Monday, March 28, 2016

Juki's Junior Week in Review, March 21-March 27, 2016

Chinese players sweep Grade 1 Sarawak Chief Minister’s Cup Titles

Held on the island of Borneo, the 27th Sarawak Chief Minister’s Cup saw a pair of 16-year-old Chinese players take home the singles’ titles. It was top seed Yibing Wu who claimed the boys’ trophy, defeating Brit Alastair Gray in the final 6-2 5-7 6-3. This was his second consecutive Grade 1 title after winning the G1 held in Thailand last month. Currently #16 in the junior rankings, Wu should move up a few more spots now with a seeding all but guaranteed for the next two junior grand slams.  The runner-up Gray has enjoyed an impressive and consistent 2016, reaching the QF or better of his last four tournaments including a title last month at an indoor G4 tournament in the Netherlands. After starting the year outside the top-130, the 17-year-old is now well inside the Top 100 and will be one to keep an eye on at upcoming tournaments.

The girls’ draw saw a major surprise as China’s Zhima Du, an unseeded player, upset top seed and world #9 Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Canada 6-3 6-3. Ranked only #160, Du has shown promising form lately, winning a G3 tournament in Shenzhen and qualifying into a Chinese $10K Pro event two weeks ago. The 16-year-old Du is one of several upcoming players from Yunnan province in southwest China, where a substantial number of ethnic minority groups live. Du herself belongs to the small Musuo ethnic group, which is associated with Tibetan Buddhism. Her title run in Borneo, over one of the world’s top juniors, should make her one to watch throughout the year. This was the first stop for Robillard-Millette in an Asian swing that will include pro events in Japan and the ITF Junior Masters in China next month. The 16-year-old lefty has had a troubled start in 2016, crashing out early at both tournaments in Australia.

South American Junior Tour closes with GB1 Campeonata Sudamericano Individual

Held in Mar del Plata, Argentina the red clay GB1 tournament is open only to competitors from the South American region. The Brazilian 18-year-old Filipe Meligeni Alvescame took home the boys’ title after taking out 4 Argentinian players, including second seeded Genaro Alberto Olivieri in the final 6-2 6-7(1) 6-4. Meligeni Alves, the nephew of 1999 French Open semifinalist Fernando Meligeni, fought three multiple tight three set matches, including a 6-3 6-7(5) 7-6(5) SF victory over 16-year-old Camilo Ugo. While Meligeni Alves’ victory came after a difficult stretch, runner-up Genaro Olivieri continues an extremely impressive run of form. Currently at #15 in the junior rankings, Olivieri’s recent success includes a SF at GA Copa Gerdau and QF at G2 Argentina Cup.

Dominating in the girls’ draw was 17-year-old Peruvian Dominique Schaefer, who only dropped 15 games in her five matches. Schaefer has previously represented the United States but her decision to switch to playing for her birth country has already provided her with the chance to play Fed Cup. Schaefer faced her toughest match of the tournament in the final taking out 15-year-old Colombian Emiliana Arango 6-3 6-3. Arango, who trains in Florida, posses a topspin heavy game which has grabbed the attention of IMG and Trans World Sport, and it will be interesting to watch her game develop over the coming years.

Spain and Italy play host to Grade 2 clay tournaments

The first Spanish ITF Junior tournament was held last week in Vinaros and featured a surprise winner in the boys’ draw as Alexandru Vasile Manole of Romania claimed the title over sixth seeded Elliot Benchetrit of France 4-6 6-2 6-2. Ranked only #362 in the world, the title is the most significant of the 17-year-old’s career, and included a victory over junior #40 Eduard Guell Bartrina in the second round. In the girls’ draw there was no surprise as top seed and recent Australian Open semifinalist Rebeka Masarova took home the title with an easy 6-1 6-1 victory over young Serbian Olga Danilovic. This was only the second tournament for Masarova following her Australian Open run, and she only dropped one set on the way to title. While only winning two games in the final, it was still an encouraging week for 15-year-old lefty Danilovic, the daughter of former NBA player Predrag Danilovic.

