week I am providing side-by-side comparisons of the poll and computer rankings for the Top 10. The full list for men is here; for women is here.

Men's Top 10, poll on left, computer on right.

Women's Top 10, poll on left, computer on right

In the individual rankings, Ohio State's Cannon Kingsley is undefeated this year in singles, 23-0, but his ranking is 117, far too low to make the NCAA field.  Whatever the reason behind that, it's obvious to anyone with a pulse that Kingsley is one of the top college players in the country, as is No. 36 Alexa Graham of North Carolina, who won the only traditional ITA major held in the 2020-21 season. It isn't good enough for the ITA to simply supply the NCAA committee with their computer rankings. They must advocate for their best players to be in the NCAA fields, and if they need to use UTR to assist with that assessment, so be it. 

Here are the Top 10 and Top 5 in singles and doubles. Click the heading for the full list.

Top 10 Division I Men's Singles April 14, 2021
1. Liam Draxl, Kentucky
2. Daniel Rodrigues, South Carolina
3. Gabriel Decamps, Central Florida
4. Duarte Vale, Florida
5. Valentin Vacherot, Texas A&M
6. Carl Soderlund, Virginia
7. Hady Habib, Texas A&M
8. Alastair Gray, TCU
9. Sam Riffice, Florida
10. Johannus Monday, Tennessee

Top 5 Men's Doubles
1. Tim Sandkaulen and Finn Reynolds, Mississippi
2. Will Davies and Oliver Okonkwo, Iowa
3. William Blumberg and Brian Cernoch, North Carolina
4. Alastair Gray and Luc Fomba, TCU
5. Riley Smith and Daniel Cukierman, Southern California

Top 10 Division I Women's Singles April 14, 2021
1. Emma Navarro, Virginia
2. Sara Daavettila, North Carolina
3. Estela Perez-Somarriba, Miami
4. Katarina Jokic, Georgia
5. Anna Rogers, NC State
6. Kenya Jones, Georgia Tech
7. Abigail Forbes, UCLA
8. McCartney Kessler, Florida
9. Natasha Subhash, Virginia
10. Giulia Pairone, Florida State

Top 5 Women's Doubles
1. Akvile Parazinskaite and Fiona Arrese, Kentucky
2. Sara Daavettila and Cameron Morra, North Carolina
3. Victoria Flores and Kenya Jones, Georgia Tech
4. Marlee Zein and McCartney Kessler, Florida
5. Andrea Garcia and Nandini Das, Florida State

Today's second round action at the ATP Challenger 80 in Orlando featured wins by two young Americans, who will now play each other. A day after securing his first main draw Challenger victory, 19-year-old Zane Khan defeated No. 2 seed and ATP 108 Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan 7-6(5), 7-6(5) in two hours and 18 minutes. rebounding after failing to serve out the first set at 5-4 and failing to hold on to a 5-1 lead in the first set tiebreaker. It was Uchiyama who couldn't serve out the set in the second, with Khan breaking for 5-all, and although there were anxious moments, he managed to navigate them better than his more experienced opponent. 

Brooksby defeated qualifier Altug Celikbilek of Turkey 6-1, 6-3 to run his 2021 Challenger record to 11-2.  Bjorn Fratangelo lost in the second round today to former UNC star Brayden Schnur of Canada 6-3, 7-6(2). 

Six other Americans will be in action Thursday, with two all-US second round battles. Live streaming, with Mike Cation providing commentary, is available here.

Brandon Nakashima, who won the previous Challenger played in Orlando, in November, opted instead for the red clay in Serbia, where he has reached the quarterfinals at the 125 level event. Nakashima defeated No. 7 seed Hugo Dellien of Bolivia 6-2, 6-2 today and will play unseeded Liam Broady of Great Britain in the quarterfinals Thursday.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fruhvirtova Gets First WTA Win, Navarro Advances in Charleston; Khan Posts First Challenger Victory; French Open Junior Championships Dates Adjusted; New WTA Tournament in Cleveland Announced

Linda Fruhvirtova

Fifteen-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic ended the opening round of singles at the WTA MUSC Health Women's Open tonight in Charleston with a memorable first victory on the tour, even though it ended with France's Alize Cornet retiring at 4-4 in the third set. 

Fruhvirtova took the first set with relative ease, and lead 6-2, 5-4, breaking Cornet to serve for the match. She was unable to get to match point on serve, and when she fell behind 4-0 in the tiebreaker, a third set seemed likely. But she won the next five points over her limping opponent, and earned a match point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker. Fruhvirtova had a real opportunity to end the match then, after just under two hours, but her volley landed just wide and Cornet was able to take the set.

After a medical timeout for Cornet, the third set began, and the physical toll on both players was evident. Neither held serve, with eight consecutive breaks, and with Cornet's physical distress appearing to be worse, she retired.

Fruhvirtova was proud of the quality of her tennis and of her ability to put that missed match point behind her.

"The way I managed to forget the missed chances in the second set and still keep fighting in the third set for every point," Fruhvirtova said. "I didn't get a point for free and Alize still fought back. Today was a spectacular match and a huge fight from both of us." 

Fruhvirtova, who said she gained confidence from her title at the Grade 2 junior event in the Dominican Republic last month and a qualifying loss at the Miami Open, said she does plan to play the junior slams this year.

"I have very limited number of women's tournaments I can play in a year, and I need to play matches," said Fruhvirtova, who lost in the second round at the French Open junior championships last fall. "Obviously it's good to play junior matches too, to handle the pressure of 'I should win this match', it's good to go through these matches and for sure playing the junior grand slams is really nice too. You get to know the atmosphere for the future, you see all the pros there, the atmosphere at grand slams, how it all works, so I think it's really good to play the junior grand slams."

In the second round, Fruhvirtova will play another wild card, Emma Navarro, who won her first WTA main draw match last week at the Volvo Car Open, before falling to champion Veronika Kudermetova. Today the University of Virginia freshman earned her first WTA Top 100 victory, beating WTA 96 Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 3-2 retired.

That second round match will be played Thursday, with just four main draw singles matches on the schedule for Wednesday, including qualifier Claire Liu against No. 3 seed Shelby Rogers. 

