Schedule a training visit to the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD by clicking on the banner above

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Lyutova Wins 29th Straight Match to Claim ITF J60 Corpus Christi Title, Gaskell Earns Boys Title; Sonobe Reaches $15K Final; Two Gators Advance to Charleston Challenger Final

Christina Lyutova, a 13-year-old from Russia, who lives and trains in the Seattle area, has lost three matches this year, all at two tournaments this spring. She lost in the third round of the Las Vegas ITF J60, her first ITF Junior Circuit tournament, to Emily Robertson. A few weeks later, she lost in the first round of the Easter Bowl 16s to Kenzie Nguyen, then lost her first backdraw match, to Addison Lanton. Lyutova has not lost since, reeling off 29 straight wins, including the USTA 16s Clay Court and Hard Court Championships, with the last six at the J60 in Corpus Christi this week.

Lyutova, unseeded, did not drop a set in claiming her first ITF Junior Circuit title, beating unseeded Kaia Giribalan 6-2, 6-0 in today's final.

Kalamazoo 16s finalist Lachlan Gaskell also won his first ITF Junior Circuit title in Corpus Christi, with the unseeded 16-year-old defeating No. 5 seed Prathinav Chunduru 6-3, 6-3.  

The boys doubles title went to top seeds Xavier Calvelo and Andre Alcantara, who beat unseeded Gaskell and Simon Caldwell 6-4, 6-3. The unseeded team of Lani Brotman and Katiana Gonzalez won the girls doubles title, beating No. 7 seeds Lyla Middleton and Welles Newman 6-2, 6-4 in the final. It's the first ITF Junior Circuit title for the 16-year-old Brotman and 15-year-old Gonzalez.

Fifteen-year-old Wakana Sonobe of Japan has won only three ITF Junior Circuit matches since claiming her first J300 title in June, but she has made her second ITF women's World Tennis Tour final of her career at the $15,000 tournament in Hilton Head South Carolina. Sonobe, who received entry via the ITF's Junior Reserved program, defeated 2023 NCAA singles finalist Layne Sleeth(Florida/Oklahoma) of Canada, the No. 5 seed, 7-6(5), 6-4 in today's semifinals. She will play qualifier Sophia Biolay of France, a junior at Central Florida, for the title Sunday. Biolay defeated University of Oklahoma senior Florencia Urrutia of Argentina 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in the other semifinal today.

Sonobe also reached today's doubles final, with Texas A&M freshman Lucciana Perez Alarcon of Peru. The unseeded pair lost to top seeds Mia Yamakita and Connie Hsu(Penn) of Taiwan 6-2 7-5.

Two former University of Florida Gators will face off tomorrow at the ATP Challenger 75 in Charleston South Carolina, with the winner earning his first ATP Challenger title.

Wild card Oliver Crawford, an All-American at Florida in 2019 and 2020, advanced to his first Challenger final today when qualifier Ernesto Escobedo of Mexico retired trailing 6-4, 2-1. Crawford will face unseeded 19-year-old Abdullah Shelbayh of Jordan, who reached his second ATP Challenger final with 1 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over unseeded Ryan Peniston(Memphis) of Great Britain. Shelbahy turned pro after his 2021-22 freshman year in Gainesville.

The doubles title in Charleston went to No. 2 seeds Luke Johnson(Clemson) of Great Britain and Skander Mansouri(Wake Forest) of Tunisia, who beat alternates Crawford and Nicholas Bybel(Bucknell) 6-4, 6-4 in this afternoon's final.

The third, and most recent Florida Gator to play for a title Sunday is 2023 graduate Will Grant, who advanced to his second USTA men's $15,000 final in the past three weeks with a win today in Albuquerque New Mexico. The 22-year-old qualifier defeated No. 5 seed Jaimee Floyd Angele of France 2-6, 6-0, 6-2 and will play No. 2 seed Liam Draxl(Kentucky) of Canada, who beat No. 4 seed Keegan Smith(UCLA) 6-4, 6-3.  Draxl and Grant met two weeks ago in the Champaign $15K final, with Draxl earning a 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Smith and Colin Markes(Texas), the No. 3 seeds, took the doubles title in Albuquerque, beating the unseeded team of Andrew Fenty(Michigan) and Axel Nefve(Notre Dame/Florida) 7-5, 6-4 in this afternoon's final.

2022 University of Florida graduate Mccartney Kessler wasn't able to make it a quartet of Gators in USTA Pro Circuit singles finals Sunday, as the wild card lost to top seed Taylor Townsend 7-5, 6-4 today in the semifinals of the $60,000 women's tournament in Templeton California. Townsend will face No. 8 seed Renata Zarazua of Mexico, who defeated No. 4 seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus 6-3, 6-4.

It will be NC State Wolfpack teammates against each other for the doubles title in Templeton, with Kessler and Alana Smith playing 2022 NCAA doubles champion Jaeda Daniel and Jessie Aney(UNC). Both teams are unseeded.

A third NC State alum, Diana Shnaider of Russia, lost in her first WTA final today in Ningbo China to top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, 6-2, 6-1.

Friday, September 29, 2023

ITF J300 Pan American Closed Recap, Videos; ITA All-American Championships Pre-Qualifying Draws; Miami Women Beat USTA Junior Team; Shnaider Reaches First WTA Final

My last ITF junior circuit tournament until the Eddie Herr usually is played in October, but this year's ITF J300 Pan American Closed moved to September this year, which didn't provide much recovery time for those of us who were at the US Open this year. My recap of the first ITF J300 titles for Maya Joint and Alex Frusina in Houston is available today at the Tennis Recruiting Network; if you weren't able to follow my in-depth daily coverage, it should serve as an overview of the event, played for the first time at the Giammalva Racquet Club.

The club was very nice, with 20 courts and abundant shade, which was welcome, given the mid-90s temperatures. But it did not offer viewing above and behind the courts, as College Park and Kalamazoo have, so my videos of the finals are of the individual players, from not-ideal side angles. The videos of finalists Tyra Grant and Alex Razeghi can be found my clicking on their names.

The pre-qualifying draws have been posted for the women's ITA All-American Championships in Cary NC and the men's ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa OK.  

You may notice that Tennis Recruiting Network is now adding a player's World Tennis Number when he or she is mentioned in an article; the ITA, although not using the WTN for seeding, is now posting a player's WTN on the draw.

Again, kudos for transparency, but it does show just how far the ITF's system has to go to provide meaningful comparisons. The World Tennis Number has a wider range than UTR, with 40 the number for beginners and 1 the number for top pros. UTR is 1 for beginners and 16 for top pros. 

In the men's pre-qualifying, Oklahoma's Mark Mandlik, a 17-32 seed, has the lowest WTN at 3.9. There are several players with no WTN; the highest is Cal's Tim Stepanovat 16.8. 

In the women's pre-qualifying, No. 11 seed DJ Bennett of Auburn has the lowest WTN at 8.9; the highest is Patrycj Niewiadomska of Northern Arizona at 16.8.

Play begins Saturday at 9 a.m. EDT in Cary and 8 a.m. CDT in Tulsa.

Cracked Racquets will provide its CrossCourt YouTube coverage of the main draw beginning next Wednesday. 

It's been quite a while since the USTA organized a Junior National team to take on a Division I college team, but yesterday one took place at the University of Miami, with the women's team defeating the junior 4-3, although the clinch came at 4-1. The US girls participating (the Miami website refers to it as the Junior Fed Cup team, but none of the three girls actually named to what is now called the Junior Billie Jean King Cup team played) were: Annika Penickova, Kristina Penickova, Anita Tu, Shannon Lam, Valeria Glozman and Monika Ekstrand. Results can be found here

Nineteen-year-old Diana Shnaider of Russia, who led the North Carolina State team to last year's NCAA finals as a freshman, has reached the first WTA final of her four-month pro career at the 250 level event in Ningbo China. Shnaider, who defeated 18-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-1 in the semifinals after earning her second WTA Top 20 win in the quarterfinals over No. 14 Petra Kvitova. Shnaider, who is now up to 63 in the WTA live rankings, will face No. 7 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the final. 

Shnaider does have a WTA 125 title on her resume, last fall's win in Uruguay, but those are considered to be as Challengers are on the men's side, not WTA tournaments.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Dostanic, Quinn Advance to Charleston Challenger Quarterfinals; Pre-Qualifying for ITA All-American Championships Begins Saturday in Tulsa and Cary; Drucker Feature Article on Alex Michelsen

Six of the eight quarterfinalists at the ATP Challenger 75 in Charleston South Carolina played college tennis, with two of them participants in the 2022-23 season. 

