Final Thoughts On Girls’ National Championships

Some final thoughts and observations from this past weekend’s USTA 16s and 18s National Championships, which took place at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego…

Kudos to USTA National Director of Junior Tennis Bill Mountford for his aggressive and forward thinking idea to bring on longtime San Diego resident Lornie Kuhle to lead this year’s tournament.

Kuhle helped the tournament improve by the doing the following ever since taking over the event just four months after leading another highly successful Easter Bowl Junior Nationals.

  • Kuhle brought in old friend Billie Jean King as the tournament’s Honorary Chair. In fact, Kuhle, Bobby Riggs former coach and manager, and King hosted a “Battle of the Sexes” luncheon during the BNP Paribas Open in March that helped raise needed funds for the tournament.
  • He got influential San Diego residents like former San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory, La Jolla Beach & Tennis owner Bill Kellogg, former junior champion Una Davis and Indian Wells Tennis Garden founder Charlie Pasarell to form an organizing committee with the goal to raise the level of the event to the status of the tournament’s boys’ counterpart, the Kalamazoo 18s and 16s Nationals
  • He created a large permanent draw board at the site of the Barnes Tennis Center dedicated to longtime San Diego resident and tennis legend Pancho Segura.
  • Kuhle hired energetic on-court emcee Marcus Root to introduce each match, as well as provide commentating and analysis on the live stream, which was streamed via the tournament website each day.
  • For the first time, Kuhle used chair umpires for EVERY single match, including singles, doubles and consolation and the tournament completed an incredible total of 1,190 matches.
  • And perhaps the biggest coup pulled off by Kuhle was having the Tennis Channel provide six hours of live coverage of the Girls’ 16s final and Girls’ 18s semifinals on Saturday televised, as well as two hours of coverage of the 18s final on Sunday.

Girls’ 18s winner Ashley Kratzer said winning and receiving the US Open main draw wild card was a long-time goal. “Being an American it’s always been a dream of mine to play in the US Open, so it’s absolutely amazing,” she said.

The 18-year-old Newport Beach resident Kratzer came in as the No. 3 seed, despite not having played a junior tournament since this event one year ago when she lost in the Round of 32. Ranked No. 341 in the WTA, Kratzer turned pro in December and her lefty power game will translate well on the pro level.

“Last year I didn’t even want to be here because I hadn’t played the juniors,” Kratzer said. “This year my mindset was different. I’m playing for a wild card into the US Open.”

Kratzer explained in her post-match press conference why she never played the juniors. “When I was like 15 I was still very tiny and petite. I was like five-feet tall and my parents didn’t want me playing a lot until I got to be stronger. So I just practiced and then started entering some pro events.”

Kratzer said she’s OK with not being a big-named Southern California junior like a Kayla Day or Claire Liu, who was recently featured in the New York Times. “People know me more in the pros than in the juniors,” she said. “I’ve been around. I’m definitely going to be a different name in New York.”

Kratzer was assessed a code violation for racquet abuse during the second set. “There are times when I need to just let it out, or I’m going to let it out in my swings and that’s just not good,” she said.

18s singles finalist Kelly Chen was awarded the Gene Kremm Sportsmanship trophy for the tournament, while doubles winner Liu and Ashley Lahey, who finished fifth place, were the USTA Sportsmanship winners giving SoCal the sweep.

Chen, who came back down 0-4 in the third set to break even at 4-all against Kratzer, said she knew she could do it since she came back down 0-4 in the third in the quarterfinals to beat Wimbledon finalist Ann Li. “It’s the final set in the final so I tried my hardest to play better and come back,” Chen said.

Chen leaves for Duke University Aug. 21 but will likely be in New York for the US Open as she receives a Junior Wild Card, and also learned this week that she got into the main draw qualifying single event.

The unseeded Chen missed last year’s Nationals after an injury and suffering from ulcers.

Chen was late arriving to the third set as the chair umpire called “time” and Chen was nowhere to be found. “I never heard him say “five minutes” or give any warning,” Chen said of the 10 minutes allotted the players for rest before the third set. “I was on the phone with my sister,” she said of Tiffany Chen, who is 12 years older and was watching the match on Tennis Channel and giving her pointers.

– Steve Pratt

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