Monday, November 30, 2015

How'd we do? ATP 21&Under 2015 version

Frances Tiafoe. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
The American tennis landscape is in the midst of a generational landscape on the men's side. Of the 40 men representing USA in the ATP Top 500, only 3 are over 28 years old (and only 3 more are over 26), while 11 are under 22. Perennial ATP power Spain, on the contrary, has 14 players over 28 in the Top 500, with only 4 under 22 (none of whom is in the Top 300), out of 38 total.

In honor of this youth movement, in addition to inviting some folks to predict the year-end Top 10 ATP men from America, I asked them to predict the Top 10 who would be 21 or under (21U) at the end of the year.

And, for the most part, they did a great job given the tough task!

The most glaring error that all the participants made was excluding Tommy Paul from their picks. It's not a shock, given that the now-18-year-old was outside the Top 1000 just over a year ago, and hadn't produced nearly as strong junior results of some of his peers. But there he is -- #5 with a bullet! It just goes to show, man. It just goes to show.

Note on points system: It came to my attention when compiling these results that I had not made any contingency for players who ended the year unranked. Specifically, how would I handle my pick of Christian Harrison as the #10 21U player. I think I was confused a bit by The Grandstand's scoring system, which did not explain how it handled such situations but, upon review, seems to have addressed Josh Mieseles' pick of Christian Harrison as overall #10 American man by awarding him the points of the next-worst guess by anyone on the panel -- Romi Cvitkovic being 36 spots off with her pick of Bradley Klahn at #6.

However, if I were to use that metric in this contest for my C. Harrison pick, I would give myself only 8 points (three panelists made choices that were that far off) which seemed hardly fair for such a bad pick. So I decided to make the punishment for my Lil' Harry pick be 16, aka double the points of the next-worst pick. If you have a better suggestion, come at me, bro or sis, and I'll consider including it in the judging for 2016.


Baseline BagelsLangPatrick RourkeParsaJonathan Kelley
1. Donaldson1. Donaldson1. Donaldson1. Donaldson 1. Donaldson
2. Kozlov2. Escobedo2. Kozlov2. Kozlov2. Krueger
3. Mmoh3. Kozlov3. Escobedo3. Krueger3. Kozlov
4. McDonald4. Krueger4. Krueger4. Escobedo4. Escobedo
5. Krueger5. Mmoh5. Fritz5. Mmoh5. Baughman
6. Escobedo6. Baughman6. Mmoh6. McDonald6. Mmoh
7. J. Hiltzik7. Fritz7. McDonald7. Baughman7. Tiafoe
8. Tiafoe8. Rubin8. Baughman8. Rubin8. McDonald
9. Rubin9. McDonald9. Rubin9. Tiafoe9. Fritz
10. Halebian10. Tiafoe10. Santiago10. Fritz10. C. Harrison

Top 20 USA men, 11/23/2015 ranking:

1. Jared Donaldson (134)
2. Taylor Fritz (176)
3. Frances Tiafoe (178)
4. Mitchell Krueger (225)
5. Tommy Paul (272)
6. Noah Rubin (339)
7. Stefan Kozlov (355)
8. Deiton Baughman (361)
9. Mackenzie McDonald (379)
10. Ernesto Escobedo (388)

11. Michael Mmoh (454)
12. Jared Hiltzik (624)
13. Alexios Halebian (638)
14. Alex Rybakov (656)
15. Mico Santiago (742)
16. Collin Altamirano (815)
17. Ryan Shane (901)
18. William Bushamuka (970)
19. Reilly Opelka (971)
20. Eduardo Nava (979)

Lang: 40
Didn't pick: Paul (6)

A bravura performance -- not unexpected, given her years of focus on the younger generation of Americans. Lang's worst miss was picking Ernesto Escobedo in 2nd place, but she got Krueger and McDonald exactly right, and otherwise was quite solid. Well done!

Parsa: 44
Didn't pick: Paul (6)

Parsa tied for 2nd place. Like Lang, he only missed one player, and the one he erroneously included finished 11th (Mmoh). But other than Donaldson, he didn't get anyone else exactly right, and he undercounted Tiafoe and Fritz by a good margin. Still, a solid B.

Patrick Rourke: 44
Didn't pick Paul (6), Tiafoe (8)

Patrick tied for 2nd thanks to getting a contest-high three exact guesses. His biggest error was definitely leaving out Frances Tiafoe, but given the fact the now-17-year-old was still playing Futures qualies at the start of 2015, it's forgivable. Anyway, congrats to you, Patrick, wherever you may be.

Didn't pick: Fritz (9), Paul (6), Baughman (3)

Picking Alexios Halebian over Deiton Baughman proved an unfortunate pick, but leaving out Taylor Fritz was the killer here. And to be honest, putting Michael Mmoh in 3rd place cost him far more than including Halebian, who very quietly finished as the #13 21U guy.

Jonathan Kelley: 59
Didn't pick: Paul (6), Rubin (5)

Ughhhhhhh for me. I mean, that was lame. No right guesses other than Donaldson, only 1 guy within 1 spot of the right guess, and the Christian Harrison pick. A well-deserved comeuppance after the resounding win in the overall ATP rankings.

Tomorrow: the WTA results!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

How'd we do? ATP 2015 version

For the second year in a row, I invited some friends to predict who the top 10 Americans would be in the ATP rankings. I fully admit to having stole both the idea and judging metric from The Grandstand, and since I didn't receive a cease-and-desist warning, I'm going to keep with it. Thanks, guys! (Note that the Grandstand's judging system changed this year, and they didn't throw out each contestant's worst pick. So neither will On the Rise.)

In addition to our overall Top 10 finishes, stay tuned for future posts featuring Top 10 finishes for players aged 21 and under ... a tricky venture, particularly in this age of fast-rising young Americans ... and Top 10 WTA finishes.