At the ATP Challenger 80 in Orlando this week, 19-year-old Zane Khan picked up his first Challenger level win, defeating lucky loser Kevin King(Georgia Tech) 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. A Georgia Tech alum did get a victory today however, with Christopher Eubanks taking out top seed Steve Johnson(USC) 6-1, 7-6(3). Christian Harrison defeated No. 3 seed Mackenzie McDonald 7-5, 6-3 and Michael Mmoh got past qualifier Martin Damm 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. Mmoh and Eubanks will meet in the second round. 

The French Open made an official announcement regarding its new dates last week, and today added news on qualifying, which is now 128 for both men and women after always featuring 96-player draws for the women previously. Mixed doubles will return, but with only 16 teams. There was no mention of the French Junior Championships in the current release but the ITF Junior Circuit website has been updated to move the junior event to the second week, as normal, which is now Sunday June 6 through Saturday June 12th. The Fact Sheet contains no mention of qualifying, which was also not part of the junior championships in Paris last fall. The entry deadline was also pushed back a week, from April 20th to April 27th.

The USTA and Topnotch Management announced today that a new WTA 250 event the week before the US Open will take place this year in Cleveland. With the demise of the tournament in New Haven, it's great to see another city and group step up to fill the void, especially a city that hasn't hosted top level women's (or men's) tennis.

Monday, April 12, 2021

My Easter Bowl 16s and ITF Recap; IOSC J1 Finals Videos; Damm Qualifies for Orlando Challenger

My third recap from my recent trip to California, this one focusing on the Easter Bowl 16s and ITF championships, is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. In case you missed it over the weekend, I prepared a post unrelated to the actual tennis played during those two weeks, focusing instead on some of the external and big picture items that didn't make it into any of the reporting I did on the tennis tournaments during that stretch. 

Below are the videos of the boys and girls finals from the ITF International Open of Southern California J1, the first finals videos I've posted since the Junior Orange Bowl in December of 2019 . Videos of the 12s, 14s, and 16s Easter Bowl will take more time to assemble, because there was no behind-the-court positioning available for those finals, so each player will have a separate video. The Easter Bowl ITF will have videos similar to these.

Seventeen-year-old Martin Damm won two three-setters today in qualifying at the ATP Challenger 80 in Orlando to advance to the main draw. Damm, who is still at a career-high No. 3 in the ITF Junior rankings, even though he hasn't played a junior event in well over a year, defeated No. 3 seed and ATP 266 Hiroki Moriya of Japan 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 in the first round. In his second match, the 2018 Kalamazoo 16s champion defeated former Virginia star JC Aragone 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.  Damm, who has played in just one Challenger main draw previously, will play fellow IMG resident Michael Mmoh in the first round. Kevin King(Georgia Tech) lost in the final round of qualifying, but received entry as a lucky loser; he will play wild card Zane Khan, who Damm defeated in that 2018 Kalamazoo final. 

Jenson Brooksby(Baylor) defeated No. 7 seed Jason Jung(Michigan) of Taiwan 6-1, 6-4 in first round action in Orlando. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Reigning US Open Girls Champion Osorio Serrano Wins First WTA Title; Orlando Challenger Begins Monday; Three Americans Qualify for WTA 250 in Charleston, with Navarro and Fruhvirtova Awarded Wild Cards

2019 US Open girls champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia made the big step from junior slam champion to WTA champion in less than two years, winning the WTA 250 in the city of Bogota in her home country. The 19-year-old wild card, ranked 180, defeated No. 5 seed Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 50 minutes for her first title above the ITF $25K level. Osorio Serrano is the fourth teenager to win a title this year, according to the WTA article on her title, joining Leylah Fernandez of Canada, Iga Swiatek of Poland and Clara Tauson of Denmark.

Former college stars Ingrid Neel (Florida) and France's Elixane Lechemia (South Carolina) joined Osorio Serrano as first-time WTA champions. The unseeded pair defeated No. 3 seeds Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania and Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany 6-3, 6-4 in the final. 

Another former collegiate star claimed a tour doubles title this weekend, with former Texas Tech All-American Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador winning his second career title with partner Ariel Behar of Paraguay at the ATP 250 in Marbella Spain. The pair defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Tomislav Brkic and Serbia's Nikola Cacic of Serbia 6-2, 6-4 in a final featuring two unseeded teams.

Doubles champions Schuurs and Melichar

At the WTA 500 Volvo Car Open in Charleston, No. 15 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia earned her first WTA title, beating Danka Kovinic of Montenegro 6-4, 6-2 in the final

Top seeds Nicole Melichar and the Netherlands' Demi Schuurs won the doubles title, beating unseeded Marie Bouzkova and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-2 in today's final. 

The WTA stays in Charleston for another tournament this week, a 250 level event that was added to provide more playing opportunities without adding travel. The MUSC Health Women's Open features a 32-player draw with no byes.

Osorio Serrano is in the draw, as a special exempt entry, as is Tauson. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia is the top seed, followed by Magda Linette of Poland and Charleston's own Shelby Rogers. Wild cards went to UVA freshman and local resident Emma Navarro, 15-year-lld Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic and Coco Vandeweghe.

Qualifying concluded today with Americans Claire Liu, Grace Min and Alycia Parks joining Australia's Storm Sanders in the main draw. Although she lost to Min today, 17-year-old wild card Gabby Price had a big win in the first round, defeating WTA 153 Leonie Kung of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4. Price won the USTA 18s Clay Courts in 2019 in Charleston, but did not have the opportunity to use the Volvo Car Open wild card she earned with that title when the 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic. 

The second ATP Challenger of the year in the US will begin Monday in Orlando, an 80 level event, with four first round matches scheduled. Steve Johnson, Japan's Yasutaka Uchiyama and Mackenzie McDonald are the top three seeds. Christian Harrison, Zane Khan and Illinois senior Aleks Kovacevic received main draw wild cards. The first round of qualifying was begun but washed out today, so two rounds will be necessary on Monday. Wild cards in qualifying went to Toby Kodat, Martin Damm and Roy Smith (Baylor).

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Thoughts, Observations and News from My Two Weeks in San Diego

I’ve covered tournaments remotely since the shutdown last March (Cincinnati, US Open, Orange Bowl) and did manage to cover finals day at an ITA Summer Circuit tournament last July in Grand Rapids in person. But that one event had been the extent of my face-to-face interactions with players, coaches and tournament staff in over a year, so returning to Southern California for the two annual Grade 1 tournaments there was a long drink after a  year in the desert. One thing I’ve learned over the years of doing this is that as much as you can learn on the internet, it’s no substitute for talking with people. And actually watching players compete live is superior in nearly every way to a live stream.

