Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mmoh, Galfi Take Abierto Juvenil Grade A Titles; Nguyen Beats Giron in Mexico Futures Final

Both Michael Mmoh and Dalma Galfi of Hungary have been playing great tennis on junior and professional levels recently and that confidence came through in the finals today of the ITF Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano in Mexico City.

Galfi, 16, had won two $10,000 ITF Women's Circuit events in Greece coming into the tournament and handled the switch in surface from hard to clay with no problem.  Seeded No. 10, Galfi beat second seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 in the semifinals and claimed her first Grade A title with a 7-6(4), 6-4 victory over No. 6 seed Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia in the final. 

Galfi and Vikhlyantseva were meeting for the first time in ITF junior competition, but Mmoh and his opponent in the final, Seong Chan Hong of Korea, had met twice before.  Mmoh had won both, once in 2013 and this year on clay in Belgium, but had needed three sets each time.

A large and demonstrative crowd was on hand for both finals, but Mmoh looked to limit their involvement with a quick first set. Hong kept to the previous script however, forcing a third set, before Mmoh prevailed 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-4.

Hong, using his speed and an effective drop shot, which shouldn't have surprised Mmoh, but seemed to, was up 4-1 in the second set before Mmoh tied it up and forced the tiebreaker.  A perfectly executed drop shot put the 17-year-old Korean up 6-3, but Mmoh held his next two serves and saved a third set point when Hong's forehand sailed long after an extended rally.  Mmoh netted a forehand to give Hong a fourth set point, and this time he converted with Mmoh's forehand going wide.

The crowd seemed solidly behind the Korean, a slight underdog perhaps as he was the No. 4 seed and Mmoh the No. 3 seed, and Hong gave them plenty to cheer about in the final set, breaking Mmoh at 3-3.  Mmoh took a medical time out for what appeared to be a shoulder problem at the changeover and broke Hong to get back on serve, crushing a forehand winner at 30-40 to make it 4-4.  Twice in that game a ball was called, or rather not called, in Hong's favor, and twice Mmoh asked for a check of the mark and received a reversal of the call. Displeasure from the crowd, mostly in the form of whistling, did not bother Mmoh and he held his next service game to make it 5-4.

In the first point of the final game, yet another call went by the chair umpire went in Mmoh's favor, resulting in a replayed point, but to the crowd's relief, Hong won it.  Mmoh hit a good return that handcuffed Hong to make it 15-15 and a deep forehand from Mmoh resulted in a netted reply from Hong. At 15-30 Mmoh won a 16-shot rally with a clean backhand winner, giving him two match points.  He took the first, with Hong netting a third-shot forehand, one of the few short rallies in the match. With the win, Mmoh's second Grade A title and first on clay, Mmoh will move closer to his goal of a year-end Top 10 ranking.

In the doubles competition, Fanni Stollar gave Hungary its first title of the day, partnering Anna Blinkova of Russia to a 6-1, 6-3 win over unseeded Maia Lumsden of Great Britain and American Ingrid Neel. Stollar and Blinkova were the No. 2 seeds.

The tournament closed with the boys doubles final, won by top seeds Taylor Fritz and Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-2, 7-6(6) over unseeded   Fabian Fallert and Tim Sandkaulen of Germany. Fallert and Sandkaulen saved six match points, four at 3-5 in the second set, one at 6-5 and one more at 5-6 in the tiebreaker before Fritz finally hit an unreturnable serve to close them out.

The second leg of the month-long clay swing in Mexico and Florida is the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup, where qualifying has begun.  The fields are not strong, with many players taking a week off before the Eddie Herr-Orange Bowl segment, but Rublev and US Open girls champion Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic are entered.

Farther west in Mexico, No. 3 seed Daniel Nguyen won the title at the $15,000 Futures in Mazatlan, with the former USC Trojan defeating former UCLA Bruin Marcos Giron 6-0, 2-6, 7-6(0). It is Nguyen's third Futures title of the year, and should move him near the Top 300 after starting the year at 526.

