Juniors Impress, but Collegians Finish on Top at Land Rover Napa Valley Tennis Classic
by Colette Lewis
, 1 October 2010
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For nearly a decade, Cal-Berkeley's head coach Peter Wright had extended one of the most coveted invitations in Division I men's college tennis.
The USTA's Jose Higueras (left) and Jay Berger (middle) with Cal
coach Peter Wright
Each September, Wright asked three of the country's top teams to join his Bears at Meadowood Resort
where, surrounded by Napa Valley's famed vineyards, they would kick off the fall collegiate season. Yet this year, Wright and Meadowood Director of Tennis Doug King were willing to fix what wasn't broken in order to include USTA-selected junior players in the field at the Land Rover Napa Valley Tennis Classic.
"I took the idea about bringing the juniors to Napa to the USTA's Tom Jacobs (Managing Director of Player Development) who I'd worked with when he was with the NCAA, because I knew we had a special event here," said Wright, in his 18th season at Cal. "He brought it to Patrick (McEnroe) and Jose (Higueras) and Jay (Berger) and they agreed to try it out."
This meant relinquishing control of the event to the USTA, which, as a national governing body, has the latitude to host events combining current and potential student-athletes that individual schools do not.
"That was one of the essential things. I had to give up the tournament," said Wright. "But what we have now is beneficial to everyone."
Set up in a round robin format, this year's tournament consisted of 24 collegians, four each from Cal, USC, Texas, Florida, Kentucky and Illinois, all teams that finished the 2009-10 season in the ITA's Top 20, and eight juniors selected by USTA Player Development: Mitchell Frank, Bjorn Fratangelo, Hunter Harrington, Marcos Giron, Alexios Halebian, Mitchell Krueger, Mackenzie McDonald and Jack Sock. Each round robin group consisted of three college players and one junior, with the eight winners advancing to the quarterfinals of a 10-point tiebreaker shootout, with a wild card into a USTA Pro Circuit event going to the champion.
In the first two days of competition, held under sunny skies at the exclusive resort's seven leafy courts, the juniors were the story. Winning six of eight matches on Friday, and five of eight on Saturday, the juniors succeeded in getting the attention of the more experienced collegians and their coaches.
"The thing that we all noticed immediately was that the junior players were very mature, not just socially, but in their games," said Kentucky head coach Dennis Emery. "There's been a new-found respect for their level of play, and from my standpoint, I've been surprised how technically sound they are and how good their shot selection is."