By Randy Walker
Vasil Kirkov, the 17-year-old who reached the semifinals as a lucky loser in the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships USTA Futures event earlier this year in Vero Beach, Florida, competed in the qualifying rounds of the 2016 U.S. Open at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center.
Kirkov, however, suffered an early exit, falling 6-2, 7-5 in the first scheduled match of the competition to No. 242-ranked Yannik Reuter of Belgium.
Kirkov, ranked No. 1146, played the match on Court No. 5 – the shadow of the new Arthur Ashe Stadium retractable roof – in front of an audience of about 200 people that included U.S. Olympic men’s tennis coach Jay Berger, former US Davis Cup Captain Tom Gullikson and Hallof Famer – and Vero Beach resident – Ivan Lendl, who works with Kirkov as part of his advisory role with the USTA Player Development program.
Kirkov was awarded a wild card entry into the U.S. Open qualifying tournament by the U.S. Tennis Association after, not only his strong result in Vero Beach, that saw his ATP ranking rise almost 1000 spots, but by reaching the final of the USTA National Boy’s 18 Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he lost to another Vero Beach Futures alumnus Michael Mmoh.
Kirkov is expected to compete in the U.S. Open junior championships in two weeks.
By Kevin Craig
Noah Rubin of the United States registered the upset of the day on the opening day of the 2016 Australian Open as the No. 328 ranked rookie pro knocked out the No. 17 seed Benoit Paire of France, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6.
The match was very tight throughout as neither player gave the other many opportunities to get a lead, each player was only broken three times in the match, forcing each set to go into a tiebreak. Rather surprisingly, Rubin was the one who was able to keep his composure in the big moments and take each of the three tiebreaks using his incredible speed and defense to frustrate Paire. The Frenchman was unable to break through Rubin on the important points, seeing him fall in straight sets to the 2014 Wimbledon juniors champion. Paire’s inconsistent level of play and Rubin’s defense were the major factors in the match, as Paire hit 72 unforced errors, compared to Rubin’s 22, and managed to win only 48 percent of his second serve points.
After the match, Paire refused to give any credit to the 19 year old American, and was very candid in claiming that Rubin is “not a very good player,” but that Paire “was worse than him today.” Also, Paire was heard many times throughout the match saying that he was losing to the worst player in the world. Nevertheless, Rubin moves on to the second round of a major event for the first time in his career, as he will take on another Frenchman in Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Rubin earned a wild card entry into the Australian Open in an reciprocal agreement between the U.S. Tennis Association and the U.S. Open and Tennis Australia. Rubin was granted the wild card by the USTA by virtue of having the best record among American players on the USTA Pro Circuit last fall. He won the singles title at the event in Charlottesville, Va. Rubin, 19, turned professional this summer after his freshman year at Wake Forest University, where he reached the NCAA singles final. He is a student at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York City and hails from nearby Long Island. He won the Wimbledon junior title and the USTA National Boys 18 Championships in 2014, earning him a main draw wild card into the US Open, where he lost in the first round to Federico Delbonis in his only previous major tournament main draw appearance.
by David Foster
(The following is written by David Foster, who heads up the U.S. Davis Cup Team’s cheer squad “The Netheads.” David was the one and only non-USTA delegation fan from the United States to travel to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the recent USA vs. Uzbekistan Davis Cup series. To get involved with the Netheads, email David at [email protected] and mentioned “Nethead” in the subject line)
Going to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the USA vs. Uzbekistan Davis Cup Playoff Round was an unbelievable trip! There were super friendly Uzbeks, super pretty girls (for some reason as I get older girls keep getting prettier), awesome American support from the Marines and the Embassy staff, a beautiful city and beautiful weather.
I arrived in Tashkent at 2:45AM on the Wednesday before the Friday start. The USTA provided a special envoy to get me to VIP customs and then a ride to hotel. That was a nice start.
After a few hours sleep, I headed for Amir Temur park to see the statue of this great Uzbek leader from the 1300s. Within half hour of my first walk in Tashkent, two pretty Uzbek girls (students) asked if they could ask me survey questions on video. Never being able to turn down a pretty girl in any country, I consented. They asked me to compare US (60 years for me) to Uzbekistan (30 minutes on street). All I could say is Tashkent is much cleaner than American cities. After videos were done, one for each girl, they asked me if I thought Uzbek girls were pretty. Geez, did they pick the right person to ask? But what was funny was that in one article I read about going to Uzbekistan it stated you should not comment on ladies’ looks. Well, I bypassed the article and stated, yes, Uzbek girls are pretty.
I then sat on bench in park to watch people. Watching moms with their kids showed me once more people are all the same in the world. I just wish governments could get along. I had two folks ask me for directions before I could say “Ingliz.” It happens everywhere I go.
Then I committed my first American error. I stopped at ATM to get some “som” (Uzbek currency). The ATM had English on the initial screen but after I entered my card, there was no English option. Being a smart American, I thought I know what it is asking (pin number first, then do I want withdrawal) even though it was in Uzbek. I finally got to screen that had 50, 100, 150, 200, 300, 400. So I assumed this is stating how much in US dollars to I want to be given in som. I hit 100 and low and behold a Ben Franklin $100 bill came out of the machine. I have never been anywhere where foreign ATM had an option for US dollars.
