Sunday, September 21, 2014

Coric Takes Challenger Title, Barty Takes Break; Gosea, Jenkins Earn Futures Titles, Tatishvili Wins Albuquerque $75K

Croatia's Borna Coric, who won't turn 18 until November, won his first Challenger title today in Turkey, defeating top seed Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 6-1, 6-7(7), 6-4 in the final of the €106,500 tournament. The 2013 US Open boys champion showed some mental toughness in the third set after letting five match points slip away in the second set, including a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker.

Josh Meiseles, who it the ATP's resident Challenger expert, reports in this article that this is one of just four years when more than one 17-year-old has won a Challenger (Alexander Zverev of Germany is the other this year).   Coric is one of five teenagers to win a Challenger this year joining Nick Kyrgios of Australia, Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, Hyeon Chung of Korea and Zverev.  With the title Coric will break into the ATP Top 150.

While one junior grand slam champion is moving into the spotlight, another is walking away from it.  Australia's Ashleigh Barty, who won the Wimbledon girls title in 2011 and reached three senior slam finals in doubles last year, is leaving the game, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. Only 18, Barty has not given any time frame for a return, saying in a statement only that "it is best for me to take a break from professional tennis."

University of Illinois senior Farris Gosea won his first title on the ITF men's circuit today at the $15,000 Futures in Canada.  Gosea, who is from Wales and competes under the Great Britain flag, defeated No. 6 seed Phillip Bester of Canada 7-6(8), 3-6, 6-4.  For more on Gosea's victory, see this article from the University of Illinois website.

2013 NCAA singles finalist and doubles champion Jarmere Jenkins won his third Futures title, defeating Dennis Novikov, formerly of UCLA, 6-4, 6-2 in the $10,000 event in Costa Mesa, California. Novikov had beaten Jenkins in their previous meeting in a Futures final last summer, but the former Cavalier won a rematch the following week in the quarterfinals, and including the NCAA team finals in 2013, is now 3-1 against Novikov.

“I don’t think he played his game today, by far,” Jenkins told Joel Beer, the media liasion for the tournament. “I just got some breaks early and that helped me keep up my momentum.”

Jenkins earned $1,440 for the victory and will pick up 17 points toward his world ranking. He entered the event ranked 280th in the world.

The next five weeks, his focus with be playing Futures events in Australia.

“The circuit in America is usually the top American players beating up on each other, so it’s good to get away and see different players in a new atmosphere,” Jenkins told Beers.

The title will no doubt help Jenkins feel a little bit better about this fall, which took place yesterday in his semifinal match with Tennys Sandgren. Jenkins linked to it on his twitter account, and ESPN has noted it for its Not Top Ten feature.

Former Texas A&M player Junior Ore and former San Diego State player Jeremy Hunter Nicholas won the doubles title in Costa Mesa, defeating current UCLA teammates Mackenzie McDonald and Martin Redlicki 4-6, 6-4, 10-8.

At the $75,000 women's Pro Circuit event in Albuquerque, top seed Anna Tatishvili defeated Irina Falconi 6-2, 6-4 in the singles final. Melanie Oudin and Jan Abaza won the doubles title, defeating No. 4 seeds Nicole Melichar and former Gator All-American Allie Will 6-2, 6-3.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

USTA Junior Teams Beat New Mexico; Napa Valley Tennis Classic Underway; Jenkins Meets Novikov in Costa Mesa Futures Final; Gosea Aims for First Title in Canada

The Junior Fed Cup and Junior Davis Cup teams defeated the University of New Mexico team 5-2 yesterday, with CiCi Bellis, Tornado Alicia Black and Sonya Kenin sweeping their singles matches, and somewhat surprisingly, the juniors winning all three doubles matches.  The Lobos won two of the three men's singles matches, but it wasn't enough.   The results:

1) CiCi Bellis/Alicia Black(USTA) def. Gabrielle Otero/Natasha Smith (UNM), 8-1
2) Michael Mmoh/William Blumberg (USTA) def. Samir Iftikhar/James Hignett (UNM), 8-4
3) Sonya Kenin/Gianni Ross (USTA) def. Sharon Coone/Rodolfo Jauregui
(UNM), 8-7

