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The NCAAs & College Tennis

Today the Finals will be played in the Individual Tournament  of both the Singles and Doubles of the Division I NCAA Tennis Championships. I have some thoughts to share based on what I saw in person earlier this week and what I’ve seen on the Tennis Channel broadcasts as well.

USTA National Campus at Lake Nona

This was my first visit to the USTA National Campus, and I was duly impressed! With 100 courts – hard, clay, and indoor – and a variety of configurations to accommodate college dual matches, junior and adult tournaments, league play, and lessons, the planners behind this facility have thought of pretty much everything.

USTA National Campus

Not only are the courts well laid-out, but there are also restrooms and water/drink stations generously sprinkled throughout the facility so you never have to walk too far to get what you need. Protection from the oppressive Orlando heat and humidity is also provided in the form of covered seating areas, a Cooling Area, and an indoor monitor showing the action on the courts for those who prefer to watch in the air-conditioned lounge area. The Welcome Center is well-staffed with friendly greeters as soon as you enter, and the pro shop is well-stocked with everything a tennis player – or tennis fan – might need. The Stringing Station is right there as well, so if you pop a string, you can drop off your racquet and watch these experts in action.

Upstairs in the Welcome Center is where the USTA offices are situated. It is an open-concept configuration with enclosed meeting rooms available for more private conversations. I was fortunate to have a sit-down with two of the people involved in developing the Junior Competition Structure, but more on that at a later date!

The two videos below will give you a better feel for what the National Campus is like:

The Fan Experience

I have not been shy about expressing my belief that Division I College Tennis’s biggest event – the National Championship – should be held on a college campus. There is something about sitting in the stands alongside fans from all around the world (yes, College Tennis is an international sport!), listening to them cheer wildly for their favorite team and players. I have only attended the event at the University of Georgia, so my experience is limited to that one facility, but I can tell you the Fan Experience was not the same at the National Campus. Not even close.

I was in attendance for both the Men’s and Women’s Team Final last Sunday afternoon/evening. In the first match – the Men’s Final – defending champions Wake Forest took on the underdog team from University of Texas. I chose to sit in the bleachers in the covered area smack dab in the middle of the action in front of Court 3. That way, I could see – and hear – what was happening on all 6 courts. Yes, there were parents of the players in the stands, and some other fans as well, but the energy level in the stands just wasn’t what I had experienced in the past at the Team Final.

Next up was the Women’s Final between defending champions Stanford and top seeds University of Georgia. Sadly, the stands felt even emptier during this dual match. Stanford has traditionally brought a significant number of fans to their Finals in the past (see this article as an example). And Georgia fans have been known to travel to support their team as well.

If you’ve watched any of the matches on the Tennis Channel, I think it’s pretty obvious this just doesn’t feel like a college team final should feel. I know USTA would love to keep this event at its Lake Nona facility – where, by the way, University of Central Florida plays its college tennis matches – however, I am hopeful this will not become a permanent home for the NCAA Championships. This event belongs on a college campus!

The Player/Coach Experience

As much as I, wearing my College Tennis Fan hat, missed being on an actual campus, the coaches and players themselves seemed perfectly happy playing this event at Lake Nona.  When  I tweeted about it before making the trip down to Orlando,  an  interesting  discussion  between Brad Gilbert, Andy Brandi (LSU Men’s Coach), Matt Manasse (Duke Women’s Assistant Coach), and myself followed:

The facilities at Lake Nona completely catered to the coaches and players. From the locker rooms to the dining area to the meeting spaces, these athletes and coaches were treated spectacularly throughout the tournament. There was signage everywhere – including the Lake Nona hotels – promoting the Championships and enhancing its visibility to other visitors to the area.

Tennis Channel Coverage

While it is absolutely amazing for the student-athletes playing in the NCAA DI Championships to have their matches broadcast on The Tennis Channel, I do think the coverage could be improved in several ways. As was suggested by someone on social media earlier this week, the camera work should mimic The Masters golf tournament as opposed to the NBA Championships in terms of showing the action on a variety of courts rather than staying focused on only one court for an extended period of time. Also, there was simply too much talking during the action by the two commentators, Sam Gore and Katrina Adams. They and the Tennis Channel itself made several errors when discussing the teams and players and when displaying draws and other graphics. I would also suggest the commentators be a bit more careful in what they say during play. When the UGA women played Vanderbilt in the Quarterfinals, Adams made a comment regarding acknowledging a let serve that did not reflect well on the former President and CEO of USTA (you’ll have to go back through my Twitter timeline to read it for yourself).

Once I left Orlando, I was very happy to be able to continue to watch the tournament on Tennis Channel and truly hope they continue to cover this event each year, possibly extending their coverage to the other NCAA Division Championships as well. With the DI Championships back on a college campus next year, it will be interesting to see how well the coverage goes. Remember that the Tennis Channel set up a permanent studio at the National Campus earlier this year, so they’ll have to rely on remote crews, cameras, and trucks next year.

