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Monday, September 18, 2017

My American Collegiate Invitational Recap; Interviews with the Eight Men Participants

I wrapped up the American Collegiate Invitational at the US Open with this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network. Stanford's Tom Fawcett and Ohio State's Francesca Di Lorenzo won the titles and with those title comes qualifying wild cards into next year's US Open. Last week I provided excerpts from my interviews with all eight women's participants. Below are the conversations I had with the eight men's competitors.

William Bushamuka, University of Kentucky senior
(Bushamuka lost to Brandon Holt 6-2, 6-2)

On his last-minute inclusion as an alternate: I was in class when I found out and I called my mom and my coach and told them I was going to come here.

On his schedule during the summer:
I went to Africa this summer to play some Futures, and that was fun. There’s a big Challenger in Lexington and I played that. I lost (to JP Smith of Australia), but I had a good match.

On switching from representing Congo to the United States after juniors:
I was born here in New York, but my dad is originally from Congo.

On his schedule for this fall:
I’m going to play a bunch of ITA tournaments. I’m going to Malibu [the Oracle Masters this weekend], then All Americans in Tulsa, Regionals. Then probably some Challengers, I’d like to play in some Challengers over the fall.

On what’s improved most in his game while in college:
I’d say my mental game. I was a little bit crazy in juniors, but I feel like I’ve matured a lot thanks to my coach Cedric [Kaufman]. My team also helped me a lot. I think overall I’ve improved a lot from juniors.

On his goals for this season: I’m hoping to be Top 10, Top 5, that’s where I’m trying to aim. To get really far in NCAAs as a team and individually. Hopefully we can do something great this season and I think we can with the team we have this year.

Christopher Eubanks, Georgia Tech senior
(Eubanks lost to Michael Redlicki 6-2, 6-4)

On his summer highlight: Close between playing in the first round here and getting my first tour-level wins in Atlanta. Those two are neck and neck, though maybe even the doubles win here (partnering with Christian Harrison to beat Mikhail Youzhny and Mischa Zverev in the first round). That was pretty cool. It’s been fun from beginning to end.

On what he’s learned about his game during the summer: I think I’ve gained a little bit of professionalism, mainly off the court stuff is the biggest thing for me. I’m going about that extra stuff a little bit more diligently and learning as I go, making adjustments throughout matches, things like that.

On his schedule this fall: I’m taking the fall off, going to play primarily some Challengers  and maybe throw some $25Ks in. We’ve got to manage it as we go, but that’s the plan now, play a few Challengers and see where it goes from there. Kenny [Georgia Tech head coach Thorne] has been influential in devising what the next course of action is going to be.

On his academic status: I’m a senior 24, 25 hours away from graduation. Pretty close to getting my degree.

Thai Kwiatkowski, recent University of Virginia graduate

(Kwiatkowski lost to Tom Fawcett 7-6(5), 6-4)

On the contrast between competing in the ACI and the main draw of the men's singles: It's different for sure, but if you can't enjoy playing at the US Open maybe you shouldn't play at all.

On taking Mischa Zverev to five sets in the first round of men's singles:
It was an incredible experience and a real bummer that I lost out on that. That one hurt a lot more. To be honest this doesn't really mean that much until you get to the finals. There was a lot a money and a lot of points on the [Zverev] match last week. It's every kid's dream to play in the main draw of the US Open and I really cherish the moment and am happy that I got that experience, but it's a tough loss. It lets you know where your level is, but at the same time, losing 6-3 in the fifth set or losing 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 is the same result. But it was positive overall and I have no regrets with how I competed.

On the $50,000 prize money earned from that match: It definitely gives me an opportunity to play in 2018. I graduated with a business degree from UVA, so there's massive opportunity cost every day I step out on the tennis court, so I have to understand that and do my best day in and day out, because I could be doing a lot other things in my life. I know that eventually I will get into the business world. I think right now I'm playing tennis because I've played tennis my whole life and it's always been a dream and I know if I quit now and start working, I'll definitely enjoy that job, but I'll always have in the back of my mind that I should have played. I'm basically getting that out of my system and doing my best and seeing how far that can take me. I'm going to give myself probably to the end of next year, then reassess at the end of 2018.

On his fall schedule: Right now I'm trying to figure out where to live, where to train. I'm taking a lot of advice from people who have done it before and try to figure out a good balance. Get a lot of books to continue learning, because it's weird not being in a classroom anymore. There's so much down time on the tour, lying around, wasting a lot of time.

On his coaching arrangements: I'm working with my coach back in Charlotte, Bill Belser, and I'm also working with Carlos Benatzky at USTA.

On what he'll miss about college tennis: I'll miss everything about college tennis. Playing individual tournaments and college team tournaments isn't remotely close from enjoyment. It helps when you're winning three national championships in four years, but those bus rides, tough matches and celebrations. Thankfully we got to celebrate a lot, so it's pretty good memories and I'm still best friends with all those guys, talk to them everyday, so it's not too far away.

Alex Rybakov, TCU junior
(Rybakov lost to Alfredo Perez 7-5, 6-3)

On his sophomore year at TCU: My season went well. I won 23 matches in a row at one point, lost one match then lost to Alfredo [Perez] at NCAA individuals. It was a very good season overall individually. As a team it was good; we came up a little bit short to Ohio State in the quarters.

On his summer: I won my first Futures title, won a couple of rounds in Challengers, which I hadn't done before, so that was good. I’m definitely progressing, it’s just tough I couldn’t get it done here. I didn’t play badly, but there’s a couple of things I need to keep working on.

On the success of former teammate Cam Norrie: He’s definitely helped me a lot. And seeing what he’s done transitioning to the ATP level is definitely a positive for me, that I can possibly do the same thing. We’ve had a good two seasons [as teammates] where we’ve pushed ourselves in practice and we've become close, good friends. Now that he’s left, I would like to, obviously, follow in his footsteps, take the No. 1 spot and do what he did last year, which was basically dominate. It’s easier said than done, but I’d like to replicate what he’s done.

On his academic progress after starting in January of 2016: I’m doing communication studies, that’s my major. When you first get to school it’s tough to get in a rhythm, with class and practice, but once you’re a couple of weeks in it, you kind of get into the schedule and it goes pretty well. I’m not doing mechanical engineering, so I think the classes are obviously doable if you put in the time to study. I’m a second semester sophomore; I’ve done some classes to catch up. I'll be a first semester junior in the spring. If I stay all four years, I’ll need an extra semester to finish my degree.

On playing regular scoring during the event: I don’t mind going back and forth. I think it’s honestly easier to go from no-ad back to ad. But I don’t really mind either one; I probably prefer playing with ads, just because that's what they do everywhere else. I think it’s good for the college atmosphere to have no-ad, there’s a bit more pressure, more excitement, but I don’t think it really makes a difference. The same with the shot clock and everything. I didn’t really notice it too much.

Brandon Holt, University of Southern California sophomore
(Holt defeated William Bushamuka 6-2, 6-2, lost to Michael Redlicki 4-6, 6-0, 6-3)

On returning to the National Tennis Center: I feel like I've been here more than anyone else. First time I was here, I was zero years old and I came here (with mother Tracy Austin and father Scott Holt) every single year until, I want to say, eighth grade. Then I played the juniors, but there was a little hiatus in high school. So I'm definitely comfortable here; I love it here and of course I'm happy to play. It was a treat to get the call (to fill a spot as an alternate).

