2015/04/21

US Falls to Italy in Fed Cup World Group Play-off

Flavia Pennetta

Flavia Pennetta

(April 19, 2015) Italy has now won five straight Fed cup ties against the United States with their 3-2 win on Sunday in the World Group playoff in Brindisi, Italy.

No. 1 Serena Williams had to fight her way back against Sara Errani to take the first match of the day 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead over Italy.

“Today has been a big eye opener,” Williams said. “I need to go home and train.  I am totally not ready for clay court season as I thought I was.  This was a great match for me, even if I had lost, I think it would have been a wonderful match.  That is one good thing about playing Fed Cup and things like this it gives you the practice that you normally would not get.”

 

In the second match, hometown girl Flavia Pennetta demolished Christina McHale 6-1, 6-1 to even up the tie at 2-2.

The final rubber of the tie which was the doubles, saw Williams lost her first match of her Fed Cup career when she paired with Alison Riske and fell to Pennetta and Errani 6-0, 6-3 which sealed the tie for Italy.

Williams is now 13-0 in Singles and 3-1 in doubles in Fed Cup competition.

On playing against Pennetta and Errani in doubles, Williams said: “They are a very solid team and obviously, they have both been No. 1 in doubles.  I have been No. 1, so I felt like I had the opportunity to take some chances and do the best I can.  They were the better team today and ultimately, they got the win, which they deserved since they played better.”

Italy will return to the World Group and can compete for the Fed Cup trophy in 2016 while the U.S. will fall to World Group II.

Asked about the future of the U. S. Fed Cup team, Captain Mary Joe Fernandez said: “I think it is a big challenge.  We have to work harder.  We came close today and just keep plugging away.  The good news is that we have a lot of players in the Top 100 and hopefully, we can get two wins next year and get back into the World Group.”

 

The 2016 Fed Cup draw will be made in June.

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U.S. and Italy End Day One at 1-1 in Fed Cup

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(April 18, 2015) After day one, the United States and Italy are ties at 1-1 in the Fed Cup World Group Playoff being played at Circolo Tennis Brindisi in Brindisi, Italy.

World No. 1 Serena Williams led off the day holding off world No. 36 Camila Giorgi, 7-6(5), 6-2, raising her Fed Cup singles record to 12-0.

“The first set was tough,” said Williams. “I needed to stay calm and make more shots, especially the deeper ones. I think I was hitting them short. So once I started hitting deeper, things worked out.”

“Camila played really well and had a great game plan. That is the player she is. She goes for it a lot. I love to watch her play because she is so feisty on the court. I love her game how she hits so hard.  I know her game really well, so it was not a surprise.”

Sara Errani leveled the tie in the next match, demolishing Lauren Davis, making her singles debut for the United States 6-1, 6-2 in 70 minutes.

“It was a good experience for me,” Davis said.  “I thought I handled myself well.  Sara played very well and was solid and consistent. Given the situation, I think I did okay.”

“Lauren competed really well,” said US Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez. “It is a tough match-up on clay.  Sara has so much experience and defends so well and is also very aggressive.  I thought there were a few games where Lauren had opportunities where it was deuce or break point.  Against a player of that caliber, you have to win those games and then maybe you have a chance.  Sara played really well under pressure and those points very well.”

The winner of the tie this weekend will return to World Group 1 and can compete for the Fed Cup next year while the loser will fall back into World Group II.

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Serena Williams Leads US Fed Cup Team Against Italy

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(April 17, 2015) For the fifth time in the last seven years the U.S. and Italy face-off in Fed Cup. Italy has won the last four contests, but the U.S. leads overall 9-4. The teams last faced each other last year in the World Group Quarterfinal in Cleveland, where Italy won, 3-1.

 

The United States will take on Italy in the Fed Cup World Playoff on the outdoor red clay court at Circolo Tennis Brindisi in Brindisi, Italy. Play begins Saturday at 1:00 pm local time (7:00 am ET).

 

No. 1 Serena Williams and world No. 36 Camila Giorgi will open the tie on Saturday. Williams is a perfect 11-0 in singles record in Fed Cup competition for the United States. She represented the USA earlier this year in the World Group II First Round against Argentina in Buenos Aires.

 

“Every time I step on the clay, I feel refreshed,” Williams said after the draw ceremony on Friday. “I love playing on the clay and my clay court game feels great.  It’s a great surface for me. I feel good playing one, two, or three matches this weekend.”

 

This will be the fourth straight Fed Cup tie for Giorgi where she’s 2-2 in singles. She made her debut in Fed Cup last year in the World Group Quarterfinal against the U.S. in Cleveland, where she beat Madison Keys.

 

“We all know from Cleveland last year that Camila is very dangerous,” said USA Fed cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. “She hits the ball extremely hard and flat and goes for it. You have to be ready for anything playing Giorgi. She is coming off a good week by reaching a WTA final last week, so it will be tough.”

 

The second match on Saturday will feature the Fed Cup singles debut of American Lauren Davis, ranked No 57 in the world Davis will take on world No. 15 Sara Errani.

 

“I am very excited and love being a part of this team of three great girls,” Davis said. “This will be my first singles match for Fed Cup, so it will be a great experience for me and great opportunity to play for my team.”

 

Errani has played in 16 Fed Cup ties for Italy and has an 11-8 singles record. Errani leads Davis 2-1 in head-to-head competition.

 

“With Errani, you have to work and earn your victory, especially on clay, since she is so consistent,” Fernandez said. It comes down to discipline, constructing your points, and being patient with her. We are going to have two tough matches. Hopefully we can get quick starts and keep it up throughout the weekend.

 

The winner of this tie advances to the World Group in 2016 for a chance to compete for the Fed Cup trophy. The losing nation will fall back to World Group II in 2016.

 

ORDER OF PLAY

Saturday, 1:00 p.m.

