College Players Soar at US Open

With all the proposed changes NCAA is trying to make, you would think there was a problem with US college tennis.  This first week of the US Open is proving otherwise.

We have seen some incredible wins by our young guns in Flushing.  Stanford’s Mallory Burdette took out Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland in her first round match in straight sets then did similar work against Lucie Hradecka (you may recognize this name as one of the silver medal doubles winners at last month’s London Olympics) of the Czech Republic in Round 2.

On the men’s side, USC’s Steve Johnson (NCAA Singles Champion in 2011 and 2012) beat former University of Illinois player Rajeev Ram in the first round then partnered with Jack Sock to oust the top seeds in the Men’s Doubles draw.  Stanford’s Bradley Klahn had an incredible 5-set win over Jurgen Melzer – I’m guessing playing out those tight 3rd sets during the college season was instrumental in helping him get the W yesterday!  And UCLA’s Dennis Novikov, who is also the 2012 Kalamazoo champ, won a hard-fought battle against Jerzy Janowicz in his first round match.  Our best-known college player and former Georgia Bulldog, John Isner (this year’s 9 seed), had an uneventful first round win over Belgium’s Xavier Malisse.

Both the men and women are having success in the doubles as well.  Besides Johnson and Sock’s win, Ram partnered with Belmont College coach and Comeback Kid Brian Baker to beat Emmrick and Sijsling in the first round.  Novikov partnered with fellow junior player Michael Redlicki to get a win over veteran Americans Bobby Reynolds (former Vanderbilt standout) and Michael Russell (1997 NCAA Rookie of the Year at University of Miami).  And former Georgia Tech star, Irina Falconi, partnered with former USC standout, Maria Sanchez, to win their first match versus Cadantu and Johansson.

To be fair, not all of our college players fared so well.  University of Tennessee grad, Rhyne Williams, had a very tough match, drawing Andy Roddick in the first round.  Williams put up a good fight and definitely made Roddick earn the win.  And Jesse Levine, a former Florida Gator, fell in 5 sets to 14 seed Ukranian player Alexandr Dolgopolov.

It would seem that the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is applicable here.  The young men and women mentioned above are living the dream of countless junior players – going to college, getting a degree, improving their tennis, then parlaying all those skills into success at the professional level.  While I realize that a first- or second-round win doesn’t prove that college tennis is a viable stepping stone to the pro circuit, it certainly shows that a young player can take that path and have positive results.

Good luck to our players as they move on to Round 2 and beyond!

We’re in Good Hands!

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. – George Orwell

Last week was quite a whirlwind in the tennis world.  I spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling through Facebook posts and Twitter tweets trying to keep up with all the conversations involving the NCAA changes to college tennis and the USTA changes to junior tennis.  One very positive thing that came out of all this craziness was the creation of a new Facebook group that just may be the unifying force we need.

Started by two young men – Bob Van Overbeek (University of Florida) and Evan King (University of Michigan), both top D1 college players – this group grew from 0 to 8000+ members over the course of the weekend.  It’s made up of current college players – both men and women – from D1, 2, and 3 programs as well as coaches, parents, fans, past players, and aspiring junior players.

I wondered how these 2 college boys came up with the idea of using Facebook to make a statement to the NCAA about its proposed changes to the year-end Championships.  Bob told me, “Evan and I were talking about Manny Diaz‘s tweets about the NCAA changes, and then shortly after that we saw the document with all of the writing and official changes on it. We started out sort of joking that we should do something about it. The joking led to us actually deciding to make the group and spreading it to everyone we knew. Our only goal was to simply share the information because sometimes the NCAA does these sorts of things and it gets swept under the rug. I think once people learned about what the changes were it got a lot of people angry so the word spread quickly.”

Boy, did it!  Not only were these guys able to organize a “Twitter Rampage” on Saturday, causing the #SaveCollegeTennis topic to trend several times throughout the weekend, but they’ve also tapped into the group’s resources to create an online petition (which now has more than 3000 signatures in only 2 days) asking NCAA to reverse the changes .  And, the mainstream media is certainly paying attention.  The boys’ efforts have been written about in USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times.