On his plans for the fall: I'm going to play the Oracle Masters and I think I'll be all right by then [after a muscle injury worsened at ACI). And I think then a Futures? But I'll have to look at the schedule; I'm not really the guy to ask on that, which isn't a good thing.

On his freshman year: It was definitely positive. I had a back injury from the French Open juniors two years ago, which kind of lingered through the year, so I was kind of on and off with my back. Every three weeks my back would kind of go out. I had a stress fracture in my first rib and then I have two disc issues, but I've got them all figured out and they're all better basically; I've been doing some exercises to get back on the right track. The year was kind of tough, but I played well and did well.

On his goals for this year: It's tough to say. I've got a lot of goals. I don't really set too many goals, maybe that's something I should start doing. Win the tournament I'm about to play. No ranking goals. I think we have a chance to win the NCAA [team] championship. We've got two new freshmen who are very good I think and we lost two seniors. But I think the replacements will be good and we've all been improving a lot over the summer, really working hard. Our coaching is great and I've seen a huge improvement in everyone and I think we're on an upward trend right now and getting better.

Alfredo Perez, University of Florida junior:
(Perez defeated Alex Rybakov 7-5, 6-3, lost to Tom Fawcett 6-1, 6-2)

On rubbing shoulders with the world's best tennis players at the US Open: It was a really good experience, I really enjoyed being able to play on the same courts as the professionals. Yesterday I was eating lunch and I looked back and Rafa (Nadal) was eating lunch two feet away from me. Today I walk in he's eating lunch again and playing this Spanish board game Parchis that I play all the time with my family. I couldn't believe it. The great Rafa Nadal plays this game, I was really surprised.

On his goals for the coming season: Keep improving and playing my game and being good enough that hopefully my teammates will have trust in me that when I step on the court I'll win my match. I would like to be SEC Player of the Year and go farther in the NCAAs (he lost in the round of 16 in May), hopefully win it. But the goal is to improve as much as I can.

On his academic path and career after pursuing pro tennis: I'm studying International Studies, especially in the Caribbean. I'm focusing on tennis right now, but I would like to help countries like Cuba; they are not doing so good, so help the people there. My family is from Cuba, but we live now in Miami.

On the Gator freshmen competing in the US Open Juniors: I'm always excited by new guys, getting to know them, making friendships that last forever. They're really good guys and really good tennis players at the same time, so that's a bonus.

Michael Redlicki, University of Arkansas graduate student

(Redlicki defeated Christopher Eubanks 6-2, 6-4 and Brandon Holt 4-6, 6-0, 6-3; lost to Tom Fawcett 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-4)

On competing in the ACI and playing the final on the Grandstand: We all love coming to New York City, it's one of the coolest place on earth, so who wouldn't love to be able to invited to play at the US Open on the main courts during the main tournament in New York City? It doesn't get better than that. You feel it, you certainly feel it,  On Court 5 you feel it, on Grandstand it's a whole other experience. Huge thanks to the USTA for setting this whole event up and putting us on the Grandstand. We both sincerely appreciate it.

On completing his master's degree in business:  I just have two classes which will end in December and I'll graduate. It's an MBA with a concentration in finance. That'll be done in December and in January I'll go out on tour.

On playing full time next year: I have been putting a really large emphasis on school. It is tough, for a master's degree a lot more is required from you as a student. A lot of times people in these programs are way older than 23. A lot more is expected of them, they've been around the block more than once, so it's tough. So I'm really happy to have my master's and have it be in my pocket and have it as mental security more than anything going on the pro tour. I think being able to be on the tour with a clear head is invaluable.

On missing a golden opportunity: I'm upset because there is no flight out of LaGuardia after 2:30 tomorrow [due to Hurricane Irma]. I was actually asked to hit with Kevin [Anderson] tomorrow at 1:30; because he's playing Rafa they were going to use the lefty warmup. I would never think in my life I would tell a US Open finalist I can't warm up, because I have a flight to catch. I wish him all the best, a former Illini, and [Illinois head coach] Brad Dancer is a very close friend of mine. I'm wishing he can make some history tomorrow; to beat Rafa would be really special, that would be great.

Tom Fawcett, Stanford senior
(Fawcett defeated Thai Kwaitkowski 7-6(5), 6-4, defeated Alfredo Perez 6-1, 6-2 and Michael Redlicki 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-4)

On playing the final on the Grandstand: I've never played on a court like that before. Although there wasn't too many people out there because of the timing, it was really cool. Hawkeye didn't go well, I used all my Challenges and wasn't successful with any of them. It was cool; I've never had that system before in place and I thought it was interesting to play with it out there.

On his academic progress: I'm a senior. I'm studying science, technology and society. We have four or five guys on our team with that major, so it's a popular one.

On his plans after graduation: Playing pro tennis, that's the goal.

On incoming freshman Axel Geller, a two-time finalist at junior slams this summer: It's incredible. He's doing some great things, playing amazing tennis. We're all excited to have him there and push us to get better. I don't know him too well. I've seen him at this tournament and on his visit to Stanford, but we've gotten close from those two times and I can tell we're going to be pretty good friends.

On prospects for Stanford team this season: I'm really excited. We've got a great group of guys, everyone's pretty good and we have really good team chemistry. I think it's going to be a good year for us.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wu Claims Shanghai Challenger; King Defeats Norrie for Cary Title; Anderson Earns Title in Redding; TCU's Gray Wins Newport; OU's Bakshi Captures Shootout at Napa

Wu speaking with press after winning the US Open boys title
Just one week after taking the singles and doubles titles at the US Open Junior Championships, 17-year-old Wu Yibing of China earned his first Challenger title in his first trip to a final, defeating top seed Rendy Lu of Taiwan 7-6(6) retired in the championship match at the $75,000 ATP Challenger in Shanghai. Wu, who will move to around 320 in the ATP rankings with the win, plays his first ATP 250 event week after next in Chengdu and will also receive a wild card into the main draw of the Masters event in Shanghai next month.  The ATP spoke with the ITF's top-ranked junior for this article after his title in Shanghai.

Closer to home, Kevin King won his first Challenger title today in Cary North Carolina, beating former TCU standout Cameron Norrie of Great Britain 6-4, 6-1 in the final of the $50,000+H event.  The 26-year-old former Georgia Tech All-American has now won ten straight matches in the past two weeks, having won the title at the $25,000 Futures in Toronto a week ago. King, who had hip surgery that kept him out of competition for most of 2016, will now reach a career-high in the ATP rankings of approximately 253, up from 434 at the start of the month.

Marcelo Arevalo(Tulsa) of El Salvador and Miguel Reyes Varela(Texas) of Mexico won their third straight Challenger doubles title, beating Mikelis Libietis(Tennessee) of Latvia and Dennis Novikov(UCLA) 6-7(6), 7-6(1), 10-7 in the final.

At the $15,000 Futures in Claremont California, qualifier Karue Sell of Brazil beat former UCLA teammate Martin Redlicki 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3 to win his first Pro Circuit singles title.  More on today's final from press aide Steve Pratt:

CLAREMONT, Calif., (Sept. 17, 2017) – Former UCLA star Karue Sell won his 13th consecutive match over 10 days in the city of Claremont on Sunday, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3, beating his one-time Bruin teammate Martin Redlicki in three sets in the final of the $15,000 USTA Men’s Pro Circuit Futures Claremont Club Pro Classic played at the Claremont Club.
Just like he did warming up with his doubles partner Deiton Baughman before he faced him in a Saturday semifinal, Sell warmed up against his final opponent and good friend Redlicki before the two squared off.

