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

 

Recap of the Boys 16’s and 18’s Clay Courts

Clay Courts

I hope you enjoy this latest contribution from Coach Todd Widom.

I truly enjoyed my time going around to the best clubs in Boca Raton and Delray Beach watching some of my students compete in one of the most prestigious events that is played in my own backyard. It brought back memories of when I played the 18’s Clay Courts. It was also nice catching up with many of the men that I competed with throughout my junior, college, and professional tennis career, as well as, catching up with the college coaches that were coaching college tennis when I was in college. Most of these men who have stayed in the tennis business after their college or professional career became college coaches. I have noticed that not many have gone into junior development, but both jobs have their challenges.

What I would like to speak about is how your son or daughter is going to impress the college coaches so that they can attend one of these fine colleges and have a great four years as a student athlete. First, the college coaches were coming from junior Wimbledon so that already shows you that your son or daughter is competing against the best juniors in the world for these spots on college tennis teams. The reality of the situation is, and I am sorry to tell you, is that these coaches are not traveling to Europe to recruit American players. You may be thinking how can my child make it to one of these good universities and be a starter in the lineup, when they are competing with the best juniors in the world for these starting lineup spots.

Before I get into any discussion about hitting a tennis ball, let’s speak about movement and the physicality of what it takes to be successful, not only on a clay surface, but on any surface. I am seeing kids that do not have any understanding of how to move, court positioning, and use of their lower body to load and explode into a ground stroke. At this tournament, sliding into a shot so you can recover is imperative. Your child’s understanding of the difference between offense, neutral, and defensive positions is crucial to what shot they are going to hit to break down their opponent across the net. For example, if you are eight feet behind the baseline and you hit the ball like you do when you are three feet behind the baseline, the ball will land short and you will not get out of a defensive position. Most likely, you will be running at the fence because you defended poorly. A sign of a high level player is one that can be put on defense and turn that defense into offense during the point. This is what you are seeing with the best tennis players in the world on television, especially with the men’s game. The women’s game has some first strike players like Jelena Ostapenko who know they struggle with mobility so they have to get that first big strike in to start the point. Roger Federer, James Blake, Novak Djokovic, and Andre Agassi are some of the men that can or did take the ball so much earlier than any other players. If you think your son or daughter has this type of eye hand coordination and timing, they are a one in a million tennis player. We need more of these type players in the United States.

Is your son or daughter able to adapt their game to be able to play on the slow clay courts? I am seeing junior players not adapting their game styles and just banging a ball and running. They are also banging a ball at targets on the court that does not really do much. At this level, placement of a shot on a proper target with moderate pace is far more valuable than ripping a ball that hits a foot past the service line. If you watch closely, what targets are the juniors hitting and how many quality shots does it take for one of the players to be dominating the middle of the court because they have a short ball.

I would like to touch on what I am seeing with the junior tennis players as it pertains to their strokes. I am seeing tight and hitchy type strokes that have trouble generating power. It is unnatural. There is no feeling in the hands and wrists. The player should be able to swing and hit, but instead there are multiple complicated steps for hitting a groundstroke. To generate power, the power comes from your core and lower body, and wrist acceleration. Instead, I am seeing unnatural strokes, and chances are that your son or daughter have taken all these super complex tennis lessons and cannot produce a solid, powerfully hit tennis ball.

Lastly, many kids have only one game plan and if that plan is not working that day, they will have an unhappy car ride back to their hotel room. Great tennis players have multiple game plans based on how they are playing that day, plus they have to take into consideration how their opponent is playing that day. For example, in my quarterfinal match at the 18’s Clay Courts, I was playing a player who was ranked about 30 in the world in junior tennis. I started the match great and was hitting behind him a lot during the rallies because he had trouble moving on clay and was slipping and sliding all over the place. The second set came around and he started getting his footing and started dominating some of the rallies. We split sets and it rained. In the third set, I decided to start taking the ball a bit earlier and start taking time away and come into the net more. I took his second serve and hit the return and came into the net which I had practiced many times. I ended up winning the match and was fortunate enough to win the Super National Clay Courts Tournament a few days later, but the point to the story is that if you have a failing game plan, you must make adjustments to get through that day with a win. Now understanding when to change game plans is a different story and that is taught by an experienced and knowledgeable coach so you are able to have a complete game to get through a long tournament. Best of luck to your son or daughter the next time they play Super National Clays Courts or any other clay court tournament.