In Florence, Italy the singles finals were held on Monday, as the tournament took Easter Sunday off. It was an all-Italian boys’ final in which Riccardo Balzerani defeated Mattia Frinzi 6-1 6-2. The fifth seeded Balzerani, ranked #121 in the world, never dropped a set on his route to the title. With decent results in Australia and Croatia earlier this year, Balzerani looks better than his ranking and could be a dark horse through the European clay season. An Italian also claimed the girls’ title as hard-hitting Ludmilla Samsonova knocked out top-seed Georgia Andreea Craciun of Romania 6-4 6-2. The powerful Italian, who formerly represented Russia, has shown flashes of greatness at both the junior and pro levels but has had inconsistent results. A needed title should help her confidence and if firing her game can be dangerous against anybody.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The differences between college and the pros, by Beau Treyz

On the Rise contributor Beau Treyz has been slugging it out in the Futures over the past few months. For his second column, he discusses the differences he's found between his pro career and college tennis. Follow Beau on Twitter at @B_Treyz and his podcast at 

Here’s the biggest difference between college tennis and professional tennis: in pros there is no lineup and there is no graduation date. Everyone is your competition, and no one cares about you. At most colleges the athletes have great facilities, capable coaches, a steady diet and the comfort of both staying in one place (campus) and being highly respected and liked around town. Futures level tennis players typically don’t have coaches, getting a practice court can be tough depending on the venue of the tournament, the food is hit or miss (again depending on the country you’re in), and, for the most part, the tournament directors don’t really care that you’re in their event. Fans are pretty much nonexistent, so getting energy from the crowd is no longer an option. Those are the basic, and obvious differences between the two; here's a more personal appraisal. Try this:

In college my biggest concern was keeping my scholarship and my spot in the starting lineup; I was not focused on improving. I knew how good the guys were on my team, and I knew what kind of recruits the coaches were going to bring in; all I wanted to do was outperform those guys. In my opinion that kind of thinking is deadly to a player’s improvement, and a trap a lot of college players fall into. But when your education is riding on your scholarship it’s hard to see anything else.

I felt like I was maintaining my level in college more than I was improving it. The pro circuit is like a cruise ship buffet: the competition ranges from young up and comers to college guys like me, to Djokovic and Federer. You never know who’s going to show up in the draw, you have to be ready to compete every match. I prefer this way of competing though because the focus is on improving and pushing yourself, not being comfortable playing your position on the team. If you’re just starting out then you have to qualify and then you get your shot at a main draw guy, and then if you’re too good for Futures you can take on the Challenger Tour and then the ATP Tour; there is no end to the competition out here, whereas in college I felt stuck. I felt like no matter what I did the coach already had the lineup set in his mind, so what was in it for me to bust my ass and still play #6? Out here there are no lineups and you can go as far as your skill and determination allow you to.

I’ve been in Egypt now for the past six weeks, and it’s been a nice change to being on the road. There’s an adequate gym here, it’s got a beach and swimming pools to relax in, courts are hard but not impossible to get, and staying in one spot does help you get comfortable and play better. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how to manage my game, my body, and my head when I’m competing for six straight weeks.I spent the first week of February lifting a little more than normal, but it left me sore and slow on match day, a loss. Bummer. One of my twelve weeks gone. Ok, the next week I did more running; doing 30-meter sprints I felt a little pull in my hamstring that hindered my flexibility and movement on court, coupled with a tough draw first round; another loss, another week gone. Shit. That’s two weeks and one thousand dollars down, a few lessons vaguely learned. So the third week I decided to spend more time on court and try meditating once in the morning and once before bed. I thought maybe I was distracted and getting my head straight would help me compete better. I gave it a shot. It didn’t really seem to help; was I even doing it right? The meditation app on my iPhone wasn’t the best teacher. I lost again. Fuck. That’s three weeks. Now it’s building on itself and almost one of my three months is gone and I haven’t gotten any rankings points and every adjustment I’ve made has failed.

But now I’m thinking, "I only gave each new adjustment a week to work ... what if I had spent two weeks lifting more? Would I be stronger now and have a better backhand because of it?" If something isn’t working right away, I feel like I have to change it; there’s no one out here to tell me I’m on the right path. So how long am I supposed to wait to see results? Do I relax more? Spend time with guys having a beer at night and talking, or should I go to my room and spend an hour every night stretching before bed, trying to focus on tennis all the time? I have to trust myself. But man, it takes time to know yourself and time is the one thing I don’t have enough of. I’m hoping these weeks will pay off before I get back to New York, but what should I be pushing for? Points or improving my game?

