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American Collegiate Invitational

American Collegiate Invitational

Any opportunity to showcase college tennis is a “win” in my book. The American Collegiate Invitational (ACI), held during the second week of the US Open, is no exception.

The USTA started hosting the ACI in 2014, featuring 8 men and 8 women playing a single-elimination singles tournament with the winner of each draw receiving a wildcard entry into the following year’s US Open Qualifying tournament. If, however, the winner is ranked 120 or better by the US Open entry deadline, then he/she will get a wildcard entry directly into the Main Draw. That’s means a huge payday for these young athletes – the 2017 qualifiers received $8000 just for being in the tournament, $50,000 if they actually made it into the First Round of the Main Draw. ACI winners also get wildcards into three USTA Pro Circuit events, and the runners-up each get one.

It is interesting to note that, although the ACI features college players, this is not an official college event. That means participants are competing as individuals, not as representatives of their schools. That also means that, even though they may receive coaching during their matches, the players’ college coaches cannot be the ones doing the coaching due to NCAA compliance regulations. The strange part is that players wear their college uniforms while competing and are introduced by name and school, but the scoreboard and draw show them as from the US as opposed to their university. For the life of me, I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand all the NCAA rules!

This year’s ACI Tournament Director was none other than recently-resigned USTA’s Director of Junior Tournaments, Bill Mountford. He told me that USTA chose to start this event 4 years ago in order to demonstrate its commitment to college tennis, to celebrate the best players by showcasing them on American tennis’s grandest stage: the US Open. And, to its credit, USTA is fully-invested in these players and this event, treating the collegians like Tennis Royalty by footing the bill for their travel, hotel accommodations at the Grand Hyatt (the official player hotel for the Open), and even taking them out for a gourmet meal the night before starting play. “They should be treated like royalty. They’ve come through Juniors and been among the best players. They’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours honing their skills. They should be celebrated. It’s got to feel inspiring when they’re out there practicing right next to Rafael Nadal or having their racquets strung right next to Juan Martin Del Potro or being called in the morning by the Bryan Brothers because they need to practice with someone who’s going to hit kick serves to the ad court to warm them up for the day’s match. These are the best of the best of our young American players.”

He went on to say that he hopes the ACI players view this event as an extension of their US Open Juniors experience, bridging the gap between that tournament and the time they will, hopefully, be competing at the Open in the Main Draw. Being on these courts at this venue is a learning experience for them that should aid the transition as they move from college onto the pro tour.

2017 NCAA Women’s Champion, Brienne Minor, confirmed Bill’s hope. “To be able to play in the US Open and then this Invitational has been amazing! I’m so glad I had this opportunity. Hopefully, I can come back here. I definitely do want to play after college. I’m glad I got to have the experience and to know what it’s like and to be around the top pro players is pretty amazing, just to get that atmosphere. Now I know what it’s like and if I get to come back, I can change a few things and know what to expect.” Unfortunately, Brienne will be taking a break from tennis this Fall to have surgery on both her knees. The plan is to rehab and be ready for the dual match season in January.

I had a chance to speak with several of this year’s ACI players, and they all agreed that this event is a wonderful opportunity and certainly welcome the chance to earn a wildcard into next year’s Qualifying or Main Draw, but they view it as one more step in the process. Any time they get to compete on a big stage, it puts them one step closer to their goal of competing at the WTA/ATP level, which most of the players want. As UVA graduate Thai Kwiatkowski said, “If you can’t enjoy playing at the US Open, then you shouldn’t play the game!”