To tell you what prices are like in Uzbekistan, when I went to hotel exchange desk to convert my Ben Franklin, the lady questioned why I would want to convert the whole thing. She asked “are you sure you are going to spend all that?”
The draw was held in courtyard at the hotel, the Lotte Palace Hotel. After draw I went on long walk (4 miles each way) to visit the US Embassy. Unfortunately, I followed the Google map directions I had and I never found it. I asked several Uzbeks for help but they couldn’t even recognize the street names. After wandering around neighborhood for a while I just headed back to hotel. But I did get to see non-downtown section of city and see mucho people so all was not lost.
On Friday, I took a taxi to tennis facility and had driver who had lived in Pittsburgh for awhile. The road to the tennis went by government offices so he pointed out presidential building (president works there and lives elsewhere) and Uzbek version of Pentagon. The highway signs on this road not only showed the speed limit but also signs indicating no pictures/videos allowed, for security purposes. The Pittsburgh driver pointed out that road was in great shape until after road where president turns to go home. Then two lanes have been under construction for years, finally turning into dirt and gravel before we got to tennis courts.
In Uzbekistan, they have instant Uber. As my Pittsburgh driver told me, every car in Tashkent is a taxi. Folks stand on side of road. A potential driver stops, they discuss location and price, and if agreement, the passenger climbs in for ride. On my taxi ride back to hotel, my driver picked up two extras and dropped one off. No official name for process – may be they should call it Uzber.
The tennis facility was interesting with seats only on one side. The capacity was maybe 2,000. Admission was free. School kids, probably age 12 to 16, filled the stadium on Friday and Saturday. They were wearing school uniforms consisting of a white shirt and black pants or skirts. We had a couple of folks from the U.S. Embassy and three U.S. Marines joining me in our small U.S. cheer section
After first match between Steve Johnson and Denis Istomin finished (Istomin winning in five sets), the students all left – but not before 50 or more stopped by me to ask for a selfie. I went off to concession store and had my picture taken with ball kids and two very pretty girls who then asked if I could get them a picture with players (never understand why they are not satisfied with me). The second match went quickly for Jack Sock in front of probably less than 300 fans. It rained, a light shower, during the match but they kept going on the clay.
In addition to selfies, I had a gentleman hand me some pictures at the end of the first match. When I got back to hotel, I discovered in middle of pictures was a visa/immigration request. I showed this info to one of embassy folks and he just assumed the person was asking me to help with visa process. That was very Interesting.
On Friday night, the Marines picked me up at hotel and we went to the embassy annex for movie and hot dogs night with embassy folks and families. They couldn’t believe I got visa to come to Uzbekistan in seven days.
On Saturday, I took a taxi early to stadium and posed for another twenty to twenty-five pictures before match. Students were there again in uniform. One young lady sat down next to me and when I told her USA girls do not go to school on Saturday and do not have to wear uniforms, she was ready to head to America. Before the match, I was able to get large group of students to do the “USA” cheer. Randy Walker, press guy for USTA, got the USA cheering on video and posted it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56KVDZGeREQ
Three Marines joined me for doubles and we won pretty easily in three sets. We had two good players (Johnson and Sam Querrey) against one good (Istomin) and one fair player (Farrukh Dustov). After the match, the Marines gave me a ride back to hotel. It’s nice to have those guys looking out for you.
On Sunday at breakfast, a Japanese lady decided I had interesting face and asked for obligatory picture. After I finished eating, I went upstairs and came back with Nethead on and she was really excited to take another picture. She asked for an autograph and was super excited when I signed “Robert Redford.”
At the match, there were more adults than students for a change. Besides the Marines, there were probably 25 embassy folks there, including the ambassador, who sat with the USTA folks. I did not get to meet her since she was gone after I had my last session of stadium selfies. It was a good match on Sunday with Sock trying to serve it out for tie and went back and forth several times with Istomin. It let our fans experience some tension before with Sock closed it out. I got a final ride back with the Marines and thanked them for their service for us.
After the matches on Sunday afternoon, I took another walk around Amir Temur Square. (A video of this area can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-mf7VtKO8E. I saw two pretty girls ahead of me taking pictures towards the statue and, as I got close, I got another request for pictures with each one. I figured it was pictures No. 99 and 100 for the trip.
Everybody in the USTA contingent left on Sunday night, leaving me alone on Monday. I took a personal tour with an English-speaking guide, who was a very knowledgeable guy. He explained that Independence Square was originally Red Square under the Russian Empire and Lenin’s square under Soviet rule. At the 1966 earthquake statue, he explained how Soviets came in to rebuild and add new housing after earthquake damage. I then saw the World War II memorial which had books of gold with names of 500,000 Uzbek men who never came home. I also saw Osman’s Koran which many believe is oldest Koran in existence. The Koran shows Osman’s blood stains where legend is he was stabbed while reading the Koran.