Baseline BagelsLangPatrick RourkeParsaCourtney NguyenJonathan Kelley
1. Isner1. Isner1. Isner1. Isner1. Isner1. Querrey (20)
2. Sock2. Querrey2. Sock2. Johnson2. Sock2. Isner (21)
3. Querrey3. Johnson3. Querrey3. Querrey3. Querrey3. Sock (35)
4. Johnson4. Sock4. Johnson4. Young4. Johnson4. Johnson (40)
5. Harrison5. Young5. Kudla5. Smyczek5. Young5. Young (50)
6. Kudla6. Kudla6. Young6. Sock6. Kudla6. Kudla (80)
7. Young7. Smyczek7. Smyczek7. Kudla7. Smyczek7. Smyczek (90)
8. Smyczek8. Donaldson8. Sandgren8. Klahn8. Ram8. Krajicek (120)
9. Kuznetsov9. Klahn9. Buchanan9. Sandgren9. Klahn9. Donaldson (130)
10. Klahn10. Williams10. Klahn10. Krajicek10. Russell10. Klahn (140)

Top 10 USA men, 11/16/2015 ranking:

1. John Isner (11)
2. Jack Sock (26)
3. Steve Johnson (32)
4. Donald Young (48)
5. Sam Querrey (59)
6. Denis Kudla (70)
7. Rajeev Ram (87)
8. Austin Krajicek (101)
9. Tim Smyczek (106)
10. Ryan Harrison (111)

Others picked:
13. Jared Donaldson (134)
20. Tennys Sandgren (256)
26. Chase Buchanan (344)
28. Alex Kuznetsov (355)
42. Bradley Klahn (516)
44. Michael Russell (559)
54. Rhyne Williams (781)


The first thing to note is that American men did much better in 2015 than they did in 2014: #10 Ryan Harrison would have finished 6th in 2014, while #13 Donaldson would have finished 8th. Of the players in the Top 10, all but Querrey finished higher than they did the year before; whereas some of the guys on our lists had some down years due to injury and retirement.

The second thing to note was that everyone picked Bradley Klahn to finish Top 10, a good assumption that unfortunately didn't come to pass due to his nearly year-long injury. That added over 30 points to everyone's score.

Finally, our panel did well compared to the folks at The Grandstand. Assuming my math is correct (feel free to check!) we averaged 75.5 compared to their 77.17, and we had 4 participants with 80 points or fewer compared to their 2. #Proud.

In any case, a big thanks to everyone who participated! It was fun. And mostly, it was fun to win. :)

The results:

Jonathan Kelley: 52 points
Did not pick: Ram (-4), Harrison (-1)

Considering I had by far the most embarrassing pick (Sam Querrey at #1), it was an overall very impressive performance, if I do say so myself. If you look at the actual ATP rankings I included, I was off by a decent amount on not just Sam, but on Isner and Sock as well. But order-wise I was right on with Kudla and Krajicek, and off by only 1 with Isner, Sock, Johnson, and Young. The only Grandstand contestant who did better than me was Ben Rothenberg, who beat me by 3 points (or less than one Querrey). Lesson learned? We'll see.

Parsa: 68 points
Did not pick: Ram (-4), Harrison (-1)

A very solid year for Parsa, who was hurt mainly by putting Tennys Sandgren too high and Jack Sock too low. Still, he beat nearly everyone both here and at The Grandstand. Not bad for the young fella.

Baseline Bagels: 70 points
Did not pick: Krajicek (-3), Ram (-4)

Baseline Bagel's only real slip-up was picking Alex Kuznetsov for the #9 spot, costing him 19 points and taking him out of the running. He also had Harrison too high -- the only contestant to give Harry that vote of confidence, but one which ultimately cost him.

Courtney Nguyen: 78 points
Did not pick: Krajicek (-3), Harrison (-1)

Courtney could have had it won with that Ram pick. She was the only one who put Rajeev in her Top 10, and she was very close on her other picks. But oh, Russell. Even if Iron Mike hadn't picked this year to retire, he still was nowhere near the Top 10.

Patrick Rourke: 87 points
Did not pick: Ram (-4), Krajicek (-3), Harrison (-1)

A rough year for the former @rourkeytennis, who had Tennys and Chase Top 10. Individually not terrible picks, but which in combination doomed him.

Lang: 98 points
Did not pick: Ram (-4), Krajicek (-3), Harrison (-1)

Lang led with her heart, and boy did it cost her. Rhyne Williams played only 8 tournaments this year and earned only 27 points, most if not all of which with a bad back -- a back that hurt not just Williams, but his biggest fan as well.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Which is the best tennis country?

We're #1. We're #1.

Thanks, of course, to the Williams Sisters.

There's no one perfect way to measure the relative strength of countries when it comes to overall tennis prowess. Is it titles or grand slams won? Total number of Top 100 players? Best potential Olympic teams?

Jared Pine at Second Serb Blog periodically publishes his rankings of tennis countries, using a pretty basic formula: adding together the rankings points accumulated by the Top 140 ATP players. In his formula, it will come as no surprise, Spain tops the list time after time. Led by Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, and with 15 players in the Top 100, Spain beats Novak Djokovic's Serbia and the two top-5 Swiss guys by a comfortable margin. Spain rules men's tennis in 2015, as it has for years.

But what if you include women? After all, women are a (nearly) equal part of the tennis landscape. Tennis federations focus on developing and supporting women's tennis as much as they do men's tennis, at least in theory. Men and women play alongside each other at most of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. For women's tennis, if you use Jared's formula, USA is #1 by a lot over Czech Republic and Russia.

Then there's doubles. As we saw in the World Tour Finals, and the Fed Cup final, and as we'll see in the Davis Cup final, doubles continues to be an integral and exciting part of tennis, and can provide an focus for fans and federations in countries that don't have any elite singles players (see: India). For women's doubles, the Czech Republic would be the #1 country, while the Bryan Brothers give USA the edge in men's doubles.

For my inaugural World Tennis Rankings, I've adapted Jared's formula: I've included WTA singles rankings, expanded the list of players included to the Top 200 (mostly because it's a rounder number), and add in a doubles component. I only included the Top 100 doubles, and only 1/4 of the doubles points. (Note: I did run the numbers for including the 101-200 ranked doubles players, but doubles players below 100 have such a small impact on either main tour, and the difference the inclusion makes in the overall rankings is minuscule (it would have helped Mexico and Thailand move up a few spots, and added Zimbabwe, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Peru to the list of countries).)

The verdict is this: the US is the #1 tennis nation in the world, by nearly any metric. Even without Serena Williams and her 9945 points, USA comes out on top. So next time someone questions the "state of American tennis," show them this chart. It speaks for itself. (If they start talking about ratio of player to total population, change the subject quickly.)

Formula: It's pretty basic. I took the points from the Top 200 WTA and ATP singles players, and added the Top 100 WTA and ATP doubles players, but divided the doubles points by 4 -- the same way the ITF does for its junior rankings. Tab 1 has the combined points for men and women, Tab 2 has the breakdown of ATP and WTA, and further breaks down Top 100 points vs. 100-200 points. The tables are scrollable and sortable. If you see any errors, please let me know! See below for some takeaways.




1. As mentioned, Serena Williams + Venus Williams provides the winning margin for the USA. Their combined 13,785 points is greater than USA's 12,959.75 point margin over second-place Spain. And of course they're getting older -- but so are many of Spain's top male players. I'd be frankly surprised if USA isn't in first place this time next year, even if the Williams sisters have down 2016s.

2. The WTA singles players have about 5% more points than ATP players (all in the Top 100), so women's singles is advantaged here by a small margin. If you want to control for that, be my guest, but as far as I can tell it has no impact on the overall rankings.

