Clay Courts Wild Card Selections

Image courtesy of www.douglasbeaton.com
Image courtesy of www.douglasbeaton.com

The wild card selections have been made for the various age groups at the upcoming National Clay Court tournaments around the US. I emailed Lew Brewer (Director of Junior Competition for USTA) to find out how the players were chosen and to get a list of all the wild cards since a “WC” designation isn’t indicated on the competitor lists. Here’s what Lew shared with me . . .

The criteria for selecting wild cards is published in the 2014 Friend at Court.  It lives in USTA Regulation IX.A.9.l. (2014 FAC page 183).  The actual criteria is in FAC Comment IX.A-8 which is on page 184.  I’ve inserted the text below.

FAC Comment IX.A-8: The Wild Card Committee shall use the following criteria to select wild cards:

  • No player that is under suspension by the USTA, a Sectional Association, the ITF, the ITA, the WTA, or the ATP may be awarded a  wild card.
  • No player who has a national standing below the standing of the first alternate may be awarded a wild card unless, in the opinion of the Wild Card Committee, the player will improve the overall strength of field of the tournament.
  • No player who submits a late wild card application may be considered.  Timely entries into the tournament are recommended, but are not required.
  • A player with an established record in international, professional, or collegiate competition may be considered.
  • A player whose ability to qualify has been affected by injury, illness, or other personal circumstance may be considered.
  • A player with a high standing in a younger age division of the event may be considered.
  • A player with a high standing in the division of the event who was not endorsed by their Sectional Association may be considered, provided that the player has been recommended for a wild card by their Sectional Association.
  • A player who has been recommended for a wild card by the USTA National Coaching Staff may be considered.

Although 2014 is the first year that the criteria has appeared in the FAC, it is the same criteria that has been used for many years.

And, now, a list of the 2014 National Clay Court Championship wild cards:

Boys 18

Belga, Jordan

Marinescu, Andrei

Seelig, Kyle

Ray, Pally

Boys 16

Bellamy, Roscoe

Kirkov, Vasil

Boys 14

Bicknell, Blais

Fenty, Adrian

Boys 12

Andre, Michael

Boulais, Justin

Girls 18

Haffey, Mary

Lampl, Caroline

Oosterhout, Erica

Smith, Stephanie

Girls 16

Kulikov, Angela

McKenzie, Kylie

Riley, Sydney

Scotty, Elizabth

Girls 14

Blake, Angelica

Conard, Nicole

Elhom, Anna

Mandilk, Elli

Thomas, Katelyn

Girls 12

Eades, Elizabeth

Gauff, Cori

Smith, Kelsey

As you can see, USTA did not award all 8/age division permitted wild cards for this tournament. I’ve asked Lew why and am awaiting his response. I will update this article as soon as I hear back from him.

Making Tennis Fun!

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There are many challenges involved in junior tennis.  Among the most common are (1) getting kids to choose tennis over other sports; and (2) keeping them interested in tennis, especially once they hit their teens.  One tennis facility in the Southern California section came up with a great solution to both!

At the end of June, the Palisades Tennis Center had a camp for top players across the country. About 40 kids convened in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles where they trained all day then went to the movies and the beach and basically hung out together at night.

On two of the camp days, PTC brought out a film crew with one of the fastest production cameras in the world and shot the kids moving and hitting forehands. To film at this high frame rate is a very challenging task: it’s not easy to move the camera around, and you can only record for 8 seconds at a time before the camera has to process the footage for several minutes.  But, the film crew created some of the best super slo mo footage of top kids performing at a really high level. Actually some of the best tennis slo mo period that I have ever seen (not that I’m all that experienced in this area, but still . . .).

Mike Thoeresz, general manager of the PTC, says, “I believe that junior tennis is pushing the envelope more than any other sport right now. Our kids start earlier. They compete earlier. They have too much coaching when not in competition and then no coaching when in competition. But mostly because they have to do it all. They are the point guard, the forward and the center. They are the quarterback, the fullback, the wide receiver, the linebacker, the punter…tennis players have to do it all. They can hit 1000s of balls and run many miles in a match. So tennis players end up pushing the level of sport more and take it to higher places. When you watch some of these videos, you’ll can see the amazing skills that these kids have.”