Singles A: Serena Williams (USA) vs. Camila Giorgi (ITA)

Singles B: Lauren Davis (USA) vs. Sara Errani (ITA)

Sunday, 11:30 a.m.

Singles C: Serena Williams (USA) vs. Sara Errani (ITA)

Singles D: Lauren Davis (USA) vs. Camila Giorgi (ITA)

Doubles: Doubles: Alison Riske/Christina McHale (USA) vs. Flavia Pennetta/Karin Knapp (ITA)

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USTA Announces 2015 Schedule for Har-Tru Wildcard Challenge for US Players to Earn a Wild Card into Roland Garros

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From the USTA – WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., April 13, 2015 – The USTA today announced the tournaments for the Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge, which utilizes the USTA Pro Circuit to award wild cards into the French Open. The three women’s events will be hosted in Dothan, Ala.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., and the three men’s events will take place in Sarasota, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; and Tallahassee, Fla. The challenge kicks off today in Sarasota for the men’s events and Monday, April 20, in Dothan for the women’s events.
Har-Tru Sports, the leading provider of clay tennis courts, is in its third year as title sponsor of the challenge. This year, in conjunction with the wild card challenge, Har-Tru is launching a new campaign to recognize court maintenance professionals through the “Love Your Court, Love Your Game” campaign and contest with a cash prize. Har-Tru is also introducing “Court Care Professionals Day” on June 7.
In the Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge, the American man and American woman who earn the most ATP World Tour and WTA ranking points at two of the three selected USTA Pro Circuit clay-court events earn main draw wild cards into the French Open. Only Americans who did not otherwise earn direct entry into the French Open are eligible. The USTA and the French Tennis Federation have a reciprocal agreement in which wild cards into the 2015 French Open and 2015 US Open are exchanged.
All tournaments will be streamed live on www.procircuit.usta.com. Fans can also download the USTA Pro Circuit app by searching “procircuit” in the app store to follow the action on their cell phones.
The Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge consists of the following USTA Pro Circuit events:
USTA Pro Circuit Men’s Events
  • 2015 Sarasota Open, $100,000 Sarasota, Fla. (week of April 13)
  • St. Joseph’s/Candler Savannah Challenger, $50,000 Savannah, Ga. (week of April 20)
  • USTA Tallahassee Tennis Challenger, $50,000 Tallahassee, Fla. (week of April 27)
USTA Pro Circuit Women’s Events
  • Hardee’s Pro Classic, $50,000 Dothan, Ala. (week of April 20)
  • Boyd Tinsley Women’s Clay Court Classic, $50,000 Charlottesville, Va. (week of April 27)
  • Revolution Technologies Pro Tennis Classic, $50,000 Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. (week of May 4)
Har-Tru’s “Love Your Court, Love Your Game,” campaign and contest empower tennis players, club staff and contractors to nominate their court-care professional(s) who go above and beyond to create great playing experiences for their members. The impetus of this campaign is to demonstrate appreciation for the people who create an optimal tennis environment that is key to players’ success. The campaign will kick off on Monday, April 13, and end on Sunday, May 10. The winner or winning team will be announced on Sunday, June 7, and receive a $5,000 cash prize. Fans of all ages can create a video, showcasing their appreciation for court-care professionals and the impact their work has had on their game. Submissions can be made by visiting www.loveyourcourt.com.
Sunday, June 7, will also mark “Court Care Professionals Day,” which will honor the contest winner and recognize and celebrate court-care professionals that maintain and preserve great clay-court tennis environments.
“We are so pleased that we have developed the ‘Love Your Court, Love Your Game’ campaign,” said Pat Hanssen, General Manager of Har-Tru Sports. “It’s so important to recognize the contributions of the behind-the-scenes champions for our sport and our industry. To my knowledge this is something that no other manufacturer has done and it’s something that is long overdue.”
The USTA first used this wild-card challenge format for its 2012 French Open wild cards, won by Melanie Oudin and Brian Baker. Oudin and Baker each advanced to the second round at that year’s French Open and subsequently broke into the Top 100. In 2013, Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers earned the wild cards, with Rogers winning her first-ever Grand Slam singles match at the French Open. Last year, young American Taylor Townsend and veteran Robby Ginepri earned the wild card cards, with Townsend becoming a top storyline at Roland Garros by reaching the third round.
The 2015 French Open main draw will be held Sunday, May 24, to Sunday, June 7.
Information on the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge will be available at www.procircuit.usta.com, www.HarTru.com, and on Twitter through @USTAProCircuit and #HarTruWildcard.
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USTA Breaks Ground for National Campus in Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida

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From the USTA: Orlando, Fla., April 8, 2015 – The United States Tennis Association  celebrated its arrival in Orlando, Fla., with a ground-breaking ceremony for the USTA National Campus, the New Home of American Tennis, in Lake Nona.  The model tennis facility, expected to be completed in late 2016, will house the USTA’s Community Tennis and Player Development divisions.  When completed, the facility will feature more than 100 courts, including red and green clay courts, hard courts, and youth tennis courts.  The site, which will be open to the public, also will house a collegiate tennis center capable of hosting a number of college events and will serve as the home for the University of Central Florida’s men’s and women’s varsity teams.

 

“This is an historic day as the USTA continues to reimagine its future, and redefines how we deliver on our mission of promoting and developing tennis in the United States,” said USTA Chairman of the Board and President, Katrina Adams.  “By housing our two divisions devoted to growing the game at all levels, and training the next generation of players and coaches, we can have a greater impact on the sport than we ever had before.”

 

The groundbreaking was attended by Adams and other senior USTA officials, senior officials from Tavistock Group and Lake Nona, along with City of Orlando Mayor, Buddy Dyer, and Orlando County Mayor Teresa Jacobs as well as a number of state and regional partners working with the USTA to make tennis’ governing body’s vision a reality.

 

The facility is being built in Lake Nona, an integrated, 11-square mile community in Orlando, anchored by clusters of excellence in health, sports, education and technology.  With its parent company, the private investment organization Tavistock Group, the fast-growing community of Lake Nona has attracted business innovators and residents committed to building a total environment that enables meaningful and impactful lives.

