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Friday, August 29, 2014

My US Open Junior Preview; Six American Juniors Reach Final Round of Qualifying at US Open; Mmoh and Tiafoe's Week with Pros Comes to End

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Flushing Meadows, NY--

My preview of the US Open Junior Championships can be found today at the Tennis Recruiting Network.  There's been one late change: wild card Nathan Ponwith suffered an injury and Sameer Kumar was awarded Ponwith's wild card, taking Kumar out of qualifying, where he was the No. 11 seed. 

Two American boys, both wild cards, and four American girls, two of them wild cards, advanced to Saturday's final round of qualifying.  Gianni Ross defeated No. 3 seed Lloyd George Harris of South Africa 6-3, 6-4 and Kalamazoo 16s finalist Connor Hance defeated No. 6 seed Domagoj Biljesko of Croatia 6-3, 5-7, 6-1. Hance led 5-1 in the second set, only to lose six straight games, but he was able to get himself into the same situation in the third set and finished off the win.  

Wild cards Caroline Dolehide and Alexandra Sanford also took out seeded players, with Dolehide beating No. 9 seed Emily Arbuthnott of Great Britain 6-2, 6-4 and Sanford defeating No. 14 seed Ojasvinee Singh of India 6-3, 6-2.  Madison Bourguignon downed No. 6 seed Ioan Petroiu of Romania 7-5, 6-4 and Johnnise Renaud eliminated No. 12 seed Destanee Aiava of Australia 6-4, 6-3.

The finals round of qualifying begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday on the practice courts outside the East entrance gate and I will be there covering those six matches.


Although I didn't get settled in until nearly all the first round of junior qualifying matches were completed Friday, I did get an opportunity to see the second round men's doubles match with Michael Mmoh and Francis Tiafoe playing Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram.  The age disparity was remarkable, with Lipsky 33 and Ram 30, while Mmoh and Tiafoe are both 16.  The experience gap was obvious during the match, with the veterans earning the win by a 6-1, 6-4 score in front of a sparse crowd on court 17.

"We've never really played people like that who are constantly doing different stuff on the doubles court, switching on every serve," said Mmoh.  "They really played real doubles, compared to in juniors, when we never play anybody anywhere near like that. It was tough, and we obviously didn't play our best."

Mmoh and Tiafoe had beaten Victor Estrella of the Dominican Republic and Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday, but that team didn't present the same challenges.

"They didn't play doubles," Tiafoe said of their first round opponents. "We were rallying crosscourt a lot. They would come in sometimes and one guy had pretty good hands, but there was no switching, mainly rallying a lot. We played unbelievable, got a lot of rhythm from the baseline, passing well, serving great. We were hoping that would happen today, but those guys weren't having baseline rallies."

The second set was much closer than the first, with no breaks of serve until Tiafoe was broken at 4-4.  Ram then served out the match, with aces on the last two points, although the first one had to be confirmed by Hawkeye, the first challenge by either team in the match.

"We kind of forgot about it," said Tiafoe, who had been on a court with Hawkeye once before, at the Citi Open last month. "There wasn't many close calls," Mmoh added. "They were calling them pretty well," Tiafoe said. "I tried to challenge at 40-15 too, but they didn't allow me to do that, it was pretty disappointing, I thought the serve could have been long."

"At the Citi Open I tried to challenge a couple times and I was always late," Tiafoe said. "You have to do it right away. I'm usually arguing with the ref, so I'm not dong it right away."

Another perk of playing on Court 17 is the serve speed indicator, with Mmoh taking fastest serve honors with a 131 mph bomb in the sixth game of the first set.

"It was probably one of the only good things in the match," Mmoh said.

But despite the loss, Mmoh and Tiafoe have enjoyed their week in New York and the status that comes with a main draw player's credential.

