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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Top Seed Johnson Saves Match Point In Nearly Four-Hour Win over Chen; Wild Card Nakashima Ousts No. 7 Seed Rubio in International Spring Championships Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Although no precipitation fell Wednesday at the International Spring Championships, the effects of Tuesday's rain were felt all day, with a three-hour delay due to wet courts. Complicating the attempts to get back on schedule, two courts, including the primary show court 4, developed bubbling that kept them out of commission throughout the day and possibly all week.

What the tournament staff did not need in the midst of all these setbacks was a three hour and 46 minute match, but top seed Taylor Johnson and Kelly Chen played one anyway, with Johnson saving a match point in her 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-6(3) victory.

Chen was up 4-1 and serving in the first set, and 5-1 in the second set, but the windy conditions made holding serve difficult for both players throughout the match.  After Johnson had won four straight games in the second set to make it 5-5, Chen went down 0-40 on her serve, but won the next eight points and nine of the next 10 to even the match.

Both players held serve in the third set until Johnson was broken serving at 3-4, with three double faults in that game too much to overcome.  Chen didn't come close to serving out the match however, getting broken at love to make it 5-4.  Johnson held to pull even and Chen held for 6-5, putting the pressure back on Johnson.  Up 40-15, Johnson couldn't convert either game point and Chen won the next point too, with a great dipping shot at Johnson's feet as she closed the net.  Facing match point, Johnson hit a good first serve, but Chen handled it, only to hit a backhand well long when she had a good look at a down-the-line winner.  Johnson continued to serve well to close out the game, sending the match to a third set tiebreaker with a forehand winner.

Johnson took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but gave one of the minibreaks back with a double fault.  Two forehand winners gave Johnson the luxury of four match points, but Chen responded with a forehand winner of her own to make it 6-3.  Johnson closed it out on her next chance however, when Chen's forehand went wide.

"I think I definitely did get frustrated," Johnson said of the challenging conditions. "I was definitely up and down. But in the third set, I just focused in and gave it all I had. I just really stayed calm."

Johnson knew that Chen, who received a wild card into the tournament, would be a tough opponent.

"She's been a really good player for a long time," said Johnson, a 16-year-old from nearby Redondo Beach. "She's had some unfortunate injuries, and I knew coming back, she was obviously going to try to go for it again. She's definitely getting back to her level, playing well."

Johnson also went three sets in her opening round match on Monday against Victoria Hu, and while not enthusiastic about her form, is happy to have survived.

"I'm obviously happy to have gotten through," said Johnson. "These were some tough first rounds and I think it's good for me to play tough right out of the chute. You have to play them all, so it doesn't really matter when. I know they're all going to be tough."

Johnson said she doesn't give much thought to her position as the top seed.

"Obviously it comes with a little pressure, but I really don't focus on that," said Johnson, whose coach Rosie Casals attended the match. "I just try to focus on the ball when I'm out there, not let any of that come into my head."

Two seeded girls fell in the second round today, with Ireland's Georgia Drummy defeating No. 13 seed Ann Li 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 and Salma Ewing beating No. 15 seed Victoria Emma 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

In the boys draw, four seeded players lost, joining No. 1 seed Trent Bryde and No. 4 seed Sam Riffice, both of whom lost in Monday's first round action, on the sidelines.

Ryan Goetz defeated No. 8 seed Brian Cernoch 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, 2016 Carson 16s champion Axel Nefve downed No. 11 seed Sebastian Korda 7-6(3), 6-1 and Kyrylo Tsygura beat No. 12 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 6-2, 6-1.

The fourth seeded player to go out Wednesday was No. 7 Alan Rubio Fierros of Mexico, who lost to 15-year-old wild card Brandon Nakashima 6-1, 6-4 under the lights on a chilly evening at the Stubhub Center.

Nakashima, who was a finalist last week at the ITF Grade 4 in Newport Beach, dominated in the first set, then fought back from 3-1 down in the second set to pick up his second Grade 1 win.

"I've been playing pretty well, playing with a lot of confidence," said Nakashima, who made his debut in Carson as a 12-year-old in the 16s division back in 2014. "I feel my game is doing really well right now."

With only three ITF tournaments on his resume, Nakashima's encounters with top international players are rare.

"I knew pretty much nothing about him," Nakashima said. "I knew he's pretty high ranked [34] and I knew he had to be pretty good, so I just played my game. He started playing better in the second set, and I just held my game together and played well at the end."

After going down 3-1, Nakashima won the next three games, but was broken at 4-3 to give Rubio hope. It didn't last long, as Rubio was broken back, giving Nakashima the opportunity to serve out the match. At 40-15, Nakashima showed some nerves, making unforced errors on both match points and the following point, likely the only time in the match he had made three consecutive unforced errors.  Rubio missed a forehand on that break point and then missed a too-casual backhand overhead to give Nakashima a third match point, which he converted when Rubio hit a forehand wide.

"I was getting a little bit nervous at that point," Nakashima said. "But I just played my game, consistent, just tried to hold my serve and play the points smart."

In the 16s, the boys lost two more top seeds, with No. 2 Eliot Spizzirri eliminated by Stefan Dostanic 6-2, 6-4, and No. 4 seed Martin Damm going out to No. 14 seed Andres Martin 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.  No. 5 seed Faris Khan is now the highest seed remaining.

Several girls 16s third round matches were still going after 8 p.m. Wednesday, with many having to play two singles matches due to Tuesday's rain.

See the tournament website for complete draws and Thursday's order of play.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gupta Ousts Top Seed Khan in Boys 16s, Qualifier Cheng Advances at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships; New ITA D-I Rankings; Tiafoe Among Eight US Qualifiers at Miami Open

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA

The rain predicted for the Los Angeles area held off long enough to finish the first round of the boys and girls 18s singles and the second round of the boys 16s singles Tuesday, but the second round of girls 16s singles was cut short when a steady rain began to fall around 2:30 p.m.

All five seeds in the 18s who played Tuesday--Gianni Ross[3], Oliver Crawford[5], Nicole Mossmer[10], Hurricane Tyra Black[11] and Vanessa Ong-- advanced, but two of the top boys 16s seeds, who had byes in the first round, were eliminated.

No. 3 seed Niroop Vallabhaneni was beaten by Brandon McKinney 6-2, 6-1 and top seed Zane Khan went out to Aditya Gupta 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-1.

Gupta acknowledged that facing Khan in the second round "was a tough draw," but he wasn't intimidated.

"I knew if I played my game and stuck with him, I'd have a chance," said the 15-year-old, who trains with Chris Lewis and Chuck Brymer at Woodbridge Tennis Academy in Irvine. "I lost a tight first set, conditions were pretty windy, but I started finding my range in the second and third sets, and was able to really dictate with my forehand."

Gupta saved two break points in the second game of the third set, then broke Khan, who couldn't convert three game points, to take a 2-1 lead. Gupta held in another deuce game to go up 3-1 and when he broke Khan for a 4-1 lead, he saw a clear path to what he called his "best win."

"I knew I just had to stay focused, because he was starting to break down mentally a little bit, a lot of double faults toward the end," Gupta said. "So I knew if I just kept putting balls back in, I'd be able to pull it out."

Girls 16s seed top seed Skyler Grishuk was able to finish her match before the rain arrived, defeating Payton Saca 6-4, 6-1.

It wasn't a good morning for the reigning 16s Orange Bowl champions, with both falling to qualifiers in first round 18s matches.

Steven Sun was beaten by Henry Cacciatore 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 and Katie Volynets, who won the ITF Newport Beach Grade 4 title on Saturday, lost to Vivian Cheng 6-1, 7-5.

Although Cheng characterized her win over Volynets as "lucky," but the 15-year-old from Santa Monica showed impressive composure in the latter stages of the match.

After dominating the first set with her depth and consistency, while efficiently putting away any short balls, Cheng did not let up in the second set.  Although Volynets may have missed a few more balls than normal, some of that was due to Cheng's aggressive play.  At 4-4 in the second set, Cheng got a break and a chance to serve out the match, but she was unable able to finish it.  Volynets was helped by a net cord winner, but she hit two forehand winners to break back and make it 5-all.

Volynets was broken at love in the next game, however, giving Cheng an opportunity to serve out the match a second time.  Again Cheng got a bit tentative and at 30-all, Volynets was able to force an error for a break point. A good first serve saved it, and Cheng went on to earn a first match point, but she overcooked a forehand putaway.  Cheng would earn a second and third match point, both of which were denied by Volynets, often after lengthy rallies that went from moonballs to half volleys to driving ground strokes and back again. Cheng saved two more break points in the six-deuce game, but she finally converted when Volynets return of a first serve went just long, finally ending the two-hour-plus match.