Below is some of what I learned and observed during the two weeks I was at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, and I want to make clear that the critiques below are in no way meant to denigrate the decision to hold these tournaments. The willingness to provide these opportunities for competition, when it is often easier to just cancel, is commendable, and I hope that attitude will extend into all the USTA’s National events this summer.

Covid Protocols

The ITF has very strict protocols for holding a tournament now, but as with all rules, they frequently don’t make a lot of sense in real world situations. Players were allowed only one guest each day, which resulted in a parents and coaches often taking turns using that one exemption. I also saw more than a few players with three or even four family members watching their matches; I’m not sure how they navigated the plus-one, the daily covid symptom check-in, the temperature check and the wristband protocols.

Because I saw many without the required wristbands, I imagine they took advantage of the fact that the Barnes Tennis Center was open to the public, as allowed by the San Diego area health authorities. That allowed pickleball players, local tennis players and others to enter the site without going through the same procedures as players, guests and staff.

Masks were required, and compliance was good in general, although the younger the players, the less likely they were to wear one. Unlike mask-wearing, social distancing was not enforced, but that did not seem a major problem to me (disclosure: I’m fully vaccinated), especially since the case and positivity rates are very low in the area.

The ITF would be wise to offer more flexibility and defer to local health authorities, and maybe they do, but I didn’t get that impression from those enforcing the ITF protocols.

USTA National Coaches Return

Like me, the USTA National Coaches haven’t seen much live tennis in the past year, and unable to hold their usual high performance camps due to the pandemic, it wasn’t a surprise to see so many of them in San Diego trying to watch as many matches as possible, especially in the 12s and 14s. Head of women’s tennis Kathy Rinaldi was there for over a week and head of coaching Ola Malmqvist traveled from Miami for several days. The USTA national coaches I saw in San Diego: Michael Joyce, Brian Baker, Jamea Jackson, Jermaine Jenkins, Maureen Diaz, Jose Caballero, Lori Riffice and Jon Glover. Glover was there through the conclusion, with several in the 14s age group he works with, including 16s champion Alexander Rezaghi, going deep.

Tecnifibre’s US Push

Two former USTA national coaches, Erik Kortland and Philippe Oudshoorn, were in San Diego as representatives for the French sporting goods company, which sponsors the USTA Southern California section’s Signature Series. The International Open of Southern California, played the first week of the fortnight, is one of those events, and it used Tecnifibre balls, while the Easter Bowl was played with balls manufactured by Wilson, the long-time sponsor of all USTA National tournaments. Tecnifibre is making a renewed push into the US market and their sponsorship of SoCal’s Signature Series is one component of that commitment.


The US sporting good company, which usually provides a hugely popular players party and all manner of signage and goodies as the presenting sponsor of the Easter Bowl, did not participate this year, other than providing T-shirts. They were missed, and I hope they return when the tournament resumes at Indian Wells in 2022.

So. Many. Wild. Cards.

The ITF’s entry system is well established and generally not controversial, with the only source of contention, as it is throughout the tennis world, the selection of the allotted wild cards. There didn’t appear to be much grumbling about that for the J1 International Open of Southern California or the Easter Bowl, but the same cannot be said for the wild cards into Easter Bowl 12s, 14s and 16s. 

The disaster of the new USTA Junior Competition rollout this year, with its ranking and implementation problems, only exacerbated the entry dilemma, already problematic due to the lack of play last year. That meant many, many blue chips, who had been playing up a division at the restart, had to rely on wild cards for entry into their division, a particular problem in the 16s. Because the seedings did not reflect the actual accomplishment of those receiving wild cards, seeds met these players way too early in the draw. Only 16s champion Alexander Razeghi, as a No. 9, was seeded at all, with two of the four girls 16s semifinalists and both the boys 16s finalists wild card recipients.

Lisa Stone of Parenting Aces
Lisa Stone and Parenting Aces

I have known Lisa for many years, yet I only run into her occasionally at tournaments, usually at the US Open Junior Championships. I do follow all her posts on her website, however, and it was great that she was able to make the daily drive to San Diego from her home in Orange County to cover the Easter Bowl. She conducted daily interviews of players, coaches and others involved with the tournament on Instagram Live and spoke to many parents about the issues they had encountered with the rollout of the new USTA junior structure. Lisa has been relentless in her pursuit of answers and accountability from the USTA on this topic, and I know she is pursuing this issue to help all those families who are confused and exasperated by how this happened and how it will be resolved. Please consider becoming a premium member at her website, which provides a host of benefits, including a personal consultation with Lisa about these issues.

International Players and Closed ITF Events

I have known for years that international players with immigration status in the US are eligible to compete in the ITF Easter Bowl (as well as the younger age divisions). Back in 2013, Mayo Hibi of Japan won the girls title, so it was no surprise to me to see Juncheng "Jerry" Shang in the field, but what I did learn is that ITF regulations prohibit an international player from competing in more than one Closed event per year when playing outside his or her region. The Easter Bowl is open only to US players; October’s Pan American tournament, the other ITF Closed event in the US, is open only to those players from North and South America.

Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup

The ITF has provided no updates on these September competitions, which were canceled last year due to the pandemic. Qualifying rounds are generally underway across the globe now for the 16-and-under group, as well as the August World Junior Tennis global team competition for those 14-and under. The US was scheduled to host the JDC and JFC (Junior Billie Jean King Cup now?) through 2022 at its National Campus, but I’m hearing the event is now back up for bid, with little interest due to the added expense of the ITF Covid protocols.

Warren Pretorius of Tennis Analytics
Tennis Analytics and USTA Provide Free Match Videos

There are plenty of complaints about the cost of entering USTA National events, but the USTA and Tennis Analytics have added more value to the Easter Bowl’s entry fee by providing three free videos of entire matches to every competitor. This is a godsend for coaches who were not able to attend, whether due to the ITF’s plus-one rule, or other obligations. 

Founder Warren Pretorius also told me the company is interested in providing more live streaming of junior events, but was unable to do that at the Easter Bowl due to the short notice regarding this year’s venue change. I hope that the 16s and 18s girls and boys USTA Nationals this summer can find a way to work with him on this project; the Orange Bowl is also very much in the mix for his company's mobile live streaming initiative.