"First off, the locker room is humongous compared to the juniors'," Tiafoe said. "It's night and day. You have the past champions. You see all these pros live and you're so used to seeing them on TV. It's like you're dreaming kind of. At first, me and Mmoh only talked to each other we were so out of place.  You have a lot more access too. You are able to hit on the inside courts before the juniors can, we can pretty much go wherever we want.  You're much more respected and I've signed a lot of autographs--way more than we would if we were playing juniors."

"It's really amazing to see these guys every day," said Mmoh, who mentioned a conversation with Gael Monfils as a memorable moment during the week. "The experience was probably the best I've ever had at a tournament."

Both Mmoh and Tiafoe have hit with John Isner this week, and Tiafoe has had an opportunity to renew his acquaintance with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who he met back in March at an exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

"I had a pretty deep conversation with Novak yesterday," Tiafoe said. "That was pretty exciting, and me and Andy have been talking a lot. So the fact they exchange conversations with me means a lot to me and I'm happy to have the experience this week."

Mmoh and Tiafoe will now prepare for the Junior Championships, "back to reality" as Tiafoe put it, with Saturday an off day for them.

"We'll probably sleep in a little bit, get here at a decent time. We'll probably hit with each other, sign in for the tournament, get ready for the juniors. We've both been playing pretty well, so I think we'll go on a good run here, try to go out strong with the US crowd."

Complete draws and Saturday's schedule can be found at usopen.org

Thursday, August 28, 2014

US Open Junior Qualifying Begins Friday; Bellis Falls to Diyas in Three; Gibbs Reaches Third Round; Should Bellis Sue the NCAA?

The qualifying draws for the US Open Junior Championships have been posted with eight American boys and nine American girls aiming to join the 34 US juniors already in the main draws, which will get underway on Sunday.

The boys in qualifying are Dan Kerznerman(10), Robert Levine, Sameer Kumar(11) and wild cards Gianni Ross, Patrick Kypson, Connor Hance, Sam Riffice and Jacob Brumm.

The girls in qualifying are Raquel Pedraza, Johnnise Renaud, Olivia Hauger(5), Madison Bourguignon and wild cards Kayla Day, Caroline Dolehide, Alexandra Sanford, Ryan Peus and Ellie Halbauer.

Qualifying begins at 10 a.m. Friday on the Practice courts outside the Billie Jean King National Tennis and there will be live scoring available on the usopen.org website.  The schedule for Friday's matches is here. I will be arriving in New York tomorrow afternoon, but probably won't get there in time to watch any of the first round of qualifying, although I do hope to see some of the second round men's doubles match between Francis Tiafoe and Michael Mmoh and Rajeev Ram and Scott Lipsky.

Due to long matches on Court 17 today, CiCi Bellis ended up playing her second round against Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in prime time, with the support of a enthusiatic crowd.  The 15-year-old National 18s champion played well after a shaky first few games and forced a third set, but eventually fell to the 20-year-old, whose WTA ranking is 48, 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.  Bellis might have tired midway through the third set, but she did not look overmatched or out of place in any of the extended games and rallies between the two.  She now has some time to rest before the junior championships begin, and she'll be the top seed, facing an entirely different scenario than the one she competed in this week.

Former Stanford star Nicole Gibbs beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova today at the US Open
Two-time NCAA champion Nicole Gibbs won the biggest match of her career today, defeating No. 23 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 on Court 17. Gibbs served for the match twice in the second set, and had a match point at 5-6 in the second set tiebreaker, but she couldn't convert. She kept fighting however, and didn't experience similar problems when she got up a break in the third set, closing out the victory to become one of just four US women in the third round. She plays No. 11 seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy next, with Serena Williams meeting Varvara Lepchenko in another third round match. Venus Williams is the only American woman in the bottom half of the draw.  Gibbs talks about overcoming that disappointing stretch in the second set in her press conference.

John Isner and Sam Querrey advanced to the third round with wins today, while Tim Smyczek will attempt to join them in third round play tomorrow.