1) Bellis (USTA) def. Otero (UNM), 6-3, 6-2
2) Black (USTA) def. Smith (UNM), 6-2, 6-1
3) Kenin (USTA def. Olivier (UNM), 6-2, 7-5
4) Iftikhar (UNM) def. Mmoh (USTA), 6-4, 6-2
5) Blumberg (USTA) def. Jauregui (UNM), 6-2, 6-4
6) Hignett (UNM) def. Ross (USTA), 6-3, 6-1

The USTA has again sent a boys team to the Porsche(formerly Land Rover) Napa Valley Tennis Classic at Meadowood Resort, but before they competed against players from Tulsa, Stanford, Cal, North Carolina, Texas and Harvard, they played the Cal men's team, falling to the Bears 8-4 on Wednesday.  The juniors competing in Berkeley and in Napa are Kalman Boyd, Walker Duncan, Jacob Brumm, Sam Riffice, Connor Hance, Timothy Sah, Sameer Kumar and Alfredo Perez. Neither Steve Pratt nor I am in Napa covering the event this year, but results are available on the Cal website.

In addition to the college/junior event in Napa, the qualifying has begun for next week's Challenger. In one of the intriguing first round qualifying matches today, preseason No. 1 Julian Lenz of Baylor defeated Kalamazoo and Wimbledon boys champion Noah Rubin 6-4, 6-2. Spencer Papa won his first round qualifying match today, as did former USC star Daniel Nguyen (over Tommy Paul) and Oklahoma Sooners Dane Webb and Andrew Harris.  Sam Querrey, who received a wild card, is the top seed in the $50,000 event, with other wild cards going to NCAA champion Marcos Giron,(UCLA) Giron's former teammate Dennis Novikov, and former three-time NCAA D-III singles champion Matt Seeberger (UC-Santa Cruz). Denis Kudla is back after being out for two months with mono.

Novikov today reached the finals of the $10,000 Costa Mesa Futures, defeating Jeff Dadamo (Texas A&M) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.  Former Bruin Novikov, the No. 5 seed, will play No. 2 seed Jarmere Jenkins, the 2014 NCAA finalist while at Virginia. Jenkins saved a match point at 5-6 in the third set tiebreaker to defeat Tennys Sandgren(Tennessee) 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(6). Sunday's Costa Mesa final will be a rematch of the contest at No. 1 singles in the 2013 NCAA Team Championships, which Jenkins won 7-6(3), 6-3.

The final at the $75,000 women's Pro Circuit event in Albuquerque will also feature two Americans, with Irina Falconi(Georgia Tech) facing top seed Anna Tatishvili. In today's semifinals, Falconi beat 18-year-old Louisa Chirico 6-3, 7-6(5) and Tatishvili defeated No. 3 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3).

University of Illinois senior Farris Gosea of Great Britain has reached his first Futures final at the $15,000 tournament this week in Canada. The unseeded Gosea beat top seed Jason Jung (Michigan) 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in today's semifinal, and will face No. 6 seed Philip Bester of Canada in Sunday's final. The doubles title went to Seeberger and his partner Rudy Siwy, the former Fresno State star and current Santa Clara men's assistant coach. The top seeds defeated No. 3 seeds Filip Peliwo of Canada and Daniel Skripnik of Israel 6-2, 6-3 in the final.

Friday, September 19, 2014

American Collegiate Invitational Recap; Update on the 16 Participants

My recap of the first American Collegiate Invitational is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network.  After talking with tournament director Bill Mountford and US Open tournament director David Brewer, it sounds as if will be back in 2015, with some tweaks, of course.

As I mentioned in my post last week on how top college players feel about the no-ad format, I talked to all 16 competitors at the American Collegiate Invitational two weeks ago. So instead of a slide show, I'm passing along individual photos with a brief update on their plans for the coming months.