My tour guide explained there is freedom of religion in Uzbekistan but not freedom of where to practice it. Muslims cannot pray in public. Minarets at mosques are for looks only. One cannot issue any calls to prayer. The government does not want religion to be involved in government at all, trying to avoid the problems of other countries – a true separation of church and state. He also told me the building secured with guards with AK-47s I had jogged past for five days was the National Security building, the old KGB. I never saw any indication of street crime during my time in Tashkent. I felt safe wherever I went. My guide indicated Uzbekistan is considered in top five safest countries in the world. In discussion on security with one of embassy staff, she stated there is security in a police state.
I left the hotel at 5PM (Monday) EST time (2AM Tuesday Uzbek time) and got back to my condo in Atlanta at midnight EST Tuesday – 31 hours of travel. It was an uneventful trip except for a two-hour delay on my Paris to Atlanta flight. In Moscow, I saw the prettiest TSA person I’ve ever seen. It was the only time I’ve ever wanted to set off the buzzer and require a pat down! I told her she was prettier than agents in USA, but either she did not understand or she was just giving me the normal cold shoulder I usually get!
By Dan O’Connell
In 1986, Wimbledon established the Grand Slam Development Fund, when they donated 100,000 pounds to the International Tennis Federation. In 2012, Grand Slam nations provided the Grand Slam Development Fund $400,000 each, or $1.6 million. Since 1986, Grand Slam nations have donated $40 million, with a main purpose to allow the ITF to employ ten full-time development officers to assist over 180 nations in a variety of programs. It was my honour to serve as the Fiji based ITF Pacific Oceania Development Officer from 1991-2011. The Grand Slam Development Fund is an outstanding success story that might be expanded; especially in the much needed area of increasing the number of players who make a living playing professional tennis.
The Grand Slam nations are the envy of all tennis nations, as they earn an enormous annual profit. The United States, England, France and Australia are the lucky hosts of the Grand Slams and they do an exceptional job of hosting their prestigious event. According to the New York Times, in 2010, the United States Tennis Association revenue was $243 million with an estimated 80-85% coming from the US Open. It has been reported the US Open produces the largest economic impact than any annual international sporting event in the world. It is estimated the four Grand Slam nations share a total of $300 million in profits. 99% of the profits are used to improve their domestic programs.
Is too much of the Grand Slam profits going to these four nations? The $1.6 million Grand Slam donation to the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund is less than 1% of the profit. Is this fair to world tennis? If we are a society built around moral capitalism, could each Grand Slam nation donate $5 million of their profit to the Grand Slam Development Fund? With this extra support the Grand Slam Development Fund might place $20 million into prize money, to support a new lower level professional circuit. Or, a different option might be for the ITF to double the number of their Future Events and ITF Women Circuit Events, increase prize money from $10,000 – $15,000 to $30,000 and allow first round winners to earn some prize money. With $20 million of additional prize money for worldwide tennis, 400 more professional players might average $50,000 a year in income.
Questioning the wealth of the Grand Slam nations will grow stronger. Recently, professional players complained about the distribution of the Grand Slam funds. Player pressure quickly resulted in the Grand Slam nations understanding they needed to share more of their pot of gold. US Open prize money will increase to $50 million in 2017, while in 2008 the US Open prize money was $20 million. The current US Open TV rights collect $40 million a year, but in 2015, the new ESPN TV deal provides the US Open over $70 million. The new TV deal will cover the differenced for the player prize money increase. Attendance might continue to rise as will the cost of tickets to attend the US Open.
If 100 PGA golf professionals earn $1 million, should tennis have more than 25 players earning $1 million? If NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL professional athletes share the same ratio of player revenue to total revenue, in the 43% to 50% range, why do the Grand Slams provide tennis professionals 20% of prize money? Public opinion understands tennis players deserve a larger slice of the financial pie. Some question “how much” best players earn, but everyone agrees; a way must be found to allow more players to earn a larger piece of the financial pie.
Could the next financial struggle within worldwide tennis see mature nations pressure the Grand Slam nations to share their profits, with new worthy programs administered by the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund? If the ITF Board of Directors cannot find a way to spread the wealth of Grand Slams, could nations begin to question traditional ways of the past?
Many nations have infrastructure required to host a Grand Slam event. Should the Grand Slam venues rotate, allowing different nations to host? Of course the Grand Slam nations should not rotate; however, now grown into huge international successful events, can the Grand Slam nations share more of their wealth to help world tennis in a meaningful manner?
The problem is the Grand Slam nations will not want to share their profits, as it will reduce their domestic program. What is best for the future of the game? Should we spread the wealth to allow many other mature nations to create new professional events? Instead of four nations spending $300 million on their domestic programs, can the Grand Slam nations help the world and spend only $280 million? A $20 million donation will grow the number of players playing professional tennis.
Since I was a Peace Corps tennis coach in the 1970s, my passion is tennis in the developing world. I want to believe better days are ahead, but that will only happen if the Grand Slam nations share more of their profits. The question tennis nations need to ask is: why does the ITF Board of Directors allow the Grand Slam nations to continue to provide less than 1% of their profits for worldwide tennis development, when you consider larger profits these nations have earned in recent years?