"I knew I just needed to keep playing, not try to change my style," said Cheng, who trains with Troy Collins in Santa Monica. "I couldn't play differently, I just had to keep playing the way I was."

Cheng, a sophomore on the Santa Monica High School team, competes almost exclusively in Southern California, with the only ITFs she has played the area tournaments held here this time of year.

After three straight-sets wins in qualifying, Cheng said her attitude was "just do the best you can, no real expectations," with that mindset helping her record her first main draw victory in an ITF.

"I think I played a little bit better than usual," said Cheng, who was hustling back to her high school classes. "I haven't had many big wins."

When play was called for the evening, seven girls 16s matches were in progress, with two matches yet to go on.  Several girls 18s doubles matches were completed, but there were no boys 18s doubles matches put on court at all.

For Wednesday's schedule, see the tournament website.

The Division I ITA team and individual rankings came out today, with the Florida women, despite a loss to Georgia, and Wake Forest men staying at No. 1. Click on the headers to go to the complete rankings at the ITA website.

The women's Top 10 team: (previous week ranking in parentheses)

1. Florida (1)
2. Ohio State (2)
3. Georgia (6)
4. North Carolina (4)
5. Stanford (4)
6. Georgia Tech (11)
7. Oklahoma State (8)
8. Vanderbilt (10)
9. Texas Tech (7)
10. Michigan (9)

The men's Top 10 team:
1. Wake Forest (1)
2. Virginia (3)
3. Ohio State (2)
4. Baylor (6)
5. Southern Cal (5)
6. Texas (8)
7. Oklahoma State (5)
8. Texas A&M (11)
9. North Carolina (4)
10. UCLA (10)

No. 1s in the singles rankings also have not changed, with Ohio State's Mikael Torpegaard and Francesca Di Lorenzo staying at the top.

The women's Top 10 singles:

1. Francesca Di Lorenzo, Ohio State (1)
2. Hayley Carter, North Carolina (2)
3. Ena Shibahara, UCLA (3)
4. Blair Shankle, Baylor (11)
5. Astra Sharma, Vanderbilt (5)
6. Luisa Stefani, Pepperdine (6)
7. Karla Popovic, Cal (9)
8. Eleni Christofi, Georgia (18)
9. Sara Daavettila, North Carolina (4)
10. Viktoriya Lushkova, Oklahoma State (10)

The men's Top 10 singles:

1. Mikael Torpegaard, Ohio State (1)
2. Petros Chrysochos, Wake Forest (2)
3. Cameron Norrie, TCU (23)
4. Hugo Di Feo, Ohio State (3)
5. Juan Benitez, Baylor (15)
6. Thai Kwiatkowski, Virginia (9)
7. Alfredo Perez, Florida (10)
8. Nuno Borges, Mississippi State (4)
9. Christopher Eubanks, Georgia Tech (7)
10. Michael Redlicki, Arkansas (6)

In men's doubles, Wake Forest's Skander Mansouri and Christian Seraphim returned to No. 1.  In women's doubles, North Carolina's Jessie Aney and Hayley Carter remained in the top spot.

The qualifying is complete at the Miami Open, with five US men and three US women advancing to the main draw.

Frances Tiafoe defeated Mathias Bourgue of France 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to join Ernesto Escobedo, Jared Donaldson, Christian Harrison and Tim Smyczek as qualifiers.  Escobedo defeated Renzo Olivo of Argentina 7-5, 6-3, Donaldson topped Stefan Kozlov by the same score, Harrison defeated Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil 7-5, 6-2 and Smyczek beat Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 7-5, 6-1.

Varvara Lepchenko, Madison Brengle and Taylor Townsend are the US women qualifiers, with Lepchenko beating Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, Brengle outlasting Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain 7-6(2), 7-5 and Townsend beating Mona Barthel of Germany 7-6(6), 6-3.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Shi Ousts Top Seed Bryde, Brooksby Eliminates 2016 Finalist RIffice in ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Brian Shi wasn't exactly enthusiastic when he saw that he had drawn top seed Trent Bryde in the first round of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships.  But Shi had played Bryde close in a match last summer and recently won the ITF Grade 3 tournament in Costa Rica, so he was ready for the challenge, recording a 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 victory on the StubHub Center's stadium court.

"I think anyone who gets the one seed would be a little like, yeah it's a bad draw," said the 17-year-old from New York. "But I knew I was playing very well, and I played Trent [last August] in College Park and it was very close, I had a lot of chances there. So I thought he would be a little nervous playing me also."

Shi took the first set with a late break, but he knew Bryde would raise his level in the second set.

"He wouldn't be where he is if he wasn't a competitor," the 144th-ranked Shi said of the 11th-ranked Bryde. "I knew he was going to keep competing and come back."

Bryde played some excellent defense to get the only break of the second set, with Shi broken at love serving at 3-all. Bryde, who won the Grade A in Brazil last month, was able to serve out the set, and looked poised to avoid the upset, but Shi regrouped quickly. A backhand winner gave Shi at 2-0 lead in the third set, and as Bryde began to press, the unforced errors began to come in bunches. Shi showed no nerves and kept to his game plan of keeping the ball deep.

"It was probably my best win, and I played very well," said Shi, who has recently given a verbal commitment to Harvard for the fall of 2018. "I think that's alleviated some of the pressure in tournament. I don't go in thinking if I lose this match I might not get into the college I want, so I can come out swinging."

Shi, who trains in Jupiter Florida with Andrei Daescu, the former University of Oklahoma star, said he was particularly happy with the win given his results in the 2016 tournament.

"Last year I didn't do well at all," said Shi. "I actually lost first and first. So I'm really happy with my win here, and I'm going to try to keep it going in my next match."

While Shi knew he was facing the top seed once the draw came out, wild card Jenson Brooksby kept himself in the dark about his opponent, No. 4 seed and 2016 finalist Sam Riffice.

"In this tournament I didn't check the draw and I only knew who I was going to play an hour before," said the 16-year-old Californian, who was a finalist in the Kalamazoo 16s last year. "It helps me focus on my game. But I was excited to play him."

Brooksby lost the first set to Riffice in short order, but he wasn't discouraged, going on to record a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory.

"I knew what I was doing wrong, so I knew that I could come back," Brooksby said. "I was hitting too many short balls, so he was able to play offense and come in, which he likes to do. In the second and third sets I got more length and was able to dictate play, keep running him around and he started to get tired, I could tell."

Riffice was struggling with his backhand, and held serve only once in the final set, in the opening game.  Brooksby was disappointed with all the breaks he gave back, but retained his confidence despite getting broken serving for the match at 5-2.

"I knew I could do well in the return games, but it's something to work on for my next match," Brooksby said of his poor first serve percentage.

Girls top seed Taylor Johnson was tested by Victoria Hu, but unlike Bryde, she was able to pull out a victory in three sets, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. Two girls seeds went out, with No. 8 seed Anhzelika Isaeva of Russia falling to wild card Hannah Zhao 7-6(2), 7-6(2) and No. 5 seed Natasha Subhash dropping her match with Alexa Noel 2-6, 6-3, 7-5. Subhash and Noel were moved from Court 5 when the lights on that court didn't work, and it was well past 9 p.m. when that battle finally concluded.

In the 16s first round, all of the seeded players had byes.

In the 18s, there are nine girls first round matches and eight boys first round matches left to be played. With rain in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday, Tuesday's schedule starts off at 8 a.m. with the completion of the first round of 18s singles.

See the tournament website for the full draws and Tuesday's order of play.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

USTA's Jay Berger to Step Down; Bryde, Johnson are Top Seeds at Carson ITF Grade 1; Shapovalov Wins Drummondville Challenger; Miami Open Qualifying Begins Monday

The USTA announced today that Jay Berger, who has served as head of men's tennis since 2008, will be leaving in June.  Berger, 50, began working for the USTA as a national coach in 2003, after coaching at the University of Miami.  Berger won the Kalamazoo 18s in 1985 and was an All-American at Clemson in 1985-86, then went on to a successful pro career, reaching No. 7 in the ATP rankings.  

The release does not mention a reason for Berger's departure, nor a timetable for his replacement, although GM of Player Development Martin Blackman is quoted as saying: "It’s important for us to bring in someone who can maintain that momentum, continue to develop relationships with our top male juniors, collegians and pros and optimize the support that we give to our top American players. I’m grateful Jay has decided to stay on through June to make that transition as smooth as possible.”

This is obviously the most significant personnel change for Player Development since Blackman took over from Patrick McEnroe in 2015, so it will be interesting to see what direction he will take in filling the position.

The ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships will begin Monday, with Trent Bryde the top boys seed and Taylor Johnson the No. 1 girls seed.

