Monday, February 29, 2016

Juki's Junior Week in Review, Feb. 22-28, 2016

Behold: the second installment of On the Rise (a tennis blog) junior tennis correspondent Graham Jung's "Juki's Junior Week in Review." Check out last week's post here. Be sure to follow Graham on Twitter at @juki_tennis!

Despite no top-ten juniors contesting ITF Junior Circuit events this week, it was far from uneventful with in-form players continuing to make headlines. Highlights of the week included Australian Open Junior finalist Jurabek Karimov winning in Russia, ensuring a top-ten junior ranking, while the player Karimov beat in the QF Down Under, Yosuke Watanuki, won in Argentina. Playing in the biggest final of her career on the day of her 18th birthday, Argentine Melany Solange Krywoj captured the girls title in Argentina in a fairytale week. Lastly, 13 year-old Tarbes Champion Marta Kostyuk proved she can transition onto the junior circuit with ease as she reached the final of the ITF event in Lithuania, where the major boys favorite fell in the final. 

Jurabek Karimov continues to make waves in 2016 

Photo L to R: Valeriya Zeleva, Elena Rybakina, Lev Kazakov, Jurabek Karimov
Despite being a major powerhouse in tennis, Russia only hosts a small number of ITF Junior tournaments each year with the Yeltsin Cup being the country’s only G1 event. It is only the second edition of the Yeltsin Cup, held at the impressive Kazan Tennis Academy which hosted the 2013 Universiade Games. Top seed in the boys draw was Uzbek Jurabek Karimov, the recent Australian Open runner-up, who won over the Australian Open crowd with his post-match speech. Entering the tournament ranked #12, a deep run in Kazan would ensure Karimov a top-ten debut in the junior rankings. Karimov was pushed to the absolute limits in his QF against Brit Ryan James Storrie, but survived a third set tiebreak to win 6-2 4-6 7-6(5). The second set of that match would be the only set Karimov would drop as he took home the title with a 6-4 6-3 win over third seed Lev Kazakov.

Perhaps not a name familiar to many before the Australian Open, Karimov’s start to the year has pushed him up to #8 in the world. The Uzbek possesses an aggressive game and will have many watching with interest to see how he progresses through 2016. Winning the doubles title was the Russian team of Philip Klimov/Pavel Kotov, defeating the French team of Dan Added/Maxence Broville in a tight 4-6 7-5 [12-10] match.

A view of the Kazan girls final in a ction
Unlike the boys draw, the girls field seemed more like a national championship with only 7 foreign players in the 48 player draw, none of whom reached the QFs. Top seed in the draw was 15-year-old Olesya Pervushina, currently ranked #13 in juniors, who made the somewhat odd decision to start the year playing weaker South American tournaments instead of the Australian Open where she would have been among the favorites. The tall, powerful Russian has already won a Pro Circuit Satellite title and seemed to be the clear favorite coming into the event. But she struggled in her QF match and fell in her next match to fourth seed Elena Rybakina in two sets. Having defeated the top seed, Rybakina went on to win the title with another straight-set victory in the final over Valeriya Zeleva. The title is the biggest in the 16 year-old’s career and moves her up to #30 in the rankings. Runner-up Zeleva capped off her good week winning the doubles title along side Belarussian Nika Shytkouskaya and moves up to #28 in the rankings.

An extensive gallery of photos from Sunday’s final can be seen on the website:

Yosuke Watanuki sweeps Argentina Cup titles
Held in the city of Cordoba, the Grade 2 Argentina Cup featured diverse fields as players have started to arrive in South America from around the world in preparation for the upcoming Copa Gerdau. Adapting to the red clay quickly, a team of four top Japanese athletes made their mark on the tournament winning 3 of the 4 titles and only just coming up short of a clean sweep. Top seed Yosuke Watanuki, who lost to Karimov in the QF of Australian Open Juniors last month, captured both the singles and doubles at the Cordoba Lawn Tennis Club but faced some tough opposition along the way. Watanuki dropped sets in both his QF and SF matches to Argentine Camilo Ugo Carabelli and American Ezekial Clark, respectively, but went on to win the final easily 6-1 6-2 over Italian Corrado Summaria. The 17-year-old Watanuki teamed up with his younger country mate Toru Horie to win the doubles.

Match point to seal Krywoj’s dream week

The one title not won by a Japanese player was in girls singles, where Argentine Melany Solange Krywoj came home with the trophy on the day of her 18th birthday. Krywoj, who will enter the top-100 for the first time thanks to the win, needed three sets to overcome 15-year-old Ayumi Miyamoto of Japan 6-2 6-7(0) 6-1. Both Krywoj and Miymoto would face off in the doubles final as well, but the team of Miyamoto/Hontama won easily 6-0 6-3. Miyamoto’s double title is notable as she now improves her career doubles record to 84-15, having captured 15 titles in her short career (only just turning 15 in December). Miyamoto’s success has not come only in small tournaments: she reached the doubles SF of last month’s Australian Open as well as winning the doubles title at the Grade A Osaka Mayor’s Cup.

Marta Kostyuk reaches final in Lithuania

The third significant ITF junior circuit title of the week was the Grade 2 Siaulial Open held in Lithuania. The boys draw was headlined by Estonian Kenneth Raisma, back in action after reaching the QF of Australian Open. Unlike Karimov and Watanuki, the Estonian was unable claim the boys title as top seed, falling in the final to Czech Republic’s Filip Duda in two tiebreaks. Ranked over 100 spots lower than Raisma, the 8th seeded Czech upset all three of the players in his path to capture the biggest title of his junior career. The 17 year-old Duda also came away with doubles trophy, partnering with country mate Michael Vrbansky, and will improve from #121 in the world to #74.

The girls draw saw upsets and top seeds fall as Great Britain’s Jodie Anna Burrage defeated 13-year-old wildcard Marta Kostyuk in the final 6-3 6-3. The 16 year-old Burrage dropped a set in her opening match but it was clear sailing afterward capturing the biggest title of her career and the second G2 title in two weeks for British girls. The run to the final for Kostyuk, which included an easy victory over #2 seed Markova, shows the Ukrainian Les Petits As Champion can already compete at the highest levels of the junior tour against older competitors. While Kostyuk has dominated against players her own age, her game style lacks huge offensive weapons, casting doubts over her ability to transition and face bigger, stronger girls. Her balanced style of play, which includes excellent retrieving skills, is proving already successful however and with this run she moves from #825 in the rankings all the way up to #381. The girls doubles title was won by Latvian Deniza Marcinkevica, little sister of pro tennis player Diana Marcinkevica, and her Belarussian partner Kaytarina Paulenka.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Juki's Junior Week in Review, Feb. 15-21, 2016

I invited Graham Jung (aka @juki_tennis) to contribute to On the Rise (a tennis blog). Juki is a great follow on Twitter, with a particular interest in junior and ITF Pro Circuit events, and Asian and lower-ranked American players. Please enjoy his first deep dive for OtR (atb) into the week that was in junior tennis!

