Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chirico, Stewart Reach Dothan Final; Virginia Women End North Carolina's Perfect Season; Third Set Tiebreakers Put Baylor and Oklahoma Men in Big 12 Final

The USTA's Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge could hardly have gotten off to a better start this week for two American women, with 17-year-old Katerina Stewart and 18-year-old Louisa Chirico reaching the final of the $50,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Dothan, Alabama.

Stewart, a wild card who won her first $25,000 title last month in Palm Harbor, Florida, defeated unseeded Paul Goncalves of Brazil 6-4, 6-0 in the day's first semifinal, while No. 4 seed Chirico needed considerably longer to defeat Serbia's Jovanan Jaksic 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-0.  Whoever wins the title on Sunday will claim her first singles championship at the $50,000 level and will take the lead in the race for the French Open wild card.

The final will be available via the USTA's live streaming, with the singles final scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.

The $50,000 Savannah Challenger will not feature any Americans, with both Frances Tiafoe and Bjorn Fratangelo dropping their semifinal matches today.  Tiafoe lost to former NC State star James McGee of Ireland 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, while Fratangelo was beaten by 18-year-old Hyeon Chung of Korea, the No. 4 seed, 6-2, 6-4. Tiafoe does leave Savannah with the lead in the men's race for the USTA"s reciprocal French Open wild card however, with one tournament left next week in Tallahassee.

At the $100,000 Challenger in Guadalajara, Mexico, Jason Jung will play in his first Challenger final, meeting Rajeev Ram.  Jung, the 25-year-old from California, won the $15,000 Futures in Little Rock last week, so he is now on a nine match winning streak.  Today he defeated Connor Smith 6-4, 7-6(3), while No. 7 seed Ram downed qualifier Kevin King 6-4, 6-3.  Neither Ram nor Jung have faced a seed this week.

photo via twitter 

Ram already has captured one title in Guadalajara, taking the doubles title with Austin Krajicek.  The top seeds defeated No. 3 seeds Marcelo Demoliner of Brazil and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico 7-5, 4-6, 10-6.

In the ACC tournament, in a match moved indoors due to rain, No. 4 seed Virginia handed top seed North Carolina their first loss of the season, downing the Tar Heels 4-1.  The Cavaliers had lost to North Carolina 4-3 just two weeks ago, but did not have Maci Epstein in the lineup.  Virginia won the doubles point and got wins from Skylar Morton at 4, Danielle Collins at 2 and Cassie Mercer at 6 to spoil No. 1 North Carolina's perfect season.  Virginia will play No. 6 seed Georgia Tech, who reached the final with a 4-3 win over No. 10 seed Florida State. The final is scheduled to be live streamed on ESPN3 Sunday, if the match is played outdoors.

The ACC men's final will feature top seed Virginia against No. 3 seed Wake Forest.  Virginia defeated North Carolina 4-0, while Wake had no trouble with Georgia Tech, also advancing by a 4-0 score.  The men's final is also scheduled to be live streamed at ESPN3.

The Big 12 men's final will be the fourth meeting this season between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Baylor, but both needed third set tiebreakers to advance over Texas and TCU in today's semifinals. Baylor's Julian Lenz outlasted TCU's Nick Chappell at No. 1, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (1), for the 4-3 win, while Oklahoma's Alex Ghilea defeated Texas's George Goldhoff 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) at line 4 to give the Sooners a 4-3 win.  Oklahoma has won the three previous meetings against Baylor by scores of 4-2, 4-1 and, most recently, 4-3.

The Big 12 women's final will feature No. 1 seed Baylor against No. 2 seed Texas Tech.

In the Big 10 men's final, the perennial battle between Illinois and Ohio State will be rejoined, while the women's final has Michigan against Ohio State.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Neel Commits to Florida, Paul to Georgia; Tiafoe Reaches Savannah Challenger Semifinals, Stewart into Dothan Semis; Upsets in ACC Tournament

Ingrid Neel, the No. 2 recruit in the Tennis Recruiting Network's Class of 2016, has verbally committed to the University of Florida.  I spoke to Neel about her decision at the Easter Bowl and wrote this article about her choice and her aspirations for a professional career.

The No. 2 recruit in the boys class of 2015, Tommy Paul, has announced his commitment to the University of Georgia. Reilly Opelka, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015 , has not yet announced his decision.

