Sunday, July 29, 2007

Somewhat Off Topic

The Southern Section is the largest in the USTA, I believe. They had their Sectionals this weekend and the winner of the 4.5 division, Cary, NC, managed to win despite having only 7 players (defaulting line 2 singles) in the first 3 of their 4 matches in pool play. Those seven guys definitely came through under pressure in Mobile.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tentative Sectionals Schedule

For those of you in Dallas who are interested in checking out the matches of some of your fellow Sectional qualifiers while you're up there, here is the weekend schedule.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dallas City Playoffs

Dallas had their city playoffs this past weekend, so all of the heavyweight contenders have now been decided upon. I will sometime soon post my opinions on how the Houston teams will fare up in Dallas as well as giving a general opinion on the teams to beat up there.

In the 4.5 division in Dallas, it was business as usual. It's actually getting quite boring as seemingly every year Kevin Conway's crew and Rusty Branch's boys end up getting the two Dallas slots at Sectionals. The teams are always tough and the captains do a good job of assembling talent that can compete. The Dallas 4.5 league, in my opinion, doesn't have the strength and depth that Austin does, but every year the top two teams are among the serious contenders for Nationals.

Conway and Branch's teams have much the same cast of characters as in past years. Supposed "ringer" Kevin Durten of Conway's team won his first three doubles matches easily this weekend and dropped his meaningless doubles match in his team's last matchup. Conway also has a new singles player in Kole Frink. Neither Dallas team appears to be super-strong in singles, though Wesley James of Dallas Branch is very tough.

Truth be told, I know next to nothing about the 4.0 representatives from Dallas. No team really stood out this season. The two representatives, Collin County Somabut and Springpark Walters, finished in a 5 way tie for first place in one of Dallas' 4.0 divisions and hardly dominated the competition. I would think that the Hurricanes or Rice teams would match up well if they should meet the Dallas teams at Sectionals.

There were, by the way, a few disqualifications this season in the Dallas league, so the Black Sheep and Rice's 5.0 team should not feel as though they were the only teams victimized. 4.5 player Vu Le and 5.0 player Derek Pope were among those disqualified in the Metroplex. James Blake's half brother Chris Walker helped to lead Greenhill Bartzen to the Dallas 5.0 title. He and Nanjappa may have a lengthy battle if they butt heads at Sectionals.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Congrats to the City Champions

Congratulations to Kingwood and the Hurricanes as well as every other team that had a successful season. Every team measures their success differently.

Most of you are already aware of the results from yesterday, so my recap will be brief. Kingwood beat the Hangovers 3-2. The Dibuas swept the singles over Rios and Green. Both matches went to third set tiebreakers. Green and Rios are both fine players, but Omon and Odion will have to step it up a notch in Dallas, as there will be tougher players to deal with than Tim and Don. Hurlbert/Armstrong will be extremely tough to beat in Dallas but Kingwood's other doubles teams were definitely below Sectional level this past weekend. They missed Wright and Pekar but were still able to get the job done.

The Hangovers have to be happy with the Whitsett/Huffman team, who have really been clicking. David B. made his first appearance and won with ease. It'll be interesting to see if he will show up at Sectionals. Believe me, it can often be tough to get these types of players to travel up to Dallas if they don't have a real emotional committment to the team. Grant Murphy has rotator cuff trouble, but showed good team spirit in showing up for his team's matches. If he's healthy, I'd expect him to play in Dallas and the team can definitely use him.

The 4.0 finals were disappointing in that Rice didn't use Bui, Karel or Swartley and the Hurricanes stomped them 5-0. I've not seen the teams in the 4.0 wild card bracket, so it's possible that coach Hunt was content with finishing second. His team would definitely have been underdogs in the finals regardless. Only Strasser and Stasny managed a set in the City Championship match.

Despite the talk of no-ad scoring, third set tiebreakers and the effectiveness of city playoffs in general, I feel that Houston has sent its four best teams in 4.0 and 4.5. I'm certainly rooting for all four of our teams to do well up in Dallas and will give you my thoughts on things up there when I get a chance to analyze the brackets. The selfish part of me, the part that wants to keep my rating low, is hoping that every one of Houston's wins is a squeaker.

This is by no means my last post, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank some people. Cheryl and Diana deserve everyone's thanks. They put in a ton of hard work, braving the heat and the players' tempers and still always seem to have a smile on their faces. I hope everyone will also thank their captain for all of his effort/trouble. Also, thanks to anyone who gave me any information that I might have used on the blog. Things told to me in confidence remained secret, but there were definitely several people more in the know than I am who filled in some of my gaps.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rematches galore

Tomorrow could be a day filled with rematches. It's virtually a certainty that the Hurricanes and Rice will be facing off for the third time this season. The Hurricanes have handled Rice both times, but this time the 4.0 city championship will be at stake. Likewise, we face the prospect of a fourth meeting between the Hangovers and Kingwood, but the Black Sheep still have a chance to earn a trip to the finals (and to Dallas).