At the $10,000 Pensacola Futures, delayed most of the day by rain, 17-year-old Theo Fournerie of France, the No. 6 seed, won his first Futures title, beating former Cal standout Ben McLachlan of New Zealand 6-2, 7-5.

That completes the USTA Pro Circuit for the year, with the next Futures in Florida in January.  For the 2015 schedules, go to

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mmoh Beats World No. 1 Rublev to Advance to Grade A Final; Giron v Nguyen for Mexico Futures Title; Jenkins Wins Again in Australia; Indiana Dismisses Men's Tennis Coach

Michael Mmoh has been on a tear this fall. After saving match points in the quarterfinals of the Pan American Closed against Tommy Paul, the 16-year-old went on to win that tournament, reach the semifinals of the $15,000 Futures in Mansfield, Texas and win a $15,000 Futures in Brownsville. In his first tournament since his title in Brownsville, Mmoh has reached the final of the ITF Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, defeating world No. 1 Andrey Rublev of Russia in today's semifinals 7-6(1), 6-4.

Mmoh, seeded third, has not dropped a set all week, winning three tiebreakers, all in first sets.  Against Rublev, Mmoh had three set points in the opening set with Rublev serving at 5-6, but he failed to convert, even when given the opportunity to feast on a second serve.  Rather than mope however, Mmoh stayed positive, and in the tiebreaker he ran out to a 5-1 lead, with Rublev spraying balls all over the court.

Rublev was broken at love to open the second set, but Mmoh couldn't capitalize, getting broken himself to make it 1-1. Mmoh broke again and consolidated, but again the 17-year-old Russian came back, gettting it to 3-all when Mmoh chipped in three double faults in losing his serve. With Rublev serving at 5-4, he again went down 15-40, a theme throughout the match, but after saving one break point, he hit a backhand long to get broken, allowing Mmoh to serve for the match.

An ace got Mmoh to 40-15, but a great pass from Rublev and a netted forehand by Mmoh made it deuce. Mmoh earned his third match point with a forehand winner, and this time he shut the door, getting in a good first serve that Rublev returned long.

Mmoh will play Seong Chan Hong of Korea in the final Sunday. Hong, the No. 4 seed, beat No. 5 seed Mikael Ymer of Sweden 6-0, 6-2. Hong and Mmoh have played twice, with Mmoh winning both, including on clay at the Grade 1 in Belgium this spring, but both matches went to three sets. Live streaming of the finals, starting at 11 a.m. Eastern time can be seen here.

Rublev and Taylor Fritz have reached the doubles final, beating Sora Fukuda of Japan and Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-7(7), 6-4, 10-4. The top seeds will meet unseeded Fabian Fallert and Tim Sandkaulen of Germany in Sunday's final, after Fallert and Sandkaulen beat No. 6 seeds Ulises Blanch and Ymer 6-3, 6-0.

The girls singles championship match will feature No. 6 seed Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia and No. 10 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary, who each assured the other wouldn't face a compatriot in the final. Vikhlyantseva defeated No. 3 seed Fanni Stollar of Hungary 7-6(4), 6-1 and Galfi took out No. 9 seed Anna Blinkova of Russia 6-1, 6-3.

American Ingrid Neel has reached the girls doubles final with Great Britain's Maia Lumsden.  The unseeded pair defeated No. 3 seeds Galfi and Katie Swan of Great Britain 7-5, 6-1 in today's semifinal and will face No. 2 seeds Blinkova and Stollar in Sunday's final.

Both Americans lost in the semifinals of the $10,000 Pensacola Futures today, with Justin Shane falling to Ben McLachlan of New Zealand 6-3, 6-4 and Michael Shabaz going out to No. 6 seed Theo Fournerie of France 6-3, 7-6(6).

