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Friday, June 3, 2022

May Aces; Stearns Turns Pro; Shelton Reaches Little Rock Challenger Semifinals; Sierra Rolls on in Roland Garros Junior Championships; Miller Claims Second Michigan State High School D-I Singles Title

My monthly Aces column for Tennis Recruiting Network is chock-full of great performances by current and former collegians, with many outstanding results from juniors also included. I couldn't begin to feature everyone who won a pro tournament last month, but I paid special attention to those who earned the biggest titles of their careers or who won several tournaments in the previous five weeks. 

Two of the aces from last month are in the news today, with Peyton Stearns of Texas announcing that she is turning pro after leading her team to a second consecutive team title and winning the singles championship last weekend, the first woman from the Texas women's program to accomplish that.

For more on Stearns' decision, see this article from the Texas website.

Men's singles champion Ben Shelton of Florida is still planning to return to Florida; whether that changes if he continues to experience the success he has had this week at the ATP Challenger 100 in Little Rock is an open question. 

Shelton's second round match with No. 2 seed Emilio Gomez(USC) of Ecuador was scheduled for Thursday, but rain pushed that match to this morning. Shelton, a wild card, beat ATP No. 152 Gomez 6-4, 6-4 for his best ranking win on the professional circuits. In his quarterfinal match, the 19-year-old left-hander came back from a break down in the first set to beat 20-year-old qualifier Roman Andres Burruchaga of Argentina 7-5, 6-1 and will play in his first Challenger semifinal on Saturday against No. 4 seed Jason Kubler of Australia.  Aleks Kovacevic(Illinois) is also through to the semifinals, ending the impressive run of Arizona State rising sophomore Murphy Cassone with a 7-6(5), 6-1 victory.

Free live streaming with Mike Cation providing commentary is available at the ATP Challenger website.

The junior titles at Roland Garros will be decided on Saturday, with boys and girls singes and doubles finals all on the schedule. The girls final will begin at 5 a.m. EDT, with unseeded Solana Sierra facing No. 9 seed Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic. Sierra, the 17-year-old from Argentina, defeated her fourth seed of the tournament in today's semifinals, taking out No. 13 seed Nikola Bartunkova of the Czech Republic 7-5, 6-0.

The battle of the Czech doubles partners went to Havlickova, with the 17-year-old right-hander coming from 5-2 down in the third set to beat Sara Bejlek 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-5. Bejlek served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4 but that deficit appeared to free Havlickova to swing away and she blasted winners throughout the final five games of the match, winning all of them.

The boys final will feature two 16-year-old Europeans who have never played: unseeded Gilles Bailly of Belgium and No. 14 seed Gabriel Debru of France. 

Bailly took advantage of the rain delay that came when he had lost the first set to unseeded Martyn Pawelski of Poland 6-1, because he came back to breeze through the final two sets 6-1, 6-2. Debru was up 5-2 in the third set over No. 10 seed Dino Prizmic of Croatia when the rain became too heavy to continue, but Prizmic couldn't rally and Debru closed out his 6-1, 0-6, 6-3 victory.

Unlike in the singles, the top seeds in the doubles have stayed true to their expectations, with No. 1 and No. 2 meeting in both girls and boys finals.

Top seeds Havlickova and Bejlek defeated No. 7 seeds Lucija Ciric Bagaric of Croatia and Sofia Costoulas of Belgium 6-4, 6-2, ending Coustoulas' doubles winning streak at 20. Havlickova and Bejlek's opponents will be No. 2 seeds Bartunkova and Celine Naef of Switzerland, who beat No. 4 seeds Yaroslava Bartashevich of France and Ksenia Zaytseva of Russia 3-6, 6-1, 10-7.

The last American junior in the draw, Nicholas Godsick, lost a tough one in the doubles semifinals. Godsick and Henrique Rochas of Portugal, who were unseeded, lost to top seeds Edas Butvilas of Lithuania and Mili Poljicak of Croatia 6-4, 3-6, 10-8. Godsick and Rochas led 7-4 in the match tiebreaker, but lost five points in succession to give Butvilas and Poljicak two match points. Godsick crushed a return to save the first, but they were unable to outlast Butvilas and Poljicak, who took the second match point.

Butvilas, who won the Wimbledon boys doubles title last year, and Poljicak will play No. 2 seed Ignacio Buse and Gonzalo Bueno of Peru in the final, after Buse and Bueno defeated Pawelski and Peter Nad of Slovakia 6-1, 6-4.

For more on today's singles semifinals, see this article from the ITF Junior website.

In addition to playing for the women's singles title tomorrow, Coco Gauff will be playing for the women's doubles title on Sunday, after she and Jessica Pegula defeated Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend 6-4, 7-6(4). Gauff and Pegula, seeded No. 8, will face the unseeded team of Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic of France.

I don't cover much high school tennis, but I do try to get to the finals of whatever division of the Michigan State High School Association is playing at Kalamazoo College's Stowe Stadium. In Michigan, the girls play in the spring, the boys in the fall, and the girls definitely got the better weather for their tournament this academic year. It was Division I in Kalamazoo this year, and I was eager to see Ann Arbor Pioneer's Reese Miller, who won the Division I title last year as a sophomore, go for her second title at No. 1 singles. Not only did she accomplish that, losing just 13 games in her five wins, but Pioneer also won the team title, by one point over Bloomfield Hills, after the two schools tied for first place last year.

Miller, whose sister Kari plays No. 1 for Michigan, did not get an opportunity to play on the same high school team, as Covid cancelled the high school season in 2020 when Kari was a senior and Reese a sophomore. But they should get a second chance to play on the same team, as Miller has committed to Michigan for 2023, when Kari will be a senior.

Although there were obviously reasons to expect that Reese would follow her sister to Michigan, she was determined to look at other programs as well, taking official visits to South Carolina, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.

"Many schools didn't look at me at first because they just assumed I was going to go to Michigan," said the blue chip, who is No. 17 in the nation on Tennis Recruiting. "So I reached out to them, saying no, I'm definitely looking at my options. And then I was like, oh wait, I am going to Michigan. But I definitely think I did try to give them a fair chance, but Michigan is where I want to be."

Miller said that she "loved all the schools I visited and it was so hard to decide. But with Covid being a factor, just so many unknowns still, I felt good going to school near home, being close to family, it's super important. My parents being able to watch me play is so amazing. And being able to be with my sister, we're really close, so that was a huge thing for me."