Interviews at the US Open – George & Lynne Opelka

lisawithopelkas

 

During the Junior US Open Qualifying, I had the pleasure of speaking with George and Lynne Opelka whose son, Reilly, was playing for a spot in the main draw. I’m thrilled to report that Reilly made it through the qualies and will be playing his first match later today. I hope to see him play and know his parents are going to be bursting with pride!

Lynne & George Opelka

How ITF Junior Tournaments Work

Just when I thought I had the USTA tournament thing finally figured out, my kid decided he wanted to try playing some ITF events.  And, after reading the current ITF Junior Regulations and searching all over the Web for information and coming up pretty much empty-handed, I started asking questions of those with way more knowledge than I have so I could understand how the ITF process works.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far about ITF events held in the US:

  • You must be between the ages of 13-18 to play in an ITF Junior tournament. You may enter a tournament starting at age 12 years 11 months, however.  Unlike USTA which uses the player’s birth month to determine age and eligibility, the ITF uses the calendar year.  For the 2012 ITF season, for example, players must be born between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1999.
  • Before you can sign up for an ITF Junior Tournament, you have to get an iPin number.  Plan ahead as it can take a day or two for you to get the actual number.  All requests are authorized within 24 hours Monday-Friday.  You cannot enter a tournament without this number.
  • Most ITF Junior events have a qualifying draw that plays the Saturday and Sunday before the Main Draw starts on Monday.  Usually, a player has to win 3 rounds in Qualies to get into the Main Draw, but that can vary according to draw size.  The Main Draw is typically scheduled to play Monday through Sunday.
  • There are Singles and Doubles events in all tournaments.  You can sign up for the Doubles once you arrive.  Even if you don’t get through the Qualies, there may still be an opening for you to play Doubles – you’ll need to check with the tournament officials.
  • It is very important that players and parents check the tournament Fact Sheet for information regarding sign-in dates, locations, and times.  There is a do-or-die sign in deadline for the Qualies and the Main Draw, typically 6pm the Friday before matches start for Qualies and 6pm the Sunday before matches start for the Main.  In order to sign in, you must bring a passport or other photo ID.  You must also know your iPin number and USTA number.  A parent or coach has to sign the Medical Release, just like in USTA tournaments.  Without any one piece of the aforementioned information, you could be denied the opportunity to check-in and play!
  • For those who don’t get into the Main Draw or Qualifying Draw, there are on-site alternates.  It’s important to note that even alternates must have an iPin number, so if your child is even thinking about playing one of these events, you might as well go ahead and apply now.  Check the specific tournament’s website for details on how to alert the tournament officials that you want to be considered as an alternate in case of an opening.
  • After check-in on Friday night, the Qualifying Draws are created and posted online along with first match times.  Often, it is after 10pm before the draws and times are available.  Also, the draws and times may be posted on the ITF Junior website OR the tournament site OR the USTA site – you may have to do some digging before you find your first match time.  Be persistent!  And, be sure you know when you play BEFORE you go to sleep on Friday night – it could be 8am!
  • Only those who are in the Main Draw are given a tournament t-shirt.  Those who don’t make it through the Qualies may be able to purchase a shirt if they want.  I know, this isn’t all that important to some of you, but for others, the t-shirt is key!
  • All singles matches play out a full third set – no 10-point tiebreakers here!  And, just so you know, there is NO COACHING and NO BREAK between the 2nd and 3rd set.  Doubles play two tie-break sets and a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a 3rd set with no-ad scoring.  In the case of bad weather, alternative scoring options may be used in accordance with the ITF 2012 Rules of Tennis (see page 22).
  • If your child has dual citizenship, please refer to Page 36 of the Rules for information as to how to determine which passport your child should use in these events.
  • The time an entry is submitted is not significant; it does not matter if a player is first or last to enter a tournament.  Waco ITF Referee, Ken McCain, told me, “A common comment I receive is that ‘my child has a higher ranking than some players placed higher on the Acceptance List.’  The Federations can send a ranking list to the ITF, usually once a Quarter, to determine the Acceptance List Order (non ITF-ranked players).  One tournament may be using an old list and the following week an updated list is used.  This does occur and this is my best explanation.”  Read Section 45 (starting on page 13) of the rules for details on how selection into the tournaments works.  I’ve read it, and I’m still a bit confused, so if you understand the process, please enlighten the rest of us in the Comments box below!
  • There is a “freeze deadline” which occurs at 14:00 GMT on the Wednesday preceding the tournament week.  At this point, iPIN closes, and it is no longer possible to withdraw online. Instead, withdrawals must be made using the official withdrawal form and sent to the ITF and Referee before the close of sign-in. The published acceptance lists will not update with any withdrawals. The reason for this is that this is the moment the tournament information is sent to the Referee to prepare for the tournament. The acceptance list is sent to the Referee, who now manages the withdrawals. Any questions about the acceptance list from this point on should be directed to the Referee.  Any player who withdraws from a tournament Main Draw or Qualifying Draw after the Freeze Deadline without using the official withdrawal form, sent to the ITF and ITF Tournament Referee, will be subject to a No Show penalty.
  • Wild cards are decided by the host nation.  If players wish to apply for a wildcard they should get in touch with the host National Association (i.e. USTA) and/or Tournament Director.  ITF does not give out wild cards.  Numbers of wild cards available is based on the size of the draw.  For example, a 64 Main Draw will have 8 Wild Cards available.  For US tournaments, a player can apply for a wild card at www.usta.com/itftournaments.  The application deadline is typically right after the regular entry deadline – check the individual tournament’s website for details.  Refer to page 20 of the Junior Circuit Regulations for more information.
  • Lucky losers almost always come from those losing in the final round of qualifying.  If more Lucky Losers are required for substitutions, those players who have lost in the previous qualifying rounds are considered.  Lucky Losers must sign the Lucky Loser list that the Referee will open. It closes 30 minutes before play begins.  Colette Lewis told me that she watched all this take place last year at the US Open juniors. If you don’t have an ITF junior ranking, you go to the bottom of the list, in a similar number assignment with any others without an ITF ranking.  There can be zero lucky losers or as many as seven or eight, which happens at some sparsely attended events in less desirable locations. I think at this week’s Atlanta ITF four boys made it in as lucky losers. Late withdrawals or no shows are the most frequent reason for lucky losers getting in, but an injury or illness can also lead to a last-minute vacated spot.  See page 23 of the rules for more information.