The UCLA sophomore is taking the fall off to compete in USTA Pro Circuit tournaments. Brady won her first ITF Women's Circuit singles title at last week's $25K in Redding

Cercone, who graduated from Florida in May, is planning to continue competing on the Pro Circuit and will play in the upcoming ITF Women's tournaments in Mexico
Andrews is currently working on a masters in accounting at Notre Dame, but will train with the team, and continue play when he can, saying he's not ready to give it up.
Carter is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, and with a preseason ranking of 3. She was out most of the summer with an injury, but reached the final of the $10K in Fort Worth, her 1st tournament since the NCAAs
The sophomore at UCLA returns to school in October after playing 10 events this summer. McDonald, 13 in the preseason rankings, reached the semis of the Winnetka Challenger and Tulsa Futures and will play the Napa Challenger next week.
Ahn, who graduated from Stanford with a degree in Science, Technology and Society, is now training in Boca Raton, although not with the USTA. She plans to play professional tennis for at least a couple of years.
Sarkissian, the NCAA finalist in 2014, won a Futures title in Canada this summer. The Pepperdine graduate plans to compete on the professional circuit full time.
The 2014 NCAA champion, a junior at Virginia, is No. 10 in the preseason rankings. She had wrist surgery after the NCAAs, returning to competition in August and winning a set from WTA No. 2 Simona Halep in the first round of the US Open.
Thompson expressed disappointment with his results this summer, his first as a professional, citing confidence issues. But the former UCLA Bruin did reach the quarterfinals of this week's Futures in Costa Mesa
The Virginia junior is No. 5 in the preseason rankings and expressed excitement about the upcoming ITA Riviera All-American Championships, where she reached the final as a pre-qualifier her freshman year. She plans to play Pro Circuit events this fall as well.
The Ohio State graduate is currently in Sweden, where he has reached the final of a Futures there. He has won 5 doubles titles since starting his pro career in June, all outside the US, and said he has enjoyed the extensive traveling he's done.
No. 1 in the preseason rankings, the North Carolina sophomore is playing the ITA Riviera All-American championships and the Las Vegas, Florence and New Braunfels Pro Circuit events. Says she definitely wants to turn pro, but has no timetable other than 'near future'.
Now a pro after three years at UCLA, Giron is expected to sign a management agreement with the CAA agency soon. He is playing the Napa Challenger next week, and says he gained confidence from qualifying at August's ATP Winston Salem event.
Former Gator Janowicz is dealing with a stress fracture in her foot, but if she heals sufficiently, she will give the professional tour a try.
Sarmiento is finishing his degree this semester at USC and will begin playing the Pro Circuit full time in January of 2015

Hiltzik strained his hip flexor this summer, but is back healthy and ready for his junior season at the University of Illinois. His preseason ranking is 6.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

More on USTA Player Development's Course, 10 and Under Tennis; Tiafoe and the Hype Machine

Since posting my article on what I'd like to see from USTA Player Development going forward, I've come across several others.  This one, from New York magazine, "Ten Ways to Make the Next Great American Tennis Star" provides perspectives from a wide variety of people, including Jeff Tarango, Katerina Stewart, Mats Wilander and others. My esteem for The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.and its author Daniel Coyle, who wrote this perceptive piece on the value of "crummy" facilities, makes No. 3, on the new Lake Nona complex, particularly interesting to me.'s Kamakshi Tandon provides thoughts on Player Development from the Bryan brothers, who spoke after the announcement that Patrick McEnroe was leaving his position as its General Manager. They confirmed their agreement with the above article's suggestion No. 7.

7. Keep Local Coaches Involved
One criticism of the current player development program is that local coaches felt the USTA were poaching talent and removing juniors from environments where they were thriving. “Help the local coach,” Wilander says. “When a coach knows a player that well and you take them away, it’s really dangerous. You should literally try and keep them home as long as possible.”

Here's Mike Bryan:
"I mean, it's tough to hand pick kids and put them in a center and say they're going to all be champions. I think just the best chances are to let the coaches do their jobs."

And Bob:
".... So why not help out those coaches and those programs instead of taking kids out of their comfortable environment and sticking them in a center without their parents and trying to make them pros in an uncomfortable environment—these are formative years [for] teenagers and young adults."

Before there was the firestorm of the recent Junior Competition restructuring, there was another unpopular USTA mandate, 10-and-under Tennis, formerly known as QuickStart.  The New York Times recently looked at the program, how and why it was introduced, and the criticism it has faced since. "Saving parents from themselves" probably isn't a goal the USTA should voice publicly, even if they privately view that as one of their roles.

