Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ohio State Stuns Top Seed Vanderbilt to Advance to Women's Team Indoor Semifinals; Anderson Reaches Midland $100K Final

©Jonathan Kelley for
Madison, Wisconsin

The Ohio State University advanced to its first-ever ITA Women's Team Indoor Championship semifinal by beating the #1 team in the country, Vanderbilt, in a thrilling 4-3 dual match. It was a big upset for the #16-ranked Buckeyes, which has only one ranked player in its lineup.

Head coach Melissa Schaub said the win was "huge" for her program. 
"I just couldn't be happier for our players. They're a special group, and they're a good team. I think they've been good for a long time and I don't think that they've believed it. And so we've gotten into some of these big matches and it just didn't go our way. So today to get over that hump and for them to believe that they can play with anyone in the country is just an amazing feeling."

Ohio State put themselves behind the 8-ball early. After the two teams split 6-2 doubles matches at #2 and #3, OSU had two match points at #1 with Vanderbilt's Sydney Campbell serving at 4*-5 30-40. They saved one match point and on the second, Campbell's partner Courtney Colton hit a brilliant lob winner to get the match to 5-5. In the next game, OSU went down 0-40 and on break point, Miho Kowase hit a double fault. Colton then served out the next game at 15 to give Vanderbilt what seemed to be a crucial first point. Kowase and Colton then headed to court 4 for their singles match.

"We played a little bit tight," said Schaub. "They're the number one team in the country for a reason. They played the big points really well."

However, the Buckeyes came out firing in singles, going up a set at #2 (Gabriella De Santis), #5 (Ferny Angeles Paz), and #6 (Olivia Sneed). When #2-ranked freshman Francesca Di Lorenzo won her first set at #1 against #24 Sydney Campbell, OSU had four first sets, compared to two for the Commodores.

But Vanderbilt has built a resilient program. #33 Astra Sharma gave them a 2-0 lead with a 6-2 6-2 win at #3 singles over Anna Sanford, while Campbell won her second set 6-1 and #15 Frances Altick evened things up at #2 at a set apiece.

OSU's Sneed closed things out at #6 with a 6-0 6-3 win over Ellie Yates to pull OSU to within 2-1. And at #4, Kowase evened her match with Colton 2-6 6-4. And that's when things got intense.

First at #5: Vanderbilt's Georgina Sellyn, serving at 1-6 4-5, saved a deciding point/match point. After Paz held for 6-5, Sellyn saved two more match points to send the set to a tiebreaker. Things were looking great for Sellyn as she sprinted to a 5-1 lead at the changeover, and had 4 set points at 6-2. But Paz saved them all, and it was 6-6 at the next changeover. Sellyn got three more set points at 7-6, 8-7, 9-8, and 10-9 but Paz was undeterred. Paz got to her 4th match point at 11-10, and finally at 12-11, Paz hit an inside-out forehand winner to get the match and the dual was tied at 2-2.

Then came #1: Di Lorenzo broke Campbell for 5-3 and served out the match to give OSU its first lead of the match. "Francesca just has so much grit, so much heart. I'll take her against anyone in the country," said Schaub.

But at #2, Altick went up 5-2* and broke De Santis to even everything at 3-3.

So it was all down to #4. Colton, who had helped clinch the doubles point with that lob over Kowase, was serving down 1*-5 in the third set. The senior went up 40-0 but three points later it was deciding point/match point. That's when Colton hit a huge crosscourt backhand to force the junior from Tokyo to serve for the match. Impressively, Kowase held at 15, with the only lost point a double fault, and gave her team the biggest win in the program's history.

"I couldn't believe it at first. I just couldn't believe it," said Kowase. "And then I saw all my teammates' faces and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, we won. We beat them.' We worked so hard for this tournament, I think it paid off pretty well."

Vanderbilt head coach Geoff MacDonald maintained a positive outlook after the loss. "What an exciting, great dual. Phenomenal competition, hats off to Ohio State, they played a great match. We were down a lot and I was just really pleased with the way we competed, but I just commend them. They played great."

The Buckeyes will play the 4th seed University of California, a 4-1 winner over the University of Virginia.

Cal won the doubles point handily with a 6-3 win by Lynn Chi and Maria Smith at #3 followed by a 6-2 win by Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr at #1. The Bears added a quick win at #6 singles as Karla Popovic took down late replacement Taylor Wingo 6-0 6-1. 

The Cavaliers were looking stronger at the top: #4-ranked Danielle Collins secured a 6-3 6-1 win over #5 Manasse on line 1, while #8 Julia Elbaba was up a set and served for the match at 5*-4 in the second against Klara Fabikova. However, nothing much came easy for UVA today. Elbaba had 4 match points at 40-0 but Fabikova came up strong on each one to even the set at 5-5.

Meanwhile, California got its third point when freshman Olivia Hauger defeated yesterday's UVA clincher, freshman Meghan Kelley, 6-4 6-4, and earned its final point when Denise Starr won the lone three-setter of the dual, 6-0 3-6 6-3 over Victoria Olivarez.

Amanda Augustus, California's head coach, thought Fabikova extending her match was big. 

"I thought the tennis on courts 1 and 2 was just outstanding. You have four Top Ten players battling it out. They're all great competitors. Klara never gives up (neither does Julia). She loves the big matches and she really felt that if it got to a third set she could prevail." As for Hauger, Augustus said, "Olivia's great. She loves to compete, she works really hard, she's a great teammate. It's exciting, because she's just starting out and she's already so comfortable in this setting."

In the first matches of the day, #2 seed University of Georgia beat the University of Michigan 4-1 and #3 seed University of North Carolina beat Louisiana State University by the same score. Both winning teams won the doubles point 2-0.

UNC got big wins by Hayley Carter at #1 (6-1 6-1 over Joana Vale Costa) and by Whitney Kay at #2 (6-3 6-1 over Jessica Golovin) to take a 3-0 lead and put all the pressure on the Tigers. LSU's Skyler Kuykendall rescued a point at #3 singles with a 6-2 6-4 win over Kate Vialle, and things were heating up at #4, where LSU's Ryann Foster came back to force a third set against Jessie Aney, and at #5, where Abigail Owens was a game away from doing the same against UNC's Marika Akkerman.

It was at #6 where the clinch came for UNC. Freshman Chloe Ouellet-Pizer had a see-saw match against senior Ella Taylor (who clinched LSU's first round match). The Tarheel went up 5*-0 and had deciding point/set point in the first set only to see her lead nearly evaporate, but she served it out for 6-4. In the second, she went down 1*-4 but won the final 5 games of the match to get her first college clinch.

UNC head coach Brian Kalbas was impressed by Ouellet-Pizer's ability to close out her first clinch, and demurred at the suggestion a third set would provide an occasion to see how she would react to that situation. "I think there's going to be plenty of opportunities for that. I think at this stage at this tournament, you want to stay fresh and get off the court as quickly as you can."

Ouellet-Pizer, who hails from Chapel Hill, said, "It felt amazing. I really didn't think I was going to get [the opportunity to clinch], because I was down 1-4 in the second, but our coach always tells us to believe that you're going to be the last match on, that you're going to be the clinching match, so that helped me today."

LSU co-head coach Julia Sell took positives from the close loss. "I think we're capable of being a Top 5 team and beating a Top 5 team," she said.

