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!

 

Our Clay Courts Experience

Now that Phase 1 (the Florida part) of our Summer Tennis Travel is done, I thought I’d write up a quick list of things we experienced and learned from the National Clay Courts in Delray. For those of you who were there or at sites for the other divisions, please add to my list in the Comments section below.

1. Having qualies is great except for the fact that, if the draws had remained the same size as in previous years, boys who lost 2nd or 3rd round in qualies would still have the opportunity to play in the backdraw and to be seen by the college coaches who didn’t arrive until the main draw started.

2. Saving money by shrinking draws & having qualies is bogus. There was a no-tennis day after qualies finished and before the main draw began, requiring those players who made it through qualies and/or chose to stay and chance getting in as a “lucky loser” and/or play doubles to pay for extra day/night of hotel, food, etc.

3. The tournament charges the “official stringer” $2000 to be there. He was at our hotel, not at one of the tourney sites, requiring players to make special trips (15 minutes plus each way) back and forth to have racquets strung. He said his business was significantly reduced this year due to the smaller draw sizes.

4. A couple of the players who are in the main draw here didn’t even make the qualies for Kalamazoo. That speaks to two things: the fact that many of the top players chose not to play Clays this year and the fact that the selection process for Kzoo was such that several elite juniors were placed in the qualifying draw instead of the main draw because they chose to play an ITF and/or professional schedule as opposed to staying in their section and meeting endorsement criteria. These top players really do belong in the main draw and will probably make it through qualifying to get there. However, it’s a real shame for those players in the qualies who will face them and lose their chance at competing in the main event. It’s also a real shame for those players who were kept out of the tournament altogether because of the crazy selection process.

5. I loved having certified trainers at each site! They were kept very busy in this heat/humidity.

6. Several college coaches were on site for the 2nd day of qualies. I had the chance to speak to a couple of them and found that they were as confused as the rest of us as to how to handle recruiting for this tournament and how to plan their travel. Very few coaches were there the first day, but there was a swarm of coaches once the main draw started.

7. I asked my son if this tourney felt any different than others he’s played. His answer was, “Only that i’m not in it” meaning he didn’t make main draw singles. He really wishes he were at least in the backdraw and had a chance to be seen by more college coaches.

8. Early round blowouts are still happening despite having qualies. Really, there is nothing to do to eliminate that. USTA needs to just go back to the old draw sizes and give the most kids an opportunity to test their game at this level.

9. Not surprisingly, there were several walkovers in the consolation draw for qualies – duh! It’s a real shame for those players who didn’t get to play a 2nd match. They came all this way to play one match.

10. Of the 9 qualifiers/lucky losers in B18s, 7 of them lost in the first round of the main draw. However, one of the qualifiers won 2 main draw matches, taking out a 17 seed 0 &2, and another won 1 main draw match (for the record, the NSL rankings of these two players are 195 & 257). Of the 7 qualifiers/lucky losers who lost in the main draw first round, four of them won 2 rounds in the backdraw and one won 1 round in the backdraw. Remember: the qualifiers/lucky losers had to win 3 matches before even starting their main draw competition.

And, I just want to wish my son a very happy 18th birthday today. As I wrote earlier, he is now officially in his last year of junior tennis, and I know it’s going to be his best year yet!

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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The Beginning of the End

Image courtesy of www.urbanite-diary.blogspot.com
Image courtesy of www.urbanite-diary.blogspot.com

July 1st marked the first day of my son’s last year in junior tennis. That day came and went with some very mixed emotions on my part (though I’m guessing my son was oblivious to its implications beyond which of his friends he was going to hang out with on the beach for the day). On the one hand, I’ve been rather frustrated with the entire junior tennis process – the confusion, the changing rules, the inconsistencies tournament to tournament. On the other hand, this has been an amazing journey, an amazing opportunity to spend countless one-on-one hours with my son, an amazing way for him to mature and develop as an athlete and as a human being, and I’ll be sad when it ends. I can’t tell you how many incredible people we’ve both met along the way and how many doors have opened to us both because my son chose tennis almost a decade ago.

And, while I know the journey isn’t really ending but rather veering in a new direction as he prepares to enter the world of college tennis, I will miss the hours in the car with him and the nights in the hotel reflecting on the day and, yes, even the monotonous dining options inherent in each tournament town’s Panera and Carrabas.

Those of you who are already on the other side of junior tennis have shared with me over and over again how much you treasured those years with your child(ren) despite the craziness and expense and disruption to “normal” family life. I know I’ll feel the same way in hindsight. For now, though, I will take things one day at a time – the 364 I now have left – and try to focus on the good stuff, not sweat the small stuff, and enjoy creating a few more memories before this all comes to an end.

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.