Top 8 boys seeds:
1. Trent Bryde
2. Duarte Vale (POR)
3. Gianni Ross
4. Sam Riffice
5. Oliver Crawford
6. Toru Horie (JPN)
7. Alan Rubio Fierros (MEX)
8. Brian Cernoch

Top 8 girls seeds:
1. Taylor Johnson
2. Carson Branstine (CAN)
3. Emiliana Arango (COL)
4. Ellie Douglas
5. Natasha Subhash
6. Caty McNally
7. Hailey Baptiste
8. Anhzelika Isaeva (RUS)

Not all the 18s will play their first round matches on Monday, with some getting Tuesday starts, but both Bryde and Johnson are on the schedule.

In the 16s, the top seeds are Skyler Grishuk and Zane Khan.

For draws, the order of play and links to live scoring, see the tournament website.

2016 Wimbledon boys champion Denis Shapovalov of Canada won the $75,000 Drummondville Challenger on Sunday, defeating No. 4 seed Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 6-3, 6-2 in the final. The unseeded left-hander, who turns 18 next month, beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals.  With the title, Shapovalov moves into the ATP Top 200 for the first time.

At the $25,000 Futures in Bakersfield California, wild cards Patrick Kawka and Keegan Smith won the doubles title, beating Jared Hiltzik and Dominik Koepfer of Germany 6-3, 3-6, 10-6.  No. 2 seed Dmitry Popko of Kazakhstan won the singles title, defeating top seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium 6-3, 7-6(6).  Popko, 20, beat four former college stars, all in straight sets, to reach the final.

Top seed Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal won the title at the $15,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Tampa, defeating No. 2 seed Victoria Rodriguez of Mexico 6-2, 6-0 in the final.   Unseeded Alex Guarachi of Chile and Connie Hsu of Taiwan won the doubles title, beating No. 2 seeds Emina Bektas and Sanaz Marand 6-3 4-6, 10-4 in the final.

Qualifying for the Miami Open begins Monday on Key Biscayne, with 20 Americans aiming for a place in the main draw.

The American men:
Reilly Opelka
Christian Harrison (WC)
Frances Tiafoe (5)
Bjorn Fratangelo (18)
Denis Kudla
Ernesto Escobedo (13)
Stefan Kozlov (20)
Vasil Kirkov (WC)
Jared Donaldson (9)
Tim Smyczek

The American women:
Asia Muhammad
Grace Min
Kayla Day (WC)
Varvara Lepchenko (8)
Madison Brengle (9)
Sachia Vickery
Samantha Crawford
Julia Boserup (14)
Irina Falconi (13)
Taylor Townsend (21)

Monday's order of play can be found here.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Volynets, Zhu Win ITF Grade 4 Titles at Newport Beach; Day Receives Volvo Car Open Wild Card; Ram Wins First Masters Doubles Title

Fifteen-year-old Katie Volynets and 16-year-old Kevin Zhu won the singles championships at the ITF Grade 4 in Newport Beach California today.

The fourth-seeded Volynets defeated No. 12 seed Lauren Stein 6-0, 6-0 to capture her second ITF title, both coming in Grade 4s.

The unseeded Zhu claimed his first ITF title in just three tournaments played, with his best previous showing a semifinal appearance at a Grade 5 last year in his home state of Texas.

The Volvo Car Open, formerly the Family Circle Cup, announced that Kayla Day has been given a main draw wild card into the WTA Premier event in Charleston, which begins April 1.  A complete list of the competitors can be found here.

Rajeev Ram, who won the 2003 NCAA doubles title while at Illinois, celebrated his 33rd birthday with his first Masters doubles title today at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.  Ram and his partner Raven Klaasen, seeded sixth, defeated No. 8 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo 6-7(1), 6-4, 10-8 in the final.  For more on the final, see the ATP website.

Roger Federer defeated Jack Sock 6-1, 7-6(4) in the semifinals and will play Stan Wawrinka in Sunday's final.

Keegan Smith's run at the $25,000 Bakersfield Futures came to an end in the semifinals, where he lost to top seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium 6-0, 6-2. Smith will play in the doubles final on Sunday, with partner Patrick Kawka. The wild cards will face Dominik Koepfer of Germany and Jared Hiltzik for the title.

ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships Qualifying Draws; Auger-Aliassime Defeats De Minaur, Plays Shapovalov in Challenger Semifinal

Today's a travel day for me, as I head to Southern California for the Carson-Easter Bowl fortnight, so I wanted to put up a post early today in case I'm unable to later this evening.

The qualifying draws are up for the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson, both in the 16s and 18s division, with play now underway. Links to the order of play and the draws can be found at the tournament's new website.  Live scoring will be available again this year for main draw matches, which begin Monday.

The singles finals of the Newport Beach ITF Grade 4 are today, with wild card Brandon Nakashima facing Kevin Zhu in the boys championship match, and No. 4 seed Katie Volynets taking on No. 12 seed Lauren Stein for the girls title.  The doubles finals were played yesterday, with top seeds Caleb Chakravarthi and William Grant defeating unseeded Harry Cacciatore and Jordi Redelijk 6-3, 7-5 for the boys title. Georgia Drummy of Ireland and Mei Xu Wu of China, the No. 6 seeds, beat No. 3 seeds Stein and Imani Graham 6-3, 6-1 for the girls doubles championship.

Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov were finalists in the 2016 Wimbledon Junior Doubles

Last night in the quarterfinals of the $75,000 Drummondville Challenger, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated Alex De Minaur of Australia 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals, where he'll face friend and frequent doubles partner Denis Shapovalov.  Reigning Wimbledon boys champion Shapovalov beat 2013 NCAA champion Blaz Rola of Slovenia 7-6(6), 6-4 in the quarterfinals.  Auger-Aliassime, the US Open boys champion, defeated Shapovalov in their only ITF junior meeting, in the 2015 final of the Grade 1 in College Park Maryland, although they had met in Canadian National events prior to that. Although Shapovalov has the higher ranking, 253 to Auger-Aliassime's 511, I'd classify the match as a tossup. Free live streaming for this afternoon's match will be available at the ATP Challenger website.

Friday, March 17, 2017

My Interview with USTA Collegiate Director Stephen Amritraj; Georgia Ends Florida's 163-match Home Winning Streak; McDonald, Collins Win $100K Oracle Grants; Smith Advances to Bakersfield Futures Semifinals; Sock into BNP Paribas Semifinals

I had an opportunity to sit down with Stephen Amritraj, the USTA's Director of Collegiate Tennis last month, when I visited the National Campus in Lake Nona. We talked about the new collegiate facility there, the summer team, the upcoming college combine and several other topics for this Tennis Recruiting Network article. It's always fun to get insight on the the current college season from someone who follows it closely, and Amritraj provided several dark horse picks for Division I.  He also said, "I find the parity to be challenging for all the favorites and I think anyone who assumes that the best teams are just going to waltz through, well, I don't think the coaches think that way."

He was proven right tonight, when the sixth-seeded Georgia women defeated No. 1 and National Indoor Team Champions Florida 4-1 in Gainesville, ending the Gators home winning streak at 163.  That streak, which extends back to 2005, was the longest current home winning streak in any NCAA sport.

Georgia won the doubles point and took four first sets in singles, putting all the pressure on Florida. Two quick wins by Ellen Perez at line 1 over Belinda Woolcock and Elena Christofi at line 2 over Ingrid Neel (Christofi had also beaten Neel in the first round of the Orange Bowl back in 2015), made it 3-0.  Josie Kuhlman got Florida on the board with a win over Caroline Brinson at line 4, and Florida's Anna Danilina forced a third set in her line 3 match with Kennedy Shaffer, but Brooke Austin was unable to close out Georgia's Marta Gonzalez at line 5, losing a second set tiebreaker, and Florida's Kourtney Keegan was down a set and a break to Mariana Gould at line 6.

Keegan came back to make it 4-4 against Gould and actually served for the set, but couldn't hold and she was forced to save a match point on a deciding point serving at 5-6. Keegan trailed 4-2 in the tiebreaker, but got it back to 5-5, only to miss an overhead to give Gould another match point.  A tense rally ensued, with Gould playing aggressively and Keegan defending, but eventually Gould forced an error from Keegan to set off a joyous celebration by the Bulldogs. For more on the match, see Georgia's website.

Even with the parity that no-ad has brought, I will admit to being surprised that the streak ended with this team, one of the strongest in the dozen years since their last home loss.

While the Georgia women had a great win, the men lost a tough one at home to No. 1 Wake Forest 4-3. Borna Gojo of Wake Forest came from 4-2 down in the third set against a cramping Emil Reinberg at line 2 to get the win for the Demon Deacons over the 12th-ranked Bulldogs.