Emily Appleton & Guiherme Wojciechowski Osorio
Photo Credit: Federacion de Tenis de Chile
The highest grade ITF Junior Circuit held this week was the G2 Copa FTCh in Santiago, Chile. The Chilean stop is week 6 of 10 of the South American clay court junior tour which will close next month with the GA Copa Gerdau in Porto Alegra, Brazil. Without any top juniors in attendance both the boys & girls draws were open and saw top seeds fall in early rounds while players ranked outside the Top 250 prevailed to claim the titles. In the boys draw the victor was 17 year-old Brazilian Guilherme Wojciechowski Osorio, ranked #272, grabbing the biggest title of his junior career. As an unseeded player in the 48-player draw Osorio needed to win six matches, defeating three seeds along his way to the trophy. Osorio's toughest match came against the youngest player he faced, as 14 year-old standout Thiago Agustin Tirante of Argentina pushed Osorio to a third set tiebreak in the third round. Tirante, the Junior Orange Bowl U14 Champion, is already proving to be a tough competitor against his older opponents at the ITF level. In the final Osorio, who trains in Portugal at the Felner Tennis Academy, defeated unseeded 16 year-old Federico Iannaccone of Italy 6-3 7-5. Iannaccone has shown good promise so far in 2016 having won a Serbian ITF junior title in January.

Brit Emily Appleton won the girls’ title, making the trek to Chile after competing in two indoor ITF Pro Circuit events in Great Britain in weeks prior. The 16 year-old Appleton (@ejappleton14) reached the second round of both $10K Glasgow and $10K Sunderland, and showed her good form could cope with the change to vastly different playing conditions. Appleton only dropped one set on route to her title this week, in her quarterfinal match against top seed Dominique Schaefer of Peru. Schaefer, who represented the United States until last year, has been one of the ITF Junior Circuit standouts of 2016 seeing her ranking climb to top-50 in the world. Appleton faced a surprise finalist as 14 year-old Viktoria Morvayova of Slovakia came through a number of tough opponents including second seed Raquel Pedraza of USA to post the biggest result of her young career. Appleton faced a tough test from the young Slovak but prevailed 7-6(5) 7-5. It was a tough tournament for the Americans, but success was found in doubles as the All-American team of Ezekiel Clark/Gui Gomes won the boys while Raquel Pedraza teamed up with Argentine Melany Solange Krywoj to win the girls.

To wrap up the tournament, which also featured U14 and U16 tournaments being contested, the Chilean Federation put together a small youtube package as seen below. Detailed results across all age categories can be found at

Tennis Europe Winter Cups Final Rounds

This weekend also saw the Final Rounds played for the Tennis Europe Winter Cups, a Davis Cup/Fed Cup style competition amongst the European nations. The 8 nations qualifying for the finals face off in a knockout format over three days, with each tie featuring two singles matches followed by a doubles match. The Winter Cups provide a great opportunity for young talented players to gain the experience of representing their nation and being part of a team format while providing matches against other top European players of their age group.

Russian Winning G16 team of Olesya Pervushina, Anastasia
Potapova and Varvara Gracheva. Photo Credit: Tennis Europe
The U16 category this year was dominated by Russia, with their boys & girls’ teams both taking away the Winter Cup trophy. The Russia boys team of Alexey Zakharov, Egor Noskin and Timofey Skatov defeated the Netherlands in today’s final 3-0 which was held in Ronchin, France. The Russian team didn’t have it all their own way this week as the semifinal against Bulgaria was decided in doubles which Zakharov/Noskin were able to come through 6-1 7-6(4). Playing first singles for the Russian team, Skatov didn’t drop a set all week leading his team to victory. Only turning 15 last month, Skatov has yet to make his mark on the ITF junior tour but has impressed with performances at the U14 level including a Runner-Up finish at Les Petits As last year.

The Russian U16 girls team surprisingly faced a more difficult route to the title, despite the presence of top junior and potential future stars Anastasia Potapova and Olesya Pervushina. Both the semifinal tie against Switzerland and today’s final against Czech Republic were decided in doubles as each dropped a singles match. It was Potapova who struggled in the semifinal, only winning two games against Simona Waltert, but Pervushina dropped her match today against the tough Lucia Kankova in a third set tiebreak 6-7(4) 6-2 6-7(3). The duo teamed up in doubles in both ties to secure another Winter Cup trophy for Russia.

The U14 titles were won by Italy & Ukraine, in the boys & girls respectively. The Italian team consisted of Lorenzo Musetti, Lorenzo Rottoli and Fausto Tabacco, defeating Czech Republic 3-0 in the final. Rottoli and Musetti recently won the doubles title together at Les Petits As, and continued their good form here. The B14 included livestreaming, with the match archived and viewable at Marta Kostyuk led the Ukrainian team to the girls' title, but the dominant force in U14 tennis dropped her match today against Slovakia’s Romana Ciskova. It required a team effort from Ukraine as Daria Snigur won her singles match and Kostyuk teamed with 12 year-old Daria Lopatetskaya in doubles to bring home the trophy to Ukraine.

Open Super U12 Auray

One of the few notable U12 tournaments was held this week in Auray, France for the tournament's 25th edition. Past winners of the tournament include a number of top tennis stars including Rafael Nadal (’98), Andy Murray (’99), Kim Clijsters (’95), Dinara Safina (’98), Alize Cornet (’02), with recent champions including promising stars Felix Auger-Aliassime, Francoise Abanda and Anastasia Potapova. Although some very impressive names have won the tournament in the past it is important not to read too much into U12 results, as many past champions haven't made the transition to the professional level. The 2016 champions were Cesar Bouchelaghem of France and Kristina Volgapkina of Russia, both winning their finals in straight sets. Like Tarbes, Auray provided livestreaming for the tournament via youtube, and the finals plus many more matches can be seen on their account:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Asia Muhammad is coming into her own

Asia Muhammad at Midland 2016. (c) Jonathan Kelley
A couple of years ago, while on vacation in Quebec City, I had the pleasure of watching a fun WTA qualifying match between Heidi El Tabakh and Asia Muhammad. I had followed Muhammad's career for years but hadn't seen too many matches, and had never seen her in person. I was immediately enamored by her power and speed, along her her all-court prowess. Muhammad won that match to successfully qualify for the first time into a WTA main draw, although she had previously been given a wild card to the 2008 U.S. Open main draw.