University of Southern California's Stefan Dostanic, who is listed on the Trojans' 2023-24 roster as a fifth-year graduate student, has reached his first Challenger quarterfinal with a 7-6(3), 6-3 win over fellow qualifier Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern) today. Dostanic will play former Florida All-American Oliver Crawford, who defeated Laurent Lokoli of France 7-6(3), 6-2. It's the third Challenger quarterfinal for the 24-year-old from South Carolina.

2023 NCAA singles champion Ethan Quinn is through to his second career Challenger quarterfinal after defeating qualifier Aidan Mayo 7-5, 7-5. The 19-year-old, who left the University of Georgia for pro tennis after winning the NCAA title, also reached the quarterfinals this summer at the Challenger in Chicago. Quinn will face former Florida Gator Abdullah Shelbayh of Jordan, who defeated Brandon Holt(USC) 7-5, 7-5. Like Quinn, Shelbayh left after his freshman year (Quinn did redshirt his first semester in 2022); unlike Quinn, Shelbayh played at the bottom of the lineup, going 5-1 at No. 6 singles in 2022. He moved into the ATP Top 300 quickly however, and reached a Challenger 125 final in February.

The other all-college quarterfinal features No. 6 seed Adam Walton(Tennessee) of Australia and former Memphis standout Ryan Peniston of Great Britain. 

The top half quarterfinal will have last week's champion in Columbus, No. 7 seed Denis Kudla, taking on qualifier Ernesto Escobedo of Mexico. Kudla beat Duke senior Garrett Johns 6-3, 6-3, while Escobedo defeated top seed Enzo Couacaud of France 7-6(6), 7-5.

Pre-qualifying for the ITA All-American Championships begins on Saturday, for the men in Tulsa Oklahoma and for the women in Cary North Carolina. 

In the past, the selections for each event(pre-qualifying, qualifying and main draw) have been released to the public on the ITA website, but that hasn't been the case this year, although John Parsons was kind enough to send me this selection document for the women, which is a 32 draw for main, 64 for qualifying and 96 for pre-qualifying.  The selection criteria for women can be found here

Michigan has three women in the main draw, the most of any school, although North Carolina has eight among main and qualifying: two in the main and six in the qualifying.

US Open girls champion Katherine Hui of Stanford received a qualifying wild card.

Several players who are still alive in the women's $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Hilton Head South Carolina are listed in the All-American pre-qualifying. Qualifier Sophia Biolay of France, a junior at Central Florida, defeated University of Arkansas sophomore Carolina Gomez Alonzo of Spain, who is in the All-American main draw, 6-4, 6-3. UCF sophomore Jantje Tilbuerger of France is also in pre-qualifying and through to the quarterfinals after defeating Cristina Tiglea of Texas Tech 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Tiglea is also in pre-qualifying in Cary. 

Tilbuerger will play Oklahoma senior Florencia Urrutia in the Hilton Head quarterfinals, with Urrutia entered in the All-American qualifying, which begins Monday. Biolay plays Old Dominion freshman Kira Matushkina of Russia, also a qualifier, with Matushkina not entered in the All-American. 

Fifteen-year-old Wakana Sonobe of Japan, who received entry via the ITF's Junior Reserved program, has advanced to the quarterfinals, where she'll play the only American remaining, Salma Ewing(USC/Texas A&M). 

2023 NCAA finalist Layne Sleeth(Florida/Oklahoma) will play Connie Hsu(Penn) of Taiwan in the bottom half quarterfinal.

The men's ITA All-American Championships don't have a similar document to consult, with just this list of 473 players available. The men's pre-qualifying has been a 256-draw for some time, qualifying is 128 and the main draw is 64, so 25 of the players on that list will not be playing. 

Two of the men still competing at the $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Albuquerque New Mexico are on the list: wild card Arda Azkara of Turkey, a junior at New Mexico, advanced to the quarterfinals, as has No. 6 seed Olle Wallin of Sweden, a senior at Texas Tech. The Texas Tech website states that Wallin is in the main draw at the All-American Championships, so he won't have a conflict if he wins Friday; Azkara very well may.

Joel Drucker checks in with Alex Michelsen at the Tier 1 Performance Academy in Newport Beach, where Michelsen and Learner Tien train, for this tennis.com article. Michelsen, who reached the semifinals of the Cary Challenger the week after the US Open, but did not play Columbus last week or Charleston this week, is preparing for the back-to-back Challengers in Northern California starting next week. Drucker looks at Michelsen's game, which I've never considered as unconventional as many observers do, and what he's working on with coaches Eric Diaz and Jay Leavitt. It's a detailed account of Michelsen's rapid rise in the ATP rankings and while there are some hints as to what might be behind that, Drucker knows better than to pretend he, or anyone else, can readily explain it. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

USTA Girls 16s and 14s National Champions Face Off in Corpus Christi J60 Quarterfinals; Round of 16 Set at European 16s Championships; Top Seeds Out at USTA Pro Circuit $15Ks; Davenport Named New Billie Jean King Cup Captain

Unlike last week's ITF J300 Pan American Closed, where the top two seeds in both the boys and girls fields met in the final, this week's J60 in Corpus Christi has only one Top 2 seed in the quarterfinals after round of 16 action today.

Thirteen-year-old Christina Lyutova, the USTA National 16s Clay Court and Hard Court champion this year, defeated top seed Jane Dunyon 6-1, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals of the second ITF Junior Circuit tournament she has played. Lyutova, who won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title last year, will face unseeded Lyla Middleton in Thursday's quarterfinals, with Middleton the 2023 USTA National 14s Hard Court champion. Middleton, who will turn 14 soon, defeated qualifier Chloe Qin 6-2, 6-1 today. Middleton and Lyutova met in a USTA National Level 3 final in Las Vegas in April of 2022, with Lyutova winning 6-3, 4-6, 10-5.

No. 2 seed Eva Oxford is through to the all-USA quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Elena Mireles; she and No. 4 Thea Latak are the only seeds remaining in the girls singles.

Boys top seed Abishek Thorat lost in the first round, with No. 2 seed Xavier Calvelo eliminated from contention today by 2023 Easter Bowl 14s champion Roshan Santhosh 7-5, 7-6(5). Kalamazoo 16s quarterfinalist Simon Caldwell is through to the all-USA quarterfinals in his first ITF Junior Circuit event, and Kalamazoo 16s finalist Lachlan Gaskell has also reached the quarterfinals of an ITF Junior Circuit tournament for the first time.

There's a new site for the European 16s Championships, which had been held in Moscow Russia for 13 years (the tournament was canceled in both 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic). When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Tennis Europe pulled the tournament out of Moscow and last July it was played in the Czech Republic. This year it was not played in July, as is customary, but is going on now in Parma Italy, and will stay in Italy through 2027.

The top seed in the boys draw, Kolos Kincses of Hungary, retired in his first match (in the second round) trailing Linus Lagerbohm of Finland 2-0 in the third set, but No. 2 seed William Rejchtman Vinciguerra of Sweden has reached the round of 16. 

The top seed in the girls draw is Teodora Kostovic of Serbia, who was the No. 2 seed in the 18s European Championships in Klosters this past July, which is one advantage of having the 16s tournament at a later date. Kostovic, who lost in the quarterfinals in Klosters, and No. 2 seed Charo Esquiva Banuls of Spain both competed in the US Open Junior Championships earlier this month, with No. 14 seed Kostovic losing to Hannah Klugman of Great Britain in the second round and No. 16 seed Esquiva falling to No. 4 seed Sara Saito of Japan in the third round.

Draws, order of play and links to live scoring and live streaming are available at the Tennis Europe site.

The No. 1 seeds at both the USTA men's $15,000 tournament in Albuquerque and the USTA women's $15,000 tournament in Hilton Head lost today in their first round matches.

Qualifier Ryan Dickerson(Duke/Baylor) defeated top seed Alfredo Perez(Florida) 6-3, 6-3 in New Mexico; Arkansas sophomore Carolina Gomez Alonso of Spain defeated top seed Lauren Proctor 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in South Carolina. Texas A&M freshman and 2023 Roland Garros girls finalist Lucciana Perez Alarcon of Peru won her first round match, beating 16-year-old Mia Yamakita 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 in two hours and 51 minutes. Fifteen-year-old Tyra Grant lost to 31-year-old Connie Hsu(Penn) of Taiwan 6-1, 6-4.