These two young men have turned their passion into action, and it’s been absolutely amazing to watch the explosion.  They are obviously intelligent guys given their educational institutions, but, more than that, they are wise beyond their years .

I decided to take advantage of their wisdom and get some advice.  I asked Bob if he had any advice for junior players who want to play college tennis.  His answer:  “The most important piece, something I tell everybody I meet, is to take every visit you possibly can. Every school will feel awesome when you are there, so make sure you see as many as possible. The second is don’t choose a school based on how good they are because teams can be great and then awful within a year or two. Make sure you choose based on the feel of the people who will be your teammates (people your age also looking at school), the coaches, and overall the city is something you can see being a lot of fun for four years because school and tennis can get stressful, but as long as you enjoy where you are and what you are doing, it will all be so much easier.”

And his advice for us parents?  “First, check to see if playing tennis is really what THE PLAYER wants to be doing, not what the parent wants the player to be doing. If the player is only playing because the parents want him/her to, then I would suggest getting out of tennis ASAP. But, if the player truly wants to play and loves it, then the second step is to back off as much as possible. If it is something that the player truly loves, the player will make all the effort needed and will learn by making the mistakes on their own. Obviously the parents need to give their support, but  all too often, tennis parents will get way too involved on and off the court. I see parents watching matches and freaking out, assuming that this match is the match that will solidify their child’s place in a college or at top 10 in the ranking. Parents have to remember, just as players do, that 1 match is only that, one match, and it is not life or death.”

Wise words from one who knows.

To Sum It All Up . . .

It’s been a crazy week in the world of junior tennis!  In case you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I am, I thought I’d summarize what’s going on and my recommended action items.

  • USTA has adopted changes to its Junior Competition calendar that will become effective in 2014. If you haven’t yet seen it, the new 2014 tournament calendar is here. Some interested parties who feel that the changes should, at the very least, be delayed for further study, have created an online petition and are seeking signatures. If you would like to view and/or sign this petition, click here.
  • NCAA has passed new rules affecting its year-end Championships effective September 1, 2012, for the Spring 2013 tournament.  The rules are purported to be in the interest of bringing additional fans to the sport and garnering tv coverage.  To read the new rules, click here.  To their credit, USTA is partnering with ITA to write a joint opposition letter to the rule changes.
  • A group of current and former collegiate players have formed a Facebook group to try to get NCAA to reconsider the rule changes.  They have created an event to organize a Twitter rampage on Saturday at Noon EDT.  To learn more, click here.  They have also created an online petition to overturn the changes.  To read and/or sign it, click here.
  • Sunday’s ParentingAces radio show will feature a discussion of the NCAA rule changes and what we as tennis parents can do to help preserve the integrity of the college system for our kids.  Tune in live at 6:30pm EDT by clicking here then call in with your questions and/or comments at 714-583-6853.  If you miss the live broadcast, you can hear the podcast by clicking on the Radio Show tab in the menu bar above.

USTA Steps Up

I received the following from USTA this morning:

USTA Statement on Proposed NCAA Changes to Collegiate Tennis

The USTA is aware of the proposed format changes being made by the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee to the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships.  Working with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), the USTA is preparing a joint opposition letter to these changes.  The letter will be distributed to the committee in advance of its Monday, August 20th meeting.

NCAA Changes

When we are confronted by challenges, we have a choice:  sit back and accept them (glass half empty approach) OR take action and attempt to turn them into something positive (glass half full approach).  Concerning this week’s announcement by the NCAA that it is changing the format of the Division 1 year-end tennis tournament, I’m choosing to join several of the current, future, and recently-graduated players and take action.

In a nutshell, NCAA has decided that, during its year-end tourney, (1) players will have no on-court warmup; (2) the six singles matches will play first and will play a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a third set; (3) changeovers will last 60 seconds instead of the current 90; (4) the three doubles matches will be played after a 5-minute break; and (5) doubles matches will be one 6-game set with a 7-point tiebreaker played at 6-all.  These changes go into effect beginning September 1, 2012, for the 2013 Championships.  To read the complete report from the July NCAA meeting, click here.  The report includes a list of the committee members in attendance along with their university affiliation.