“He warmed me up for every dual match during my senior year,” said Sell, 23, who won his first Futures title. “It’s not like we’re going to learn something new in 20 minutes. It’s fine. It was a nice way to warm up.”

Starting with qualifying a week ago Friday, Sell won four qualifying singles matches, five main-draw singles matches and posted four main-draw doubles wins on his way to also winning the doubles crown with Baughman.

On his @KarueSell Twitter account on Saturday, Sell posted: “After 18,466 matches this week, finals tomorrow!”

“I’m actually feeling pretty good right now,” said Sell, who did have the benefit of a walkover in singles and a second-set retirement versus Baughman on Saturday as part of his 13 wins. “I thought I’d be more sore at this point.”

The Redondo Beach resident Sell did not receive a special exemption so will not play singles this coming week in Laguna Niguel, but will play doubles with Baughman. The following week he will play singles at the Fountain Valley Futures, and doubles with Redlicki.

Sell will cash a nice check worth $2,160 and Redlicki will deposit $1,272 for his runner-up appearance, although he can only claim expenses as he is still an amateur. Maybe more importantly for Sell is the 12 valuable ATP ranking points he receives. Before the tournament, Sell had just four total ATP points during his career.

The final was tight from the start, with both players holding their strong serves early. “It was a pretty close match, and I knew it would be decided on the big points,” Sell said.

It’s quite a start to pro tennis full-time to a player who spent the summer playing Men’s Open events, and last college season as the volunteer assistant at Pepperdine.

Another former UCLA star picked up a title Sunday in California, with the Bruins No. 1 Robin Anderson winning her first $25,000 level tournament in Redding. The unseeded 24-year-old defeated No. 6 seed Chanel Simmonds of South Africa 6-1, 6-4 in the final.

Former Florida State standout Daneika Borthwick, who is now a volunteer assistant at Wake Forest, won the doubles title. The 24-year-old from Great Britain and Ana Veselinovic of Montenegro beat No. 3 seeds Maria Sanchez and Great Britain's Harriet Dart 6-3, 6-4 in the final. 

At the $60,000 Las Vegas tournament, No. 7 seed Sesil Karatantcheva beat No. 8 seed Elitsa Kostova in an all-Bulgarian singles final 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. Top seeds An Sophie Mestach of Belgium and Laura Robson of Great Britain won the doubles title, beating No. 3 seeds Sophie Chang and Alexandra Mueller 7-6(7), 7-6(2) in the final.

At the ITA's Hall of Fame Grass Court Invitational in Newport Rhode Island, the big prize, a main draw wild card into next year's ATP event, went to TCU freshman Alastair Gray.  Gray defeated teammate Alex Rybakov 6-3, 6-3 in the final, with Rybakov earning a qualifying wild card by reaching the final.  In the women's event, Florida's Anna Danilina won the top flight, beating North Carolina's Jessie Aney 6-7, 6-1, 10-7. The ITA's release on the final states that Danilina is not eligible for a USTA Pro Circuit wild card that was offered to the winner. Aney will receive a wild card into a $25,000 Pro Circuit qualifying draw.

The Audi Napa Valley event, which features round robin play including both Division I college players and USTA juniors, was completed today, with Oklahoma's Alexander Bakshi winning the shootout that decides the USTA Pro Circuit wild card recipient.  Bakshi defeated Texas A&M's Valentin Vacherot 10-7 in the final of the super tiebreaker format that makes up the shootout.  None of the USTA juniors advanced to the shootout from their round robin groups. Complete results are here.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

King, Norrie to Decide Cary Challenger Title; Wu Advances to Final in Shanghai Challenger; Redlicki Makes First Futures Final; Khan Wins ITF Grade 5 in Honduras

Kevin King won a Futures title last week in Canada and has now extended his winning streak to nine in reaching his first ATP Challenger final at the $50,000+Hospitality tournament in Cary North Carolina. The 26-year-old former Georgia Tech star, who used a protected ranking for entry this week, defeated No. 6 seed Noah Rubin 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, coming from a break down in the final set to earn the victory. King, who beat top seed Ernesto Escobedo in the second round, will face former TCU star Cameron Norrie of Great Britain in Sunday's final. Norrie, who would have been seeded in Cary based on his US Open results had it been one week later, defeated former Tulsa star Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvadore 6-0, 6-4.  Arevalo had won his first Challenger title last week in Bogota Colombia. Less than two months ago, Norrie, who beat No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren in the second round, had an ATP ranking of 275. If he wins Sunday, he will be approaching 150 in the rankings.  Live streaming is available here for Sunday afternoon's final.

On the other side of the International Date Line, US Open boys champion Wu Yibing has reached his first Challenger final at the $75,000 tournament in Shanghai. Wu, who barely had a day to travel from New York to China, defeated Matthias Bachinger of Germany 7-5, 7-5 to advance to the championship match against Rendy Lu of Taiwan. Lu and Wu played last month in the semifinals of the Chengdu Challenger with the 34-year-old winning 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.  Wu has also received a wild card into the ATP 250 event in Chengdu week after next. 2010 NCAA champion Bradley Klahn has reached doubles final in Shanghai, with Canadian Peter Polansky.

Martin Redlicki watching brother Michael at 2017 ACI in New York
Another player making a first final appearance on Sunday is UCLA senior Martin Redlicki, who will face former teammate Karue Sell of Brazil in the final of the $15,000 Futures in Claremont California.  Sell already has one title, winning the doubles championship with Deiton Baughman.  For more on today's matches, see this recap from press aide Steve Pratt:

CLAREMONT, Calif., (Sept. 16, 2017) – UCLA senior Martin Redlicki beat a familiar face in former junior rival Henry Craig, 6-4, 6-2, on Saturday in the semifinals of the $15,000 USTA Men’s Pro Circuit Futures Claremont Club Pro Classic being played at the Claremont Club.

In the Sunday 10 a.m. final, Redlicki will meet an even more familiar foe when he plays his former Bruin teammate Karue Sell. The 2016 NCAA doubles champion with Mackenzie McDonald, Redlicki will be contesting his first Pro Circuit Futures final. Redlicki and Sell were teammates for two years during Redlicki’s freshman and sophomore years.

“I remember in last year’s semifinals I was up a set and 4-2 and had a break point, but ended up losing the match (to eventual winner Sebastian Fanselow),” Redlicki said. “I had the same exact thing happen today, but tried to get any negative thoughts about last year out of my head quickly.”

The 2015 ITA Rookie of the Year Redlicki also won the US Open junior doubles title in 2013. 

“I was able to minimize my mistakes today and played the big points well,” Redlicki said. “It’s great to have two Bruins in the final.”

Sell defeated an injured Deiton Baughman as the 2015 Claremont Club was forced to retire with Sell leading 7-5, 3-0, because of an elbow issue that has bothered him all week.

The final of the $25,000 Futures in Toronto was played today, with No. 4 seed Kaichi Uchida of Japan defeating former Illinois star Dennis Nevolo, the No. 6 seed, 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-1.  Former Texas A&M teammates Harrison Adams and Shane Vinsant won the doubles title, beating Gary Kushnirovich and France's Yanais Laurent 6-3, 6-2 in a battle between unseeded teams.