US fortunes were reversed at the $15,000 Futures in Mexico, with Marcos Giron defeating No. 4 seed Darian King of Barbados 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 and No. 3 seed Daniel Nguyen beating Tigre Hank of Mexico 6-2, 6-4. Nguyen is seeking his third Futures title of the year, Giron his second. Andre Dome and Oscar Fabian Matthews lost in the doubles final, with the unseeded Californians falling to No. 3 seeds Christopher Diaz-Figueroa of Guatemala and Luis Patino of Mexico 7-5, 6-3.

Jarmere Jenkins won his fifth Futures title of the year and third since October, with the top seed defeating unseeded Jose Statham of New Zealand 6-4, 7-5 in the final of the $15,000 Futures in Australia.

In college news, Indiana University has dismissed men's head coach Randy Bloemendaal and assistant coach Sander Koning as a result of the aftermath of an investigation into secondary NCAA violations. In the interim, associate athletic director Jeremy Gray will take over the program and will lead the search for replacements.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Video Tribute to Sean Karl; Mmoh Meets Rublev in Grade A Semifinals; Pro Circuit Update

At the memorial service yesterday for Sean Karl, a video produced by the University of Tennessee provided a look at the impact he had on the lives of those around him, particularly his coaches and teammates. If you knew Sean at all, I urge you watch it, with a box of tissues nearby. The celebration of the beauty of his life can't help but be bittersweet, knowing its impact must now continue without him.  The athletic department has also collected the stories and photos of and about Sean posted on Twitter in this post. The video is available here.

At the ITF Grade A in Mexico City, the top two seeds in the girls draw were beaten in today's quarterfinals.  No. 6 seed Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia defeated US Open girls champion and top seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2 and No. 10 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary downed No. 2 seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia 5-7, 6-1, 6-0. Vikhlyantseva will play No. 3 seed Fanni Stollar of Hungary and Galfi meets No. 9 seed Anna Blinkova of Russia in Saturday's semifinals.

Four of the top five seeds reached the boys semifinals, with only No. 2 seed Taylor Fritz missing. Top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia defeated No. 12 seed William Blumberg 6-3, 6-3 and will face his fourth straight American opponent Saturday in No. 3 seed Michael Mmoh.  Mmoh defeated No. 10 seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary 7-6(2), 6-4.  The other semifinal features No. 4 seed Seong Chan Hong of Korea against No. 5 seed Mikael Ymer of Sweden. Hong beat No. 9 seed Alejandro Tabilo of Canada 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and Ymer eliminated the last unseeded player, taking down Fabian Fallert of Germany 6-4, 6-4.  The match between Rublev and Mmoh will be streamed not before 2:30 Eastern time in the US here. The girls semifinal between Galfi and  Blinkova will be streamed starting at 11 a.m. Eastern.

The doubles quarterfinals were completed today, with three US players still in contention.  Ulises Blanch, playing with Ymer and seeded No. 6 is in one boys semifinal and Fritz, playing with Rublev and the top seeds, are in the other. Ingrid Neel, playing with Great Britain's Maia Lumsden and unseeded, is the only US girl still competing in Mexico City.

At the $10,000 Pensacola Futures, Tommy Paul lost to fellow 17-year-old Theo Fournerie of France 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. No. 6 seed Fournerie joins three former collegians in the semifinals, with former Virginia All-American Michael Shabaz his next opponent.  Unseeded Justin Shane, another former Cavalier, defeated No. 3 seed Daniel Garza of Mexico and will be playing in his first Futures semifinal against former Cal star Ben McLachlan of New Zealand.  McLachlan and Shane won the doubles title today, defeating current Mississippi State teammates Julian Cash and Florian Lakat 7-6(2), 6-2. The unseeded pair, both 22-year-old who recently completed their eligibility, did not drop a set in the tournament.

At the $15,000 Futures in Mexico, Marcos Giron and Daniel Nguyen have advanced to the semifinals. The unseeded Giron beat Andre Dome 7-5, 7-5, and No. 3 seed Nguyen defeated No. 8 seed Fritz Wolmarans of South Africa 6-2, 6-2. Nguyen faces unseeded Tigre Hank of Mexico in one semifinal and Giron plays No. 4 seed Darian King of Barbados.