Another big change from being a Husker is that no one cares about me anymore. The Brazilian guy that I’m playing first round doesn’t even know what college tennis is, and I don't know what he’s been doing in Brazil. When the Nebraska Huskers played the Michigan Wolverines, I knew who they’d beaten, which guys on their team were injured, so going into a dual match I know a bit about what was coming my way. I got used to walking around campus feeling proud. I loved wearing that ‘N’ on my chest. People respected me for being a Husker tennis player. Out here I’m just another guy paying an entry fee. There are no fans at the events I’ve played; just other players who are waiting for you to get off the court so they can practice. They don’t care who’s winning unless it’s close or someone starts yelling and throwing rackets. Unless you make a scene you’re just another guy. Getting used to not mattering to other people has been ego-busting, but liberating too.

Being out here alone has given me a feeling of control and freedom that I never experienced in college. I can find the warm up routine, and the conditioning routines that work best for me instead of doing the generic ones the whole team had to do in college. And on the court, because I don’t have to represent anyone but myself, I can compete and behave any way I want; I don’t have to worry about rubbing my coach or teammates the wrong way. In college I won many challenge matches against guys higher in the lineup, but I never got to take their spot. I felt like there was a lot of pressure put on us, but the payoff was never really there. That was very demoralizing for me and even pushed me to transfer schools. I always felt that the guys who played at the top of the line up were “safe” from the competition of the rest of us; that no matter what we did, we were never really allowed to go after the guy that played 1. Now the gloves are off. If I want my shot at a guy in the Top 300, I have to qualify for it, but then it’s all mine. There is no protection from coaches out here; I feel no pressure to keep up a fa├žade like I’m a team player or that I don’t want my own goals to come true. As a professional I can compete as hard as I want every day and get exactly what I deserve, or at least close to it.

What has been the biggest adjustment for me going from college tennis to professional tennis is getting used to competing for myself. In college I felt really burdened by trying to impress the coaches and get myself into the lineup; I was constantly checking to see where the coaches were during practice and matches to see if they saw the last shot I hit. It strangled me. When I first got out here, I was playing so free; nobody knew me, nobody was watching me, it was liberating and I played well as a result. As of late it has felt like I’ve gone back to playing and being worried about my spot in the lineup; I’ve been uptight and irritable on court, instead of being focused on improvement and enjoying the freedom. So for these next few weeks I’m going to try and get back to how I felt in South Africa, where every time I got on court was exciting and challenging. I want to get back to the point where I’m sweating through insecurities and playing through my doubts, and overcoming them instead of falling to them like I have been doing lately. I need to remember that I’m out here for me and there is no coach who can take me out of the lineup or criticize my shot selection anymore.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

USA Race to Rio: Pre-Indian Wells Olympics Update

Please note that this table doesn't include the qualifying for Indian Wells. For my previous Road to Rio posts, see here and here. - Jonathan

There are only three months to go until the cut-off for the 2016 US Olympic team, but there is LOTS of tennis left to be played. To start we have Indian Well, Miami, Charleston, and Houston; then come Monte Carlo, Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome; and then we end with the French Open -- which, so long as a player is still in the draw, she or he is theoretically alive for a spot on the team.

On the women's side, Serena and Venus Williams used an Australian Open final and a Kaohsiung title, respectively, to put even more distance on the field at the #1 and #2 spots. The big news was Sloane Stephens' two titles, which helped her leapfrogged Keys for the #3 spot and helped Vandeweghe (325 points), Lepchenko (526), Brengle (663), and the rest even farther back of a potential spot in Rio. It will take a big run at a tournament or two from someone (or an injury) to narrow the gap.

As for the men, it was a great first couple of months for two players: Sam Querrey, who passed Denis Kudla for fourth place, and Taylor Fritz, who vaulted from 10th to sixth. Querrey's win over Fritz in the Acapulco quarterfinals gave him a 308 point lead over the surging youngster.