Advice on Picking a College

Andy Brandi college

The following was written by Coach Andy Brandi and originally posted on the USTA’s Player Development website here and here. Coach Brandi served as a partner of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute since 2007 before joining the USTA staff in August 2010. From 2001-06, Brandi was Director of Tennis for IMG at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, and from 1984-2001, he was the head coach of the University of Florida women’s team. During his career, Brandi has worked with top professionals, including Elena Dementieva, Shahar Peer, Maria Kirilenko, Lisa Raymond, Ryan Sweeting and Jesse Levine. While at the University of Florida, he led the Gators to three NCAA Division I Team titles and coached four NCAA women’s singles champions and four NCAA doubles champions. Brandi is writing a blog for PlayerDevelopment.USTA.com for the next several weeks. In his latest entry, he offers insight and advice to young players as they decide what college to attend.

PART 1

As a former collegiate coach, I would like to give you some insight into making the decision as to which university you will attend. I was at the University of Florida as the women’s coach for 17 years. My pathway there came after traveling as a coach on the pro tour for many years. The thoughts and facts I am passing on to you are what I have learned over those 17 years.

Although most junior players dream of becoming professionals, 99 percent of them will go to college. Even the one percent should have a school in place in case they fall short of the benchmarks that are required to make the decision to turn pro. Such was the case for Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul, who had chosen schools but decided to turn pro after they won Grand Slam junior titles. Shaun Stafford, who came to Florida, won the US Open juniors while in school and stayed for the year. She also won the NCAA singles title as a freshman. She turned pro that summer and became a Top 30 WTA player.

Here are some general guidelines:

During your freshman year in high school, you should make a list of 15 schools that you feel interest you. They can be from dream schools to schools that you would consider as backups. You can receive brochures for camps and questionnaires. Start following the results and rankings of the schools that you have chosen.

Sophomore year, you should go down to 10-12 schools. At this point, you can receive brochures for camps and questionnaires from the schools you are interested in. You can call the coach at your own expense, but they cannot call you. You are able to visit the campus at your own expense as many times as you like. Continue to follow the schools’ results and rankings and compare to the year before.

Junior year, things begin to change. You need to go down to 5-7 schools. You can begin to receive recruiting material and information from the coach as of Sept. 1. You can call the coach at your own expense, and as of July 1, you can receive one call from the coach a week. Texts and emails are allowed from the school as of Sept. 1. You are able to visit the campus at your own expense as many times as you like, and as of July 1, after the completion of your junior year, off-campus contact with the coach is allowed. Continue to follow the schools’ results and rankings and compare to the previous two years.

Senior year, the list goes down to five schools. You can continue to receive materials and information from the school. Calls are still as they were your junior year. Texts and emails are the same, and off-campus contacts are capped at three. Contacts at tournaments are allowed before it starts or after the player completes the tournament. Unofficial visits are unlimited, and now you can take five official visits for D1 and unlimited to D2 and D3 schools. The on-campus visit is for 48 hours and begins when you arrive on campus.

PART 2

Some of the things you need to consider in making your decision are: the coach, the school, location in relation to your home, weather, facilities, the town the school is located in, academic support, the conference it is in, the overall athletic program, how good is the school in your intended major, the team, scholarships, tournament and dual-match schedules and transfer rules.

This is the first important decision that this young person is going to make as they begin their pathway into adulthood. They have to make the decision! They are going to spend 4-5 years of their life there. Parents should provide guidance but should not make the decision. Parents cannot be selfish! They have to go where they feel comfortable, like the school, like the coach and have a connection with the players on the team. You can make the commitment in either November or April and sign the letter of intent on either date.