Some of the kids at the PTC camp:

Claire Liu – won the Orange Bowl and National Clay Courts – highest ranking: #1 in nation singles
Keenan Mayo – won the Winter Nats – highest ranking: #1 in nation singles
Roscoe Bellamy – won the Hard Courts – highest ranking: #1 in nation singles & doubles
Aiden Mayo – won the Little Mo – highest ranking: #1 in nation singles
Ilana Oleynik – won the ITF Level 1 in Carson doubles
Caroline Vincent – won the Copper Bowl singles and doubles
Max Mendelsohn – won the Nationals in Dallas
Katie LaFrance – won the Nationals in Oklahoma City

Click here to take a look at PTC’s super slo mo videos.  Of course, not every facility has access to this type of equipment, but is your child’s coach or facility doing something similar to keep the kids interested and having fun?  If so, please share in the Comments below!

If This Doesn’t Convince You . . .

Spreadsheet Links

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -with teams

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -Individual entries-No Teams

The two spreadsheets above were created by Robert Sasseville, a member of the group that met with the USTA folks in Chicago in October.  Robert has run the Girls 14s Nationals for the past 30 years and has been involved in junior tennis in some way, shape, or form for over 40 years, so he’s seen the evolution of the competition calendar and ranking system over a long enough period of time to understand clearly how the 2014 changes will impact our junior players.

The first link shows a comparison between the 2014 national competition opportunities and those in 2012 and 2009, including the new team events.  The second link shows the same comparison but without including the new team events so there is an “apples to apples, oranges to oranges” comparison.  The spreadsheets are broken down by weeks, so that when viewed, it is obvious how restrictive the current and proposed 2014 schedules are compared to pre-2011.

If, after studying the spreadsheets, you still aren’t convinced that the 2014 calendar will greatly reduce competition opportunities for our juniors, please let me know in the Comments below. I have Robert on stand-by!

The following was written by Robert Sasseville and posted in another article‘s Comments section:

It was today one year ago, December 1, 2011, that I first received a copy of the proposed changes to the National Junior Competition Structure.  It was that night that I composed my first “comparison” of competitive opportunity reductions.  That night I compared 2014 with 2011, 2010, and the 1980’s, our recent “golden age” of junior tennis.  I compared only Level 1 and Level 2 changes.

In the original proposal the Winter and Spring Nationals were eliminated.  Both remaining Level 2 Nationals were reduced to 64 draws, while The Nationals (Hard Courts) were reduced to 128 draws and the National Clay Courts were moved to Memorial Day weekend and reduced to 64 Draws.  Depending on age group the Level 1 reductions from 2010 were 75% for 12’s, 60% for 14’s,  59% for 16’s, and 58% for 18’s.  Sweet Sixteen’s weren’t counted because they were automatically entered into the succeeding Level 1 National.

The Level 2 events were all reduced from 16 events with 64 players each in 2010 to 6 events with 32 players each in 2014.  That was a reduction for all age groups of 81.25%.

The National Junior Competition Schedule that passed in March had some changes, like not moving the Clay Courts to May and adding a 32-draw Spring event for 12’s, 14’s, and 16’s, so our updated numbers have changed as modifications occurred.

To get a picture of how the schedule changes will affect playing opportunities for juniors, I put together a spreadsheet comparing 2009 with 2012 and 2014.  It was not only designed to show percentage decrease in opportunity, but also the event distribution.   Because it was laid out in a 52-week format, the flexibility inherent in the 2009 schedule contrasted with the rigidity of the 2014 schedule was readily apparent.

The original comparisons were based on National “developmental” opportunities, which meant that a single player could enter a  tournament with the opportunity to play another player from anywhere in the United States.  (A player from College Park, Maryland could possibly have opponents from Spokane, WA, Houston, TX, and San Juan, PR, or any other location within the United States.)  In our original computation we included the proposed 2014 Winter Team Championships, although they are really not individual events.

