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.