3. USA is the only non-European country in the Top 10. It may take a few years, but I anticipate that will change by 2020.

4. Countries helped most by the inclusion of doubles: India, Taiwan, Netherlands, Hungary, Brazil, and New Zealand.

5. Countries hurt most by the inclusion of doubles: Serbia, Belgium (which has a big Davis Cup doubles rubber coming up!), Bulgaria, Denmark, and the Baltic Nations.

6. Countries helped most by inclusion of 101-200 ranked players: Israel, Turkey, Netherlands.

7. Country with (shockingly) no players in the 101-200 range for singles: Canada.

8. #1 country with no Top 10 singles players: Australia (12).

9. #1 country with no Top 10 singles or doubles players: Ukraine (16)

10. Without Novak Djokovic, Serbia falls from 5th to 15th place.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Titles

It was the best of times (for Henri Laaksonen), it was the worst of times (for Taylor Fritz).

In his first career final at this level, 23-year-old Henri Laaksonen upset 18-year-old Taylor Fritz 4-6 6-2 6-2 today to take the 20th Champaign Challenger. Laaksonen was solid in nearly every aspect of the game, serving well, pressuring Fritz with his returning, saving break points in key moments in the second set, and putting Fritz on the defense far more than the big hitting Californian wanted.

Henri Laaksonen, in red, receives his winner's check. © Jonathan Kelley
"I had an amazing week here," said Laaksonen. "Especially in the early rounds I was struggling, I always lost the first set, and somehow I started to play always better and better the longer the match went and today I played an unbelievable match." Today's final marked the fourth consecutive match Laaksonen won after losing the first set.

As for Fritz, he acknowledged being "pissed" in the wake of the match. "I feel like I wasn't playing well the whole match, even when I won the first set," he said. "I got pretty lucky in the first set to win it, because I saved a lot of break points and then was able to convert on the only break point I had. And then the second set, I had my chances early [in the form of three break points in Laaksonen's first service game] and then after that -- after I blew those chances -- my serve was horrendous, everything fell apart, I was just playing awful."

Fritz, who was going for his third career Challenger title (all in the past two months) was quick to acknowledge his opponent's high level of play. "He was putting a lot of pressure on me, hitting a lot of big shots, so I didn't get a lot of breathing room to get my feel." 

Laaksonen noted that he was standing on the baseline on Fritz's second serve, which increased the pressure on his opponent. He had several winners or unplayable shots on return. "Every second serve I tried to step in and go for it. It's difficult to serve also if a guy is feeling the return, and I really felt it today."

Laaksonen has played Davis Cup for Finland and for Switzerland, but his best professional results have come during this post-US Open swing on American soil. Will we see him playing Davis Cup for the USA in the future? "I don't know if that works," he laughed. "But I really have enjoyed my time. I was here for 8 tournaments, I've had really great results already and then this week was really the crown for that."

It was the age of wisdom (for Paul Goebel), it was the age of foolishness (for coaches who overlooked his recruits), it was the epoch of belief (for David O'Hare and Joe Salisbury), it was the epoch of incredulity (for Austin Krajicek and Nicholas Monroe).

In another first, Joe Salisbury and David O'Hare won their initial Challenger title, 6-1 6-4 over #1 seeds Austin Krajicek and Nicholas Monroe. The final match completed a trifecta for the British/Irish duo, who beat the #2 seeds in the semifinals and the #3 seeds in the quarterfinals.

"It just means that we deserved it," said O'Hare. "I think we played the best tennis all week. We came up good at the right times. It feels great to beat all top three seeds en route to your first Challenger title. So obviously we're just ecstatic."

From left: Brad Dancer, Nicholas Monroe, Joe Salisbury, David O'Hare,
and Jim Tressler. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

O'Hare and Salisbury first played together as freshmen at the University of Memphis, where coach Paul Goebel helped mold them into one of the best teams in college tennis. Goebel was in Champaign all week, and was with them in their warm-up on Saturday that was going until nearly the last minute before their match.

"They started much better than they did yesterday," said Goebel. "I think they were expecting a little better environment yesterday; there wasn't much energy, and they didn't do a very good job of creating the energy themselves, so they got a little bit of a slow start. So we talked last night about trying to come out with better energy from the start and they really did that."

Goebel also had them work on their serves immediately following their win yesterday, which seemed to help. "We definitely served a lot better today than we have in the last few matches," said Salisbury. "I think the other few matches -- quarters, semis -- we played well in those as well, but we didn't serve quite as well, so we had a bit of pressure on our service games. But today we served really well so we were holding pretty easily." In fact, they didn't face a break point or deciding point on their serves all match.

O'Hare summed up his team's week perfectly: "It was a fairy tale, to be honest."

It was the spring of hope (for Noah Rubin), it was the winter of despair (again for Taylor Fritz).

Maybe it was the first snowfall of the season that sunk the Americans, all of whom are from considerably warmer climates (California, Florida, and Oklahoma). Certainly the biggest beneficiaries of the day's action hail originally from colder areas: Helsinki, London, Dublin ... and New York.

Since no American was able to match his 80 points from the Charlottesville title in either Knoxville or Champaign, Empire Stater Noah Rubin was the winner of the USTA Pro Circuit Australian Open Wild Card. January will mark Rubin's second career grand slam main draw -- he was also in the 2014 US Open after winning that year's USTA Boys National Championship in Kalamazoo.

Fritz was sanguine about missing out on the wild card. His success this fall, after all, means he'll get into the qualifying draw in Melbourne come January. "I definitely don't see any problem with playing qualifying," he said. "Obviously you want to play main draw but it could even be better for you as far as development goes and earning it, so it could be a blessing in disguise."

As for this coming off-season, the loss seemed to provide immediate motivation for the world's #1-ranked junior. He said he'll be working on "a lot of fitness and movement. I want to get my legs and body a lot stronger, and then just tune up some things. I can't allow ... someone like me who's so dependent on my serve and forehand, I just can't let it go off like it did today, so I have to make sure stuff is always there. I'd say a lot of repetition on certain things, just adding maybe a couple of shots to my game, transition, backhand slice."

Based on how far he's come in the last year, an improved Taylor Fritz could mean trouble for the rest of the ATP come 2016.

Champaign Punch: Fritz to play for Australian Open wild card

Fifteen times Mackenzie McDonald had break point against Taylor Fritz.

Fifteen times, Taylor Fritz saved break point.

In large part because of that statistic, Fritz beat McDonald 6-7(4) 6-2 6-2 and now finds himself in the final of the 2015 JSM Challenger of Champaign-Urbana, the final ATP challenger of the year, and the last leg of the USTA Pro Circuit Australian Open Wild Card Challenge. If he wins on Saturday against Henri Laaksonen, he will secure the USTA's reciprocal wild card to the Australian Open. If Laaksonen wins, it will go to Noah Rubin. Big stakes.

Fritz also saved all 5 break points he faced in his quarterfinal against Malek Jaziri, and all 3 in the final set of his second round match against Daniel Evans, bringing his streak to 23 straight. What's the deal?

"I just tell myself on break points, especially when it's even -- if I'm up a break sometimes it's not as easy to do this -- but I just tell myself, 'I can't lose this. Losing the point is just not a possibility,'" said Fritz. "I need to make him play but at the same time just apply a lot of pressure. I think it's just the sense of urgency that makes me that one step quicker, my shots a little bit steadier, my focus a little bit better. You'll notice my serve is probably the highest percentage on break points."

Fritz started the match playing a little more passively than fans have become accustomed, in the hope that McDonald would give him some free points. Instead, McDonald played at a high level, going toe-to-toe with Fritz on offense and defense, and finishing well at the net.

In the first set tiebreak, "I was really frustrated because I had told myself to be aggressive, and I just gave it to him," lamented Fritz. "But it helped me get my targets and feel with going for those big shots; so I came out in the beginning of the second set ready to be more aggressive and unload on the shots. Instead of moving the ball or placing it, I went for the winner, which you have to do against him because he's so fast."

Fritz served at just 45% for the match, but didn't sound too concerned about that statistic. "Mackie did a really good job attacking my second serve. Not a lot of people can do that. I think I can get by [with a relatively low first serve percentage] if the first serves I'm making are very strong first serves that are winning me the point 80-90% of the time."

In the 18-point final game, Fritz saved his final three break points and finally won with a perfect forehand lob that landed on the baseline. He let out a big yell. The win was his.
It's the third challenger final for Fritz, all on US hard courts, and all since the 2015 US Open. Next up is Laaksonen, the talented Swiss who reached the semis in Charlottesville before losing to Rubin, and who now is in his first career challenger final (and first singles final at any level since 2012).

Fritz and Laaksonen played earlier this fall in the first round of the Fairfield Challenger. Fritz won that match 6-2 6-3, the first of five straight-set wins to secure the then-17-year-old American his second consecutive Challenger final. Fritz says he is aware that the Swiss is "a lot better indoors, so I'm not going to try to assume too many things from that match."

Clay Thompson. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
Laaksonen beat McDonald's former UCLA teammate Clay Thompson 5-7 6-3 7-6(2), the third straight match in which he's come back from a set down to win. Like McDonald, Laaksonen had trouble converting break points, going 14/15 until 5-5 in the 3rd set, when he finally was able to break and serve for the match. However, at 6-5 he played an admittedly nervous game, double faulted on break point, and into a third-set tiebreaker they went.

The first point of the tiebreaker, Thompson said, was the "tell" of the match. "I put pretty much everything I had into that point, ripped a couple of forehands, he stuck with me and won it." Laaksonen followed up with two strong serves and secured another minibreak to go up 4-0, and the rest was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Like McDonald, Thompson was a qualifier, meaning he was playing his 7th match in 7 days. He said he woke up feeling like he could have used a day off. But he gave all credit to Laaksonen. "I think really he deserved to win the match. From the ground he was winning pretty much every point. I was really just relying on my serve to bail me out. He's a great player. I think he matches up well against me."

As for going down a set in three straight matches, Laaksonen said, "At least I get the practice if I play always three sets, I start to play always better and better" as the match progresses.

Laaksonen came to the US in September with the goal of getting direct entry into Australian Open qualifying. With his win Friday, he's provisionally up to #232 in the rankings. Mission accomplished. But he's still got plenty to play for -- including Rubin's wild card (although Laaksonen made it clear that he always only plays for himself).

Krajicek/Monroe vs. Salisbury/O'Hare for doubles title

The two doubles matches were entertaining affairs. In the evening session, top seeded Americans Austin Krajicek and Nicholas Monroe beat JP Smith and Joshua Milton 7-6(3) 6-2.

Monroe was broken early in the first set, but the team broke Milton in the next game and didn't face another break point in the match. In the second set, they lost only two points on serve and broke Milton twice more (thanks in part to several double faults), cruising to their second career final as a team. Monroe said he and Krajicek are planning to play together at the 2016 Australian Open.

Monroe and Krajicek. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
In the afternoon session, Joe Salisbury and David O'Hare, from Great Britain and Ireland respectively, upset #2 seeds Frederik Nielsen and Johan Brunstrom 4-6 7-6(2) [10-8] to reach their first challenger final. I sat down with O'Hare for a Q&A after their quarterfinal win, and today I had a quick chat with Salisbury.

On the Rise: Is this the biggest result of your pro career?

Joe Salisbury: Biggest doubles win, definitely. I think yesterday in the quarterfinal was as well. It was the biggest team we'd beaten and today was even higher.

OTR: What was your mentality going into the second set tiebreak, after O'Hare was broken serving for the set at 5-3? 

JS: Try to forget about that game. We knew we still had a good chance; we were still playing pretty well.

OTR: You had two return winners in that tiebreak. Is that a part of your game you pride yourself on?

JS: Not usually, that's probably one of the weakest part of my game, and usually my serve is my strongest. But today I didn't serve that well, but I returned well. In the tiebreak, I came out with some good ones which helped us win.

OTR: When you went down a late minibreak in the third set, was there ever a point at which you said "this is probably it, we had a good run"?

JS: Not really. You never know in the match tiebreak, the momentum can change so much. We were 3-6 down, I think, but in a match tiebreak that's nothing, it's only one minibreak of serve. So we knew if we just hung in there, we could easily come back from it.

OTR: What did Paul Goebel [their coach at the University of Memphis, who was in attendance] talk about with you after the match?

Joe Salisbury dropped his balls. Paul Goebel and David
O'Hare look on. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
JS: We were just talking about a few of the things we did well -- we did quite a lot of things well -- just went out there and hit a few serves, because our first serve percentage wasn't that high and they had a lot of chances ... had looks on our second serves and put a lot of pressure on our service games. So I think that's one thing we can improve tomorrow, is if we can serve a bit better, we can hold serve a little bit easier.

OTR: Did you think as a freshman that you'd be getting to challenger finals with O'Hare six or seven years later?

JS: I don't think we thought that would happen our freshman year when we started playing together. But definitely when we were playing our senior year we had some great stuff, and we knew we wanted to keep playing after. So I think we knew we definitely had this level in us, and I think we can keep getting better and improve a lot of things, so I think this is just the start for us.

OTR: Should [Britain's Davis Cup captain] Leon Smith call you in case he needs an emergency back-up for next week's tie? 