Against Georgia, Michigan got its only point at #2 singles, where #19 Brienne Minor had a convincing 6-3 6-1 win over #22 Caroline Brinson. Michigan also was looking good at #1 where #17 Ronit Yurovsky fought back against #12 Ellen Perez to take their match to a third set. But Georgia showed its strength lower down in the line-up: the Wolverines didn't win a set at 3, 4, 5, or 6. Sophomore Kennedy Shaffer (#109) got the clinch at #3 with a 6-2 6-4 win over #107 Kate Fahey.

North Carolina and Georgia will have a rematch of last year's ITA Indoors title match. UNC won the 2015 edition of the competition, but key players from that match are gone -- UNC lost both the national singles champion Jamie Loeb and last year's clinching player, senior Caroline Price, while UGA graduated its best player in Lauren Herring.

Both Kalbas and Georgia coach Jeff Wallace said they were looking forward to the rematch. It's a safe bet that the same can be said for fans of women's college tennis everywhere.
February 6, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor Quarterfinals, Madison, Wisc.

No. 3 seed North Carolina 4, LSU 1
1. Hayley Carter (NC) def. Joana Vale Costa (LSU) 6-1, 6-1
2. Whitney Kay (NC) def. Jessica Golovin (LSU) 6-3, 6-1
3. Skylar Kuykendall (LSU) def. Kate Vialle (NC) 6-2, 6-4
4. Ryann Foster (LSU) vs. Jessie Aney (NC) 3-6, 6-2, 1-2, unfinished
5. Abigail Owens (LSU) vs. Marika Akkerman (NC) 3-6, 6-5, unfinished
6. Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (NC) def. Ella Taylor (LSU) 6-4, 6-4
1. Joana Vale Costa/Ryann Foster (LSU) vs. Hayley Carter/Whitney Kay (NC) 5-4, unfinished
2. Jessie Aney/Kate Vialle (NC) def. Skylar Kuykendall/Abigail Owens (LSU) 6-0
3. Ashley Dai/Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (NC) def. Skylar Holloway/Ella Taylor (LSU) 6-3
Match Notes:
North Carolina 8-0; National ranking #5
LSU 6-0; National ranking #18
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (2,1,3,6)

February 6, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor Quarterfinals, Madison, Wisc.

No. 2 seed Georgia 4,  Michigan 1
1. #17 Ronit Yurovsky (MICH) vs. #12 Ellen Perez (UGA) 2-6, 6-4, 1-1, unfinished
2. #19 Brienne Minor (MICH) def. #22 Caroline Brinson (UGA) 6-3, 6-1
3. #109 Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. #107 Kate Fahey (MICH) 6-2, 6-4
4. #82 Silvia Garcia (UGA) def. Mira Ruder-Hook (MICH) 6-2, 6-3
5. Mariana Gould (UGA) def. Alex Najarian (MICH) 6-4, 6-4
6. Teona Velehorschi (MICH) vs. Laura Patterson (UGA) 5-7, 2-3, unfinished
1. Mira Ruder-Hook/Brienne Minor (MICH) vs. #14 Ellen Perez/Mariana Gould (UGA) 4-5, unfinished
2. Silvia Garcia/Caroline Brinson (UGA) def. Ronit Yurovsky/Kate Fahey (MICH) 6-3
3. Laura Patterson/Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. Kara Hall/Alex Najarian (MICH) 6-2
Match Notes:
Georgia 4-0; National ranking #2
Michigan 3-1; National ranking #12
Order of finish: Doubles (3,2); Singles (2,4,5,3)

February 6, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor Quarterfinals, Madison, Wisc.

No. 4 seed California 4, Virginia 1
1. #4 Danielle Collins (VA) def. #5 Maegan Manasse (CAL) 6-3, 6-1
2. #10 Klara Fabikova (CAL) vs. #8 Julia Elbaba (VA) 3-6, 6-5, unfinished
3. Lynn Chi (CAL) vs. #30 Stephanie Nauta (VA) 7-6 (7-1), 4-4, unfinished
4. Denise Starr (CAL) def. Victoria Olivarez (VA) 6-0, 3-6, 6-3
5. #81 Olivia Hauger (CAL) def. Meghan Kelley (VA) 6-4, 6-4
6. Karla Popovic (CAL) def. Taylor Wingo (VA) 6-0, 6-1
1. #3 Maegan Manasse/Denise Starr (CAL) def. Danielle Collins/Meghan Kelley (VA) 6-2
2. #43 Klara Fabikova/Olivia Hauger (CAL) vs. Julia Elbaba/Stephanie Nauta (VA) 5-2, unfinished
3. Lynn Chi/Maria Smith (CAL) def. Victoria Olivarez/Erica Susi (VA) 6-3
Match Notes:
Virginia 4-1; National ranking #7
California 3-0; National ranking #6
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1); Singles (6,1,5,4)

February 6, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor Quarterfinals, Madison, Wisc.

No. 8 seed Ohio State 4, No. 1 seed Vanderbilt 3
1. #2 Francesca Di Lorenzo (OSU) def. #24 Sydney Campbell (VANDY) 6-4, 1-6, 6-3
2. #15 Frances Altick (VANDY) def. Gabriella De Santis (OSU) 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
3. #33 Astra Sharma (VANDY) def. Anna Sanford (OSU) 6-2, 6-2
4. Miho Kowase (OSU) def. Courtney Colton (VANDY) 2-6, 6-4, 6-2
5. Ferny Angeles Paz (OSU) def. Georgina Sellyn (VANDY) 6-1, 7-6 (13-11)
6. Olivia Sneed (OSU) def. Ellie Yates (VANDY) 6-0, 6-3

1. #11 Courtney Colton/Sydney Campbell (VANDY) def. #6 Anna Sanford/Miho Kowase (OSU) 7-5
2. Astra Sharma/Ellie Yates (VANDY) def. Gabriella De Santis/Ferny Angeles Paz (OSU) 6-2
3. Olivia Sneed/Francesca Di Lorenzo (OSU) def. Frances Altick/Fernanda Contreras (VANDY) 6-2

Match Notes:
Ohio State 7-0; National ranking #16
Vanderbilt 4-1; National ranking #1
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (3,6,5,1,2,4)

At the $100,000 Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland, wild card Robin Anderson won her first match of the week against a player older than she was.  The 22-year-old from New Jersey, who graduated from UCLA last spring, beat 25-year-old Irina Falconi 6-3, 6-4 in tonight's feature match at the Greater Midland Tennis Center.

I wrote quite a bit about 2015 NCAA champion Jamie Loeb's struggles in the past six months, but although ITA Player of the Year Anderson had an excellent fall on the Pro Circuit, ending with a semifinal appearance at the $50,000 event in Scottsdale, she had started this year without a win.  At the three $25,000 tournaments on Florida clay, Anderson lost in the first round to the above mentioned Di Lorenzo, Lauren Embree and Chiara Scholl.

Her first win of the year came this week in Midland, against 16-year-old Michaela Gordon; her second was over 16-year-old CiCi Bellis, and her third, a nearly three-hour marathon Friday, saw her outlast 17-year-old Alexandra Sanford.

In her meeting with the third-seeded Falconi, Anderson showed no fatigue from the match with Sanford, who has a completely different game style from Falconi.  In place of the raw power Sanford possesses, Falconi maneuvers for her winners, but that change of pace didn't bother Anderson. She made few errors, played her usual stellar defense and also struck the ball aggressively, especially with her backhand, which has never been her strength.  She broke Falconi to take a 4-2 lead in the first set, but gave the break right back. Another break gave Anderson a chance to serve out the set and she did.