Meanwhile, with a 740 point lead on second place Jack, John Isner is almost certainly a lock. Sock, Steve Johnson, and Querrey are less than 100 points apart in the 2-4 spots, and all are over 250 points ahead of Kudla. This means that for any of the as-of-now also-rans to catch up, they'd need to win the equivalent of a Houston *and* do a little better than one of the players ahead of them.

See the full database of Americans in the Top 200 and where they stand in their respective races. I believe these are correct, but if you see anything wrong please let me know in comments!

Race to Rio - USA Women as of March 6, 2016
Race to Rio points
1. S. Williams
2. V. Williams
3. Stephens
4. Keys
5. Vandeweghe
6. Lepchenko
7. Brengle
8. McHale
9. Mattek-Sands
10. Gibbs

Race to Rio - USA Men as of March 6, 2016
Race to Rio points
1. Isner
2. Sock
3. Johnson
4. Querrey
5. Kudla
6. Fritz
7. Ram
8. Young
9. Krajicek
10. Smyczek

Monday, March 7, 2016

Juki's Junior Week in Review, Feb. 29-March 6, 2016

Tomas Martin Etcheverry claims second Grade 1 title of year
The South American junior swing moved to Lambare, Paraguay for the Grade 1 Asuncion Bowl, which saw a strong boys field that included eight top-50 juniors. The draw’s top seed was Japanese player Yosuke Watanuki, who moved up to #13 in the junior rankings following last week’s G2 Argentina Cup title. Watanuki survived two tough opening three-set matches but fell in the quarterfinals to American JJ Wolf, the 7th seed. Wolf, a native of Cincinnati, backed up his victory over the #1 seed with a win over 6th seed Gabriel Descamps 6-3 1-6 6-2 to reach the final. This was a strong victory as the tall 16-year old Descamps is major prospect for Brazilian tennis, moving up the rankings quickly over the last six months. Despite losing in the final, Wolff should now be well inside the entry cut-off of future junior grand slams following his run, which could take pressure off his shoulders in the final two events of the South American tour.

Tomas Martina Etcheverry (L) & JJ Wolf (R). Source: El Dia

The player who defeated JJ Wolff was Tomas Martin Etcheverry (@tometcheverry), a 16-year old Argentinian who captured his second G1 title of the year following the Colombian Copa Barranquilla in January. The player from Buenos Aires, who got a chance to hit with Rafael Nadal last month, easily won in the final 6-3 6-1. Etcheverry’s best win in the tournament came against second seeded American Nathan Ponwith in the quarterfinal, surviving the contest 6-7(3) 6-2 6-2. One of the youngest juniors in the Top 50 of the boys' rankings, Etcheverry will surely be one to keep an eye on this year heading into the European season. The doubles champions were the team of Felipe Melgeni Rodrigues Alves of Brazil and Matias Soto of Chile. The Brazilian is the nephew of former French Open semifinalist Fernando Meligeni.

The Asuncion Bowl’s girls draw was limited to only 32 players, which is the first time in several years a G1 tournament has had such a small draw size. Lacking the competitive depth of the boys' field, the American girls who made the trip to Paraguay had enormous success, with three into the semifinals. Reaching the final from the top half was 14-year-old Caty McNally, playing her first tournament of the year. McNally, also from Cincinatti, enjoyed a great U14 career and should be competing for major junior titles soon with her strong forehand. Coming from the bottom half of the draw and into the final was 16-year-old Morgan Coppoc of Oklahoma, who has committed to play college tennis for Georgia. Coppoc has had an under-the-radar rise up the rankings, consistently posting solid results playing tournaments in Central and South America. Coppoc’s age gave her the edge in the final, outlasting McNally 6-4 0-6 7-5; she will move inside the Top 50 of the junior rankings with the title.

Yibing Wu and Baijing Lin claim titles in Thailand
Yibing Wu at the Australian Open.
Photo: Robert Prezioso/Getty Images
The second G1 tournament of the week took place in Nonthaburi, Thailand and was won by two 16-year-olds showing great promise. Top seed in the boys' draw was Yibing Wu of China, who has emerged over the last year as his country’s premier junior boy talent. Prior to this week Wu had only won titles in China, but did have a strong result at Eddie Herr where he reached the QF. Wu went through the draw in Thailand relatively uncontested, dropping one set in the semifinal but wasn’t pushed in any other set he played in the tournament. In the final Wu defeated 17 year-old Uzbek Khumoun Sultanov 6-3 6-2, which should see his junior ranking move inside the Top 20.