In more college news, Oracle CEO Mark Hurd and tennis great Chris Evert today announced the winners of the newly established Oracle US Tennis Awards, with NCAA singles champions Mackenzie McDonald of UCLA and Danielle Collins of Virginia the first recipients of the $100,000 grants.  For more on the awards, see the ITA website.

Qualifier Keegan Smith continued his impressive run at the $25,000 Bakersfield Futures, beating wild card Bradley Klahn, who has been as high as 63 in the ATP rankings, 6-2, 6-3 in today's quarterfinals. The 18-year-old UCLA recruit, who is competing in just his fourth Futures event, has yet to drop a set in his six victories.  He will play top seed Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium, currently 200 in the ATP rankings, Saturday.

Jack Sock picked up his first ATP Top 5 victory today in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, defeating Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 to advance to this first Masters semifinal.  Sock will next face Roger Federer, who advanced via walkover when Nick Kyrgios could not play due to illness. Federer is 2-0 against Sock with straight-sets wins in Basel in 2016 and Indian Wells in 2015.  For more on Sock's win over Nishikori, see the ATP website.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mateas, Smith Reach Pro Circuit Quarterfinals; Newport Beach ITF Grade 4 Semifinals Set; Emory and Tyler Junior College Top Men's and Women's ITA Rankings

Seventeen-year-old qualifier Maria Mateas has advanced to the quarterfinals of the $15,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Tampa, after defeating Amy Zhu, also a qualifier, 6-3, 7-5. Mateas will play another qualifier, former Alabama star Alexa Guarachi Mathison of Chile, on Friday.  Nicole Melichar, another qualifier, is the only American other than Mateas to reach the final eight.

At the $25,000 Bakersfield Futures, 18-year-old Keegan Smith advanced to his first career quarterfinal, beating No. 8 seed Jared Hiltzik 6-3, 6-4.  Smith, who will be joining UCLA this fall, had just one ATP point in limited Futures play prior to today, but he now has 5, earning three points for his victory today. He will face wild card Bradley Klahn in the quarterfinals. No. 7 seed Christian Harrison has also advanced to the quarterfinals, with Wil Spencer and No. 5 seed Marcos Giron Americans who have yet to finish their second round matches.

At the $75,000 Drummondville ATP Challenger, 16-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and 18-year-old Alex De Minaur of Australia will meet for the fourth time, but the first time outside of the ITF Junior Circuit, when they play in the quarterfinals.  De Minaur defeated Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-1 and wild card Auger-Aliassime took out No. 2 seed Peter Polansky 6-3, 6-4.  Auger-Aliassime leads the junior head-to-head 2-1, with wins in the semifinals of the College Park Grade 1 and the Eddie Herr final, both in 2015.  Last year De Minaur, who went on to reach the final, defeated Auger-Aliassime in the Wimbledon junior quarterfinals.

The semifinals are set at the ITF Grade 4 in Newport Beach California, with no seeds remaining in the boys draw. In the girls draw, top seed Salma Ewing has dominated in her last few matches and she will face No. 4 seed Katie Volynets next.  In the bottom half, No. 12 seed Lauren Stein will meet unseeded Jennifer Gadalov, who has had no trouble working her way through the draw. The 16-year-old from Los Angeles defeated No. 5 seed Peyton Stearns 6-3, 6-0 today.

Two wild cards will face off in the top half of the boys draw, with 17-year-old Robert Baylon and 15-year-old Brandon Nakashima competing for a place in the final. Two sophomores will meet in the bottom half: Texan Kevin Zhu, who went 4-0 in singles at line 1 in last week's Spring Team Championships, and Californian Jacob Bullard.

Both the men's and women's teams at Emory won Indoor Titles in the past several weeks, and they have maintained their place at the top of the Division III rankings this week. Complete rankings can be found by clicking on the headers below.  The ITA release is here.

Women's D-III Team Rankings:
1. Emory (1)
2. Williams College (2)
3. Bowdoin College (4)
4. Pomona-Pitzer (6)
5. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (5)
6. Univ. of Chicago (10)
7. Middlebury College (3)
8. Wesleyan University (8)
9. Washington Univ.-St. Louis (11)
10. Carnegie Mellon University (12)

Men's D-III Team Rankings:
1. Emory Univ. (1)
2. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (6)
3. Bowdoin College(2)
4. Middlebury College (3)
5. Univ. of Chicago (4)
6. Washington Univ.-St. Louis (5)
7. Carnegie Mellon University (7)
8. Univ. of Redlands (18)
9. Pomona-Pitzer (9)
10. Wesleyan Univ. (11)

The Junior College team rankings were also released today, with Tyler Junior College's women's and men's teams both No. 1.  ASA Miami is No. 2 in both men's and women's rankings.  The ITA release is here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Osuigwe, Mateas, McPhillips Advance in Tampa; Smith Moves on in Bakersfield; Texas-Sized Comeback Gives Longhorns Win over Ohio State; NAIA Rankings; Sock Reaches BNP Paribas Open Quarterfinals

Fourteen-year-old Whitney Osuigwe will move into the WTA rankings next week, a milestone for any young player.  After winning a round at the $15,000 tournament in Orlando last week, she now has the earned points in the requisite three tournaments, having reached the quarterfinals in two $10,000 events last summer.

This week, she qualified for the $15,000 event in Tampa, not far from her home in Bradenton, beating top seed Monika Kilnarova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3 to get into the main draw. Today she defeated wild card Alycia Parks 6-4, 6-1 to set up a meeting with No. 4 seed Victoria Rodriguez of Mexico.  Osuigwe, who turns 15 next month, could only play eight pro tournaments at age 14; the WTA allows her ten between April 17 2017 and April 16 2018, although there are paths to adding as many as four more depending on her results in pro and junior slam events and junior year-end ranking.  Balancing a pro and junior schedule is complicated, but so far Osuigwe has succeeded.

Seventeen-year-old Maria Mateas, who also qualified into the main draw, advanced to the second round with a 6-0, 0-6, 6-2 win over Alexandra Mueller, who got in as a lucky loser when No. 2 seed Danielle Collins withdrew.  Mateas will face fellow qualifier Amy Zhu, who played at the University of Michigan.

Kyle McPhillips, who is back competing in Pro Circuit events for the first time in more than three years after graduating from UCLA last year, has had no trouble in her debut; the 22-year-old wild card from Ohio qualified without dropping a set and today defeated 19-year-old Zhanlan Wei of China 6-2, 6-1. McPhillips plays No. 6 seed Connie Hsu of Taiwan, the former Penn star, next.  Other Americans into the second round are Sanaz Marand[8], Nicole Melichar and Sophie Chang.

At the $25,000 Futures tournament in Bakersfield California, UCLA recruit Keegan Smith earned his second ATP point, beating Daniel Nolan of Australia 6-3, 6-3. The 18-year-old Southern Californian qualifier had nine aces in the match. He will play No. 8 seed Jared Hiltzik next. Other Americans into the second round include Marcos Giron[5], wild cards Connor Smith and Bradley Klahn, Gonzales Austin, Christian Harrison[7], John Lamble and Wil Spencer.

The marquee match of the day in Division I college tennis was in Austin Texas, where the eighth-ranked Longhorns spotted the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes a 3-0 lead, but charged back to post a 4-3 win. All six singles matches went to three sets, and Texas's Leonardo Telles at line 5 and Rodrigo Banzer at line 6 both win third-set tiebreakers to earn points.  Banzer's 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3) win over Kyle Seelig clinched the match for Texas.  For complete results and quotes, see the Texas website.

The ITA released the NAIA individual rankings today, the first since November, with Kevin Konfederak and Jordan Cox of Georgia Gwinett No. 1 and No. 2 in the men's singles rankings. Konfederak and Cox, who won the Small College Super Bowl doubles title last fall, are ranked No. 1 in doubles.

The women's top two players are Camille Gbaguidi of the Savannah College of Art and Design and Valeria Podda of Georgia Gwinett.  Podda is part of the No. 2 ranked doubles team, with Klara Dohnalova. The top-ranked team is also from Georgia Gwinett: Chiara Di Salov and Alyona Vasilyeva. The fourth-ranked player in singles, Brittany Augustine, who was a prominent Southern California junior when I first began covering tournaments there, is now 25 years old and playing for San Diego Christian.

Tonight in at the BNP Parbias Open in Indian Wells, Jack Sock reached his third consecutive Masters quarterfinal, defeating Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 4-6, 7-6(1), 7-5. Sock, the No. 17 seed, had saved four match points in beating No. 12 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(7) on Tuesday.  Sock will face No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan in the quarterfinals, after Nishikori downed Donald Young 6-2, 6-4.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Oracle Announces $100K Grants to Two College Players; Wake Forest Men Take Over Top Spot in ITA Rankings; Florida Women Defeat Ohio State; D-I Coaches Salaries Rise

Oracle has stepped up its support of college tennis in the past several years and another indication of that came today, with the announcement that yearly grant of $100,000 will go to one men's and one women's American college player embarking on a pro career.