Wild Card Tournament for Upcoming ITF Grade 4s in Florida

It’s hard to overstate the importance of even just a few ITF points for 13- and 14-year-olds when it comes to getting opportunities for qualifying in the big ITF events in the US. The USTA is encouraging the younger boys it works with to get those points by holding a playoff next week in Lake Nona for wild cards into the three J4s in Florida beginning at the end of the month.

Does Tennis Really Need Another Doubles Format?

First of all, it’s great to see doubles played after the de-emphasis of it during the pandemic by both the USTA and the ITA.

But much to my surprise, in a scoring format change that can’t be determined by looking at draws, the Easter Bowl doubles for all age divisions was no-ad. That wasn’t a surprise in the ITF event, which has played the same no-ad, match-tiebreaker-in-lieu-of-a-third-set format for years, but I did not know that no-ad was introduced for USTA events, which apparently was approved for 2020, but with so few tournaments played last year, the change wasn’t evident. The match tiebreaker introduction for rounds through the quarterfinals at the Level 1s has been around for several years, but the actual games were played with regular scoring. 

The twist is that the USTA has retained the full third set in the semifinals and finals (not in the 12s), while playing no-ad, a format that, as far as I know, is not played anywhere else. 

The only tournaments in all of professional tennis that have not gone to no-ad in doubles are the slams, so the winners of the 18s USTA Nationals in August will play this hybrid format to earn a wild card in the US Open, then return to regular scoring when competing in New York. 

Minnesota's Men's Tennis Program was instrumental in the development of ITF Easter Bowl Champion Liv Hovde(with headband)

Liv Hovde and Minnesota’s Men’s Tennis

When a college program is cut, the focus, rightfully, is on the student-athletes and coaches who have their lives disrupted through no fault of their own. But the collateral damage is often overlooked. ITF Easter Bowl champion Liv Hovde’s mother explains much more eloquently than anyone else could on how much the program meant to her daughter.

It’s heartbreaking that the U of M is looking to cut that program - and that decision has garnered lots of attention and very strong opposition. And it should. That decision ignores the positive impact that team and coaches have had on the youth and growth of tennis in MN. Liv is a perfect example of that. 

Liv first started practicing at Baseline at age 5 with Geoff Young’s wife, Dana Young. That kickstarted her love for the sport. She began attending Gopher Men’s Tennis matches at a very early age. She loved watching, cheering and would even ask for autographs of the team. She watched and screamed in joy when they won the Big Ten title, she observed countless practices, trained countless times on their courts, met many of the Gophers and their amazing  coaches (Geoff Young), and was coached for a few years by a former Gopher men’s player. She would study intently the photos of the Gophers teams hung on the wall behind the bleachers - hoping one day she might play college tennis. 

She won 16s indoors both singles and doubles on those courts. To this day she feels like those are her home courts.  That team, their coaches and those courts are a big reason why she grew to love the sport.  

The Minnesota tennis community as a whole is strong, vibrant and supports their youth. Liv feels that support to this day. She adores the Young family and they have always supported her. Tennis development takes a village and Gopher’s Men’s tennis has and continues to have an enormous positive impact on her. Without it, I don’t think she would have embraced the sport so whole heartedly at such an early age. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Easter Bowl 12s and 14s Recap; Fritz, Alcaraz Reach ATP Semifinals; Gauff Bows Out at Volvo Car Open; No. 2 UNC Men Lose to Wake Forest; Thriller in Tallahassee; UCLA Women Extend Stanford's Skid

Easter Bowl girls 14s doubles champions and finalists

Covering the Easter Bowl is a challenge, with four age divisions and important matches, including finals, being played at the same time across the site. It was especially difficult this year, with the way the schedule had to be adjusted due to the unavailability of auxiliary sites, but I'm accustomed to these concurrent finals from all my years covering the Eddie Herr. My Easter Bowl recaps for Tennis Recruiting Network are again split, with the 12s and 14s recap up today, and the 16s and 18s recap posted on Monday. If you couldn't follow along throughout the tournament, these recaps are a good way to catch up on what you missed in the first junior "major" in the United States since the Orange Bowl.

Taylor Fritz, who took over from John Isner as the top-ranked American after the Miami Open results, is through to the semifinals of the ATP 250 Sardegna Open in Italy. Fritz, the No. 2 seed, defeated Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia 6-3, 6-4, to set up a meeting with No. 3 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy Saturday. For more on today's action in Italy, see this article from the ATP website.

The semifinalists at the ATP 250 in Marbella are all from Spain, the first time the same country has had four semifinalists in an ATP tournament since Spain did it 17 years ago. One of the four is 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, who advanced to his first ATP semifinal with a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 3 seed Casper Rudd of Norway. He will play clay court specialist Jaume Munar, who is unseeded, for a place in the final. Alcaraz, who turns 18 next month, is the youngest ATP semifinalist since Alexander Zverev in 2014. For more on the Rudd-Alcaraz match today, see this article from the ATP website.

Coco Gauff lost in the quarterfinals of the Volvo Car Open today, with the No. 14 seed, dropping her first match in three meetings with No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-3, 6-3. The big news of the day however, was the loss of WTA No. 1 and Miami Open champion Ashleigh Barty of Australia to Paula Badosa, by a 6-4, 6-3 score. Badosa will play the winner of tonight's match between Sloane Stephens and Viktoria Kudermetova of Russia; Jabeur will face unseeded Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in the other semifinal.

Gauff and McNally will play their doubles quarterfinal match later tonight. 

Today is a big day in college tennis, with significant matches everywhere as the final weeks of the season have top teams vying for the wins that will impress those making the NCAA selections.

The top-ranked Florida men squeezed by South Carolina 4-3, with Blaise Bicknell clinching for the Gators at line 4. Florida ends the SEC regular season undefeated in the conference and is now off until the SEC tournament April 19.

The North Carolina men, ranked No. 2 now after a 6-1 loss at Virginia, lost at home today to Wake Forest 5-2. Playing without Rinky Hijikata, who retired early in his match at Virginia, the Tar Heels lost the doubles point, with their two points coming at lines 4 and 5. 