It was back in 2008 when Asia first entered my consciousness. Back then the Tennis Channel was the sponsor of an ATP event in Las Vegas prior to Indian Wells, and they provided coverage both for that and the concurrent $50K women's ITF event. As a Las Vegas native -- one who got her start through Andre Agassi's tennis academy -- 16-year-old Muhammad received a wild card and made her way to the final, losing to Camille Pin in the final but bursting into the spotlight. There was a lot of attention on her then and for the next few months, even becoming the subject of a Harvey Araton New York Times profile at that year's Open.

But for years, the lofty expectations didn't quite pan out. Her ranking bounced around between 350 and 550, with no notable singles results to speak of. Finally, in the fall of 2013, she reached back-to-back semifinals at $25Ks in South Carolina -- enough to get her into the Top 300. The next summer she got to the semis of a $100K in Vancouver (and won her then-biggest doubles title with Maria Sanchez) and then came the Quebec tournament. Upon qualifying, she drew Johanna Konta, the talent-filled Brit who also had struggled to deliver on her talent, especially in tight matches. Of course, their match went to a third-set tiebreaker, won 7-4 by Muhammad -- her first WTA-level victory. (Her next match, against countrywoman Shelby Rogers, was even closer: Rogers claimed that one 6-7(5) 7-6(2) 7-6(5).) The win against Konta put Muhammad into the Top 250.

2015 was an up-and-down year for Muhammad. The biggest up came in doubles: she won her first WTA title in 's-Hertogenbosch with Laura Siegemund, which was calmly noted by yours truly at the time.
8" src="//"> It took until the very end of the year for her best singles result, thanks to a highly successful October-November trip to Australia. She played 6 ITFs, starting the trip only 2-3 (each time losing to a teenager) but ending it 11-2 including two semifinals and her first-ever $50K title in Canberra.
A couple of weeks ago in Midland, Michigan, I caught up with the now-24-year-old Muhammad, who had just flown in from Maui, where she and Sanchez captured their second title together. ("Serious climate change. One of my expectations is to not get sick," she said.) We talked about her success with Sanchez (including their just-completed first round win), her trip to Australia, hitting with new Las Vegas resident Jovana Jaksic, and growing up in the Agassi-Graf world, a time in which she says she "didn't enjoy" because she put "way too much pressure on herself." The whole thing is definitely worth a listen. (Apologies for any errors on my part, including my calling her Quebec win over Konta the final round of qualies.)

Unfortunately, Muhammad drew top seed Madison Brengle in the first round of Midland, and despite having multiple opportunities, she fell 4-6 6-4 7-6(4). But she played some fantastic tennis and with a secure Top 250 ranking, she will have plenty of opportunities this year to break into the Top 200, play qualies of majors, and continue her doubles success (she's now at a career-high #79).

It's great to see her come into her own as a player, and we at On the Rise (a tennis blog) certainly wish the best for her.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Go ahead, get on the Fritzwagon

Taylor Fritz. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
Jonathan Kelley, proprietor of On the Rise (a tennis blog), hereby requests the pleasure of your company, along with a guest, aboard the Taylor Harry Fritz bandwagon. The Fritzwagon.

Please reply by February 16, 2016.

(Regrets only.)

Look, I understand the hesitation. After all, you don't have to go back too far to see a plethora of young American tennis players who have been hyped -- hell, we'll say it: overhyped -- only to fail to live up to overwhelming expectations. They win a couple of matches on a big stage and all of a sudden it's "Future of American tennis!!!" this and "Next grand slam champion??????" that. And it doesn't pan out.

Who knows exactly why this happens? Perhaps the young player became too enamored with their own idea of celebrity in our celebrity-first culture. Perhaps they were crushed under the weight of hopes and expectations. Perhaps they weren't as talented as we hoped, or had insurmountable injury setbacks. Perhaps they took their foot off the pedal while other, less spotlit players from less media-saturated countries put their heads down and ... wait, I think I mixed metaphors there. Everyone: keep your head up while driving.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the greatest tennis country in history, the United States of America, hasn't produced any multiple slam champions -- and only one new single-slam champion -- since the legendary Williams Sisters broke through nearly 20 years ago. It's tough to get emotionally invested when you've been let down time and time again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me 28 times ...

So yes. Everyone, particularly those Big Media outlets, needs to weigh the benefits of that ESPN "Future Star" profile or Vanity Fair photo shoot or Very Special Hollywood Squares episode with Taylor Fritz. Give him, as Courtney Nguyen put it, space. And all of us, media and fans, need to keep our expectations in check. Don't be surprised or distraught if he struggles to win matches against players he "should" be beating handily, or finds himself in the midst of a bewildering losing streak come spring or summer.

But -- and I'm just talking to fellow tennis fans here, particularly once-bitten twice-shy American fans -- I'm here to say you should go ahead and get aboard that Fritzwagon. Because (AHSH* of course) Taylor Fritz is the real deal.

Here are 5 reasons why:

1) Talent. There are the pummeled forehands. The crosscourt backhand winners. The lob.
The footwork.
Seriously, though: he's got the size you want and a big-league serve. He plays impressive defense and explosive offense. He has a nice variety of shots and a good court awareness. Whatever holes are in his game are far from glaring, giving the field less to work with than with some other talented players.

2) Room for improvement. That said, he can definitely get better at net. He still is a bit coltish in his movement. His serve can get even better as can his backhand slice. He sometimes looks a little lost when Plan A isn't working. (But don't we all.) One thing is for certain: he can get better. And from what I have observed, he seems dead set on working on any and all weaknesses.

3) Attitude. Right after Fritz missed out on getting the USTA's Australian Open wildcard (by losing to Henri Laaksonen in the Champaign Challenger final), I interviewed him in the exercise room. He said he was disappointed, but motivated to work harder and he welcomed the challenge of going through qualifying. Flash-forward a couple of months: Fritz goes to Australia, wins a challenger, and after winning his first two Australian Open qualifying rounds, comes back from 0-4 in the final set of the final round to make his first grand slam main draw. I don't know what goes on in anyone's head, but from the outside Fritz definitely seems like a great self-motivator, who maintains a level head on and off court.

4) Playing well in big moments. It's not a coincidence that he took (a less-than-100%) Jack Sock to five sets in his first grand slam match. Nor that he is 3-1 in challenger finals. Nor that he is 10-2 in three-setters since the US Open (including 3-0 in third-set tiebreakers). Nor are his often gaudy break point saved numbers coincidental. At this point in his career, Fritz is more likely than not to play well in big matches, and at big moments in those big matches. Even if he doesn't win (see: Nishikori, Memphis), he will generally make his opponent play very, very good tennis until the end to beat him.