JS: [Laughs.] I would obviously love to be in consideration for that but there are so many great doubles players for Great Britain that I think I'd have to improve a lot and get my ranking a lot higher to get close for contention for Davis Cup.

OTR: O'Hare is lucky. There aren't a lot of others he has to compete with.

JS: Yeah, I mean, there's not a huge amount of Irish tennis players but it's great for him to have that experience to play Davis Cup. I mean, it's amazing, he's played 3 or 4 ties, so obviously that's something I'd love to do in the future if I can get good enough.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Champaign Supernova: Clay Thompson's makes his first Challenger semifinal

Clay Thompson is playing with house money.

He's also playing with discarded racquets.

The former #1-ranked college player and 2014 All-American had a bit of a rough go of it coming out of UCLA. He started last summer with a wild card to the Newport ATP tournament, but got trounced by former USC star Steve Johnson. He then failed to qualify for any of the seven Challengers he entered, and won only 3 main draw Futures matches. Thompson finished 2014 ranked #1612.

This year was going a little better for him, at least at the Futures level. He reached a quarterfinal in March, then in his next tournament, in June, he won a Futures in Mexico. This summer, he reached a semifinal and final at Futures in Illinois, but he still struggled at the Challenger level, falling in the first or second round of qualifying in all five tournaments he played.

After losing 4&2 to Stefan Kozlov in Charlottesville qualies, Thompson's coach, Scott Bailey, decided his charge needed a change. So when they got to Knoxville last week, they rummaged through a pile of donation racquets and found three that they decided could work. Although he lost a tight match in the second round of qualies to Henri Laaksonen, he's playing the tennis of his life at the Champaign Challenger. He qualified, won two rounds to reach the quarterfinals, and today upset #2 seed Austin Krajicek 4-6 7-5 6-3 to reach the semifinals where he'll face Laaksonen again.

"To beat two players back-to-back [Krajicek and Blaz Rola] who I really consider to be solid ATP-level players is a real boost to my confidence," said Thompson. "The whole consensus with me and my team, pretty much my entire career was that I had the talent, I had the physical attributes to do it, it's just a matter of getting my head in the right place, making sure my habits were good.

"I'm so thankful to everyone who supported me, even when I was 2000 in the world this time last year and everyone was like 'yeah, he's got a good game but there are a lot of other problems with him.'"

When asked what he was thinking after the first set, Thompson said he was surprisingly in a good place. "I felt that I was not playing particularly well, and I was still in the match. On his service games, I was like, 'I can play with this guy. I can break this guy.'" From then on, Thompson, combined his massive serve with a more solid backhand, excellent put-away volleys, and sometimes deadly forehand to take control of the match. And he definitely kept the crowd entertained with his on-court presence.

"I would prefer to come off the court and have 100 people come up to me and say, 'That I paid good money for.' I would take that over being Top 100 in the world," Thompson said. "I just want to come out and give everyone a good show. That's fun for me. Just the thrill of competing is what I go for." Asked whether he had left everything out on the court all week, Thompson said, "Definitely. And that's something that I can't say I've always done in the past. So that's a real stepping stone for me."

The Thompson/Krajicek match was the lone quarterfinal contest that had no impact on the USTA Pro Circuit Australian Open Wild Card Challenge (USTAPCAOWCC). Krajicek is likely already safe for the main draw, and a title would have left no doubt. Thompson, should he win the title, would be tied in the standings with Noah Rubin but the New Yorker would win the tiebreak based on a higher ranking -- Thompson would be a measly 3 ATP points behind. While perhaps disappointing for him, it means he has less pressure than the two other Americans left in the draw.

In the top half of the draw, Thompson's former UCLA teammate, junior Mackenzie McDonald had a relatively straightforward 7-5 6-1 win over Mitchell Krueger, who was also in the USTAPCAOWCC running.

"I think this place owes it to the Bruins after we lost our NCAA final here" in 2013, the #461-ranked McDonald said with a smile. McDonald said he was following the score in Thompson's match while he was on court against Krueger. "I knew when match point came, [Thompson] was going to do something crazy. So I had to be ready to stay focused on my match and make sure I wasn't in the middle of a point when that was happening."

Taylor Fritz signs an autograph after his win.
(c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
In the night match, Taylor Fritz saved 5 break points in the first game of the match, and from there lost only 3 games in a 6-1 6-2 dismantling of top seed Malek Jaziri, who seemed to struggle with some sort of illness, stopping play at one point to splash water on his face from the bucket of drinks on the sideline. But Jaziri struggled far more with Fritz's blistering power and hustling defense.

What was going through Fritz's mind during that 10+ minute first game? "Man, if I keep having games like this, I'm going to miss Thursday Night Football."

So on Friday evening, Fritz and McDonald will be playing for a lot in their semifinal. Whichever one wins the battle of the Californians will play in Saturday's final. A win on Saturday and that young man will be in his first Grand Slam main draw in January. A loss on Saturday, and Rubin will have the wild card.

(The two players have played once before, in January at the USA F2 Futures on the USC campus. Fritz won 6-3 6-4.)

In the first match of the day, Eric Quigley came into Wednesday still alive in the USTAPCAOWCC, and was looking good up a set against Laaksonen. But the 23-year-old Finland-born Swiss came back with a vengeance, winning the last two sets 6-0 6-1 to reach his second semifinal of this three-tournament indoor swing.

Laaksonen started out sluggish, while Quigley continued the fine play that got him into the quarterfinals. Then everything changed, and fast. The second set was a blur: Laaksonen's error count dwindled as he won 100% of his first serve points and 100% of Quigley's 2nd serve points. In fact, Quigley won only 8 points the whole set.

The third set read 6-1 but it was much more competitive early on. Quigley got to deuce in Laaksonen's first service game and reached break point on Laaksonen's second service game, but a steely inside-in forehand from Laaksonen landed plum on the line and two points later he held for 2-1. Laaksonen broke Quigley in the next game and from there used his excellent movement to frustrate an increasingly aggressive Quigley, whose errors continued to mount.

Laaksonen has gone 20-7, including qualifying matches, since coming to the US in September to play Challengers. He has improved his ranking from #355 to a provisional #257, within shot of the Australian Open qualies. "That was the goal in September when I came here," said Laaksonen, prior to scouting the Thompson/Krajicek match. "I knew it was going to be difficult. I'm getting closer but I still have to win matches to be sure." A win against Thompson would get him to ~#231.

And after Champaign, to help seal the deal, Laaksonen will be traveling to Waco, Texas to play the USA F34 Futures there. Other Champaign contestants heading there include Daniel Nguyen and Sekou Bangoura.

Oh, and Clarence "Clay" Thompson. As Thompson put it, "I'm going to ride this wave for as long as possible."

Surf's up.