In Australia, top seed Jarmere Jenkins has reached the finals of a $15,000 Futures and will face unseeded Jose Statham of New Zealand in the final. Jenkins is 29-4 in Futures and Challenger play since mid-September.

At the Challenger Tour Finals in Sao Paulo Brazil, Blaz Rola lost to wild card Guilherme Clezar of Brazil 6-4, 6-3, a result which kept the 2013 NCAA champion from advancing to the semifinal stage. Clezar, Diego Schwartzman and Rola all went 2-1 in the round robin group, and Rola could have advanced by winning just one set, but Clezar ended up with the better sets won percentage to move on.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Interview with Blaz Rola; Mmoh, Blumberg Reach ITF Grade A Quarterfinals; Paul, Giron and Dome Advance to Futures Quarterfinals

Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with 2013 NCAA champion Blaz Rola, who was playing in the Champaign Challenger. I had not spoken to Rola since May of 2013, when he won the singles title at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois, so I was eager to hear about his 18 months as a professional, and this article for the Tennis Recruiting Network is the result.

He was looking forward to his trip to Sao Paolo Brazil for the ATP Challenger Finals, an eight-player year-end event. The tournament, which is similar to the ATP World Tour final in format, has two round robin groups, with the top two finishers in each moving into the knockout semifinals. Rola, the No. 4 seed, has won his first two matches, beating No. 2 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 today to move to the top of the group. I'm no expert on round robin math, but I do know if Rola beats wild card Guilherme Clezar of Brazil, he will advance to the semifinals.

Josh Meiseles of the ATP also interviewed Rola in advance of the Challenger Tour Finals. Although there is some overlap in our interviews, I think you'll find both interesting.

The quarterfinals are set at the ITF Grade A in Mexico, with only two of the 34 US juniors in the main draw still remaining.  No. 3 seed Michael Mmoh beat unseeded Nathan Ponwith 6-4, 6-1, and No. 12 seed William Blumberg defeated unseeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.  Blumberg earns a meeting with top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who downed Liam Caruana 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, with Rublev looking to beat an American for the third consecutive day.  Mmoh will play No. 10 seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary, who defeated No. 8 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-4.

All four US girls remaining lost in straight sets.  No. 12 seed Michaela Gordon was defeated by No. 6 seed Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia 6-1, 6-0 and No. 4 seed Usue Arconada went out to No. 16 seed Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia 6-2, 7-6(0). Qualifier Alexandra Sanford fell to No. 5 seed Renata Zarazua of Mexico 6-4, 7-5 and unseeded Raquel Pedraza was beaten by No. 10 seed Dalma Galfi of Hungary 6-0, 6-1.

Rain kept the quarterfinals in doubles from finishing. Updated draws and Friday's order of play can be found at the tournament website.

Tommy Paul, who is entered in the Eddie Herr, has been playing Futures since the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed, and after reaching the semifinals last week in Niceville, he has advanced to the quarterfinals at the $10,000 Futures tournament in Pensacola.  Paul, who has reached four Futures quarterfinals this year, beat top seed Peter Heller of Germany 6-2, 6-4 in today's second round and will play fellow 17-year-old Theo Fournerie of France, the No. 6 seed, on Friday. Fournerie has only played one important junior tournament in each of the past two years--Roland Garros--and he lost in the first round both times.  He has reached one Futures final and two semifinals this year.

Four former collegians have also advanced to the quarterfinals: Virginia's Justin Shane and Michael Shabaz, Virginia Tech's Patrick Daciek, a qualifier, and Cal's Ben McLachlan.  McLachlan and Shane are into the doubles final, where they will play current Mississippi State teammates Julian Cash and Florian Lakat.