Falconi was down a set and an early break to Loeb in Friday night's quarterfinal, so there was no sense that she was out of the match when she was broken in the first game. Right on cue, Falconi got the break back, but she lost the next service game too, and this time Anderson did not waiver. She faced no break points after the second game of the second set and converted her second match point after taking a 40-0 lead.

The win over Falconi, ranked 76th, is Anderson's best, although she has another WTA Top 100 victory on her record, over Virginie Razzano of France, then No. 92, in August of 2013.

Anderson's opponent in the final will be Naomi Broady of Great Britain, who spoiled an all-American final with a 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Shelby Rogers Saturday afternoon.

Anderson and Broady have played three times, with Broady winning back in 2011, Anderson winning in 2013, and Broady taking the title at the $25,000 Landisville event last August with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over Anderson.

Broady will be aiming for two titles on Sunday, as she and Rogers have reached the doubles final.  Their opponents will be Bellis and 17-year-old Ingrid Neel,  a wild card team, who defeated No. 3 seeds Nicole Gibbs and Taylor Townsend 3-6, 6-3, 10-6.

An American was also assured of winning the doubles title at the $100,000 Dallas Challenger, and it was the wild card team that came out ahead.  Nick Meister and Eric Quigley took the doubles championship, beating No. 2 seeds Dean O'Brien of South Africa and Sekou Bangoura 6-1, 6-1 in the final.  The singles final, was an all-British affair, with No. 2 seed Kyle Edmund against Dan Evans.

In the qualifying for the Memphis Open, Michael Mmoh defeated Dennis Novikov 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 to advance to Sunday's final round of qualifying against Bjorn Fratangelo.  Jared Donaldson downed Tennys Sandgren 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 and will play James McGee of Ireland in the final round of qualifying.

And in a followup to the Chicago Tribune article earlier in the week saying Australian Open tournament director was a candidate for the position of Athletic Director at the University of Illinois, here is Tiley himself denying that in this article from the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette.

Friday, February 5, 2016

January Aces; Anderson, Falconi End Qualifiers Runs in Midland; Top Seeds Breeze into Quarterfinals at ITA Women's Team Indoor, but Three Unseeded Teams Also Advance

My review of 15 of last month's top performances went up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. And for a review of the Winter National Champions, who are not included in my January Aces, check out this post.

The semifinals are set at the $100,000 Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland, with three Americans reaching the final four.  Friday's quarterfinals were the end of the road for two qualifiers, with 17-year-old Alexandra Sanford and 20-year-old Jamie Loeb falling in three sets in their sixth match in six days.

Wild card Robin Anderson defeated Sanford 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-4, with the match featuring high level offense, superb defense and many twists and turns.

Sanford trailed most of the first set and saved a set point at 5-3 in the first set with one of her many lethal forehand winners. The North Carolina recruit held, then broke again, with Anderson's backhand letting her down in that game. Sanford served out the set and when she broke Anderson to open the second set, Anderson could have gotten discouraged. She didn't. The 22-year-old from New Jersey stayed calm, got the break back for 3-3 and kept the pressure on Sanford's service games.

In the tiebreaker, Sanford took a 3-0 lead, but her unforced errors allowed Anderson to get back even and two unforced errors on the forehand side on the final two points of the tiebreaker were the difference.

The third set featured no breaks, although Anderson was having a much easier time holding. Sanford saved six break points, but her first serve just wasn't helping her, and she served only 52% in the match. Sanford's second serve was impressive--she hit 66 of them and made 63--but she was unable to be as aggressive off the first ball as she would have liked when defending her second serve so much.  At 4-all, having saved two break points, Sanford surrendered on the third, with a forehand long giving Anderson a chance to serve out the match.

Anderson was getting more than 80% of her first serves in during the final set (she finished at 71% for the match), but the final game, predictably, was her toughest test.  At 30-30, Sanford blasted a forehand winner to earn her first break point of the set. Anderson saved it, coming forward for a forehand volley winner. She hit a backhand volley winner to earn match point, and she converted it when Sanford netted a backhand.

At two hours and 52 minutes, the match was certainly a grind, but the level of shot-making by both women, and their mental toughness, made for some serious entertainment.

Anderson will play No. 3 seed Irina Falconi in the semifinals Saturday. In the featured night match, Falconi defeated Loeb 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.  Loeb came out blazing, making few errors and aiming for the lines, while Falconi was having difficulty getting into any rhythm and fell behind 3-1.  But the 25-year-old saved a break point to hold for 3-2, then broke Loeb, who double faulted twice in the game.  But Falconi still was struggling with unforced errors and at 4-4 she was broken. Loeb couldn't serve out the set the first time, but she broke Falconi again for a 6-5 lead and did finish it on her second chance.

Falconi went down 2-0 in the second set, but began to play better, while Loeb's level dropped. Loeb won only one of the next seven games, and that was a break of serve, not a hold.

Falconi began the third set with a break, but Loeb broke back immediately. Whether it was fatigue or just the improved play of Falconi, who was hanging in the rallies much longer than she had in the first half of the match, Loeb missed shots she was making in the first set, and Falconi took the final three games and the match.

In the top half of the draw, Naomi Broady defeated top seed Madison Brengle 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-3 and will play Shelby Rogers, a 6-1, 7-6(4) winner over Mayo Hibi of Japan.

In the final match of the night session, CiCi Bellis and Ingrid Neel defeated top seeds Asia Muhammad and Maria Sanchez 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the doubles semifinals. They will play No. 3 seeds Nicole Gibbs and Taylor Townsend on Saturday.

Draws and a link to the live streaming are available at the tournament website.

Jonathan Kelley is covering the ITA Women's National Team Indoor for, and this is his report from the first day of action in Madison:

Top seeds sail through ITA Women's Team Indoor first round
by Jonathan Kelley
Madison, Wisconsin--

Things went according to form for the top seeds, but upsets were the rule of the day for the rest on day 1 of the 2016 ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship in Madison, Wisconsin.

The top four seeds all had shut-outs. Defending ITA Indoor champion, #3 seed North Carolina opened the day's action with a 4-0 win over Alabama, without dropping more than 4 games in any of the 10 completed sets. #4 California blanked host Wisconsin in similarly dominant fashion (with the exception of line 1, where #66 Lauren Chypyha took the first set from #5 Maegan Manasse 7-5).

Things were a bit tighter for #2 seed Georgia against Texas Tech. After securing the doubles point, the Bulldogs got a quick win at 2 singles, with #22-ranked Caroline Brinson's 6-0 6-0 victory over Lynn Kiro. Georgia closed with two wins by sophomores: #12 Ellen Perez d. #77 Gabriela Talaba 6-1 6-2 at #1 and #109 Kennedy Shaffer d. Sabrina Federici 6-2 6-3 at #4. Significantly, Texas Tech did win two sets, both by freshmen in unfinished matches: Alex Valenstein was up 6-4 4-1 against Mariana Gould at #5 while Felicity Maltby led Laura Patterson 6-2 5-5 at #6.

Defending NCAA national champion Vanderbilt and top seed also pitched a shut-out, but that didn't tell the full story. After splitting breadstick matches at #1 doubles (won by Vanderbilt) and #3 doubles (won by Duke), it came down to #2, where Astra Sharma was serving down 4-5 0-40 -- four match points. Sharma, the hero of Vanderbilt's championship run last spring in Waco, kept her cool and her partner Ellie Yates cleaned up at the net, and they held. After two more holds of serve, Vanderbilt ran away with the tiebreaker, 7-1.