The girl’s final featured an interesting match-up between two players who faced off recently at the Australian Open, Baijing Lin of Australia and Lucie Kankova of the Czech Republic. At the Australian Open the two faced each other in the second round, with the Australian wild card coming through 6-4 7-6(4) to advance. Lin, who was born in China and uses the English name Jeanette, went on reach the quarterfinal of her home grand slam where she lost to Sara Tomic in three sets. Facing Kankova in Thailand, the powerful ball striker once again won with a similar scoreline of 6-3 7-5. A major story of the tournament was the run to the semifinals by 13 year-old Himari Sato, a Japanese talent who has excelled in her age group including reaching the semis of Les Petits As in January. The youngster took advantage of a nice draw to win four matches and play Kankova, missing three set points to fall in straight sets. Sato’s run comes a week after Marta Kostyuk’s impressive week in Lithuania, indicating the best 2002 players are already capable of competing with the top juniors.

Two strong tournaments coming up this week

As the South American clay tour moves to Sao Paolo, Brazil for the G1 Banana Bowl, European juniors will clash in the strong indoor G1 Perin Memorial in Croatia. The boys' draw in Brazil is very strong with highly ranked American, German, and Japanese players now in South America preparing for next week’s Grade A event in Porto Alegre. The girls' draw is weaker and the door is open for another great event for the strong American contingent to make deep runs and score upsets. Both 64-player draws in Croatia are strong, with players across Europe looking to score a title as the European clay court season begins.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Discovering the ITA Women's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame

ITA Women's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame entrance
(c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
While covering the Charlottesville Challenger last fall, I took a side trip 120 miles east-southeast to Williamsburg, Virginia to visit a monument to an underappreciated segment of the tennis world: the ITA Women's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame.  I arranged ahead of time to meet with Millie West, the museum's official curator and a legendary figure in the College of William and Mary athletics world, who graciously gave me a tour of the facility and sat down for an interview.

I wasn't sure what to expect; after all, few tennis fans I'd talked to about it had even heard of the facility. Turns out, it's quite nice -- in fact, I'd argue it's a must-see for any fan of tennis history.

The Hall of Fame is located on the second floor of the multi-million dollar McCormack-Nagelsen tennis center at the College of William and Mary. The tennis center is home of the William and Mary Tribe men's and women's tennis teams, and its six indoor courts are also available to the general public. (The Tribe's outdoor courts, about a mile and a half away, are named after West herself.)

The artifacts are nifty, from the Ted Tinling gowns, a couple of cases of shiny trophies (including two of Louise Braugh's four Wimbledon singles trophies), and a library of Billie Jean King-related books. Adorning the walls are photos of all the ITA team and individual champions over the decades and individual displays on each of the 72 inductees, giving you a fascinating tour through (primarily American) women's tennis history.


But how did the Hall of Fame end up in Williamsburg? It's not like William and Mary is particularly noted for its women's tennis heritage, and it's not like tennis was part of the colonial American history that has made this otherwise smallish college town a tourist mecca.

As West tells it, in the 1980s, William & Mary President Paul Verkuil was visiting the University of Georgia, and saw the ITA Men's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame (constructed with financial help from Kenny Rogers ... yes the Kenny Rogers). He asked Dan Magill, the legendary UGA tennis coach and Men's Hall of Fame curator, "Where's the women's hall of fame?" to which Magill replied, "Well we don't have room for it. If you're interested in that, get in touch with David Benjamin," the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's longtime executive director.  Verkuil did just that and in 1988 the ITA gave William and Mary the right to establish the Hall of Fame, putting West in charge. But without much money (beyond some early funds from ITA sponsor Rolex) it was a slow process.