The USTA announced today that Lindsay Davenport has been named captain of the United States' Billie Jean King Cup team, taking over for USTA head of women's tennis Kathy Rinaldi, who will retire from that post after this November's finals in Spain. 

Although she never mentioned her new role, I had a conversation with Davenport last week at the ITF Pan American Closed about team competitions in conjunction with the news that her son Jagger Leach had been named to the Junior Davis Cup team for this fall's event in Spain. From both of their reactions to Leach's making the JDC team, it was obvious how much the family(along with father Jon Leach) valued the opportunity to play for the United States in an international team competition, and that enthusiasm will serve Davenport well in her position. The complete USTA release is below.



ORLANDO, Fla., September 27, 2023 – The USTA today announced that Hall-of-Famer, Grand Slam champion and four-time year-end world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport will be the next captain of the U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team. A three-time Billie Jean King Cup champion, Davenport will become the team’s 20th captain following the 2023 Finals, which will be captained by Kathy Rinaldi.


“Playing Billie Jean King Cup was always something that was a huge priority and a huge highlight for me during my career. I always felt a tremendous amount of pride representing my country, and I'm excited to do it now in a different role,” Davenport said. “Joining a prestigious list of U.S. captains is an incredible honor, and with the group of players that we have now and their great personalities, I really couldn't ask for a better time to have this position.”


Davenport was one of the most successful U.S. Billie Jean King Cup players in history, helping to lead the U.S. to titles in 1996, 1999 and 2000. She played in 20 ties over a record 11 years, going 26-3 in singles and 7-0 in doubles. Her 26 singles victories are tied with Billie Jean King for second all-time for the U.S., behind leader Chris Evert, and her 33 total wins rank fourth, behind Evert, King and Rosie Casals.


Davenport was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014 after a career that saw her win three Grand Slam singles and doubles titles, along with the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in singles. She won 55 singles and 38 doubles titles in all, spent 98 weeks as the world No. 1 and was the year-end No. 1 in 1998, 2001 and 2004-05.


Since retiring in 2010, Davenport has worked as a commentator and as a coach, notably of American Madison Keys. As captain, Davenport will have a year-round role with USTA Player Development, traveling to support American players and serving as a mentor for American pros and juniors.


“Lindsay has been the embodiment of a champion throughout her career, and few players have had as much success playing for their country as she has,” said Brian Hainline, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA. “We’re excited to welcome her experience and leadership back to the Billie Jean King Cup team at a time when the present and future of American women’s tennis couldn’t be brighter.”


Current captain Kathy Rinaldi, who will continue on as USTA Player Development’s Head of Women’s Tennis after stepping down from the captaincy, will lead the U.S. in the upcoming Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals November 7-12 in Seville, Spain. The Finals will feature 12 nations competing in four round-robin groups of three, with the group winners qualifying for the knockout semifinals. The U.S. was drawn into Group A with Switzerland and the Czech Republic.


“I look forward to watching and supporting the U.S. team in the Finals later this year,” Davenport said. “Kathy has been an amazing role model to not only the players now but also myself, and I look forward to continuing what she started the last seven years. She’s done a remarkable job and I look forward to the U.S. hopefully winning it this year so that when I’m captain, we’re defending champions.”


Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Two $15Ks, Women's $60K in California, Plus Charleston Challenger Make for Busy Week on USTA Pro Circuit

For the first time since mid-July, this week features four USTA Pro Circuit events in the same week. No women's $15,000 level tournaments have been on the schedule since the July 10th SoCal Pro Series event in Lakewood, which has meant many college and national level juniors have turned to UTR's Pro Tennis Tour events for opportunities this summer.

Today the qualifying concluded at the women's $15,000 tournament in Hilton Head South Carolina, with two American high school seniors, Mary Boyce Deatherage and Pepperdine recruit Alexia Harmon, advancing to the main draw. 

Wild cards went to Columbia freshman Gayathri Krishnan, Salma Ewing(USC/Texas A&M), Duke sophomore Katie Codd and Jada Robinson. Wakana Sonobe of Japan was one of three juniors to receive a main draw spot via the ITF Junior Reserved program and won her first round match today. The other two--Texas A&M freshman Lucciana Perez Alarcon of Peru and Pan American Closed finalist Tyra Grant--will play their first round matches Wednesday.

Lauren Proctor(Winthrop) is the top seed.

The men's $15,000 tournament is in Albuquerque New Mexico, with the qualifying not yet complete, but five Americans have advanced to the main draw: Axel Nefve(Notre Dame/Florida), Will Grant(Florida), Ryan Dickerson(Duke/Baylor), Felix Corwin(Minnesota) and Andrew Fenty(Michigan).

Junior reserved spots in the main draw went to Roy Horovitz, Pan American Closed finalist Alex Razeghi and Rei Sakamoto of Japan. Maxwell Exsted received a main draw wild card and was scheduled to play No. 2 seed Liam Draxl(Kentucky) of Canada today, with that match pushed back to this evening.

The other three wild cards were given to University of New Mexico juniors: Georgio Samaha, Arda Azkara of Turkey and Aram Noroozian of Canada.

Alfredo Perez(Florida) is the top seed.

Qualifying for the women's $60,000 tournament in Templeton California is complete with three Americans advancing to the main draw: Hanna Chang, Carmen Corley(Oklahoma) and Catherine Harrison(UCLA). It's good to see Harrison back competing after a foot injury sidelined her for the first eight months of 2023.

Also qualifying for the main draw is Oklahoma State sophomore Lucia Peyre. The 18-year-old from Argentina is still eligible for ITF junior events this year, but has played ITF World Tennis Tour women's events all summer after being named to the Big-12 All-Conference first team in her freshman year. She defeated No. 4 seed Maria Mateas(Duke) in the first round and Marine Partaud of France in the second, both in straight sets, to advance to the main draw, where she'll play Makenna Jones(UNC).

The wild cards were given to Robin Anderson(UCLA), Whitney Osuigwe and Sophie Chang, with 18-year-old Marina Stakusic of Canada, last week's champion at the $60K in Berkeley, receiving a special exemption into the main draw.

Taylor Townsend is the top seed; Katie Volynets the No. 2 seed.

Ken Thomas is providing coverage of the Templeton tournament at radiotennis.com.

Rain at the ATP Challenger 75 in Charleston South Carolina forced eight of the first round matches on Tuesday's schedule to be postponed to Wednesday, but five matches were completed, with four Americans advancing to the round of 16, including qualifiers Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern), Aidan Mayo and Stefan Dostanic(USC). Kirchheimer advanced when wild card Toby Kodat retired trailing 6-7(4), 6-3, 4-1; Mayo defeated Michael Geerts(Arizona State) of Belgium 6-4, 7-6(6) and Dostanic beat No. 8 seed Alexander Ritschard(Virginia) of Switzerland 6-4, 6-4. Dostanic and Kirchheimer will meet in the round of 16 on Thursday.  

NCAA champion Ethan Quinn(Georgia) defeated No. 5 seed Alexis Galarneau(NC State) of Canada 6-2, 7-6(5) and will face Mayo in the next round.  The fifth player to advance today is No. 6 seed Adam Walton(Tennessee) of Australia, who beat lucky loser Skander Mansouri(Wake Forest) of Tunisia 7-6(5), 6-2.

Mike Cation is back providing commentary for the US Challengers this week; see the ATP Challenger TV page for the free live streams.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Four Americans Qualify for Charleston Challenger; Les Petits As Regional Qualifying Underway; Career High Junior Rankings for Pan Am Closed Finalists; USTA Girls 18s and 16s Nationals Highlight Show Now Available for Viewing

Qualifying for the ATP Challenger 75 in Charleston South Carolina was completed today, with four Americans advancing to the main draw.

Stefan Dostanic, in his fifth year at USC, posted two wins today, with his first round match Sunday with Evan Zhu(UCLA) interrupted. Dostanic won that match 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, then beat Stefan Kozlov 6-2, 6-1 to qualify for the main draw, where he'll play No. 8 seed Alexander Ritschard(Virginia) of Switzerland. Another Kalamazoo 16s finalist, Aidan Mayo, reached the main draw with a 6-2, 6-4 victory of Darian King of Barbados. Twenty-eight-year-old Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern), who has been toiling away in Futures and, lately, Challenger qualifying for six years now, defeated Elmer Moller of Denmark 6-1, 6-3 to reach the main draw at a Challenger for the eighth time this year. 2017 NCAA champion Thai Kwiatkowski(Virginia) qualified with a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Skander Mansouri(Wake Forest) of Tunisia, who also made the main draw as a lucky loser, with No. 2 seed Emilio Gomez(USC) a late withdrawal.

The other two qualifiers are Ernesto Escobedo of Mexico and 2022 NCAA singles finalist August Holmgren(San Diego) of Denmark.

Wild cards were given to Duke's Garrett Johns, who won his first round match today, Oliver Crawford(Florida) and Toby Kodat. 

Enzo Couacaud of France is again the top seed, as he was in Columbus; Denis Kudla, the Columbus champion as the No. 2 seed, is No. 7 this week. 2023 NCAA singles champion Ethan Quinn(Georgia) received entry via the ATP Accelerator Program and will face No. 5 seed Alexis Galarneau(NC State) of Canada, the finalist in Columbus last week.

The USA Playoffs for the January 2024 Les Petits 14-and-under tournament in France began this week with Regional Qualifying. UTR has partnered with Lacoste Le Mondial and Top Five Management for the five regionals, the first of which was scheduled to finish today in Houston, followed by regionals in Bradenton Florida, Fullerton California, Norfolk Virginia and Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The winners of the regionals will be among the entrants in the USA National Playoff, which begins October 30th at Tropical Park in Coral Gables Florida.

The Les Petits As website has the list of the direct acceptances into the USA National Playoffs, currently including eight girls and six boys. Two of the top 2010 boys, Michael Antonius, who won the Les Petits As consolation tournament last year, and Jordan Lee currently are among the top five 2010s in the Tennis Europe 14s rankings so they probably don't need to compete in the National Playoffs to earn spots in Tarbes.

All four of the finalists at last week's ITF J300 Pan American Closed reached new career highs in the ITF junior rankings released today.

Boys champion Alex Frusina is up to 17, with his previous high 24 just two weeks ago.  Boys finalist Alex Razeghi is now at 23, with his previous high 34.

Girls finalist Tyra Grant moved to 21, with her previous career high 22; singles and doubles champion Maya Joint is up to 31, with her previous best ranking 43.

There is no change at the top of the rankings, with Alina Korneeva of Russia and Joao Fonseca of Brazil continuing as No. 1s.

The highlight show produced about the USTA Billie Jean King Girls 18s and 16s National Championships last month in San Diego, which appeared during the US Open on Tennis Channel, is now available for viewing via the ustagirlsnationals.com website. Click on the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation ad to the left to go to the website, and you'll see a button to click to watch "Breaking Barriers." The show not only features current players and champions, but also delves into the history of the event, including interviews with Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin, Pam Shriver and Kathy Rinaldi.

Make sure to enter the password BB (upper case) to view the 45-minute program.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Kennedy and McNeil Claim ITF J100 Titles in Canada; Kudla Wins Columbus Challenger; Stakusic's Streak Continues with Berkeley $60K Title; Three Titles for Young Americans on ITF Men's Circuit; Team World Defends Laver Cup

Several players who competed in the J200 in Canada two weeks ago made the trip south to Houston for the ITF J300 Pan American Closed, but with a J100 in Quebec City this past week, others opted to stay closer to home, including the champions Jack Kennedy and Christasha McNeil, both from New York.

The 15-year-old Kennedy, seeded No. 3, won his third career ITF Junior Circuit singles title and the biggest to date, defeating No. 4 seed David Ekpenyong of Nigeria 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final. Kennedy and Keaton Hance also reached the finals in boys doubles.

The 16-year-old McNeil, the reigning USTA 18s Clay Courts champion, won an all-USA girls final, with the No. 4 seed beating No. 2 seed Thea Frodin 6-4, 6-3.  Like Kennedy, McNeil now has three ITF Junior Circuit singles titles, with the two she's won this year coming at the J100 level.

The ITF Junior Circuit in the United States stays in Texas, with a J60 in Corpus Christi this coming week. A few of the players from Houston are competing there, including boys top seed Abishek Thorat. The girl's top seed is Jane Dunyon. The tournament runs through Saturday, with 64-player draws in singles.

No. 2 seed Denis Kudla won the title at the ATP Challenger 75 in Columbus Ohio, with the 31-year-old beating Canadian Davis Cup star Alexis Galarneau(NC State), the No. 6 seed, 6-1, 6-2 in today's final. It's the first Challenger title for Kudla in over a year and puts him back in the ATP Top 200.  Wild cards Robert Cash and James Trotter, teammates at Ohio State last year, won the doubles title in Columbus, defeating top seeds Hans Hach Verdugo(Abilene Christian) of Mexico and Guido Andreozzi of Argentina 6-4, 2-6, 10-7 in the final. They defeated the No. 2 seeds in the quarterfinals and the No. 4 seeds in the semifinals.

Tristan Boyer(Stanford) reached his second ATP Challenger final this week at the 100 level event in Chile, with the unseeded 22-year-old falling to unseeded Camilo Ugo Carabelli of Argentina 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. Boyer is now inside the Top 300 in the ATP rankings, after starting the year at 1496.

The title at the women's $60,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Berkeley California went to 18-year-old Marina Stakusic of Canada, who won her first tournament earlier this month at a $25,000 ITF World Tennis Tour women's event in Spain. Stakusic, who reached the ITF Pan American Closed final in 2021, falling to Liv Hovde, avenged that loss in the first round in Berkeley and went on to beat top seed Madison Brengle in the quarterfinals, qualifier Ellie Douglas(TCU) in the semifinals and qualifier Allie Kiick in the final. Stakusic, now up to 301 in the WTA live rankings, defeated Kiick 6-3, 6-4 for her fifth straight-sets win of the week.

No. 2 seeds Jessie Aney(UNC) and Maria Fernandez Herazo Gonzalez of Colombia won the doubles title in Berkeley, beating the third-seeded Australian team of Elysia Bolton(UCLA) and Alexandra Bozovic.

Elsewhere on the ITF Men's Pro Circuit, Georgia Tech's Andres Martin won his first singles title on the Circuit at the $15,000 tournament in Monastir Tunisia. The unseeded 22-year-old senior defeated top seed Constantin Bittoun Kouzmine of France 6-2, 6-4 for the singles title, while also partnering with Georgia Tech teammate Keshav Chopra for the doubles title. 

Nineteen-year-old Bruno Kuzuhara won his first ITF men's World Tennis Tour tournament today at a $15,000 tournament on clay in Uruguay. The 2022 Australian Open boys singles and doubles champion, seeded No. 3, defeated top seed Alvaro Guillen Meza of Ecuador 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-3 in the final. 

Martin Damm, who turns 20 next Saturday, won an all-American ITF WTT men's final at the $25,000 tournament in Portugal, with Damm defeating unseeded 20-year-old Dali Blanch 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3 in the final. It was the first final on the Pro Circuit for Blanch, Darwin and Ulises's brother, while Damm, the No. 6 seed, now has won four $25,000 level titles, including two this year.

The Laver Cup was played this weekend in Vancouver, with Team World rolling over Team Europe 13-2 to claim their second straight title. Ben Shelton(Florida) and Frances Tiafoe clinched the victory for Team World with a 7-6(4), 7-6(5) doubles victory over Hubert Hurkacz and Andrey Rublev. Team World also got singles victories from Shelton, Tiafoe, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz and Francisco Cerundolo(South Carolina). For more on the Team World title, see this article from the Laver Cup website.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Joint Sweeps ITF J300 Pan American Closed Titles with Comebacks in Singles and Doubles; Frusina Claims First J300 Title at Home

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

Alex Frusina was surrounded by friends and family all week at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed Championships at the Giammalva Racquet Club, as was his opponent in Saturday's final, Alex Razeghi, with both at home for a tournament for the first time in many years. All those supporters, and many other interested spectators who knew the two 17-year-olds when they trained at the club as novices, were on hand again on a hot and steamy morning to see who would take the title.

Top seed Frusina prevailed, defeating No. 2 seed Razeghi 7-5, 6-2, to cap an impressive run in his last three tournaments with his first J300 title.

"This tournament was just like a dream, being able to play at home," said Frusina, who reached the semifinals of the J300 in College Park last month and the quarterfinals of the US Open earlier this month. "I know in my lifetime we haven't had such a big scale tournament in our city here, and for them to be able to get this tournament, and to play in it, it was a privilege and really exciting."

The first set started with nerves from both, with back-to-back breaks, but after that, neither had a break point until 5-all, with Frusina converting his second opportunity that game with what he called "good fortune."

"I hit a passing shot as he came to the net, and he stumbled a bit because it bounced off the top," said Frusina. "But I was pretty elated with the way I dealt with the situations today. I think it was a really good bounce back match for me after yesterday."

Razeghi had a visit from the trainer in the first set for his leg, which he said had begun bothering him a few days ago.

"I felt fine, but in the middle of the first set my leg started to get painful," Razeghi said. "Not taking anything away from him, he played really well, was the better player and deserved to win. I feel like if I took that first set maybe it would have been different. At that point I wasn't feeling too good, but I told myself I had to fight to the last point, and I did that, but he came out on top."

Razeghi was broken to start the second set, but managed to hold from break points down in his next service game to keep within range. Yet Frusina, who was not happy about his serving performance in the his three-set semifinal win over Jagger Leach, had found that part of his game today, giving Razeghi little hope of a comeback.

"I definitely served much better today," Frusina said. "I was honestly taking a lot more of my pace off; it was a little bit strategic also. I put a lot of first serves in today and that gave me the confidence to open up and go for a few more lower percentage serves in some moments, which still ended up working out."

Frusina broke Razeghi to go up 4-1 and with his serve working had no trouble closing it out, hitting two aces, including on match point.

Frusina, who turns 18 in December, will turn his attention to the USTA Pro Circuit in the months ahead, beginning with a tournament in Ithaca New York the first week of October, although he will spend next week taking campus visits to gather information for his college choice.

"I have some availability to boost my pro ranking before college, and that's always been my goal, to play pro tennis," Frusina said. "I know the ITF has a junior exemption program, and in terms of these next couple of months, I'm going to focus on smaller pro events, the $15Ks. I'm definitely in quite a good rhythm right now and we'll see how long it lasts."

Razeghi is heading to the $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Albuquerque New Mexico next week, along with Roy Horovitz and Maxwell Exsted and then he will begin setting up his college visits, with trips to Texas, USC, Virginia and Georgia on his list of prospective schools.

Like Frusina, girls champion Maya Joint of Australia earned her first ITF J300 singles title, but unlike the boys champion, she earned it with an improbable comeback.

Trailing top seed Tyra Grant 6-1, 5-3, Joint kept her composure in the blazing midday sun, rebounding for a 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 victory.

Several hours later, No. 2 seed Joint was still at a loss to explain how she turned the match around.

"I don't really know myself," said the 17-year-old Joint, who changed her country affiliation from the United States to Australia earlier this year.  "The whole time in the first set and kind of in the second, I didn't feel like I had a foot in the match. The points were very short, I wasn't really on top of the point, I wasn't in control. In the second set, I started to win my service games more and started to get a little bit more confident."

Grant, whose serve is one of her biggest strengths, lost touch with that shot when she needed it most. Serving for the match at 5-4 and again at 6-5 the 15-year-old from Florida couldn't get to a match point after leading 30-0 in both games, and she put the blame squarely on her serve.

"Those two games I served really bad," said Grant, who was playing in her second tournament after being forced to withdraw prior to her second round match at the Wimbledon Junior Championships with a bone bruise. "I hit a few double faults and she took advantage of my bad serves and stepped up."

Joint began to find her rhythm as Grant began playing more tentatively, although the match was very much up for grabs at 4-4 in the final set.

As in the previous two games in the second set when Grant was serving for the match, Grant went up 30-0 serving at 4-all, but then double faulted twice and two points later, Joint was serving for the match and her first J300 title.

"I was just trying to get a start in the game, make my first serves," Joint said. "Once I got up 30-0, I could see Tyra lose a little bit of energy and I could feel myself getting a little more confident, so I stayed aggressive kept my foot on the gas, so she couldn't get back in it."

Joint got an error on match point, and admitted her satisfaction in fighting through a subpar first half of the match.

"I started off without my A game," said Joint. "But that's part of tennis, trying to get through the tough matches when you're not playing your best and hope that your A game does come out at the end. And I think it did today."

Joint is heading to Australia to train and compete over the country's spring and summer, and said she is playing the J500 in Osaka next month. She will be back in the United States next year, certainly in advance of joining the University of Texas in the fall of 2024.

Grant expressed disappointment with her performance in today's final, but hopes with time, she'll look at the week differently.

"Obviously it's hard to see the positives after today," said Grant, who is planning to play two $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournaments next month. "But I think I'll be looking back at this tournament in a few weeks or a few months really understand that it was a positive tournament for me."

Joint added her second ITF J300 title several hours later, partnering with Ariana Pursoo to take the girls doubles championship, again coming from behind. The top seeds defeated No. 4 seeds Alanis Hamilton and Claire An 6-7(3), 7-5, 10-7 in a two-hour contest that hinged on a handful of points.

At 4-4 in the second set, Joint and Pursoo fell behind 15-40 with Joint serving, but they saved all three break points, then grabbed the set with An serving at 5-6, 30-40.

Joint and Pursoo led throughout the tiebreaker, but Hamilton and An kept in range, and at 9-6 Hamilton hit a volley winner to save their first match point. But Joint, after nearly five hours on court in the 95 degree heat, hit a great first serve claim the championship, one that didn't come easy.

Down a set and a break to No. 3 seeds Victoria Osuigwe and Mia Slama in the semifinals, Joint and Pursoo pulled out another 7-5 second set and a match tiebreaker, so the pressure of trailing today was nothing new.

"I think that's what comes from trusting each other," said Pursoo, who will also be joining the Texas Longhorns in the fall of 2024. "We trust each other's games and our ability to find a way to come back and problem solve in the match. We're constantly pumping each other up, staying positive, trusting each other's abilities."

While Pursoo and Joint have played together often and have an ITF J200 title as a team, the boys champions were just in their third tournament together.

No. 5 seeds Jagger Leach and Matisse Farzam played the 16s Orange Bowl last December and the Junior Davis Cup qualifying in Lake Nona this spring, but everything clicked for the two 16-year-olds this week, with a 1-6, 6-2, 10-8 win over unseeded Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth in the championship match.

Leach and Farzam won three of their four matches in match tiebreakers, but it was their 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal win over No. 4 seeds Frusina and Mitchell Lee that convinced them they were contenders for the title.

"It was tough at first, but we gradually found it," said Farzam, who hadn't won an ITF Junior Circuit doubles title at any level until today. "Our quarterfinal match was a huge confidence booster, big win against Frusina and Mitchell, and we thought we definitely have a shot at winning this. Yesterday we were out there for two hours, and today was a little quicker, but it could have gone either way, so we're happy to have gotten it done."

After a slow start in the final, Farzam and Leach rebounded in the second set, then took control of the match tiebreaker, leading 9-4. But four of those match points came and went, two on Leach's serve, and they hung on for the win.

"Things almost got away from us," said Leach, who won an ITF J300 doubles title in Indian Wells with Joseph Oyebog this spring. "Returning at 9-8 I couldn't move, I was so nervous. We ended up winning that point and it was just pure relief and happiness."

Friday, September 22, 2023

Locals Razeghi and Frusina Reach ITF J300 Pan American Closed Final; Top Seeds Grant and Joint Vie for Girls Title; Dolehide Reaches WTA Guadalajara 1000 Final

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

The heat and humidity have been building all week at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed and Friday's semifinals but the conditions hardly came as a surprise to top seed Alex Frusina and No. 2 seed Alex Razeghi, who are both sleeping in their own beds during a tournament for the first time in a long time this week. Frusina, from Conroe, and Razeghi, from Humble, who trained together as youngsters at the host Giammalva Racquet Club, will test their endurance one more day Saturday, after Frusina defeated No. 7 seed Jagger Leach 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 and Razeghi beat No. 13 seed Kuang Qing Xu of Canada 6-4, 6-2 to reach the final.

Frusina breezed through the first set in just 33 minutes, but was aware that the one break he earned and held onto was no indication of the trajectory of the match.

"It might have seemed like I won it comfortably, but I don't think it told the whole story," Frusina said. "I think I was just able to hold onto that lead the way that I did because I was making a few more first serves, that was bailing me out. But the second that started to dip, I had a tough time finding my first serves."

Leach ran out to a 5-0 lead in the second set, and although he failed to serve it out at 5-1, he got a double fault from Frusina to end the set. 

The heat rule was in effect, with temperatures in the mid 90s and the heat index over 100, so Frusina had ten minutes to collect himself and he started the third with a break, only to give in back in the fourth game. He broke Leach again at 3-all and held onto that break, although Frusina still wasn't comfortable.

"He was just doing a really good job of pushing me back and hitting superfast, compact balls that were getting up on me quickly," Frusina said. "For my game, that does tend to be a challenge, and although I can absorb and move fairly well, today I just wasn't on it for the whole match. He was also serving really great, and that was getting me off my return game."

Serving out the match at 5-4, Frusina got only one of his five first serves in, and Leach hit one return winner for 30-15, but Leach's forehand let him down, with two unforced errors on that side after the return winner, sending Frusina to his second J300 final of the year.

Razeghi had an easier time in his semifinal, wearing down Xu with his depth and defense, a position aided by getting an early break in both sets.

"I watched him play a couple of times, he has a big serve and he's a forehand dominant player," said Razeghi, who won a J300 in Ecuador in February and reached the College Park J300 final last month. "And he likes to come in a lot, so I kept that in mind. I just made it as physical as possible, I think I was the more fit player, and he got really tired to end the match. It took a toll on him all the long points we had in the beginning of the match."

Razeghi, who decided not to defend his doubles title at this event, has seen his level rise in each round.

"I feel like I played well, and each match I've played, I've played better and better," Razeghi said. "It's been good, to build it up before the final tomorrow."

Despite their extensive experience on the ITF Junior Circuit, each with more than 125 completed singles matches, the two 17-year-olds have not met on that circuit and Frusina was hard pressed to recall the last time they played.

"It's been a very long time since we've played a singles match," Frusina said. "If I had to say, it's been maybe four years now. It's kind of the way it's fallen, but now the stars may be aligned in the home tournament. I know he's been playing very well this week and I know I'll need to bring my A game. I'm looking forward to it."

"We trained here together from ages 9 to 11," said Razeghi, who continued training at Giammalva Racquet Club for several years after Frusina left. "We've been warming up every match together, but it's not often we get to play each other. We kind of talked about it a bit yesterday, you know, one more, and it's definitely going to be good playing a good friend like that."

The girls final will also feature the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, who will also be playing for the first time, with top seed Tyra Grant advancing with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 4 seed Alanis Hamilton, and second seed Maya Joint making her first ITF J300 final with a 6-2, 7-5 win over No. 10 seed Aspen Schuman.

The 15-year-old Grant, who has yet to drop a set, said her tennis wasn't at the top level today, but she found several strategies to compensate for that.

"I don't think today was my best tennis match of the tournament, but I definitely fought super, super hard," said Grant, who trains often with Hamilton at the USTA National Campus and knows her game well. "I had to switch a lot of balls, not play too flat or too spin-y. This is what I'm trying to do in general with any player. I'm good with playing flat and being aggressive, but a lot of times it's really useful to slice, hit a heavier ball, really change things up and so far this tournament that's worked really well."

As for playing Joint for the first time Saturday, Grant is excited about the prospect.

"I've never even practiced with her," said Grant, who won her first ITF J300 title this spring in Italy. "But I'd rather play someone I don't know. I'm really good at adapting fast, so I'd rather play someone I don't know and catch them by surprise."

Joint narrowly avoided a third set with Schuman, who served for the second set at 5-4 and had three set points. But once Joint broke for 5-all, she was able to relax, and after an easy hold, broke again to take the match.

"I was pretty nervous going into the match and throughout the match," said Joint, who lives in Michigan and played for the United States until this year, when she switched to Australia, her father's country. "I was just trying to play aggressive and after that hold I was feeling a lot more relaxed. I started hitting through my shots more, was less nervous and was playing a lot more confident."

Joint, a 17-year-old who has committed to Texas for 2024, said she also enjoys competing against players she hasn't encountered before.

"It's kind of rare in these tournaments, because it's always the same people, but I hadn't played anyone I played this week before, now that I think about it," Joint said. "I haven't really been able to scout [Grant] because she's been on court the same time as I have, but I'll just to stick to my game plan, try to play my game. I think she plays a similar style so we'll see."

Joint will also play for the doubles title Saturday, after she and Ariana Pursoo, the top seeds, came from a set and a break down to defeat No. 3 seeds Victoria Osuigwe and Mia Slama 3-6, 7-5, 10-6. Pursoo and Joint will face No. 4 seeds Hamilton and Claire An, who defeated No. 2 seeds Schuman and Kaitlyn Rolls 6-2, 6-3.

The boys final will feature the unseeded team of Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth against No. 5 seeds Leach and Matisse Farzam. Johnston and Willwerth took out top seeds Maxwell Exsted and Cooper Woestendick 6-3, 5-7, 10-8, while Leach and Farzam defeated No. 7 seeds Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala and Cesar Cruz of El Salvador 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 10-6.

I've obviously been busy covering the Pan American Closed this week, so I haven't been able to follow the ATP and WTA as closely as usual, but congratulations to Caroline Dolehide, who has advanced to the final of the WTA 1000 in Guadalajara Mexico this week, after beating Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-3. Dolehide, who turned 25 this month, had briefly broken into the WTA Top 100 back in June, but with this run, she is now at 42 in the WTA live rankings, having posted wins this week over Peyton Stearns, Sachia Vickery, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Martina Trevisan and Kenin. She will play No. 2 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in Saturday's final. 

Dolehide and partner Asia Muhammad are also in the doubles semifinals later tonight against Storm Hunter and Elise Mertens.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

ITF J300 Pan American Closed Semifinals Feature Six Americans and Top Seeds; USTA Announces Dates for Annual Australian Open Wild Card Challenge

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

After Wednesday's third round matches were mostly long and highly contested, especially among the boys draw, Thursday's quarterfinals produced no three-set matches and just one over two hours in length.

With temperatures climbing to the mid-90s and a heat index of 105, the relative brevity was a welcome development for the higher seeds, all of whom advanced.

The lowest seed remaining in the tournament in 17-year-old Kuang Qing Xu of Canada, who defeated unseeded Jordan Reznik 6-2, 7-5 to reach his first J300 semifinal. 

Xu was low on confidence entering this week's tournament, having failed to qualify at the College Park J300 in August and losing in the first round of J300 in Repentigny the following week. Things didn't improve for him last week at the J200 in his hometown of Montreal, where he lost in the first round, but things changed for him this week in Houston.

"It wasn't the weather," said the 17-year-old Xu, who is known as Chris on the ITF Junior Circuit. "I don't like to play in the heat. But I think my mindset changed and I was playing more freely, going after my shots."

Xu has used his big serve to post three wins this week, with his three-hour 7-6(5), 6-4 victory over No. 4 seed Maxwell Exsted Wednesday, where he won the last six games of the match, a breakthrough for him.

"That match gave me a lot of confidence," Xu said. "And I think I'll play with even more confidence in the semfinals."

Xu said all his previous success has been on indoor hard courts, so these results are particularly surprising, and he recognizes the challenge of playing No. 2 seed Alex Razeghi for the first time in the semifinals Friday. 

"I know he's a grinder and that he puts a lot of balls back," said Xu, who has been talking with college coaches this week about making campus visits. "I think I'll just keep playing aggressive in every game."

Razeghi was off the court quickly against wild card Ian Mayew, needing just over an hour to post a 6-1, 6-2 win.

Jagger Leach, who was playing in his first J300 quarterfinal, is now into his first J300 semifinal after defeating Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala 6-4 6-1. Leach will face top seed Alex Frusina, who won his third consecutive tough two-set match against No. 10 seed Matthias Uwe Kask of Canada 6-2, 6-4. 

The only match to exceed two hours was No. 10 seed Aspen Schuman's 7-6(4), 7-5 win over unseeded Monika Ekstrand. Ekstrand had won last week's J200 title in Canada as a qualifier; Schuman was in her fellow 16-year-old's position last month at the J300 in College Park, where she made the final after qualifying, so both have gained valuable experience on the ITF Junior Circuit in recent weeks.

Schuman, who reached the third round of the US Open Junior Championships as a wild card after her College Park performance, knew Ekstrand was going to hit winners, with her serve and her first forehand keeping her in every service game.

"It's tough to string multiple points together, because she was hitting some great shots, good winners, great serving," Schuman said. "She was playing really well, so I had to roll with the punches a little bit. I just told myself to keep my head down, dig deep for every point and just compete my best, and whatever happens, happens."

Ekstrand's backhand let her down in the first set tiebreaker, and at 5-all in the second set, Schuman got an easy hold to go up 6-5. In her next service game, Ekstrand didn't get many first serves in, but had game points at both 40-30 and the next ad. She couldn't convert either as Schuman made every ball, and when Schuman earned a match point, it was Ekstrand who made the error to end the two-hour and 20-minute match.

Schuman said no switch has flipped to provide her with the mindset to compete under the pressure of tight matches like today's.

"It hasn't been all of a sudden a moment," Schuman said. "But I think over time [the experience] has definitely help me feel more confident and trust myself, really commit to how I want to play."

Next up for Schuman is No. 2 seed Maya Joint of Australia, who defeated unseeded Tianmei Wang 6-0, 6-4.

"I don't know her, I've never played her before," said Schuman, who is relatively new to the ITF Junior Circuit, about playing so many opponents now for the first time. "When I was playing USTA, it felt like I played the same people every single tournament, so it's definitely a change, but it's nice; new experiences are always fun."

No. 4 seed Alanis Hamilton, a semifinalist at this event last year, returned to the final four with the 16-year-old defeating No. 12 seed Victoria Osuigwe 6-3, 6-3. She will play Junior Billie Jean King Cup teammate Tyra Grant, the No. 1 seed, for the first time Friday, after Grant shook off a tough challenge in the first set from wild card Alexis Nguyen and went on to a 6-4, 6-1 win.

The doubles semifinals are also scheduled for Friday afternoon, with Hamilton, Schuman and Joint playing both singles and doubles, as is Jagger Leach.

Top seeds Joint and Ariana Pursoo will face No. 3 seeds Osuigwe and Mia Slama; Hamilton and Claire An, the No. 4 seeds, play No. 2 seeds Schuman and Kaitlyn Rolls. 

Unlike the girls, the boys doubles semifinals have just one team expected to reach the final four, No. 1 seeds Cooper Woestendick and Maxwell Exsted. They will play the unseeded team of Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth, who beat the No. 3 seeds Wednesday and the No. 6 seeds today. 

Leach and Matisse Farzam, the No. 5 seeds, will face No. 7 seeds Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala and Cesar Cruz of El Salvador.

The USTA announced the dates for this fall's annual Australian Open Wild Card Challenge to determine who will receive the USTA's reciprocal wild card for the 2024 Australian Open. The women's race begins the week of October 2, the men's the week of October 23.  The full release is below:

ORLANDO, Fla., September 21, 2023 – The Australian Open Wild Card Challenge, which will utilize indoor and outdoor hard-court and carpet professional tournaments to award an American man and woman a main draw wild card into the 2024 Australian Open, will begin with events the week of October 2 for the women and October 23 for the men.

The USTA and Tennis Australia have a reciprocal agreement in which main draw wild cards for the 2024 Australian Open and US Open will be exchanged.

The women's wild card will be awarded to the American with the most ranking points earned at a maximum of three tournaments during a five-week window, beginning with events starting the week of October 2 (including the China Open WTA 1000 in Beijing) and running through the week of October 30. All indoor and outdoor hard-court and carpet events at the 25 level and above, including WTA Tour events, will be included in the Challenge.

The men's wild card will be awarded to the American with the most ranking points earned from a maximum of three events during a four-week window that begins the week of October 23 and runs through the week of November 13. All indoor and outdoor hard-court and carpet events at the 25 level and above, including ATP Tour and Challenger events, will be included in the Challenge.

Ranking points earned in the main draw and qualifying will be counted toward each player's Challenge point total. Should the player with the highest number of Challenge points earn direct entry into the Australian Open, the wild card will go to the next eligible American in the Challenge points standings. In the event of a tie for the men or the women, the player with the best singles ranking on the Monday immediately following the conclusion of the Challenge will earn the wild card. Americans who otherwise earn direct entry into the Australian Open are not eligible.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Grant and Leach Celebrate Junior Davis Cup and Junior Billie Jean King Cup Selections with Third Round Victories at ITF J300 Pan American Closed

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

On Tuesday, the International Tennis Federation announced the teams for the 2023 Junior Davis Cup and Junior Billie Jean King Cup in Spain later this fall; on Wednesday two of the players named to the United States teams who recorded victories at the ITF J300 Pan American Closed at the Giammalva Racquet Club expressed their excitement in representing the United States in the ITF's competition.

Top seed Tyra Grant is only 15, so she will be a year younger than most of the competitors representing their countries in Cordoba for the 16 and under team competition. Due to injury, Grant was unable to compete in the ITF's 14 and under World Junior Tennis competition last year, so she is especially eager to be a part of the team this year, along with Iva Jovic and Alanis Hamilton.

"I really like playing team competitions, you can really bring your energy out there," said Grant, who played Tennis Europe tournaments when she was younger but has never been to Spain. "It's all about having fun and showing your best tennis. Last year I played 14s and I should have played in the Czech Republic, but I got injured, so I just played the qualies in Mexico. I'm really, really looking forward to it. It's going to be so much fun, I can't wait."

In previous years the boys and girls competitions were held at the same venues on the same dates, but this year, the boys will play first in Cordoba, October 30-November 5, and the girls will follow November 6-12.

"We're playing a different week from the boys, but we'll be there the week before, so we'll be able to cheer them anyway," Grant said. 

Grant injured her knee in a first round victory at Wimbledon Junior Championships this year, and is just getting back to competition, with a 7-5, 6-3 first round loss to No. 6 seed Ena Koike of Japan in the US Open Junior Championships her first match since Wimbledon.

"It was a bone bruise, maybe a fracture, but we're happy it healed quickly," Grant said. "I wasn't ready probably to compete yet at the US Open, but I felt like, it's a slam, I'm not going to skip it. It didn't work out the way I wanted it to because I had a tough draw and she was a really good player. I didn't play my best, but I'm happy I got to play and had no pain."

Grant defeated No. 16 seed Riley Crowder 6-2, 6-3 in today's third round, a scoreline that she said didn't indicate the quality of the match.

"Riley's one of my closest friends," Grant said. "It was 6-2, 6-3 and I was up 5-1 in the second, but the match was really close. I had to play really well to bring it home. I'm really happy I got another match under my belt, and that's just more experience, you know."

Grant will play wild card Alexis Nguyen in Thursday's quarterfinals, after Nguyen fought back to defeat No. 11 seed Shannon Lam 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the last girls match to be completed Wednesday. Grant and Nguyen played this spring on clay at the ITF J100 in Delray Beach with Grant taking the second round match 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Leach, the No. 7 seed, found himself in a third set after relinquishing control of second to unseeded Xavier Cavelo, but saved himself from drama in the third set of his 6-4, 6-7(8), 6-0 victory.

"Toward the end of the first set, he was dictating play, he was just making a few more errors," Leach said. "I thought that might be a winning solution if he was missing a few more balls. But toward the end of the second, he started to find his groove, hit a lot of big winners and I said, ok, I need to be the one dictating play in this third set. I need to be pushing him, he can't be pushing me around. So every point I focused on moving him around the court and building points and that seemed to work really well in the third set."

The 16-year-old Leach, who will be playing his first J300 quarterfinal against No. 16 seed Rafael Botran Neutze of Guatemala, said he never dreamed that at the start of 2023 he would compete for the United States in Junior Davis Cup, with Darwin Blanch and Maxwell Exsted the other two members of the team.

"It's one of the biggest honors," Leach said. "Before the year started I couldn't even imagine that goal, and now I've achieved a goal I didn't even think about. I'm so happy to be able represent my country, and I believe we can do really well there. I'm so excited for the opportunity."

Leach has followed in the footsteps of both his parents, who played in the competition when it was known as the World Youth Cup.

Leach's mother Lindsay Davenport said she remembers losing in to Paraguay on the Barcelona clay, while Leach's father Jon was on the team that reached the finals in Australia.

"I've heard stories about it since I was seven or eight years old," Leach said. "They would always talk about it. My dad and his team lost in the finals and he's still bummed about it, 'aw man we could have had it'. I'm so excited to be the third family member to play it."

The complete list of competitors for each of the 16 teams are available at the ITF website. The girls teams announcement is here; the boys teams announcement is here.

Unlike Grant, Leach and Hamilton, a fourth USA team member playing here in Houston wasn't able to advance to the quarterfinals. No. 4 seed Exsted lost to No. 13 seed Kuang Qing Xu of Canada 7-6(5), 6-4. The first set, 90 minutes in length, was followed by a quick 4-1 lead for Exsted in the second, but Xu roared back to take the last five games and the match. Xu will face unseeded Jordan Reznick, who defeated No. 8 seed Stiles Brockett 6-1, 6-4.

Top seed Alex Frusina defeated No. 15 seed Maximus Dussault 6-2, 6-3 and will play No. 10 seed Matthias Uwe Kask of Canada, after Kask posted a marathon of a win, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 over unseeded Matisse Farzam; No. 2 seed Alex Razeghi took out No. 14 seed Kase Schinnerer 7-6(4), 6-2 and will play wild card Ian Mayew, who beat No. 6 seed Nikita Filin 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7) in three hours and 15 minutes.  Filin had a match point at 6-3, 5-3 but missed a volley and didn't get another until 6-5 and 7-6 in the final set tiebreaker. Mayew saved both with volley winners, and after forcing an error to go up 8-7, Mayew converted his first match point when Filin's forehand approach flew long.

Girls No. 2 seed Maya Joint eliminated wild card Anita Tu 6-2, 6-4 and will play unseeded Tianmei Wang, who beat qualifier Hadley Appling, 6-3, 6-3.

No. 10 seed Aspen Schuman defeated No. 6 seed Katie Rolls 6-1, 6-2 and will take on unseeded Monika Ekstrand, who ran her ITF Junior Circuit winning streak to ten matches with a 6-1, 6-2 win over qualifier Kori Montoya.

No. 12 seed Victoria Osuigwe defeated No. 7 seed Kate Fakih 6-3, 6-4 and will play No. 4 seed Hamilton, who won the rematch of this spring's Easter Bowl Girls 16s final 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 over No. 14 seed and doubles partner Claire An.  An had beaten Hamilton in three long sets to take the Easter Bowl title and today's match was equally as taxing for both; they later teamed up to take their doubles match and advance to Thursday's quarterfinals.

The seeded doubles teams took the court today for the first time and just one Top 4 seed fell, with Noah Johnston and Benjamin Willwerth defeating No. 3 seeds Rohan Belday and Matthew Forbes 6-4, 6-7(5), 10-5.  Boys top seeds Exsted and Cooper Woestendick and No. 2 seeds Brockett and Filin won in match tiebreakers. Girls top seeds Ariana Pursoo and Joint and Kaitlyn Rolls and Schuman won in straight sets.

All eight quarterfinals in singles are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, with doubles quarterfinals set to begin not before 1:30 p.m.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Eleven Seeds, Including Both No. 3s, Fall in ITF J300 Pan American Closed Second Round Tuesday; US Open Junior Championships Photo Gallery at Tennis Recruiting Network

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Houston Texas--

Nearly all of the top seeds were challenged in their first matches Tuesday in the second round of the ITF J300 Pan American Closed at the Giammalva Racquet Club in Houston, and 11 of them failed to advance, including both No. 3 seeds.

Monika Ekstrand, who won the J200 last week in Montreal Canada, extended her winning streak to nine matches today, beating No. 3 seed Ariana Pursoo 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Ekstrand had never played Pursoo before, but the 16-year-old found ways to adjust after dropping the first set to the University of Texas recruit.

“I didn’t come into the match with the best rhythm and she hit the ball hard and I wasn’t used to it as much," said Ekstrand, who lives in Delray Beach Florida. "I got used to her ball and where to stand on the returns and found a rhythm, but a lot of it was just believing I could win, that I could beat her, especially going into the second set."

Ekstrand, who broke Pursoo serving at 4-5 in both the second and third sets, said her recent success can be attributed more to her mental approach than anything specific in her game.

“I think my mentality clicked, that I could go out and play my game and don’t have to do more to beat an opponent, that I can figure it out," Ekstrand said.

The final in Montreal was on Friday, so Ekstrand had two days before she was due on court in Houston, but the 90 degree heat in Texas did require some getting used to.

“Going from Canada to here was difficult because of the weather change,” said Ekstand. “There it was like 60 degrees, so my fitness has been helping me in believing that I can figure it out.”

Ekstand will face qualifier Kori Montoya in the third round, after Montoya defeated No. 15 seed Taylor Goetz 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5) in a contentious match that lasted nearly four hours. Montoya led 5-2 in the third set before Goetz mounted her comeback, and Goetz led 5-3 in the final tiebreaker, but Montoya won the final four points to secure the win.

Five of the six seeds who lost were in the bottom half with Ekstrand and Montoya. Wild card Anita Tu defeated No. 13 seed Jessica Bernales 7-6(7), 6-2 to set up a meeting with No. 2 seed Maya Joint of Australia, who won a long, tough battle with Nadia Lagaev of Canada 7-6(4), 7-5. The other two unseeded players in the bottom half are qualifier Hadley Appling, a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 winner over No. 9 seed Olivia Center, and Tianmei Wang, who beat No. 5 seed Mia Slama 7-5, 6-3. Wild card Alexis Nguyen took out No. 8 seed Maya Iyengar 7-6(1), 6-4 in the only upset in the top half.

Wang, who hadn’t dropped a game in her first round win Monday over Mexico’s Natalia Fantini, knew she would need her patented patience when it came to facing Slama.

“That’s what I do,” said Wang, a 16-year-old from San Marino California. “I don’t think I’m ever impatient. I just grind a lot.”

Grinding with Slama can be a challenge, with Slama’s array of slices, angles and drop shots.

“In the first set, she was slicing a lot on her forehand, hitting a lot of drop shots, so I tried to avoid hitting to her forehand,” Wang said. “If I did hit it to her forehand I tried to get it deeper and spinny-er so she couldn’t slice it so easily. But I’d seen her play before, so I was prepared for the slices and the drop shots.”

Wang said the courts at the Giammalva Racquet Club are perfect for her, and her recent commitment to improving her fitness has helped her negotiate the heat this week.

“It’s the perfect speed for me to take the ball early,” Wang said. “The heat has made me tired during the match, but I’ve been doing a lot fitness recently, like six hours a week, so I think my endurance is a lot better than before.

Girls top seed Tyra Grant was one of the few seeds who posted a routine win Tuesday, beating qualifier Georgia Crankford 6-0, 6-3, but boys top seed Alex Frusina needed two hours to close out Abishek Thorat 7-6(8), 6-2.

Frusina, who has seen his ITF ranking go from 65 to a career-high 24 in the past month, decided to play the Pan American Closed, not with a view to next year, when he will no longer be eligible for ITF junior events, but for the opportunity to compete at a major tournament where he grew up.

“I originally wasn’t planning to play this tournament if it was still in Kentucky,” said Frusina, who turns 18 in December. “But this made a lot of sense for me, because I live about 30 minutes away and it’s really nice to come back.”

Frusina trained at the Giammalva Racquet Club from age 9 to 12, so he was eager to return, although admitted that comes with distractions.

“It’s fun, and there are extra challenges I think on top of it,” said Frusina, who is still undecided on where he will be playing college tennis a year from now. “But at the end of the day I’m excited to be here, and just doing my best to keep it going.”

Another nearly local player is Humble’s Alexander Razeghi, the No. 2 seed, who was able to advance with a 6-3, 6-3 win over qualifier Gabriel Porras of Guatemala. No. 4 seed Maxwell Exsted needed three sets, but did move into the third round, beating Benjamin Willwerth 3-6, 6-2, 6-1. No. 3 seed Cooper Woestendick and No. 5 seed Matthew Forbes were ousted, with Junghee You of Canada saving a match point in his 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win over Woestendick and Matisse Farzam defeating Forbes 6-0, 6-4.

Woestendick broke You at 4-all in the third set and got to 40-30 in his attempt to serve out the match, but You forced an error to save the match point and took the final three games, completely eliminating any mistakes in that crucial stretch.

Wild card Ian Mayew defeated No. 9 seed Cesar Cruz of El Salvador 6-2, 6-3; Jordan Resnik beat No. 11 seed Calvin Baierl 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 and Xavier Calvelo defeated No. 12 seed Francesco Cordova 6-4, 7-6(5).

The first round of doubles was played this afternoon, with the seeded teams playing their first matches in the second round Wednesday.

The 42 Americans who competed in the main draws of the US Open Junior Championships earlier this month are featured in today's Tennis Recruiting Network's photo gallery. All photos were taken by Paul Ballard for Zootennis.com. My recap of the tournament, published last Friday, is here.