Wild cards Stefan Kozlov and Christina McHale won their opening mixed doubles match, beating No. 7 seeds Julia Goerges of Germany and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia 7-5, 2-6, 12-10.

Jared Donaldson and Michael Russell beat their fellow wild card team, Kozlov and Noah Rubin, the Kalamazoo champions, 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-4. Donaldson and Russell will play the Bryan twins in the second round.

Complete draws can be found at usopen.org.

An interesting article by Patrick Hruby on the NCAA's insistence on college athletes being amateurs was posted today on Vice Sports, with background on why the $10,000 expense rule was adopted in Division I tennis only and why CiCi Bellis should be able to keep the prize money she won at the Open without jeopardizing her ability to play college tennis in the future.  I know plenty of athletic departments fear the end of the world as they know it with the professionalization of college sports, but the Olympics and tennis, once virulently insistent on amateurism, have managed to survive and thrive without the catastrophes many in college athletics are predicting now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wild Cards Mmoh, Tiafoe Win Opening Round Doubles at US Open; Amritraj Takes Dustin Taylor's National Collegiate Coaching Position at USTA


The good news from the US Open for American tennis fans came late Wednesday, after a downright depressing first eight hours. Sloane Stephens, seeded No. 21, went out in the second round to WTA No. 86 Johanna Larsson of Sweden 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, despite leading 3-0 in the second set and 2-0 in the third set.

Steve Johnson was up 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-0 against qualifier Tatsuma Ito of Japan when he began cramping, and after taking two game penalties for time violations and losing the next two games, barely able to hold the racquet, he retired.  Johnson discussed in his press conference the seemingly random nature of the cramps, saying the onset took him completely by surprise.

Ryan Harrison went out to No. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 7-6(4), 6-2 in the first round, and wild card Madison Brengle lost to No. 26 seed Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-1 in the second round. So Americans were 0-4 in singles until No. 20 seed Venus Williams defeated Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland 6-1, 6-4 in a second round night match. 

Just before that match finished however, 16-year-old wild cards Francis Tiafoe and Michael Mmoh picked up their first grand slam win, defeated Victor Estrella of the Dominican Republic and Teymuraz Gabishvili of Russia 6-3, 6-4.  Tiafoe and Mmoh had no idea they were going to receive a wild card into the men's doubles, and Tiafoe had returned to College Park, Maryland to prepare for the Junior Championships after playing in his first round men's qualifying match in New York last Wednesday, planning to return to New York today or tomorrow. Mmoh, who had just lost in the semifinals of the ITF International Hard Court Championships at College Park, was preparing to return to Bradenton for a few days before the US Open Juniors, but all that changed when they went to the US Open website, tipped off by twitter, to see their names on the wild card list for men's doubles.  Once they confirmed, the frequent doubles pair rearranged their travel schedules and went to New York on Monday.

They were broken only once in the match, in the second set, although they were required to save nine break points. Immediately after they were broken, they broke right back then held for the win. They will play the winner of the match between Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram, who meet No. 15 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and John Peers of Australia tomorrow.

Eleven Americans are on the singles schedule for Thursday, including CiCi Bellis, who plays 20-year-old Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan fourth on Court 17.  Free live streaming of that match and many others can be found by clicking the red Watch Live button at usopen.org.


I heard a couple of days ago that Stephen Amritraj, currently a USTA National Coach in Carson, California, will be taking over Dustin Taylor's position as National Coach for Collegiate Tennis, beginning September 1.  I spoke at length with Amritraj, who played his college tennis at Duke, this past April when I was in Carson, and he is certainly passionate about and committed to college tennis and its current and former players.  I'm sure I'll have additional opportunities to talk with him about his plans for the position next week at the American Collegiate Invitational at the US Open.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wild Card Bellis Shocks Cibulkova in US Open First Round; Giron, Rubin, Donaldson Fall in Opening Matches


Twenty-one Americans were playing first round singles matches today at the US Open, but the show was stolen by 15-year-old wild card CiCi Bellis, who defeated No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.   Bellis, the USTA National 18s champion, was playing on newly configured Court 6, which isn't a televised court, but once she had taken the first set, ESPN managed to get a camera and Pam Shriver to the court, just in time to watch Bellis lose the second set.