We did not include 2014 Regionals in the computation, because they are “National” in respect to “point opportunities” only, as opposed to the current events labeled “Regional” which currently have no geographic restrictions, and are truly “National”.

In this document we expanded the spreadsheets and looked at both the individual events, the team events, as well as the new ‘Regional’ events and computed percentages based on individual and team events, separately and together, as well as, including the new  “Regionals”.

It all depends on one’s definition of “National”.

If “National” means you have the possibility of playing anyone from anywhere …..

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 82.47% to 86.75%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 71.00% to 80.75%.

If “National” means the tournament has “National” or “Regional” in the title, and you will receive National points  …….

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 60.73% to 65.90%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 51.24% to 61.65%.

Another reduction, for those defining “National” opportunities using the criteria that National Points are available, is the fact that the number of Sectional events offering “National” points has been reduced by 50%.   Each section’s number of events carrying National points has been reduced from 12 to 6.  Even though the events eliminated were Level 5, elimination of 6 events spread throughout the year reduces opportunities for players whose schedules are restricted by school or other commitments.

If you are defining “National” by the opportunity to acquire National Points, you might want to consider exactly what National Points and National Rankings will do for you in 2014.

Already, National Rankings are basically a tool used by the USTA online entry system for player selection and seeding.   Having a “National” ranking has devolved to the point where its only real value is in the selection process for “National” events.

Seldom does one hear people talk about National ranking, particularly as a player reaches college age.  Now people mention, or aspire to be, “Blue Chips”, “5 Stars”, “4 Stars”, etc.  USTA Rankings have become irrelevant for college recruiting purposes because they don’t take into account the quality of play.    Once USTA moved away from a merit-based head-to-head ranking system, the value of the ranking secured by point acquisition is merely the value granted to it by USTA.  The value is that if you have more points, you will be admitted ahead of someone who has fewer.

Additionally, the number of events accepting entrants based on a player’s National ranking shows a staggering decrease. The events per age group admitting players via National ranking in 2014 compared to 2009 and 2013 are:

  • 12’s    28 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    •  [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each) and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)
  • 14’s    29 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 79.3% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 16’s    31 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]  Reduction: 80.6% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 18’s    32 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), Winter Team event (64 players)]  Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)

Imagine being a rising 17- or 18-year-old and having your National Ranking used for admittance to only 3 National level events for all of 2014, when in 2013 there had been 12 events played in 10 different months that admitted you via your National Ranking.

So, one thing is certain.  National individual opportunities for all will be reduced anywhere from 51% to 86%, depending on your age group and your definition of “National”.

The numbers of events where your National Ranking will have any significance at all will drop by 79.3% to 89.3%, or 50% to 75%, depending on which year you choose as a comparison.

Severely reducing the number of events making selections based on USTA National standing serves to diminish the value of a USTA National ranking, and therefore the value of events that carry National points, but no National developmental opportunities (e.g., 2014 Level 3 and Level 4 Regionals).

While there may be argument over the exact percentages, there is no argument that the operative word for 2014 is REDUCTION.

A Great Fix

I recently met with Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes to talk about various aspects of junior and college tennis.  Ross grew up playing junior tennis and went on to play at the University of Florida.  He now works with junior players and their families to navigate the college recruiting process, so I trust him as a reliable resource on matters having to do with junior tennis and college.

He asked me to give him the down-and-dirty rundown on what’s going on with the USTA’s proposed changes to the junior competition schedule and the feedback I’ve been hearing from other parents as well as coaches.  Then, he shared with me what I consider a brilliant solution . . .