The biggest matchup of the day in 4.0 was between Rice and Lakeside. To be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment from a fan's perspective. Lakeside was again without both Bret Hern and Eddie Perdomo and had to use Chris Mulgrew in singles. Quack Bui handled Mulgrew but Carl Poston took out Wade Karel to split the singles. Rice's doubles teams of Strasser/Rexilius, Nguyen/Tran and Lemus/Grahm all won their matches, with the Vietnamese duo the only one to drop a set. The much awaited matchup ended up being anticlimatic as Rice won easily, 4-1.

I thought about handing out some postseason "awards" or naming an "all pro" type of team but decided against it. However, if I could give out a "captain of the year" award, I would have to give it to Bill Hunt of Rice. Last year's team was loaded and came very close to going to Nationals. Rice lost 3 singles studs from that team: Yang, Monsigny and Hau, who (according to Hunt) went a combined 43-2 last year. This year he had a team that was basically one tiebreaker away from missing the playoffs, a team with no superstars, and yet they have again earned a trip to Sectionals. Well done.

The Hurricanes also basically clinched a trip to the finals. They trounced Lost Forest's Hackers 5-0, but did have to pull out some tough doubles matches (two third set tiebreakers). Inexplicably, Lost Forest defaulted line 2 singles and had a weak player at line 1. I guess their strategy was to try to sweep the doubles.

On paper, the 4.5 matches today were closer, as both ended 3-2, but there was little drama as the three wins came off the courts rather quickly in both matchups. Ssshhhwing figured to be the Hangovers biggest test, but they passed it with flying colors. Line 1 singles was a battle of lefties, and Don Rios' forehands were a little too much for Danny Vu to handle as Rios prevailed 3 and 6. Chris Hunkler handled Jody Deluca in two close sets, so everything came down to the doubles. Huffman and Whitsett dominated Rothe and Chec, and Green/Benzon squeaked out the first set and coasted in the second against Patterson and Hall. Justin Benoit and Mark Judson took out Allen Teague and Craig Bobo to make the score 3-2.

For all the criticism they took, the Hangovers also deserve some credit. They won their bracket without using either of the two players (David B. and Grant Murphy) that many people felt were "ringers". This certainly bodes well for the Hangovers in Dallas if those to are able to aid the cause at Sectionals.

The other 4.5 match between Kingwood and the Jedi Knights ended up 3-2 Kingwood. For the second year in a row, the doubles matchup between Hai Vu and Tom Caine had some drama and fireworks. Caine came out on top this year, winning the third set breaker with Lawton Park against Vu and Paschal. Ryan Cooper also salvaged a disappointing season by beating previously undefeated Omon Dibua in 3 sets. Dibua had won 4 of his 6 matches in a 3rd set breaker, but Cooper was able to counter the big serve and pull out the win. Odion had less trouble, trouncing Andre Dafel. Armstrong/Hurlbert and Kilshaw/Barrera both surrendured just four games to their overmatched opponents.

So, assuming Kingwood beats the Black Sheep tomorrow, (sooner or later my assumptions about the Black Sheep will be correct) we will see a fourth matchup between the two top teams. Apparently the draw in Dallas is easier for the city champion in both the 4.0 and 4.5 divisions, so there will be a lot riding on tomorrow's finals.

Midyear Ratings

Sorry to interrupt the excitement of the playoffs, but I thought I'd mention that the midyear ratings are out. These ratings are used for fall HTA leagues and things like the combo league. Remember, end of the year ratings can change greatly, even if a player plays no more matches this season. Ratings are highly dependent on how people do at sectionals or nationals. So, if you got bumped up midyear but some of your opponents don't fare too well at sectionals or even if the Texas teams at nationals do poorly, the ratings can and will cascade downward. Also, fall HTA results are not used in end of year "tanking downward" in this fall's season will not help people to lower their rating for the 2008 season. Also, these ratings were derived using league results only. Players bumped up midyear may also get some "relief" when tournament ratings are included in the calculations.