There aren't a lot of details on the selection criteria, with the only qualifications mentioned in the release "exemplary sportsmanship and an aptitude for success on the pro tour."  I assume this means a player who has recently played in college, but again, that's not clear.

Six members of an advisory committee will decide who gets this generous grant; they are: Chris Evert, Ilana Kloss, Peggy Michel, Tim Russell, Martin Blackman and Todd Martin.  Spending other people's money is usually not hard, but with so much on line for those two players, deciding on a winner will not be easy.

The complete release can be found here.

The latest team rankings have a new No. 1 on the men's side, with Wake Forest taking the top spot from Ohio State.  It's a program first for Wake Forest.  USC and UCLA also moved into the top 10.

In the women's team rankings, Florida stayed at No. 1, while Stanford jumped ten spots from 14 to 4 and Georgia also moved back into the Top 10.  The full team rankings can be found by clicking on the headings. There were no individual rankings released this week.

Men's Team Top 10: (previous ranking in parentheses)
1. Wake Forest (2)
2. Ohio State (1)
3. Virginia (3)
4. North Carolina (5)
5. Oklahoma State (4)
6. Baylor (9)
7. Southern Cal (14)
8. Texas (8)
9. Oklahoma (7)
10. UCLA (13)

Women's Team Top 10:
1. Florida (1)
2. Ohio State (2)
3. North Carolina (3)
4. Stanford (14)
5. Auburn (4)
6. Georgia (13)
7. Texas Tech(6)
8. Oklahoma State (7)
9. Michigan (9)
10. Vanderbilt (5)

Florida took on Ohio State at the USTA's Lake Nona Campus this evening, with the Gators posting a 4-1 CollegeMatch Day win. Florida won a close doubles point, then got wins from Ingrid Neel at line 2 and Anna Danilina at line 3 with Kourtney Keegan clinching at line 6. The Buckeyes sole point came from Francesca Di Lorenzo, who beat Belinda Woolcock at line 1 6-3, 6-1.  The WatchESPN broadcast featured Patrick McEnroe and Mark Bey, with a guest appearance by USTA Collegiate Director Stephen Amritraj, so there was plenty of expert commentary, including an interesting discussion on where Kayla Day would fit in in college tennis. The graphics also made it easy to follow what was happening on all three or six courts, a definite improvement over previous streaming setups.

The Washington Post published an article yesterday on the huge increase in coaching salaries at the University of Kentucky, as well as the athletic facility boom that has accompanied it.  Although tennis is mentioned only in passing, it's a good look at what is transpiring in athletic departments of the major conferences, whether the sports generate revenue or not.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fritz Earns First Top 10 Win; McPhillips, Chen Back in Competition; Qualifying Complete at Bakersfield Futures; D-II Powerhouse Armstrong State Ends Intercollegiate Athletics

Wild card Taylor Fritz wasn't in a great position to get his first Top 10 win against No. 6 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia last night in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Down a set and a break to the 2014 US Open men's champion, Fritz somehow fought his way back, taking the second set, then went up 5-3 in the third set. The 19-year-old failed to serve out the match, but he broke Cilic to win it, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.

According to the ATP Media information, Fritz is the first American teenager to beat a Top 10 player since Sam Querrey downed Mikhail Youzhny of Russia in the second round of the Cincinnati Masters back in 2007.  Next up for Fritz is unseeded Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, with Fritz and Jaziri having split their previous two meetings, both at Challengers.

For more on Fritz's win, see the ATP website.

Two players who have been absent from competition for some time are back on the court this week.  Kyle McPhillips, who was a three-time All-American in doubles at UCLA, had been dealing with injuries since completing her eligibility last May.  When I spoke to Chanelle Van Nguyen at Midland, she assured me that McPhillips was going to give the tour a shot when healthy, and this week she took a wild card into the qualifying for $15,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Tampa. The 22-year-old McPhillips has won her first two matches in qualifying, beating No. 2 seed Jaeda Daniel today 6-2, 6-2. She will face Catherine Leduc of Canada, who played at St. Mary's, in the final round of qualifying on Tuesday. Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal and Danielle Collins are the top two seeds in the main draw.  Wild cards were given to Alycia Parks, Daniella Moreno-Kaste, Caitlyn Williams and Jada Robinson.

The other play back competing is 17-year-old Kelly Chen, who has not played in nearly a year. Chen, who has signed with Duke, has been as high as 75 in the ITF junior rankings and 647 in the WTA rankings, currently has no ranking in either system.  She received a wild card into the ITF Grade 4 in Newport Beach this week, and she won her first round match today, beating No. 6 seed Sabina Dadaciu 6-4, 6-0.

Top seeds Salma Ewing and Caleb Chakravarthi have won their opening round matches in straight sets.

The men's USTA Pro Circuit event this week is a $25,000 Futures in Bakersfield, where qualifying was completed today.  UCLA recruit Keegan Smith has qualified for a Futures main draw for the second time. He earned his first ATP point after qualifying at last fall's $10,000 Futures in Fountain Valley California.

Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium, who went through qualifying, is the top seed. Wild cards were given to Bradley Klahn, Connor Smith, Jacob Brumm and Jarryd Woog.

While I was in Mobile last week, it was announced that Armstrong State would be merging with Division I Georgia Southern and as a result, intercollegiate athletics at Armstrong State will be discontinued. Armstrong State has been a powerhouse in Division II tennis, with the men winning three NCAA team titles and the women 10. The women are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, with the men No. 3, so there's a chance they can add to those numbers one final time. Yet the loss of such legendary programs can only be viewed as depressing, especially with all the success they've had.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

US Open Junior Champions Win Titles in Canada and Florida; Day Falls in Three to Muguruza; ITF Grade 1s in Southeast Asia

Reigning US Open boys champion Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada won his second Futures title today, defeating No. 3 seed Gleb Sakharov of France 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 at the $25,000 event in Sherbrooke Canada. Auger-Aliassime, who was unseeded, got an early break in the third set against Sakharov, a finalist at last week's Futures tournament in Canada, and made it stand up.

For Auger-Aliassime, 16, it was the fourth final of his career, with the previous three coming at the $10,000 (now $15,000) level. He received a wild card into next week's $75,000 Drummondville Canada Challenger and will play a qualifier in the first round.  Auger-Aliassime qualified for the Drummondville Challenger as a 14-year-old in 2014, a result that first put him on the radar.

Americans in the main draw of Drummondville are Daniel Nguyen, Sekou Bangoura, Mackenzie McDonald and Tennys Sandgren[6].

Top seeds Isak Arvidsson of Sweden and Frederik Nielsen of Denmark won the doubles title in Sherbrooke, defeating No. 4 seeds Mikelis Libietis of Latvia and Hugo Nys of France 6-0, 6-4 in the final.

The final at the women's $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Orlando also went three sets, and also went to a US Open junior champion.  Top seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, who won the 2014 girls title in New York, defeated No. 2 seed Victoria Rodriguez of Mexico 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 in the final.  It was the 18-year-old's tenth singles title on the ITF Women's Circuit and her second this year.

The doubles title went to Americans Emina Bektas(Michigan) and Sanaz Marand(North Carolina), with the No. 2 seeds defeating unseeded Marcela Zacarias of Mexico and Chiara Scholl 6-1, 6-3 in the final. It's the seventh pro doubles title for Bektas, all with different partners. Marand now has 14 pro doubles titles.

This year's US Open girls champion Kayla Day was playing on a bigger stage today, taking on French Open champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the third round at the BNP Paribas Open.  Day claimed the first set and hung with Muguruza throughout the match, but was unable to convert on her five break points in the second set, while her opponent seized her only opportunity to propel her to a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory. The 17-year-old left-hander from Santa Barbara California, who was featured on the WTA website after her victory over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, made a lot of new fans with her performances at Indian Wells. Her next tournament is the Miami Open, where she was given a wild card into qualifying.

The Grade 1 events this time of year are in Southeast Asia, with back-to-back tournaments in Thailand and Malaysia.  Few Americans make the trip, with the Carson Grade 1 and Easter Bowl Grade B1 coming up, but three did play last week in Thailand.  Timothy Sah lost in the first round and No. 15 seed Keenan Mayo, who had a first round bye, lost in the second round. No. 16 seed Hurricane Tyra Black lost in the quarterfinals to No. 5 seed Sofya Lansere of Russia 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.  All three Americans are on the acceptance list for next week's Grade 1 in Malaysia. 