Frances Tiafoe, who turned pro less than three weeks ago, has lost only one match since then.  He qualified for the $100,000 Sarasota Challenger and reached the quarterfinals; this week at the $50,000 Savannah Challenger, he received a wild card and is now into the semifinals after a 6-2, 7-6(3) win over Mitchell Krueger.  I've watched a lot of matches on the live stream this week and Tiafoe's forehand has been the most dynamic shot on display.  That and his flair for the unexpected is reason enough to tune in on Saturday, when he'll play James McGee of Ireland for a place in the final.  McGee defeated top seed Tim Smyczek 6-0, 6-3.  Tiafoe has also now taken the lead in the USTA's Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge for the French Open.  Bjorn Fratangelo, who Tiafoe beat in the second round last week in Sarasota, defeated Jared Donaldson 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-0 in the other all-American quarterfinal.  He will play No. 4 seed Hyeon Chung of Korea, who defeated No. 5 seed Gastao Elias of Portugal 6-2, 6-4.

At the Women's $50,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Dothan, Alabama, wild card Katerina Stewart defeated Samantha Crawford 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 to reach the semifinals, where she'll play unseeded Paula Goncalves of Brazil. Louisa Chirico defeated Jessica Pegula 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals against Jovana Jaksic of Serbia.

In the $50,000 Santos Challenger in Brazil, 17-year-old wild card Orlando Luz reached a Challenger semifinal for the first time, with qualifier Agustin Velotti of Argentina retiring down 5-0 in their quarterfinal meeting today. Luz, currently ranked No. 2 in the ITF Junior World rankings, will play unseeded Germain Gigounon of Belgium in the semifinals.

At the $100,000 Guadalajara Challenger, an American champion is assured before the quarterfinals have finished.  Unseeded Connor Smith defeated No. 6 seed JP Smith of Australia 6-4, 7-5 to earn his first berth in a Challenger semifinal.  Smith will play Jason Jung, who defeated Adam El Mihdawy 6-3, 6-4..  No. 7 seed Rajeev Ram defeated Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador 7-6(2), 6-3 and will play qualifier Kevin King in the semifinals.  King defeated top seed Adrian Menendez Maceiras of Spain 7-5, 2-6, 7-6(2).

King capped what was an outstanding day for Georgia Tech, with both the men's and women's teams posting upsets in the ACC tournament in Cary, NC.  Fresh from a 4-3 win over Duke in the final weekend of the season, the men, seeded 10th, beat Notre Dame on Thursday and today took out No. 2 seed and 14th-ranked Virginia Tech 4-3.  They will play No. 3 seed Wake Forest in the semifinals.  Top seed Virginia will play No. 4 North Carolina, after the Tar Heels got by No. 5 seed Duke 4-3.

The sixth-seeded Georgia Tech women defeated No. 3 Duke 4-3, but the real surprise came in the other other quarterfinal in the bottom half, with Florida State, seeded 10th, beating No. 2 seed Miami 4-3.

In the top half of the ACC women's tournament, No. 4 seed Virginia plays top seed North Carolina.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

115th Ojai Underway; Austin and Austin Win SEC Player of the Year Awards; Liu Out of Junior Fed Cup Qualifying with Injury; Stewart Beats Konta in Dothan

The Southern California tennis festival that is the Ojai tournament is underway, for the 115th year, and while the centerpiece is usually the PAC-12 tournaments, there's plenty of other tennis to follow this weekend.

The Men's Open began today, with Canadian Philip Bester the top seed in the 32-draw, with Connor Farren No. 2, Clay Thompson No.3 and Haythem Abid No. 4.  I presume Farren's appearance in the Open draw means he will not be playing for the USC Trojans when they begin team play Friday against the winner of tonight's UCLA-Washington match.

The Women's Open starts Friday, with Emma Higuchi the top seed in the 16-player draw.  The No. 2 seed is Ena Shibahara, Felicity Maltby in No. 3 and Megan McCray is No. 4.

There is a total of $22,500 in prize money available in the Open tournaments.

In the CIF tournament for boys high school players, which began today, Michael Genender and Connor Hance are among the favorites, with Brandon Holt and Riley Smith also in the draw.

Top juniors competing in the Girls 18s are Ryan Peus, Seira Shimizu and Kenadi Hance.

