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Friday, November 17, 2023

My Conversation with McCartney Kessler; Harmon Reaches $15K Final in Argentina; Fourteen Americans Advance to USTA Pro Circuit Semifinals

In my annual trips to Midland for the WTA 125 (formerly and ITF/USTA Pro Circuit tournament) I always try to speak with a former college player who has been playing on the pro tour for a relatively short period of time. This year I sat down with McCartney Kessler, the former Florida All-American, who is in her first full year as a professional and has moved up to 232 in the WTA rankings. Since this interview, published today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, I have been given a lot of thought to Kessler's answer to my question about what the most significant lesson she learned in college that she's been able to use in the pros. I have often been told that because pros are playing for a living that they compete harder than juniors or college players, but Kessler said that the imperative a college player feels to compete for the team keeps them more focused and motivated than some pros she's seen who are not playing their best on a given day. 

While I've been busy following the last five tournaments this week on the USTA Pro Circuit, I saw today that 17-year-old Alexia Harmon, who recently signed with Pepperdine, has reached the final of a $15,000 ITF women's World Tennis Tour event in Argentina. The unseeded Harmon, who is not playing any of the junior events in Mexico or Florida, received entry via the ITF's junior reserved program and she has rolled through the draw, beating the top seed in the second round and losing only 18 games in her four victories. She will face unseeded Thaisa Pedretti of Brazil in Saturday's final, her first final in just her fifth pro event.

At the men's $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in East Lansing, Stanford sophomore Samir Banerjee defeated top seed Alafia Ayeni(Cornell/Kentucky) 6-2, 6-1 to reach his third $15K semifinal of the year. He'll play No. 6 seed Will Grant(Florida), who defeated Arda Azkara(New Mexico) of Turkey 6-4, 6-0.

The semifinal in the bottom half will feature a rematch of last month's ITA All-American Championships semifinal between Texas's Eliot Spizzirri and Michigan State's Ozan Baris, which Spizzirri won 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Spizzirri, the No. 3 seed, defeated Michigan State wild card Aristotelis Thanos of Greece 6-3, 6-1; No. 2 seed Baris came from 4-1 down in the second set to beat Perry Gregg(Holy Cross) 6-2, 6-4.

Three current collegians and 17-year-old Learner Tien(USC) have advanced to the semifinals of the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Columbus. Wild card Robert Cash, a fifth-year at Ohio State, reached his first pro singles semifinal with a 6-3, 7-6(2) win over Pawit Sornlaksup(Toledo) of Thailand. Cash will play No. 2 seed Tien, who defeated No. 8 seed Adam Neff(SMU) 6-3, 6-1.

Great Britain's Jake Fearnley, who is expected back at TCU in January for his senior year, defeated top seed Radu Popoe(Cornell) of Romania 6-2, 7-5 and will face Tennessee junior Shunsuke Mitsui of Japan, the No. 5 seed, Mitsui defeated unseeded Taha Baadi(Kentucky) of Canada 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.

With south Florida drying out, the $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Boca Raton is getting back on schedule and after a long day of competition, the singles semfinalists have been determined. Top seed Federico Agustin Gomez(Louisville) will face 18-year-old Kilian Feldbausch of Switzerland, the No. 6 seed, in the top half, with an all-US semifinal in the bottom half between No. 3 seed Victor Lilov and Duke senior Garrett Johns, the No. 5 seed. Johns, who claimed back-to-back $15K titles in Fayetteville and Winston-Salem the past two weeks, now has a 13-match winning streak.

Three Americans are through to the semifinals at the women's $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Austin Texas, with Madison Sieg(USC) facing No. 6 Hanna Chang in the top half, after Sieg defeated wild card Catherine Harrison(UCLA) 7-5, 6-3 and Chang beat Ellie Douglas(TCU) 6-4, 6-0. In the bottom half, Chloe Beck(Duke) will face No. 4 seed Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra, after each won their quarterfinal in three sets. Beck defeated Ashley Lahey(Pepperdine) 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, while the 18-year-old Jimenez Kasintseva, the 2020 Australian Open girls champion, beat Martina Okalova(Tulsa) of Slovakia 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-0.

Three Americans have advanced to the semifinals of the ATP Challenger 75 in Champaign, including Knoxville champion Alex Michelsen, who defeated No. 8 seed Martin Damm 6-1, 1-6, 6-4. That eliminated Damm from contention for the USTA's Australian Open wild card, and when wild card Ethan Quinn(Georgia) defeated Nino Serdarusic of Croatia 6-3, 6-3, he eliminated Aidan Mayo in the Wild Card Challenge race. Brandon Nakashima (Virginia), who is playing an ATP Challenger 75 in Sweden, has also reached the semifinals, beating David Goffin 6-2, 7-6(2); he is currently leading Quinn by three points. Nakashima will face the reigning Australian Open boys champion Alexander Blockx of Belgium, who has won 15 straight pro matches and is into his first Challenger semifinal. 

The third American to reach the semifinals is No. 7 seed Patrick Kypson(Texas A&M), who defeated top seed Aleks Kovacevic(Illinois) 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-3. Kypson, who faces Quinn, is behind Nakashima and Quinn in the current wild card race rankings, so he'll have to beat Quinn tomorrow to have a chance.

With every win he posts, Michelsen, now 96 in the ATP live rankings, is less likely to need the wild card, so the second place finisher would receive it. No. 2 seed Michelsen faces No. 4 seed Titouan Droguet of France, who beat Mitchell Krueger 6-4, 6-1.

Live streaming, with Mike Cation providing commentary, is available at the ATP Challenger TV site. Play begins with the doubles final at noon Central time, with Illinois teammates Lucas Horve and Oliver Okonkwo, who received a wild card, taking on top seeds JP Smith(Tennessee) and Sem Verbeek(Pacific).