The girls title in Thailand went to No. 6 seed Xin Yu Wang of China, who defeated No. 8 seed Simona Waltert of Switzerland 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in the final.  No. 10 seed Blake Ellis of Australia won the boys title, defeating No. 11 seed Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Mandlik Sweeps Titles at ITF Grade 3 in Costa Rica, Shi Wins Boys Singles; Newport Beach Grade 4 Qualifying Underway; Big Weekend in College Tennis

Elli Mandlik won her fourth ITF singles title today at the Grade 3 in Costa Rica.  The third-seeded 15-year-old from Florida, who is the daughter of four-time slam champion Hana Mandlikova, defeated top seed Amanda Meyer 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-2 in the final.  Mandlik also captured the doubles title, with Alana Smith.  The top seeds defeated Tiffany Lagarde of Canada and Kianah Motosono of Peru 6-3, 2-6, 10-7 in the final.

Americans also came away with both boys titles.  Seventeen-year-old Brian Shi, who recently has verbally committed to Harvard, won his second ITF singles title, with the No. 2 seed beating unseeded Drew Baird 6-3, 7-6(5) in the final.  All four semifinalists were from the US, with Shi defeating Ryan Goetz and Baird beating Christian Alshon to advance to the final.

The boys doubles champions are top seeds Axel Nefve and William Woodall, who beat Harrison Brown of Australia and Vikash Singh of India, the No. 2 seeds, 6-2, 3-6, 10-3 in the final.

The California ITF hard court swing begins Monday with the Grade 4 event in Newport Beach, with qualifying underway today.There are only two seeded boys in the 64-qualifying draw, seven girls are seeded in their 64-player draw. Only players with ITF rankings can be seeded.

There's been a lot of exciting action in Division I college tennis already this weekend.  The Florida State men beat Florida for the first time in 10 years, earning a 4-2 victory at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona in front of a College MatchDay crowd of over 1700 fans.  The Stanford men downed No. 8 Texas 4-1, TCU beat No. 6 Cal 4-3 and No. 2 Wake Forest defeated No. 5 North Carolina 4-3.  TCU completed its sweep of the Bay Area teams, beating Stanford tonight 4-3, after trailing 3-0.  Cal lost to Texas 4-3, going 0-2 this weekend.

The women's four-team shootout in Southern California this weekend was between Pac-12 rivals, with Stanford going 2-0, with wins over USC [4-0] and UCLA [4-3]. UCLA defeated Cal 4-3 tonight, after Cal had beaten USC 4-3 on Friday.

Bobby Knight has more on all the action this weekend at College Tennis Today.

Friday, March 10, 2017

My National Spring Team Championships Recap; 12s Team Championship Winners; Day Defeats Lucic-Baroni to Reach Third Round at BNP Paribas Open

My recap of the USTA National Spring Team Championships is posted today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, with photos of the two winning teams and the two sportsmanship recipients. While the event is difficult to follow from afar, with its unique way of creating teams, the players obviously enjoy making new friends while playing on a team.

As I explain in the recap, the 12s had their own team event this year in Tucson, and their teams were named after candy brands, not the pro sports team names that were used in Mobile.

photo courtesy YourGameFace.com ©2017

Swedish Fish won the boys 12s team title, beating Fun Dip 5-2 in the final. Members of the Swedish Fish:
Garen Spicka
Nicholas Godsick
Jesper Ohlson
Hank Trondson
Alexander Frantzis
Alexander Kotarski

photo courtesy YourGameFace.com ©2017
M&Ms won the girls 12s team title, defeating Sweetarts 4-3.  Members of M&Ms:
Ariel Madatali
Naomi Katz
Ibifuro Clement
Emmi Kolyszko
Blake Matthews
Lucy Schmeil

At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells today, 17-year-old Kayla Day picked up the biggest win of her career, beating No. 32 seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 6-4, 5-7, 7-5.  The 35-year-old Lucic-Baroni, who reached the Australian Open semifinals this year, served for the match at 5-3 in the third, but was unable to close it out. Day broke again to go up 6-5, and she did finish the job, getting her first WTA Top 30 victory. Day will play No. 7 seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain in Sunday's third round. For more on Day's win and a video of match point, see this article from the WTA website.

Prior to today, Taylor Fritz was just 2-4 in ATP main draw matches this year, but the 19-year-old picked up a big win today, beating Benoit Paire of France 6-3, 6-2.  Fritz, who won the Easter Bowl ITF title two years ago at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, considers the BNP Paribas Open his home tournament, listing the reasons in this article from the tournament website.

Both Day and Fritz were given wild cards into the main draw. With
another young American wild card, Stefan Kozlov, losing his match tonight against Donald Young 7-5, 7-6(5), Day, Fritz and Bjorn Fratangelo are the only American wild cards remaining in the draw. Donna Vekic of Croatia received a wild card and has advanced to the second round with a win over Alison Riske.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Miami Open Wild Cards for Anisimova, Gibbs and Mmoh; Day, Kirkov Receive Qualifying Wild Cards; US Losses Mount at BNP Paribas Open; Pro Circuit Update

The Miami Open, which begins March 20th and runs through April 2, announced its wild cards today, with initially just two US women among those receiving main draw entry: Nicole Gibbs and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. But Belinda Bencic, who was announced as receiving a wild card, is no longer on the current list, so it's likely she moved into the main draw on her ranking. Her main draw wild card was awarded to 15-year-old Floridian Amanda Anisimova, who will make her WTA main draw debut in Key Biscayne.

Other main draw wild cards were given to Ashleigh Barty(AUS), Natalia Vikhlyantseva(RUS), Ajla Tomljanovic(CRO), Beatriz Haddad Maia(BRA) and Paula Badosa(ESP).

Qualifying wild cards were given to Anastasia Potapova, Kayla Day, Sofya Zhuk and Urszula Radwanska.

Michael Mmoh is the only US man receiving a main draw wild card. the 19-year-old Bradenton Florida resident is joined by three other teenagers: Mikael Ymer(SWE), Casper Ruud(NOR) and Andrey Rublev(RUS). Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci also received a main draw wild card.

Qualifying wild cards went to teenagers Vasil Kirkov, Miomir Kecmanovic(SRB), Yibing Wu(CHN), Nicola Kuhn(ESP) and 20-year-old Elias Ymer of Sweden.

Unlike the Miami Open, the wild cards for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where the main draw began yesterday, were given mainly to Americans. So far, they have struggled to post wins, with Mattek-Sands, Gibbs, Irina Falconi, CiCi Bellis, Danielle Collins, Taylor Townsend and Jennifer Brady all dropping their opening matches. Kayla Day is the only women's wild card to advance to the second round. She defeated Kurumi Nara of Japan 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday.

The US men's wild cards have not all played their first round matches, with Taylor Fritz and Stefan Kozlov both on the schedule for Friday. Frances Tiafoe and Reilly Opelka lost their opening round matches today, Bjorn Fratangelo took out Bernard Tomic of Australia 6-2, 6-2.

The only USTA Pro Circuit event this week is the $15,000 women's tournament in Orlando, where three Americans have advanced to the quarterfinals: qualifier Quinn Gleason, No. 8 seed Chiara Scholl and No. 7 seed Sanaz Marand.  Former Notre Dame star Gleason defeated No. 9 seed Emina Bektas(Michigan) 6-4, 6-2, while Marand beat qualifier Johana Markova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-1. Scholl defeated Zhanlan Wei of China 6-1, 6-2.  Teen wild cards Elysia Bolton and Whitney Osuigwe both won their opening round matches before falling today, as did qualifiers Jada Robinson and Anastasia Nefedova. 2014 US Open girls champion Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic is the top seed.

The second round of the $25,000 Futures in Canada is complete, and no Americans advanced to the quarterfinals, with losses by Christian Harrison and qualifiers Winston Lin, Ryan Shane and Henrik Wiersholm today.  No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov, who beat Harrison, and good friend Felix Auger-Aliassime are two of the three Canadians in the quarterfinals, along with former North Carolina star Brayden Schnur, who took out Wiersholm. Former Texas star Ed Corrie of Great Britain is the top seed.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bengals Come Back to Defeat Stingrays for Girls USTA National Spring Team Championship Title

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Mobile, AL--

left to right: Walrath, Jones, Benabraham, Armistead, Mize, Briggs, Kerr

The sun made a comeback on the final day of the girls USTA National Spring Team Championships and so did the Bengals, who were down 3-1 when rain halted play Tuesday afternoon.  Needing to win all three singles matches still on court, the Bengals did just that, rallying to close out the Stingrays 4-3.

