Not everyone’s eyes were focused on the action in Melbourne over the past fortnight. At TTI, we don’t discriminate. Here’s our wrap of the biggest stories on the ITF Circuit to start 2015.
Larcher de Brito’s Rocky Start
Portugal’s Michelle Larcher de Brito was ranked No. 120 ahead of the Australian Open, and would’ve been comfortably inside the qualifying draw for the first Grand Slam of the year. Instead, she was the only non-injured player in the WTA’s Top 150 to withdraw from the event. Rather than making the trip (and spending the money) to Melbourne, Larcher de Brito made the choice to play in three $25,000 ITF events in Florida – where she is based.
Unfortunately for Larcher de Brito, the decision wasn’t a good one; she underperformed at all three events as the top seed. She opened the season in Plantation, the week before action kicked off Down Under, and won just four games against American Samantha Crawford in a first round loss. In Daytona Beach, she was again the victim of a first round upset, losing to Belgian Elise Mertens, 7-5, 6-3. Mertens went on to make the final without dropping a set, but the Belgian came into the event ranked No. 246 – more than double Larcher de Brito’s own ranking.
In week two Down Under, Larcher de Brito started her Sunrise campaign – once again, as the top seed – with a win, defeating American teenager Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-1. On her 22nd birthday, however, she managed to win just four games against Turkey’s No. 3 Ipek Solyu. Solyu, ranked outside the word’s Top 300, peaked at No. 13 in the junior rankings in 2014.
Whatever reason Larcher de Brito had for trying not to qualify Down Under, she didn’t come away with much to show for it. She ended the three week swing at 1-3 for 2015, pocketing just $892 in total.
Anastasija Sevastova Returns
Making a comeback is never easy, but Latvian Anastasija Sevastova pulled it off with aplomb last week. For those unfamiliar, Sevastova was the first Latvian in 20 years to win a WTA title. She earned a career-high ranking of No. 36 on the WTA Tour in 2011 after reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open; however, she announced her retirement in May of 2013 at the age of 23 due to struggles with injuries and illness.
Her return to competitive tennis went better than she probably could’ve imagined. At the first of many $10,000 events in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt last week, she swept the singles and doubles titles. Sevastova dropped just one set combined in either event, as she and partner Melanie Klaffner dropped the first set of their first round doubles match. She cruised from there, especially in singles; she lost just 19 games in 10 sets en route to the title – an impressive stat after nearly 18 months away from the game.
She withdrew from Sharm el Sheikh’s next $10,000 event this week, and with only three players officially listed on Latvia’s Fed Cup roster ahead of their Europe/Africa Group D round-robin ties, Sevastova might’ve heard her cell phone ring at the eleventh hour.
Sachia Vickery Shines
Where Larcher de Brito struggled, American Sachia Vickery took advantage. The 19-year-old went 11-1 over her first three events of the season, taking the titles in both Plantation and Sunrise. Her year began with a 6-2, 3-6, 4-1 ret. victory against promising 18-year-old Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in Plantation; the streak ended with another three-set defeat of the Spaniard in the final in Sunrise.
Vickery also picked up wins against promising Russians Darya Kasatkina and Natalia Vikhlyantseva over than span.
The American made her mark briefly on the WTA Tour last year, when she qualified at the Bank of the West Class in Stanford. She defeated Zhang Shuai and Monica Puig en route to her first WTA quarterfinal.
‘Merican #boyz Make Strides
It was a solid two weeks for America’s teenage boys on the ATP Challenger and Futures circuit, as Jared Donaldson, Stefan Kozlov and Francis Tiafoe all had banner weeks.
After losing the second round of Australian Open qualifying to Liam Broady, Donaldson traveled back stateside to Maui, Hawaii and claimed his first career ATP Challenger title without dropping a set. Donaldson defeated Nicolas Meister in the final, and continued an encouraging ATP trend in the process.[tweet https://twitter.com/jmeistennis/status/562006728934690816 align=’center’]
Donaldson made it a clean sweep in Maui as he and Kozlov also claimed the doubles title in Maui. Kozlov, a wildcard ins ingles, fell in the quarterfinals to Ireland’s James McGee, but he celebrated his birthday in style when the pair defeated Chase Buchanan and Rhyne Williams in the doubles final. For their efforts, both were awarded wildcards into the ATP Memphis Open next week.
While 17-year-old Tiafoe made his first career final on the Futures circuit in Weston, Florida last week, he’s also had a bit of a dubious streak going to begin 2015. The teenager has lost to 32-year-old Benjamin Balleret of Monaco in each of his first three tournaments of the year.
Something’s Rotten in the State of…Texas
A first-round match between a Ukrainian and an Argentine at an American Challenger event in Dallas would normally pass by unnoticed by many.
Unless of course, that match took place on Feb. 2, 2015 and is forever immortalized on the Internet.
Ukrainian Denys Molchanov’s first round loss to Augustin Velotti has come under great scrutiny due to Molchanov’s seemingly suspicious behavior. Molchanov, ranked No. 174 in world, won the first set of the match before he began playing erratically, missing routine shots and…doing this.[tweet https://twitter.com/TheTennisNerds/status/562365156806905857 align=’center’]
The betting markets were also quite active inVelotti’s favor once the match began, and the blog DW on Sport does a great job of explaining why the betting activity during the match was suspicious.
Amidst the drama, the Argentine eventually won the match, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.
Match-fixing is a very serious accusation. It’s something that has no place in our sport, and every instance like this casts a black eye on tennis. The lack of prize money in the lower levels of professional tennis remains a reality, and the financial incentive to fix matches is omnipresent for these players. In Molchanov’s case, it’s not only what happened, but what appears to have happened.
If he did indeed have ulterior motives in this match, than he should be dealt with accordingly. It remains to be seen whether or not the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) will do anything to investigate this incident, but you can’t un-ring a bell. The organization has been criticized in the past for its ineffectiveness, and allowing suspicious behavior to essentially continue right under its nose.
If the TIU is serious about stamping out illicit behavior in the lower levels of professional tennis, then they must simply do better.