So let’s begin with some questions about the details that need to be answered in the process:

Coach – What is his background in tennis as a coach and player? How long has he been at the school? What’s his record? NCAA appearances? Individual NCAA tournament appearances? What’s his coaching style? His staff? Tennis knowledge? Developmental skills? Work ethic? What are practices like? Do the players get private lessons? Do underclassmen get the same playing chances as others? Have they participated in the National Team Indoor? Does the team play pro events? How are the lineups determined?

School – What is the reputation of the school? What is its ranking in your area of studies? What kind of academic support do they give athletes? Do they accommodate athletes in advance registration? What are the admissions standards? Do they have online courses, in case you want to take a semester away and travel? How are the academic advisers? Campus security?

Location – Is it far from home? What are winters like? What’s the year-round weather? What is the town like where the university is located? How much local support towards athletics is there? Are there booster groups for tennis? Is it in a small town? Big town? College town? Is there an airport there or nearby?

Athletic program – What is the overall athletic program like? Success in other sports? Facilities in tennis and other sports? Support staff for tennis? How is the conference strength in tennis? Travel budget for tennis? Scholarships for tennis (men 4.5-women 8)? Athletics dorms? Cafeteria for athletes? How do they accommodate athletes who want to transfer? Do they release you? Do they allow 5 years to graduate? Will they guarantee a scholarship if I leave early? Do they cover summer school? Academic counselors and center? Mandatory study hall for freshman?

Team – How do you see yourself getting along with the team and fitting in? Do you see yourself in the lineup? Where? Do they allow you to play pro tournaments in the fall? How many players travel? How many players are on the team? What is the schedule of fall tournaments and dual matches? Away? Home? Equipment allowances? Stringing included? How do they determine the lineup? Are the players I like and connect with seniors? Do they have the same goals? Do they have the same commitment?

Recruiting visit – Tour of the campus? Dorm? Of the town? Who will be my host? Will I meet people in the athletic department? Athletic directors? Medical and training staff? Strength and conditioning? Will I watch a practice? Will I stay in the dorm or hotel? Will I spend time with the team more than the coaches? Will I attend any athletic events? Tennis match? Will I attend any classes? Meet with some faculty from my intended major? Will I eat at the athlete cafeteria? Will I meet with the academic adviser? Will the coach follow up with a home visit?

These are some of the issues that need to be clarified before making the decision. Leave no stone unturned. The decision has to be crystal clear. You have to be thorough. While I was the women’s coach at the University of Florida, I had a student during a recruiting trip ask me how many books there were in the library! I can tell you that I did find out! Why? Because it was important to her! She came to Florida!

Once you have sorted all this out, make your verbal commitment. Be sure you call the other coaches to let them know of your decision and to thank them for the opportunity to visit the school and for their consideration. You want to leave all options open in case you change your mind or the coach leaves before you sign the letter of intent. Do not burn any bridges. Be sure you are 100 percent sure of the decision.

Good luck!

Note from Lisa: Thank you to USTA PD for giving me permission to reprint Coach Brandi’s articles for y’all. I’m happy to see USTA supporting college tennis and supporting Tennis Parents with this series of articles. Please take a look at the Player Development site for more useful articles.

College Night A Big Success for Chris Eubanks

Chris Eubanks
Photo courtesy of Bill Kallenberg Captured in Action Photography

College night even became more special for Georgia Tech rising senior, Chris Eubanks, as he earned his first ATP World Tour main draw win on Tuesday in his hometown of Atlanta. It was a Tuesday evening that seemed like any other, but those at Stadium Court at the BB&T Atlanta Open witnessed what could be the turning point for a local tennis phenom. In the scorching heat of a summer evening, and among an arsenal of Georgia Tech fans and students, Christopher Eubanks notched his first BB&T Atlanta Open Tournament win 7-6(5) 6-4, against American Taylor Fritz, ranked 125 on the ATP Tour and considered one of the top players in the US’s NextGen.

Eubanks, a two-time ACC player of the year and two time All-American is no stranger to success at the college level. He has done nothing but dominate the competition while harnessing his gigantic swing. He has been a force on the college level, and now he has his sights set on the ATP World Tour.