I found it interesting to hear Thai say it hurt more to lose his Main Draw match to Mischa Zverev, mostly due to the loss of ranking points and money that would help him fund his first year on the tour, than it did to lose first round in the ACI to eventual winner Tom Fawcett (Stanford). “I graduated with a Business Degree from UVA, and there’s a massive opportunity cost every day I step out on the tennis court. I’m eventually going to get out into the business world. I think I’m playing right now because I’ve played tennis my whole life, and it’s always been a dream, and I know that if I quit now I’ll always have in the back of my mind that I should’ve played. I’m getting that out of my system and seeing how far it can take me.” He shared that he’s continuing to study and learn while out on the tour because he misses that aspect of being a collegiate student-athlete. Thai went on to say that he’s going to miss everything about college tennis. “Those bus rides and tough matches and celebrations . . . I’m still best friends with all those guys and still talk to them every day, so it’s not too far off.”

I also had a chance to speak with several of the players’ parents, including Scott Holt (Brandon’s dad), Kevin Minor (Brienne’s dad), Beata Redlicki (Michael’s mom), and Carlo DiLorenzo (Francesca’s dad). After seeing all of them back in May at the NCAA Championships, it was great to catch up and get their take on this tournament. They each viewed this event as a wonderful opportunity for their children to play at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the US Open but also realize it’s just another step in their long tennis journey.

And in case you think these college students no longer need that kind of parental support . . . ACI Women’s Champion, Francesca DiLorenzo, had a parent in the stands cheering her on for each match, both in the Women’s Qualifying and the Women’s Doubles Main Draw as well as in this event. “It means a lot to have that support from home,” she shared. And, I have to say my heart nearly melted when I saw Thai Kwiatkowski hug and kiss his dad, Tim, after his first-round loss. What a sweet father-son moment!

Fran is taking the Fall off from Ohio State to pursue her professional tennis career, but, at least as of now, is planning to return to school for the dual match season though she will re-assess in the next couple of months. Some of the new, more restrictive, rules from NCAA are hurting her ability to play enough tournaments in the Fall which was a big factor in her decision to take the next few months off from school. Also, the fact that her major doesn’t allow for as many online classes now that she’s in her Junior year played a role in her decision.

I asked Fran how former UCLA player Jennifer Brady’s success at this year’s US Open impacts her. “It’s always really nice to see a college player do well. It gives us all hope. It’s really good for college tennis and shows that you can do something after college, that it’s not the end of the road like sometimes people think. For her to represent, not just her school but all of college, is unbelievable. It’s really exciting!”

Watching these kids compete was such a treat! I was there the first day of the very first ACI in 2014 but hadn’t been back since. Unfortunately, I had to fly back to Atlanta yesterday before the Men’s ACI Final, but I did see all the other matches this year. College tennis, in case you were wondering, is in great hands!

ACI Women’s Draw & Results

Round 1 (Quarterfinals):
Francesca DiLorenzo (Ohio State Jr) d. Sara Daavettila (UNC So) 6-1, 6-2
Ena Shibahara (UCLA So) d. Brienne Minor (Michigan Jr, NCAA Champ) 6-1, 6-3
Sydney Campbell (Vanderbilt Grad) d. Alexa Graham (UNC So) 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6)
Ingrid Neel (Florida So) d. Hayley Carter (UNC Grad) 4-6, 6-4, 6-2

Round 2 (Semifinals):
Francesca DiLorenzo (Ohio State Jr) d. Ena Shibahara (UCLA So) 6-4, 6-1
Ingrid Neel (Florida So) d. Sydney Campbell (Vanderbilt Grad) 6-4, 1-6, 6-2

Round 3 (Finals):
Francesca DiLorenzo (Ohio State Jr) d. Ingrid Neel (Florida So) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4

ACI Men’s Draw & Results

Round 1 (Quarterfinals):
Michael Redlicki (Arkansas Grad Student) d. Chris Eubanks (GA Tech Sr) 6-2, 6-4
Brandon Holt (USC So) d. William Bushamuka (Kentucky Jr) 6-2, 6-2
Tom Fawcett (Stanford Sr) d. Thai Kwiatkowski (UVA Grad, NCAA Champ) 7-6 (5), 6-4
Alfredo Perez (Florida Jr) d. Alex Rybakov (TCU Jr) 7-5, 6-3

