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Thursday, November 9, 2023

Penickova Reaches Champaign $15K Semifinal; Basavareddy Advances at Knoxville Challenger; Tien Downs Svajda in Rainy Austin; Fonseca to Virginia?; US Women Start Billie Jean King Cup with Win

Fourteen-year-old qualifier Annika Penickova posted her first Pro Circuit main draw victory earlier this week at the $15,000 tournament in Champaign Illinois and three days later she earned her third win, advancing to Friday's semifinals with a 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(5) decision over unseeded Mary Lewis(Arizona/Michigan State). Penickova's opponent in the semifinals will be No. 2 seed Stefani Webb of Australia, an 18-year-old sophomore at Central Florida. Webb also had a grueling quarterfinal victory today, beating No. 5 seed Kennedy Schafer(Georgia) 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.

The other semifinal will feature two more current collegians, with Wichita State freshman Xin Tong Wang of China, the No. 8 seed, facing North Carolina State senior Gina Dittmann of Germany. The 19-year-old Wang defeated top seed Rhiann Newborn(Baylor) 1-6 6-3, 6-3, while Dittman, the No. 6 seed, beat Oklahoma State sophomore Raquel Gonzalez Vilar of Spain 7-6(7), 6-3.

Two teens will meet for the second time in a month tomorrow in the quarterfinals of the ATP Challenger 75 in Knoxville Tennessee, with wild card Nishesh Basavareddy, 18, facing No. 3 seed Alex Michelsen, 19. 

The Stanford sophomore earned a 6-3, 6-3 quarterfinal victory over Michelsen en route to the final of the Fairfield Challenger last month in California, avenging his 2022 Easter Bowl finals loss, so this will be the rubber match. Basavareddy, who is playing in his first tournament since Fairfield, had an impressive win today, beating last week's Charlottesville champion Beibit Zhukayev of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-2. Basavareddy, who didn't face a break point in the match, now has two ATP Top 200 wins, with Michelsen his first. He was expected to be in Turin this week and next to serve as a practice partner at the ATP World Tour Finals, but that will trip is obviously on hold now. Michelsen won his second round match yesterday over 2022 Roland Garros boys champion Gabriel Debru of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Second round matches at the $25,000 men's tournament in Austin Texas were started at 9:00 a.m. today in hopes of beating the rain in the forecast, but only two of the eight matches finished before it arrived, with four more being decided in the third set match tiebreakers that were implemented after the disruption. Two second round matches were not completed, with two Texas Longhorns facing a possible long day Friday. Qualifier Siem Woldeab was leading top seed Federico Agustin Gomez(Louisville) of Argentina 6-1 when play was called for the day; wild card Pierre-Yves Bailly of Belgium and No. 2 seed Blaise Bicknell did not begin their match.

The match between No. 4 seed Learner Tien(USC) and wild card Trevor Svajda was interrupted right after Svajda had taken the second set. Tien had a match point with Svajda serving at 4-6, 3-5, and served for the match in the next game, but Svajda won the last four games of the set to earn a set from Tien for the first time. Svajda had lost to Tien in the best-of-five Kalamazoo 18s final in August 6-0, 6-4, 6-4. When play resumed, Tien ran away with the match tiebreaker for a 6-4, 5-7, 10-1 win. The 17-year-old will play Pepperdine freshman Edward Winter of Australia, the No. 5 seed, who beat South African qualifier Luc Koenig, a sophomore at Baylor, 6-1, 6-2 before the rain came. 

Defending champion Micah Braswell, a senior at Texas, defeated No. 8 seed Joshua Sheehy(Abilene Christian) 5-7, 6-1, 10-4 and Texas fifth year Eliot Spizzirri beat Central Florida sophomore Yassine Dlimi of Morocco, the No. 3 seed, 6-3, 6-3. Spizzirri had  match points when play was interrupted by rain, but got the game on his third opportunity. Spizzirri will face former Texas Longhorn Colin Markes, who defeated No. 7 seed Mark Whitehouse of Great Britain 1-6, 7-5, 10-6.

The weather forecast isn't good for the remainder of the week, which is probably why the tournament was so quick to go to shortened scoring. Doubles quarterfinals and semifinals are also on the schedule for Friday.

The buzz around college tennis didn't end with Sunday's ITA National Fall Championships, with National Signing Day yesterday, and teams continuing to announce who've they've signed to National Letters of Intent. Tennis Recruiting Network had a recap of all the commitments for the blue chips in the Class of 2024 on Monday(boys) and Tuesday(girls).

But the intrigue right now centers on 2023 US Open boys champion Joao Fonseca of Brazil, who has reportedly signed with the University of Virginia(translation from Portuguese via Google). Fonseca had not ruled out college tennis at the US Open and was rumored to be planning visits this fall, so this isn't entirely out of nowhere, although I had not heard Virginia was in the mix. The family's statement, from the above article:

Tennis player João Fonseca is in Turin, Italy, participating in the ATP Finals as a hitting partner. Before arriving in Turin, the tennis player, his family and his coach visited two universities in the United States, selected after conversations with several of them in recent months. After the visit, João decided to sign with UVA, the University of Virginia, in the small town of Charlottesville.

In addition to being academically recognized, UVA has one of the best programs in American university tennis, being ranked #1, having won 6 NCAA championships in the last 10 years.

João's dream continues to be and will always be professional tennis. If he decides to go to College, the plan would be to spend just 1 year there. It would be an interesting alternative to improve your physical, mental and emotional skills, and then return stronger to the professional circuit.

João made it very clear with UVA that the final decision will only be made in June/24, so until then, the focus will be 100% on the ATP professional circuit.

Even if Fonseca does not end up in Charlottesville next year, it does speak to the growing reputation of the collegiate tennis experience globally.

The Junior Billie Jean King Cup had a scheduled off day today, with the quarterfinals set for Friday in Cordoba Spain, with the United States taking on Brazil.

But the United States' Billie Jean King Cup began their quest for the title today in Seville Spain, and earned a 3-0 victory over defending champions Switzerland.

Danielle Collins(Virginia) defeated Celine Naef (SUI), 7-6(4), 6-1 at No. 2 singles, with Sofia Kenin clinching the tie with a 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-5 victory over Viktorija Golubic at No. 1 singles. Sloane Stephens and Taylor Townsend earned the sweep with a 6-1, 7-6(3) win over Jil Teichmann and Simona Waltert in doubles.

The United States plays the Czech Republic Friday, with the winner of that match advancing to Saturday's semifinals. This is the last Billie Jean King Cup that will feature Kathy Rinaldi as the captain, and Danielle Collins spoke in this article on how Rinaldi has become a role model for her, inspiring her to mentor juniors and possibly consider serving as a captain herself when her playing days are over.