At the WTA International tournament in Quebec, Australian Open girls doubles champions Bianca Andreescu and Carson Branstine have reached the final.  The 17-year-old wild cards defeated second seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals and Irina Falconi and Hungary's Fanny Stollar in the semifinals to advance to the championship match against top seeds Timea Babos of Hungary and Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic.

Zane Khan has been out with an injury since March (as has his brother Faris), but he won his first tournament back today at the ITF Grade 5 in Honduras. The 15-year-old, seeded No. 4, defeated the top seed in the semifinals and took out No. 3 seed Antonio March of Ecuador 6-2, 6-4 in the final to win his first ITF junior singles title. The Khan brothers also made the doubles final, but Faris was apparently injured in his semifinal match and they gave a walkover to their opponents. Jenna Dean won the girls doubles title, with Japan's Natsumi Kawaguchi. The top seeds defeated  Romary Cardenas Rifka and Ingrid Millan of Mexico, the No. 2 seeds, 6-3, 6-2 in the final. Kawaguchi, the top seed in singles, beat Dean, the No. 2 seed in singles, 6-0, 6-4 in that final.

Friday, September 15, 2017

US Open Junior Championships Recap, Photos

My recap of the 2017 US Open Junior Championships is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network, with a look back at how American Amanda Anisimova and Chinese Wu Yibing made history for their countries. Although Anisimova is off until next week's Junior Fed Cup in Budapest, Wu has kept right on winning, reaching the semifinals this week at the $75,000 ATP Challenger in Shanghai.

To wrap up the tournament, below are photos of all 20 American juniors who won a singles match in New York, with the round they lost in noted in the caption. For photos of the 20 Americans who lost first round matches, see this Google Photos Album.

Second round

Second round

Second round

Second round

Second round

Second round

Second round

Second round

Second round

Second round

Third round

Third round

Third round

Third round







Thursday, September 14, 2017

Part I of American Collegiate Invitational Competitors: Talking with the Women

I spoke with all 16 of the current or former collegiate players who participated in the American Collegiate Invitational last week at the US Open, and as I did last year, I'm providing two separate updates, one for the men and one for the women, starting with the latter.  I'll also have a recap of the event for the Tennis Recruiting Network next week.

Hayley Carter, 2017 University of North Carolina graduate
(lost to Ingrid Neel 4-6, 6-4, 6-2)

On joining the staff of Oklahoma State women's program as assistant coach rather than playing the tour: There are multiple reasons, honestly. You saw me in college; I was pretty banged up, ankle brace, knee brace, my wrist was in a cast every other week. [This summer] I went to the USTA training center full time and I got hurt, my hip, the first week, so that was obviously one of the factors, if my body could live up to it. Another one was I always wanted to go into coaching. I had coaches reach out to me in March, who had open positions. I thought it would be a little bit longer, I thought I would play first, but I wanted to be a coach and am happy to be one. And then, lastly, my dad passed away in March, and I played at Georgia Tech a week later, three days after the funeral. I think because I came back so quickly and so well I think people lost sight of the face of how that affected me. You look at Stevie Johnson and how well he's doing, he's playing for his dad and utmost respect for that, but for me honestly, it almost had the opposite effect. This journey was as much my dad's as it was mine, as much his dream as it was mine and I can't imagine doing it without him. That was the biggest one. It was very hard for me this semester and I needed a break.

On continuing to play: I'll play when I can and I'll play because I love the sport and when I want to. Four, five years from now, you never know, you could see me back out there, but right now I'm happy with where I am.

On choosing Oklahoma State: I interviewed for a number of positions, I had a number of offers. I was actually considering being a volunteer assistant at Oklahoma State mid-semester last season, I was going to play and coach out of there because [head coach Chris Young] knew I wanted to do that, and then it happened that the assistant's job opened up. I don't know that I was top of the list, because I didn't have experience, but I talked to Chris--I've know him since I was 16 when he recruited me--and we have a very good relationship, and I kind of slowly talked him into. I might not have experience, but I'm going to five 100 percent effort and do whatever it takes to make the girls happy and make them the best tennis players and people they can be.

Sara Daavettila, University of North Carolina sophomore
(lost to Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-1, 6-2)

On participating in the ACI after just one year of college tennis: It's amazing, the first time I've played it before, obviously. I've never been to the US Open before, so just this experience. Coming in today, I was like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. The overall experience, being treated like pros, knowing that they're showing off collegiate tennis, I think it's awesome and I hope they continue it.

On her plans for the fall season: I'm playing many tournaments: the Oracle in Malibu, the All-Americans, maybe Regionals and the, no longer National Indoors, but at Indian Wells.  I'm playing the [ITA] grass court tournament (this weekend) in Rhode Island. I've never played on grass, so I'm very excited for that. So very busy.

On her major: I'm doing Exercise/Sports Science and pre-health, pre-med, so I have a busy school schedule too. We're going on our third week and it's going to be a tough semester in school, but I'm excited.

Brienne Minor, University of Michigan junior
(lost to Ena Shibahara 6-1, 6-3)

On playing in the main draw of the US Open: It's been amazing to play in the US Open and then this Invitational. I'm so glad I had this opportunity. It was really fun, no matter how I did, it was really a fun experience and I'm grateful I got to be here.

On returning to the US Open in the future: I do want to play after college, definitely play pro. So I'm glad I got the experience and know what it's like to be around the top pro players is pretty amazing, so when I come back I know what to expect.

On her plans for the fall: I'm actually taking the fall off because I'm getting a procedure done on my knees. It'll be a Michigan; I'm going to school but I won't be playing any fall tournaments. It's about a three-month recovery, so I'll probably play a few matches over winter break if I can find a tournament, but I'll definitely be ready for January.

On the upcoming rehabilitation: It's definitely a long process. I've been through the rehab and physical therapy before and it's long. But I have to do it. I have to do it for my team to get ready for the season. I've had a long summer, so maybe a break won't be bad, but my knees have been in a lot of pain, so I think it's time to take care of that.

On four US women in the US Open semifinals: I definitely look up to especially Venus; I've looked up to her my whole life because I've watched her ever since I was little. To see that it's an all-American semifinal, I hope can use that to get to that point some day in my career.

Alexa Graham, University of North Carolina sophomore
(lost to Sydney Campbell 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6))

On her first year in college: It was unbelievable. Being able to play for a team, rather than just yourself, being on court with your nine best friends, like my family, and no matter how I'm doing, it's about how we're all doing. I think it was a great learning experience for me and probably the most fun I've ever had.

On selecting a major: Technically I'm still undecided and I do change my mind every five minutes, but I think right now I'm going to go with an Exercise and Sport Science major, a pre-health route, and maybe go to PT (Physical Therapy) school.

On her success over the summer: I played a lot of professional events and I think the highlight was that I actually won one. Winning the $15K Futures, that was my second pro title, but it feels great to win one.

On the improvements in her game since entering college: I think staying tough out on the court. I think I'm playing with less pressure on myself, just enjoying the game more. My short court game, my volleys, have also gotten better.

On prospects for North Carolina this season: Like any team we want to win the conference, win a national championship and do the best we can. But we've also spoke about having smaller goals that we can control: being more professional on the court, taking care of ourselves, getting enough sleep, eating right, and I think that's going to help us a lot too.