If we are to redistribute tennis wealth, the first concern is to support professional players. Instead of only 200 professional players earning a respectful income, can we find a way for 400 players to earn a meaningful income? $20 million will go a long way to reach this goal. The second concern is to provide the developing world more money to grow the game. Tennis in the developing world would benefit so much if our leaders, the Grand Slam nations, provided $1 million each, instead of only $400,000. If worldwide funds can filter down to the developing world for tennis as they do for soccer, tennis will continue to be a meaningful game for all nations in our world.
Times have changed and the estimated profits of $300 million gained by the Grand Slams are far greater today than 20 years ago. They share a huge profit, year after year, after year. Is the $1.6 million provided by the Grand Slams to the Grand Slam Development Fund a fair amount? For the good of the worldwide game, should the ITF consider introducing a 5% – 10% Grand Slam hosting fee, to be used to develop world tennis? Let’s have fair play in sports – worldwide!
These are my personal views based on an international tennis career that began with the United States Peace Corps and led to three decades based in Africa and Oceania, working a bit with the former United States Sports America Program and an outstanding career with the International Tennis Federation.
By Maud Watson
Another tournament and another surprising early exit for Federer, as the Swiss goes out in two routine sets to Daniel Brands in Gstaad. The good news for Federer fans is that the Maestro has never been one to quickly panic and shows no signs of looking like he’s getting ready to throw the towel in anytime soon. In fact, he’s already committed to Brisbane next season. But this latest loss undoubtedly has some alarm bells sounding in Federer’s head. He’s having some issues adjusting to the new racquet and is also unsure which stick he’ll be using on the summer hard courts. In addition to Federer being in limbo regarding his racquet, his mental toughness has also taken a hit. You can read the increasing doubt on his face, and that doubt is creeping into his game as evidenced by the unforced errors that continue to mount in each match. To say that the next few months are “do-or-die” might be an overstatement, but they are certainly critical. How he fairs the remainder of 2013 could have a major impact on how long it takes him to right the ship and determine whether or not he hangs around for Rio in 2016.
Another sentimental favorite who suffered a tough loss this week was Mardy Fish. The American was in Atlanta, making just his fourth appearance since the US Open last season. Up a set, it looked like Fish might be able to start his return to competition with a win. But a rain delay and a refusal to fold from veteran Michael Russell saw the lower-ranked American upset his countryman and advance at his expense. The defeat itself was understandable. Fish played well all things considered, but he had been out of the game for over four months. With no substitute for match play, nerves likely helped play a part in his loss. What was troubling about Fish’s loss, however, was that he wasn’t available for comment afterwards – something that has happened in the past just prior to Fish taking an extended leave of absence. American tennis fans will wait with baited breath to see how Fish follows up this latest setback and whether it will include the commitment to carry on or hang it up for good.
Give and Take
Thanks to an overwhelming 47-1 vote by the New York City Council, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been approved for a $500 million expansion. Not surprisingly, a large part of the expansion will be devoted to the renovation of the older facilities “that have reached the end of their useful lives.” But the USTA isn’t the only one benefiting from the deal. In exchange for the approval, the USTA has agreed to start a non-profit group to help fund Flushing Meadows, host a yearly job fair for the residents in Queens, serve as a potential host to high school graduation ceremonies, and provide tennis coaching programs for area children. All in all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
John Tomic has finally been brought to court for the much-publicized events that took place before the start of the Madrid Masters, and depending on who you believe, is possibly changing his story, along with his son, from what they originally told police back in May. Bernard Tomic is claiming his father told him the day of the incident that it was the hitting partner, Drouet, who hit him. John Tomic is also insisting that it was Drouet who started the fight and doesn’t “know how” Drouet fell down. Both Tomics are blaming the alleged misunderstanding on police officers who had a poor grasp of English. Time will tell if there really was a misunderstanding or if this is just John Tomic trying to weasel his way out of trouble – and given his track record, the latter seems more plausible. If that is indeed the case, Bernard Tomic had better wise up, or the court is going to give him a lot more to worry about than his forehand.
It appears that Martina Hingis’ decision to play doubles with Hantuchova in California won’t be just a one-off. The former No. 1 is planning to play doubles in some other big events this summer, including Toronto, Cincinnati, and the year’s last major, the US Open. Say what you want about Hingis from a personal standpoint, but from a tennis perspective, there are few in the modern game who can match her court craft and guile. What she lacks in size and power she makes up for with impossible angles and exquisite touch. With any luck, these summer hard court events will be the start of something bigger, but if not, get your tickets and take the opportunity to see some of the greatest hands in the game work their magic one more time.
By Maud Watson
Champions are frequently known for their stubbornness. Sometimes it refers to their unwillingness to surrender a loss quietly, but it also often refers to their refusal to re-tool any part of the game that has brought them so much success. Unfortunately, that refusal can often hamper an athlete’s career, which is something that Roger Federer apparently plans to avoid. Federer is playing this week in Hamburg with a new racquet. His new stick features a 98 square-inch frame, which represents a significant change from the much smaller 90 square-inch frame he has used throughout his career. The larger frame means a bigger sweet spot and additional power, both of which should help him better compete with the young guns on tour. We’ll see how he fairs during this brief stint on the clay, but if he’s able to make the adjustment to the new racquet quickly, expect him to be right back in the thick of it for the summer hard court season.
