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

 

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.

The NCAAs from the Inside Out

NCAAs
UGA Tennis Mommas

Click here to listen to this week’s podcast:

Cliff Hayashi
Cliff Hayashi

The past 12 days at the NCAAs at the University of Georgia have been incredible! The level of tennis and sportsmanship exhibited by the student-athletes, coaches, and fans (well, mostly!) has been superb. I ran into some old friends (including Stanford Super Fan, Cliff Hayashi!) and made some new ones. I even had the opportunity to meet some long-time digital friends in person – including College10s2day’s Bobby Knight – what a treat!

During the 2nd week of the Championships, the ITA held its annual Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet. It was overwhelming to be in the company of so much College Tennis Royalty! I had the Nick Bollettieriunique privilege of sitting next to Nick Bollettieri throughout the evening and to be regaled by his many, many stories of his life in tennis. I was also sitting adjacent to Hall of Fame James Blake & RileyInductee James Blake and had so much fun watching him interact with his adorable little girls.

At this year’s Championships, I wanted to give y’all a glimpse at some of the people who make this event so great, so I reached out to some of the players, parents, and behind-the-scenes folks involved. The volunteers from UGA did an incredible job of keeping things running, including squeegeeing courts, manning the gates, and keeping all of us fed and hydrated. I hope those of you on Twitter and Instagram enjoyed my updates there, too!

In this week’s ParentingAces Podcast, which is a bit longer than usual (sorry!), you will hear from Taylor Davidson, a senior at Stanford; Francesca DiLorenzo, a

Elizabeth Milano

sophomore at Ohio State; Chanmeet Narang, the UGA Men’s Tennis Team Manager; Elizabeth Milano, a UGA student and volunteer at the Championships; Tammy Duncan and Olga Reinberg, parents of UGA players; and Beata Redlicki, mom to players at University of Arkansas and UCLA. Please pardon the background noise as these interviews were actually conducted on the grounds of the Championships.

As mentioned in the podcast, entries for the 2nd annual Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tennis Tournament are now open. For the Atlanta tournament (July 17-19) go to http://events.universaltennis.com/tournaments/261/. For the Baltimore tournament (August 12-13) go to http://events.universaltennis.com/tournaments/336/.

To watch the FloTennis profile on Michael Redlicki, click here.

Also, registration for the ITA Summer Circuit is now open. Click here for information.

For more information on the 2017 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships, click here. A huge THANK YOU to the University of Georgia, the NCAA, and the ITA for working together to put on my favorite event in tennis, hands down.

Check out our latest podcast episode!

Interview with Stanford’s Taylor Davidson

image

 

This afternoon, I had the thrill of watching 2 amazing women’s tennis matches at the NCAA Championships. Luckily for me, it was raining in Athens early in the day, so 2 of the Round of 16 matches were moved to the indoor courts at Georgia Tech which is way closer to my house than UGA. And, by the way, big kudos to the folks at Georgia Tech for stepping in to help out on what could’ve been a really complicated scheduling challenge for the tournament organizers!

The first match was between UNC and Texas A&M. I missed the doubles but got there in time for the start of the singles where the UNC women were in control from start to finish.

Next up were Stanford vs. University of California Berkeley. What a match! It all came down to 3rd sets on the final two courts (courts 4 and 6) – on court 4, the Stanford player, Taylor Davidson, started cramping at the beginning of the 3rd set and looked like she might have to retire the match. But, she stayed tough and battled her way to a 3rd set win, tying the Stanford women at 3 with Cal. On court 6, Caroline Doyle of Stanford fought her way into a 3rd set tiebreaker then stormed to a 7-0 finish, giving her team the win and a spot in the Elite 8 on Saturday.

Here is my short interview with Stanford’s Taylor Davidson, who just so happens to be a friend of my son’s!

 

Vote on ROG in USTA NorCal Section

ROG balls

I recently read the following letter from coach Bill Patton addressed to the Board of Directors of USTA NorCal before their May 15 vote on whether to expand ROG competition to 12-and-under players:

Dear NorCal Board of Directors,

I have been coaching for 25 years, have 200+ continuing education units with USPTA, and completed coursework and a thesis in Education. I am running the first ever NIKE Tennis Camps that use compression Tennis Balls. I have used compression balls since 1999.