The Stingrays were only three games from the title, with Carmen Corley leading the Bengals Carly Briggs 7-5, 3-4 at the 16s line 1 when play resumed at the Mobile Tennis Center. Corley held for 4-4 and Briggs won her next service game easily, putting the pressure squarely back on Corley.  At 30-all, Corley netted a forehand to give Briggs a set point, and a double fault followed, giving the Bengals the split they had to have.

"They came out on fire," Bengals coach Seth Walrath said. "I was a little worried, because it was a morning match, our first morning match all week. But they brought really good energy."

As for Briggs, Walrath said she was disappointed to lose the momentum she had gained in the second set Tuesday afternoon but didn't dwell on that.

"She came out fired up, and tactically she did what we talked about," Walrath said. "She was patient, she threw in the slice a little bit and moved the other girl, who had very big shots. There was no reason for [Briggs] to try to outhit her opponent, she just had to weather the storm."

The Bengals had taken the opening set in the other two matches, so the task of Jennifer Kerr at the 18s line 1 and Mary Grace Armistead at the 14s line 1 was to close out their opponents.  That proved easier said than done however.  Kerr served the match twice against Kolie Allen, who had saved a match point serving down 3-5 in the second. Kerr had three more match points serving at 5-4, but Allen saved them all and held for 5-5.  Kerr got another break and another chance to put her point on the board, and she went up 40-0, but those match points came and went too. The emotionless Kerr didn't show any frustration until she double faulted on her eighth match point, but she quickly regrouped, earning a ninth match point.  Allen forced an error on that one, but a point later Kerr earned her tenth match point, and finally converted, blasting a backhand winner to pull the Bengals even.

While Kerr and Allen were battling through their last three games, Armistead had come from 3-1 down in the second set against Eleana Yu, winning five straight games to post a 7-5, 6-3 victory at the 14s line 1.  Armistead won all eight of her matches in the tournament, and was the hero of the Bengals 4-3 semifinal win over the Sharks late Monday night, winning the last match on in three sets.

"I'm very comfortable in that situation," said the 14-year-old from Hilton Head South Carolina. "I've done team sports before, so it's normal for me. But I couldn't do it without my team."

Armistead is also not likely to panic when she's behind.

"I was down three times in the tournament and I won five games straight in every one of them," Armistead said. "Against Saige Roshkoff, I was down 6-4, 5-2, 15-40, she had three match points, and I won the set 7-5. So I know, if I start losing, there's opportunities to come back, I know I can come back."

"Mary Grace is a pistol," said Walrath. "She's a pistol and she's a fighter. In our second round against Saige Roshkoff, she was down a set and 5-2 and she comes back to win the match. Every little step along the way, in a team environment like that, you might get a little lucky sometimes, but every single person on this team contributed."

After Kerr had made it 3-3, Corley was serving down 3-4. She was broken at 30-40 and Briggs was able to serve out the only three-setter of the final 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

"These girls have been amazing," said Walrath. "When ever somebody has gone down, somebody else is there to pick it up. I still think it came down to our chemistry. And hopefully they have made a couple of friendships here that last."

Stingrays coach Chris Kwon knew there was much work to be done when his team returned to the courts this morning, despite the 3-1 lead.

"I knew there were three close matches and they could go either way," said Kwon, a private coach from Boca Raton Florida, who was participating in the tournament for the first time. "We could have won all three or we could have lost all three, which we did. But I just wanted them all to start as fast as possible, have a great mindset and a goal they wanted to accomplish, execute, leave it all out there. That's exactly what they did and I'm proud of all my kids."

The bronze medallions went to the Angels, with Zoe Howard defeating the Sharks' Malaika Rapolu 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-0 at the 16s line 2 to clinch the 4-3 victory.

The sportsmanship award went to Ellie Wright of Gainesville Florida, who played for the Red Hawks.

Complete results from all eight matches played today can be found at the TennisLink site.

GIRLS FINAL: Bengals 4, Stingrays 3

Kolie Allen and Catherine Gulihur(Stingrays) def. Jennifer Kerr and Sydney Jones(Bengals) 6-2
Carmen Corley and Casey Accola(Stingrays) def. Carly Briggs and Kelsey Mize(Bengals) 6-3
Mary Grace Armistead and Daniella Benabraham(Bengals) def. Eleana Yu and Rebecca Lynn(Stingrays) 6-3

1. Jennifer Kerr(Bengals) def. Kolie Allen(Stingrays) 7-5, 7-5
√2. Catherine Gulihur(Stingrays) def. Sydney Jones(Bengals) 6-1, 6-1
3. Carly Briggs(Bengals) def. Carmen Corley(Stingrays) 5-7, 6-4, 6-3
√4. Kelsey Mize(Bengals) def. Casey Arcola(Stingrays) 6-2, 6-2
5. Mary Grace Armistead(Bengals) def. Eleana Yu(Stingrays) 7-5, 6-3
√6. Rebecca Lynn(Stingrays) def. Daniella Benabraham(Bengals) 6-0, 6-1

Order of finish:
Doubles 1,2*,3
Singles  2,4,6,5,1,3*

*clinching match
√completed Tuesday

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Broncos Defeat Patriots 5-2 for Boys USTA National Spring Team Title; Girls Final Interrupted by Rain with Stingrays Leading Bengals 3-1

left to right, Speicher, Krug, Rogers, Minton, Cacciatore, Groetsch, Smith
©Colette Lewis 2017--
Mobile, AL--

Although the first two days of the USTA National Spring Team Championships were rain-free, the good weather had run its course by Tuesday.  A morning rain shower set the boys final back two hours, but the Broncos were able to defeat the Patriots 5-2 for the title. The girls final was suspended by another storm late Tuesday afternoon, with the Stingrays leading the Bengals 3-1.

The Broncos' semifinal win Monday night over the Falcons had been decided by the doubles point, with those three matches played after the teams had split the six singles contests.

In Tuesday's final, the format returned to the standard of doubles first, and the Broncos again grabbed that point.  The Broncos took the 14s doubles, with Connor Krug and Isaac Smith beating Baylor Sai and Jake Krug, Connor's twin brother, 6-3.  The Patriots responded by taking the 18s doubles, with Kevin Zhu and Randy Cory taking out John Speicher and Andrew Rogers 6-4.  So the point came down to 16s doubles, and as they had done against the Falcons Monday night, Broncos Harry Cacciatore and Cole Groetsch clinched the point, beating Leighton Allen and Nicholas Garcia 6-4.

The Broncos came out strong in singles, earning four first sets, to just two for the Patriots.  Rogers gave the Broncos their second point, taking the match at the 18s line 2 over Cory 6-3, 6-4. Five minutes later, Smith made it 3-0, beating Jake Krug 7-5, 6-4 at the 14s line 2.

The Patriots needed to force a third set in two matches still in progress, and they looked to be doing that at the 14s line 1, with Sai up a break in the second set against Connor Krug, but Krug fought back, forced a tiebreaker and went on to clinch the championship with a 6-1, 7-6(6) victory.

"He saved a bunch of set points there, and that was a huge match," said Broncos coach Bryan Minton.

Just minutes after Krug had clinched, Groetsch closed out Garcia 6-4, 6-3 at the 16s line 2 to make it 5-0.  Although Allen gave the Patriots a point with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Cacciatore at the 16s line 1, and Zhu got his eighth win of the tournament against no losses with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Speicher at 18s line 1 to make the final score 5-2, Patriots coach Matthew Boughton acknowledged the great performance by the Broncos.

"We had our opportunities in the 14s singles, but couldn't close out the match," said Boughton, who has coached a team all four years the tournament has been held, but was making his first appearance in the finals. "But a lot of credit goes to the other team. They're a good team. My guys fought, but 5-2, that's a tough one."

Minton didn't need much prompting to name a most valuable player on his team.

"Harry Cacciatore was my MVP," said Minton, who made his tournament debut this year. "I already told him that. He lost his singles match today, but he pulled out so many tough matches for us along the way. His team spirit was amazing, he was always the one to count us down, he had great energy, great focus, and I just believed in him.  I believed in the whole team, every one of the guys was amazing, but Harry really stood out. He was cheering for everyone else in the middle of some of his own big battles."

Like Minton, Cacciatore had never participated in the tournament before.

"I actually didn't get my national ranking up until like last year," said the 16-year-old high school junior from Gainesville Florida. "It was a great experience, and I'll for sure play next year."

Cacciatore said his limited exposure to team events made the tournament special for him and he welcomed the opportunity to see what may await him in college.

"I think college will be like this a little bit, the way they did the doubles, so it was awesome experience to get a taste of that, and I can't wait to be back next year," Cacciatore said.

As for winning a title in his first year, Cacciatore was aware of his good fortune.

"I think I just got lucky with a good team, and we just had the best chemistry on the court," Cacciatore said.

