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.