 

The USTA facility will serve as a cornerstone for Lake Nona’s Sports Innovation & Performance District, an emerging athletic district with a focus on research, design, innovation and technology.

 

“Lake Nona is the ideal place for the USTA to grow and thrive,” said Rasesh Thakkar, Senior Managing Director of Tavistock Group.  “We have a long history in sports, and together with the USTA, we will continue to attract innovators to Lake Nona to create opportunities that will advance sports science and athletic performance.”

 

The campus will be located on 63-acres of land and will include:

  • Tournament and League Area – This area will include 32 Har-Tru green clay courts and 20 Plexicushion hard courts. The space will include player pavilions and a tournament administration building, complete with trainer rooms, officials area, a stringer area, player lounge, public restrooms, and a tournament check-in area. It will allow the USTA to deliver events like never before and will set a new functional standard for the sport.
  • Collegiate Tennis Area – This area will feature 12 Plexicushion hard courts and one future tournament show court, and will serve as the home of the University of Central Florida’s men’s and women’s varsity tennis programs. The courts will be equipped with high-mast lighting for televised events and have elevated seating for 1,200 people with room on the north and south end for additional seating. The area will allow two collegiate matches to be played simultaneously. Additionally, it will feature a two-story pavilion for concessions, public restrooms, team locker rooms, and areas for trainers and officials.
  • Team USA Area - This area will include 12 Plexicushion hard courts. The courts will be utilized by the 17 USTA Sections, along with local coaches and their players throughout the country to work collaboratively with USTA Player Development.  The Team USA Area also will provide training facilities for tennis officials and coaches throughout the United States.
  • High Performance and Player Development Area – This area will include eight “DecoTurf” hard courts and eight European red clay courts.  The space will include a lodge that can house 32 boys and girls. The strength and conditioning area will include a sand and workout area. In addition, the area will be utilized for Team USA Events.
  • Indoor Tennis Courts-  Six Rebound Ace indoor courts with a viewing area.
  • 36/60’ Family Tennis Area– These courts will include eight 36’ and eight 60’ PowerGame courts with a SportsBase that will enable youth and adults to develop their games.
  • USTA Office Building – The ground floor will include a tennis pro shop, fitness area, locker rooms, player lounge, and café/restaurant with USTA offices occupying the second floor.
  • Technology – The facility will be an epicenter for tennis innovation and education.  It will incorporate the latest technology to provide an unparalleled playing, training and educational experience for players, coaches, officials and spectators.

The Tavistock Development Company is serving as the project developer, with DPR Constuction as the general contractor and HKS as the lead architect.  California Products (hard court surfaces), Har-Tru (green clay court surface), and Connor SportCourt (Family Tennis Area 36/60 court surface) are providing the court surfaces for the facility.

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Martin Blackman Named General Manager, USTA Player Development

From the USTA: WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., April 6, 2015 – The USTA today announced that Martin Blackman has been named General Manager, USTA Player Development. In this full-time position, Blackman will oversee the USTA’s Player development staff and partner with the U.S. tennis community to identify and develop the next generation of world-class American tennis players. Blackman will continue to work toward a true Team USA concept, working collegially and cooperatively with the greater American player development community.  Blackman, who will report to USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Gordon Smith, succeeds Patrick McEnroe, who held the position since 2008.

 

Blackman will oversee both the USTA’s Player Development staff and Training Centers –including its Regional Training Center network and the Player Development facilities at the soon-to-be created USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Fla.

 

Blackman has a diverse and extensive background as a coach and a player, beginning with his days as a junior, when he trained with legendary coach Nick Bollettieri, alongside future greats Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Blackman, who won the USTA Boys’ 16s National Championship in 1986 and reached the Boys’ 18s final two years later, went on to become a member of two NCAA Championship teams at Stanford University.  He continued his play at the ATP level from 1989 to 1995, reaching a career-high of No. 158.

 

Blackman then became the head men’s tennis coach at American University in 1998. During his tenure at American, Blackman was named conference Coach of the Year three times, leading American to three conference titles, two NCAA Tournament appearances and its first-ever national ranking.

 

In 2004, Blackman was hired as Director of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., and began to help build it into one of the premier junior training centers in America. In his five years at the JTCC, Blackman helped the Center double both its junior program enrollment and its full-time staff, and the JTCC has since worked with and helped develop pros such as Alison Riske and Denis Kudla and top junior Francis Tiafoe.

 

Near the end of his tenure in College Park, Blackman submitted a proposal to the USTA recommending that it partner with the best junior development programs across the nation, which was the impetus for the creation of the USTA Regional Training Center network.  He was hired by the USTA in 2009 as Senior Director of Talent Identification and Development, a role that saw him oversee the implementation of the Regional Training Center program, serve as a co-leader of the Coaching Education Department and be USTA Player Development’s leader for Diversity and Inclusion.

 

Blackman left the USTA in late 2011 to found his own tennis academy, the Blackman Tennis Academy, in Boca Raton, Fla. After only its second year of full-time programming, Blackman’s Academy sent all eight of its graduating students to college on tennis scholarships.

 

Blackman also served two terms on the USTA Board of Directors, from 2003-06, serving on the Audit and Collegiate Committees.

 

“The USTA is lucky to have secured an individual with as well-rounded a background as Martin Blackman,” said USTA Chairman, President and CEO Katrina Adams. “I have known Martin for many years and I am confident that he is the right person at the right time to continue to lead USTA Player Development in the right direction moving forward.”

 

“If you set out to list all of the experience and qualifications you would want in the ideal candidate for this position, Martin checks all of the boxes. He brings a unique combination of experience and skills to the job. His expansive background in all areas of player development from experience as a player, to talent identification, to coaching at the highest levels gives him  a solid platform to build on the great base that Patrick and the staff has built.” said USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Gordon Smith. “His experience as a player, coach, administrator and innovator makes him the ideal leader for USTA Player Development as we continue to work with the American Tennis Family to identify and develop world-class American players.”