Our Summer Is In Full Swing

Photo courtesy of www.thesweatshoppe.com
Photo courtesy of www.thesweatshoppe.com

 

Summer 2014 is in full swing at the Stone house. My son finished his junior year of high school as of May 20th, and immediately started training hard to get ready for the state qualifier to our sectional closed tournament. He had a very good tournament, playing seven (7) matches in 3 days, winning five of them, and ensuring entry into Southerns which begins this Saturday. Needless to say, his body needed a few days to recover after the Qualifier, but after taking time away from the court and the gym, he hit both hard to make sure he is in optimal condition (the humidity levels here are ridiculous!) for what will likely be the biggest tournament he plays this summer.

Southerns is sanctioned for 7 days, so, depending on how he does, we’ll come home for a day or two (hopefully, not more than that!) before heading to our state clay court open tournament. After that, we’re heading down to the Florida Gulf Coast with my extended family for a week of R&R for me and a mix of rest and tennis for my son. He’s bringing a tennis buddy with us to the beach so they can hit each day because we’re driving straight from the beach to Florida State University for his first ITA Summer Circuit tournament of the summer. We’ll combine the tournament with some campus visits around the area, too – we’re still mapping out our route through Florida – and will wind up in South Florida where, hopefully, my son will have a chance to play in the Qualies for the National Clay Court tournament in Delray Beach. If he doesn’t get into the Qualies, that’s okay because there are some schools he wants to see in that part of Florida, too, so we’ll make the most of the fact that we’ll have our own car and can go at our own pace.

After our Florida Tour, we’ll be home for a few days to regroup . . . and do laundry! Then, it’s off to the West Coast to celebrate my son’s birthday, do more college visits, play another ITA event, and train again with Craig Cignarelli, Lester Cook, and, hopefully, Amir Marandy, too. While my son is on the courts, my husband and I are hoping to steal a bit of beach and family time and to take advantage of all our favorite SoCal haunts. Unfortunately, our oldest daughter, Emma, who lives in Los Angeles, will be away while we’re there, but the plus side of that is we’ll have use of her cute little Mustang convertible – FUN!

At the end of almost two weeks in California, we’ll fly back home for a few days and keep our fingers crossed that we have a reason to head up to Kalamazoo for the National Hard Court Qualies. Because school starts so early here (August 4th this year – ugh!), if my son does happen to get into Kalamazoo, he will wind up missing the first few days of his senior year of high school, but I’m hoping his teachers will be understanding of his situation and cut him a bit of slack – we’ll see!

It’s hard to believe that this is my son’s last full year in the Juniors, but our journey is nearing its end. I feel very lucky to have the chance to spend so much time with him this summer as he continues to work toward his goal of playing college tennis. I realize these opportunities are going to be few and far between once he leaves the nest next Fall, and I’m savoring every single moment while I have the chance.

 

Summer Plans

Photo courtesy of revgalblogpals.blogspot.com
Photo courtesy of revgalblogpals.blogspot.com

I know it’s hard to believe, but summer is almost here. I would love to hear from y’all what you have planned for your junior player and your family. If you’re still trying to come up with ideas of how to spend the Dog Days of Summer, here are a few suggestions:

CampIf you missed last year’s article on summer tennis camps, click here to check out some of them. Going to a college camp is what really turned my son onto his dream of pursuing tennis beyond just one half-hour lesson each week. These camps can be a great learning experience for any level of player. I urge you to take a look around to find one that fits your child’s needs. I can almost guarantee it will be money well spent!

TournamentsSummer is a great time to explore tournaments outside of your geographic area, whether that means traveling to another section of the country or even traveling internationally. For players 13 and older, ITF events will give your child exposure to an international field of competitors. For high schoolers, the ITA Summer Circuit offers some wonderful competitive experiences. Also, be sure to check out the New Balance High School Tennis Championships being held on the Harvard University campus this July.

Match PlayOne of my readers, SeminoleG, posted on another article that he and a few other families are joining forces this summer to take their kids all over Florida to play practice matches at various academies across the state. They are combining tennis with sight-seeing, too, making stops at Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, and the like to keep things fun. I love this idea! I’m a huge proponent of match play and don’t think kids and coaches do enough of it. Maybe you can convince your child’s coach to partner up with another area coach this summer to do Match Play Days, alternating sites, providing lunch, and, if available, maybe swimming later in the day? If your coach isn’t up for that, there’s nothing to stop you from arranging something similar. If you get 4 players together, they can do a singles round-robin then partner up for some doubles as well. There’s no reason match play has to only happen during tournaments!

Attending Pro Events: There are professional tennis events of various levels happening all over the country and all over the world. Many of them are very inexpensive to attend and can provide hours of entertainment. If your child has never seen a professional tennis match live, he/she is in for a big treat! There’s so much to learn by watching these amazing athletes compete. There may even be an opportunity for your child to be a ball kid – how fun is that?!?

Taking a BreakSummer break can also mean a break from tennis if that’s what your child and your family need. Your child may be mentally and physically burned out from the rigors of competing and training and performing in school. Respect that and give him/her some time to relax and just be a kid. You may be surprised at how much stronger and more dedicated your child is after that time away from the game.

Okay, what am I leaving out? Please comment and let me know what you’re up to this summer!