Minton, who is also looking forward to returning next year, agreed.

"The team spirit was just huge," Minton said. "I think that's probably what helped us more than anything else, just the camaraderie that the boys had, how they cheered for each other and kept the energy up. It was a blast."

In the third place match, the Rams defeated the Falcons 4-3, with Chase Wood clinching the match at the 18s line 1 with a 7-6(3), 6-4 win over Beau Pelletier.

The boys tournament sportsmanship award went to Malachi Coleman of the Saints.

The girls final between the Stingrays and the Bengals began around 2:45 p.m., and the sun burst through the gloom occasionally early in the afternoon, but clouds thickened and darkened as the girls moved into the late stages of their singles matches, and once rain began to fall around 4:45 p.m, play was suspended until Wednesday morning.

The Stingrays had taken the doubles point, getting wins at 18s and 16s.  Kolie Allen and Catherine Gulihur defeated the Bengals Jennifer Kerr and Sydney Jones 6-2 in the 18s, with Carmen Corley and Casey Accola clinching it by beating Carly Briggs and Kelsey Mize 6-3 in the 16s.  Mary Grace Armistead and Daniella Benabraham took the 14s doubles with a 6-3 win over Eleana Yu and Rebecca Lynn.

Gulihur defeated Jones at the 18s line 2 6-1, 6-1 to make it 2-0 Stingrays, with Mize then putting the Bengals on the board with a 6-2, 6-2 decision over Accola at the 16s line 2.  Lynn defeated Benabraham 6-0, 6-1 at the 14s line 2 to make it 3-1 Stingrays. Shortly after Lynn's victory, rain stopped play.  Corley was up 7-5, 3-4 against Briggs at the 16s line 1, and if she holds on, she could clinch for the Stingrays. Kerr and Armistead had taken the first sets at the 18s line 1 and the 14s line 1 for the Bengals, with their matches early in the second set.

Play is scheduled to be resumed at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.  In addition to the final and third place matches, six other matches were still in progress and will also be resumed Wednesday.

Complete results from the boys tournament can be found at the TennisLink site.

BOYS FINAL:  Broncos 5, Patriots 2

1. 18s: Kevin Zhu and Randy Cory(Patriots) d. John Speicher and Andrew Rogers(Broncos) 6-4
2. 16s: Harry Cacciatore and Cole Groetsch(Broncos) d. Leighton Allen and Nicholas Garcia(Patriots) 6-4
3. 14s: Conner Krug and Isaac Smith(Broncos) d. Baylor Sai and Jake Krug(Patriots) 6-3

1. Kevin Zhu(Patriots) d. John Speicher(Broncos) 7-5, 5-7, 6-2
2. Andrew Rogers(Broncos) d. Randy Cory(Patriots) 6-3, 6-4
3. Leighton Allen(Patriots) d. Harry Cacciatore(Broncos) 7-5, 6-4
4. Cole Groetsch(Broncos) d. Nicolas Garcia(Patriots) 6-4, 6-3
5. Conner Krug(Broncos) d. Baylor Sai(Patriots) 6-1, 7-6(6)
6. Isaac Smith(Broncos) d. Jake Krug(Patriots) 7-5, 6-4

Order of finish:
Doubles 3, 1, 2*
Singles 2, 6, 5* 4, 3, 1

*clinching match

Monday, March 6, 2017

Doubles Point Puts Broncos in Boys Final Versus Patriots; Bengals Win Deciding Match to Advance to Girls Final Against Stingrays at USTA National Spring Team Championships

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Mobile, AL--

The doubles point is considered significant in a Division I college dual match, setting the tone and, in retrospect, providing a deciding point in a close match. Due to rain in the forecast for Tuesday at the USTA National Spring Team Championships, two rounds of singles matches were played Monday, and with the subsequently juggled schedule, the doubles were played last in the boys semifinals.  The doubles point didn’t matter to the Patriots, who clinched their 4-3 win over the Rams prior to the doubles, but the Falcons and the Broncos split their singles matches, meaning the doubles point would decide who played in the finals.

Down 3-2 in singles, the Falcons’ Beau Pelletier ensured the doubles would matter, taking a 7-6(2), 7-6(4) win over the Broncos’ John Speicher at the 18s line 1. It was a grueling two and a half hour match, made all the more tense and challenging by gusty winds, but after a short rest, both players were back on the court for the deciding doubles.

Prospects appeared bright for the Falcons when they took a 4-0 lead in the 14s and were on serve in the 16s and 18s, but even the no-ad, one-set doubles format provided enough room for a Bronco comeback. Connor Krug and Isaac Smith somehow managed to win six games in a row from Falcons Chris Fok and Noah Gampel, and improbably were the first team to finish.  By that time, Speicher and Andrew Rogers had gotten a break at No. 1 over Pelletier and Alexander Exsted, but could not close out the match, giving the Falcons new life.  But Broncos 16s Harry Cacciatore and Cole Groetsch finished the job, breaking Evin McDonald and Alexander Kiefer to take the 6-4 decision and put their team in the final.

Broncos coach Bryan Minton said he was confident in his doubles teams, but well aware of the potential for the unexpected.

“I felt like we had the better doubles teams and I was excited about that,” said Minton, who is coaching in the tournament for the first time. “But obviously, you never know. It’s a six-game set, it’s no ad, and things could not go your way pretty quickly. We got down 4-0 in a heartbeat in our 14s, and I was nervous about that. I just kept telling the boys, take one point at a time, play your best shots, and they found a way to come back. So I had confidence, but yeah, those can go quickly the other way with just a little momentum.”

Minton, who is a partner at the MW Tennis Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, said he was excited to be invited to coach in the event.

“I’ve done zonals before, but it was a long time ago,” said Minton, who coached Shelby Rogers earlier in her career. “I’ve been doing more and more things with USTA Player Development camps, so I got an invitation to be a coach here and I jumped on it. I love this kind of atmosphere, it’s a blast. I always have a great time with the kids who end up on my teams. And one of my [academy] girls is here, so I was excited to get a chance to watch her as well.”

The Patriots, who are coached by Matthew Boughton, got wins from Jake Krug at the 14s line 2, Randy Cory at the 18s line 2, Nicolas Garcia at the 16s line 2, with Kevin Zhu clinching at the 18s line 1.  The final will feature twins Jake and Connor Krug, but with Connor at 14s line 1 and Jake at 14s line 2 in singles, only the doubles will have them going head-to-head.

The girls semifinals, with the doubles played first, finished under the lights of the Mobile Tennis Center, with both the Stingrays and the Bengals posting 4-3 victories.  Although all six girls matches played in the medallion bracket ended with 4-3 scores, not all came down to the last match on, with several clinched prior to the completion of all singles matches.

That was the case for the Stingrays, who led 3-2 before Rebecca Lynn clinched their place in the final with a 6-2, 6-2 win over the Angels’ Nore Ann Heinitz at the 14s line 2.  The Stingrays had won two of three matches to take the doubles point, with all three doubles matches going to a tiebreaker.  Kolie Allen and Catherine Gulihur picked up the other two singles points for the Stingrays, at the 18s lines 1 and 2. The Stingrays coach Chris Kwon will face fellow tournament rookie Seth Walrath of the Bengals, who did experience the stress of being on the sidelines of a last match on.

The Bengals had swept the doubles and got wins from Daniella Benabraham at the 14s line 2 and Carly Briggs at the 16s line 1, after the Sharks had gotten their first point from Malaika Rapolu at the 16s line 2. The Sharks the swept the 18s with McCartney Kessler winning at line 1 and Sophia Patel at line 2, both in three sets, with Patel’s win pulling the Sharks even. Calissa Dellabarca had just forced a third set in her match with Mary Grace Armistead at the 14s line 1, giving the Sharks hope, but Armistead came through with a hard-fought 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 victory.

“She brought a lot of energy in that third set,” said Walrath, who works in Junior Development at the USTA Middle States section. “She lost energy in the second, but in the third, she got pumped up again and brought herself back to the level she had played at earlier. She stayed super positive.”

In his first experience with the National Team event, Walrath was impressed with how quickly his team came together.

“They jelled within the first hour,” Walrath said, showing off his tiger-striped ribbon tied around his wrist. “I coached Intersectionals in the 16s and at other national tournaments, but I hadn’t coached this tournament, so I didn’t know what to expect. But the format’s amazing, and as I said, we really had a lot of team chemistry and that goes a long way. You could see them all rooting for each other.”

The weather forecast for Tuesday currently shows a chance of rain all day, with the percentages highest in the late afternoon. If it holds off, both the doubles and singles will be played on Tuesday, but if it does not, the tournament will end as previously announced on Wednesday.

Results from all second round and third round matches can be found at the TennisLink site.