"I just really wanted to take it one point at a time, and set up my partner," said Sharma.  "We'd been winning most of those [close] games before, so I was strangely a bit confident that if we played the right ball we could get back into it."

The doubles point may have made the difference in the match. Sharma at #2 singles and Sydney Campbell at the top of the lineup each had solid wins, but Vandy's Georgina Sellyn and Duke's Ellyse Hamlin had split sets at #5, while senior Yates was locked in a battle against freshman Jessica Ho at #6. It all came down to lines #3 and #4. On 3, Vandy senior Frances Altick had saved 3 match points against Chalena Scholl but was down 3 more match points serving at 4-5 in the second set. But as she was gathering balls to serve, her teammate Courtney Colton closed out Samantha Harris on the adjacent court, 6-4 , 6-4. 

Vanderbilt head coach Geoff MacDonald said it was an "incredibly close match against a great Duke team. That's a 4-3 either way match played out. It broke our way with some of the really close results, but that's a fantastic team, and we feel like it's a really good win."

Asked to reflect on his team's first NCAA title, MacDonald said, "I felt privileged to be part of it. It was the longest peak experience of my life, and to do it with those kids was one of the highlights of my life."

Unseeded teams prevail

Three of the four lower seeds lost today in close matches.

The best finish of the day belonged to Louisiana State University, coached in tandem by Julia Sell and former Monica Seles and John Isner coach Mike Sell. The only 4-3 match of the day, LSU came back from 2-3 but was up a set in its last two matches. After #23 Joana Vale Costa finished off her match against #27 Katarina Adamovic 7-5 6-4, the match came down to #6 singles, where senior Ella Taylor beat Oklahoma State University's Carla Tur Mari 7-5 7-5.

Taylor, from Guernsey (the same island that Heather Watson hails from), didn't realize for most of the match that she was in clinching position. "I actually had it wrong, for a lot of that match," she said. "I thought that a few of my teammates that lost had won, so I was pretty calm the whole match, until obviously everybody was on my court so I kind of gathered it was down to me. But I've been in that situation before so I just tried to focus really hard, play my game, take the support from my team." She was especially pleased because her coaches had agreed to take the team to Texas de Brazil if they won their first round.

The most intense moments of the day came between two of the Cinderella teams.  Fresno State and #8 seed Ohio State are both making their ITA Team Indoor National Championship debuts this week, and their doubles point was an incredible introduction to the event.

After freshman sensation Francesca Di Lorenzo and partner Olivia Sneed won 6-4 at #3, attention shifted to the other two courts, where the Fresno State's British senior twins Anneka and Sophie Watts were match point up at #2 while simultaneously, Egyptian sisters Mayar and Rana Sherif Ahmed were match point down in a tiebreak at #1. The Wattses, who had serve for it at 5-4, won a deciding point at 6-5 to clinch the victory; while the Sherif Ahmeds, who had already saved 5 match points prior to the tiebreaker, went down 3-6 but rallied to 6-6. They then went down 2 more match points at 6-7 and 8-9 but held on for the emotional win.

Bulldog coach Ryan Stotland speculated that the win might have been too emotional. The Buckeyes stormed out of the gate in singles, dropping just 10 combined games in their singles matches at #1 (Di Lorenzo), #5 (Femy Angeles Paz), and #6 (Sneed), leaving them just one win short. That was taken care of at #3 by Anna Sanford, who beat the elder Sherif Ahmad, Rana, 7-6 6-1. (Sanford's sister Alexandra had a breakout week by qualifying for the $100,000 ITF tournament in Midland, Michigan. Unfortunately, I had to break the news to her that her sister lost her quarterfinal match to Robin Anderson a couple of hours beforehand.)

The University of Michigan beat #7 seed University of Miami 4-2. Senior Ronit Yurovsky clinched the match with an impressive 4-6 6-3 6-4 comeback win over #7 ranked Sinead Lohan. Yurovsky served for the match at 5-3 in the third, and had 40-30, but lost the first point and on deciding point double faulted. When asked what was going through her mind, the Pennsylvanian laughed and said, "I can't really say." She added that she was a little nervous toward the end, but credited assistant coach Teryn Ashley-Fitch with helping her refocus and break Lohan for the win.

In the final match of the day, the University of Virginia, which had suspended several players for last week's loss to South Carolina, overcame Texas A&M 4-1. It was an emotional win for UVA, which two weeks ago suspended five players for misconduct. On Monday, however, some of the players were reinstated and made the trip to Madison. One of those players, freshman Meghan Kelley, clinched the win with a 7-5 6-1 win over fellow freshman Domenica Gonzalez at #5 singles.

"I came out a little slow in the first set," said Kelley. She was on fire, I got down 4-1 quickly. Then [head coach] Mark [Guilbeau] helped me out a lot," in particular by targeting her opponent's backhand and encouraging her to serve bigger.  She added, "My teammates were cheering and really helped me out, and I kind of caught my stride. I came back, won the set 7-5, and hung in there, really stuck to my game plan and won 6-2 in the second set."

I spoke with Guilbeau after the match. I will post the interview on my blog, On the Rise (a tennis blog), on Saturday morning.

Complete box scores are below:
February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
No. 3 seed North Carolina 4, Alabama 0
1. #6 Hayley Carter (NC) def. #63 Erin Routliffe (UA) 6-1, 6-3
2. #88 Whitney Kay (NC) vs. #41 Andie Daniell (UA) 6-2, 3-4, unfinished
3. Kate Vialle (NC) vs. Joanna Nena Savva (UA) 6-4, 3-2, unfinished
4. #68 Jessie Aney (NC) def. Danielle Spielmann (UA) 6-0, 6-3
5. Marika Akkerman (NC) vs. Natalia Maynetto (UA) 6-6, unfinished
6. #112 Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (NC) def. Aryn Greene (UA) 6-2, 6-2
1. #2 Hayley Carter/Whitney Kay (NC) def. #48 Erin Routliffe/Andie Daniell (UA) 6-2
2. #16 Jessie Aney/Kate Vialle (NC) def. Danielle Spielmann/Joanna Nena Savva (UA) 6-0
3. Ashley Dai/Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (NC) vs. Bennett Dunn/Aryn Greene (UA) 5-3, unfinished
Match Notes:
Alabama 2-0; National ranking #13
North Carolina 7-0; National ranking #5
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (4,6,1)

February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
LSU 4, No. 6 seed Oklahoma State 3
1. #23 Joana Vale Costa (LSU) def. #27 Katarina Adamovic (OKST) 7-5, 6-4
2. #38 Vladica Babic (OKST) def. #52 Jessica Golovin (LSU) 2-6, 6-4, 6-2
3. #46 Viktoriya Lushkova (OKST) def. #93 Skylar Kuykendall (LSU) 6-3, 6-4
4. Ryann Foster (LSU) def. #89 Kelsey Laurente (OKST) 6-1, 6-3
5. Abigail Owens (LSU) def. Katarina Stresnakova (OKST) 6-1, 7-6 (7-3)
6. Ella Taylor (LSU) def. Carla Tur Mari (OKST) 7-5, 7-5
1. #9 Kelsey Laurente/Maria Alvarez (OKST) vs. Joana Vale Costa/Ryann Foster (LSU) 4-4, unfinished
2. #23 Viktoriya Lushkova/Carla Tur Mari (OKST) def. Skylar Kuykendall/Abigail Owens (LSU) 6-1
3. Katarina Adamovic/Vladica Babic (OKST) def. Skylar Holloway/Ella Taylor (LSU) 6-3
Match Notes:
LSU 6-0; National ranking #18
Oklahoma State 6-1; National ranking #10
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (4,3,5,2,1,6)
2016 ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship - First Round