Two years ago at the 2015 BB&T Atlanta Open, Eubanks lost in straight sets to Czech Republic’s Radek Stepanek. The following year, Eubanks showed more promise, as he was able to win two qualifying matches, but eventually fell to fellow American Reilly Opelka.

The match between Eubanks and Fritz had the makings of a classic three set marathon. The first set would have both player holding serve to force a decisive tiebreak. Eubanks tightened his play and pulled ahead quickly to a 6-2 lead in the tiebreak. Fritz dug deep but was unable to make up the ground needed as Eubanks took the set 7-6(5). The second set started much like the first as each player held serve. It wasn’t until the fifth game of the second set that Eubanks was able muscle through to take the first break of the match. That was all Eubanks needed to put his foot on the gas and take the set 6-4.

Thursday evening, Eubanks will be back on court. Armed with a powerful service game that can give any one trouble and a massive forehand, Eubanks showed why is he poised to make waves in this year’s tournament as well as in the professional ranks.

Hispanic Outreach Clinic

Children from the Agape Family Center, 43 in all, participated in the 2017 Hispanic Outreach Clinic at Central Park in Atlantic Station. The event was part of the USTA Net Generation initiative, which encourages youth participation in tennis. Throughout the morning, kids were allowed to play on youth sized courts with local coaches, including Kennesaw State University men’s and women’s head coach, Eduardo Rincon. ATP World Tour player, Ernesto Escobedo also participated.

This was Rincon’s third year working with this event. He enjoys the opportunity to interact with the next generation of tennis. “I feel like tennis has given me so much that I have to somehow give back.”

RESULTS – JULY 25, 2017

Men’s Singles – First Round

[5] K. Edmund (GBR) d M. Baghdatis (CYP) 6-3 7-5
[6] D. Young (USA) d [Q] T. Smyczek (USA) 6-4 6-2
D. Sela (ISR) d K. Kravchuk (RUS) 7-5 6-2
P. Gojowczyk (GER) d G. Pella (ARG) 4-6 6-3 7-6(5)
[PR] J. Millman (AUS) d F. Tiafoe (USA) 5-7 6-4 7-6(5)
[WC] C. Eubanks (USA) d [WC] T. Fritz (USA) 7-6(5) 6-4
M. Jaziri (TUN) d [WC] R. Opelka (USA) 5-7 7-6(14) 6-1
V. Pospisil (CAN) d B. Fratangelo (USA) 7-5 4-6 7-6(3)

Men’s Doubles – First Round

[1] B. Bryan (USA) / M. Bryan (USA) d M. Reid (AUS) / J. Smith (AUS) 4-6 6-4 10-7
A. Qureshi (PAK) / So. Ratiwatana (THA) d [3] N. Monroe (USA) / D. Young (USA) 1-6 7-6(9) 10-5
W. Koolhof (NED) / A. Sitak (NZL) d [WC] J. Cox (USA) / E. Reinberg (USA) 6-2 3-6 10-6

ORDER OF PLAY – WEDNESDAY, JULY 26, 2017

STADIUM COURT start 12:00 noon

[Q] T. Paul (USA) vs M. Jaziri (TUN)
[Q] Q. Halys (FRA) vs [3] G. Muller (LUX)
[6] D. Young (USA) vs L. Lacko (SVK)

Not Before 6:00 pm

V. Pospisil (CAN) vs [2] J. Isner (USA)

Not Before 8:00 pm

S. Gonzalez (MEX) / S. Lipsky (USA) vs [4] P. Raja (IND) / D. Sharan (IND)

AJC GRANDSTAND start 1:00 pm

A. Molteni (ARG) / A. Shamasdin (CAN) vs [2] R. Harrison (USA) / M. Venus (NZL)

Not Before 5:00 pm

H. Chung (KOR) / J. Nedunchezhiyan (IND) vs [WC] E. Sock (USA) / J. Sock (USA)

Tickets available at www.bbtatlantaopen.com

College Tennis Operating Budget

budgetI’ve written and discussed the differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in college tennis quite a bit over the past several months. My reason for doing so is two-fold:

  1. I think it’s important for junior players and their families to have an understanding of what to expect in terms of facilities, equipment, support, travel, etc. when they visit and commit to a college tennis program; and
  2. I think it’s important as a community that we understand why some programs have all the latest bells and whistles while others don’t even have crack-free courts or scoreboards.