And, although I tweeted a link to this several days ago, I don't think I posted it here.  Francis Tiafoe, who has plenty of company as a bright American 16-and-under prospect, is the subject of this Grantland article, which revolves around the interest Jay Z's Roc Nation sports department has in signing him to a professional contract. The article also attempts to explain why Tiafoe is "the world's most famous junior tennis player," and the pressures he faces because of that. Having lived through Donald Young's junior career, I don't see the any good coming from Tiafoe being in this position, and I hope his peers can help deflect some of the attention. But just the fact that this article was written tells me that being famous only engenders more attention, that it's reason enough to put a microscope on a child and his family. I'm not so sure about that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

USTA Announces Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup Teams; McNamara Named Head Women's Coach at Texas

The USTA announced the three-player teams that will represent the United States next week at the ITF's Junior Fed Cup and Junior Davis Cup competitions for 16-and-under players.

As I mentioned on Monday, the girls team consists of CiCi Bellis, Tornado Alicia Black and Sofia Kenin and will be coached by Kathy Rinaldi.  The boys team is Michael Mmoh, William Blumberg and Gianni Ross, and is coached by Eric Nunez.  John McNally was originally named to the team, but a recent injury kept him from making the trip.

The two teams are competing Friday against the University of New Mexico tennis teams at the new McKinnon Family Tennis Complex in Albuquerque, with three doubles matches, including one mixed doubles, followed by six singles matches.   For more on the match, see the New Mexico website.

Black, who qualified for the $75,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Albuquerque, won her first round match this evening, so her status for Friday's college match will depend on how she does in the pro tournament Thursday, when she takes on top seed Anna Tatishvili.

I am still awaiting official word from the ITA on the status of the format change. But there's still college news to report, including the filling of the women's head coaching position at Texas.  Danielle Lund McNamara, who coached last year at Yale, will take over for Patty Fendick-McCain, who retired in June.

Other hirings announced recently:

Former Ohio State All-American Ross Wilson has been named interim men's head coach at Iowa after the announcement this month that Steve Houghton, coach of the Hawkeyes for 33 years, would retire, effective immediately.  Wilson was the assistant to Houghton last season. Ty Shaub, another former Buckeye, has been named interim assistant to Wilson.

Another former Ohio State All-American, Bryan Koniecko, has been named men's head coach at Brown. Koniecko previously served as men's assistant at Brown in 2010-12 and was the women's assistant at Ohio State the following two seasons.

Replacing Koniecko in Columbus is Adam Cohen. He was previously men's head coach at Binghamton.

Cordell Ho has retired as women's assistant at Cal, with Zack Warren taking his place.  Warren is a former player and men's assistant at Brigham Young.

Courtney Nagle, previously an assistant at Iowa, replaces Sara Anundsen as women's assistant at North Carolina.

Kurt Clemmons is joining new Washington women's coach Robin Stephenson as her assistant.

2013 NCAA finalist Mary Weatherholt(Nebraska) has taken a women's volunteer assistant's position at TCU.

Former Michigan men's coach Bruce Berque has taken a men's volunteer assistant position at Texas.

The announcement of Paul Goldstein's hiring at Stanford came back in June, but here's a good interview with Goldstein as he begins his first season as Cardinal men's head coach.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Where Should USTA Player Development Go From Here? My Thoughts

There are two significant questions related to USTA Player Development that I'm going to skip over in this post. The first is the governing structure of the USTA itself, which I discussed last week.  The second is whether the position of General Manager of Player Development is one that needs to exist at all.  But assuming it is going to be filled and the new hire in the position will be reporting to the new president and board of directors, I'll proceed with what I think has been accomplished in McEnroe's six years at Player Development, what needs to change to improve its effectiveness and what skills and experience the new General Manager should possess.

I ask that you remember that I am not a coach, a parent, a player or a tournament director who has any direct contact with Player Development's policies and decisions. I talk regularly with all of those people at high-level junior tournaments, but my views are from the perspective of a journalist, not a "customer."  I will say again what I have said for the decade I have been covering junior tennis for this website--all of us want the same thing: a strong and viable American presence in the global world of tennis.