The mandate that all 12 under players must play in a certain format with regression equipment is misguided and heavy handed, for many reasons, but please allow me to cite my top 7 reasons:
1. There is a wide variability of the playability and quality of progression Tennis balls, some being nearly useless.
2. There is a wide variation in the individual developmental differences between children, especially through Grade 2, anyone with children, or who works with an Elementary School knows this.
3. The narrow population band of highly gifted children will grow extremely bored if held back below their ability to perform.
4. The mandate was enforced before the infrastructure was in place, now there is a rapid effort to put programs in place, which nearly always means a huge learning curve and leads to considerable inefficiencies.
5. My experience is that the use of the balls should have much more to do with the ability of the players to show best form while competing prior to moving to the next level, rather than using age constraints. Best coaches will have players who perform better much earlier, while less talented players or players taught poor fundamentals will lag behind. Do not slow the better players down, by forcing them to play at a competency far below their ability and training.
6. The mandate restricts trade and the creativity in the marketplace, opening up the possibility of class action lawsuit, by forcing coaches to coach a system in which they have no belief. Many of these same coaches have a great track record of producing many highly competitive players.
7. It has created a considerable amount of division nationwide, and as Abraham Lincoln said “A house divided cannot stand”

Thank you for opening this up for discussion, and I trust you will do what is best for everyone in Tennis. I am with Wayne Bryan, “Add programs, don’t subtract”.

Sincerely,
Bill Patton

[Note: I received the following from Coach Patton: “I stand corrected in presenting myself as the first to offer a 10 and under option with NIKE Tennis Camps, that is not true, and I apologize for not having checked that fact prior to presentation.   I salute my fellow professionals who have already made this move.  Sincerely, Bill Patton”]

The fact that ROG is now infiltrating the 12s is ridiculous in my opinion.  As a training method, maybe.  As the sole means of competition, no way.

Coach Patton is now hosting a radio show on Saturday mornings at 11am ET on BlogTalkRadio’s UR10s Network (the same network that hosts my show), and his guest this week is Dick Gould, 8 time NCAA Champion Coach and Director of Tennis at Stanford University.  Coach Gould was recently quoted by Racquet Sports International (RSI) as saying, “I thought your ‘Our Serve’ editorial on 10 and Under Tennis (‘Take a Second Look at 10U Tennis’) in the April issue was right on, well-stated and needed! Change is always difficult, and if this were not mandated, it would never have a chance—just like the old days of Pee Wee tennis. It does make it difficult on the ‘transition’ kids, and I empathize with them, but somewhere it must be given a fair chance, and I doubt this transition will hurt anyone in terms of overall development in the long run.”  I’m hoping Bill will ask Coach Gould about his statement during tomorrow’s show.  [Click here to listen to Bill’s show with Coach Gould – for the discussion on ROG, skip to the 30-minute mark]

Of course RSI is in favor of the ROG program and is promoting it heavily – it is generating millions of dollars in equipment sales which directly benefits RSI members.  And, that’s not a bad thing – anything that boosts the revenue of our great sport is okay by me!  But, when we read statements like Dick Gould’s above, we need to read with a critical eye and recognize the why behind it.  RSI is in the business of selling – racquets, balls, shoes, clothing, etc.  The spread of ROG means increased sales of foam balls, smaller racquets, portable nets, removable lines, and all the other accoutrements that go along with this newest wrinkle.  The more ROG programs that sprout up around the country, the better it is for RSI members’ bottom lines.  And, with USTA now mandating ROG in the 12s, just imagine what that will do to sales.  Should bottom-line numbers be the determining factor for this next generation of players, despite the lack of scientific evidence that ROG is the most effective way to develop all  children under the age of 13 and despite the many experienced developmental coaches who argue against it?

RSI Metrics

Click on the image above to go directly to RSI’s website showing the metrics for the various sales categories.

Let me re-state that I’m not opposed to ROG as a way to introduce new players to tennis and as a way to train.  I am opposed to ROG as the sole means of competing for every single 10-and-under (and now many 12-and-under) player, regardless of his/her ability, size, and stage of development.  If you’re looking for yellow-ball tournaments for your young player, be sure to take a look at my 10-and-Under Tourneys page above.  And, let me just reiterate that I’m very grateful that my son is old enough to have avoided this latest experiment in the name of player development and finding the next American champion.

Your thoughts?