David O'Hare: the Irish Tiger

This afternoon I had the pleasure to speak with David O'Hare, a 25-year-old Irishman currently ranked #265 in the world in doubles (he has been trading off the #1 Irish doubles spot with Sam Barry). O'Hare, a tall (6'4") big-serving righty, spent four years as a University of Memphis Tiger, where he teamed with Joe Salisbury (GBR) to make up the best doubles pair in school history. (At one point in their senior season they were the #3-ranked team in the country.)

O'Hare has won 9 Futures doubles titles (6 with Salisbury, 2 with Barry and 1 with recently retired countryman James Cluskey). He and Salisbury today beat Dean O'Brien and Ruan Rolofse 6-3 7-6(1) to reach their second team Challenger semifinal of 2015 (O'Hare also reached one with Cluskey). The win provided some measure of revenge for O'Hare, who lost with Cluskey to the South Africans earlier this year in Davis Cup.

I talked with O'Hare about his tennis journey from Dublin to Memphis, his nascent pro career, the state of Irish tennis, and the unique sport of hurling.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

6 Americans reach Champaign Challenger quarterfinals

Clay Thompson. ©Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
It's become an adage on the men's tennis tour: marriage works. That certainly is the case for Mitchell Krueger who took last week off for a wedding in Texas (his sister's, not his) rested and rarin' to go. On Wednesday afternoon at the Champaign Challenger -- the final North American challenger of 2015 -- he upset #6 seed JP Smith 7-5 7-6(3) to reach the quarterfinals. The win will lift his ranking to around #225 in the world, a career high and very likely good enough to get him directly into qualies at the Australian Open. That's a big milestone in any player's career.

"I'm really happy with how I played today," said Krueger. "It's always tough playing a guy like [Smith] indoors, on a faster surface." The players traded breaks in the second set and each saved additional break points prior to the tiebreaker. "The good thing about a tiebreaker is you only need one or two return points to get a lead. You don't need to win four [return] points to win the game. I thought I served well at the end when I really needed to."

The week away from the tour may have helped put him over the top. "I played, I think, 8 weeks in a row. I was still feeling fresh mentally -- or as fresh as you can -- but a week off always does wonders, and especially a week off at home, with your family." Krueger noted that he hit with the TCU men's team while in Fort Worth.

Of course, even better than Australian Open qualies would be a main draw entry into Melbourne. That's still very much on the table for the man they call Kruegs, as it is for with 3 other Americans who won their second round matches: Taylor Fritz, Eric Quigley, and Mackenzie McDonald. If any of them wins the tournament, that player will win the USTA Pro Circuit Australian Open Wild Card Challenge (USTAPCAOWCC). If none of them wins Champaign, Noah Rubin will get the wild card thanks to his Charlottesville title.

Two other Americans are still in the Champaign main draw: #2 seed Austin Krajicek and qualifier Clay Thompson. Neither of them are candidates for the aforementioned wild card, however. Krajicek, who beat fellow big-serving, aggressive lefty Adrien Bossel 7-6(3) 6-3 in a match featuring just one break of serve, would move up to ~#85 with a title, giving him direct entry into the Melbourne main draw and giving the wild card to Rubin.

Krajicek saved all 3 break points he faced on Wednesday, a day after saving all 9 he faced against Raymond Sarmiento. "I was just able to serve well, make first serves on those points. Sometimes you get a little bit lucky on some of those, but you have to." Krajicek has had a nice run this fall, notwithstanding two third-set tiebreak Challenger losses. He reached the quarterfinals at the ATP 500 in Tokyo and broke into the Top 100 for the first time. "That's been a huge goal of mine for a long time. I'm excited moving forward. I think I'm moving in the right direction and improving every week."

Then there's Thompson. The 23-year-old former UCLA Bruin had failed to qualify in his first 12 attempts at the Challenger level prior to this week (he did get a main draw wild card to last year's Dallas Challenger). In his final opportunity of 2015, he won his first two matches (including a comprehensive win over the dangerous Stefan Kozlov) to set up a meeting with Brit David Rice in the final round of qualies. There he went up 5-1 in the third set but started to feel dizzy on court. Rice won 4 games in a row and Thompson asked the chair umpire if he could sit down, which the umpire allowed.

"I felt really bad for David because that kind of was a stop in the play when he had all the momentum," said Thompson.

Thompson then won the last two games of the match to finally qualify for a challenger. In Tuesday night's premier match, he beat former Illini Dennis Nevolo in an entertaining, dramatic match that went to a third-set tiebreak. Challenger win #1. And then tonight, in by far his biggest pro win ranking-wise, he beat former Ohio State Buckeye Blaz Rola 7-6(4) 6-3, saving all five break points he faced. Challenger win #2.

When asked what has made the difference in his play, Thompson said, "I think my groundies have definitely improved but I think just staying focused -- I think that's what I've really harnessed these past two days," said Thompson. "The energy has been great but I've just really been intense with my focus. In the past I'd kind of get spacey and kind of go 'la da da da da.' Me skipping around, that helps me get focused. I think that's a milestone for me."

Unfortunately for Thompson, a Champaign title would leave him tied in the USTAPCWCC with Rubin, but ranking would fall just a few points below Rubin's, giving the latter the wild card. But it's hard to imagine he'd be anything but thrilled with a title.

Anyway, back to the wild card candidates:

  • To begin the day, 18-year-old Fritz slew the American Slayer, Dan Evans, who had won six straight matches, all against Americans, coming into Wednesday. Fritz overcame a rough second set in which he was having breathing difficulties to beat the Knoxville champion 6-2 3-6 6-4. Fritz found his energy in the third set, and was glad to be serving second, because it meant he would serve first after changeovers. "I got to serve rested and not tired at all," he said. "And so if I got an easy enough hold, I could focus on breaking. And I just got that one break and told myself, 'Just hang on to it. Don't kill [yourself] trying to break again, just conserve the energy, focus on the service games and get it done.'" Fritz had to save three break points at 3*-2 in the third, but once he passed that Rubicon, the match was in the bag. 
Eric Quigley. ©Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
  • Fritz's fellow top-200 teen, 17-year-old Frances Tiafoe, had a rougher time of it against former University of Kentucky star Quigley. Tiafoe lost focus often in the match, complaining frequently about line calls and seemingly astonished at #327-ranked Quigley's high level of play ("I'm playing Novak," Tiafoe lamented deep in the third set after a terrific defensive point by Quigley). The win marks just the 26-year-old Quigley's second-ever challenger quarterfinal. Quigley said he played well in both Charlottesville and Knoxville, but came up "a little short in the first rounds." Quigley continued, "I knew my game was there. It was just a matter of a few points."
  • To kick off the evening, 20-year-old McDonald caught a bit of a break. He lost the first set 6-2 to Ryan Harrison but Harrison called the trainer after the third game of the match for a back issue. Harrison was unable to sustain his level in the second set, while McDonald started playing what USTA coach Brad Stine calls "Mackie Ball," flying around on court and hitting his beautifully clean, flat ground strokes. He won the second set 6-1, at which point Harrison retired. The match was perhaps most notable for McDonald's sporting of a mustache -- he and his UCLA teammates are participating in Movember. (You can donate here.)