February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
No. 2 seed Georgia 4, Texas Tech 0
1. #12 Ellen Perez (UGA) def. #77 Gabriela Talaba (TT) 6-1, 6-2
2. #22 Caroline Brinson (UGA) def. Lynn Kiro (TT) 6-0, 6-0
3. #82 Silvia Garcia (UGA) vs. Sarah Dvorak (TT) 6-2, 2-5, unfinished
4. #109 Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. Sabrina Federici (TT) 6-2, 6-3
5. Mariana Gould (UGA) vs. Alex Valenstein (TT) 4-6, 1-4, unfinished
6. Laura Patterson (UGA) vs. Felicity Maltby (TT) 2-6, 5-5, unfinished
1. #14 Ellen Perez/Mariana Gould (UGA) vs. Lynn Kiro/Gabriela Talaba (TT) 6-5, unfinished
2. Silvia Garcia/Caroline Brinson (UGA) def. Sarah Dvorak/Alex Valenstein (TT) 6-3
3. Laura Patterson/Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. Sabrina Federici/Felicity Maltby (TT) 6-4
Match Notes:
Texas Tech 4-1; National ranking #17
Georgia 4-0; National ranking #2
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (2,1,4)

February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
Michigan 4, No. 7 seed Miami 2
1. #17 Ronit Yurovsky (MICH) def. #7 Sinead Lohan (UM) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
2. #19 Brienne Minor (MICH) def. #9 Stephanie Wagner (UM) 6-2, 6-4
3. #107 Kate Fahey (MICH) def. Clementina Riobueno (UM) 7-5, 6-3
4. #80 Wendy Zhang (UM) vs. Mira Ruder-Hook (MICH) 4-6, 6-4, 1-3, unfinished
5. Clara Tanielian (UM) def. Alex Najarian (MICH) 6-4, 6-2
6. Silvia Fuentes (UM) def. Teona Velehorschi (MICH) 6-2, 6-1
1. Brienne Minor/Mira Ruder-Hook (MICH) def. Stephanie Wagner/Wendy Zhang (UM) 6-1
2. Kate Fahey/Ronit Yurovsky (MICH) def. Sinead Lohan/Ana Madcur (UM) 6-2
3. Silvia Fuentes/Clementina Riobueno (UM) def. Alex Najarian/Sara Remynse (MICH) 6-0
Match Notes:
Michigan 3-1; National ranking #12
Miami 3-1; National ranking #11
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (6,5,2,3)

February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
No. 1 seed Vanderbilt 4, Duke 0
1. #24 Sydney Campbell (VANDY) def. #28 Beatrice Capra (DU) 6-3, 6-1
2. #15 Astra Sharma (VANDY) def. #29 Kaitlyn McCarthy (DU) 6-4, 6-2
3. #79 Chalena Scholl (DU) vs. #33 Frances Altick (VANDY) 6-3, 5-3, unfinished
4. Courtney Colton (VANDY) def. Samantha Harris (DU) 6-4, 6-4
5. #70 Ellyse Hamlin (DU) vs. Georgina Sellyn (VANDY) 2-6, 6-4, 0-1, unfinished
6. Jessica Ho (DU) vs. Ellie Yates (VANDY) 4-6, 4-4, unfinished
1. #11 Courtney Colton/Sydney Campbell (VANDY) def. #26 Beatrice Capra/Ellyse Hamlin (DU) 6-1
2. Astra Sharma/Ellie Yates (VANDY) def. Samantha Harris/Kaitlyn McCarthy (DU) 7-6 (7-1)
3. Chalena Scholl/Alyssa Smith (DU) def. Frances Altick/Georgina Sellyn (VANDY) 6-1
Match Notes:
Vanderbilt 3-0; National ranking #1
Duke 4-0; National ranking #14
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (2,1,4)

February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
No. 8 seed Ohio State 4, Fresno State 2
1. Francesca Di Lorenzo (OSU) def. Mayar Sherif Ahmed (FRST) 6-2, 6-1
2. Sophie Watts (FRST) def. Gabriella De Santis (OSU) 6-3, 6-3
3. Anna Sanford (OSU) def. Rana Sherif Ahmed (FRST) 7-6 (7-2), 6-1
4. Galia Bykova (FRST) vs. Miho Kowase (OSU) 2-6, 4-5, unfinished
5. Femy Angeles Paz (OSU) def. Emma Wilson (FRST) 6-3, 6-0
6. Olivia Sneed (OSU) def. Anneka Watts (FRST) 6-2, 6-2
1. Mayar Sherif Ahmed/Rana Sherif Ahmed (FRST) def. #6 Anna Sanford/Miho Kowase (OSU) 7-6 (11-9)
2. #58 Sophie Watts/Anneka Watts (FRST) def. Gabriella De Santis/Femy Angeles Paz (OSU) 7-5
3. Olivia Sneed/Francesca Di Lorenzo (OSU) def. Sofya Maylsheva/Olivia Noble (FRST) 6-4
Match Notes:
Ohio State 5-0; National ranking #16
Fresno State 2-1; National ranking #30
Order of finish: Doubles (3,2,1); Singles (5,6,1,2,3)

February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
No. 4 seed California 4, Wisconsin 0
1. #66 Lauren Chypyha (WIS) vs. #5 Maegan Manasse (CAL) 7-5, 1-1, unfinished
2. Ekaterina Stepanova (WIS) vs. #10 Klara Fabikova (CAL) 0-6, 5-4, unfinished
3. Lynn Chi (CAL) def. Kendall Kirsch (WIS) 6-3, 6-1
4. Denise Starr (CAL) def. Maria Avgerinos (WIS) 6-1, 6-1
5. #81 Olivia Hauger (CAL) def. Sydney Rider (WIS) 6-1, 6-1
6. Lauren Burich (WIS) vs. Karla Popovic (CAL) 1-6, 1-4, unfinished
1. #3 Maegan Manasse/Denise Starr (CAL) def. Lauren Chypyha/Kendall Kirsch (WIS) 6-2
2. #43 Klara Fabikova/Olivia Hauger (CAL) def. Sydney Rider/Ekaterina Stepanova (WIS) 6-3
3. Lauren Burich/Kelsey Grambeau (WIS) vs. Lynn Chi/Maria Smith (CAL) 3-5, unfinished
Match Notes:
California 2-0; National ranking #6
Wisconsin 2-0
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2); Singles (4,5,3)

February 5, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor First Round, Madison, Wisc.
Virginia 4, No. 5 seed Texas A&M 1
1. #4 Danielle Collins (VA) vs. #53 Saska Gavrilovska (A&M) 1-6, 7-5, 1-0, unfinished
2. #8 Julia Elbaba (VA) def. #58 Rachel Pierson (A&M) 6-2, 6-4
3. #30 Stephanie Nauta (VA) def. #106 Rutuja Bhosale (A&M) 6-4, 6-1
4. Eva Paalma (A&M) def. Victoria Olivarez (VA) 6-3, 6-3
5. Meghan Kelley (VA) def. Domenica Gonzalez (A&M) 7-5, 6-2
6. Erica Susi (VA) vs. Ines Deheza (A&M) 7-6 (7-4), 1-3, unfinished
1. #19 Danielle Collins/Meghan Kelley (VA) def. Rachel Pierson/Eva Paalma (A&M) 6-3
2. Julia Elbaba/Stephanie Nauta (VA) def. Rutuja Bhosale/Anna Mamalat (A&M) 7-6 (7-5)
3. Saska Gavrilovska/Domenica Gonzalez (A&M) def. Victoria Olivarez/Taylor Wingo (VA) 6-4
Match Notes:
Texas A&M 3-1; National ranking #9
Virginia 3-1; National ranking #7
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (2,4,3,5)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sanford, Loeb, Falconi and Anderson Reach Midland Quarterfinals; LSU First in Recruiting Class Rankings; Four Top US Girls Attend Fed Cup Camp in Hawaii

Three Intercollegiate Tennis Association Players of the Year and a blue chip recruit have reached the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland, and one of them will reach the final, with all four in the bottom half of the draw.