 

Blackman lives in Boca Raton, Fla., with his wife and their four children. He holds an economics degree from George Washington University.

 

Update – here is the transcript from the USTA Media conference call with Mr Blackman. Journalists who asked the questions in the news conference were Colette Lewis of Zootennis, Rachel Cohen of AP,  Jim Martz, Dave “Koz” Kozlowski, Pam Shriver of ESPN Cindy Shmerler of Tennis Magazine,  Sandra Harwitt, Bill Simons and blogger Lisa Stone.

UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE

April 6, 2015

Katrina Adams

Martin Blackman

CHRIS WIDMAIER:  I’d like to thank all the members of the media joining us for this call today.  On the call today we will have the USTA chairman of the board and president, Katrina Adams, the USTA chief operating officer and executive director, Gordon Smith, and our newly named general manager for player development, Martin Blackman.
I’m going to turn it over to our chairman of the board and president Katrina Adams for some opening remarks.
KATRINA ADAMS:  Thank you.  Welcome, everyone, thank you for tuning in for this wonderful announcement of our hiring of Martin Blackman as our new general manager of player development.  He is very qualified.  It was an arduous deal for us in trying to come down to the final decision, but Martin’s background was well experienced and we’re truly excited about the future of American tennis going forward.
Without further ado, I’ll pass it over.
CHRIS WIDMAIER:  We’ll open it up to questions at this point.

Q.  Martin, why did you leave the USTA in 2011?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  In 2011, it was kind of the end of the first phase in RTC rollout.  I thought we did a great job kind of piggybacking on the work of Jose Higueras, under Patrick’s leadership, partnering with some of the best programs in the country.
I wanted to kind of take that time in my career and start a program, kind of go back into the private sector.  That was something I always wanted to do, and I thought that was the right time after we had finished the first part of the job with the regional training centers.
CHRIS WIDMAIER:  I wanted to point out, when Martin said the RTC in his answer, he was referring to the Regional Training Centers.

Q.  What, in your experience, as a private coach in the past three or four years have you learned about interacting with the USTA and how do you think that’s going to help you going forward?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I mean, so much.  Being in the trenches over the last four years and being on court six to eight hours a day with kids ages 8 to 18.  I think the first thing that I noticed when I went back into the field was how different the perception of private coaches of the USTA and player development.
The outreach that we started culminating with the Team USA initiative that was brought forth by Patrick and the USTA leadership is really bearing fruit.  I really felt that.  I felt like the coaches felt like they were being supported, respected and partnered with.  I also saw that when you get a player 14, 15, 16 years old, there’s an elite, high‑performance player, you really need the support of the Federation to get them to the next level.

Q.  You just mentioned a player in the 16‑, 17‑, 18‑year‑old range, what can the USTA provide for that level of a player?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think, again, one of the strengths of Patrick’s leadership was that the support of player development was very flexible and able to be customized.  In some instances you’re going to have a player like a Madison Keys, who is able to go to a former championship like Lindsay Davenport, maybe get different types of support, or you’re going to get some players that will come to the USTA and get direct coaching.
But I think what Patrick and his team did so well, and I know Katrina and Gordon want to continue, is that we have to be flexible in the way that we relate to players, parents and coaches.  It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
The way the game is going, the resources that are needed to develop a top‑10 player, it’s very difficult to do that without some support from the Federation.

Q.  This morning I was talking to a veteran coach, Rick Macci, who said today is a very good day for American tennis with your announcement.  You can relate to what junior development is all about and deal with coaches in the private sector.  Could you elaborate a little more about that.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I mean, you know that Rick is a great coach with an amazing track record.  I think one of the things you learn when you’re in the private sector and on the court a lot is the emotional investment that it takes to develop a good player.
It’s not just feeding balls, not just doing private lessons, not just going to tournaments.  There’s a huge emotional investment that the coach makes in the player and in the family.
So knowing that, when a transition is happening, we in player development have to be very sensitive in respecting that relationship between the player and their primary coach and their parents.
I think that’s something that I’m definitely sensitive to, but I think it’s something that Patrick and his team recognized when they rolled out the Team USA initiative.

Q.  I did a story once on University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga, who is a big tennis fan.  I asked him about top athletes getting into tennis as opposed to maybe basketball.  I said what if Yannick Noah’s son Joakim had stayed in tennis, or what if LeBron James had gone into tennis?  He said both of them would have been the No.1 player in the world, in his opinion.  Talk about attracting top athletes to tennis, and is this something that high performance would get involved in?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think it’s an ongoing challenge.  I mean, if we’re going to develop world‑class players, we want to start with young people who are potentially world‑class athletes.  So I think it’s a collaboration really with community tennis.  I know it’s something that Katrina is very serious about doing, opening the doors and changing some of the perception, creating more outreach opportunities.  I know Gordon feels that way, as well.
But it’s going to be a joint effort to broaden the base and reach out to communities that maybe we haven’t as much or that maybe perceived a lot of barriers when it comes to playing tennis.  We need to make sure we change the perception and remove the barriers as much as we can.

Q.  Nick Bollettieri was excited.  He endorsed you by saying you were a great listener and you wouldn’t be (indiscernible).  How strongly do you feel those two traits will help?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Definitely the first one.  In my first 36 to 60 days, I’m going to be doing a lot of listening.  I’m going to be listening to Katrina and Gordon as we crystallize the goals for player development and really set priorities.  I’m going to be listening to Patrick as he transitions out.  I’ll be doing a lot of lot of listening to Jay Berger, Ola Malmqvist and Jose Higueras, and I’ll be doing a lot of listening to past American champions and great coaches.
I think it’s very difficult to make good decisions if you’re not a good listener.  But at that point having priorities and having goals, you need to make decisions.  I appreciate Nick’s endorsement.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach and a mentor.  And, yes, I will be doing a lot of listening.