Round 2 (Semifinals):
Michael Redlicki (Arkansas Grad Student) d. Brandon Holt (USC So) 4-6, 6-0, 6-3
Tom Fawcett (Stanford Sr) d. Alfredo Perez (Florida Jr) 6-1, 6-2

Round 3 (Finals):
Tom Fawcett (Stanford Sr) d. Michael Redlicki (Arkansas Grad Student) 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-4

 

Trey Hilderbrand’s Run at US Open Juniors

Trey Hilderbrand

Bonus podcast episode with Mark and Trey Hilderbrand:

I hope you enjoy this Bonus Episode of the podcast, live from the US Open!

Seventeen year old Trey Hilderbrand and his father, Mark, joined me in the interview room at the US Open to discuss his incredible run at this year’s US Open Juniors event. Mark and I have been Facebook friends for several years, but this is the first time we met in person. It was eye-opening for me to sit courtside in Trey’s match and watch the now-legal interaction (at least for this event) between father and son, player and coach. This duo shares details about Trey’s tennis development and his plans for the future.

I have had a great week at the Open and have had the opportunity to interview several of the junior and college players participating in this year’s events. Stay tuned for more content coming over the next few days!

We appreciate the support for our podcast. If you are interested in sponsoring one or more episodes, please click here.

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2017 US Open: My Day 1

US Open Day 1After arriving at La Guardia Airport around 11am, navigating my way through their convoluted rental car process, driving to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and figuring out where to – temporarily (thank you to the nice policeman who let me leave the car next to his!) – park my car so I could pick up my credentials and parking permit, I finally got to settle in and watch some tennis yesterday around 1pm, just in time to see American CoCo Vandeweghe earn her spot in the Semifinals!

There is an energy at the US Open that’s somehow different from other tournaments I’ve attended. I don’t know if it’s because it’s our Home Slam or because it’s New York, but it is something special and electric to experience.

Forget about the fact that we now have 4 American women in the US Open Semifinals for the first time since 1981 (the year I graduated high school). Forget about the fact that, until late last night, we had the hope of seeing Roger and Rafa finally meet at the Open. Forget about the fact that we have a former college player in the men’s semis (WTG Kevin Anderson!). Like I said, I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there and I feel it.

Today is going to be an incredible day – OF FREE TENNIS!!!! – filled with wheelchair players, doubles, juniors, and the American Collegiate Invitational. With yesterday’s rainy weather, no junior matches were played, so the schedule is jam-packed starting at Noon, and I’ll be jumping between Courts 4, 5, and 6 early in the day to Courts 10-17 later on.

For the latest on results in the Juniors, check out today’s ZooTennis post here. I had the pleasure of running into Colette yesterday afternoon and am looking forward to spending some time with her the rest of the week!

I will continue to do Facebook Live posts, so be sure you “like” our page at Facebook.com/ParentingAces/. As I mentioned before, if you’re on the Grounds, please hit me up and let’s find a time to meet. You can message, tweet at, or text me, and I promise I’ll respond!

Here is my Facebook Live video at the end of yesterday:

 

Tennis Parents Wayne Bryan, Steve Johnson, Melanie Rubin from 2014 US Open

Tennis ParentsThis week’s podcast:

Since I’m not yet at the 2017 US Open, I thought I would throw things back to my last trip to our Home Slam and my conversation with Tennis Parents Extraordinaire: Wayne Bryan (father of Bob & Mike, the Bryan Brothers), Steve Johnson (father of Stevie who passed away earlier this year), and Melanie Rubin (mom of Noah). These three have so much knowledge and great advice to share to those of us coming up behind them. I hope you enjoy hearing from them.

I plan on releasing another episode later this week directly from the 2017 US Open, so please keep an eye out for it. The US Open Juniors tournament is now underway, and the Collegiate Invitational starts Thursday, both of which will provide lots of great content for another podcast!