In the Pac-12 women's tournament, which, unlike the men, continues to be an individual tournament, Giuliana Olmos of Southern Cal and Chanelle Van Nguyen of UCLA are the top two seeds.  UCLA's Jennifer Brady, the defending champion, is not seeded after taking the fall off and playing little this spring due to an injury.  She needs to pick up some good wins this week to qualify for the NCAA singles tournament next week.

Stan Smith is being honored at tonight's opening barbecue and will be the featured guest at a wine reception/fundraiser for the tournament on Friday.  For more on Smith's experience at The Ojai, see this recent interview.

For links to all the draws, see the tournament's website.

The ACC has announced its women's awards, with North Carolina's Jamie Loeb named Women's Player of the Year and North Carolina's Brian Kalbas named Coach of the Year.  Miami's Sinead Lohan was named the Freshman of the Year.

With its postseason tournaments completed, the SEC has announced its award winners for both men and women.

Brooke Austin of Florida was named SEC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. Vanderbilt's Geoff Macdonald was named Coach of the Year.  The list of the All-SEC teams can be found here.

Gonzales Austin of Vanderbilt was chosen as the SEC men's Player of the Year, with Steven Denton of Texas A&M the Coach of the Year and Wayne Montgomery of Georgia the Freshman of the Year.  The list of the All-SEC teams can be found here.

The USTA sent out a release regarding the upcoming Junior Fed Cup, Junior Davis Cup and World Junior Tennis North/Central American qualifying in Boca Raton next weekend, which I will be covering onsite, with the news that Easter Bowl champion Claire Liu will not be participating due to injury.  Kayla Day will be joining CiCi Bellis and Michaela Gordon on the Junior Davis Cup team.  The boys Junior Davis Cup team is Sam Riffice, Gianni Ross and Vasil Kirkov. The 14-and-under boys team is Govind Nanda, Adam Neff and Brandon Nakashima. The 14-and-under girls team is Hurricane Tyra Black, Caty McNally and Amanda Anisimova.

At the $50,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Dothan, 17-year-old wild card Katerina Stewart beat WTA 147 Johanna Konta of Great Britain 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals, where she will face Samantha Crawford. It's Stewart's first quarterfinal at the $50,000 level.  Louisa Chirico, Jessica Pegula and wild card Alexandra Stevenson are the other Americans to have reached the quarterfinals.  Fourth seed Chirico will play Pegula, while Stevenson faces Paula Goncalves of Brazil. There are no seeds remaining in the top half of the draw.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Easter Bowl Slideshow; Tiafoe, Donaldson Advance to Savannah Challenger Quarterfinals

Below is the slideshow from the Easter Bowl, with the singles semifinalists in all eight divisions and the doubles finalists.  (For viewing on a mobile device, go to this link:

On the Pro Circuit today, Frances Tiafoe reached his second straight Challenger quarterfinal, defeating No. 6 seed Frank Dancevic of Canada 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the $50,000 tournament in Savannah. Tiafoe has made a habit of coming from a set down--he mentioned his knack for problem-solving in an interview with the USTA's livestream's Mike Cation--and his ability to come up with an unexpectedly great shot when he needs it has served him well the past two weeks. Tiafoe's quarterfinal opponent will be Mitchell Krueger, who pulled off a stirring comeback of his own tonight against Liam Broady of Great Britain, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4. Krueger was thoroughly outplayed by Broady in the first set, and trailed 4-2 in the final set, but he stayed in every point, kept his emotions in check and was rewarded with his first berth in a Challenger quarterfinal.

Broady and Krueger played in the final of the Eddie Herr 12s back in 2006, with Krueger winning that match 6-0, 6-1. The photo of the two them with former Eddie Herr tournament director Rick Workman, which I tweeted before their match tonight, is below.

Jared Donaldson also came from a set down to advance to the quarterfinals in Savannah, defeating Facundo Arguello of Argentina 1-6, 6-1, 6-4. Donaldson served for the match at 5-2 and had some anxious moments in the final game, but held on for the win. He will play Bjorn Fratangelo, who had no difficulty with qualifier Tommy Paul, winning 6-2, 6-1 in less than an hour.

Those two all-American quarterfinals will be played on Friday. Top seed Tim Smyczek and Tennys Sandgren will play thir second round match on Thursday.

