A Sense of Irony at G12s Hardcourts

Installment #3 of Craig Cignarelli’s coverage of the G12s National Hardcourts at Windward Lake Club –click here for all match results.

For the past few days, Windward Lake Club’s sidelines have seen parents and umpires expressing their dissatisfaction when a young girl conveys her displeasure via a banged racquet or a verbal outburst. As these young athletes chase the elusive gold ball which signifies the national champion, the Girl’s U12 Supernational tournament resounds with frustration. We see parental reprimands and authoritative commands where parents order their children to control their emotions and to stop acting like a child. Irony, however, is a cruel mistress.

With matches scheduled to begin at 8:00am, Mother Nature intervened today. A 7:56am downpour left the club’s courts looking like last night’s Olympic Swimming venue. At 9am, the weather broke, and parents and umpires took to the courts to squeegee (think giant sponge on a stick) off the water in preparation for play. Ten minutes later, another rain cell came in. Groaning ensued. At 10:15, the radar showed blue skies ahead and all hands came on deck once again. They pushed water for nearly forty-five minutes and the players saw a few dry patches appearing. Two minutes later, the skies opened up again and rain flooded the courts for a third time. Umpires moaned, parents cursed, and the local maintenance staff banged squeegees into oblivion. Equip the kids with the authority to call code violations and you’d have had many defaulted adults. One sensed Kubrick’s chimps would have been more courteous.

Thankfully, the kids weren’t around. Instead, they were in hotels playing card games and watching some version of SpongeBob or Snapchat on the small screen. If they could have seen these adults acting out in frustrated tirades, they’d have had “You’re such a hypocrite!” fodder forever.

Eventually play got under way. I got another chance to watch the Katja Wiersholm. She’s an interesting talent. After winning clay courts with solid court awareness, she comes into hardcourts as the number two seed. Her long red ponytail and bubbling personality belie a severely competitive kid. At age twelve, we expect focus to be about as narrow as Bill Clinton at a Miss America pageant. Katja though, has found a range where champions compete. She is mentally and physically engaged in every single point. It is said war is “hours of boredom with moments of terror.” For Wiersholm, she is winning the battle. Today she entered the round of 16 without dropping a set. On the opposite side of the draw sits defending champion Nikki Yanez. From their intensity, one gets the sense their meeting in the final is destiny. Then again, we’re talking about not yet fully-evolved humans, which I guess takes us back to those parents this morning. 🙂

Musings from Day 2 of the G12s Hardcourts

Installment #2 of Craig Cignarelli’s coverage of the G12s National Hardcourts at Windward Lake Club – click here for all match results.

It is Day Two of the United States Tennis Association’s U12 Girls Supernationals. Yesterday, sixty four girls lost in their first round matches and the flowing tears were a precursor to the afternoon rainstorm. As players sprinted inside to avoid the weather, card games broke out in front of the big screen television where Rio’s tennis-playing Olympians were on screen. It is impossible to describe the competitive dichotomy between first round winners and losers other than by this example. The top three seeds sat studying the patterns of Serena Williams, while three first-round losers found unyielding joy stuffing the three of hearts inside an adorable four year-old little boy’s shirt and then yelling at him that “he stole their heart.”

Today though, the sun is up and all competitors are back on court. The format here is a compass draw, aptly named because the winners move into the east bracket, the losers move into the west bracket, and then players branch out into all directions as the tournament progresses. Imagine what a windshield looks like after a baseball hits it and you’ll get close.

Got a chance to watch the #2 seed today, Katja Wiersholm’s personality is so big and bright, Billy Shakespeare would struggle for metaphor. Her brother is Henrik Wiersholm, who plays for the University of Virginia, so there are enough genetic markers here to give you confidence the girl will do well. Today she did. After a slightly shaky start, the 5-foot tall redhead fist-pumped and “c’mon’ed” herself to a first set win. This kid’s optimism make Tony Robbins look like Eeyore.