The least surprising of those four quarterfinalists is No. 3 seed Irina Falconi, the 2010 Player of the Year as a sophomore at Georgia Tech. Currently 76 in the WTA rankings, Falconi was a finalist in Midland in 2011 and the 25-year-old took another step in that direction today with a 6-1, 6-1 win over qualifier Lauren Albanese.

Falconi will face another qualifier Friday in NCAA champion Jamie Loeb, who was named ITA Player of the Year in 2014, after her freshman year at North Carolina.  Loeb, who had not won three matches in a row since last July, now has won five since Sunday, with the 20-year-old New Yorker beating No. 5 seed Lauren Davis 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 in the second round today.  Davis, who reached the third round of the Australian Open, is now ranked 98, so Loeb has the first Top 100 win of her career.

Robin Anderson, the 2015 ITA Player of the Year after her senior year at UCLA, received a wild card into the tournament. Today the 22-year-old from New Jersey defeated 16-year-old CiCi Bellis 7-5, 6-3 and will, for the third straight match, play a teenager.  Alexandra Sanford, a 17-year-old qualifier from Ohio, won her fifth consecutive match today when Alexa Glatch retired with an injury down 6-4.  Sanford, who has committed to North Carolina, had never won a pro level match until yesterday.

Maui finalist Raveena Kingsley led Shelby Rogers by a set and a break, but eventually fell by a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.   Rogers will play the winner of tonight's match between Mayo Hibi of Japan and No. 8 seed Louisa Chirico. Madison Brengle, the top seed, will play unseeded Naomi Broady of Great Britain in the other quarterfinal.

For draws and a link to the live streaming, see the tournament website.

In men's Pro Circuit action, Frances Tiafoe lost to Japan's Tatsuma Ito 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Dallas Challenger this afternoon, leaving Tim Smyczek, who plays qualifier Marinko Matosevic of Australia in the quarterfinals tonight.

Tiafoe has received a main draw wild card into next week's ATP event in Memphis, joining Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul.  Wimbledon champion Reilly Opelka, who was originally awarded a main draw wild card, has a stress fracture and is unable to to compete right now.

At the $10,000 Futures in Palm Coast, Florida, all remaining Americans went out in today's second round.  Wil Spencer has reached the doubles final, with former Texas A&M-Corpus Christi star Peter Nagy of Hungary.

The Tennis Recruiting Network announced its women's recruiting class rankings, with LSU finishing No. 1.  Kingsley is one of three blue chips the Tigers have signed, and I spoke with her about the likelihood that she'll enter next fall for an upcoming article for Tennis Recruiting Network.  North Carolina, who finished third in the voting, has two blue chips scheduled to begin in the fall, including Sanford.

The women's Top 10:
1. LSU
2. Stanford
3. North Carolina
5. Alabama
6. Virginia
7. Georgia Tech
8. Washington
9. Princeton
10. Florida

The USTA announced the participation of four junior girls--Usue Arconada, Kayla Day, Caroline Dolehide and Claire Liu--in the Fed Cup camp being held in Hawaii this week in advance of the USA's tie with Poland Saturday and Sunday.

An excerpt from the release is below. The complete release can be found here.

KAILUA-KONA, HI., February 4, 2016 – The USTA today announced that four top junior players are taking part in USTA Player Development’s Fed Cup camp, which is held alongside the United States’ Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II First Round tie vs. Poland, February 6-7, at the Holua Tennis Center in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Usue Arconada (age 17; College Park, Md.), Kayla Day (age 16; Santa Barbara, Calif.), Caroline Dolehide (age 17; Hinsdale, Ill.), and Claire Liu (age 15; Thousand Oaks, Calif.) are all participating in the camp, an opportunity traditionally held in conjunction with Fed Cup ties in the U.S.

The camp is an opportunity for some of America’s top young players to train with one another, as well as practice and interact with the U.S. Fed Cup Team of Captain Mary Joe Fernandez, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. USTA National Coach Kathy Rinaldi and guest coach Marianne Werdel are running the camp. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Teens Bellis, Kingsley and Sanford Reach Midland $100K Second Round, Tiafoe Advances to Dallas Quarterfinals; Women's DI Team Indoor Draws; Tiley to Return to Illinois?

I returned to Kalamazoo from Midland late last night (and a slushy, ugly drive it was) but was happy to have stayed for the match between No. 2 seed and defending champion Tatjana Maria of Germany and 16-year-old CiCi Bellis, which Bellis won 7-5, 6-3, posting her first Top 100 win since beating No. 32 Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan last March in Miami.

I won't go into detail about the match itself (for that see Jonathan Kelley's account at On The Rise Tennis), but I did talk to Bellis briefly after the match, specifically to ask about the atmosphere at the Great Midland Tennis Center.  In the four times I've been there for the Dow Corning Tennis Classic, I've always been impressed by the crowds, and last night was no exception, despite some less than ideal weather conditions. I asked Bellis, who is playing Midland for the first time, if the atmosphere reminded her of the US Open, which features a similar commitment to tennis as entertainment, with changeover music, dramatic entrances, ace counters and post-match interviews. (Bellis disclosed she does have her driver's license and a Ferrari is her dream car.)

"What it really reminds me of is Les Petits As," said Bellis, who won the 14U event in Tarbes in 2013. "It looks exactly the same. When I first walked out, I was about to text one of my friends (Stefan Leustian, who won the boys title on Sunday) and tell him it was just like it. I felt like I'd played here a thousand times."

Bellis will play wild card Robin Anderson, who ended the run of 16-year-old qualifier Michaela Gordon with a 6-1, 6-3 victory today.

Gordon was the only qualifier not to advance to the second round. Lauren Albanese defeated Bernarda Pera 7-5, 7-6(3), NCAA champion Jamie Loeb took out Julia Boserup 6-3, 6-2 and 17-year-old Alexandra Sanford defeated Jennifer Brady 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.  Sanford has no WTA ranking at all, with today's match her first in the main draw of any Pro Circuit event, including at the $10,000 and $25,000 levels.

Sanford will play Alexa Glatch, who beat No. 7 seed Samantha Crawford 6-3, 6-2.  Albanese will take on No. 3 seed Irina Falconi and Loeb will face No. 5 seed Lauren Davis.

Seventeen-year-old Raveena Kingsley received entry via a special exemption after she reached the final of the $50,000 tournament in Maui last week, and the 24-hour trip to Midland proved worthwhile, as she defeated No. 4 seed Anna Tatishvili 7-5, 1-6, 7-6(4). Check Kelley's site later for more on today's action in Midland.

Draws, Thursday's order of play and a link to the live stream can be found at the tournament website.