If you aren’t following ParentingAces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, you should go ahead and do so before I get to New York! I hope to do some live broadcasts on Facebook and/or YouTube while I’m at the Open, and if you follow us then you’ll get a notification when I’m online. Of course, if you’re at the Open this week, too, I’d love to meet up with you – who knows, maybe we can do a live broadcast together?!?!

For those interested, we are now accepting new sponsors for the ParentingAces Podcast. If you’d like to learn more, please visit parentingaces.com/sponsorshippackages-aug-2017/

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Holiday Weekend at the US Open

US OpenI know many of you will be spending the Labor Day Weekend at the US Open – lucky you! It’s such a fun time to see the Open – the crowds, all the “extras” going on around the grounds, and, of course, some amazing tennis! In case you’re new to the Open or just need a refresher, I wanted to list some of the things you can see and do while you’re on site this weekend.

  • Watch the pros practice: The practice courts are right inside the West Gate next to Arthur Ashe Stadium. The practice schedule is posted on a big board next to the courts, but you can also find it on the US Open app. After they practice, most of the pros are very gracious and will sign autographs and pose for photos with fans. There is a roped-off area where you can wait for them. Honestly, when my son was younger, this was his favorite part of the Open!
  • Junior US Open Qualies: The top junior players in the world will be on site starting today, practicing and playing for a spot in the Main Draw of the US Open Junior event which begins on Sunday. These are the stars of tomorrow. If you look at the list of past winners, you will see names like Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov, Victoria Azarenka, CoCo Vandeweghe, and Kayla Day who won the Junior event in 2016 and is still in the Main Draw Women’s Doubles this year with partner Caroline Dolehide.
  • Follow the NextGen players: Tennis is on the brink. Our top players, especially on the men’s side, are well past 30 years old, and we have a deep cache of Young Guns waiting to take the reins. Among those still in the US Open this year are Sofia Kenin (age 17) who faces Maria Sharapova tonight on Ashe in Round 3, Andrey Rublev (age 19) who took out Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets yesterday and faces Bosnia Damir Dzumhur tomorrow, Canadian Denis Shapovalov (age 18) who defeated Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the night match on Ashe 2 days ago and faces Kyle Edmund today, and Borna Coric (age 20) who beat fellow NextGener Sasha Zverev in the 2nd round and faces former University of Illinois standout Kevin Anderson today on the Grandstand.
  • Follow the college players: I love how many former college players are still in the Main Draw in both singles and doubles! Representing my alma mater UCLA is Jennifer Brady. Jen beat the 23-seed Barbora Strycova 6-1 6-1 yesterday and will play Monica Niculescu tomorrow. On the men’s side, in addition to Anderson we also have UGA’s John Isner playing on Ashe tonight. In doubles, watch out for Jen Brady who is playing with Allie Riske, Stanford’s Nicole Gibbs who is playing with Julia Boserup, former Stanford star Kristie Ahn playing with former Georgia Tech player Irina Falconi, and former UNC star Nick Monroe who is playing with former Tennessee star JP Smith.
  • Player Meet-and-Greets: Each day the Open hosts meet-and-greets with several players. Today you can meet NextGeners Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe. Check the US Open app for up to date information on these and other interactive events.
  • Shopping & Eating: There are several booths, kiosks, and full-on stores on the grounds to do some major shopping. If you have an American Express card, you can register it through the US Open app and get a $20 credit when you spend $100 on site. Chase Bank is offering Charge & Watch, a device that will charge your phone while you watch exclusive live event coverage. There are also several charging stations around the grounds that you can use while taking a break from the tennis (though I don’t know why you would ever want to do that!). As far as eating goes, the US Open takes stadium food to a whole new level! There are even gourmet vegetarian, gluten-free, and kosher options for those with dietary restrictions. Of course, if you want a hamburger or hot dog, you can get those, too. And, for those in the over-21 category, be sure to try the US Open’s signature cocktail, the Honey Deuce.