Ena Shibahara, UCLA sophomore
(Shibahara defeated Brienne Minor 6-1, 6-3, lost to Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-4, 6-1)

On returning to New York after winning girls USO doubles title in 2016: It was an amazing experience winning junior US Open doubles and before that, playing the women's main draw. Definitely I wanted to come back; I had withdrawal [anxiety] after it was done thinking, oh I want to be back there. I'm so happy I got to come back and play on these courts again; it's an amazing experience.

On her outstanding freshman year: Yeah, it went better than I expected. I just took it one match at a time and I was able to get some great wins and learn from my losses.

On her plans for the fall: I'll play the Oracle Masters and the All Americans, the Indian Wells tournament too. I'll play all those and hopefully make sure I get some pro matches.

On playing long games with more than one deuce with the event using traditional scoring: We had a couple of long games. It's definitely different when you have ads and no-ads. I don't really mind whichever one. If it's no-ad and you win that deuce point, it's really good for you, but when there's ads, it takes away some of the pressure. I guess I'm glad there was ads today.

On what's improved in her game in the last year: Definitely my serve percentage. Making my first serves has improved and mixing it up. And the returns, getting the first ball back, has really improved for me and I've worked really hard over the summer to get that done

On her goals for next season: I want to see myself winning the NCAAs. I hope to get more consistent in making my aggressive shots, if that makes sense. Even though I take a lot of risk, I want to be able to make those shots. Teamwise, I think we'll do a lot better than last year. No one left and we're getting two more players, so hopefully we'll get to the Sweet 16 and see how it goes from there.

Sydney Campbell, 2017 Vanderbilt graduate
(Campbell defeated Alexa Graham 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6) and lost to Ingrid Neel 6-4, 1-6, 6-2)

On her decision not to pursue a pro career: I've been hurt for a while, battling a shoulder injury for the past couple of years that's really not getting any better. I took the summer off and it is still lingering, so if I play, will I be able to play at the caliber I want, train like I want with this shoulder? Probably not, so it's probably time to hang it up, since I finished so well.

On the next chapter in her life: I've always wanted to do business. I really been into entrepreneurship, so I'm actually joining my parents and doing real estate in Nashville. I've already started, I love it, so that's the plan, to keep building that.

On closing out her career at the American Collegiate Invitational: New York is one of my favorite cities and the US Open obviously has great energy. I've never actually gotten to play on the courts before, so it was cool to be able to do that, come out of retirement for that. It was so fun, it's a great opportunity and I'm so glad the USTA does it.

On what she'll miss about college tennis: College tennis is so fun. The team aspect. If you have a bad day, your team can pick you up. Sometimes you can win not playing well, because you have the energy from the crowd, from your teammates, from the coaches. There's nothing like it, at all, and I miss it so much.

On winning the NCAA team title: It's incredible. I was able to be on the first team to win an SEC [tournament] title and an SEC regular season. It's so cool to make history. We were kind of underdogs in all three of those tournaments and to be able to win it for your school, see the excitement that the school had, because it was the first one, was really special.

Ingrid Neel, turning pro after freshman year at University of Florida

(Neel defeated Hayley Carter 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, defeated Sydney Campbell 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, lost to Francesca Di Lorenzo 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

On her decision to not return to school: I'm really excited this decision to play on the tour. I love the game and I couldn't give that up for anything. I know it's going to be really tough, but there's nothing I'd rather be doing.  In my mind, I pretty much decided that I wasn't going to return in the middle of the semester, so winning the title was just basically everything coming to fruition. I was so ecstatic that we were able to do that and the feeling of winning was nothing you can ever describe. But I found it was just too different from the pro life and I have to be doing this if I ever want to be at the top. That's my goal and I felt I was not going to wait any longer. I had to go for it and I think college really helped me make that decision. I'll never look back and wonder what I was missing, so I'm very, very glad I went.

On her plans for this rest of the year:  After this I might go to some of the American tournaments, the $80Ks, $25s, whatever the schedule is. I'm also looking at maybe going to China to play some this fall, so we'll see. I've never gone that far and I also know I want to get better and it's not about, right now, chasing points, but we'll see. Maybe if I'm over there for an extended amount of time it shows you what life on tour is like far, far away from home, literally living out of a suitcase. I think I have to get these experiences while I'm still very young so I can deal with it in time.

On where she'll be training: I'm based in Florida, my family's in Jacksonville and I was also at the USTA in Orlando a couple of weeks ago.  Somewhere in Florida, I definitely want to be based out of. The weather's great. I'm searching for a coach. Leaving college I didn't have the plan, so it's going to take searching and trials, so I had to start that process now and that's another reason I decided to leave.

On her goals for the next 12 months: By this time next year, I'd love to playing in the [US Open] qualies off my own ranking. That would be a major goal for me. Maybe in a little more than a year, try to get my ranking so I can get into the grand slam qualies and that would be a very successful year in my mind. You have to have a really sound game, and I need to shore up some weaknesses to get there. I'm aware of that and I'll train to try to become that level.

Francesca Di Lorenzo, Ohio State University junior
(Di Lorenzo defeated Sara Daavettila 6-1, 6-2, defeated Ena Shibahara 6-4, 6-1 and defeated Ingrid Neel 4-6, 6-4, 6-4)

On her fall schedule: I'm going to Las Vegas, then a 60 out in California, then a 25 in Texas and I'll see how it is, then probably do some 60s and 25s to finish out the year.

On returning to the Buckeyes in January: I'm not committed to come back. I'm going to make that decision in the next month or two. My coaches have been really helpful in that aspect, haven't been pushy at all so I'll wait probably another month and then I'll make a decision.

On the full house that what the last set of the women's final: It was really nice to see for two college girls on court 5. It's a great court, but it's not like it's some stadium court, so it was nice to see it packed at the end. It was cool.

On the benefit of winning the American Collegiate Invitational: It secures the qualies wild card for next year, so it's definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders in terms of trying to get a wild card or qualifying myself with my ranking. It's a sense of security and it's gives me some confidence going forward in these Pro Circuit tournaments that I'm going to play. I haven't won three matches in a row in a while, so it's really nice to get that confidence.

On recovering after playing women's qualifying and doubles before competing the ACI at the US Open:
I went back home [to the Columbus area] last Friday for three, four days and I think that really helped me mentally. As much as I like New York, it's really exciting, there's a lot of craziness and stuff, so to be able to go back home, see my family before I go off on the road for a few tournaments really helpful.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pro Circuit Back with Women's Events in Las Vegas, California; Men in North Carolina, California and Toronto

Fortunately for me, the USTA Pro Circuit goes on hiatus during the US Open, so I don't miss much while I am in College Park and New York.

During that time Canada picked up the slack in North American Futures events, with 19-year-old Ulises Blanch winning his first pro singles title at the $25,000 Calgary Futures last month, and former Georgia Tech star Kevin King claiming the $25,000 Futures title in Toronto last week, with Dennis Nevolo(Illinois) and Deiton Baughman winning the doubles championship.  There's another $25,000 Futures in Canada--this week the surface is hard, not clay--with three Americans advancing to Thursday's quarterfinals: Alexios Halebian[8], Nevolo[6] and former Texas A&M star Shane Vinsant.  Eighteen-year-old Benjamin Sigouin, who withdrew from the US Open Junior Championships just prior to the tournament, defeated No. 2 seed Peter Kobelt 7-5, 6-0 and will face Halebian in the quarterfinals.