Q.  Will that include listening to the kids, getting feedback from the young players themselves?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yes.  I mean, I think you have different perspectives out there.  I think one of the most valuable perspectives that we have, and we have to tap into, is the voice of our former champions.  Katrina has initiated a great new mentorship program that’s really going to formalize some of the input and advice we get from some of those former champions.  Reaching back to players like Mary Joe Fernandez, Lindsay Davenport, Billie Jean King, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, reaching out to those great champions and listening to them, then listening to some of our current champions, then coming up with commonalities that we can formalize and make a little more systematic.

Q.  I know you have four kids.  I’m assuming some of them, if not all of them, have played some youth sports.  As a parent going through some experiences with youth sports, how is that affected and how do you think you’ll bring that experience as a parent and relate it to this position?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yes, I have four kids.  They all play tennis.  Two play because they really love it.  Two play because it’s a free sport from daddy.  But what I’ve learned in going to tournaments and watching them, watching a lot of my players, is that there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to skip levels, to be the eight‑year‑old that plays the 12‑and‑unders, to be the player that should be playing 60 orange that plays regular yellow.
That would probably be the first thing that I would try to address or continue to address with education and incentives because when you skip levels, you at some point are really retarding the developmental process.
A great example to me of someone I admire with decision make is CiCi Bellis.  After CiCi got to the second round of the US Open, beat Cibulkova, tremendous win, she played the Youth World Fed Cup, 16‑and‑under event.  She led her team to that title.  Then she played the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl.  The way she played 10Ks and 25Ks, that to me is an example of somebody who understands levels.
The second part of the experience with my kids is I love the concept of half‑day tournaments and one‑day tournaments for 10‑and‑under and 12‑and‑under tournaments.  There are not that many parents who can afford to take full days, Saturday and Sunday, away from their family and jobs to be in that situation.
Those are the two biggest things, the process of not skipping levels, and making competitive experiences more acceptable for average families.

Q.  Who were your idols growing up?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  My idols growing up were Jimmy Connors.  When I was a little kid, I used to pull my socks up to my knees like Jimmy Connors.  Guillermo Vilas was an idol of mine.  As I got to know more about him, then Arthur Ashe became a very serious role model for me.

Q.  Why all three of those?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, Jimmy Connors to me is probably, with the exception of maybe Rafa, the greatest competitor that’s ever played our sport.  That is very compelling to a young kid, just seeing somebody fight like that and be so passionate.  My parents took me to Forest Hills in ’77.  I was able to see him and Vilas up close.
So really the competitive spirit in Jimmy Connors.  For Vilas it’s more the grinder, somebody who worked so hard and played so gracefully.  Then for Arthur Ashe, it’s really about character, it’s about tennis being a metaphor for life, what you can do when you excel, people you can help.

Q.  What is the most significant character trait in your life that makes you well‑suited for this job?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think discipline, decision making.  I think that along with listening and along with being a good leader, I think at the end of the day your decision making has to be very disciplined based on objective criteria, not emotional, not reactive.  I think that gives your team a sense of comfort in the process of how decisions are made, a sense of security.
At the end of the day when a great player pops up, that great player is an outlier.  That great player isn’t the result of some perfect formula that everybody figured out and put together.  Part of the system’s job is to stay out of the way, but also to facilitate the development of those players.  You have to have discipline.
If you make a decision that doesn’t fit the prodigy, it’s okay, because the prodigy is still going to become great.

Q.  The relationship of player development to the college tennis athlete.  I’m sitting at the Easter Bowl.  I’m at the 18s, taking note that most of these kids are on the college tennis pathway as opposed to the professional pathway.  What are your thoughts on how player development will work with those kids who are focused on the collegiate development pathway.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think that with the changing demographics of the age of your top 100 players, that college is going to become a very important part of the pro tennis pathway.  If we’ve got top hundred men who are 27 years old on average, on the women’s side 24, you’re talking about a significant window of time after a player graduates from high school.
Again, Patrick showed great leadership in setting up a collegiate function within player development.  That’s something that I think we need to invest even more in to support our best college players, our best American college players, and our best American college coaches.

Q.  Do you see there will be additional funding support for those players, for example, during the summers when they may want to try their hand at pro circuit events or other professional tournaments?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I think it’s a little premature for me to talk about funding.  I’m not officially on the job yet.
But in terms of priorities, it’s definitely a priority because especially on the men’s side, there are not that many boys who are ready for the rigors of the tour at 18 years old.  If they’re not, then we have a uniquely American advantage in our collegiate system that we need to make the most of.

Q.  I have been to your academy a few times.  It looks like it’s a very successful program.  I’m wondering why having developed it to that, what is the appeal to you about going back and not being your own boss, going back to the USTA, basically why you’re interested in moving in a different direction?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I really enjoyed building my program.  We have a great team of coaches.  I’m going to be transitioning my program, the leadership of it, to my head coach Jose Caballero.
For me, this opportunity is the greatest opportunity for someone who is passionate about player development and really wants to give back to a sport that’s given me so much.
It’s a dream job for me.  So I had to pursue it.  I’m very fortunate that Katrina and Gordon have given me the opportunity to serve.

Q.  I’m a proponent of the old school where kids went to college then went out on the tour.  They all seem so anxious to go right away.  How do you convince an eager 16‑year‑old or 17‑year‑old who has had good results, but they’re not ready and they should take advantage of the college system?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yeah, I think player development as a department has done some great research on benchmarks for players.  When a player is about to graduate from high school, either on the men’s side or the women’s side, there’s some benchmarks they should be made aware of, they, their parents, their coach, their team.  So if they’re not having significant success on the tour, that should really be an indicator for them that college is the way to go.
But we have to make sure that we give them the support while they’re in college to keep developing as players and to come out when they’re 21, 22, ready to do damage, like John Isner, Steve Johnson.  And I think we’ll see more of them on the women’s side.  We have Irina Falconi at 100, but I think we’ll start to see more on the women’s side as well.