In other notable men's matches, Georgia defeated Texas A&M 4-2 and Stanford came from 3-0 down to beat UCLA.

In women's matches, No. 4 Florida State defeated Miami 4-3, after Miami's Florencia Urrutia led 5-2 in the final set of the last match on. Florida State's Petra Hule saved seven match points, according to Miami's twitter updates, to secure the win in a third-set tiebreaker. 

The Stanford women were shut out today in Los Angeles by UCLA 7-0, their third straight loss after dropping 4-3 decisions to Pepperdine (at home) and Oregon (on the road) last week. It's the first time since 1981 that Stanford has lost three consecutive matches. 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Gauff Advances to Quarterfinals at Volvo Car Open, Says Playing Juniors Was Right Pathway for Her; New ITA Division II Team and Singles Rankings; USTA and ITA Announce Alliance for College Tennis

Coco Gauff, the No. 14 seed, defeated Lauren Davis 6-2, 7-6(2) today at the WTA 500 Volvo Car Open in Charleston South Carolina, reaching her first WTA quarterfinal on clay.

In her press conference after the match, Gauff was asked why she played junior tournaments, given the example set by Serena and Venus Williams, who did not.

"Everyone is different, but for me, playing juniors was all about experience. As soon as I saw a level I needed to be at, I raised my level. For example, my first ITF Junior [tournament] was in Roehampton, I lost second round, and I saw what that level was like and went back to work. 

At least for me, and for my team, juniors was a good way to see how I was progressing. Obviously, once I started doing well in juniors, I didn't go back and play anymore. It just depends on the player, I know Naomi didn't play juniors too much. 

It all depends what your thing is; for me, juniors helped me a lot. Because even today, maybe I'm at a certain scoreline and I think about matches I played in juniors. It definitely helped me being at the slams. In 2019 and 2020, playing a lot of the grand slams for the first time, playing juniors helped me be familiar with the grounds and that, I feel, can be a little bit of an advantage for a young player, if they did well in juniors, like me."

After that loss Gauff referred to in Roehampton, and a second round qualifying loss the following week at the Wimbledon Junior Championships, Gauff went on to reach a Grade 1 final in College Park, then the US Open girls final two weeks later. The following year, 2018, she won the French Open girls title, lost in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and US Open Juniors, and won the Orange Bowl, her last junior event, at age 14.

Now 17, after her birthday last month, Gauff still is limited in the number of WTA and ITF tournaments she can play until next March, and she has not always been happy with those rules. But using the juniors as she describes seems to have worked for her and prepared her for many of the situations she's faced on the pro tour.

Gauff will play No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur in Friday's quarterfinals; they have played twice, on hard and on clay, with Gauff winning both.

Caty McNally lost her third round match today to Paula Badosa of Spain 6-3, 6-3. Sloane Stephens is also through to the quarterfinals after a 6-3, 6-4 win over Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.

Gauff and partner McNally are through to the quarterfinals in doubles; they will play Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk on Friday.

The ITA released the latest Division II team and new individual rankings today, with undefeated Columbus State still atop the men's rankings and undefeated Indianapolis remaining as No. 1 in the women's rankings. The are notable disparities in the number of matches played: Indianapolis is at 11 and No. 2 Barry at 6. The difference is even greater with men; Columbus State has 13 matches and No. 10 Hawaii Pacific has two. These rankings are a coaches poll, still, undoubtedly due to that issue.

In the first individual rankings of the D-II season, also done by poll, Alessandro Giuliato of Barry is at the top of the men's list, and Nikol Alekseeva of Indianapolis is No. 1 on the women's list

In doubles, Yohan Nguyen and Florian Simbozel of Valdosta State are No. 1 in the men's rankings; with Alekseeva and Novikova No. 1 in the women's rankings.

While I was in San Diego, the USTA and ITA released a joint statement on their "strategic alliance," which has the aim of increasing the visibility and viability of college tennis.  

There will a new emphasis on tournaments that allow both college and junior players in the same fields; a commitment to work with colleges to open their facilities to the public, and continued support to strengthen coaching education.

The USTA has been a valued partner for college tennis for many years now, with the College Match Days, the college-specific courts at the National Campus, as host of the NCAAs among many other programs. That hasn't been able to stem the tide of lost programs recently, but a statement reiterating their commitment is always welcome.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Davis Beats Kenin, Gauff and McNally Advance at Volvo Car Open; French Open Expected to Delay One Week; ITA Releases New D-I Team Computer and Poll Rankings

Doubles partners Caty McNally and Coco Gauff advanced to Thursday's Round of 16 at the WTA 500 Volvo Car Open with wins today.

McNally trailed WTA No. 47 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 4-2 in the third set, but won the final four games of the match to claim a 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-4 victory. Gauff, seeded No. 14, also went three sets, beating Liudmila Samsonova of Russia 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.  Three other US teenagers lost in today's second round: lucky loser Whitney Osuigwe, who took the place of No. 9 seed Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1, 6-4 to Kurumi Nara; wild card Hailey Baptiste, 6-3, 6-3 to No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur and wild card Emma Navarro, 6-4, 6-4 to No. 15 seed Veronika Kudermetova.

 Two of the three all-US matches are tonight, with Shelby Rogers playing No. 13 seed Amanda Anisimova and Sloane Stephens facing No. 8 seed Madison Keys. In the third, this afternoon, Lauren Davis upset No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Gauff will play Davis Thursday, while McNally meets Paula Badosa of Spain, who defeated No. 5 seed Belinda Bencic today.

While Navarro lost her singles match, she advanced in doubles, with Caroline Dolehide. The wild cards defeated No. 3 seeds Yifan Xu and Shuai Zhang of China 6-1, 6-4 this afternoon.

According to this article from Reuters, French sports daily L’Equipe is reporting that the French Open will be delayed by one week this year, starting on May 30, rather than May 23, which is the date still on the Roland Garros website for the start of the main draw, with qualifying the week before that.

What this may mean for the Roland Garros Junior Championships is not clear; the ITF Junior Circuit website s still showing the dates of May 30-June 5, which would put it in the first week of the tournament, not the second, a schedule that is not feasible given the number of matches played the first week. Once an official announcement is made by the French Tennis Federation, I am sure the ITF will change the dates to the second week; how this might impact the cutoff date for entries, which is currently Tuesday April 20, is unclear.