One of the more interesting off-court tidbits to hit the news this past week was the announcement of Jimmy Connors becoming Maria Sharapova’s new full-time coach. The two briefly worked together five years ago but were unable to come to a financial agreement to make it a full-time gig. Circumstances have changed in 2013, and the two are teaming up to become one of the most intriguing coach/player relationships in the game today. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Both have strong egos and like to get things done their way, so it could flame out early. But both also share the same inherit drive. They’re both fighters who refuse to rollover in a match and will go to virtually any lengths – sometimes perhaps a little over the line of what’s considered proper – to come away with the win. Both could feed off each other in those respects and prove quite the successful combo. Sadly, fans will have to wait a little longer for this new partnership to make its debut, however, as Sharapova was forced to withdraw from the upcoming event in Stanford with a hip injury she sustained at Wimbledon. But make no mistake. This will be one of the key storylines to watch this summer.
The good news is that the USTA has established a potential timeline for putting a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium by August 2016. The bad news is that you probably have a better shot at winning the lottery than that timeline coming to fruition. As usual, one of the biggest hurdles to putting a roof over Ashe Stadium stems from cost. The USTA is already currently in the market for an owner representative for its $500-million expansion plan that doesn’t include a roof, meaning that if they were to shift efforts towards building a roof for Ashe, other projects, such as replacing Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand would be put on hold. That’s a scenario that’s all the more unlikely when considering that the other issue facing Ashe is that it may not be able to support the weight of the roof in the first place. So, while we can appreciate the USTA’s efforts to keep the roof possibility in the discussion, this once again appears to be much ado about nothing.
At the front part of the week, in an interview with David Nadal, Toni Nadal told to the world that he talks to Rafa during matches and sees nothing wrong with it, because he figures he shouldn’t have to hide anything at his age. Look, it’s common knowledge that Nadal, like some other players, receives illegal coaching from the stands. And you could argue that such coaching frequently has little impact on the outcome of a match. But nobody wins when Toni Nadal announces that he has no problem being a cheat – and as the generally willing recipient of his instructions, one could argue so is his nephew by extension. Such an admission shows disrespect to the ATP and its rules. It shows disrespect to Nadal’s opposition. It teaches young up-and-comers that it’s okay to cheat, and most importantly, it hurts Rafa Nadal. As previously noted, Rafa is no doubt one of the best in the history of the game, and he doesn’t need to use cheap tricks to accomplish great feats. Utilizing illegal tactics should be beneath him and his camp, and it shouldn’t be tolerated. Though unlikely, it would be nice if after this admission, the ATP would enforce some sort of discipline on the older Nadal to show that nobody, no matter how big the star they coach or their age, is above the rules.
Back for More
The terrorizing doll Chucky is making a return to movies, and as it happens, so is the woman Mary Carillo once referred to as Chucky, Martina Hingis. Whether to promote her relatively recent clothing line, provide a distraction from the cheating allegations leveled at her by her estranged husband, or just for love of the game, the newly-elected Hall of Famer is planning to team with Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia at the Southern California Open. Hingis continues to show that she has great hands around the net, and veteran Hantuchova has also proven worth her salt in the doubles arena as well. If this partnership proves successful, perhaps we’ll be treated to a little more enthralling tennis from these two down the road.
(May 28, 2013) After winning the USTA Boys’ 12s Spring Nationals last month, 11-year-old Adam Neff has earned a spot to compete against hopefuls from fifteen other countries in the Longines Future Tennis Aces event in Paris, France from May 30-June 1.
One look at Neff and you can hardly believe he is only 11 years old. Having grown ten inches over the past year to a height of 5’8” (173cm), his coach of four years, Lance Luciani, laughs at the thought that his pupil will soon tower over him. In fact, doctors anticipate he will grow to a height closer to 6’5” (196cm) by the time he’s done growing, and according to Luciani, he is looking to develop Neff into a similar body type of former world No. 1 Marat Safin.
Neff’s trip back to Paris, this time for the Longines event, signals a “second chance” for the young player as he attempts to redeem himself. Earlier this year while traveling to a junior tournament with his coach, Neff came down with a bad case of Norovirus, and was unable to eat for 10 days, losing 13 pounds. Not surprisingly, he lost in the first round “and it really hurt Adam because he lost to someone he probably shouldn’t have lost to,” Luciani offered. “He felt bad that it happened, and when he heard about the Longines event and how the winner of the 12s Nationals had an automatic bid, he said that it was his chance to go back (to Europe).”
At the 12s Nationals, Neff didn’t drop a set en route to the title, guaranteeing him the all-expense paid trip back to France this week.
Pupil and coach began working together shortly after Luciani’s ten year stint at the IMG Academies teaching students strategy and tactics, including several current professional tennis players, and Luciani jokes about his already four-year partnership with Neff:
“You can only coach a kid for that long if you like the kid, and Adam is a really nice young gentleman.”