Q.  Do you think it’s a way of making careers last longer?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I mean, I don’t know.  I do know if you’ve got five spots opening in the top 100 every year, and the average age is 24 on the women’s side, 27 on the men’s side, if I’m correct, I do know that there’s a gap of four to six years.
So the question is, what is the best way to develop a player during that window.  Do you want them to go on the futures tour, the challengers tour, play 30 weeks a year between the age of 18 and 24, or do you want them to mature and get stronger and then go out there.

Q.  Going back to attracting the best athletes.  I know it’s early, but I want to know from early ideas about working with the community tennis division side of the USTA, the beginning youth sports athletes.  How do we get better athletes, particularly when you look at the men’s side the last 15 years?  How do we do it?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  It’s a big question.  It’s a big question.  It’s an important question.
I’m going to give you a few ideas.  One of them is we have an opportunity with the 10‑and‑under formats that are kids’ sized.  We have the opportunity to have play on a 36 red court, a 60‑foot orange court.  Now, how do we leverage that opportunity so that we get kids who can play other sports in school for free to have a free experience in the right format en masse.  I think that’s a huge opportunity and I think we’re making big headway there, but there’s a lot more we can do.
I think number two is, there are a lot of city programs that have real meaningful, organic connections with African American communities, Hispanic communities, lower‑income communities, that we can support, that already have the relationships, but maybe don’t have the capacity or the resources.
I mean, thirdly, I think we just got to keep knocking down the perception that we’re a super expensive, elitist sport.
If we talked again in two months, I’ll have a very good answer for you.

Q.  Why do you think it’s been so long since the American men have lifted the trophy at a Grand Slam?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I think there are a lot of factors that have contributed to the globalization of the game and just make it such a difficult sport.  I think one of the things that hurt us is that college was the most viable pathway in the ’70s and the ’80s.  I think that changed a lot in the ’90s where you had a lot of international players that used that time and really broke into the top 100 at a young age.
I think it’s a question of windows.  So we were blessed with Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Wheaton, Chang, and then with Roddick, Fish and Blake.  We’ve been blessed with Serena and Venus.
But now the role of the Federation in facilitating the development of a world‑class player is much greater.  I think that’s why we opened the window six years ago when Patrick was hired, and we’re starting to see the fruit right now.
Some of the bright lights right now, we’ve got 14 American women in the top 100 on the WTA, and we’ve got 13 boys in the top 100 of the ITF junior rankings, and three more who are playing pro who would also be top 100.  We’re looking at a pool of about 16 boys who are coming up the pipeline right now, and then 14 women who are already in the top 100.  So the window’s open again.  We just have to make sure that we get those players exactly what they need to get to the next level.

Q.  Katrina awhile ago said we are a nation that is a land of excess, not opportunity.  There’s a lack of motivation.  If kids don’t understand they have to do the hard work, they will never get anywhere.  Jose Higueras made a similar comment to the Los Angeles Times saying we were lacking competitiveness in our players.  That’s all about emotion, fire, hunger.  Talk about that.  Is that something an association can work with a player on?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yeah, I do think a Federation can make a huge impact.  I agree with Katrina and Jose.
I think what the challenge is, is to create a culture where all of our players are striving for excellence, striving for Grand Slam titles, striving to be top five.  Doesn’t mean they’re all going to achieve it, of course not.  But creating that culture allows players to push each other.  One player pops, the next one pops, the next one sees that, I can do that.
The mentorship program that Katrina has initiated, more involvement from some of our former champions, all those things are going to work together to create that culture.
I mean, if we’ve got boys or girls who are ranked 60 or 70 in the world, and they’re sitting at a table with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Serena, Venus, Lindsay Davenport, those American champions are not going to be patting them on the back telling them, Hey, you made it.  They’re going to inspire them to be what you said, raising a Grand Slam trophy.

Q.  A lot of kids come from families that can afford to give their kids tennis, but are choosing sports that are more team sports.  They like that atmosphere.  Do you think there’s a way of promoting kids into tennis, in the early years, making it more of a team sport than an individual sport to attract kids, that they feel part of a whole as opposed to on their own?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yes, I think that’s already being done very effectively with some of the eight‑and‑under, 10‑and‑under events.  Even at the national level, the competitive structure, we’ve added a lot of national team competitions in addition to zonals and intersectionals.  I think that makes a huge difference in the way the game is perceived and the way a kid is introduced to tennis.

Q.  I’ve been to junior Fed Cup and Davis Cup.  Even that level of elite kids, it seems to bring something out in them when they’re rooting for the other person as well as just themselves.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  For sure.  I totally agree with that.
CHRIS WIDMAIER:  I would like to take a moment to thank everybody for joining us on the call today.
Katrina, Gordon, thank you for taking the time.  Martin, congratulations.  We look forward to seeing everybody soon.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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Dennis Novikov Serves Way to Sixth Pro Circuit Title At USTA Men’s Pro Championships of Calabasas

Novikov Serving

(March 29, 2015) CALABASAS, Calif.– It was all about the serve Sunday in the final of the USTA Men’s Pro Tennis Championships of Calabasas.

 

Former UCLA star and No. 2-seeded Dennis Novikov did it just it just a little bit better on Sunday to beat unseeded Francis Tiafoe, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6), to capture his sixth USTA Pro Circuit Futures championship at the USTA $15,000 Pro Circuit Futures event played at the Calabasas Tennis & Swim Center.

 

Novikov’s serve was never broken and he rocketed 13 aces, double faulted just once and only faced a break point against him once the entire match. Tiafoe also served strong with nine aces, two doubles faults, and never lost his serve while saving two break points.

 

“It was a little bit warm out here so the conditions really suit serving,” said Novikov, who will break into the ATP World Top 200 when the rankings are releases on Monday. “It was just a battle of serves today. Like Sampras against whoever …. (Ivo) Karlovic or (Mark) Philippoussis.”