Bellis went down a break early in the third set, and ESPN stuck with their John Isner studio interview, but once Bellis got the break back in the third set, they returned. From the studio Chris Evert spoke of the lack of pressure for a player in Bellis' position, and all that Cibulkova must be feeling, and that certainly did play a role in the final two games.  With a large and supportive crowd pushing her on, Bellis held, then broke, feasting on Cibulkova's second serve, to become the youngest US Open first round winner since Anna Kournikova in 1996 and the youngest American since Mary Jo Fernandez ten years earlier.

Cibulkova, who reached the Australian Open final this year, has had an awful hard court season this summer, and she looked in the few games I saw, error prone and a step slow. But Bellis took advantage and did what she is supposed to do in her situation, swing away and try to win the match. 

Now comes the tough part for Bellis, who will have to deal with all the attention and hype surrounding this win without the help of an agent, as she is still an amateur.  She plays 20-year-old Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in the second round Thursday, and expectations are now much higher than they were before today's win. But coping with success hasn't been a problem for Bellis in her junior career, so that's encouraging.

Here's the New York Times account of Bellis' win.  The transcript of the Bellis news conference is here.

The American women had a great day, with Madison Keys(27), Nicole Gibbs, Vania King, CoCo Vandweghe, Christina McHale, Varvara Lepchenko and Shelby Rogers picking up victories (Serena Williams and Taylor Townsend have yet to take the court).

The news wasn't as good for American men.  Isner, the No. 13 seed, beat NCAA champion Marcos Giron 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(2) on Ashe, with the level extremely high in the opening set.  Giron never earned a break point however, and as usual, Isner came up with big shots in the tiebreakers.  I look forward to seeing Giron competing in the American Collegiate Invitational next week, along with Danielle Collins, who played so well on Ashe yesterday.  Both did college tennis proud this week.   Kalamazoo champion Noah Rubin lost to Federico Delbonis of Argentina 6-4, 6-3, 6-0, getting down early in the first set before shaking his nerves and making a match of it at the end of the first and beginning of the second sets.  But a first serve percentage of 51 percent just isn't going to get it done at the slam level, and Rubin's errors began to mount as Delbonis continued to apply pressure with some big shotmaking.  Steve Tignor of Tennis.com filed this account of the match.

Seventeen-year-old wild card Jared Donaldson played No. 20 seed Gael Monfils of France in front of a packed house at the Grandstand this evening, with Monfils coming away with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory.  Donaldson showed his power from both sides, but made too many errors, some of which were caused by the always stunning defense of Monfils.  Monfils' serve was also superior; although he made only 54 percent of his first serves, he had much easier holds than Donaldson, who had to work so hard to hold his. Donaldson did get one break of the Monfils serve, in the third set, but he was broken both before and after that break, so it didn't provide the boost he needed to take a set.

Sam Querrey and Tim Smyczek won their first round matches today, but in addition to the losses by the wild cards Giron, Rubin and Donaldson, Jack Sock and Wayne Odesnik also lost, with Sock retiring down 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to Pablo Andujar of Spain, with a right leg or foot injury.

Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson play their first round matches Wednesday.  Sloane Stephens, Venus Williams and Madison Brengle will play their second round matches Wednesday. 

2013 US Open junior champion Borna Coric of Croatia, who qualified for the main draw, made a splash today by defeating No. 29 seed Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.  The transcript of his interview can be found here.

Mixed doubles play begins Wednesday, as does women's doubles.  The complete schedule is here.

The draws are at usopen.org.