As I wrote Tuesday, the ITA delayed the release of its Division I team rankings to today, and is now providing both the computer rankings and the coaches poll. (If you would like yet another poll, the USTA is also now releasing a weekly team ranking). From the tone of the ITA's post yesterday, I thought the discrepancies between its two sets of rankings might be large, but, at least in the top 10, that's not the case. I've put the two rankings of the Top 10 side by side for comparison purposes, with the computer rankings the ones with an average; you can see the disagreements are minor, with the Top 3 women's teams and the Top 5 men's team the same in both.

Men's Division I Top 10 April 7, 2021

Women's Division I Top 10 April 7, 2021

The complete women's rankings are here; the complete men's ranking are here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

UVA's Navarro Wins First WTA Main Draw Match at Volvo Car Open; ITA Pushes Pause Button on Singles and Doubles Rankings, Will Publish Both Computer Rankings and Coaches Poll; More on Easter Bowl 18s Champions

Emma Navarro

University of Virginia freshman Emma Navarro won her first WTA main draw match tonight at the Volvo Car Open in her hometown of Charleston South Carolina. The 19-year-old wild card, currently No. 6 in the ITA collegiate rankings and 481 in the WTA rankings, defeated WTA 141 Renata Zarazua of Mexico 6-4, 6-3 in her third main draw appearance in a WTA event.

Navarro said after the match that she couldn't be happier with the experience she's had at Virginia.

"It's been everything I've hoped of," Navarro said. "I'm just so grateful to be playing for a school like UVA. They have an incredible program going on there. I've just had an amazing past few months, playing in Charlottesville, traveling around and playing college tennis, it's been such a great experience for me," Navarro said. "I'm just really grateful to have had this and to continue to have this experience."

Two years ago, Navarro made her WTA debut at the Volvo Car Open, a tournament that is owned by her father Ben. Just a few days after her title at the Easter Bowl ITF, Navarro lost to Germany's Laura Siegemund 7-5, 6-4, and only a few weeks later she reached the semifinals of a $100,000 ITF Women's Pro Circuit event, again on clay and again in her hometown. 

Navarro then reached the girls final at Roland Garros, where she lost to Canadian Leylah Fernandez, who also won her first round match today, beating Shuai Zhang of China 6-3, 6-1, and advanced to the semifinals at the Wimbledon Junior Championships. I asked Navarro how her game has improved over those two years, which include, of course, the lengthy shutdown last year due to the pandemic.

"I think I've improved on my mental game a lot in college tennis," said Navarro, who suffered her first loss in college competition on Sunday to 2019 NCAA champion Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami. "Coming into college tennis as a freshman, playing No. 1 line and just having a lot of expectations of me, it's been a lot of pressure. But it's been a great experience for me, learning how to handle that pressure and deal with nerves, so I feel I've progressed a lot mentally."

Navarro said she has devoted a lot of her effort in the past two years on improving her forehand.

"It used to sort of be a weakness of mine," Navarro said. "I'd run from it a little bit on court. I've been working on that, continuing to improve my backhand, I'm always working on everything, but I think I've progressed a lot in every aspect of my game."

Down 0-30 when serving for the match at 5-3, Navarro brought out the mantra her coach Peter Ayers has made a part of her game.

"Nerves for sure crept in," said Navarro, who had grandparents, parents, siblings and friends supporting her tonight. "Up 5-2, I have this incredible opportunity in front of me, don't mess it up. That got to me a little bit in the 5-2 game and in the first couple of points in the 5-3 game. But my coach and I work a lot, we call it the bounce back, and that's after doing something less than your best, or not how you wanted to, you bounce back and play a good point the next point no matter what. That phrase has helped me a lot in the past few years and it's something I always come back to."

Navarro doesn't have much time to savor her first WTA win, as she is back on the court early Wednesday afternoon against No. 15 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia. Navarro also has doubles later in the day, with Caroline Dolehide.

In addition to Navarro, 19-year-old wild card Hailey Baptiste also advanced, beating lucky loser Dolehide 6-3, 6-3 to set up a meeting with No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia. There are three all-US second round matches Wednesday, with Lauren Davis playing No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens taking on No. 8 seed Madison Keys and No. 13 seed Amanda Anisimova facing Shelby Rogers. Caty McNally is playing Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia Wednesday. No. 14 seed Coco Gauff won her first round night match over Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgari 6-3, 6-0.

New ITA team and individual rankings were scheduled to be released today, but the ITA posted an update stating that singles and doubles rankings were being paused this week and the team rankings, to be released Wednesday, would consist of two methods: the computer and a coaches poll. I can only imagine the number of complaints they must have received to make this change so close to the end of the season, but if it helps get the best teams and the best singles players and doubles teams in the NCAA tournament, I'm all for it. From the ITA's post:

  • Team Rankings – beginning Wednesday, April 7th, the ITA will publish both the ITA Computer Team Ranking Top 50 as well as the ITA Coaches Poll Top 50.  We are prepared to provide both sets of data to the NCAA as early as this week. 
  • Singles & Doubles Rankings – The ITA has decided to “pause” the publishing of ITA Computer Singles and Doubles Rankings for the week of April 5th as our staff and coach governance committees continue to review the best path forward for providing coaches, players, and fans the most accurate collegiate singles and doubles rankings. More information will follow as it becomes available.

For another alternative, see CollegeTennisRanks, which provides a live Division I men's ranking after each dual match result.

My recap of the 12s and 14s Easter Bowl will be up at Tennis Recruiting Network on Friday, with the 16s and 18s recap scheduled for Monday. Steve Pratt, who was on site at the Barnes Tennis Center throughout the two weeks, wrote features for usta.com on champions Liv Hovde and Jerry Shang.  All singles and doubles champions at this year's Easter Bowl are noted at the bottom of each feature.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Volvo Open Takes Center Stage This Week in Charleston, with Navarro and Gauff on Tuesday's Schedule; Just One American ITF Junior Circuit Champion Last Week Outside US with Tournament Cancellations Increasing

I'm back from two weeks in San Diego covering the big junior events there and I will be writing more about my impressions, as well processing photos and videos of the IOSC and Easter Bowl, in the weeks to come. 

And it might be weeks, not days, as I'm excited to have received a credential to cover the WTA Volvo Car Open this week in Charleston South Carolina, remotely of course, as they are not allowing fans or media onsite this year.

