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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

ATP and ITA Announce Accelerator Program for D-I Men; McDonald Ousts Top Seed Nadal at Australian Open; Kang Falls Short, Williams and Tien Win Doubles at Traralgon J300; Penickova Twins to Meet in Bolton Semis

College tennis is now officially a part of the pathway to ATP success, with the ATP and Intercollegiate Tennis Association announcing today that wild cards into Challengers will be distributed to Division I men competitors who finish the upcoming season ranked in the Top 20. Similar to the recent program the ATP introduced for juniors, there are tiers, with the Top 10 getting main draw wild cards and those in the Top 20 receiving qualifying wild cards. From the ATP article on the program:

Players ranked in the Top 20 of the ITA final singles rankings at the beginning of June, who have finished their education, will be granted up to eight Accelerator Spots at Challenger 50 and 75 tournaments, with opportunities split between main draw (Top 10) and qualifying (11-20). Players who reach the quarter-finals or better of the individual NCAA Division I Tennis Championships will also qualify for the Accelerator Programme if not already eligible via their ITA ranking. These opportunities will be available from 1 July each season, beginning in 2023, for a period of 12 months.

In addition, players who remain in education and qualify for the programme will receive six opportunities over six months (July–December), enabling them to benefit from the programme during their college off-season and parts of their individual fall season.

The details have not yet been finalized, and as this is an official ATP program, there will be a formal process for accessing it, but this is obviously a huge plus for those choosing to attend college rather than go straight to the ITF's World Tennis Tour men's circuit.

The wording that players must have "finished their education," is deliberately vague, and does not mean someone like say, Ben Shelton, wouldn't qualify for these wild cards just because he did not yet have his degree. The ATP is still working out how to determine the best way to provide these opportunities without pushing everyone in the Top 20 out of college tennis, so it's likely that additional criteria will be established. But that is one reason why those in the Top 20 wishing to stay in school will also have access to wild cards, receiving six, rather than the eight, but still rewarded generously for their success in collegiate competition.

While this is one of the most significant developments in college tennis in the nearly two decades I've been following it, the next obvious question concerns the women, who are not included in this ATP program (or the junior one). Unlike the ATP, the WTA does not have control over the level of women's tournaments similar to that of Challengers, with the ITF serving as the organization that oversees the women's tournaments with prize money from $15,000 to $100,000. That means a similar program for women will need to come from the ITF, but given the recent announcement regarding the ITA's adoption of the ITF's World Tennis Number, it's reasonable to expect that such a program will be introduced, by the ITF, for women. The push for equity in women's sports has never been greater than it is right now at the NCAA level, and the ITF has also proclaimed that as part of its mission, so something is bound to be established for women, the sooner the better.

The ITA's article on today's ATP announcement is here.

The first few days of the Australian Open have been great for American men, with a total of 13 reaching the second round, the most since 1996. Lucky losers Denis Kudla and Michael Mmoh picked up first round wins Wednesday, as did Maxime Cressy(UCLA) and qualifier Brandon Holt(USC). But most of Wednesday's buzz was around a second round match, with 2016 NCAA singles and doubles champion Mackenzie McDonald defeating top seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in Rod Laver Arena, as rain fell outside in Melbourne Park. Given the opponent and the stage, it's the biggest win of McDonald's career, and he played outstanding tennis throughout. Nadal injured his hip in the second set and was obviously hobbled the rest of the match, but the former UCLA star was able to put all that aside and focus on the finish line. The ATP published this article on McDonald prior to his match with Nadal; it contains some fascinating insights into his junior development and the role his family played in it.

NC State freshman Diana Shnaider had her chance to shine on Margaret Court Arena and the 18-year-old Russian took it, giving No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece a true test before falling 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a second round match. Whether Shnaider will play for the Wolfpack in the next few weeks remains to be seen, but now at 92 in the WTA live rankings, there's many an opportunity available to her on the WTA tour in the near future.

Wednesday's first round matches featuring Americans:

Brandon Holt[Q] d. Aleks Vukic[Q](AUS) 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
Maxime Cressy d. Albert Ramos-Vinolas(ESP) 7-6(2), 7-5, 3-6, 6-3
Adrian Mannarino(FRA) d. John Isner 6-7(5), 7-6(8), 6-2, 6-2
Michael Mmoh[LL] d. Laurent Lokoli[Q](FRA) 4-6, 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-2
Denis Kudla[LL] d. Roman Safiullin(RUS) 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(6), 6-3

Marketa Vondrousova(CZE) d. Alison Riske-Amritraj 5-7, 6-1, 6-4
Claire Liu d. Madison Brengle 6-3, 6-4
Lauren Davis d. Danka Kovinic(MNE) 1-6, 7-5, 6-1
Anastasia Potapova(RUS) d. Sloane Stephens 7-6(2), 6-4
Irina-Camelia Begu[27](ROU) d. Elli Mandlik[LL] 3-6, 7-6(1), 6-2