The first round is now complete at the $50,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Dothan, Alabama, with six US players advancing. Top seed Grace Min was defeated by wild card Alexandra Stevenson 6-1, 7-6(8), and No. 3 seed Sachia Vickery also lost her first match 6-4, 7-6(4) to Gabriela Ce of Brazil. Samantha Crawford and No. 4 seed Louisa Chirico won Tuesday, with Bernarda Pera, Jessica Pegula and wild card Katerina Stewart picking up wins today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

North Carolina Women, Oklahoma Men Keep No. 1 Rankings; Tiafoe, Paul Advance at Savannah Challenger; Rublev Beats Verdasco in Barcelona

Next Tuesday, beginning at 5 p.m. EDT, the NCAA Division I selections will be revealed at Today's rankings are the last ones to be released before that announcement, although the rankings the committee will use to make its decisions will be published Friday, May 1st.

The undefeated North Carolina women continue to occupy the No. 1 spot, as do the Oklahoma men, with both teams playing their conference tournaments this weekend.

Because the Top 16 teams will host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament the weekend of May 8-10, I'm including the Top 20 this week, not the Top 10 as I usually do.  Of course these positions are likely to change as the result of the many conference championships being played this weekend.

The Top 20 women's teams:

1. North Carolina
2. Southern California
3. California-Berkeley
4. Vanderbilt
5. Florida
7. Georgia
8. Baylor
9. Texas A&M
10. Virginia
11. Oklahoma State
12. Michigan
13. Stanford
14. Alabama
15. Miami
16. Texas Tech
17. TCU
18. Ohio State
19. Pepperdine
20. Mississippi

The Top 20 men's teams:
1. Oklahoma
2. Baylor
3. Texas A&M
4. Illinois
5. Virginia
6. TCU
7. Georgia
8. Southern California
9. Duke
10. Texas
11. Wake Forest
12. Ohio State
13. Mississippi
14. Virginia Tech
15. UCLA
16. North Carolina
17. Texas Tech
18. Mississippi State
19. South Florida
20. Columbia

For the complete list of automatic qualifiers for the NCAAs, see this page at the ITA website.

In the individual rankings, UCLA's Robin Anderson stayed at No. 1 on the women's side, but the men's No. 1 spot, which has been fluid throughout the year, belongs again to Baylor's Julian Lenz.

The women's singles Top 10:
1. Robin Anderson, UCLA
2. Carol Zhao, Stanford
3. Maegan Manasse, Cal-Berkeley
4. Brooke Austin, Florida
5. Julia Elbaba, Virginia
6. Lauren Herring, Georgia
7. Jamie Loeb, North Carolina
8. Sydney Campbell, Vanderbilt
9. Julia Jones, Mississippi
10. Stephanie Wagner, Miami

The women's doubles Top 4:
1. Erin Routliffe and Maya Jansen, Alabama
2. Carol Zhao and Taylor Davidson, Stanford
3. Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips, UCLA
4. Beatrice Gumulya and Jessy Rompies, Clemson

The men's Top 10 in singles:
1. Julian Lenz, Baylor
2. Axel Alvarez, Oklahoma
3. Mackenzie McDonald, UCLA
4. Soren Hess-Olesen, Texas
5. Andrew Harris, Oklahoma
6. Sebastian Stiefelmeyer, Louisville
7. Ryan Shane, Virginia
8. Gonzales Austin, Vanderbilt
9. Quentin Monaghan, Notre Dame
10. Dominik Koepfer, Tulane

The men's Top 4 in doubles:
1. Ben Wagland and Austin Smith, Georgia
2. Luca Corinteli and Ryan Shane, Virginia
3. Roberto Quiroz and Yannick Hanfmann, Southern California
4. Kevin Metka and Ralf Steinbach, Ohio State

The complete rankings can be found at the ITA website.  Or if you prefer all on one page, see this post at College Tennis Today.

Tuesday was a big day for teenaged boys in ATP action, starting off with World No. 1 junior Andrey Rublev's 7-6(4), 6-3 win over Fernando Verdasco in the first round of the Barcelona tournament.  The 17-year-old Russian, who qualified for the main draw, already has won main draw ATP matches in Delray Beach and Miami this year and should break into the Top 300 with his win today.