The women have two events this week, a $25,000 tournament in Redding California and a $60,000 tournament in Las Vegas.  In Redding, there are six Americans remaining after the first round, recent Arizona graduate Lauren Marker, a qualifier, Cal freshman Anna Bright, a wild card, Lorraine Guillermo(Pepperdine), a wild card, Quinn Gleason(Notre Dame), Caitlin Whoriskey(Tennessee) and Robin Andereson(UCLA), who beat No. 2 seed Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway.  Top seed Sofya Zhuk also lost in the first round, to Ana Veselinovic of Montenegro, who is nearly 300 places lower in the WTA rankings.

In Las Vegas, Louisa Chirico is the top seed, and she advanced to Thursday's second round with a 6-4, 6-1 win over US Open girls semifinalist Emiliana Arango of Colombia. Sophie Chang defeated ACI champion Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 and Allie Kiick picked up a 6-3, 6-2 win over Katie Boulter of Great Britain.  Nicole Coopersmith defeated Sanaz Marand(North Carolina) in a battle of qualifiers, while Maria Mateas, also a qualifier, advanced to the second round with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Cristiana Ferrando of Italy. I spoke to Mateas briefly at the US Open, and she confirmed that she has verbally committed to Duke for 2018, but is still considering turning pro if she has success on the Pro Circuit in the next 12 months.

The men's Futures event in Claremont California is a $15,000 tournament with a 128-player qualifying field.  Seeds have had a rough go of it in the first round, with No. 1 seed Christopher O'Connell of Australia falling to former UCLA standout Karue Sell of Brazil, a qualifier, 6-4, 7-6(3). No. 6 seed Hunter Callahan lost to USC junior Laurens Verboven of Belgium, No. 3 seed Evan Song lost to Arizona State's Michael Geerts of Belgium, No. 8 seed Greg Jones of Australia was beaten by John Lamble(Santa Clara) and No. 5 seed Mattias Descotte of Argentina fell to wild card Isaiah Strode.  Strode is one of three wild cards to advance to the second round, with Henry Craig and Jenson Brooksby also picking up wins. Deiton Baughman and Ronnie Schneider(North Carolina) are the other Americans advancing to the second round.

This is the recap of today's action by media aide Steve Pratt:

CLAREMONT, Calif., (Sept. 13, 2017) – Karue Sell kept us his winning ways during the first round of action at the Claremont Club Pro Classic as the former UCLA player from Brazil upset top-seeded Christopher O’Connell from Australia, 6-4, 7-6 (3) on Wednesday at the Claremont Club.

Sell, who finished his fourth year at UCLA at the start of summer of 2016, said having to win four matches in qualifying over the weekend to make the main draw has helped him. “I got some good matches in and got used to the courts,” the 23-year-old Sell said. “I’ve been trying to work on some things in my game.”

Sell spent last season as the volunteer assistant coach at Pepperdine University, and said the 10-month break from tournament tennis has helped jump-start his game. “Now I’m ready to focus and go full-out on tour over the next six months,” he said.

Sell’s doubles partner Deiton Baughman did the same thing last year coaching at USC. Baughman, the 2015 Claremont champion, beat Sweden’s Andre Goransson on Wednesday in his first round, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. He later teamed up with sell as the pair beat the No. 4-seeded team of Matias Franco Descotte of Argentina and American Ronnie Schneider, 6-1, 6-4.

Sell and Baughman have never played each with each other, but Sell said they are on similar career paths having taken some time off and are now both fully committed to pro tennis. Unlike Sell, Baughman turned pro forgoing college tennis and is now 21 years old. He holds three ITF Pro Circuit singles titles and seven doubles titles during his career.

This week's $50,000+Hospitality Challenger in Cary North Carolina is the first of five consecutive Challengers in the US, with a $75K in Columbus, Ohio next, followed by three $100Ks in California: Tiburon, Stockton and Fairfield. Cary has had several rain delays due to the remnants of Irma, but the first round has been completed, with Ernesto Escobedo[1], Tennys Sandgren(Tennessee)[2], Mitchell Krueger[5], Noah Rubin(Wake Forest)[6], Mackenzie McDonald(UCLA)[7], Dennis Novikov(UCLA)[8], Kevin King(Georgia Tech), Christian Harrison, wild card William Blumberg(North Carolina sophomore) and qualifier Julian Zlobinsky, who recently transferred from Texas to Wake Forest, winning first round matches.  Escobedo beat wild card Patrick Kypson, the 18s Kalamazoo champion, 6-1, 7-6(0) today in a match postponed from Tuesday night.

There are no ATP events this week due to Davis Cup play this weekend, but the WTA has tournaments in Quebec City Canada and Tokyo Japan.  Caroline Dolehide, who will not be attending UCLA, but instead has turned pro, reached her first WTA quarterfinal when No. 2 seed Oceane Dodin of France gave her a walkover.  Dolehide, 19, won three qualifying matches and advanced to the second round with a win over fellow qualifier Charlotte Robillard-Millette, an 18-year-old Canadian.

Christina McHale is the only American still alive in Tokyo.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Shibahara, Torpegaard Top Preseason Rankings; NCAA Accepts LSU Women's Self-Imposed Penalties for Minor Violations; Wu Beats Polansky in Shanghai Challenger

The ITA released the preseason Oracle ITA Division I rankings for singles, doubles and newcomers today.  These rankings are done via ballot, not computer, and are the only published rankings for the fall individual season, with the next published rankings in January.

Women's Singles Top Ten:

1 Ena Shibahara UCLA
2 Gabriela Talaba Texas Tech University
3 Ashley Lahey Pepperdine University
4 Sara Daavettila University of North Carolina
5 Karla Popovic California
6 Kate Fahey University of Michigan
7 Melissa Lord Stanford University
8 Sinead Lohan University of Miami
9 Alizee Michaud Auburn University
10 Eleni Christofi University of Georgia

Women's Freshmen-Newcomer rankings:

1 Michaela Haet Rice University
2 Michaela Gordon Stanford University
3 Michaela Bayerlova Washington State University
4 Kelly Chen   Duke University
5 Sabina Machalova University of Mississippi
6 Alexandra Sanford University of North Carolina
7 Victoria Flores Georgia Tech
8 Ida Jarlskog Georgia Tech
9 Eliza Omirou Wake Forest University
10 Veronica Miroshnichenko Loyola Marymount University

Women's Doubles Top Five:

1 Kate Fahey and Alex Najarian University of Michigan
2 Alizee Michaud and Taylor Russo Auburn University
3 Paige Hourigan and Kenya Jones Georgia Tech
4 Jada Hart and Ena Shibahara UCLA
5 Maddie Lipp and Alex Chatt  Northwestern University

The complete women's rankings are here.

Men's Singles Top Ten:

1 Mikael Torpegaard Ohio State University
2 Nuno Borges Mississippi State University
3 Petros Chrysochos Wake Forest University
4 Arthur Rinderknech Texas A&M University
5 William Blumberg University of North Carolina
6 Aleks Vukic University of Illinois
7 Alfredo Perez University of Florida
8 Tom Fawcett Stanford University
9 William Bushamuka University of Kentucky
10 Skander Mansouri Wake Forest University

Men's Freshmen-Newcomer rankings:
1 Axel Geller   Stanford University
2 John McNally Ohio State University
3 Daniel Cukierman USC
4 Michael Geerts Arizona State University
5 Oliver Crawford University of Florida
6 Gabriel Decamps University of Central Florida
7 Francisco Cerundolo University of South Carolina
8 Antonioni Fasano Northwestern University
9 Duarte Vale University of Florida
10 Maxim Tybar Oklahoma State University

Men's Doubles Top Five:

1 Skander Mansouri and Christian Seraphim  Wake Forest
2 Robert Loeb and Jan Zielinski  University of Georgia
3 William Blumberg and Robert Kelly  North Carolina
4 Martin Redlicki and Evan Zhu UCLA
5 Alfredo Perez and Johannes Ingildsen University of Florida

The complete men's rankings are here.