A big thank-you to Colette Lewis of ZooTennis.com for her willingness to share her vast knowledge with me and, by extension, you!  If you have any questions or need more clarification on any point above, I urge you to contact the ITF directly at:

International Tennis Federation, Bank Lane, Roehampton, London, SW15 5XZ
ph: +44 20 8878 6464 | fax: +44 20 8392 4735
email: juniors@itftennis.com   www.itftennis.com/juniors

For the complete rules of Junior ITF play as well as the ranking points table, click here.

NOTE (added December 2, 2012):

APPENDIX G: ITF JUNIOR CIRCUIT AGE ELIGIBILITY RULE
1. ITF Junior Age Eligibility Chart

Age/Number of tournaments permitted

18/Unrestricted
17/Unrestricted
16/25
15/16 (unless player achieves a top 20 ITF Junior Ranking in which case an additional 4 tournaments permitted)
14/14 (unless player achieves a top 20 ITF Junior Ranking in which case an additional 4 tournaments permitted)
13/10 (unless player achieves a top 50 ITF Junior Ranking in which case an additional 4 tournaments permitted)
11-12/0
NOTES
1. The number of tournaments permitted is counted between the date of a player’s birthday and the day before their next birthday, not between 1st January and 31st December.
2. Participation in an ITF Junior Circuit tournament includes singles and/or doubles and/or qualifying.
3. Minors under the age of thirteen (13) shall not be eligible for entry. For the
purposes of this Rule, the player’s age as of the first day of the tournament Main Draw shall be used.
4. The number of tournaments permitted by the ITF Junior Age Eligibility Rule is in addition to the number of professional tournaments permitted by the Age
Eligibility Rule (please refer to ITF Professional Circuit Regulations, and WTA
Regulations for details on the Age Eligibility Rule.)