US vs. International

I can’t write about this event without addressing the proverbial elephant in the room. Recently, someone messaged me on Facebook asking if parents of international players who were interested in coming to the US to play college tennis were welcome in the ParentingAces Community. I want to state clearly that I am NOT against international players on college tennis teams. In fact, my son’s best friend is his former roommate and teammate from Boise State who happens to hail from New Zealand.

That said, I do NOT think it’s a good look for USTA or the American College Tennis System when the two teams playing for the men’s national championship have only two out of fifteen total players from the US.

Men’s Team Final

#2 Texas 4 #4 Wake Forest 1

Singles competition

1. #7 Christian Sigsgaard (UT – Denmark) def. #11 Borna Gojo (WF – Croatia) 6-3, 6-4

2. #12 Yuya Ito (UT – Japan) def. #8 Petros Chrysochos (WF – Cyprus) 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

3. #80 Leonardo Telles (UT – Brazil) vs. #50 Bar Botzer (WF – Israel) 6-3, 6-7 (8-10), 1-0, unfinished

4. #55 Harrison Scott (UT – Canada) vs. Rrezart Cungu (WF – Montenegro) 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 5-0, unfinished

5. Colin Markes (UT – USA) def. Melios Efstathiou (WF – Cyprus) 6-4, 7-5

6. Rodrigo Banzer (UT – Bolivia) def. Siddhant Banthia (WF – India) 7-5, 6-4

Doubles competition

1. #63 Alan Gadjiev (Uzbekistan)/Borna Gojo (WF) def. #5 Harrison Scott/Christian Sigsgaard (UT) 6-4

2. #55 Bar Botzer/Petros Chrysochos (WF) def. Colin Markes/Leonardo Telles (UT) 6-3

3. Chih Chi Huang (Canada)/Yuya Ito (UT) def. Siddhant Banthia/Julian Zlobinsky (USA) (WF) 6-2

On the women’s side, things were a bit better, at least on the Stanford team. Of the thirteen women who played, slightly more than half (seven) are from the US. I do want to point out, however, that the UGA team, which was ranked #1 for most of the dual match season, only had one American in its lineup for the Championships.

Women’s Team Final

#3 Stanford 4 #1 Georgia 0

Singles competition

1. #2 Katarina Jokic (UGA – Bosnia) vs. #24 Michaela Gordon (STAN – USA) 7-5, 3-2, unfinished

2. #29 Melissa Lord (STAN – USA) def. #19 Marta Gonzalez (UGA – Spain) 6-2, 6-4

3. #66 Caroline Lampl (STAN – USA) def. #69 Lourdes Carle (UGA – Argentina) 6-2, 6-4

4. #72 Vivian Wolff (UGA – Germany) vs. #44 Emily Arbuthnott (STAN – England) 7-5, 3-3, unfinished

5. #108 Janice Shin (STAN – USA) def. Elena Christofi (UGA – Greece) 6-2, 6-4

6. Meg Kowalski (UGA – USA) vs. #107 Emma Higuchi (STAN – USA) 6-7 (3-7), 2-0, unfinished

Doubles competition

1. #28 Lourdes Carle/Katarina Jokic (UGA) def. #19 Kimberly Yee (USA)/Caroline Lampl (STAN) 6-1

2. #29 Michaela Gordon/Emily Arbuthnott (STAN) def. Elena Christofi/Vivian Wolff (UGA) 7-5

3. Janice Shin/Melissa Lord (STAN) def. Marta Gonzalez/Meg Kowalski (UGA) 6-3

In the individual tournament, which concludes today, we will not have an American champion in either the men’s or the women’s singles with the men’s finalists coming from Portugal and England and the women’s finalists coming from Spain and Bosnia. That means, for the 2nd year in a row, the USTA will not be awarding a US Open wildcard to the NCAA Individual Champions, which is really a shame.

Some argue that the USTA should award the wildcard regardless of the country of origin of the winner of this event (read this recent article). I’m still formulating my thoughts on this particular issue.

That said, while USTA Player Development describes its mission as getting more American players into the second week of the US Open, I would argue their mission should be expanded to include getting more American players into the lineups of the top college tennis programs. Based on what we hear from the college coaches, that’s a big ask that starts with improving the level of coaching US players receive during their junior development years. And that’s a conversation for another day!

Summary

All in all, the 2019 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships should be considered a big success. While I certainly hope the event moves to – and stays at – a college campus in subsequent years, it was fun to visit the National Campus and see it in action. Thank you to all you Premium Members who helped make my trip to Lake Nona possible!

Congratulations, University of Texas Men’s Tennis Team!

Congratulations, Stanford Women’s Tennis Team!

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