The skills that Luciani has ingrained in Neff as well as Neff’s own goal to become world No. 1 one day, has allowed him to be a player mature beyond his years. Luciani imparts words of wisdom, teaching him that although “you may lose a few battles, you are not losing the war,” and Neff has won 85% of his matches in the past year using that slogan. The absolute trust and respect between player and coach, and Neff’s teachability on court, has only propelled his chances at becoming a future breakout star.
“A lot of coaches are about today, and today’s results,” said Luciani. “I once had a coach, who after Adam’s match, pointed out to him that he had missed his backhand 17 times, and then asked him ‘Don’t you think you should have changed it?’ And Adam said, ‘No, my coach told me this is the footwork I’m supposed to use.’”
“And now, one year later,” Luciani elaborates, “because Adam’s body (after having grown ten inches) matches up with what I wanted him to do back then, he’ll now make that same shot 16 out of 17 times.”
And Luciani continues, referring to the steps in his program: “It may be ugly in the beginning, but eventually it’s going to be beautiful.”
The system that Luciani employs is a self-designed program called “Strategy Zone” which is a “very aggressive system based on Andre Agassi and how he built points … and teaches a lot about footwork, targets, amounts of spin, stances and more.” The first four years are spent working on offense “to get a good base,” adding in several new skills every six months. Because Neff has now been with Luciani just over four years, the second stage of the program — the defense — was introduced this past January and “it’s already starting to show up in his game,” states Luciani. “Defensively, we’re working on slicing a little more on his backhand side, and we have a fitness trainer who is working right now on his movement to his right, so he can get to the ball earlier and go from a defensive situation to an offensive situation quickly.”
Neff’s at-home training includes two hours of tennis in the morning, followed by one hour of a private fitness session with his trainer, and an additional hour of tennis in the afternoon, followed by a recovery session every evening. If you’re thinking that this sounds an awful lot like a professional athlete’s schedule, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, many pros hold this similar schedule while preparing for some of tennis’ biggest events.
And to go along with the training, Neff’s backyard is equipped with every tennis player’s dream: a state-of-the-art facility and courts.
When Neff and Luciani first started working together, Neff’s father asked Luciani what he needed in order to give Neff his best chance at becoming a pro. Luciani gave some pointers, construction began and now, their backyard in Bradenton, FL has one of the best facilities in the world. Among it are three tennis courts: 1) a European red clay court akin to the surface of the French Open, 2) a slower hard court like that used at the Sony Open in Miami with seven layers of cushion “to ensure we can save his knees,” states Luciani, and 3) a faster hard court like that found at the US Open with eleven layers of cushion.
It also includes a full 2800 square foot indoor gym with a recovery area, including a CVAC unit like that used by Novak Djokovic. In fact, Luciani researched the manufacturer of that same recovery pod and leased a unit for five years to allow his pupil to have optimum recovery after playing. “There’s nothing like it for recovery,” he states. “If you get injured, you get well really quick.”
Neff’s parents are both doctors and have put everything into Adam and his two younger sisters to become the tennis players their kids aspire to be. Though “successful and busy” individuals, “his parents are extraordinarily supportive,” says Luciani. “They don’t get upset at losses; they just brush them off and are really down to earth … They built (the house and facility) so that their kids can grow up and have a chance to do whatever they wanted to do in tennis. His parents trust me because they know I have their kids’ goals in mind.”
With his efforts culminating this week in Paris, Neff will vie for a shot to win the Longines Future Tennis Aces event, and as Luciani reiterates his and Neff’s long-time goals: “We’re on a mission, there is no other goal. Number two is a failure, bottom line. We’re on a hunt.”
TALLAHASSEE, FL, May 2, 2013 – The red, white and blue rolled on Thursday at the Tallahassee Tennis Challenger.
No. 2 seed Ryan Harrison played some of his best tennis of the week at the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event, beating fellow American Donald Young 7-6 (5), 6-4 to book a place in the semifinals at Forestmeadows Tennis Complex.
Harrison is joined by two other Americans – No. 7 seed Denis Kudla and defending champion Tim Smyczek – as well as Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany in the semifinals.
Alex Kuznetsov, who earned the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge birth in the French Open Wednesday, retired in his evening match against Smyczek, a close friend, with a shoulder injury. The No. 5 seed Smyczek was leading 6-4.
The day, however, was all about Harrison, who gave a spirited fist pump following a back-and-forth battle with Young, who won this title in 2011.
“The biggest thing I was trying to do was just stay calm, stay focused, and keep after it,” Harrison said of his win. “We’re both young, American, and have played a few matches against each other; so there was a little bit of competitiveness going on. I would say it was a tough win.”
It was a tough win for Kudla, who took down Facundo Arguello of Argentina 7-6 (3), 6-4. Arguello has been hot during the last few weeks, winning seven of nine matches leading up to Thursday.
The Cinderella story of the tournament has been Stebe, who as an unseeded player has won three straight matches to book his place in the semifinals. The German beat 2012 finalist Frank Dancevic 6-4, 6-3 to earn the right to play Smyczek.
In doubles, the American duo of Sekou Bangora and Reid Carleton were winners over Takura Happy and Salif Kante of Florida A&M University, booking a semifinal spot. They’ll be joined by Greg Jones and Peter Polansky, who beat former Florida State University standouts Jean-Yves Abone and Vahid Mirzadeh in the evening session.