So, in keeping with this topic, I found it extremely interesting to look at Darryl Cummings‘s chart listing the operating budget of hundreds of college tennis programs across all divisions. These numbers are from 2014, so they are a bit dated, but I suspect things haven’t changed all that much in three years.

University of South Carolina in the SEC has the largest overall budget at $1,244,834.00 on the men’s side and $1,422,750.00 on the women’s side. That’s a far cry from the $2841.00 budget at Ulster County Community College and even top D3 contender Emory University at $449,836.00!

The CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Tim Russell, is my guest on next week’s podcast, and we talk about this issue in addition to many others. I hope you’ll tune in starting Tuesday at 11amET – you can find the ParentingAces podcast on iTunes, the Podcast App, Stitcher, and on this website as well.

Please click on the link below, take a look at the numbers, and share your thoughts in the Comments area below.

2014 College Tennis Operating Budgets

 

A Look at the Inaugural USTA All-American Combine

I’ve posted 2 articles and devoted an episode of the ParentingAces podcast to USTA’s first college combine, so it’s only fitting that I do a follow-up piece on the event.

Players checked into the National Tennis Center at Lake Nona in Orlando on Wednesday, June 14th 4-7pm. Match play and fitness testing conducted by Mark Kovacs (click here for a video of Mark and Stephen Amritraj during the event) began the following morning at 8am. All play and fitness testing was finished on Friday by 1:30pm giving players and their families time to travel back home or stay and explore all the offerings in the Orlando area for the weekend.

USTA should be very pleased with the number and diversity of participants for its first combine. When I looked at the player list on the Match!Tennis App, I saw the 122 competitors ranged in UTR from 3 to 13, quite a large span of experience and expertise. Looking at the actual draws on the TennisLink page, it seems it was a challenge to provide competitive matches for many of the players, with several of the kids posting 6-0, 6-1, and 6-2 scores for the majority of the rounds in the main draw and more of the same in the consolation brackets.

To get the inside scoop on the combine since I couldn’t be there myself, I reached out to a junior coach who took several players to Orlando for the event as well as a parent who traveled there with her son (who, it turns out, won the boys draw). Interestingly, they had very different answers to my questions.

ParentingAces (PA): Why did you decide to travel to the Combine? What did you hope to get out of it?

Coach: When I saw the advertising for it, I contacted the event director to find out more details about it. I thought it might be a great chance for players to play in front of coaches and get a chance to talk with those coaches as well. Plus, we got to vacation in Orlando also.

Parent: We decided to travel to the Combine because my son was injured and out for over 2 years, and this was a quick way to get remembered and noticed by college coaches before regaining points and a ranking, etc.

PA: What is the most valuable thing you took away from the experience?

Coach: I really got nothing of value from the event other than seeing the USTA National Campus for the first time.

Parent: For us, the most valuable thing was touching base with college coaches and also getting another data point indicating that he is right up there with his peers again.

PA: How did the match play competition compare to other junior tourney experiences?

Coach: It was not good. The main draw played one 6 game no-ad set and the consolation played one 4 game no-ad set. I had 2 issues with the scoring format they used. 1. Playing a 4 game short set means that it will not count for UTR rating for the players. So only the players that stayed in the main draw will have their matches count for UTR. 2. Because they used a tournament format, the NCAA coaches were not allowed to talk with the players in the tournament about recruiting. So you put on an event that is advertised to bring players together with coaches and they can’t talk with each other about recruiting. Not thought through very well at all.

Parent: It was a little spottier in the beginning rounds because the UTRs ranged from around 6 to 13+.

PA: Did you have a chance to interact personally with college coaches? If so, what did you learn from those experiences?