For more information on the best way to visit the Open, check out my friend PJ Simmons’s in-depth blog here.

Have a great weekend at the Open! I’ll be there starting Wednesday and look forward to meeting up with you then.

Wilson Launches Ultra Aces Program to Benefit USTA Foundation

Ultra Aces

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I wanted to let you know about a very cool initiative from Wilson that’s continuing through the US Open Singles events this year.

In conjunction with the 2017 US Open Tournament, Wilson Sporting Goods Co., has partnered with the USTA Foundation to launch the “Ultra Aces” program to help fuel the Foundation’s efforts to grow the game of tennis in the U.S. The program has been created to demonstrate the powerful difference the tennis community can make when it works together to make the sport more accessible.

PROGRAM FACTS:

  • The “Ultra Aces” program will kick off with the first round of the 2017 US Open Tournament and will conclude following the Men’s and Women’s Singles championship matches.
  • For every ace recorded by a Wilson-sponsored Men’s and Women’s Singles player that takes the court with the brand’s new 2017 Ultra high performance tennis racket, Wilson will donate $200 and a new Ultra Racket directly to the USTA Foundation.
  • Wilson and the USTA Foundation will direct all donated funds generated by this program towards rebuilding tennis in the communities affected by Hurricane Harvey.
  • Donated rackets will go towards the Foundation’s Excellence Team Program, which empowers under-resourced youth interested in playing tennis at a high performance level throughout the U.S.
  • Official social hashtag of the program is #TogetherWeArePowerful.
  • The 2017 Ultra performance tennis racket line is designed for singles and doubles players who seek a racket that can provide effortless power on every shot, while enhancing the effectiveness of their play.

You can follow the “Ultra Aces” program on social media through Wilson Tennis and the USTA Foundation profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @WilsonTennis and @usta (on each social media network).

The program is off to a great start, despite the almost-total rainout on Day 2! Wilson is tweeting daily updates, and I saw this yesterday morning:

Ultra Aces

After yesterday’s 87 singles matches (!), I suspect that “50” will be a much bigger number once Wilson reports its update today!

While this current initiative is seated in philanthropy, I would be remiss if I didn’t Ultramention that I’ve been playing with the new Wilson Ultra racquet for the past 6 weeks or so, and I LOVE it!  “Our 2017 Ultra line is by far the most comprehensive and versatile collection we’ve created to date, said Hans-Martin Reh, General Manager of Wilson Racquet Sports. “We have high expectations for this racket as it delivers on what we have heard from a wide range of professional, avid and amateur players – ‘I want more power without losing feel’. Ultra reflects a unique blend of modern design and novel technologies that expand the hottest part of the racket’s sweetspot by 15 percent. This translates into a racket that gives more power and force where and when it is needed while enhancing feel.”

Now, I’m just a 4.5 player – certainly no Madison Keys or Gael Monfils (!) – but I can absolutely feel the difference in the amount of power and control I get with this new stick. And the new paint job is pretty slick, too: navy and bright blue accent colors, matte finishes, and velvety paint make the Ultra look and feel amazing!

In its release on the new racquet, Wilson tells us that the 2017 Ultra line has been designed to enhance the performance of a wide range of players. It consists of six models: the Ultra 100 Countervail® (CV), Ultra 100L, Ultra 100UL, Ultra 105S CV, Ultra 110 and Ultra Tour. Each model has been developed to reflect differences in athlete age, size, and ability, and varying head sizes, weights, technologies and string patterns allow players to select a model that is right for them based on their individual needs and style of play.

The Ultra 100L and Ultra 100UL are two maneuverable, lightweight options ideal for juniors and smaller adults. Each 2017 Ultra model is compatible with the brand’s X2 Ergo handle technology, which is a customizable handle shape for the top hand of two-handed backhands to create optimal feel for the modern two-hander. This provides players with more power, versatility and leverage.