Waco ITF – The Outcome

Day 1 of Qualies, ITF Tournament 1, Waco, Texas

Coach Julius (via text message to me): Game on!

Me: What’s that mean????

Coach: He just started.

Me: Ah, thanks!  Keep me posted!

Coach: Very rough start.  Nerves.  Lots of unforced errors.  0-4.

Me: Uh oh

Coach: 0-6.  Playing scared.  Poor shot selection and too many short balls off his forehand and backhand.

Me: Hmmm . . . hope he can pull it together for the 2nd . . .

Coach: 1-1 in 2nd

Me:  Calming down?

Coach: Not yet

Me: Hmmmm

Coach: 1-4

Coach (10 minutes later): 0-6, 1-6.  I’m speechless.

Me: Will be interested to hear from both of you after you have time to reflect.  How’s he doing???

Coach: Having a tough time.

Me: 🙁

__________

Son: I lost.

Husband: Sorry to hear that.  We’ll talk a little later.

Me: Will call you in a bit.  Love you.

Son (6 hours later): Just got done hitting with Slovakian kid.

Me: Call me – wanna hear!

Son: Nah

Me: Why?  How did it go?

Son: It was good.  I played well.  Won the set 6-3.

Me:  That’s good.  What’s on tap for tonight and tomorrow?

Hubby: Nice. Call me back.

Son: Don’t feel like talking on phone guys.  Going back to hotel right now to shower and recover – it’s hot as heck.  Then tomorrow I’m gonna hit with Slovakian kid and Sam.

Me: Sounds good!  Have fun!

Day 2

(Coach texted a photo of my son on court)

Me: Thanks! How’s it going???

Coach: Good.  We watched a lot of tennis this morning.  The guy he lost to ended up qualifying.  I worked him out for an hour earlier this afternoon, and now he is hitting with a Slovakian kid.  Will be playing some sets in a bit.

Me: Sounds like a great day!

(3 hours later . . .)

Coach: Just lost a 3 hour 3 set grinder against the Slovakian kid.  Good lessons learned.

Me: Good to hear.  How’s he feeling mentally?

Coach: A little beat up but competing like crazy.

Me: That’s a good sign.  I love a good fight!!!  More tennis tomorrow?

Coach: Planning on watching some 1st round main draw matches and a possible hit before leaving town.

Me: Sounds good! Despite the first round loss, sounds like a successful trip.

Coach: I believe it was a successful trip, but the next few weeks of practice will be the true measure of this trip’s success.

Me: Yes, true.  You’ll have to keep me posted on how he’s doing.  🙂

Coach: Will do.

Me: Thanks for being such an amazing coach and mentor to him!

Coach: I’m just happy to be able to contribute.

Me: Well, we appreciate you more than you know!  I hope M shows you that through his actions on and off the court!

____________

All in all, I think it was a good decision to send him to Waco.  Yes, he lost his very first qualifying match, but he bounced back and took the opportunity to learn from the loss.  The match was against a boy from Mexico who he never would’ve had the chance to play in a sectional tournament.  His practice sessions were with a boy from Slovakia – again, a boy he would never come across in our section.  He watched one of the top juniors in the country play in the main draw and figured out what sets this boy apart.  He now has something concrete to work toward.  Like Coach Julius said, these next few weeks will be a true test of the trip’s success and my son’s commitment to reaching the next level.  It will be interesting to watch and to analyze and to see if my son is willing to put in the even harder work to get there.

Waco ITF – The Decision

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to comment here or via Twitter or via Facebook or via email – I knew y’all would have some great suggestions for me!  I love hearing about your experiences with these different tournaments and how you weigh cost vs. value.  As I keep saying, it’s not just about the tennis here – sometimes it’s about the Life Lessons learned.

Here’s what we finally decided to do regarding next week’s ITF tournament in Waco . . .

I sat down and figured out what the total cost was going to be for the tournament, expecting that my son will make it through a couple of qualifying matches and maybe, just maybe, into the main draw:  flight, hotel, rental car, gas, meals, and his coach’s daily fee.  A conservative estimate was $2500 – OUCH!  For our family, that’s a lot to spend on one tournament, especially since our son is only guaranteed one match (remember: there is no back draw in these tourneys!).  On top of that, we had to consider the possible missed school days and how he was going to stay on top of his work.