Here are the positive steps I've seen introduced or emphasized in the past five years, in no particular order of importance:

1. Talent identification is more organized and systematic, with more regional camps and more travel by USTA staff

2. There are more invitations for a wider array of players to training camps in Boca Raton

3. The outreach to private coaches has improved, with invitations to Boca with their players and to other focus group meetings to brainstorm

4.  Recognition that some private sector coaches who develop national-level players but are not famous have wisdom to offer.

5. Establishment of a National Collegiate Coaching position

6. Increased opportunities for juniors and young pros to train and play competitive matches on clay

7. Introduction of Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenges for slam wild cards

8. Providing US Open Junior wild cards to 18s Clay Court and Easter Bowl champions

Here are the areas where I feel Player Development has fallen short:

1. PD allowed the USTA junior competitive structure be radically altered without advocating for the best interests of elite national players. PD has long recognized the various development paths, but has consistently abandoned its own system as a viable means of providing top-level competition. This goes not just for the tournament structure but the ranking system as well. When your federation's ranking system is not trusted by college coaches nor understood by those who are competing in the system, it has failed.

2. PD's voice must be heard on the topic of minimum prize money for Futures events on the USTA Pro Circuit. To allow $10,000 Futures tournaments to continue to exist without any increase in prize money for 20 years demonstrates a lack of big-picture thinking. It would cost $115,000 to upgrade the 23 men's $10Ks to $15Ks. A less complicated and cheaper action item would be hard to find.

3. Too much money is going to too few juniors. Selecting prospects is what competition is for. Anointing players based on potential and providing them with everything is risky at best and a waste of PD resources at worst. Better to give 100 kids $1000 than 1 kid $100,000.

4. USTA tournament fees are too high. $120 for a top USTA event vs $65 for a top ITF event (which unlike the USTA, provides hospitality) doesn't make any sense. If that gap can be justified, provide a breakdown of where the tournament fee dollars go. Adequate, well-trained officials should be the top budget priority. Earmark funds to that end if necessary.

5. There's not enough USTA PD presence at National/sectional tournaments and major college events. This is not a reference to the national coaches who travel with USTA players (see below), but to those in PD who do not have responsibility for specific players. They should be at as many tournaments as possible, representing the USTA and listening to tournament directors, players, parents and coaches.

6. Team USA, the recent initiative to view all American players as part of the USTA, is sabotaged by the presence of USTA National Coaches as private coaches for "their" players at tournaments. It's only natural they want to see the players they are coaching daily in competition, but should a federation aim to have it both ways?  Seeing three or four PD employees at the match of one junior they work with, and none at the majority of matches featuring American juniors, sends the wrong message to everyone, widening a gulf they maintain they want to close.

7. The emergence of social media has provided all organizations, big and small, a means to quickly and cheaply disseminate information and engage its constituency. Player Development has failed to take advantage of this opportunity to reach out to parents, players, coaches and fans.

8. Town meetings, webinars and focus groups are valuable, but if the USTA does not regularly and clearly communicate what it has heard and what it intends to do about what it has heard, it does little but feed the cynicism many feel. The USTA will always be a target for anything and everything that goes wrong in junior tennis in this country. That cannot blind it to reality that some criticism has merit, suggestions from the field are often valuable and its power has genuine consequences.

I'll close with a list of what attributes I would like to see in Patrick McEnroe's replacement.  My dream General Manager of Player Development would:

1) have a background in coaching juniors and either a player they coach, or a son or daughter in the system 
2) be familiar with the demands of the current pro game, whether as a coach or player at that level in the past decade 
3) be well-versed in the current advances in coaching and sports science 
4) have a love of the game that extends to sectional/national junior tournaments 
5) demonstrate an ability to convey to the USTA president, board and all USTA members the goals and mission of Player Development, a plan to reach them, and a means to determine if they have been met 
6) possess business and marketing skills to attract sponsorship and support from commercial interests 
7) inspire loyalty, leading to reduced turnover 
8) be delighted to live in Lake Nona, Florida

It's very unlikely any one person would fit in that box, and I've probably missed other important aspects of the job, simply because I don't know what it has been or am failing to imagine what it could be.  But if you have other ideas on how the USTA could improve Player Development, pass them on. It does matter.