5) He's got company. Plenty of people have mentioned this, but Fritz is only the most advanced of a large group of American teens looking to make their mark in the ATP. Yes, Fritz has jumped ahead of his contemporaries in terms of results and ranking, but don't think that they're not still pushing him. Whether it's Jared Donaldson winning a challenger first, or Tommy Paul beating him in the French Open junior final, or Reilly Opelka beating him in the Wimbledon junior semifinals, or Stefan Kozlov beating him in the Kalamazoo semifinals, or Frances Tiafoe winning that Kalamazoo tournament, or Noah Rubin getting a grand slam win first, Fritz has been and will continue to be pushed by his fellow American teens for the foreseeable future. Between those guys and Michael Mmoh, Ernesto Escobedo, and Deiton Baughman (and Jack Sock and Denis Kudla and yes Ryan Harrison), we'll see plenty of other young Americans register impressive ATP accomplishments in the next couple of years. Those guys will help both divert some attention from Fritz and keep pushing him to excel.

All that is to say, dear fans of American tennis, that Taylor Fritz is worth score-following, worth putting aside a couple of hours when he's on TV (which he will be more and more frequently), worth investing some emotional cash in. Worth getting your reasonable hopes up for. Go ahead, root for him. There's room for everyone on the Fritzwagon, so long as you keep in mind the following: (1) he is still a teen, (2) he's playing for himself, not for us, and (3) being on the Fritzwagon (or any fanwagon) does not give you license to dump all over him if his results don't meet your expectations.

That said, welcome aboard, and enjoy the ride.

*Assuming he stays healthy.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The first point, by Beau Treyz

On the Rise (a tennis blog) is pleased to announce a new contributor: professional tennis player Beauregard TreyzOriginally from Jacksonville, Beau played college tennis at North Florida and then transferred to the University of Nebraska, where he played for a year -- winning the 2013 Big 10 Indoor Doubles Championship with Marc Herrmann -- and from which he graduated with a degree in English. 

Beau first came to my attention via his podcast, "What Do You Get?" I really enjoyed his relaxed, conversational style, and his genuine interest in what his interview subjects were saying. I started following his results at various overseas tournaments and was excited for him when he earned his first ATP point in one of the final tournaments of 2015. His first post for On the Rise is his look at what getting that point meant to him.

The First Point

Outside the chain-link fence of Court 7 in El Kantoui, Tunisia, is where my friend scared me. It was early December, and my roommate, Christian, and I were watching a friend, Ruben, play his first round Qualifying match of a Futures tournament. 

Futures tournaments are the minor leagues of tennis. Qualies are the cage matches that get you into Futures. Chris and I had the pleasure of playing each other later in the afternoon, so we got to watch our friend Ruben fight for a spot in the Main Draw that morning.

Ruben and his Italian opponent were evenly matched; I wouldn’t have bet on the outcome. But at 3-3 in the first set, Ruben was losing his mind. His arm was tight, his serve and forehand didn’t have the same pop they do in practice. After a string of bad points, he turned to us and said, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t make anything!” I know that feeling, and know there’s no advice you really want to hear, so I just said “Come on man, let’s go” Tennis talk for, “get it done.”

Chris, on the other hand, said, “It’s just one ATP point man, it won’t change your life, relax.” This comment stuck in my head like the latest Taylor Swift song, and I couldn’t shake it off. Chris scared me by saying that. I needed an ATP point to change my life; I thought the deal was that getting an ATP point would mean more than just getting my name in the rankings. One ATP point was supposed to be validation and confirmation both in the tennis world and in my own head that my years of dedication had been worth it.
Getting an ATP point is a milestone for us in the tennis world. It may not be anyone’s end goal, but it is a very meaningful start to every player’s career. You never forget where and when you got your first point. But the physical and mental ailments that strike you when you get close to making your dream come true can and do stifle many players.

Chris’ comment bothered me, but I didn’t say anything at the time. I didn’t have a point yet, so what did I know about what having a point does or does not do for a person. Two days after that comment though, I won my first ATP point. 

And my life changed.

Instantly, having a point did two things for me: It helped me stop caring so much about what other people thought of my game and it allowed me to compete for the next 52 weeks without wondering whether or not I’ll get in the draw. Both are massive weights off my shoulders.

The mental part of getting my first point and feeling like I have arrived in the tennis world was big for me. Having one point, and being #2009 in the world, is obviously not my final goal, but it is a validation that I have made a name for myself in the tennis world. I’ve gotten that monkey off my back and now I don’t have to stress about whether or not it will ever happen for me.

My physical life has not changed much; I’m still playing qualies, still losing money at every tournament, and my first serve still needs work; but my mindset has completely changed. Now I’ve accomplished one of my biggest dreams; I really made something happen that I thought might never would. The moment I won was the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court; equal parts joy, relief and astonishment. That feeling has since worn off, but I still have the mental freedom I gained that day. Getting one ATP point changed my mentality, and this new mentality changed my life.

Getting an ATP point doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. At the end of my career maybe having an ATP point will help me get a better coaching job, and a world ranking will be something I can always put on my resume. But I’m playing tennis neither as a resume builder nor to make more money as a coach. I’m doing this to build myself into the person I want to be. Getting an ATP point was exactly the validation I so badly wanted. The freedom it has given me was worth all the work. I am able to let myself succeed and take what I work for.

No matter how unlikely it is that I’ll ever play at the US Open, I won’t know unless I try. I had to try and get an ATP point, I had to get on the plane and say goodbye to my friends and the beach and the comforts of home, but if I could do it once and this new mindset is the payoff, how can I not continue pushing myself? Getting an ATP point is maybe the biggest achievement of my life to date, and how could I give up on this dream now when I might just be getting hot?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The 2016 On the Rise ITA Women's Team Indoors Awards

After a great four days in Madison covering the ITA Women's Team Indoor National Championship for Zoo Tennis, I thought it would be nifty to put together an unofficial All-Tournament Team. I also decided to name Honorable Mentions for each of the 9 spots and give out a few other awards and stuff.

Criteria for On the Rise (a tennis blog) All-Tournament Team (OTR ATT): Only players from teams that won their first round match (i.e., made the quarterfinals) were eligible. Moreover, if players played more than one position, they were only considered for the position at which they played the majority of their matches. Finally, preference was generally given to players who played more main draw matches (although consolation matches were considered).

Olivia Hauger. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

MVP: Olivia Hauger, California

Honorable mention: Klara Fabikova, California

Olivia Hauger went 4-0 in singles at the #5 spot and clinched the final dual to secure the University of California its first women's team national championship. The 81st-ranked freshman from Tulsa, Oklahoma, also went 1-1 with her partner Klara Fabikova at #2 doubles. (Fabikova went 3-0 at #2 singles to secure the runner up spot.)

Hauger's clinch came by way of a dramatic comeback in which her opponent, Marika Akkerman of the University of North Carolina, was up 5-3 in the third set with the two teams tied at 3-3. Hauger won the next three games and then saved three game points to win the match with a return winner on a deciding point.