I asked my son how badly he wanted to play in this tournament.  He said, “Really badly, Mom!”  I asked if he wanted to play badly enough that he’d be willing to spend some of his savings to help off-set the cost.  He thought about it for a minute then said yes.  So, that’s what’s happening.  He’s going to pay for part of the tournament, and we’re going to cover the rest.  We figured this was a good use of his savings plus it would give him added accountability for his preparation and performance in Waco.  When I say “performance”, I don’t mean whether he wins or loses matches.  What I mean is that he competes well, fights hard, maintains a positive attitude, and absorbs the lessons he’s sure to learn.

Once we’d made the decision to let him go, it was time to make all the travel arrangements.  One of my friends/readers suggested we use Priceline to book the trip – she thought we’d be able to cut the total cost (air, hotel, and rental car) by about 50%, which would be fantastic!  The problem is that it’s waaaaaay cheaper to fly into Dallas (about 90 miles from Waco) instead of directly to Waco, and I could never figure out how to get Priceline to do airline tickets and rental car in one city but hotel in another, so that didn’t work.  But, Southwest Airlines now flies from Atlanta to Dallas AND offers online fares with no change fee (!), so I signed my son up for their frequent flier program and started booking the trip.  My son’s coach suggested I book the return flight for late afternoon on Monday – if my son is still in the tournament at that point, we can always change the date.  If he’s out of the tournament before then, his coach is going to arrange practice matches with some of the other players (thanks to another reader for that great suggestion!) to take full advantage of being in a new area of the country with some different boys.  It turns out that Southwest also has a bundling deal where, if you book air, hotel, and rental car through their website, you get a discount plus frequent flier points on everything – great deal, right?  I ended up saving about $125 by bundling which should cover food for one of the days.

So now everything is booked, my son is working really hard to get ready for the tourney, and his coach feels like this is going to be a great learning experience for him.  I think we made the right decision to let him go but also to ask him to contribute financially to this opportunity.  It gives him more ownership in the whole thing which my husband and I both feel is important – we don’t ever want our son to take his tennis or our financial support of it for granted.  I’ll let y’all know how it goes!

ITFs – Got Info?

My son has been asking to play an ITF tournament for over a year.  Since there are very few even played in the US these days, it wasn’t hard to deter him.  However, a friend’s mom told me I should sign him up for the one in Waco, Texas, because it’s a lower-grade tournament and might be a good first experience for my son.  I went on the ITF website, registered him for an iPin (ITF’s version of a USTA number, I guess), and signed him up for the tournament.  Then, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Finally, the Acceptance List came out, and my son’s name appeared waaaaaay down the page on the list of Alternates.  Not the Qualifiers (yes, ITF junior events have a Qualifier that starts 2 days prior to the Main Event – you have to win 4 matches in Qualies to even get into the Main Draw.  You have to win at least one match in the Main Draw to get a single ITF ranking point.).  Oh, and there’s no Back Draw, so if you lose, even your first round match, you’re done, out of the tournament.  Okay.  No big deal.  We have lots of experience with alternate lists.  We decided to sit tight and see how things played out.

As luck would have it, we found out Monday morning that my son was accepted into the Qualies.  The tournament is next weekend.  Did I mention it is in Waco?  Texas?  A mere 819 miles and 14 1/2 hours by car from our house?  That means either (A) my son misses an additional 3-4 days of school just to get there and back or (B) my husband and I fork over Big Bucks to fly him and his coach to Texas.

I find myself in the familiar position of having to go to bat for my son while maintaining some semblance of financial responsibility to my family.  My son really wants to play in this tournament.  His coach feels like it’s the right time, developmentally, for him to have his first ITF experience but has been very understanding about our money concerns.  And my husband was really hoping our son didn’t get off the Alternate List!

So, I’m turning to you fellow Tennis Parents in hopes that you’ll share your thoughts and experiences on these ITF tournaments.  And your money-saving tips when you have to fly to a tournament.  And your marriage-saving tips when you and your spouse are on different pages about above-referenced money.  HELP!!!!