Two college newcomers to watch — Interview: John Parsons — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Oct. 4, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday! Before you take in today’s business, I need y’all to do two things:

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  • First, rewind and read Annie’s coverage of Sally Yates’ findings on the NWSL.
  • Second, lets congratulate The IX Advisory Board member Megan Rose, who was named a Game Changer by the Sports Business Journal. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a bad ass Megan is and I have been so lucky to sit beside her and learn from afar early on in my career.

And considering Megan was just as much of a bad ass in college tennis as a player and coach, why not talk about the best NCAA as the first “grand slam” of the school year has started!

Three events make up the unspoken Grand Slam of collegiate tennis: The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American Championships, the ITA Cup and the NCAA Championship. The later is the lone event held in the Spring, but the Fall competition is made up of entirely individual competition. Players face off in brackets and earn wins to eventually capture an ITA ranking that will help be the launchpad for the Spring rankings.

This week, the ITA All-American Championships are happening in Cary, North Carolina. Hundreds of players flock South for pre-qualifying, qualifying and main draw singles and doubles. Some players who get on a roll from the start could spend two weeks and end up playing dozens of matches. Pre-qualifying has already been completed and qualifying has commenced — you can check the draws here, but I wanted to focus on a few of the newcomers that are hitting the collegiate scene.

Diana Shnaider – NC State

This get by NC State is unreal. Lets talk a few stats about Shnaider: she’s currently the WTA #220 with 3 ITF World Tour singles titles and another pair in doubles (where she’s just outside the Top 300). She had an incredible junior career, which she just completed by capturing the US Open doubles title. In fact, en route to a #2 ITF junior ranking, three Grand Slams help make up her 7 doubles titles. In singles, she has 5 junior titles to her name. Recently, she made the semifinals of a $60,000 ITF World Tour event in Berkley and in 2022 has claimed wins over former Top 100 players Aliona Bolsova, Anna Blinkova and Sachia Vickery. Players of her caliber simply don’t enter college tennis, but use it as a springboard. I’m curious if her Russian citizenship made visas a bit difficult and she still kept her eligibility alive as a junior. I just know the NC State compliance office is doing some work to ensure she can represent the Wolfpack because the opposing coaches will do anything not to face her. She’s projected to make her debut in Cary, but is also in this week’s $80,000 ITF draw in Rancho Santa Fe. If there’s a player to be unsure about entering college, it’s for sure Shnaider.

Reese Brantmeier – North Carolina

Another ACC powerhouse, another big-time recruit. Brantmeier — until Shnaider entered the arena — was seen as the No. 1 recruit for the Class of 2022. Though her accolades aren’t as shiny as Shnaider’s, Brantmeier does have a recent Grand Slam win, in the first round of doubles at this year’s US Open. On the tour, she peaked at #411 and did reach a final of a $25,000 ITF event. Unsurprisingly, she’s fared better in doubles and currently sits at a career-high ranking of #241. As a junior, she was a Top 30 player internationally, winning 1 singles title and 4 doubles crowns. She also won the 2019 edition of the WTA Future Stars event, where she battled against some of the top U16 players from around the globe to win it all. Her resume might not be as jam-packed as Shnaider’s, but I see Brantmeier staying all four years and will get better with each year under Brian Kalbas. She isn’t playing in Cary in any capacity, to my surprise, so I’m not sure where she’ll make her Tar Heel debut. Perhaps at the ITA Fall Cup or the Carolina Regionals pre-qualifier.

While one of the two may or may not be playing in Cary, check out how to watch some of college’s biggest and brightest.

While links are below, please don’t miss out on this week’s Five at The IX with John Parsons, who — in my opinion — is the women’s college tennis guru. He gives some great anecdotes you for sure won’t want to miss

This Week in Women’s Tennis

WTA history was made this past week at the Parma Ladies Open when Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian to claim a WTA title with her win over top-seeded Maria Sakkari. The doubles title went to Anastasia Detiuc and Miriam Kolodziejova, who won their first WTA crown and entered the Top 100 with a win over Arantxa Rus and Tamara Zidansek.

Barbora Krejcikova captured her fourth WTA singles title at the Tallinn Open by defeating home favorite and top seed Anett Kontaviet. The doubles event was won by Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok, who take home their 8th WTA title and 4th as a duo with a three-setter over Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Laura Siegemund.

Iga Swiatek — who’s looking to end the year on a positive note — announced she will not be partaking in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals due to the turnaround time following the WTA Finals. The World No. 1 makes a good point about having such big events so close to one another, there’s a greater chance of injury to occur.

Billie Jean King hosting a “power hour” for WTA rookies is one of my favorite annual events because she truly bridges the gap and shows the newbies on tour how far the organization has gone.