Coach: I was able to learn that most college coaches were only there for the ITA college coaches workshop and not the combine. Some came to see a player or two that they had already been talking to, but for a majority of players at the combine, they still went unseen.

Parent: Yes, there was ample opportunity for that as the college coaches were easy to identify. I learned a bit about different programs and how players are supported and developed.

PA: Was there a parent education component? If so, what was the most valuable part and what would you like to see improved for next year?

Coach: There was nothing to educate the parents. They split the kids up into 3 groups that they rotated between the 1. fitness testing; 2. college info session; 3. how to talk one-on-one with a coach session. I will talk about fitness testing later. The college info session had the potential to be great, but they didn’t have any college coaches there. They brought in 2 of the USTA player development coaches to talk with the kids, one of which admitted that he did not go to college and didn’t really know anything about the process. They put a list of 10 things to do in recruiting on a TV monitor but gave no details on how to execute them and did not give a handout to the players with the list on it. They spent a majority of the time telling about and selling the USTA PTM Professional Tennis Management program to all the kids. The how to talk to a coach session was for players only and they wouldn’t let the parents into it.

Parent: No there was no parent education component. The event was just 1 1/2 days and was jam packed with 6 one set matches and fitness. I think the parents would have had a hard time not watching the tennis because it was exciting with all the sudden death points, etc.

PA: Anything else you’d like to share about your experience? Maybe the fitness testing component and its value?

Coach: The fitness testing was the only somewhat highlight of the event. I say somewhat because if they don’t send all the testing info to the players to use for recruiting purposes then it was a waste of time also. I will say the kids had a lot of fun doing the testing but I don’t think the organizers did a good job of telling the players how important it was to give 100% during the testing because a lot of players just coasted through it. But I understand why also, because they did the testing at the end of the day after the players had been playing tennis all day and most were exhausted.

I have to question the motives, other than money, for having the event. It cost each player $350 to play, they received a T shirt and a lunch voucher for the Net Post Grill on site. Of the 4 players that I had participate, 2 played one 6 game set & five 4 game sets, 1 played two 6 game sets & two 4 game sets, 1 played one 6 game set & three 4 game sets. And there was no award for winning the consolation draw.

In my opinion this event started off as potentially a great idea to bring players and coaches together, but the details were not thought through well at all. I grade the event an F and will not recommend this to my players in the future, unless major changes are made.

Parent: It was great!! It was the first time we saw the USTA national campus and it is beyond expectations! The fitness testing results will be emailed to participants in a week or so and will be helpful to identify strengths and weaknesses to work on.

I followed up with the parent once I learned her son had won the event. As the winner, he received a Wild Card into an upcoming USTA Pro Circuit tournament. I asked what it means to her son to win the combine and if he will approach the pro circuit event any differently than other tournaments he’s played? She responded, “In general this win is meaningful because it gets the attention of college coaches by letting his racket do the talking! It also shows them RJ is good at the fast-paced college format. Personally it is another great data point for RJ showing that although he was out of tennis for over 2 years, he is right up there with his peers and then some… He is psyched about getting a Futures wildcard too! He won’t approach it any differently from any other tournament though because he works hard any time he steps out on the court and gives 100% in any matches or tournaments he plays regardless of what it is or it’s perceived importance.” For those interested in watching the Combine Finals, you can do so below.

It sounds like there were many positive aspects of the USTA’s first combine and many areas in which they can improve moving forward. From my perspective, adding a parent education piece is critical to the future success of these events. I love the fitness testing component and look forward to hearing from those of you who were there how you’re using the information gleaned from the report.

Congratulations to RJ Fresen (age 16) and Anika Yarlagadda (age 15) for winning the event and earning the Wild Card! A big thank you to photographer Bill Kallenberg of Captured in Action and Kathleen Horvath for the photos in the slideshow. For more information on the combine, click here to read USTA’s article. If any of you were at the Combine and would like to share your experience, please do so in the Comments.

 

2017 NCAA Championships Slideshow

I had a ball covering the 2017 NCAA Tennis Championships! In addition to the slideshow below, click here to read my post on the Championships, and here and here to listen to my podcasts recorded during the Championships.