Hauger is the first freshman to win the On the Rise ITA Indoors MVP, and is one of an unprecedented three freshmen and four Cal Golden Bears to be named to the OTR ATT. (To be fair, the "first" and "unprecedented" parts are due to this being the first OTR ATT.)

The other freshmen are #2 (and now #1) Francesca Di Lorenzo of Ohio State University, who went 3-0 in her three main draw matches; and #68 (now #58) Jessie Aney (UNC), who was 2-0 at 4 singles and 1-0 at 3 singles. Hauger is joined on the OTR ATT by Cal's two senior stars, #10 (now #5) Fabikova and Lynn Chi (2-1 at 3 singles), and Cal sophomore Karla Popovic, who went 3-0 (and was up 6-1 4-1 in her unfinished match) at 6 singles and who clinched Cal's dramatic 4-3 semifinal win with a three-set victory over OSU's Olivia Sneed.

UNC had two of the three OTR ATT doubles teams, with Georgia's Silvia Garcia/Caroline Brinson at 2 the only non-Tar Heel team to make the list.

All-Tournament Team - Singles

Francesa Di Lorenzo, © Jonathan Kelley
1. Francesca Di Lorenzo (Fr.) - Ohio State
Honorable mention: Hayley Carter (Jr.) - North Carolina 

2. Klara Fabikova (Sr.) - California
Honorable mention: Brienne Minor (Fr.) - Michigan

3. Lynn Chi (Sr.) - California
Honorable Mention: Astra Sharma (So.) - Vanderbilt

4. Jessie Aney (Fr.) - North Carolina
Honorable Mention: Denise Starr (Jr.) - California

5. Olivia Hauger (Fr.) - California
Honorable Mention: Mariana Gould (So.) - Georgia

6. Karla Popovic (So.) - California
Honorable Mention: Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (Fr.) - North Carolina

All-Tournament Team - Doubles

1. Hayley Carter/Whitney Kay (Sr.), North Carolina
Honorable Mention: Courtney Colton (Sr.)/Sydney Campbell (Jr.), Vanderbilt
Dai/Ouellet-Pizer, © Jonathan Kelley

2. Silvia Garcia (Sr.)/Caroline Brinson (Jr.), Georgia
Honorable Mention: Astra Sharma/Ellie Yates (Sr.), Vanderbilt

3. Ashley Dai (Sr.)/Chloe Ouellet-Pizer, North Carolina
Honorable Mention: Olivia Sneed (So.)/Francesca Di Lorenzo, Ohio State

Memorable Special Shining Moments

GAME of the tournament: The second set tiebreaker between OSU's Ferny Angeles Paz and Vanderbilt's Georgina Sellyn at #5 singles in the quarterfinals. Sellyn had already saved 3 match points to get the score to 6-6, and jumped to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but Paz came back to win 13-11, saving 8 set points along the way.

SET of the tournament: Second set, Di Lorenzo vs Maegan Manasse (Cal.), #1 singles, semifinals. Di Lorenzo won 7-6(1) but not without some controversy involving an overrule on match point followed by a hindrance call when Di Lorenzo was serving for the match.

MATCH of the tournament: Hauger d. Akkerman, 7-5 2-6 7-5, #5 singles, final. It was a terrific match that had the added benefit of being the one to decide the national championship.

Doubles match of the tournament: Mayar Sharif Ahmed/Rana Sharif Ahmed (Fresno State) d. Anna Sanford/Miho Kowase (OSU) 7-6(9), #1 doubles, first round. 10 match points saved by the victors. Crazy, fun, intense stuff.

Point of the tournament:

Best interview: Mark Guilbeau (file this under: shameless plug)

Best debut performance: OSU was a set away on two courts from reaching the final in their first-ever ITA Indoors. Great job by Coach Schaub and the rest of the crew, who rose from #16 to #6 in today's rankings.

Most impressive player on a team that only got one point: Wisconsin's top player, #66 Lauren Chypyha, led #5 Maegan Manasse 7-5 1-1 in the first round before their match was abandoned. She then led #53 Saska Gavrilovska (Texas A&M) 6-4 4-3 in the first round of consolation before their match was abandoned. Finally, she grabbed Wisconsin's sole point of the tournament, beating #26 Mayar Sherif Ahmed (Fresno State) 6-1 7-6(4) in the final consolation match.

Sportsmanship: Maegan Manasse. She had a really rough time in singles, going 0-3 against the as-of-today top 3 players in the nation and losing a tough tiebreaker to hand OSU the doubles point in the semis. But she never gave up in any of her matches (her COME ONs when down a set and 1-5 in the final were surely heard by the entire Cal team, and possibly some people off campus) and she was a great sideline cheerleader for her teammates. Sportsmanship means different things to different people, but she really stood out to me as an example of how college tennis is so much more than an individual sport.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Interview with UVA head coach Mark Guilbeau

UVA senior Danielle Collins. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
On day 1 of the 2016 ITA Team Indoor National Championship, the University of Virginia pulled off an emotional win over the #5 seed, Texas A&M. After the win, I spoke with head coach Mark Guilbeau to discuss various aspects of the match. I posted the full interview at the end of this article.

"I feel great about this match," said Guilbeau. "I feel like every team has their challenges, but we certainly are facing a lot right now and these kids focused and played hard."

This was the first competition for the team since five players were suspended for unspecified rules violations. The suspensions came after the team beat Columbia University to win the ITA Kickoff Weekend on January 23. The following Friday, January 29, only 5 players suited up for the team's match against the University of South Carolina, forcing UVA to forfeit a doubles and a singles match which contributed to a 4-3 loss, their first of the season.

The suspensions added to an already obstacle-ridden year for Guilbeau's team. The first blow came when prized recruit Sophie Chang decided not to go to college. The loss to the Gamecocks also led to UVA's unpublished, pre-tournament ranking falling below several other teams, leaving them unseeded for the ITA Indoors.

On Monday, February 1, some of the players were reinstated; two of those players, junior Victoria Olivarez and freshman Meghan Kelley, were in the line-up for the Wahoos on Friday.

Guilbeau didn't discuss specifics of the suspensions or reinstatements, although he mentioned that senior Maci Epstein was still suspended. But in talking about the match, he expressed his pride in the team's work in overcoming adversity and his hope that the team would grow stronger as it worked through these issues.

UVA junior Victoria Olivarez. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
UVA won the doubles point in come-from-behind fashion: after dropping the #3 match, Kelley and senior Danielle Collins won 6-3, then seniors Julia Elbaba and Stephanie Nauta won 7-6(5). "It was good to see the comeback in the doubles there, that took composure," said Guilbeau. "And honestly even without the doubles, I know the resiliency we have, we're going to fight to where, really you look at it, maybe we could have done it even without" winning the doubles point.