Remember when I wanted tournaments in places like Estonia and Tunisia? Tallinn is proving me right:

Rising star Victoria Mboko blogged for and discussed winning her first professional title and dealing with highs and lows of being new on the circuit.

The chances to earn mega points and qualify for the WTA Finals are getting slim, but Maria Sakkari is among the names zoning in on another qualification.

Word of advice: don’t be like Coco Gauff — or at least her forehand.

Unfortunately, we have another torn ACL on the WTA Tour. Alex Krunic suffered the same injury Daria Saville just went under surgery for and the Aussie was first to publicly offer condolences:

Tunisia continues to reap recent benefits, with the ITF announcing that the city of Sousse will be the home of their African Regional Training Center.

Love when tennis stars intersect with players of other sports:

Apparently there’s going to be a new superleague in the off-season in the Middle East (which also will have Emma Raducanu facing off against Ons Jabeur) and it’s giving IPTL.

Tweet of the Week

Ostrava delivers on social and we’re not even two days into main draw and they’re killing it

Five at The IX: John Parsons

John Parsons is a must-follow if you’re on Tennis Twitter, but he also hosts a college tennis podcast titled No Ad, No Problem. This week, he talks about how he got into being a guru of college tennis and breaks down some storylines and players you should keep an eye on. You can follow him both on Twitter and Instagram and listen to his podcast wherever you can stream.

Joey: Tell our readers your history with tennis and how you’ve blossomed into being one of the must-follows on social for college tennis?
John: Well I appreciate the compliment! I grew up playing competitively and I first attended the NCAA tennis championships when they were hosted at Stanford University in 2006, very close to where I grew up. I played a year of D3 college tennis at Wesleyan University before transferring to UVA. I then made it an annual tradition to attend the event from 2010 onward! It helped that I always had UVA to cheer on. 

In terms of being active on social media, I admired what Cracked Rackets was doing – they were giving a voice to those that were following college tennis and it was fun to engage with the community. I decided to take my own presence more seriously a little over a year ago with the creation of my blog, and now my podcast! I try to provide unique insights, visibility to important storylines, and a perspective that’s beholden to no one!

Joey: Who should we keep an eye out for for the 2022-23 school year?
John: This year feels like a blank slate after Emma Navarro of Virginia and Peyton Stearns of Texas — the previous two NCAA singles winners — turned pro. The #1 ranked player currently is Eryn Cayetano of USC. Cayetano reminds me of Peyton Stearns from 2021: has all the weapons but lacks the consistency. Stearns found that consistency in 2022; let’s see if Cayetano follows suit. 

One freshman to watch is Diana Shnaider of North Carolina State. The 18-year-old is currently ranked #220 in the WTA rankings which is the highest WTA ranking I’ve seen for a freshman in my 15+ years of following closely. Shnaider is Russian and decided to play college tennis due to uncertainty about her visa and ability to travel and play pro tennis. Shnaider hasn’t played a collegiate event yet, but all signs point to her already being the best in the country. 

Joey: The coaches carousel in college tennis seems to be ramping up big-time with lots of movement. Which coaches really embody the atmosphere of college tennis and are there certain players you would like to see enter the arena in the future?
John: This is such a great question! Last season we saw a lot of female head coaches who previously played college tennis really breakthrough on the national scene. Audra Cohen of Oklahoma, Sara O’Leary of Virginia, and Caroline Lilley of Auburn all had the best year of their head coaching career and each embody different tenets of college tennis. It’s been great to see newer coaches break through with a renewed energy and outlook on the game. 

We’ve seen some recent WTA players return to college coaching like Hayley Carter of North Carolina who is now the Assistant Coach at Vanderbilt. Some other former college tennis players who I could see returning as coaches after their WTA careers: Emina Bektas of Michigan, Catherine Harrison of UCLA, and Desirae Krawczyk of Arizona State.

Joey: When it comes to teams, Texas may have lost some deep talent, but they’ve recruited extremely well. Are they the outright team to beat come Spring?
John: You definitely earn the right to be the team to beat if you win back-to-back NCAA titles. Texas has proven that they’re still able to win, even if they have a lot of roster turnover. On paper, you could certainly argue that North Carolina has more talent but the Tarheels have yet to capture their first NCAA title so, until they get that monkey off their back, Texas remains the favorite. 

Joey: What storylines this school year should we be aware of?

  • Can North Carolina win its maiden NCAA title?
  • Does Stanford, the winningest program in the country, rebound to its pre-Covid form?
  • Does college tennis officially move to being two distinct sports: individuals in the fall, team in the spring?
  • How successful are the all-division NCAA championships hosted in Orlando and will that lead to the decision to host it in Orlando permanently?

Next week, I continue my interview with John where he discusses changes he’d like to implement, while discussing the collegiate landscape overall.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon