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Saturday, September 16, 2023

Rain Disrupts First Day of Qualifying at ITF Pan American J300 Closed; Zvajda and Hijikata Advance to Cary Challenger Final; Grant, Draxl Meet for Champaign $15K Title; USA Out of Davis Cup

Qualifying for the ITF Pan American Closed J300 began today in Houston, and I'll be covering the event in person for the 17th consecutive year(2020 was canceled) beginning Tuesday. The tournament, which is two to three weeks earlier than usual, was in Tulsa, right after the ITA Men's All-American Championships, through 2017. It has been unable to find a permanent home since then, with University of North Carolina-Charlotte hosting in 2018, and Lexington Kentucky's Top Seed Tennis Club staging the event in 2019, 2021 and 2022. This year's tournament was initially announced as being in Memphis, where a new facility for the University of Memphis teams is under construction, but several months ago the site was switched to the Giammalva Racquet Club in Spring Texas. 

Due to the time of year, early in the school year, the qualifying draws rarely fill, but this year the boys came close, with first round byes for only the top 8 seeds in the 48-player qualifying draw. The girls qualifying is much more typical, with 19 byes. 

Rain ended play this afternoon, with all five first round qualifying matches in the girls draw completed, along with all 16 boys first round qualifying matches also finished. That means two qualifying matches on Sunday for the winners, although most of the boys second round qualifying matches have completed the first set. As was the case last month in College Park, a 48-player main draw doesn't allow a rest day for qualifiers, so the plan is always to play the two matches on the first day of qualifying, not the second. But the weather did not cooperate this week; we'll see if anyone can duplicate the College Park run of Aspen Schuman, who made the final as a qualifier. She will be seeded this tournament, so won't play until Tuesday.

Two of the top US boys withdrew recently: Kaylan Bigun and Roy Horovitz. Notable girls withdrawing are Kaitlin Quevedo, Iva Jovic and defending champion Tatum Evans.

Two-time Kalamazoo 18s champion Zachary Svajda won his first Challenger title not quite a year ago, beating Ben Shelton in the final in Tiburon. The 20-year-old from San Diego will have an opportunity to take on another former collegian who is working his way up the ATP rankings for his second Challenger title, this one the Atlantic Tire Championships in Cary North Carolina. Top seed Rinky Hijikata, the former North Carolina All-American, defeated Patrick Kypson(Texas A&M) 6-4, 6-2 in today's semifinals, with No. 8 seed Svajda getting a second consecutive win over No. 2 seed Alex Michelsen 6-4, 7-5. Michelsen and Svajda had trouble holding serve throughout, with ten breaks in the 22 games played, but when it came time to close it out, Svajda held at love. 

Svajda and Hijikata met two years ago at the Cary Challenger, when Hijikata had just left North Carolina to begin his pro career, with Svajda winning 7-5, 6-3. By reaching the final, Svajda is up to a career-high of 173 in the ATP rankings, while the 22-year-old Hijikata is up to 72, his career high.

Hijikata geared up for singles final by taking the doubles championship this evening. Hijikata and Australia's Andrew Harris(Oklahoma), the top seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Will Blumberg and Venezuela's Luis David Martinez 6-4, 3-6, 10-6. It's second biggest title on Hijikata's doubles resume; he won the Australian Open men's doubles title with Jason Kubler in January. Harris will break into the ATP Top 100 in doubles with his third Challenger title, with three different partners, this year.

At the $15,000 men's USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Champaign Illinois, top seed Liam Draxl of Canada will face unseeded Will Grant for the singles title. Draxl, the former Kentucky All-American, defeated No. 4 seed Shunsuke Mitsui(Tennessee) of Japan 6-2, 6-2, while Grant, who didn't crack the starting lineup in singles for the Gators until last year, when he played No. 2, defeated No. 2 seed Zeke Clark(Illinois) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Grant and Axel Nefve(Notre Dame/Florida), who played line 1 doubles for Florida last year, won the doubles title today, beating Clark and Kenta Miyoshi(Illinois) of Japan 6-2, 5-7, 10-5. It's Grant's second ITF Men's World Tennis Tour doubles title and the first for Nefve.

A disappointing debut as Davis Cup captain for Bob Bryan this week in Croatia, with the United States losing to Finland 3-0 to fail to advance out of the round robin group stage into November's quarterfinals. The two highest ranked players in the group, which also included the Netherlands and Croatia, were Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul, who went 0-4 in singles. Mackenzie McDonald(UCLA) won the only singles match for the USA, against Croatia, and today couldn't convert two match points in a 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(7) loss to ATP 125 Otto Virtanen.

Canada continued its Davis Cup defense in style, winning their group with a 3-0 record after beating Chile 3-0 today. Former NC State All-American Alexis Galarneau went 5-0 in Canada's three matches; for more on his heroics, see this article from the Davis Cup website.