At the $15,000 Futures in Mexico, Californians Andre Dome and Marcos Giron set up a quarterfinal meeting with wins today.  Former Cal Poly All-American Dome defeated top seed Agustin Velotti of Argentina 6-3, 7-6(4), while Giron topped former University of Washington standout and fellow Thousand Oaks, California resident Kyle McMorrow 6-2, 6-3. Two more Southern Californians, Oscar Fabian Matthews (UC-Irvine) and Daniel Nguyen(USC), had advanced to the quarterfinals with wins Wednesday.  Matthews advanced with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(6) win over No. 2 seed Dimitar Kutrovsky of Bulgaria, who only a week earlier was serving for the match against ATP Top 50 player Adrian Mannarino of France at the Champaign Challenger.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fritz Out, but Eight US Juniors Reach Third Round in Mexico Grade A; Prize Money Restrictions Remain at NCAA; Is Do-It-For-Me Culture Responsible for Decline in US Tennis?

No. 2 seed Taylor Fritz was the day's major upset victim in the second round of the ITF Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, losing to Jack Lin of Canada 1-6, 7-6, 7-6(5).  Fritz was rarely challenged on serve in the games I watched, and he led 4-1 in the final set tiebreaker, but Lin, ranked 279 in the ITF junior rankings compared to Fritz's 13, made fewer errors and played more aggressively in the final few points of the match.

Fritz was the highest, but not the only seed to go out.  Liam Caruana defeated No. 13 seed Aziz Dougaz of Tunisia 6-0, 6-4, Tim Sandkaulen of Germany eliminated No. 7 seed Sameer Kumar 6-4, 6-4 and Fabian Fallert of Germany beat No. 15 seed Gabriel Roveri Sidney of Brazil 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.
In addition to Caruana, the other three US boys into the third round are No. 12 seed William Blumberg, who beat Oscar Janglin of Sweden 6-2. 7-5, No. 3 seed Michael Mmoh, a 7-6, 6-0 winner over Brazil's  Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves, and Nathan Ponwith, who beat Mexican wild card Pedro Fernandez Del Valle 6-1, 6-2. All four US boys remaining are in the top half of the draw, with Caruana playing top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia next.

The four US girls still in the draw are each in a separate quarter.  No. 12 seed Michaela Gordon, who beat Ariana Rahmanparast of Costa Rica 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 today is in the top quarter with US Open girls champion Maria Bouzkova.  Qualifier Alexandra Sanford is alive in the second quarter after her 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 11 seed Adeliya Sabirova of Russia and No. 4 seed Usue Arconada has advanced to the third round in her quarter, defeating Juliana Valero of Colombia 6-1, 6-2.  In the bottom quarter, Raquel Pedraza beat No. 7 seed Katie Swan 6-1, 6-4, avenging her third round Easter Bowl lost to Swan back in April.

Live streaming will continue on the main court Thursday.  A link can be found to the stream on the tournament's website.

Lisa Stone at Parenting Aces linked to this article about college student-athletes maintaining their amateur status, which centers on Wake Forest's Noah Rubin. With the NCAA facing ever louder judicial and media criticism for the profits generated by college sports, almost none of witch goes to the student-athletes, this topic will not be going away any time soon, even if, in the case of Rubin, he is not generating any profits for the Wake Forest athletic department.  The concept of amateur athletic competition seems increasingly outdated, with the International Olympic Committee abandoning it decades ago without any noticeable effect on the viability of the competition. Whether the NCAA will eventually abandon its position remains to be seen, but for now, Rubin cannot keep the money he earns at tournaments without risking his eligibility.

Barry Buss has been attending Team USA Player Development sessions in Carson and posting his thoughts on his blog. His latest (there are a couple of f-bombs included), addresses a mindset that I am all too familiar with--the expectation that coaches and parents will 'take care' of everything so their player can focus on his or her tennis. (I do want to add that this is by no means a uniquely American problem).  Buss makes many good points about where this leads and why the USTA is powerless to change it. "You need to fix this" has developed into creed, and it's not one that does much for the believer or the society around him or her. What are your thoughts on Buss's post? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Round Complete at ITF Grade A in Mexico; Katrina Adams Assumes USTA President's Role in January; James Blake to Join USTA?