In other action, top seed Malek Jaziri beat Daniel Nguyen 7-5 7-6(5) to set up a meeting with Fritz (the 4th American teen he'll have faced during this indoor swing); Jaziri and Krajicek are the sole seeds remaining in the draw. And in perhaps the highest quality match of the day, Swiss #3 Henri Laaksonen continued his standout American swing by beating defending finalist Frederik Nielsen 3-6 7-6(6) 7-6(3).

Those two non-Americans will have plenty to say about how the USTAPCAOWCC plays out. And so will the six Americans who had great -- and in at least one case, career-changing -- wins on Wednesday.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Samantha Crawford: the Ultimate Wild Card

"Everyone has their own path, and it's not a straight shot forward. Sometimes you take a few steps forward, sometimes you've got to take a step back to take another step forward. That's the game of tennis." - Kathy Rinaldi on Samantha Crawford, April 2011

Wild card (n): A person ... whose influence is unpredictable or whose qualities are uncertain.

The term "wild card" comes from games such as poker that combine skill and chance. A wild card introduces additional levels of strategy and unpredictability to an already complex situation.

In tennis, it's hard to imagine anyone who better defines the term "wild card" than Samantha Crawford. The term has defined her opportunities, and achievements, for her entire career.

Today in Scottsdale, Arizona, Crawford secured the USTA's wild card for the 2016 Australian Open. Much like with her previous big career milestones, she came from seemingly nowhere to capture a highly sought-after prize. 

Samantha Crawford is the ultimate wild card.

This phenomenon started back in the juniors. In 2010 Crawford, a 15-year-old from Atlanta, won her first big junior tournament, the Eddie Herr 16s. She got into the main draw as a wild card.

It continued the following spring, when Crawford, upset Grace Min to reach the final of the 2011 USTA International Spring Championships, a Grade 1 tournament in Carson. It was the first time she had contested anything above a Grade 4. She faced Madison Keys in the final, and she won in straight sets. And yes, she was a wild card.

Samantha Crawford at 2014 Quebec City. © Jonathan Kelley
The next year and a half was up and down for Crawford -- some decent junior results but nothing earth-shattering, but also a random run to the final of the $50K ITF event in Yakima, Washington, where she lost in three sets to Shelby Rogers. That summer, she was #2 seed at the 2012 USTA Girls' National Championships, making her a decent bet to win the US Open women's singles main draw wild card, but fell in the quarterfinals to Brooke Austin, 7-5 in the third. 

As a consolation, Crawford received a wild card into the 2012 US Open women's qualifying tournament. And she qualified -- the only wild card to do so that year. (In the main draw, she lost 6-3 7-6(6) to Laura Robson, who subsequently beat Kim Clijsters in the latter's last career singles match.)

The next week, in the girls' draw, Crawford beat #11 seed Belinda Bencic in the second round (7-5 in the third) then beat Sachia Vickery 6-3 in the third, a match in which she was served a bagel in the first set and in which she had to be wheeled off court following her victory due to extremely tough conditions. She got a reprieve in the quarterfinals as Yulia Putintseva, who had beaten her in the previous year's junior Open, wasn't given medical clearance to play. And then she beat Antonia Lottner (4) and Anett Kontaveit (12) and was the 2012 US Open Girls' Singles Champion.

As a wild card.

Let's pause a moment to talk about Samantha Crawford, the player. Crawford is tall (6'2" they say), and she has a big serve, and she hits big, flat shots. She's not the best mover out there and she's prone to unforced errors (it comes with the game style). She's exactly the type of player who can catch lightning in a bottle. Ride her big serve to some big wins and ride those big wins to a comfortable living inside the Top 100. But Crawford seems to have lacked two things: a killer instinct, and consistency. She can finish points like nobody's business, but not necessarily matches. And she can do great at a tournament, but can't seem to put two great tournaments in near-proximity together.

Her first full year on the pro circuit was disappointing. She finished 2013 at #310 in the world. Only twice was she able to string together back-to-back match wins, once in a WTA qualifying event and once at a $25K. She also had some injury issues in the middle of the year, keeping her out of US Open qualies. 

2014 was far better: she reached 3 ITF semifinals in the first half of the year and was getting drubbed far less frequently; her losses were more likely to come in three sets last year, compared to straight sets in 2013. But her year-end ranking was only #293, a mere 17 spots higher than the year before.

Then came 2015. Crawford started out the year great, reaching the final of her first tournament, a $25K in Plantation, Florida -- only her second pro final. A few months later, her third career final: another $25K, in Raleigh, N.C.

A couple of months later and it was time for the USTA's US Open Wild Card Challenge: three $50Ks, whoever compiled the most points in two of them gets the coveted golden ticket. Crawford lost in the first round of Stockton. She then lost in the first round of Sacramento. When all was said and done, Crawford needed a final at the last event, in Lexington. She advanced to the quarters, where she went down a set to Jennifer Brady. She won that match, but in the semis went down a set to Julie Coin. In the second set, with tens of thousands of dollars of first-round US Open prize money on the line, she got it to a tiebreak, won that 7-5, and went on to win the third set 6-2.

Hello, wild card.

Things have gone pretty well for Crawford since then. Her first WTA quarterfinal in Quebec (in which she held a set-and-a-break lead against defending champion Mirjana Lucic-Baroni before falling in three sets) helped to counterbalance five first- and second-round ITF losses. 

But when the final stretch of the season rolled around, and the USTA's Australian Open Wild Card Challenge was upon us, things weren't looking so hot. Instead of playing the first leg in Macon, Georgia, she was up in Toronto playing indoors (she lost second round to eventual champion Jovana Jaksic). She played the second leg in Waco, Texas, but won only 3 games against Julia Boserup. Meanwhile, Nicole Gibbs and Anna Tatishvili had each reached a final and a quarterfinal, meaning only a title in Scottsdale would secure the wild card for Crawford.

Unseeded in Scottsdale, she would need to win her first pro singles title to capture that wild card and participate in the main draw of an overseas Grand Slam for the first time.

In the first round, she went down a set and 0-4 to Kristie Ahn. She got it back to 4-4 but was broken again and faced two match points at 4-5*. She won 4-6 7-6(6) 6-3.

In the semis, she went down a set to Macon champion Rebecca Peterson. At 4*-5 30-40 in the second set she again faced match point. She won 4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(2).