Few seeds have lost here, most pushing into the third round without trouble as they await the pivotal round of 32 where they are likely to face another seed. The quick matches gave me some time to get around the grounds here at Windward Lake Club. The quad in front of the tournament desk has been a fertile battleground for Ping Pong players. At any given hour, one can see young tennis players waging forehead-slappingly good points as other slack-jawed adolescents stand around admiring the war. You’ll hear ooh’s and aah’s and sometimes they’ll get pissed off when someone’s little brother runs under the table and prevents a competitor from executing a kill shot. At least one five year old has been clotheslined in the fray. On that note, the tournament trainer has been kept busy. Twelve year-old athletes tend toward the hypochondriacal and this poor guy who paid 200 grand to cut his teeth at the local Univ. is now placing band-aids on blistered hands and wondering how to trim toenails off pre-pubescent toes.

The Wiersholm kid is done now, routing her opponent 6-2 in the second and bouncing up to the tournament desk with an ear-touching smile. For the most part, the parents have been quiet today. Though the competition is increasing, the first day jitters are gone and no one is in the running for a title shot yet. For now, it’s just a bunch of kids playing their hearts out while nail-biting parentals pop Xanax and watered down margaritas and hope they don’t have to change their plane tickets.

Tomorrow the seeds meet upon the cement rectangle.

Girls 12s Hardcourts Live From ATL

golden-tennis-ball-white-30500350Coach Craig Cignarelli recently relocated from SoCal to Atlanta – if you’re in the Atlanta area, you need to RUN to Windward Lake Club ASAP and schedule time for your junior to work with this amazing coach! – and has offered to cover the Girls 12s National Hardcourts for ParentingAces. I always look forward to reading Craig’s pieces, and I hope you enjoy his witty insights, too, over the next several days!

The USTA girls 12-and-Under nationals takes place at Windward Lake Club in Atlanta, Georgia. As national champion, the winner will receive a gold ball. At present, there are 128 pre-teen females grunting and screaming as they hit mach speeds with the loosest arms since Geppetto built his little puppet.

During yesterday’s warm-up, before the pre-tournament practice, one father went ballistic, screaming out to his daughter’s opponent “Stop cheating! You can’t cheat my daughter,” to which his own child replied, “Dad, will you shut up!” Several competitors shook their heads knowingly. In preparation for day one of the event, several children spent more than six hours hitting in the 90+% humidity. Many of them complained of fatigue as stink-eyed parents glared their disapproval. There are very dark circles under eyes here.

While opening day was about camaraderie – girls took photos, smiled, laughed, and connected with old (relatively) friends – Day One of competition was different. 8am competitors arrive with crusted eyes and sheet-seamed cheeks and work into a sweaty lather before sun rises. As dawn ends, slugged-tennis-ball echoes resound across the morning sky. At 7:45 the players rush through Windward’s trees and green grass to the tournament desk for check-in. With a twenty-acre facility, including waterslides, four pools and a marina, Windward provides a scenic and expansive the venue for parents and kids.

Last year’s winner, Nikki Yanez is the number one seed and she begins play at 8am. Her first set ends at 8:14am. On her opponent’s face, the thrashing is noticeable. When they compete, twelve year old girls take on the countenance of Scottish warriors.

Each court has scoreboards atop the net posts and atop each of the scoreboards are numbers to display the set score. The biggest frustration for most kids is finding a way to reach the numbers to change the score. There’ve been some pretty creative efforts, but for most it’s like King Kong on the Empire State building. Nikki makes sure to change the score with a violent shove after every game, which is sort of like Warren Buffet fist-pumping after each line of a negotiation.

At least four college coaches are here and you get the sense they’re already plotting scholarships six years out. With raised eyebrows, hard exhales and excessive drooling over the shotmaking, things grow uncomfortable. Nikki finishes before the sun heats up and trods off the court holding the used tennis balls which all winners carry to the tournament desk.

Aside from the on-court battles, there appear to be several other wars being waged via the parentals. As they boast about who has the youngest kid here (one argument got down to the hour born in the hospital – seriously!) and which kids practice the least, you can feel the genetic trees shaking their competitive roots. Many of these same parents wrap arms around their kids’ shoulders and whisper endless advice into the kids’ ears as they walk out to the court. The children roll their eyes and drop jawlines with uncommon regularity. Adolescence, after all, frequently floats away beneath the winds of helicopter parents.

More to come tomorrow.

A New Way to Get Into B&G18s National Hardcourts


USTA recently announced it is holding a Wildcard Playoff tournament for a spot in the Boys (Kalamazoo) and Girls (San Diego) 18s Hardcourt Championships. When I first heard about the event, I thought it was something being held in each USTA section, but that is not the case. There is one site – Arlington, Texas – for this 64-draw tournament (click here for the TennisLink page).

Per a recent communication from USTA:

One boys’ wild card and one girls’ wild card will be awarded to the winners of this tournament.  The tournament will be held at the Arlington Tennis Center in Arlington, Texas.  The site is 26 minutes from the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (DFW).

The tournament will be played July 20-23, 2015 and is open to all age-eligible players who are not already accepted into the B18 National Championships in Kalamazoo or the G18 National Championships in San Diego.  Entries will OPEN on Thursday, May 14, 2015 [the TennisLink site says entries will open May 21] and will CLOSE at 11:59 a.m. EDT on Thursday, July 9, 2015.  This singles only, single-elimination tournament will have a draw size of up to 64 players.  Up to 16 wild cards may be awarded.  We will publish an acceptance list no later than Monday, July 13, 2015.  As you know we cannot publish an acceptance list until the wild cards for the National Championships have been awarded, which we hope to do by Friday, July 10, 2015.

If you’re a bit confused by all this, you’re not alone! The first sentence in the quote above says that one WC will be awarded but says further down that up to 16 WCs may be awarded. I’ve reached out to the national office and my section’s Jr Comp folks for some clarification. Here’s what I found out . . .

The 16 wild cards mentioned above are into the actual wild card event. In other words, there will be 48 direct acceptance and up to 16 wild cards for the 64 draw. The winner of this event gets a wild card (one of the eight given by Player Development) into the National Championship.

Here’s what else I found out from the National office:

  • Players accepted into a younger division of a concurrent USTA National Championship are eligible for selection into the wild card playoff tournament and if such a player wins a wild card, they shall be withdrawn from the younger division without penalty.
  • Selection will take place after selection of wild cards allocated to each Division.
  • Up to 16 wild cards may be awarded into the wild card playoff tournament.  Remaining players shall be selected and the alternate lists shall be ordered using the most recently published National Standings Lists of the 18 Divisions.
  • Ratings shall be used to seed players.
  • No ranking points shall be earned for participation in the wild card playoff tournament.
  • Best-of-3 tiebreak set match format.
  • The finals will be chaired and the one official for four courts standard for all national junior tournaments must be met.
  • Entry fee will be $54.25.
  • The tournament shall be held on July 20-23, 2015, and corresponding calendar dates in future years
  • The tournament will take place at the Arlington Tennis Center in Arlington, TX.

I think this is a great addition to the national junior calendar. It offers yet another way into the most prestigious event in the 18s age group – much like the wildcard series held for the Australian and French Open at the pro level – without cutting into quotas or other entry criteria, and it rewards those players who have played a national tournament schedule and done well throughout the year.

Be sure to check the event website over the coming few days for additional details.

For the most recent information on the National Junior Competitive Structure, including draw sizes and quotas for the various events, click here.


Kalamazoo 2014 Is Underway

Qualies are complete. Seeds were announced. Draws are posted. The 2014 National Hardcourt tournaments are now underway.

The one I’ve been watching most closely is Kalamazoo since that’s the one my son worked toward playing this year. Unfortunately, despite working very hard and improving dramatically over the past year, my son made neither the Southern quota for the main draw nor the National Standing List (NSL) cutoff for the qualifying draw. Kalamazoo won’t be one of the tournaments on his very long player history when this whole junior tennis thing is all said and done. We’re both disappointed.

That said, I will continue to follow this year’s tournament very closely – mostly via Colette Lewis and her ZooTennis website and Twitter – and will continue to suggest where I think the USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee can do a better job moving forward.

I would like to point out that this year’s top seed in the B18s, Jared Donaldson (who was last year’s runner-up, losing to unseeded Collin Altamirano), needed a wildcard to get into the Main Draw. In fact, 10 of the 11 top seeds needed either a wildcard or had to get through qualies to make the Main Draw: seeds 1-7 plus 10 are all wildcards while Baughman (#9) and Smith (#11) qualified as did Opelka (#19). Woe to the poor boys who got denied a spot in the Main Draw and a chance to be seen by more college coaches because they unluckily drew Deiton, Logan, or Reilly in the qualies!