Late last night, 18-year-old Frances Tiafoe defeated top seed and ATP No. 67 Sam Groth of Australia 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the $100,000 ATP Challenger in Dallas.  The Kalamazoo 18s champion did not face a break point in taking down one of the tour's top servers. This afternoon Tiafoe defeated qualifier Mikhail Vaks of Russia 6-4, 6-4 to advance to the quarterfinals where he will play No. 6 seed Tatsuma Ito of Japan. Tiafoe lost to Ito in the first round of US Open qualifying in 2014 by a 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-3 score.

The ITA Women's Team Indoor begins Friday in Madison Wisconsin, and Jonathan Kelley will trek from Midland to Madison on Thursday in order to provide onsite coverage this weekend for  The lineups for each of the 16 participants are here. One of the questions that will be answered Friday night is whether the University of Virginia will be playing short-handed, as they did in a 4-3 loss to South Carolina, after five players on the team were suspended indefinitely last weekend.

Friday's first round schedule:
No. 6 Oklahoma State vs. LSU, 9 a.m. CT
No. 3 North Carolina vs. Alabama, 9 a.m. CT
No. 7 Miami (FL) vs. Michigan, 12 p.m. CT

No. 2 Georgia vs. Texas Tech, 12 p.m. CT 
No. 1 Vanderbilt vs. Duke, 3:30 p.m. CT
No. 8 Ohio State vs. Fresno State, 3:30 p.m. CT
No. 4 Cal vs. Wisconsin, 6:30 p.m. CT
No. 5 Texas A&M vs. Virginia, 6:30 p.m. CT

See the ITA's tournament page for more information.

The Chicago Tribune reported today that former University of Illinois men's tennis coach and current Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley is among seven candidates being interviewed for the position of Athletic Director at Illinois.  

The voice of the USTA Challenger live streaming, Mike Cation, who has longstanding ties to Tiley and the University's Athletic Department, disputed the Tribune's account, tweeting: For the record, Craig Tiley has NOT interviewed for the Illinois AD job. The Tribune report yesterday was inaccurate in that regard.

Cation also said he's been answering questions regarding this possibility for two weeks now, and that is certain to continue until Illinois announces its decision.

Rajeev Ram, who played for Tiley in 2003, the year they won their NCAA team title, was asked about it in Quito Ecuador, where he is competing in the ATP 250 event there this week.

"I think it would be great," Ram told the ATP representative in Quito. "He's been successful in pretty much any job he's done, starting with being the coach of Illinois and what he's done with Australian tennis and now as the tournament director of the Australian Open. It's leaps and bounds better than what it was before, and it's kind of the pioneer when it comes to grand slams making it better for us, as players.

"I have no doubt that if he would be the AD at Illinois, it would be great for the school, and as an alum, I would think that that's great.

Ram was asked what he's seen from Tiley in his current role that would translate to this prospective one.

"Innovative thinking," Ram responded. "Ways to make things better that maybe people don't always think of. The way that the site has grown, the way they've really, really done a good job taking care of the players. And also Australian tennis in general; the men's side I can speak for more so, has picked up in the last five, ten years and I think you're going to see it keep going forward. I don't think there's many negatives to what's happened over there. They were the leaders in the prize money increase we got from the grand slams and they stepped up and took the initiative; the list goes on quite a ways of little things. I just think there's little creative things that he's been able to do to make it better for us."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Loeb, Gordon, Sanford and Albanese Qualify for $100K Dow Corning Tennis Classic

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Midland, Michigan

The draw for the $100,000 Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland was already full of Americans, with 22 entries in the 32-player draw. Four more were added to that number today, with all four qualifiers coming from the USA, including two teenagers.

Sixteen-year-old Michaela Gordon needed only 49 minutes to get by 15-year-old Isabelle Boulais of Canada, who managed to win only 17 points in the match compared to Gordon's 50 in the 6-0, 6-0 result. Gordon, who also won her first round qualifying match 6-0 ,6-0, will play in her first main draw of a $100,000 tournament on Wednesday against former UCLA star Jennifer Brady.

2015 NCAA champion Jamie Loeb, the No. 8 seed in qualifying, will also be making her singles debut in the main draw at the $100,000 level after defeating Nadja Gilchrist 6-1, 6-3. After a tough three months, in which she won only one qualifying match in six tournaments, Loeb was happy to string together three wins in three days.

"It was probably Lexington in July," Loeb said of her last three-match winning streak. "So yeah, it feels good. I felt I played pretty well today. She hits a really flat, big ball so there was a lot of banging out there, but overall, I held my ground and played well."

Loeb arrived in Midland after playing the three $25,000 Pro Circuit events on the Florida clay.

"These courts are very quick, but I've grown up on indoor hard and I love it," said the 20-year-old from New York. "They're definitely quick; there are definitely not a lot of long points out here, so it's a lot of first strike tennis. So far, that's been in my favor."

Loeb will play Julia Boserup in the first round of Wednesday.

Alexandra Sanford, who turned 17 last month, earned her way into the main draw with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over No. 2 seed Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia, who is 18 years old.

Sanford got off to a quick 4-1 lead, but after Vikhlyantseva took a medical timeout at the changeover, she lost ten points in succession. But as she showed in her three-set win over Ingrid Neel on Monday, Sanford regrouped quickly, breaking Vikhlyantseva for 5-4, then saving two break points to close out the set with a forehand winner and backhand that forced an error.

The only break in the second set came with Sanford serving at 3-4 and Vikhlyantseva served well to close out the set at love.

Sanford fell behind 2-1 in the third set, but got the break right back. Vikhlyantseva requested a second medical timeout for her left leg before serving at 2-3, but both players appeared unaffected by that delay with each holding serve.  Errors cost Vikhlyantseva in her next service game and she was broken, but Sanford was unable to serve out the  match, going down 0-40 and losing the game two points later.

"I was a little disappointed after I couldn't close it out," said Sanford, who served for the match against eventual girls champion Dalma Galfi in the first round of the US Open in September. "I've had matches when I've been up 5-3 in third and haven't been able to close them out. But on the changeover, I just talked myself through it, got myself to calm down. I just tried to let it go, stay in the moment and focus point by point in the 5-4 game."

Sanford said her strategy was to keep the ball deep and move the 6-footer, and she was successful doing that throughout the match. In the final,  Sanford also benefited from the erratic Vikhlyantseva's errors, and that proved the difference in the final game. A netted backhand and a forced error made it 0-30, but Vikhlyantseva came up with a big serve to get it back to 15-30.  A backhand wide gave Sanford two match points and she thought she had won the match when her return at the feet of Vikhlyantseva was not called out by the baseline judge. The chair overruled however, calling the return long, and Sanford, who had said c'mon and began approaching the net, had to regroup for a replayed point.

"She [the chair umpire] immediately told me it was out," said Sanford, who showed remarkable maturity in handling such a frustrating turn of events. "I just tried to let it go and focus on the next point. It's not easy, but I tried to force myself to do it. In the past, I would have been upset by that, maybe let it carry over, affect the next couple of points, but I went back to the fence and just regrouped. I think I did a good job of that."

On match point number two, Vikhlyantseva eventually got the upper hand in a typically hard-hitting rally, setting up for a short forehand putaway that she inexplicably sent wide.

Sanford, who will play Jennifer Brady in the first round, played the Dow Corning Classic two years ago, losing in the first round of qualifying, so her progress in that time has encouraged her.

"I didn't have any expectations," said Sanford, who trains with Ty Tucker in Columbus, but spent most of last month in Florida traveling to the $25,000 tournaments with the USTA. "I just wanted to not put pressure on myself and play the way I've been practicing and just have fun. My results in January weren't great, but I was working on a lot of things and trying to adjust to my new court positioning that I had. Obviously I was going to take some hard losses, but I felt like it's starting to come together and it's a great time to do it. I'm super excited."