The USTA sends out an email every Monday with the names of the top 500 Americans competing in professional events that week, and there aren't too many of those lists that are longer than that of the Volvo Car Open. Former Arizona State star Desirae Krawczyk, who is one of the WTA's top doubles players, got into qualifying and won two matches to make her first main draw in WTA singles. She lost to No. 15 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 6-1, 6-2 and she wasn't alone, with the other two American qualifiers, Asia Muhammad and Grace Min, also falling in straight sets. 

Americans in main draw:
Sofia Kenin[2]
Madison Keys[8]
Amanda Anisimova[13]**
Coco Gauff[14]
Sloane Stephens
Shelby Rogers
Bernarda Pera*
Madison Brengle*
Lauren Davis**
Christina McHale*
Caty McNally**
Francesca Di Lorenzo*
Asia Muhammad[Q]*
Grace Min[Q]*
Hailey Baptiste[WC]
Emma Navarro [WC]
Desirae Krawczyk (qualifier)*
Caroline Dolehide (lucky loser)

*lost first round Monday
**won first round Monday

Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs
Desirae Krawczyk and Alexa Guarachi
Kenin and Mattek-Sands
Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova
CoCo Vandweghe and Ellen Perez

Kenin and Keys are not on Tuesday's schedule, but Rogers, Stephens, Dolehide, Baptiste, Gauff and Navarro are, with Navarro playing the first night match against Renata Zarazua of Mexico, followed by Gauff, who will play Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.

Navarro, who won the 2019 Easter Bowl and received a wild card into the Volvo Car Open that year after winning the USTA Clay Courts in 2018, is now a freshman at the University of Virginia. Navarro had won her first 14 matches in collegiate competition at the top of the lineup until yesterday, when she lost to 2019 NCAA Singles Champion Estella Perez-Somarriba of Miami 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.

For more on Navarro's wild card, see this article from Virginia's website.

The turn for the worse that the Covid pandemic has taken recently in Europe and South America caused the cancellation of several ITF Junior Circuit events there, including a J2 in Italy, a J3 in Paraguay and a J5 in Great Britain last week. Two J2s in the next two weeks in France have been canceled, but the J1 in Bulgaria is on for next week. 

The sole American to win a title outside of San Diego last week was Maximilian Wuelfing, who won the doubles title at the J5 in Cairo Egypt. Wuelfing and partner Joan Torres Espinosa of Spain, seeded No. 7, defeated No. 3 seeds Jan Kobierski of Austria and Aleksa Pisaric of Serbia 7-6(5), 6-7(8), 10-4 in the final. Wuelfing also reached the singles semifinals.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Top Seed Shang, Qualifier Hovde Claim Adidas Easter Bowl ITF Titles; Wild Cards Razeghi and Rabman Take 16s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

Top seed Jerry Shang added an Easter Bowl ITF title to the 14s title he won in 2019, while qualifier Liz Hovde earned her first career ITF title in one of the biggest events on the junior calendar Sunday on the Stadium Court at Barnes Tennis Center. Both came from behind to get those titles, with Shang defeating unseeded Ethan Quinn 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-2 and Hovde beating No. 3 seed Elvina Kalieva 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Hovde, who leaves San Diego on a nine-match winning streak, had dropped the first set in her quarterfinal match with Sarah Hamner on Friday, which provided her with a road map for coming back in the final.

"I had to start out super strong in the second and not let it get me down," said the 15-year-old from McKinney Texas, who was playing in just her fifth ITF event. "She has a really solid overall game style so you have to play the right way to beat her. I had to stay super aggressive on the baseline."

Hovde also stayed positive in another frustrating moment, when she failed to serve out the second set at 5-3, then didn't convert a set point with Kalieva serving at 4-5. But Hovde got back on track quickly, holding at love for a 6-5 lead, then breaking to even the match.

Hovde got off to a quick 3-0 lead in the third set, and she began to play more confidently with every winner she hit and every error Kalieva made.
Kalieva, who did not know Hovde's game prior to the match, regretted the strategy she chose.

"She played really good, obviously," said the 17-year-old from Florida. "I think I should have played more aggressively, she was playing very aggressively against me, and I think that's why she won. I was just putting balls back in instead of playing aggressively. I was hitting more balls in the middle and I think I should have made her move more, hit a lot deeper."

Kalieva was generous in her assessment of Hovde's game.

"I love how she plays," Kalieva said. "She hits a lot of winners, she's aggressive, I like it."

Hovde couldn't decide which was more important to her title, her physical stamina or her mental toughness. 

"I think I just stayed strong throughout the whole tournament," said Hovde, who trains with Phil Dent at his academy in the Dallas area. "I think I had nine matches in total, so I had to stay super strong. I had to keep playing every match and think really positive."

Even with all that matter-of-fact optimism and confidence, Hovde admitted some surprise as she looked back at what she accomplished over the past week.

"It's shocking," Hovde said. "It's crazy."

As the favorite, Shang could hardly call his second Easter Bowl title in three years unexpected, but he knew coming into the tournament after playing the Miami Open qualifying the week before that he would face some tough opponents.

"I'm like the one that everyone's focusing on," said Shang, currently No. 4 in the ITF World Junior rankings. "I'm really happy with the result this week and I played some really good tennis. Some of the Americans, they don't play outside the US, so they come to this tournament as qualifiers, or wild cards, or getting in by USTA ranking. But they're really good players; some of them, honestly, are better than the Top 50 in the ITF, so this is one of the toughest tournaments."

As in the third round, when he lost the opening set to wild card Rohan Murali of San Diego in a tiebreaker, Shang had to change his strategy.

"The most important thing is to make him play," said Shang, who played defense much better than Quinn's previous opponents. "He likes to have those free points on the serve, one serve, plus one forehand winner, those kind of points, so make him play as much as possible, and try to get him tired."

Shang served for the first set after breaking Quinn at 3-4, but didn't get to set point, then had to save two break points serving at 5-all. In the tiebreaker, serving was no advantage, but Quinn managed to hold both his serves at 4-5, and when Shang's backhand went wide, Quinn had the first set.

Shang's strategy to keep the ball in play and tire Quinn out began to pay dividends in the second set, with Quinn, who won the title at the IOSC Grade 1 last Saturday and had only one day to rest before his first Easter Bowl match Monday, showing signs of fatigue.