This Monday’s radio show will be devoted to Kalamazoo. My guests are two fellow Tennis Parents who are there with their sons. If you are at one of the other Hardcourts sites and would like to call in and share your experience so far, please email me at lisa@parentingaces.com so I can give you the details of how to do so.

For those of you with children playing Hardcourts over the next week, good luck and please let me know how it goes!


As Messy As We Predicted

Image courtesy of tsukasachronicles.blogspot.com
Image courtesy of tsukasachronicles.blogspot.com

The player selections have been posted for the upcoming national hardcourt Level 1 tournaments, and, as predicted, it’s another big mess. (See ZooTennis.com for more details)

Like the clay court selections, there are several top-ranked players who were either selected into the qualifying event (16s and 18s) or placed on the alternate list or, worse yet, weren’t selected at all because they didn’t even apply. The recent Wimbledon Junior Boys Champion, Noah Rubin, is in the qualies for B18s. Last year’s Kalamazoo champion and runner-up are both in qualies as well.

Remember USTA’s reason for shrinking the draw size for this event? Remember the statement about reducing the number of 0 & 0 matches in the early rounds for the seeded players? Remember the “this will save families time and money” argument? Remember the t-shirt comment? Please go back and read my post from August 2012 (click here) for a reminder. Well, how do you think the kid who won the event in 2013 is going to feel about having to go through 3 rounds of qualies just to get in the main draw? And how do you think the kids who have to face him during qualies are going to feel? And now those kids have to be at the event 3 days before the main draw starts which costs money in terms of hotel and meals and maybe even rental car. How does any of this accomplish USTA’s stated goals?

Let me remind you, too, that USTA only has 8 wildcards to award in each age group. In the Boys 18s there are at least 15 players who deserve to be in the main draw, including the Wimbledon Junior Finalist, the winner and runner-up of the 2013 Orange Bowl, and several players in the top 15 on TennisRecruiting.net. Again, there are only 8 wildcards, so what happens to those players who aren’t among the Chosen 8? They either decide to go through qualies (if they even bothered to sign up for the tournament and were selected) or they skip the event altogether, weakening the field for our most prestigious junior event. I really don’t see how this is better for junior tennis, do you?

The USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee members and the Junior Comp staff have some major cleanup work ahead of them to fix this broken system and to fix it quickly before even more kids fall through the cracks. The sad thing is that all of the selection outcomes we’re seeing with both clay courts and hardcourts were predicted and discussed ad nauseum before anything was voted on or approved and yet USTA still went forward with the 2014 changes. I want to renew my plea to USTA to go back to the drawing board, to clean up their mess, to enlist the help of current junior tennis parents way smarter than me who can help create a system that will provide the best opportunity for the most junior players to reach their highest potential.

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National Hardcourts Selection Process

I just received the following email from USTA regarding the selection process for the upcoming National Hardcourts and wanted to share it. I will post more as the information becomes available.

Email from USTA Jr Competition

Thank you for your entry to the 2014 USTA  National Championships.

The initial selection process for these events will be completed by Monday, July 7, 2014 and we want to make sure the resulting selection lists are clearly understood.

If you have questions about the selection process, please review the process details which are listed on the “selection process” tab on the tournament homepage.  Most players will be selected from the Section endorsement lists which are published on the selection process tab of the tournament homepage.  Players who are selected will have a green dot next to their name.  Alternates will have a yellow dot next to their name.  See below:

1. (green dot)Jane Doe – Chicago, IL
586. (yellow dot)Sally Backhand – Atlanta, GA

Players who entered the BG16 or BG18 events, will need to determine if they have been selected for the main draw or the qualifying draw.  Players selected for the main draw from the Section endorsement lists, which are published on the selection process tab on the tournament homepage, will have a green dot next to their name as in the example above.  Players on the Section Endorsement List (SEL) who have a green dot next to their name followed by a link to a different selection list (see below) should click on the link and find their name on that list to determine their selection status.

 (green dot)John Doe  –  Miami, FL (B18s – NSL)

Players who have been selected for the qualifying event (shown in Step 20 of the selection process) will have a blue dot next to their name (see below):

68. (blue dot)George Doe  –  Los Angeles, CA

Alternates for the BG16 and BG18 events are alternates for the qualifying event.  Alternates in these divisions will also have yellow dots next to their names as shown above.

We wish all players the best of luck in the upcoming National Championships.