 

Novikov will get his name placed on a banner just like former champs Karlovic and Philippoussis, and has a goal to be in the top 100 by the end of the year.

 

Novikov led 5-4 in the first-set tiebreaker but was able to get two mini-break points against Tiafoe’s serve to close out the set, 7-4. The second set was much of the same story with Tiafoe unable to get close to breaking Novikov, but serving well enough to extend to another tiebreaker.

 

“That was tough,” said the 17-year-old Tiafoe, who has not turned pro yet. “I stayed cool and kept holding and I was serving great. I was returning OK but wasn’t able to get the break.”

 

Novikov made $2,160 prize money and gained 27 valuable ATP World ranking points while Tiafoe earned $1,272 for the week and 12 ranking points. “So far it’s been a good year for me,” Tiafoe said. “I took the fall off and in January I played better than I thought I would.”

 

Added Novikov: “I like warmer conditions and played well at Indian Wells qualifying there a few weeks ago.”

 

In the doubles final on Saturday night, Fabian Matthews and Hunter Nicholas beat Adrian Forberg Skogeng and Wil Spencer, 6-1, 2-6, 10-6.

 

To keep up with all the USTA Pro Circuit news and scores, don’t forget to download the Pro Circuit App. Search procircuit in the iTunes App Store or on Google Play.

 

Sunday’s Final Singles Scores

Dennis Novikov, U.S., (2) def. Francis Tiafoe, U.S., 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6)

 

Saturday’s Final Doubles Score

Fabian Matthews, U.S. / Hunter Nicholas, U.S., def. Adrian Forberg Skogeng, Norway / Wil Spencer, U.S., 6-1, 2-6, 10-6

 

By Steve Pratt

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Francis Tiafoe to Face Dennis Novikov in USTA Men’s Pro Championships of Calabasas Final on Sunday

 

(March 28, 2015) CALABASAS, Calif. – Francis Tiafoe didn’t officially announce he was turning professional on Saturday after advancing to the final of the USTA Men’s Pro Tennis Championships of Calabasas. But he did remind that it’s only a matter of time before that happens.

 

“I’m going to turn pro,” the 17-year-old unseeded Tiafoe, still an amateur, said after beating Jason Jung in the semifinals, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, at the USTA $15,000 Pro Circuit Futures event being played at the Calasbasas Tennis & Swim Center. “I’m not sure when it’s going to happen, but it’s only a matter of time.”

 

Tiafoe is on a nine-match win streak after winning his first ITF Futures title last weekend in Bakersfield. He will face former UCLA star and No. 2-seeded Dennis Novikov in the 1 p.m. final on Sunday, with a pro doubles exhibition starting at noon.

 

Jung won the toss but elected to receive Tiafoe’s serve, which he promptly broke quickly. “I came out flat, but got the break back but then gave up the first set,” Tiafoe said. “I was just trying to find my range on both sides. I was serving extremely well and my best shot my forehand started working for me in the second set.”

 

Tiafoe said he still plans to play the remaining Junior Grand Slams, and that he has improved tremendously from one year ago when he was No. 7 in the world ITF junior rankings. He was a finalist at the Carson USTA Spring International Championships and won the ASICS Easter Bowl. Both mega junior events take place over the next two weeks.

 

Earlier this month, Tiafoe was named as a practice partner for the United States Davis Cup team that lost to Great Britain in Scotland. “I worked hard in the off-season and at Davis Cup I gained a lot of confidence,” he said. “My serve is 10 times better and off the ground I’m so much better.”

 

Novikov, 21, lost the first set to McDonald, 4-6, but used his big serve to take advantage of the match over the final two sets, 6-3, 6-2.

 

In the doubles final on Saturday night, Fabian Matthews and Hunter Nicholas beat Adrian Forberg Skogeng and Wil Spencer, 6-1, 2-6, 10-6.

 

Follow along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/calabasastennis. For more information check out the official website, calabasasprotennis.com. Don’t forget to download the Pro Circuit App. Search procircuit in the iTunes App Store or on Google Play.

 

Saturday’s Semifinal Singles Scores

Francis Tiafoe, U.S., def. Jason Jung, U.S., (6) 5-7, 6-1, 6-4

Dennis Novikov, U.S., (2) def. Mackenzie McDonald, U.S. (q) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2

 

Saturday’s Final Doubles Score

Fabian Matthews, U.S. / Hunter Nicholas, U.S., def. Adrian Forberg Skogeng, Norway / Wil Spencer, U.S., 6-1, 2-6, 10-6

By Steve Pratt

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Francis Tiafoe Continues Win Streak with Straight-Set Win At USTA Men’s Pro Championships of Calabasas

Francis Tiafoe-001

(March 27, 2015) CALABASAS, Calif., – Francis Tiafoe moved one stepped closer to a second-straight USTA Pro Circuit Futures singles title as he beat No. 8-seeded Mitchell Krueger in the quarterfinals on Friday at the USTA Men’s Pro Tennis Championships of Calabasas.

 

Tiafoe, a 17-year-old from College Park, Md., won his eighth consecutive match taking out the No. 8-seeded Krueger, 21, of Aledo, Texas, 7-5, 6-4, in the $15,000-level event being played at the Calabasas Tennis & Swim Center.

 

“Yeah, I guess it is eight straight but I’m not really thinking about that number,” said Tiafoe, who won three consecutive three-setters in the first three rounds last week in claiming his first Pro Circuit title. “I’m just focusing on continuing to play good tennis in Cali and want to put on a good show for the fans who come out tomorrow.”

 

He had never faced Krueger before, but the two have practiced together all week, and Tiafoe said he was able to get familiar with his game.