Instead of making the draws smaller at the big national tournaments (Winter Nationals, National Clay Courts, and National Hard Courts), taking away the opportunity for many junior players to have the experience of playing at these events, why not have 2 equal-sized draws of 128 each where the players ranked 1-128 play in one draw and the players ranked 129-256 play in the other?  There would be a modified feed-in consolation for each draw, so players would either be guaranteed 2 or 3 matches (that detail can be worked out later).  The two separate draws could have a staggered start-date so that court availability wouldn’t be an issue, and play would continue on a daily basis so no player would have a day off, needlessly spending money on a hotel and meals and rental car.

What made Ross come up with such a format?  He says, “I was looking at how many matches are uncompetitive at our national events.  I looked at Hard Courts and Clay Courts in the 18’s for boys and girls this summer, and over 20% of all main draws matches are not competitive.  I would define that as one of the players not getting even 3 games in either set.  6-2, 6-2 is not competitive.”

From the tournament directors’ perspective, this approach is a win-win.  More players means more income from entry fees.  More players also means more revenue for the host community in terms of hotel rooms, restaurants, rental cars, shopping, etc. which makes the event an easier “sell” to potential sponsors.

From the college coaches’ perspective, it’s a win-win.  The coaches from the top D1 schools could focus their time watching Players 1-128, those most likely to be candidates for their programs.  The coaches from the 2nd tier D1 and the D2 and D3 schools could focus their time watching Players 129-256, those most likely to be candidates for their programs.  This format would attract more coaches from a variety of schools, which would give the players and their families a chance to speak to those coaches face-to-face and learn more about the individual programs.

I asked University of Georgia’s Men’s Head Coach, Manny Diaz, what he thought of the proposal.  He says, “I like the idea. In the context of keeping more kids involved in the highest levels of our sport, I would also think having a 64 qualifying draw with 8 qualifiers into a 128 draw would be a good consideration.”  Not a bad addition to the plan, Coach!

From the players’ perspective, it’s a win-win.  More kids get to play in the most prestigious American junior tennis tournaments.  They have the opportunity to play more competitive matches from the get-go since the draws will be separated by ranking, which should avoid that dreaded 0&0 “triple crown” effect that Lew Brewer alluded to when I spoke to him about the smaller draw sizes.  More players have the opportunity for face-to-face meetings with coaches who will be interested in, and have the possibility of, recruiting them.  For those players in the 129-256 draw who aspire to play at a higher-level D1 school, getting their ranking into that top 128 so those coaches will watch them play gives them a concrete goal to work toward for the next year.  For those who say it’s too expensive to travel to these national events, this proposed format would reduce the amount of time you would have to stay at the event by ensuring play (barring weather delays) on consecutive days.  Of course, whether or not a family chooses to travel for a child’s tennis is completely their own decision, but if the child’s goal is to compete on the national level and eventually play college tennis, why not provide a scenario that gives them the best chance of getting into the tournament and playing some good competitive matches while there, not to mention the best chance of being seen by the appropriate college coaches?

And, unlike the “waterfall draws” of our current Southern Level 3 tournaments, under this proposed format the top kids would get the chance to compete against one another, driving each other to get better.  Ross told me the story of a player he worked with a few years ago.  He asked me, “Do you remember when Federer was #1, Nadal was #2, and Djokovic was #3?  Do you know how many times Djokovic played Federer and Nadal that year?  Thirteen times!”  Ross talked about how much Djokovic improved that year, how playing the top two guys drove him to work harder to figure out how to beat them.  He then went on to tell me about his player, ranked #3 in the country, a very strong recruit.  “Do you know how many times my player got to play the #1 and #2 players during his junior year?  Zero!”  That is one of the often-overlooked flaws in our current tournament system.  We need rivalries at the top.  That’s what fuels hard work, ambition, and a hunger to get better.  And it’s one of the reasons we see many college players at the top programs develop to the next level – that daily competition against their peers.

To summarize . . .
Benefits:
  • Better match play for all participants
  • Better for athletes and parents in the recruiting process
  • Better for college coaches in the recruiting process
  • Better for the host city and the tournament director
  • Gives more kids a chance to play the big national events
  • Gives kids concrete goals to shoot for
Negatives:
  • I just don’t see any.  Do you?  If so, please share in the Comments below.