In singles, Elbaba got UVA's first win at #2 singles 6-2 6-4 over former Cavalier Rachel Pierson. The matches at #3 and #4 finished simultaneously, with each school winning one. That put UVA up 3-1, with three matches going: Collins at #1, who had come back from a 1-6 1-4* deficit to take her match into a third set; freshman Erica Susi, who was up a set but down a break at #6; and Kelley, who clinched for the Hoos with a 7-5 6-2 win over Domenica Gonzalez at #5.

"Some lessons have been learned for sure, and Meghan came back real well. You could see that was probably the most tactically specific match. She really needed to be really find that opponent's backhand," which she did successfully. Guilbeau added that he was "very proud of Erica Susi. That's a non-scholarship kid that we've already rewarded with a scholarship this semester, and you can see how much she deserves that. She fights her brains out."

UVA faces the University of California in Saturday's quarterfinal at 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

College tennis: a pathway to the Midland quarters

In a tournament featuring 19 of the top 30 American women in the Women's Tennis Association rankings, college players were the story of Thursday's second round action at the 2016 Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland, Michigan.

It's the largest tournament of its kind in the USA, and today it was a showcase for a few former college stars -- and one hopeful future college star. Irina Falconi, Robin Anderson, Jamie Loeb, and Alexandra Sanford all won their matches to ensure that one of them will appear in Sunday's final.

Two of last year's biggest college stars were big winners today: Robin Anderson (who was #1 seed in the NCAA singles tournament and helped UCLA to the team final) beat last year's #1 junior player CiCi Bellis 7-5 6-3 while Jamie Loeb (who won the 2015 NCAA singles title) upset the #5 seed, world #98 Lauren Davis 6-2 2-6 6-3.
Robin Anderson. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

Bellis got out to a quick start, winning 13 of 14 points early in the match to go up 3-1. But Anderson got a quick hold, then converted her 5th break point of the 6th game to draw even. Another long game came with Bellis serving at 5-6 -- she went down 0-40 but served her way to deuce. But she never got to game point, and eventually Anderson broke for the set. The second set was even more of a grind, with some lung-busting rallies and impassioned play on both sides. Each woman tried to impose her game on the other, moving her opponent around before going in for the kill shot. Finally with Bellis serving at 3-4 40-15, the Californian started missing a bit more and Anderson broke and then served it out. "Maybe she felt like she had to go for more because I was making her play a lot of balls," said Anderson, who was thrilled with her win.

Loeb got out to a quick start in her match. "I was a little steadier in the first set. She was double faulting quite a bit, and I capitalized on that," said Loeb. "And then she came out strong in the second set," playing like the same player who gave Maria Sharapova problems in Melbourne last month. However, in the third set, Davis' level dipped again while Loeb kept the ball deep and cleaned up her errors.

The win was Loeb's first over a Top 100 opponent, a fact her coach informed her of after her match.

Jamie Loeb. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

"I'm really happy and proud of myself for that. I definitely think this tournament has given me a lot of confidence and belief that I can play at this level, capable of beating these girls. I think overall, it's really help me mentally. I had a few bad tournaments in January, so being able to get these great wins is a great turnaround for me."

(Loeb's college team, the University of North Carolina, will be playing Friday morning at the ITA Team Indoor Championships in Madison, Wisconsin. UNC is playing at 10 a.m., and Loeb speculated that if she was first on, she'd treat it as if she was playing a dual match alongside them. However, she and Falconi will be playing the evening match in Midland.)

In the first match on Court 5, Alexandra Sanford (who will be joining UNC in the fall) took the first set from Alexa Glatch 6-4, and that was all she needed, as Glatch was forced to retire.

"Very excited. It's definitely one of my best results so far," said Sanford a bit understatedly. Having come through qualifying, she now has 5 wins on the week -- impressive for a player without a WTA ranking.

"I had no nerves. No pressure on myself. I served pretty well, was returning pretty well." Sanford and Glatch exchanged a couple of long holds early in the set before Sanford broke for 4*-2. In the next game, she had two game points, but double faulted on one and soon found the match back on serve. "It was obvious her knee was really bugging her. I wasn't staying in the moment so at that changeover I just really tried to get myself back together, regroup, and close it out after that."

Glatch has gone through a longer litany of injuries issues than perhaps any other Top 200 player. "I had arthroscopic surgery on it mid-December, and I had a lot of issues with it before that," she said. "It had gotten better, and I trained pretty hard last week and then the day before my first round it started getting more sore again, and it got worse during the match yesterday. Today I didn't really know if I'd be able to come out and play. It's really disappointing and frustrating.

"Maybe I tried to come back too soon. I wanted to play qualies at the Australian Open. I don't know ... some times it goes well and some times it doesn't. You can't really predict these things."

Next up for Sanford is Anderson.

Falconi made quick work of her match with Lauren Albanese, the 26-year-old qualifier who had been on a Cinderella run. Falconi staved off all 5 break points she faced en route to a 6-1 first set, then lost only 1 point on serve en route to a 6-1 second set.

"I was just really stingy," said Falconi. "Even at 6-1 5-1, if I lost I point I was like, 'C'mon, you've gotta make that.' The mentality and focus was there today. It didn't matter what she brought, I just stuck with the game plan, stuck with executing what I had to do. And it worked."

"Today I was inconsistent," said Albanese. "Going up against a player like her, you need to be playing quite well. I started off tight, tried to take the ball early and be aggressive, but the accumulation of the hours I spent on court the past few days caught up to me a bit. I was slow reacting to shots, not moving as well to play the game style I want to play. She's a great player and she senses that, which allows her to dictate more, and she did a great job of capitalizing on that."

Madison Brengle lost her 2nd set lead, but still pulled it out.
© Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
In the top half of the draw, Madison Brengle (who plans to attend college after tennis) fought her way to a 6-4 6-4 win over Veronica Cepede Royg. Brengle was up 4-1* 30-0 in the second set and looked to be running away with the match. But out of nowhere, the Paraguayan won 8 straight points --mostly on missed Brengle forehands -- and got the set even at 4-4. It was reminiscent of her first round match against Taylor Townsend, when she came back from a break down in the third set to prevail.

Brengle said the for errors weren't due to suddenly losing her forehand form. "She changed up what she was doing. She started taking the pace off, and I had gotten in such a good rhythm with my hitting and I felt so good that when she took the pace off, I stopped moving as much as I needed to to be able to go after it. It wasn't that one shot went off -- it was that my feet went off, and that's kind of the basis of my game -- getting to the ball, getting behind the ball, and loading up. But then I changed what I was doing. I said to myself, 'Oh, well I can just roll some balls back in.'" And she did just that. After holding for 5-4, Brengle won a pair of 27-stroke rallies to get to 30-30 and two points later, was into the quarterfinals.