Finally, the final. The match started Sunday but was interrupted until today by rain (really?! In Scottsdale?!). Crawford won the first set, but dropped the middle set to Waco champion Viktorija Golubic. Crawford went up two breaks (3*-0) early in the third, but then started to falter, got broken, and suddenly it was 3*-2 0-30 and uh oh.

But really, uh oh for Golubic, who wouldn't win another game, actually tried a surprise underhand serve toward the end (Crawford hit a return winner), and fell 6-2. 

And there it was. Samantha Crawford won her first pro singles title, and secured her place in the Australian Open.

As a wild card.

Of course.

Thanks to Colette Lewis of Tennis Kalamazoo and her great archives, without which this article would not have been possible.

Monday, November 9, 2015

New USA Career-High Rankings, Oct.26 - Nov. 9, 2015

Periodically I will bring you a list of USAmerican players who have reached a new career-high ranking (CHR) in the previous weeks. This list covers all players in the Top 1000. Any player outside the Top 1000 generally will not be included unless they have earned at least one point since the prior ranking period. See all the CHR posts.

This here is the penultimate new CHR update for 2015. I'll post a final one in a few weeks. Enjoy!

  • If the ranking was a new career high, it will be noted in bold
  • If it tied his or her previous career high, it will be noted with an asterisk.* 
  • If it marks his or her debut in the ranking it will be noted in red.

New ATP Career-High Rankings, October 26-November 9, 2015

Player name
10/26/15 ranking
11/2/15 ranking
11/9/15 ranking
Previous CHR

Date achieved
Jack Sock
Steve Johnson
Austin Krajicek
Jared Donaldson
Dennis Novikov
Frances Tiafoe
Taylor Fritz
Tommy Paul
Deiton Baughman
Michael Mmoh
Peter Kobelt
Mackenzie McDonald
Wil Spencer
Noah Rubin
Ernesto Escobedo
Alexios Halebian
Eric Johnson
Nathan Pasha
Winston Lin
Dennis Uspensky
Gonzales Austin
Robert Galloway
Nicolas Podesta
Max David Schnur
Maksim Tikhomirov
John Lamble
Anderson Reed
Nathaniel Lammons


Jack and Steve: These guys had just tremendous European indoor swings. Jack Sock reached the final of Stockholm 250 and the semis of Basel 500, beating three Top 15 players along the way. He lost to guys ranked 5 and 3 in the world, respectively. Steve Johnson paralleled Sock's success with a final at Vienna 500 and Valencia 50, beating two Top 20 players along the way. He had excruciatingly close three-set losses to guys ranked 8 and 24 in the world, respectively. Both guys will be hoping to get ready for the huge opportunities that await them in January: Sock has nothing to defend and could be a Top 24 seed at the Australian Open, while Johnson has a shot at a seeding at a major for the first time.

Those teens AGAIN: 9 of them on this list. Yeesh! The biggest story is Noah Rubin, who won the Charlottesville Challenger, vaulting him into the lead for the USTA's Australian Open wild card. His opponent in the final, Tommy Paul, is getting close to a direct entry into Australian Open qualifying. Jared Donaldson, of course, is a sure thing to get there, as is Taylor Fritz (the new #2 American teen) and likely Frances Tiafoe (a couple of wins in Knoxville and/or Champaign will ice it). Ernesto Escobedo had a big run to the semis of the Monterrey, Mexico Challenger, losing a tough one to top seed Victor Estrella Burgos. Deiton Baughman got to the semis of a Futures in Houston, where he had to retire against eventual titlist Michaol Mmoh. And Dennis Uspensky got his first completed match, and point, since July at a Futures in Spain.

Breakthroughs: Eric Johnson is now in the Top 700 with a run to the ISR F15 semis. Gonzales Austin is Top 1000 thanks to a run to the GRE F8 semis. And newly Top 1500 are Maksim Tikhomirov (TUN F27 QF, TUN F28 SF), John Lamble (ISR F14 QF), Robert Galloway (point in Turkey), and Anderson Reed (point in Venezuela).

New WTA Career-High Rankings, October 26-November 9, 2015

Player name
10/26/15 ranking
11/2/15 ranking
11/9/15 ranking
Previous CHR
Date achieved
Samantha Crawford
Kristie Ahn
Robin Anderson
Nadja Gilchrist
Usue Arconada
Alexa Graham
Julia Jones
Raveena Kingsley
Sofia Kenin
Jaeda Daniel
Amy Zhu
Sophie Chang
Nicole Coopersmith
Yuki Kristina Chiang
Kaitlyn McCarthy
Ena Shibahara
Ashley Kratzer
Jessica Wacnik


Rock Hill & Florence: Two $25Ks in South Carolina toward the end of October inform our November 2nd and 9th CHRs. In Rock Hill, Amy Zhu (University of Michigan) qualified and reached the quarters with a win over #4 seed (and former WTA #11) Shahar Peer, before falling to eventual champion Jennifer Brady. Raveena Kingsley (WC) also won a round, beating #2 seed Cagla Buyukakcay. In Florence, unseeded Robin Anderson upset the #2 seed (also Buyukakcay) on her way to the semis, where she lost to eventual champion Grace Min. Three qualifiers also are on our list: Sophie Chang, who then upset #7 seed Paula Ormaechea; Sofia Kenin, who then beat Chang to reach the quarterfinals (where she lost to Anderson); and Kaitlyn McCarthy, who also reached the quarters, beating #4 seed Elitsa Kostova along the way.

Macon & Waco: Following that, the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Challenge got underway with two $50Ks. Anderson beat #3 seed Sachia Vickery in Macon, Georgia before falling to fellow former UCLA Bruin Brady. And last week in Waco Texas, Kristie Ahn won two matches before falling to fellow former USC Trojan Nicole Gibbs.

Canada: Finally, two $50s in Canada. In Saguanay, Quebec, Nadja Gilchrist got to her first $50K semifinal and Samantha Crawford got to the quarters. Both lost to eventual champion Jovana Jaksic. The following week in Toronto, Ahn got to the quarters and Crawford got to the second round. Again, both lost to Jaksic.

Australia: A tournament won by an American (Asia Muhammad), the $50K in Canberra was also notable for the breakthrough of Jessica Wacnik, the former Boston College Golden Eagle (originally from the Chicago area - woo!) who qualified and reached the quarterfinals. Welcome to the WTA rankings, Jessica! (Thanks to Jason Huntington for noting her initial absence from the list!)

Finally, Yuki Kristina Chiang has been playing the Australian circuit for the past 5 weeks. She qualified successfully for 2 tournaments and was Lucky Loser in two others. She also reached her first quarterfinal at the $25K level, in Brisbane.