The fourth qualifier is Lauren Albanese, who defeated No. 1 seed Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic 7-6(5), 0-6, 6-4.

First round action during the day saw Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay, Jovana Jaksic of Serbia and Mayo Hibi of Japan post wins. Cepede Royg defeated wild card Taylor Townsend 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3; Jaksic topped Kristie Ahn 6-4, 7-6(5) and Hibi defeated Riko Sawayanagi of Japan 6-1, 6-1.  Last year's finalist Louisa Chirico downed Grace Min in the only all-American first round match of the day, 6-3, 6-2.

CiCi Bellis will face No. 2 seed Tatjana Maria of Germany in the featured night match.

Jonathan Kelley is on site at the Greater Midland Tennis Center, and he will have more on Tuesday's action at On The Rise Tennis.

Draws, schedules and the link to live streaming is available at the tournament website.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Four Teens Reach $100K Dow Corning Classic's Final Round of Qualifying; Main Draw Begins Tuesday

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Midland, Michigan

The second round of qualifying at the $100,000 Dow Corning ended with half the survivors 18 years old or younger, with each pair squaring off Tuesday for a place in the main draw.

The youngest, 15-year-old Isabelle Boulais of Canada, had the least difficulty advancing, defeating WTA 425 Emily Webley-Smith of Great Britain, who ranks more than 500 spots ahead of her 6-3, 6-0. Webley-Smith was annoyed with the chair umpire and line judges throughout the match but her frequent conversations with them didn't distract Boulais, who had her forehand firing.

Boulais will play 16-year-old Michaela Gordon, who defeated No. 3 seed Chloe Paquet of France 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 in the afternoon's final match at the Greater Midland Tennis Center.

Gordon got a late break, the only one of the set, to take take the first, but fell behind early in the second set to the 21-year-old, who has a WTA ranking of 269.

"I went down 3-0 pretty fast," said Gordon, who is ranked 660. "That's what hurt me, and I didn't try to play better and win the set, I just tried to maintain, which wasn't the best idea, because she started playing better. She actually played a really good second set too. She was hitting me off the court in the second set, so I tried to go for my serve a little more, go for my shots and make her run a little bit more and it worked out well."

Gordon broke at 2-1 and when she held for 4-1, Paquet's body language didn't suggest she was likely to make a comeback. Paquet did save two break points serving down 1-4, but Gordon got a third and converted it, giving herself an opportunity to demonstrate her improvement when closing out a match.

"I've definitely gotten a lot better at closing out my service games, and I'm pretty confident when I'm serving for the match or in a big game," said Gordon, who is traveling with Alex Poorta, the former Saint Mary College star, who also was an assistant coach with the Gaels. "I felt pretty confident."

Gordon and Boulais met last year in the second round of qualifying at the $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Raleigh last May, with Gordon taking a 6-4, 6-0 decision.

"It was last year, and it was on clay," Gordon said. "Her game is definitely suited to indoors. She has a big game. It's nice to see younger players at this level doing well."

In the other all-teenager final round of qualifying, 17-year-old Alexandra Sanford will play 18-year-old Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia. Vikhlyantseva looked to be cruising to a straight-set win over Caitlin Whoriskey leading 6-3, 5-3, but complications arose en route to her 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4 victory.  Even after failing to serve out the match at 5-3, Vikhlyantseva led 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but Whoriskey took advantage of Vikhlyantseva's errors and didn't commit any of her own to win the final five points of the set.  The young Russia managed the only break of the third set however to advance against Sanford.

Sanford and fellow 17-year-old Ingrid Neel met for the first time, with Sanford taking a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 decision.  Neel, who lives in Florida now, but grew up in Minnesota, is comfortable on fast indoor hard courts where she can use her skills at the net.

"She definitely love to come to the net," said Sanford, who lost in the second round of qualifying at the three $25,000 Florida Pro Circuit tournaments on clay last month. "She's an aggressive player and she likes to look to move forward, put pressure on. But I felt like I handled it well, and I executed a lot of passing shots, which is big for me."

Sanford got the only break of the second set at 4-all and held with a couple of forehand winners and a good first serve from 15-30 down.

Getting out to a 4-1 lead in the third set, Sanford served and had two game points for a 5-1 lead, but Neel fought back to break and held for 4-3.  Down 15-40 in the next game, Sanford appeared to be letting that big lead disappear entirely, but she hit a huge backhand winner to save the first break point and more big groundstrokes eventually forced an error from Neel. Her only ace of the set gave her a game point and she converted. Neel was unable to hold in the next game, with Sanford hitting a backhand winner on her first match point.

"She's a fighter," said Sanford, who drove up from her home in Ohio for the qualifying tournament for the second time in her career. "She stays there until the end. But I just wanted to focus on what I had been doing to get up 4-1 and try not to let my nerves get to me."

Despite being only a year apart Sanford has not played Vikhlyantseva.

"I saw her at a couple of ITF Junior tournaments not last year but the year before," said Sanford. "But other than that, I don't know her game super well. But I do know that she's a very good player, so I'll just have to come out and do the same thing I did today."

After winning 6-0, 6-0 Sunday in her first round qualifying match, top seed Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic had another short day Monday, advancing to the final round of qualifying when Pia Suomalainen of Finland retired with a foot injury down 5-2 in the first set. Vaidisova's opponent Tuesday got to the final round in much more arduous fashion, with Lauren Albanese beating No. 6 seed Sharon Fichman of Canada 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in just over three hours.

The fourth final round qualifying match will feature two former collegiate stars, with No. 8 seed Jamie Loeb, the 2015 NCAA champion while at North Carolina, against Nadja Gilchrist, the former University of Georgia standout.

Gilchrist defeated 18-year-old Sophie Chang 6-3, 6-0, while Loeb defeated Marianna Zakarlyuk of Ukraine 6-3, 6-1.

Loeb had a back injury that bothered her most of the second half of 2015, and although she is feeling healthy now, finding her form has been a challenge. She has lost three of four qualifying matches and her only main draw match to start the 2016 season.

"I've been playing great in practice and in practice matches," said the 20-year-old New Yorker. "I think maybe the lack of matches, real matches and not consistent enough. It's a confidence thing, and I'm just glad I've been able to get two wins here."

Loeb always feels at home on indoor courts.

"It always helps that I grew up on indoor clay," Loeb said. "But these courts are pretty quick, and also coming from outdoor clay. I think I've been playing on clay the last two months then transitioning here, but so far, so good."

The main draw was released this afternoon, with seven of the eight seeds Americans: Madison Brengle(1), Irina Falconi(3), Anna Tatishvili(4), Lauren Davis(5), Nicole Gibbs(6), Samantha Crawford(7) and last year's finalist Louisa Chirico(8).  Last year's champion Tatjana Maria of Germany is the No. 2 seed, and she will play 16-year-old CiCi Bellis in Tuesday night's feature match. Maria and Bellis have split their two previous meetings.

Maui finalist Raveena Kingsley received a special exemption into the main draw and will play Tatishvili.

In other Dow Corning Classic news, co-director Scott Mitchell announced at the annual press conference that the tournament would move from its current $100,000 prize money to $125,000 in 2017, as part of the ITF Pro Circuit's planned increases for all its tournaments. The Dow Corning's prize money went from $75,000 to $100,000 in 2010.

Draws, order of play and links to live streaming can be found at the tournament website.