Fast forward a few years. IMG founder Mark McCormack (William and Mary Class of 1951) had expressed a desire to help improve his alma mater's tennis program. He and his wife, former Top 10 pro Betsy Nagelsen, became the major donors that helped the tennis complex and Hall of Fame to finally open together in 1995. After McCormack's death in 2003, Nagelson has continued to be a major Hall of Fame supporter. (Although she's far from the only one. "We've had good friends who've helped us and been very loyal to carry on the spirit and financial end of the Hall of Fame," noted West.)

A trip through an amazing past

The first thing that struck me was how many true legends of women's tennis were represented in the Hall of Fame. For decades, college has been considered a less fruitful route for players serious about a pro career. But in the pre-Open era, when nearly all women still played as amateurs, it was quite common for women -- American women, at least -- to balance higher education with playing at the highest levels.

Helen Wills Moody (University of California Berkeley). Althea Gibson (Florida A&M - an historically black university). Billie Jean King (California State Los Angeles). All of these women went to college while playing grand slams. However, they weren't playing "college tennis" as we know it today, as women's sports were a decided afterthought in the world of intercollegiate athletics. It wasn't until 1958 that Darlene Hard of Pomona College won the first-ever nationally sanctioned intercollegiate tennis championship -- 75 years after the first men's intercollegiate champion, Harvard's Joseph Clark, was crowned. She would go on to win three grand slam singles titles.

In the late 60s and early 70s, women's tennis experienced a sea change: the Open Era started, the WTA was formed, and tennis became more and more internationalized. Despite the passage of Title IX, it became increasingly rare to find female tennis prodigies make their way to college. Why would they, when teenagers were making major finals, and earning a tidy sum in the process?

One of the nice things about the ITA Women's College Tennis Hall of Fame is that it tells so many different stories about women's tennis, and measures success in different ways. Too often, tennis aficionados focus on grand slam singles titles as the sole lens for viewing history. But many of the honorees here didn't play professional tennis, and still had incredible careers in the tennis world.

Here, the march for equality and respect is told. The incomparable Hazel Wightman (University of California, Berkeley, Class of 1911) gets her own corner of the museum. You can learn more about the revolution brought on by Title IX. ("I was a real die-hard about Title IX, I was on the stump every day, and I created a lot of enemies," remembers West.) Read about programs, such as Rollins College in Florida, whose remarkable heydays have since passed.

(Even if you can't make it in person, the Hall of Fame's timeline page is worth perusing.)

Coaches are here, too. In 2012, longtime University of Florida coach Andy Brandi was inducted alongside his most successful player, Lisa Raymond. "It was an honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame," Brandi told me. "I was very fortunate in all those years that I had tremendous players there that made my life and job easy and I was able to accomplish a lot because of them." Brandi said being inducted with Raymond was "icing on the cake." He added, "It was a joy to watch her over those two years, then as a professional continuing her career and success. She's like a daughter to me, so it was very touching to be inducted at the same time."

West recalls the first induction ceremony, in 1995, with fondness. "Well it was classic, really. Because of the two things together -- Mark and Betsy, we had a lot of those charter members back, and it was combined with the [tennis center] opening. Mark's grandfather [Dr. T. J. McCormack] dedicated Blow Gym on our campus, in 1925. So it was very meaningful to him. Mark brought in a lot of tennis pros to do an exhibition. So we had an exhibition, we had the opening, we had a dinner at the Lodge."

The most recent induction took place in November 2014, and featured, among others, current USTA president Katrina Adams.

Inductee Katrina Adams (r) with Betsy Nagesen McCormack of the ITA Women's Tennis Hall of Fame
Posted by Intercollegiate Tennis Association - ITA on Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Erica Perkins Jasper, ITA's Chief Operating Officer, was an assistant coach at William and Mary in the mid-Aughts. "Millie is an unbelievable contributor to women's college athletics. To be around someone like her for two years was incredible. The way she's built up the Hall of Fame makes the ITA and college tennis proud. The memorabilia, the building, it's a beautiful facility. And it's of cool to have the Hall of Fame in such an historic city like Williamsburg."

Every tennis fan would do well to check out the ITA Women's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame. If you're near Williamsburg or plan to be, definitely make a point of it. I guarantee you'll come away with a renewed appreciation for this lamentably overlooked section of our great sport.

(For more photos, check out the On the Rise Facebook album.)