The selections for the ITA All-American tournaments next month have also been released with the women's field listed here and the men's field here.  Stanford freshman Axel Geller will be playing in the main draw in Tulsa, but none of the top three women's freshmen-newcomers are listed as singles entries in Pacific Palisades.

The NCAA investigation into the LSU Women's tennis program is complete and no further sanctions for the Level III (minor) violations the university self-reported will be assessed, with the school's self-imposed penalties accepted.  For more on the results of the investigation, see this article from last Friday on Tiger Rag.

Yibing Wu had very little time to celebrate his US Open boys singles and doubles titles, with a wild card into the Shanghai Challenger too valuable to pass up.  Less than 48 hours after he won the singles title in New York, the 17-year-old was back on the court in Shanghai, facing No. 2 seed and ATP No. 128 Peter Polansky of Canada. Despite the jet lag and little time to process his championships in New York, Wu won the match, beating Polansky 6-3, 7-6(3), while saving 7 of the 8 break points he faced. He will face Shuichi Sekiguchi of Japan in the second round.

Last year's US Open boys champion, 17-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, won his second career Challenger last week in Seville Spain, and moved into the ATP Top 200 at 168. He is among the youngest players to debut into the Top 200 in the past 20 years. For more on his title, see the ATP website.

Monday, September 11, 2017

October's ITF Junior Masters Qualifying Positions Set; Features on Young American Women Osuigwe, Black, Gauff; College Tennis Gets Boost from Anderson

The ITF Junior Masters event moved to a new spot on the junior calendar this year, going from spring to fall. Today's rankings determine the cutoff for the eight players who will compete in Chengdu, China October 25th-29th, with travel grants for as much as $15,000 awarded depending on the player's results in the round robin event.  Below are the top 10 boys and top 10 girls, with the top eight invited, although not all those eligible will make the trip. Anisimova, for one, has said that Junior Fed Cup later this month is her last junior event. Osuigwe, Wu and Geller have committed to play, with the entire confirmed field to be announced later.

Junior Masters final standings for boys:
1 Yibing Wu, China
2 Axel Geller, Argentina
3 Miomir Kecmanovic, Serbia
4 Zsombor Piros, Hungary
5 Alexei Popyrin, Australia
6 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Spain
7 Yu Hsiou Hsu, Taiwan
8 Jurij Rodionov, Austria
9 Marko Miladinovic, Serbia
10 Yuta Shimizu, Japan

Junior Masters final standings for girls:
1 Claire Liu, United States
2 Whitney Osuigwe, United States
3 Marta Kostyuk, Ukraine
4 Amanda Anisimova, United States
5 Elena Rybakina, Russia
6 Carson Branstine, Canada
7 Olga Danilovic, Serbia
8 Kaja Juvan, Slovenia
9 Sofia Sewing, United States
10 Xin Yu Wang, China

During the second week of the US Open, US women's tennis was a hot topic in the media center. Most of the attention was on the all-US women's semifinals, but it extended to the juniors as well.

Gerald Marzorati of The New Yorker, spoke with 15-year-old Whitney Osuigwe about her career and ambitions. (A clarification is in order in his description of Liu, however. She did skip the US Open juniors, but not to enter the US Open women's event. She was given a wild card into qualifying and won three matches to earn her place in the main draw).

Of course that article was written before 13-year-old Coco Gauff became the youngest girl to ever reach the US Open junior final. Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times looked at the dilemma Gauff is facing due to the WTA's age restrictions, which will keep Gauff from professional events until next March, when she turns 14, and limit the number of events she can play every year until she reaches the age of 18.  It also should be noted that the ITF has limits on the number of tournaments juniors can play. Gauff, at 13, is limited to 10 tournaments (she has played four), although she will be allowed four more if she reaches the ITF Junior Top 50, and she is at 67 as of today.

I get quite a few questions about the whereabouts of Tornado Alicia Black, who made the final of the US Open Juniors back in 2013 as a 15-year-old. The last time I saw her was at the Junior Orange Bowl last December, when she told me she was coaching but hoped to recover from a hip injury and return to competition this spring.  She played one doubles match at a $15,000 Pro Circuit event in March, but hasn't played since and when I asked younger sister Hurricane Tyra about her progress, she said Alicia continued to struggle with the injury.  The New York Times' David Waldstein dug much deeper, and wrote this article on Black's need for a hip operation, which as the family breadwinner, she cannot afford.

CNN's Danielle Rossingh followed up with an article about the GoFundMe account Black has set up to pay for the surgery and recovery.

Kevin Anderson in US Open final (courtesy USTA)
College tennis also got some attention at the US Open in the second week, due to former University of Illinois star Kevin Anderson's trip to the men's final.  ESPN's Arash Markazi wrote about college as a development path with comments from Anderson and Craig Tiley, who recruited the South African to Champaign. The New York Times' Waldstein talked to John McEnroe, Francesca Di Lorenzo and Jennifer Brady about how their college experience helped them mature and prepared them for a pro career (Di Lorenzo has yet to decide whether she'll return to Ohio State this January).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Anisimova Downs Gauff for US Open Girls Championship; Wu Makes History with Boys Title; Danilovic and Kostyuk Claim Girls Doubles Crown

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Flushing Meadow NY--

After a discouraging loss in the first round of women's qualifying, 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova was determined to end her three weeks in New York with a better result. After beating 13-year-old wild card Coco Gauff 6-0, 6-2 in the first all-American US Open girls final since 1992, Anisimova will leave junior tennis having reached the goal she set for herself this week.

"That's definitely my goal when I was going into this tournament, and I was preparing a lot for it," said Anisimova, who didn't drop a set in her six victories. "After a tough loss in the qualies, I definitely wanted to achieve something big. This is just amazing, and I'm so happy that I won the title."

Anisimova, who reached the final of the French Open Juniors in 2016 as a 14-year-old, showed no nerves to start the match, and in 22 minutes she had taken the first six games of the match.

With her depth and pace, Anisimova kept Gauff from getting comfortable in any rally, with Gauff attributing the lopsided first set not to her own nerves, but to Anisimova's level.

"I wasn't really nervous before," said Gauff, who was playing in the main draw of a junior slam for the first time this week. "She came out playing well and I wasn't playing that good in the beginning. Then after, I think the momentum was definitely on her side and I didn't play that good. But still, she played amazing. Congrats to her."

Gauff didn't have a game point until the second game of the second set, when she held serve for the first time. That seemed to encourage Gauff, but another break of serve by Anisimova after Gauff went up 40-0 seemed to end her chances of a comeback.  Gauff showed life in the next game however, breaking Anisimova with a backhand winner, but was broken again in the next game.

Anisimova targeted Gauff's backhand when serving, and Gauff continued to have difficulty getting the return back, consistently putting her cross court returns into the net.  Anisimova held for 5-2, but the next game was a classic, extending for over 12 minutes while Gauff fought off nine match points in the 11-deuce game before finally sending a forehand long to give Anisimova the title.

"That last game was crazy, possibly the longest game of my life," Anisimova said. "From the first shot, they were long points, so it was pretty difficult. We were just playing really well in that game, so it was really tough."

"I tried my best to save as many as possible, and I had a couple of game points on my side too," Gauff said. "But you know, I tried not to think of it as match points, just tried to keep playing the match. I thought I would be able to make it out of that game, but it was a good game though."

Anisimova is the third straight American girl to win a junior slam title this year, following Whitney Osuigwe at the French Open and Claire Liu at Wimbledon, with 2017 the first time three different US girls have captured junior slams in the same year.  After playing the Junior Fed Cup in Budapest beginning on September 19th with Caty McNally and Osuigwe as teammates, Anisimova will leave junior tennis behind, with her goal for the remainder of the year moving into the WTA Top 150 from her current position at 182.

"I'm not going to get too ahead of myself," said Anisimova, who will need to adhere to the WTA age restrictions for two more years. "I'm just going to take one tournament at a time and just see how they go. I just really want to play in some main draw tournaments at slams. That would be my goal for next year."

Gauff, who has not turned pro and said she doesn't foresee that "any time soon," plans to play the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl later this year, as she builds her ITF junior ranking.  She is unable to compete in any ITF Women's Pro Circuit events until next March, when she turns 14.

After celebrating in the city with her sister, friends and family, Anisimova will return to the Miami area, if Hurricane Irma allows, before heading to Budapest.  Gauff is planning to stay in the New York area for a couple of days with her hometown of Delray Beach also bracing for the impact of the storm.

"I'm praying for all the victims out in Florida and on the islands, that they stay safe during the storm," Gauff said.

The boys final featured the top two seeds, with Yibing Wu becoming the first junior from China to win a slam singles title with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over top seed Axel Geller of Argentina.

Wu broke open a tough first set in the ninth game, breaking Geller, who hit 131 mph on the serve speed display multiple times, on his second break point when Geller double faulted. Geller saved two set points with winners in the next game, but Wu stuck to his aggressive game plan and closed out the set by forcing an error from Geller.

Geller was broken in the opening game of the second set, and then again in the third game, a particularly discouraging scenario for a player with his impressive serve.

"At 4-0 [in the second set], I just lost a little bit of focus for about 20 minutes, 25, " said Geller, who reached the Wimbledon boys final in July.  "I lost...six games in a row. I tried to fight back. I was loose, but I think maybe it was a little bit too late. So I think he played very well."

Wu was winning the court positioning battle, hitting out on both his backhand and forehand and returning well.

"I'm trying to give him like, pressure and try to cover with my volley," said Wu, who reiterated his goal to be the first Chinese player in the ATP Top 100. "I think this is one of my best things in the game. My opponent has a really, really good serve, so I just broke the return and try to hit more rallies."

Wu had saved two match points in his 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) semifinal win over unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland Saturday, then was on site past 10 p.m. to do media after his doubles title with Yu Hsiou Hsu of Taiwan.  Admittedly tired at the start of the match, Wu forced himself to be aggressive, although the nerves did set in when Geller saved six match points with Wu serving for the title at 5-2.

"That was tough," said Wu, a 17-year-old who trains in both China and Spain depending on the location of the tournament. "My hand was shaking. Only thing I can do is try to recover after that."

Most of the match points were lost not with Geller winners, but with Wu errors, yet somehow Wu recovered his aggressive mindset in his second attempt to serve out the match. A couple of excellent first serves and a forehand winner earned him his seventh match point, and when Geller's forehand went wide, Wu had his title, dropping his racquet and raising both fists in the air before striding to the net to shake hands with Geller.

Disappointed with his second loss in a junior slam final, Geller was consoled by his recovery from 4-0 down in the second set.

"I wanted to fight back, make him beat me, and that's what he did the last game," Geller said.  "He hit two big serves, one winner, and then the last point I went for it and I missed."

Geller heads directly to Palo Alto, where he starts freshman orientation at Stanford next week.  Stanford head coach Paul Goldstein, who was watching Geller play in the final, but not coaching him, is delighted to have the 18-year-old joining his team.

"This young man, who's made the finals of Wimbledon and the finals of the US Open, is obviously playing very good tennis and he will always be a better human being than he is a tennis player, and he's an awfully good tennis player."

"What he's done is totally remarkable," Goldstein continued. "We were always really excited and knew he had massive potential, but he's gone from 130 in the world to 5 and now will be 2 or 3, in the span of two or three months. That doesn't happen very often and I'm not sure anyone would have anticipated that; I didn't."

"At a time when every elite junior tennis player goes to school online and feel like they have to play lots and lots of tournaments and travel a lot, this guy went to a very, very strong high school that emphasizes academics, yet he's still having the kind of success on the tennis court that he's having," Goldstein added. "That's a really rare thing today and he's also not only well-liked by his peers, but well respected, and I think that's a really neat thing."

As Geller embarks on his first year of college later this month, Wu will be traveling back to China to compete in the $75,000 ATP Challenger in Shanghai, where he has been drawn to play No. 2 seed Peter Polansky of Canada.

Wu knows the impact his two titles in New York this week will have on the confidence and aspirations of his countrymen. 

"I think this is showing ourselves and showing the world Chinese boys can be better and can be good, Chinese men," Wu said.

Wu's doubles partner Hsu earned his third junior slam title Saturday, while on Sunday, Olga Danilovic collected her third, although unlike Hsu, one of hers came in 2016. 

Serbia's Danilovic and partner Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, the No. 1 seeds, defeated the unseeded team of Lea Boskovic of Croatia and Xiyu Wang of China 6-1, 7-5 to earn the title.

Danilovic, who won the Wimbledon title in July with Kaja Juvan of Slovenia and the French title last year with Paula Arias Manjon of Spain, was looking for a partner when Juvan opted not to play in New York.

Kostyuk and Danilovic had played together at the Australian Open earlier this year, losing in the second round, but were just getting to know each other then.

"In Australia, we didn't know each other," Kostyuk said. "At Orange Bowl, the month before Australia, we didn't even say hi to each other. I was actually scared of Olga, going like, Olga's a superstar."

 "We were like, hey I'm Olga, I'm Marta, and then we went on the court," Danilovic said of that Australian Open pairing. "I think the most important thing is that we know each other and we're good friends, so when you have a friendship like that, it works on the court."

Kostyuk, 15, and Danilovic, 16, were taken to a match tiebreaker in their first match, but did not have to play another one.

"In the first round, we had really good opponents," Danilovic said of Taylor Johnson and Mexico's Maria Portillo Ramirez. "They were playing really good, really hard serves. But match by match, it gets so much easier. You get to know when she moves, when she goes and it's much more easier."

Danilovic and Kostyuk trailed Boskovic and Wang 5-2 in the second set and saved three set points en route to taking the final five games of the match.

Kostyuk and Danilovic said they are unlikely to play together again, anticipating that this US Open will mark the end of their junior careers.

"We're both finished with juniors," Kostyuk said. "Maybe we will [play] something but our ways are going a bit separate," Danilovic said. 

"This couldn't be better," said Danilovic. "To finish my last match--I think it's going to be my last junior match; I don't want to say this is the end, but I think it is--to win, not bad."

"It's actually good to win something when you finish," said Kostyuk. "Because then you have good memories."