Monday, August 25, 2014

International Hard Courts Recap, Slideshow, Videos; NCAA Champion Collins Test Halep, Falls in Three Sets at US Open

My recap of last week's ITF Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships, with details on Russia's Anna Kalinskaya and Florida's Reilly Opelka winning their first ITF titles is available today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. Even with the rainy weather, I enjoyed covering the tournament for the first time, and am glad another Grade 1 tournament is now available in the United States, after the loss of the Lexington Grade 1 that used to follow the US Open.


Below is the slideshow of those reaching the singles quarterfinals and the doubles semifinals. The videos of the two champions are below, with the videos of the finalists available by clicking on the links below:

Tim Van Rijthoven

Gabby Ruse







NCAA champion and wild card Danielle Collins put a scare into WTA No. 2 Simona Halep today in a US Open first round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The rising junior from the University of Virginia came from 4-2 down in the opening set to force a tiebreaker, which she dominated, before eventually succumbing 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-2.



It's easy to say a 20-year-old with no WTA ranking has nothing to lose in that situation, but it's much harder to perform as if you truly believe that, which is what Collins did. In the first set she hit out on every ball, served well, kept the ball deep and played with conviction, despite playing only one match since she underwent wrist surgery at the end of May. To be fair, Halep wasn't playing her best, but part of that was due to the relentless pressure Collins put on her. Collins wasn't able to sustain the level she showed in the second and third sets, with her serve most noticeably dropping off, but she did prove that her top level is competitive with the world's best. Whether she can play at that level consistently is of course the important question, but that was an impressive performance in a slam debut.

For more on the match, see the WTA's website.

Video highlights from the match can be found at usopen.org.

A transcript of Collins' post-match press conference is here

Although not mentioned in the press conference, Collins is expected to return next week to New York, as she will be competing in the inaugural American Collegiate Invitational beginning next Thursday.

The US Open Tuesday schedule is out, with NCAA champion Marcos Giron playing John Isner second on Arthur Ashe. Kalamazoo champion Noah Rubin, who plays Federico Delbonis of Argentina, is also second on Tuesday, on court 13. Taylor Townsend gets a night match on Ashe against top seed Serena Williams, after the men's night match, which starts at 7 p.m. Jared Donaldson plays No. 20 seed Gael Monfils of France not before 5 p.m. on the Grandstand. CiCi Bellis is also on Tuesday's schedule, but her match with No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia is on Court 6, which is not televised.

In all, there are 21 Americans in singles action on Tuesday, and seven in men's doubles, with Peter Kobelt and Hunter Reese, Chase Buchanan and Tennys Sandgren, Donald Young and Nick Monroe and Eric Butorac (with South Africa's Raven Klaasen) playing their first round matches.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Georgia's Dan Magill Dies at Age 93; Xu, Majchrzak Win Youth Olympic Games Gold; US Wins Le Blanc Cup; NCAA Champion Collins Kicks Off US Open Monday Against Halep on Ashe

Georgia men's coach Manny Diaz with Dan Magill
There's not much I can add to the tributes being paid to former University of Georgia men's tennis coach Dan Magill, who died earlier today at 93.  Magill is one of the most influential Division I tennis coaches in history,  revered for his ability to coach, promote and lead, while always recognizing the place of history in the college game. With his health deteriorating over the past three years, Magill was not much in evidence at the 2012 and 2014 NCAA championships, but in 2007 and 2010 he was a vibrant part of the tournaments being played in the complex named for him. Magill's influence on college sports was not confined to tennis, as Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains in this obituary for the "greatest Bulldog ever."

The tennis portion  of the Youth Olympic Games concluded today in China, with gold medals going to unseeded Shilin Xu of China and Kamil Majchrzak of Poland in singles.  Xu defeated No. 8 seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus 6-3, 6-1 in Sunday's final, while Majchrzak, seeded No. 7, defeated No. 2 seed Orlando Luz of Brazil 6-4, 7-5 in Saturday's boys final.

