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Friday, September 17, 2021

My US Open Junior Championships Recap; Notes and Observations From New York; College Stars, Damm Reach Champaign $15K Semifinals

If you didn't follow my daily coverage of the US Open junior championships herelast week or at the ITF Junior Circuit website, my wrap-up today for the Tennis Recruiting Network is a good synopsis of the titles by Robin Montgomery and Daniel Rincon in singles, with coverage of the doubles champions as well.

When I'm on-site at an event (and this was the first junior slam I had covered in person in two years, since the 2019 US Open juniors), I don't have time to report on the incidental information or observations that pop up unexpectedly, so today I'm going to pass along some of those things from last week's tournament.

While I did not like doing my junior interviews on Zoom when we were all on-site (an outside alternative was certainly doable), I still believe that actually being in New York to watch matches was worthwhile. Although I did not watch an entire junior match from start to finish until the finals, I still was able to ask better questions and get a better feel for the match when I was sitting courtside, rather than watching a live stream. 

I was the only credentialed journalist on-site who requested interviews with juniors for daily articles, regardless of their nationality, but in a discussion with the employees at the USTA who arranged the interviews, I learned which countries were likely to care about the progress of their juniors. Those mentioned to me were Belgium, France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.  This, of course, assumes that they had juniors in the tournament to begin with, but that is not the four countries I would have guessed. 

The quality of English that the international juniors speak astounds me. It wasn't so long ago that it was rolling the dice when requesting an interview with a player from a non-English speaking country, but now juniors who are not fluent in English are a rarity. Three of the four junior finalists--from China, Belarus and Spain--were speaking English as a second language, but all three provided great insight and nuance in their interviews. Monolingual as I am, I have nothing but admiration for the skill and work that it takes to master another language, when becoming a world class tennis player is obviously their top priority.

The community of tennis journalists is a small one, and my interactions with those who focus on the professional side of the sport are usually limited to Wimbledon and the US Open, the two major tournaments that I have covered regularly, in person, for many years. Although many of those I have come to know over the years were not there, due to the drastic reduction in journalists the USTA imposed this year, I did have an opportunity to talk, face-to-face (mask-to-mask) with those who, in the past, have expressed an interest in the junior game. Those random, what-do-you-know-about-x in-person conversations I had with (shameless name-dropping alert) Jon Wertheim, Peter Bodo, Liz Clarke, Ben Rothenburg, Chris Clarey, David Kane, Victoria Chiesa, Courtney Nguyen and Mary Carillo illustrated to me just how much I've missed those interactions in the past two years of media covid cancellations/restrictions. 

I also enjoyed talking with Nick McCarvel, Blair Henley, Marc Lucero, Brad Stine and Mike Cation, who were working for either the world feed for ESPN or US Open radio, or, in Blair's case, as an on-court master of ceremonies. And that leads me into another topic, which is the fantastic option that fans now have to watch any and every match they want to see via ESPN+. There is no better bargain out there (well, maybe the free Challenger streams) than a $6.99 a month ESPN subscription, which can be canceled at any time, and provides access to all courts at a slam. Every tennis fan who can't, or isn't comfortable with traveling to slams, has to be grateful for that option.

Speaking of world feed commentators, I ran into Bradley Klahn, who was doing some of that work, while also preparing to resume his professional career. The 2010 NCAA champion at Stanford, who reached 63 in the ATP rankings despite chronic back problems, intends to return to competitive tennis, although he said he has no firm time frame or schedule. He is hitting now, and hopes to get medical clearance to return for 2022.

The trend of increasing prize money for earlier rounds at slams has meant the decision about turning pro extends to those who lost in qualifying as well. San Diego 18s finalist Reese Brantmeier, who won two rounds in qualifying, earned $42,000, which she can't accept if she wishes to retain her NCAA eligibility. Brantmeier, who is a senior, although she doesn't turn 17 until next month, said she had not decided whether to take the money, saying she still had "a lot of time. I want to see how this week goes, how the rest of the year goes, and go from there."

The ballrunners at the US Open are great. Period. Much respect to their supervisors and trainers, who gave them the structure and feedback that resulted in uniformly outstanding performances day-in, day-out, regardless of the court assignment.

I will be writing an article later this month about the Electronic Line Calling System used in all matches, and how the juniors felt about it, but overall, it was popular and, by mid-week, no longer a novelty for anyone, players or fans.

All told, it was a great tournament, and although I didn't like the draw size reduction, at all, I am grateful I had the opportunity to cover a junior slam again in person. Here's hoping that option is available to me again in 2022.

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The singles semifinals are set for the $15,000 men's Pro Circuit tournament in Champaign, Illinois. Three current or recent collegians, plus 17-year-old Martin Damm, will play Saturday for a place in the finals, while the Illinois team of Karlis Ozolins and Kweisi Kenyatte have reached the doubles final.

Recent Ohio State graduate John McNally, the No. 5 seed, defeated No. 3 seed Omni Kumar(Duke) 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 and will take on No. 2 seed Damm, who beat Nathan Ponwith(Arizona State) 7-6(3), 6-4.  

In the top half, Ohio State junior Cannon Kingsley will face Baylor junior Adrian Boitan, with both unseeded. Kingsley defeated qualifier Drew Baird(UCLA) 6-0, 6-3, while Boitan took out Dali Blanch 6-3, 6-2.

Ozolins and Kenyatte, the No. 4 seeds, will play unseeded Ryan Shane and Ponwith in the doubles final Saturday. Shane and Ponwith prevented an all-Illini final when they defeated No. 3 seed Alex Brown and Zeke Clark 7-5, 1-6, 15-13 in today's semifinals.

2 comments:

Stephanie Myles said...

Hey - what about me???? :-P

Colette Lewis said...

You're right, I should have mentioned airport conversations too!