And, even though Roger Federer isn’t using the new Ultra – he uses the Wilson Pro Staff – here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at how his racquets get strung during the US Open, courtesy of ESPN Sports – Enjoy!

An in-depth look at how Federer’s rackets get made – ESPN Video

 

 

HBO Sports to Re-Air Documentary BILLIE JEAN KING: PORTRAIT OF A PIONEER

Billie Jean King

In celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Title IX Statute of the Education Amendments of 1972, the USTA will host the sixth annual Sports Diversity & Inclusion Symposium today during the 2017 US Open. USTA Chairman of the Board, CEO and President, Katrina Adams will be joined by International Tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King and “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts for a panel event to discuss the historic impact Title IX has had on women in sports, on and off the playing fields.

The event is the annual conference of the Diversity and Inclusion in Sports Consortium (DISC). The Symposium is presented by the members of DISC, including, MiLB, MLB, MLS, NASCAR, NBA, NCAA, NFL, NHL, PGA of America, PGA Tour, RISE, USOC, USTA and You Can Play, as well as US Open broadcast sponsor ESPN, highlighting D&I best practices in the sports industry. Symposium attendees include Diversity & Inclusion practitioners, leaders of the DISC member organizations, leaders from sports business partners and related companies, as well as New York-based corporate D&I leaders.

Also in conjunction with the Title IX anniversary, HBO is re-airing its 2006 documentary on Billie Jean King. Not coincidentally, I’m sure, I started seeing promos for the upcoming film – BATTLE OF THE SEXES – about the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match during last night’s US Open tv coverage, as well. It seems everyone is paying close attention to this ground-breaking legislation and the woman behind it.

 

Per release from HBO . . .

The HBO Sports presentation BILLIE JEAN KING: PORTRAIT OF A PIONEER explores the personal and professional life of the landmark athlete and activist, whose remarkable career on the tennis court was equaled only by her impact on the struggle for women’s equality during the 1970s. The acclaimed film, which debuted in April of 2006 on HBO, will have an encore play on the network SUNDAY, SEPT. 3 (6:30 p.m. ET/PT). The documentary tells the story of an athlete who revolutionized sports for women, and in the process encouraged women to pursue endeavors outside the traditional realm of the home.

There will be a special encore airing on Wednesday, September 20 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on the HBO2 service, 44 years to the day when Billie Jean King scored her landmark win over Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in Houston.

Other replays include Monday, September 4 at 11:45 a.m. ET/PT (HBO2) & Friday, Sept. 22 at 4:40 p.m. ET/PT (HBO).

Born Billie Jean Moffitt on Nov. 22, 1943, in Long Beach, Cal., King was the daughter of a stay-at-home mother and a firefighter father. She honed her tennis game on public courts in Long Beach, and won her first noteworthy championship in 1961 in the Wimbledon doubles competition with partner Karen Hantze. King won her first singles championship at Wimbledon in 1966, which led to her number-one world ranking.

BILLIE JEAN KING: PORTRAIT OF A PIONEER takes an in-depth look at King’s rise as an international icon of women’s equality, with the defining moment coming on Sept. 20, 1973. On that day, King battled former 1939 men’s Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in a match that King herself said would “ruin the women’s tennis tour and affect all women’s self-esteem” if she was not victorious. In the contest, termed the “Battle of the Sexes,” the 29-year-old King “manhandled” the older and slower Riggs, defeating him 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. An estimated 90 million television viewers worldwide witnessed the victory of the pioneer whose ultimate mark on society far surpassed her 39 Grand Slam titles.

This exclusive presentation features HBO Sports’ acclaimed combination of rare footage, archival photos and revealing interviews, with King herself speaking openly and honestly about her life on and off the court. She discusses the impact of having her private life made public, and her emergence as a leader in the gay community.