Wednesday's second round matches featuring Americans:

Jessica Pegula[3] d. Aliaksandra Sasnovich(BLR) 6-2, 7-6(5)
Coco Gauff[7] d. Emma Raducanu(GBR) 6-3, 7-6(4)
Danielle Collins[13] d. Karolina Muchova(CZE) 6-7(1), 6-2, 7-6(6)
Kateryna Baindl(UKR) d. Caty McNally 6-1, 7-6(4)
Bernarda Pera d. Qinwen Zheng[29](CHN) 6-4, 6-4
Madison Keys[10] d. Xinyu Wang(CHN) 6-3, 6-2

Mackenzie McDonald d. Rafael Nadal[1](ESP) 6-4, 6-4, 7-5
Frances Tiafoe[16] d. Jerry Shang[Q](CHN) 6-4, 6-4, 6-1
Sebastian Korda[29] d. Yosuke Watanuki[Q](JPN) 6-2, 7-5, 6-4
Jiri Lehecka(CZE) d. Christopher Eubanks[WC] 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3

Thursday's second round matches featuring Americans:

Katie Volynets[Q] v Veronika Kudermetova[9](RUS)
Taylor Townsend[WC] v Ekaterina Alexandrova[19](RUS)
Shelby Rogers v Aryna Sabalenka[5](BLR)
Lauren Davis v Elise Mertens[26](BEL)
Claire Liu v Belinda Bencic[12](SUI)

Denis Kudla[LL] v Ugo Humbert(FRA)
Maxime Cressy v Holger Rune[9](DEN)
Taylor Fritz[8] v Alexei Popyrin[WC](AUS)
Ben Shelton v Nicolas Jarry[Q](CHI)
JJ Wolf v Diego Schwartzman[23](ARG)
Michael Mmoh[LL] v Alexander Zverev[12](GER)
Brandon Holt[Q] v Roberto Bautista Agut[24](ESP)
Tommy Paul v Alejandro Davidovich Fokina[30](ESP)
Jenson Brooksby v Casper Ruud[2](NOR)

Rain throughout the day kept the first round of Australian Open Junior Championships qualifying from finishing, with only results in only five of the 16 girls matches and six of 16 boys matches. Matches are underway now, with live scoring here, but there is a long day ahead with many players scheduled for two matches today. University of Florida freshman Goran Zgola[7] of Poland is through to the final round of qualifying, where he'll face SMU recruit Aayush Bhat[15].

The ITF J300 in Traralgon did conclude as scheduled Wednesday despite the rain, with two unseeded champions: Melisa Ercan of Turkey and Federico Cina of Italy.

Cina, 15, defeated Kyle Kang 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in the first J300 final for either player. Ercan, 17, upset No. 7 seed Mirra Andreeva of Russia 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Ercan had beaten top seed Sara Saito of Japan in the first round. 

Americans did earn one title in Traralgon, with Learner Tien and Cooper Williams taking the boys doubles. The No. 6 seeds defeated the unseeded Czech team of Jakub Filip and Maxim Mrva 6-2, 6-4 in the final. It's Williams' sixth ITF Junior Circuit doubles title at the J300 level or above.

Andreeva and partner Alina Korneeva won the girls doubles title, with the No. 2 seeds defeating the third-seeded Japanese team of Sayaka Ishii and Ena Koike 6-3, 6-2.

Kristina and Annika Penickova, 14s doubles finalists at 2022 Easter Bowl
Five Americans have advanced to the semifinals of the Tennis Europe Category 1 tournament in Bolton England, and four of them will face off against each other for a place in the final. 

Twins Kristina and Annika Penickova will meet in the girls semifinals after No. 13 seed Kristina beat No. 11 seed Rebecca Malstrom of Sweden 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 and No. 5 seed Annika defeated No. 3 seed Maia Burcescu of Romania 6-4, 6-2. A third US girl, No. 4 seed Julieta Pareja advanced to the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-3 decision over No. 10 seed Hollie Smart of Great Britain. Pareja faces top seed Giulia Popa of Romania in the semifinals.

No. 8 seed Michael Antonius and No. 9 seed Marcel Latak will meet in the boys semifinals, after Antonius defeated unseeded Filippo Garbero of Italy 6-1, 6-1 and Latak beat No. 2 seed Daniel Jade of Lebanon 6-0, 4-6, 7-5. No. 4 seed Jordan Lee lost to No. 12 seed Jules Rimbaud of France 6-4, 7-6(2).  

The Penickova twins have advanced to the doubles final, as have Antonius and Lee. 

Live scoring is available via TennisTicker.