Brengle will play her good friend Naomi Broady in Friday's quarterfinal. Broady overcame 7 first set double faults and her opponent serving for the set, roaring back to beat Jovana Jaksic 7-6(5) 6-3. Brengle noted that the two hit together frequently, and stay at each other's houses when playing in their respective countries. "I've always known how good she was, and now it's starting to reflect in her rankings."

The other quarterfinal will feature Shelby Rogers against the Mayo Hibi, who played brilliant defensive and clutch tennis to beat Louisa Chirico 1-6 6-4 6-4. In at least 9 games in the final two sets, Chirico had game or break point but was unable to convert. Three times in the third set alone she had 15-40 on Hibi's serve but Hibi stayed mentally strong and used her slice (forehand and backhand) and movement to stay in rallies and often force the error from an impatient Chirico. She also showed the ability to hit some winners at the end: on match point, she finished with a cross-court forehand that completely wrong-footed Chirico.

Like on Tuesday, Rogers went down a set to her determined opponent, and this time she had the added obstacle of going down a break in the second set (yesterday she held from 0-40 in that first game of the second set). But she turned up her defense, found her movement, and overcame 17-year-old Raveena Kingsley 2-6 6-4 6-3.

"She came out playing really hot. She was overpowering me, to be honest," said Rogers. "So it just took me a little time to adjust. I started using my legs a little bit more, being a little more physical, and just trying to make one more ball, one more ball. I had to dig out a lot of really tough points, but it paid off in the end."

Shelby Rogers with the victory fist pump. © Jonathan Kelley
Both Broady and Rogers may have suffered a bit from the quick turnaround after their late-night doubles win on Wednesday (this blogger overheard them in the cool-down room commiserating, but smiling, about their slow starts). According to Rogers, "I was a little bit tired in the beginning for sure, but there are no excuses. Every player deals with things like that, and that's part of being a professional, we have to adjust to any circumstance. It's more about the fans, anyway, and I think they had a great night last night and that's awesome."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

BUSTERS carry the day at Midland

💥💥BUSTER💥💥 (n.): A third-set tiebreak.

One of them had to travel halfway around the world to get here, another had to travel about half that far, but for both Raveena Kingsley and Madison Brengle, the journey proved well worth it as they won their first round matches at the $100,000 2016 Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland, Michigan.

Both players brought some serious drama along with them, as they won their first round matches against fellow Americans in third-set tiebreaks.

Kingsley, who received a Special Exempt entry into the tournament after reaching the final of the $50K in Maui, upset #4 seed Anna Tatishvili 7-5 1-6 7-6(4) in over 2.5 hours. In the third set, Kingsley struggled to hold serve, fending off break points at 1-1 and 3-3 and getting pushed to deuce twice at 2-2. But time after time she would come up with a big serve in the big moment, or finish the point with a winner. Tatishvili, meanwhile, motored through her first three service games, dropping just a point in each game. But at 3-4, she hit a couple of double faults and found herself down break point. Then another. And another. Six in total, in fact. For the first five, Kingsley struggled to impose her game, but eventually she converted to serve for the match. That didn't go so well, however, and a few games later, the BUSTER.
Raveena Kingsley. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

"I played some tough three-setters" in Maui, said Kinglsey. "I was feeling a little tired but just wanted to push myself." She said she felt calm the entire match, and that was clearly the case on match point, when she calmly hit a return winner.

Kingsley is done playing juniors, choosing instead to focus on building her WTA ranking. She has committed to LSU "as a back-up" but says she really wants to go pro.

A player who several years ago faced a similar dilemma was the big winner in Wednesday's night match. Madison Brengle, now 25, had considered the University of Florida but after some stunning junior success (she reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon girls' finals in 2007) went the pro route. It's been a bit of a circuitous path since then but she says she's happy with the path she took. 

Circuitous would be an apt word for her Midland match against Asia Muhammad. Several times Brengle looked headed for the exit, down a set and a break in the second, then an early break in the third, then twice having Muhammad serve for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the third. But in the tight moments, Muhammad's line-clippers were going long or finding the net, while Brengle stopped giving anything away. In their BUSTER, Muhammad went up an early break, but then after having hit several great overheads throughout the match, duffed one in the net and never recovered. Brengle won 4-6 6-4 7-6(4).

Madison Brengle. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
"She's an incredibly good player," said Brengle of Muhammad. "She moves well, she covers so much court; I felt like to put the way I had to hit more than one winner. She's so fast, she was hitting the ball big and painting some lines. She serves well, she volleys well ... so I feel like she was doing everything extremely well tonight, so I had to just gut out a couple of really close games in the second set. And then the tiebreaker, I stopped putting the ball quite so short in the court and tried to get as much depth as I could, and that's how I got the minibreak back."

Brengle noted that like many women, Muhammad's ranking of #220 does not reflect her level. "You saw how she was playing from 1-4 down in the first set. She could beat any Top 100 player playing like that. She's an incredibly good tennis player. Playing these [ITF] tournaments, you have to make it so far every week to break through," a fact of life with which Brengle is all too familiar.

January was a big test for Brengle, as she was faced with the prospect of her 2015 Hobart final points and 2015 Australian Open 4th round points coming off. By reaching the third round last month in Melbourne, she went a long way toward keeping her ranking from catering, and kept herself well inside the Top 100. "Relieved," is how she said she felt about her trip to Australia.

Brengle noted she is now being coached on the road (although not in Midland) by Julie Coin, the Frenchwoman and former Top 60 player who went to college at Clemson. Asked whether she ever wished she had gone to college, Brengle said that ship had not sailed: "I do plan on going to college. I'll do it after I finish playing, because I want to be able to fully commit when I go to college and really focus on it. I'm glad I turned pro -- it's amazing what we get to do -- but I will be going to college."

Qualifiers continuing their success

Maybe it's the fact that they had three extra days to get the feel of the courts. Maybe it's a testament to the depth of (American) women's tennis. Maybe it was the confidence that comes with winning. Maybe it was just good match-ups.

Whatever the reason, 3 of the 4 Midland qualifiers won their first-round matches today: Alexandra Sanford, Jamie Loeb, and Lauren Albanese. Each player is at a different stage of her career, but all three showed a willingness to go for shots in close moments and (this is a big part) the shots went in.

17-year-old Sanford, from adjoining Ohio, is the youngest of the three and is playing her first-ever
professional singles main draw. She upset Jennifer Brady 3-6 6-2 6-1 in just over 2 hard-hitting hours. The second set featured several multiple-deuce games, and the confidence Sanford earned in staying with Brady helped carry her to the win. "I just kind of went for it," she said. "I wanted to try to have no regrets."

Against a powerful hitter like Brady, she also had to play strong defense. "I have been working on my defense and my movement a lot, and I felt I was able to get back into the point, neutralize it, and get the ball deep." But given her impressive weaponry, Sanford will always be a strike-first player. Sanford says she is "for sure" still committed to the University of North Carolina this fall.