The ITF Grade A Abierto Juvenil Mexicano, which was moved from its calendar position at the first of the year for the first time, is underway in Mexico City, with the first round of singles now complete.

US juniors make up a large percentage of the participants, with 20 US girls (including six qualifiers) and 14 US boys in the 64-player main draws.  Unfortunately 12 of the girls lost in the first round, including No. 15 seed Mia Horvit. Those reaching the second round are Usue Arconada(4), Michaela Gordon(12), Jessica Ho(14), Alexandra Sabe, Ingrid Neel, Raquel Pedraza and qualifiers Alexandra Sanford and Hanna Chang.   CiCi Bellis, who was entered, withdrew recently. US Open girls champion Maria Bouzkova of the Czech Republic is the top seed.

Although the US boys did not have any qualifiers, with only one American in the qualifying draw, their success rate in the first round was much better, with 10 of the 14 advancing to the second round.  First round winners: Taylor Fritz(2), Michael Mmoh(3), Sameer Kumar(7), William Blumberg(12), Kalman Boyd, Liam Caruana, Nathan Ponwith, Mwendwa Mbithi, Catalin Mateas and Anudeep Kodali. Ponwith defeated No. 16 seed Benjamin Hannestad of Denmark 6-4, 6-4. Hannestad was one of only two boys seeds to lose in the first round. Sora Fuduka of Japan, the No. 6 seed, was the other, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 7-5, 7-6(9).  That was a tough draw for both players, as Tsitsipas is coming off two Futures quarterfinal appearances in Greece the two weeks prior to this tournament.

Doubles play began today, and Mmoh and Fritz, the Pan American Closed champions, are not playing together. Fritz is playing with top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, and they are the No. 1 seeds.  Mmoh is playing with Blumberg, and they are the No. 2 seeds. Arconada and Renata Zarazua of Mexico are the top girls seeds.

There is live streaming of center court available all day, with a link available at the tournament website. The website also posts results throughout the day and has the standard ITF order of play.

The USTA announced yesterday the incoming board for the January 1, 2015-December 31, 2016 term. The new chairman, president and chief executive officer is Katrina Adams, a former Northwestern star who has served on the USTA board for ten years. Adams becomes the first former professional player and the first African-American to be elected to the USTA's top position. Adams was inducted into the ITA Women's Collegiate Hall of Fame last weekend and this article from the Northwestern website details her many accomplishments, including the 1987 NCAA doubles title.

Three current USTA board members were not nominated again: Jeff Williams of the Tennis Media Company, Ray Benton of the Junior Tennis Champions Center and former professional player Brian Vahaly.  The four new board members are Fabrizio Alcobe-Fierro(Florida), Michael J. McNulty III(Southern), Kathleen J. Wu(Texas) and Lauren Barkinow(Northern Californa) in the elite athlete category.  The USTA release on Adams and a list of the incoming board members is here.

Last week James Blake held his charity event in New York, which was covered by Karen Pestaina of Tennis Panorama News. Blake, who has been rumored to be the first choice of the USTA for its soon-to-be-vacated General Manager of Player Development position, made a comment that does nothing to quash that rumor.  Blake clarified his role as a mentor/coach for Jack Sock, and also said:

“I also have stayed close with the USTA and with Katrina Adams becoming the new president. I’m proud of her and hopefully I’ll be able to be part of the staff soon if that comes to be we’ll see. But right now I’m mainly focusing on my family, being at home and spending a lot of time with two little girls, that definitely keeps me pretty busy.”

On the possibility of coaching more regularly Blake said:

“I like it but I don’t like to travel, I don’t like being on the road 30 weeks out of the year like I was when I was playing,” he said.

That doesn't sound like someone who would be on the road working with private coaches in a Player Development role, but if the world beats a path to the new Orlando facility, as the USTA hopes, perhaps that wouldn't be necessary.