Luz did take home a gold medal however, partnering Marcelo Zormann to take the boys doubles 7-5, 3-6, 10-3 over top seeds Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev. Zormann and Luz, the No. 2 seeds, also won the Wimbledon boys doubles title last month.

Shymanovich also collected a gold medal to go with her silver in singles, when she and Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, the No. 3 seeds, defeated No. 2 seeds Darya Kasatkina and Anastasiya Komardina of Russia 6-4, 6-4  in the girls doubles final.


The mixed doubles gold medal went to No. 5 seeds Jil Teichmann of Switzerland and Jan Zielinski of Poland, who defeated Ye Qiu Yu of China and Jumpei Yamasaki of Japan 4-6, 6-3, 10-4.

Complete draws can be found at the ITF junior website.

Majchrzak has withdrawn from the US Open Junior Championships, as have Noah Rubin, Elias Ymer, Gianluigi Quinzi and Johan Sebastien Tatlot.  Xu is still in, as are Shymanovich, Kalinina, Luz and Zormann, who now have a little less than a week to adjust from playing in China.

This week's ITF Grade 1 is in Repentigny Canada, with Quentin Halys of France and Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov of Spain the top seeds. Neither played the Olympics or the Hard Courts last week in College Park.  The tournament website has results, draws and order of play.

Last week the US teams of 12-and-under players won the Le Blanc Cup competition in Canada.  Results are below:

The USA boys defeated France 3-0, and the USA girls defeated Canada 2-1.  

Boys Singles
#1 Zane Khan defeated #1 Arthur Cazaux 6-2, 6-3
#2 Faris Khan defeated #2 Quentin Kouvtanovitch 6-1, 6-2 

Doubles
Khan/Khan defeated Cazaux/Kouvtanovitch 8-3

Girls Singles
#1Whitney Osuigwe defeated #1 Sofiya Babych 6-1, 2-6, 6-3   
#2 Victoria Hu lost to #2 Ariana Arseneault 3-6, 3-6

Doubles
Hu/Osuigwe defeated Babych/Arseneault 8-6


The US Open doubles draws were released today, with Kalamazoo champions Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov drawing another wild card team of Michael Russell and Jared Donaldson.  San Diego champions Katerina Stewart and Louisa Chirico will play Marina Erakovic of New Zealand and Arantxz Parra Santonja of Spain. 

Other wild card teams are:
Tornado Alicia Black and Bernarda Pera
Jennifer Brady and Samantha Crawford
Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend
Nicole Gibbs and Maria Sanchez
Grace Min and Melanie Oudin
Irina Falconi and Anna Tatishvili

The men's wild card teams include Michael Mmoh and Francis Tiafoe, and neither had any inkling they would receive a wild card (they didn't request one) until Friday night, when they learned via twitter that they needed to be in New York by Monday for possible play on Tuesday.  The other men's wild card teams:

Bradley Klahn and Tim Smyczek
Tennys Sandgren and Chase Buchanan
Peter Kobelt and Hunter Reese
Marcos Giron and Kevin King

Draws can be found at the US Open website.

The mixed doubles draws have not been released yet, but one wild card team has been determined.  Jacqueline Cako (Arizona State) and Joel Kielbowicz (UNLV) won the US Open National Playoff yesterday in New Haven, beating  Ena and Shuhei Shibahara 6-3, 6-1 in the final.  For more on their win, see this article.

NCAA champion Danielle Collins will open play on Arthur Ashe Stadium tomorrow morning when she plays No. 2 seed Simona Halep of Romania. Collins has played only one match since having wrist surgery immediately after winning the NCAAs in May: a qualifying match in New Haven, where she lost 6-4, 6-3 to Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan. She has been training at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy near her home in St. Petersburg to prepare for her US Open match, according to this article from the IMG website.

Other Americans in action on Monday are Venus Williams(20), Sloane Stephens(21), Donald Young, Madison Brengle and Bradley Klahn. Monday's schedule is here