Hayley Carter, a high school senior who recently committed to play for UNC, emailed me the following:  “Although I sincerely appreciate all the NCAA does for us in providing us with scholarships to play the sport we love, I do not agree with the new rules they have put in place. My plans are to use college tennis as a stepping-stone into professional tennis. Looking at the WTA success of former college players, such as Irina Falconi and more recently Mallory Burdette, I have no doubt that I can use the experience of college tennis to help me make it on the pro tour, but with the recent rule changes it will make it that much more difficult.”

Hayley goes on:  “No matter if it results in a win or a loss, third sets are times when players give everything they have when they have no energy left, when they learn to fight and compete for every point no matter the adversity, and when, most importantly, they grow as a player. In my opinion, the change to a 10-point tiebreaker greatly diminishes all of the things that are learned through a hard-fought third set. Skill and hard work become more easily replaced with luck, when just a few points can have such a big impact on determining the outcome of a match.”

Hayley’s sentiments are echoed by many of her tennis compadres as evidenced by the number of members (over 2400 after less than one day) and posts on the *OFFICIAL* Against the changes to NCAA tennis Facebook group.  These young players are outraged by the seemingly revenue-driven changes to the sport they have devoted over half their lives learning and mastering, all for the chance to play at the collegiate – and maybe professional – level.  All the NCAA is doing is “dumbing down” our sport, eliminating the fitness factor for players, and making college tennis a less attractive option for our juniors.

Wise words from another collegiate player:  “The bottom line is in tennis you are either going to have fans or you aren’t. Don’t keep using that excuse as a way to change the rules. Fans will stay whether the matches are two hours or ten hours. Those who aren’t fans don’t show up anyway. Tennis is one of the few sports that doesn’t have a clock involved and that is what makes it special. Do you think the matches between Nadal and Djokovic, Federer and Nadal would have been as inspiring if they played a 10 point breaker for the 5th set?”

I hope you’ll join me on Sunday’s radio show to discuss these changes and what, if anything, we tennis parents can do to convince NCAA to overturn them before any long-term damage is done to junior tennis in the U.S.  My guests on Sunday’s show are Drake Bernstein, Assistant Women’s Tennis Coach at the University of Georgia, and Colette Lewis, tennis journalist and creator of ZooTennis.com.  Please plan to tune in and call in (714-583-6853) so we can try to figure out the next step.

Tennis Parents & Coaches: Please Read!

The following is an email that I received this morning from Robert Sasseville who runs several junior tournaments in the Southern Section.  Please take the appropriate action and feel free to pass along to others who want to be informed.  Thank you!

It was great having you in Rome for the GA Jr. Open.  I hope you had an enjoyable time.

With 650 players, 7 sites, and 4 days to play it, we didn’t get much of a chance to chat.  If we had, I’m sure the 2014 National Tournament Schedule would have been at the top of the list of things to discuss.

Since we had players from 13 sections, 24 states, and the District of Columbia, many of you are interested in play outside of your hometown, home state, and home section.  This aspect of competition is one of the casualties of the 2014 schedule.

Since USTA Southern voted AGAINST the new National Junior Competition Structure, it should be no surprise to you  that I concur with our section in opposition.

Patrick McEnroe and other USTA staff members held Parent/Coach meetings pertaining to the 2014 National Competition changes last week at the at the National Championships.  If the comments at all sites were like those at the 12’s and 14’s, it was pretty obvious that there is not a lot of support for the upcoming changes, if they are actually implemented.

If you haven’t yet seen it, the 2014 tournament calendar is here.

A petition has been constructed by interested parties who feel that the changes should, at the very least, be delayed for further study.

If you would like to view this petition, click the link below:

http://www.gopetition.com/     

If the link doesn’t work, just cut and paste the address into your browser.  In the “Search” box in the upper right corner type “AMEND 2014 USTA JR RULES”

We hope to see you next year at the GA Open.