Harrison, the world No. 81, is looking for his ninth straight win after capturing the Savannah title last week. The 20 year old won eight in a row in 2009 at a futures event then a challenger in California.
“I came out today, and I was ready to play. I feel a lot more energetic,” said Harrison, who has been as high as No. 43 in the world. “This is my eighth straight match win. The biggest thing I have to focus on is just tomorrow. You can’t think about the finals or two more before you get through the next one. I’ve played Dennis before. He’s tough, he’s a great competitor, and he’s playing well. I’m excited about the match, and that what I’m going to be focusing on.”
Harrison and Kudla will play their semifinal during the evening session, following doubles at 6 pm. Smyczek and Stebe are set for an afternoon tussle.
RESULTS – MAY 2, 2013
Singles – Quarterfinals
 Ryan Harrison, United States, def. Donald Young, United States, 7-6 (5), 6-4
 Tim Smyczek, United States, def. Alex Kuznetsov, United States, 6-4, Ret.
 Denis Kudla, United States, def. Facundo Arguello, Argentina, 7-6 (3), 6-4
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Germany, def. Frank Dancevic, Canada, 6-4, 6-3
Doubles – Quarterfinals
Sekou Bangoura and Reid Carleton, United States, def. [WC] Takura Happy, Senegal, and Salif Kante, Senegal, 6-3, 6-2
Greg Jones, Australia, and Peter Polansky, Canada, def. Jean-Yves Aubone and Vahid Mirzadeh, United States, 6-3, 6-4
Daily updates on this tournament can be found at www.procircuit.usta.com and www.tallahasseechallenger.com. Live streaming is also available on www.procircuit.usta.com. The tournament can be followed on Facebook at “USTA Tallahassee Tennis Challenger” and on Twitter @TallyChallenger or by using the #TallyChallenger hashtag.
The tournament is part of the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge and can be followed on Twitter at #USTAHarTruWC and www.USTAHarTruWC.com.
Bradenton 11-year-old Wins USTA 12s Nationals, Longines Future Tennis Aces and Trip to the French Open
WEEHAWKEN, NJ: April 16, 2013 – Eleven-year-old Adam Neff of Bradenton, Fla., won the fourth annual Longines Future Tennis Aces – On the Road to the French Open U.S. qualifying tournament on Friday, April 12, at the USTA Boys’ & Girls’ 12s National Spring Championships presented by Longines, hosted by the City of Delray Beach. Neff defeated top-seeded Brandon Nakashima of San Diego, Ca, 6-1, 6-4 in the championship match and will represent the United States when he competes against finalists from 15 countries around the world at the global event in Paris, France during the first week of the French Open.
The USTA Boys’ & Girls’ 12s National Spring Championships presented by Longines, hosted by the City of Delray Beach served as the U.S. qualifier for Longines Future Tennis Aces with the winner of the Boys 12s singles division earning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris to play against qualifiers from 15 other nations. In addition to winning an all-expense-paid trip and the opportunity to play tennis in the center of Paris, Adam will compete to receive financing for his tennis equipment until his 16th birthday, courtesy of Longines.
Neff, who will turn 12 on May 30, competed against 128 other top-ranked U.S. players in the week-long USTA-sanctioned event. En route to the title Neff was nearly flawless and never dropped a set to any of his competitors.
Full results from the U.S. finals of the 2013 Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament can be found at: http://tennislink.usta.com/tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=121633
Last year, Rachel Lim of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., won the Longines Future Tennis Aces all-girls event and the trip to Paris, where she fell to the top-seeded Russian national champion in the first round of play.
Longines is the proud Official Partner and Timekeeper of the French Open at Roland-Garros since 2007. Longines Future Tennis Aces – On the Road to the French Open is part of Longines’ global commitment to support and develop tennis’ superstars of tomorrow. All the players who qualify for the tournament will have the opportunity to visit the red-clay courts of Roland Garros and attend a French Open match.
Countries participating in Future Tennis Aces program include Australia, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italia, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the U.S.
April 13, 2013 – In a semifinal that was physically much closer than the scoreline indicated, world No. 12 and US Men’s Clay Court Championship No. 1 seed Nicolas Almagro defeated 22-year-old rising American Rhyne Williams, 6-2, 6-1.
But don’t be fooled by the skewed scoreline, as eight of the first eleven games went to 30 or deuce on each player’s serve. Given Almagro’s commanding style to punish his opponents by running them around the court, Williams took the early initiative on most points in the first set, but his transition game and net play got over-powered by one of the best active players on clay.
Leading up the match, Williams had spent nearly seven hours on court in Houston, while Almagro not even half of that. After his win yesterday, Williams admitted that his left quad and glut were sore and that he was near cramping. He wasn’t sure how his body would hold up in the semi today, but he played through any pain to put on a stellar performance for the crowd.
On groundstrokes and serving alone, the match was nearly a draw. But it was Almagro’s experience on clay that proved most effective in the end and he advanced to his 19th career final on clay.