In the $50,000 Savannah Challenger, wild card Frances Tiafoe and qualifier Tommy Paul both picked up victories.  Tiafoe saved a match point at 4-5, 30-40 in his 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) win over Vincent Millot of France and Paul picked up his first Challenger victory in his first attempt, beating ATP 101 and No. 2 seed Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 7-6(6), 6-7(5), 6-3.  Paul double faulted on set point at 6-5 in the first set tiebreaker, but he recovered, and was the more consistent player throughout what was obviously a very close match.  When it came time to serve out the match, Paul again stayed calm. He hit an ace to make it 30-15, and calmly dealt with Bemelmans' volley winner on the next point with a "too good."  He then hit a second ace, 119 up the T for his first match point and finished with a third-shot backhand winner to close it out.  Paul will play Bjorn Fratangelo in the second round, while Tiafoe meets No. 6 seed Frank Dancevic of Canada.

Two other teenagers, No. 4 seed Hyeon Chung of Korea and No. 8 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, also advanced to the second round in Savannah.  Wild card Stefan Kozlov was defeated by top seed Tim Smyczek 6-4, 6-1 this evening.

At the $50,000 Challenger in Brazil, wild card Orlando Luz advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over No. 8 seed and ATP 199 Guido Andreozzi of Argentina.  The world's No. 2 junior will play friend and frequent doubles partner Marcelo Zormann, also a wild card, in the second round.  Luz and Zormann won the Wimbledon boys title last year over Kozlov and Rublev.

Monday, April 20, 2015

ISC Carson Videos; A Look at the ITF Junior Rankings; Paul Qualifies for Savannah Challenger

Videos of the International Spring Championships winners are below, with additional videos of the finalists available at the Tenniskalamazoo YouTube channel.

Miomir Kecmanovic, ITF boys finalist

Fanni Stollar, ITF girls finalist

Andrew Fenty, 16s boys finalist

Victoria Flores, 16s girls finalist

There's never really a break to stop and reflect on the ITF junior rankings, but now that the major US ITF spring events are in the books, and the European clay season just beginning, I thought now might be a good time.

With William Blumberg moving into the ITF Top 10 for the first time in his career, the US has four boys in that elite group, all of them 17 years old. Only Fritz is in his final year of ITF junior competition. In all the US has 14 boys in the Top 100, the most of any nation; Japan in second with eight. Russia's Andrey Rublev, who qualified into this week's ATP event in Barcelona, remains No. 1.

The US boys in the ITF Top 100, with their current rankings:

3. Taylor Fritz*
5. Stefan Kozlov
7. Michael Mmoh*
10. William Blumberg*
30. Reilly Opelka
37. Ulises Blanch
40. Alex Rybakov
41. Nathan Ponwith
59. Emil Reinberg
79. Hady Habib
84. Sam Riffice
90. Catalin Mateas
95. Frances Tiafoe
96. Sameer Kumar

*career high

There are 13 US girls in the ITF Top 100 this week, with Russia leading all countries with 17.

The US girls in the ITF Top 100, with their current rankings:

4. CiCi Bellis
7. Usue Arconada
13. Sonya Kenin
29. Michaela Gordon
31. Raveena Kingsley
40. Ingrid Neel
41. Caroline Dolehide
42. Francesca Di Lorenzo
46. Claire Liu*
59. Kayla Day
65. Tornado Alicia Black
71. Alexandra Sanford
92. Mia Horvit

*career high

The cutoffs rankings for Roland Garros and Wimbledon vary from year to year, but Top 60 is usually a safe bet for the main draw. The entry deadline for the Roland Garros junior championships is two weeks from tomorrow.

Two US juniors who do not have to worry about their ITF junior rankings are Katerina Stewart and Tommy Paul. Stewart, who is ranked 276 by the WTA, would be admitted to the main draw of the junior slams if she enters (400 in the minimum ranking) as would Paul, who at ATP 720 is inside the requirement of a 750 ATP ranking for boys.

Stewart received a main draw wild card into the $50,000 Dothan Pro Circuit event this week, which starts the women's USTA Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge for the French Open wild card. Paul won three matches to qualify for the $50,000 Savannah Challenger, the second of three men's tournaments that count toward the Wild Card Challenge.

His contest with No. 2 seed Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium will be the 17-year-old's first match in the main draw of a challenger. Jared Donaldson, Mitchell Krueger and Bjorn Fratangelo all picked up wins in first round action Monday. Wild card Stefan Kozlov drew top seed Tim Smyczek and wild card Frances Tiafoe drew Vincent Millot of France.