 

Tiafoe will face 25-year-old former University of Michigan star Jason Jung in one of Saturday’s semifinasl. Jung beat 17-year-old wild card Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinals on Friday, 6-3, 6-3. Fritz had his chances early on, squandering 15-40 and love-40 games on Jung’s serve in the first set.

 

“Sure, he hits a big ball, but I was just better today,” said Jung, as he rested in preparation for an evening doubles semifinal. Jung also beat Fritz in the USC Pro Circuit Futures semifinals during the first week of the year.

 

In the other semifinal on Saturday starting at 3 p.m., it will be an all UCLA affair as No. 2-seeded Dennis Novikov will play either qualifier and current UCLA sophomore Mackenzie McDonald or former Bruin and wild card Clay Thompson, who played in the late match Friday.

 

Earlier on Friday, Novikov downed Ecuador’s Giovanni Lapentti, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

 

Follow along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/calabasastennis. For more information check out the official website, calabasasprotennis.com. Don’t forget to download the Pro Circuit App. Search procircuit in the iTunes App Store or on Google Play.

 

EVENTS: USTA Junior Team Tennis Kid’s Day with a Tennis Carnival is Saturday, March 28, from 1:30 p.m. till 3 p.m.

 

Friday’s Quarterfinal Singles Scores

Jason Jung, U.S., (6) def. Taylor Fritz, U.S., (wc) 6-3, 6-3

Dennis Novikov, U.S., (2) def. Giovanni Lapentti, Eucador, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3

Francis Tiafoe, U.S., def. Mitchell Krueger, U.S., (8) 7-5, 6-4

Mackenzie McDonald, U.S. (q) def. Clay Thompson, U.S., (wc), late

 

Friday’s Semifinal Doubles

Jason Jung, U.S. / Raymond Sarmiento, U.S., vs. Fabian Matthew, U.S. / Jeremy Hunter Nicholas, U.S., late

By Steve Pratt

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March Madness For Three UCLA Bruins Who Move On At USTA Men’s Pro Championships of Calabasas

Mitchell Krueger

Mitchell Krueger

(March 26, 2015) CALABASAS, Calif., – A day after former UCLA Bruin and defending NCAA and Calabasas champion Marcos Giron was forced to retire from the USTA Men’s Pro Tennis Championships of Calabasas without ever hitting a ball, three current or former Bruins advanced to the Elite Eight of the USTA Pro Circuit $15,000 Futures tournament.

 

Current Bruin and qualifier Mackenzie McDonald, and former UCLA players wild card Clay Thompson and No. 2-seeded Dennis Novikov all posted wins Thursday at the Calabasas Tennis & Swim Center.

 

Thompson’s 6-3, 6-3, win over 17-year-old Stefan Kozlov was the most impressive, while McDonald needed three sets to down fellow qualifier Mico Santiago, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, and Novikov got past American Fritz Wolmarans, 7-5, 6-2.

 

It all happened a day before the storied UCLA men’s basketball team is to play Gonzaga in a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA basketball tournament on Friday.

 

It was March Madness, indeed, on Thursday as 17-year-old Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., resident and tournament wild card Taylor Fritz upset top-seeded Fabiano De Paula of Brazil, 6-2, 6-0.

 

Also moving into the quarterfinals was Torrance’s Jason Jung, a former University of Michigan All American. He beat former Big-10 rival Marek Michalicka of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Michalicka played his college tennis at the University of Wisconsin. Keeping with the March Madness theme, the top-seeded Badgers basketball team beat North Carolina later in day to move into their own version of the Elite Eight.

 

“It’s nice to be home and not traveling,” Jung said. “The wind early on wasn’t too big a factor and it was really ideal conditions. We are the same class in college and played a bunch of times in college.”

 

Mitchell Krueger, the No. 8 seed, was the seventh American of the final eight to reach the quarterfinals as he beat West Covina’s Ernesto Escobedo, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-3. Krueger won a $15,000 ITF Pro Circuit event to start the year at USC. “I was able to play in the first round of qualies at Indian Wells and ended up losing 6-7 in the third in the first round,” Krueger said. “I love playing here. I played the double of Carson and Easter Bowl in April ever since I was a kid, so it’s great to be out here and feels pretty familiar to me.”

 

Follow along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/calabasastennis. For more information check out the official website, calabasasprotennis.com. Don’t forget to download the Pro Circuit App. Search procircuit in the iTunes App Store or on Google Play.

Thursday’s Second-Round Singles Scores

Taylor Fritz, U.S., (wc) def. Fabiano De Paula, Brazil (1), 6-2, 6-0

Jason Jung, U.S., (6) def. Marek Michalicka, Czech Republic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4

Mackenzie McDonald, U.S. (q) def. Mico Santiago, U.S., (q) 3-6, 6-3, 6-1

Giovanni Lapentti, Eucador, def. Sekou Bangoura, U.S., (q) 6-2, 6-4

Mitchell Krueger, U.S., (8) def. Ernesto Escobedo, U.S., 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-3

Francis Tiafoe, U.S., def. Alexander Ward, Great Britain, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3

Clay Thompson, U.S., (wc) def. Stefan Kozlov, U.S., 6-3, 6-3

Dennis Novikov, U.S., (2) def. Fritz Wolmarans, U.S., 7-5, 6-2

 

Thursday’s Quarterfinal Doubles Scores

Jason Jung, U.S. / Raymond Sarmiento, U.S., def. Deiton Baughman, U.S. / Walker Duncan, U.S., 6-4, 6-2

Pedro Bernardi, Brazil, / Luis Fernando Ramirez, Venezuela, def. Fabino De Paula, Brazil / Pedro Sakamoto, Brazil, walkover

Fabian Matthew, U.S. / Jeremy Hunter Nicholas, U.S., def. Damon Gooch, South Africa / Lucas Renard, Sweden, 6-1, 6-4

Adrian Forberg Skogeng, Norway / Wil Spencer, U.S., def. Giovanni Lapentti, Ecuador / Dennis Novikov, U.S. (3) def. walkover

By Steve Pratt

 

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