"In the second set, he started being negative after a few mistakes, and at that point, I know that I have a chance to keep going like this and he'll just keep making mistakes and I'll be able to break him soon," said the 16-year-old from China, who trains with Johnny Parkes at the IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida.

Quinn recognized that his self-criticism was making the hole he had dug himself even deeper.

"I felt good in the beginning, but I kind of got a little complacent after winning the first set," said the 17-year-old from Fresno. "I thought he would hand it over; Jerry was starting to play a lot better, and my attitude definitely got very very negative, which I'm not very proud of. Jerry just played too well, and I wasn't finding an answer to him, running down balls, even if I was hitting big forehands."

In the third set, Quinn was again broken early, going down 2-0, but he got the break back, and had game points serving at 1-2, only to surrender that game to Shang after five deuces.

"I was up 2-0, and then I started rushing again, like I was in the first set," Shang said. "Then I got my second set mentality back, making more balls, stepping in more aggressive. Overall it was pretty good in the third."
Shang said the feeling after winning an Easter Bowl title doesn't change.

"It's just as important as the 14s, and I'm just as happy," said Shang, who is the first boy to win the 14s and 18s since Mackenzie McDonald in 2009 and 2012. "It's a really important tournament and I'm very happy to win it."

Shang will head to Europe for clay court events this spring and summer, while Quinn is planning on playing a Grade 3 in Central America later this month. Shang's plans were always going to include the junior slams this summer, but Quinn's horizons on the junior tennis front have widened considerably after his 11-match winning streak this fortnight.

"That was something completely, not even on the table," Quinn said of the possibility he could qualify for junior slams this year. "I wasn't even thinking about it when I came into the tournament. It's definitely crazy. But I can compete with anyone on the other side of the court, it doesn't matter their ranking or anything like that, I can still play my game and if I'm doing that I can beat anyone really."

The boys and girls 16s singles finals were played at the same time as the girls 18s final, with wild cards Alexander Razeghi and Theodora Rabman earning their first Easter Bowl titles.  Razeghi defeated the last Southern Californian left in the tournament, wild card Learner Tien 7-5, 6-1, while Rabman beat No. 4 seed Tatum Evans 6-2, 6-1.

Razeghi and Tien, two left-handers with big games, were able to bring out the best in each other during the first set.

"He's more of a hard-hitter, finding his forehand a lot," said Razeghi, a 14-year-old from Houston. "I'm more of a grinder, but finding my forehand; it was a good match because both of our games kind of link together, so it was really fun. One time, at the changeover, it was like 5-4 maybe, I was like, this is really good tennis, I was like, wow."

Once he secured the first set, Razeghi was able to play with less anxiety.

"It was good for me to get that first set, because that was a really tight first set," Razeghi said. "Whoever won that first set was going to go on with the match. It was really important...I was getting my return game in, especially late in the first set and went on from there in the second set."

Razeghi, who was one of eight No. 9 seeds, needed a wild card due to his lack of play in 16s over the past year.

"I haven't played a [USTA] National in over a year, so it was good for me to get that wild card," said Razeghi, who won back-to-back ITF Grade 5 titles in January. He also received a wild card into the ITF Grade 1 the week before the Easter Bowl and won two matches, which helped his confidence.

"I had a really good tournament in the J1," said Razeghi, who trains with Jon Glover and the USTA's National Campus in Lake Nona. "And it gave me a lot of momentum and confidence for this tournament. It was a really good boost playing people at a higher level than I am, so I can get a feel of every game."

Tien, who trains at the USTA's Player Development Center in Carson, was happy with his run to the final as an unseeded wild card.

"I feel like this was a pretty good tournament," said the 15-year-old from Irvine. "I played really well. I couldn't really find a way to come through that, but I'm proud of the tournament I've had."

Razeghi added another gold ball to his collection, although he wasn't sure of the exact number he has back home. 

"Six, seven?," he guessed. "I won a lot of doubles in 12s, maybe about five, something like that."

Razeghi will now return to ITF tournaments, with the three Grade 4s in Florida next on his schedule.

Rabman and Evans are good friends and frequent doubles partners, although they did not play doubles together this week due to Rabman's status as a wild card. They know each other's games well, however, and on this day, Rabman used that knowledge to her advantage.

"I think I played well, and I think I played smart against a girl who is a big hitter," said Rabman, who turns 16 later this month. "A lot of slices, high balls, nothing special, just stay the route."

As with Razeghi, Rabman did not have any 16s matches on her record, so she needed a wild card.

"I haven't played 16s in over a year," said Rabman, who trains at with Greg Lumpkin at the John McEnroe Academy in Syosset New York. "I play 18s, but I didn't want to play 18s at Super Nationals, so I'm grateful for the USTA giving me a wild card."

Rabman, who won the last girls 14s Nationals in August of 2019, has played in important finals before, but she said the most nerve-racking match was in the semifinals.

"I was more nervous yesterday for the semis, just because you're competing for a ball in the semis," Rabman said. "In the final, I was like, you know what, whatever happens, happens. I'm playing well out here. Of course there are some nerves, it's a final, but I've learned how to handle them better throughout the tournament. I played a lot of hard-hitters this tournament and I was playing smart, not letting them get into the match, just playing my game."

Evans, who shared a long, emotional embrace with Rabman at the net, won the doubles title with Natalie Block, which helped her get past the disappointment in singles.

"I just needed to recover quickly, which was good," said Evans, who lost in the Orange Bowl 16s final last December. "I had to force myself to get over it, which I did a good job of, and just play well in doubles."

Evans credited Rabman for her approach in the final.

"She played a really solid match," said Evans, a blue chip freshman from Virginia. "She did what she needed to do to beat me. She obviously knows me very, very well, I've known her for years, since I picked up a racquet."

Rabman wasn't sure she had grasped the reality of winning her second gold ball.

"I'm still in shock, not really processing it," Rabman said. "I feel that a lot of good things will come from this, I feel like it will really help me in the future and hopefully I can keep it going, the good results."

In the girls doubles, top seeds Block and Evans defeated unseeded Vivian Miller and Lexington Reed 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

The boys 16s doubles title went to unseeded Ethan Schiffman and Emon van Loben Sels, who defeated unseeded David Saye and Eli Stephenson 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-1.