Jamie Loeb. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
UNC, of course, is where Jamie Loeb played for two years before finishing her career with an individual title at the NCAAs in June. The New Yorker was understandably very happy with her 6-3 6-2 win over Julia Boserup: it was her first win in the main draw of a tournament since beating Kelly Chen at the $50K in Sacramento in July. Part of that was due to an injury that took her out of action for a few months after the US Open. She also struggled on the Florida green clay in the first month of 2016, so a change of scenery has definitely benefited her. "I think the indoor hard is really suiting my game right now," she said.

20-year-old Loeb trained alongside Noah Rubin at the McEnroe Academy in New York. Both went to college in North Carolina (Loeb for two years at UNC; Rubin for one at Wake Forest) and both reached the NCAA individual final this past June (Loeb won her match, Rubin fell just short in his). She said they push each other, and is pleased that both of their games are coming along (Rubin of course notched a win over Top 20 player Benoit Paire at the Australian Open), even though they're very different types of games.

26-year-old Lauren Albanese squeezed past Bernarda Pera 7-5 7-6(3). To say Albanese is having a dream tournament is a massive understatement: she hadn't won a match at a tournament above a $50K since 2010. I'll have a fuller profile of Albanese's journey in the coming days.

The one qualifier and teen who didn't record a victory on Wednesday was Michaela Gordon, who never found her groove in falling 6-1 6-3 to Robin Anderson. Gordon sailed through qualifying with two double bagels, but Anderson, the former UCLA star from New Jersey, presented a much sterner foe. Anderson served great, struck her backhand solidly, and came to net effectively, and survived a short hiccup when she gave up her second set break. Gordon never really got her teeth into the match.

Like Loeb, Anderson had struggled on the Florida green clay last month, failing to win a match in January. "This is great for me," a smiling Anderson said of the move indoors. When asked if she wished there were more indoor events, she said, "I personally think there should be more indoor tournaments because I like it, but I know most of the world doesn't play indoor tennis, so it is what it is."

Robin Anderson (L) and Michaela Gordon. © Jonathan Kelley
In other action...

In the first two matches on Stadium Court, #3 seed Irina Falconi beat Lucky Loser Nadja Gilchrist 6-4 6-1. 5th seed Lauren Davis beat Sachia Vickery 6-2 2-0 when an achilles injury forced Vickery to retire. Alexa Glatch upset #7 seed Samantha Crawford 6-3 6-2.

Shelby Rogers came from behind to beat Maria Sanchez 4-6 6-1 6-3. The first key game in the match came at 0-0 in the second set, when Rogers held from 0-40 and then rolled the rest of the set. "I just tried to be more physical. Use my legs a little more. She was pushing me back, so just trying to hurt her with some of my groundstrokes."  The second key game came at 3-3 in the third. After several tough holds from each player, Sanchez hit three double faults to open the game and never recovered. She only won two more points the rest of the match.

In the sole match featuring a non-American, Naomi Broady struck 18 aces to beat #6 seed Nicole
Gibbs 6-5 7-6(4). Gibbs faced only one break point in the match, but unfortunately it came set point down. The tiebreaker also featured an overrule on an out call at 2-2 that would have given Gibbs a minibreak. You can see the replay at, at 1:21:40 and make the call for yourself.

Line calling has been a recurring complaint from some players this week. Brengle had a running dialogue going with her chair umpire, and with courts this quick it's made things tough. Fortunately, the quality of play, tournament hospitality, and exceptional community support have, for the most part, made up for any shortcomings.

Bellis upends defending champ in Midland

CiCi Bellis preparing to serve in the first round of the Midland
$100,000. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
It was a daunting task, to be sure: facing the #2 seed -- the defending champion no less -- a Top 70 player with an unorthodox style that can challenge the patience of even world-weary veterans. But a highly focused and well prepared CiCi Bellis took on the task with aplomb on Tuesday, ousting Tatjana Maria 7-5 6-3 in the first round of the Dow Corning Tennis Classic, a $100,000K ITF event in Midland, Michigan.

In front of a crowd measuring well over 1000 fans, the 16-year-old Bellis used her forehand to control the action, and didn't let Maria's consistent, wicked backhand slice disrupt what she wanted to do. After the match, Bellis noted that her new coach Lisa Raymond, had played Maria before and who was able to feed her lots of "unbelievable" slice backhands in their practice earlier that day. "It's really good to have a coach who has been there, at the highest level, and who has faced some of the players I'm facing." Prior to her retirement last year, Raymond had a 2-0 record against Maria, both doubles matches.

Bellis started the match slowly, going down 0-2* with Maria serving at 40-15. But then Bellis' groundstrokes started to connect, and she reeled off 4 games in a row to take control of the set. Although she played a tight game to get broken serving for the first set at 5*-4, she showed some serious maturity in the very next game, breaking right back and held in her next game to seal the first set.

Tatjana Maria. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
Bellis then sprinted to a 3*-0, two-break lead in the second set and it seemed that nothing Maria was doing was bothering the American. Bellis was particularly successful in that stretch moving into the court, both on her own initiative and when forced in by a short Maria shot. "Especially with Lisa being such a great doubles player, we've been working on me moving forward a lot, and today that was one of the places I focused on." Interestingly, when lobbed, Bellis resorted to a swinging volley every time, to great success. "I've been getting more comfortable with my overhead, but I think in tight situations I'm always going to hit a swing volley, even as I get older."

Just when things looked bleakest, Maria started going for more, and won a couple of multiple deuce games to even the set at 3-3. At this point it seemed like the tide had perhaps turned: Bellis wasn't the aggressor anymore, and shots that had been hitting the lines started floating long. Fans were getting excited at the prospect of a third set. But Bellis had other ideas. "I just told myself I was winning because I was dictating, so just go back to that." Perhaps not coincidentally, Maria's game, which had come to life a few games prior, suddenly sputtered. Bellis started returning better, Maria threw in a couple of double faults, and just like that it was winner: Bellis (USA).

Bellis is still limited in the number of tournaments she can play due to age restrictions. But in planning her schedule, she said that because she was injured for part of last year, the WTA will allow her to play a few additional tournaments in 2016. (She also noted that despite what the post-match interviewer said, she is still an amateur, and will be keeping college as an option for as long as she can.)

The win guaranteed an American finalist from the bottom half of a draw that has 26 Americans out of 32 total main draw players.

The day started with qualifying, and all four qualifiers were American: teens Michaela Gordon and Alexandra Sanford, and former teens Jamie Loeb and Lauren Albanese. Additionally, Nadja Gilchrist got Lucky Loser after Jessica Pegula withdrew late in the day. Colette Lewis of ZooTennis has a nice overview of the final round of qualifying and the other Monday matches.

Center court is being streamed all week at

For the full draws, order of play, and more, visit the tournament website at