Despite today’s loss, Williams should feel confident with his performance this week and celebrate his breakthrough. Not only will he reach a career-high ranking of around 116 come Monday, but in only his first ATP-level clay court tournament, Williams recorded his first ATP quarterfinal and semifinal appearances — and no less on his favorite surface. “An American with his best surface on clay?” you might be asking. Yes. Despite his recent hard court title in Dallas, his first three tournament titles all came at clay events in Madrid, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Williams, who received a wildcard into Houston, earlier this week posted wins over Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 7-5 in the first round, 2007 champion Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) and Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo 7-6(1), 1-6, 6-4 to reach the semis.
With his fiery and animated personality on court, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether Williams is happy or angry from photos, and he has joked about the same. (For the record, the photo at right was taken after he defeated Ramirez Hidalgo to reach the semis. See? Not so simple.) But whether he’s smashing his racquet in disgust due to a bad serve, or fist-pumping after a wicked forehand winner, he always wears his heart on his sleeve – and it’s easy to get behind the American with his recent success.
So, where does Williams fit in with the current crop of fresh-faced Americans on tour? Well, for one, he is now the youngest and highest-ranked American of generation “next,” and the new No. 9 ranked American overall.
With the retirement of Andy Roddick last year and the ensuing hype of finding the next top American in the likes of players like Jack Sock and Steve Johnson, Williams has emerged onto the Tour a bit under the radar. Until now, that is. He has now not only out-ranked his fellow Americans, but outplayed them as well, leading their overall head-to-head matchups seven to four.
While it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a player based on one great run at a tournament, Williams’ trajectory has been far from that as his 2013 results show.
After finishing off the 2012 season ranked at a respectable 192 after starting the year outside of the top 500, Williams had a bit of a slow start during his first trip to Australia. He lost in the qualifying rounds of Brisbane and Sydney before falling in the first round of the Australian Open after being up two sets to love against No. 25 seed Florian Mayer. The former Tennessee Volunteer then kicked it into high gear and went on to win his first Challenger title in Dallas the following month by defeating veteran Robby Ginepri. Two weeks later, Williams qualified for his home state tournament in Memphis and defeated former USC Trojan Steve Johnson in the first round before falling to world No. 23 Alexandr Dolgopolov, 6-4 in the third.
After appearances in Indian Wells and Miami in March, Williams headed back to the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, FL where he trains, to continue working on his fitness while making the transition to clay.
In heavy contrast, Williams’ compatriots have had somewhat inconsistent performances this year. Despite reaching the Memphis quarterfinals, Sock has failed to make it past the second round on all but one of his six other tournaments in 2013. Similarly, Johnson reached the Maui Challenger and San Jose quarterfinals, but failed to make it past the first round in any of his other six tournaments this year.
The reason for Williams’ consistency compared to his fellow Americans can stem from several things, but outside of his natural talent for the sport, two reasons come to mind: his focus on mental and physical fitness, and his family — and the two often intersect.
A native of Knoxville, TN, Williams turned pro in 2011 after playing two years at the University of Tennessee where he won the 2010 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship. After admitting to tipping the scales at just over 200 pounds after leaving college, the American put in the hard hours and is now listed on the ATP site at a fit 185lbs for his 6’1” frame. Though he admitted this week that he still needs to lose “5 to 8 pounds” to hang with the top players in long grueling matches, his attacking game style and rocket forehand are already competitive enough for the top 50.
His roots in tennis are also deeper than many players’ as Williams hails from a tennis family. His mother, father and both sisters have played or still currently play at the collegiate level, his grandfather is the co-founder of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and coached at Tennessee, his uncle Mike de Palmer Jr. was a top 35 ATP player and former coach of Boris Becker, and his cousin, Christopher, a former fellow Vol currently coaches and travels with Williams.
Few players – if any – hold this kind of tennis pedigree, but it hasn’t always been easy. Williams admitted last year that he decided to go to college in order to mature before hitting the pro tour, and that time spent learning the mental game in a team setting has helped him achieve his results today.
Furthermore, not only has his cousin Christopher’s master’s in sports psychology continued to fuel his mental game by bringing an emotional attachment to his goals, but his ability to travel as a coach also brings a unique stability to Williams’ training. Unless you’re John Isner or Sam Querrey, a travelling coach is financially not possible for players around Williams’ ranking, and it’s surprising still how many top players don’t travel with a mental coach. Given both his support system and focused approach to his training, Williams is on the right path to continue climbing the rankings steadily.
So what exactly is next for the Houston semifinalist?
Williams will now travel to three Challenger events in Sarasota, Savannah and Tallahassee which are all also on clay. The collective group of tournaments is part of the USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge which grants the winner an automatic bid into the main draw of Roland Garros through a reciprocal wildcard exchange with the French Tennis Federation.
If Williams had made the Houston final, he wouldn’t have needed to vie for the wildcard as his ranking would have been high enough to gain him direct entry, since the acceptance list is based on Monday’s rankings. However, with his ranking now hovering around 116, he will most likely need to either play the qualifying tournament or win the reciprocal wildcard this month if he hopes to make the main draw in Paris. But given his current form and the fact that he won the Australian Open Wildcard Challenge back in December to get a wildcard Down Under, he not only has the winning confidence but also the experience to pull off the feat.