On that note, I quickly perused the list and here is a quick and ugly unformatted list of some of the local players that I noticed had changed their ratings:

Now 5.0: Red Benzon, Atsushi Fukunaga, Lukas Jendek, Jonathan Magid

Now 4.5: Sarosh Ahmed, Sam Ahn, John Biers, Jorge Cuesta, Greg Dwyer, David Galvan, Brian Goldberg, Eddie Janek, Wade Karel, Jason Kern, Marlon Mazique, Don Obenrader, Barry Ouellette, Leland Putterman, David Romero, Charlie Shafer, Kevin Shannon, Chris Stanich, Peter Strasser, John Swartley, Derek Taylor, John Veilleux, Jay Vogt, Danny Weingeist

Now 4.0: Jason Freeman, Yukihito Honda, Lee Johns, Bjorn Krosby, Eric Kuo, J.R. Pogue

Speaking of Cuesta, I heard a rumor that the protest was decided and that he will not be allowed to play at Sectionals/Nationals but that his previous matches will stand. It's interesting that the computer found his level of play to be that of a 4.5 player.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Last night in 4.0

For me, the most interesting/intriguing matchup in 4.0 last night was the one between Rice and JCC. David Trevas had been virtually unbeatable this season against the relatively weak competition in JCC's division, and I was curious to see how he would fare against a younger Quack Bui out in the heat. Bui has faced some tough competition this season and had lost two of his last three heading into the playoffs. Quack had little trouble with Trevas, saving many points with his legs and making Trevas earn everything. Bui rolled two and four.

Jeff Johnson had played singles just once this season, giving Chancellor's Jerry Pham his only (until last night) singles loss of the season. However, Johnson and Pham both found out last night that the level of play in the Hangovers/Rice division was a bit tougher than what they were accustomed to. Wade Karel waxed Johnson two and two.

The doubles was a bit more competitive. Perhaps the heat took less of a toll on the JCC doubles players. At any rate, Peter Strasser and Ron Rexilius pulled out a third set victory at line one and Jonathan Hao Nguyen and Truc Tran won two close sets at line two. JCC Dudes Robert Lang and Joe Warren (playing the ad side??) crushed Byron Bonar and Daniel Young to salvage a line for the Dudes.

The big matchup between Rice and Lakeside will be Saturday morning at 11:30. Bui and Karel are fit, but will be matched up with tougher players (Hern and Perdomo?) than they saw last night. Lakeside won easily last night despite sitting the aforementioned Hern and Perdomo. Little used Christopher Mulgrew and Carl Poston handled the singles easily as Lakeside won 4-1.

The Hurricanes breezed (no pun intended) last night as well. Kris Knutson has been strictly a doubles player in league play, but has been dominating in tournaments and got the start at #1 singles. He capitalized on Phuong Le's backhand and was off the court in no time. Sarosh Ahmed also barely broke a sweat against Jerry Pham. Chancellor's lone bright spot was the marathon match at line one doubles. Fighting cramps at the end, Chancellor's Quan Vu and Kiet Nhan outlasted Bill Morris and Chris Reese in a match that lasted as long as any of the 7 pm singles matches. Kern/Veilleux and Patton/Tran-Park won straight setters.

The Hurricanes should have little trouble getting to the finals.

I have not looked at the Sectional groupings in either 4.0 or 4.5. In past years it has sometimes been advantageous to be the Wild Card team from Houston, which has made for some less than inspiring tennis on Sundays. I hope that is not the case this year. I'd like to see a true city champion crowned in both 4.0 and 4.5.

Last night in 4.5

First of all, I do have to eat some humble pie. I totally underestimated the Black Sheep team and have been underestimating them all year. I knew their singles were tough, but really thought they would be outclassed in the doubles, but they stepped up to the plate....big time.

As expected, Lukas Jendek made quick work of Ryan Cooper. Jendek has been very solid all year. Luckily for the Black Sheep, he has been spared the same fate that befell his teammate Fukunaga. That one-two punch could have been deadly for some of the other playoff teams this year.

Humberto Alzate gave Andre Dafel a battle, but came up just short. I was puzzled by the Jedi Knights decision to use Eric Kuo last night, but I don't know the availability of their other players. Kuo did not play well and the Knights dropped line one to Ristau and Dimitrijevic.

The Knights needed to sweep the last two lines to avoid the "upset", and I left Lee Leclear last night expecting them to do just that. The Black Sheep surprised me...they came close to taking BOTH of the last two lines. Veteran Chad Shaw and Tochi Mochizuki won the clincher with a third set victory over fiery Tom Caine and Tom Courson. While the Black Sheep lost the other doubles line, they did put up a battle and got a good contribution from a player, Chris Roberts, who had not seen much action this season.

The Jedi Knights will face Kingwood on Saturday morning. In this format, with just three teams in a round robin group, it's DEFINITELY within the realm of possibility that all three teams could finish 1-1, so the Knights are still in the hunt, but will have to play better to put a dent in Kingwood. The Black Sheep now have control of their own destiny...but if they are truly without Jendek on Sunday they will be in deep trouble.

The Hangovers-Sugar Creek score has not been reported. The Hangovers went with a singles lineup of Deluca and Rios against Sugar Creek's Bedient and Cooney. Erik Bedient fought gamely despite a shoulder he injured doing pullups. He was unable to hit topspin forehands and basically looked to chip and charge at every opportunity. It was a very athletic match with Deluca running down balls and Bedient quickly covering passing shots, but Erik didn't have a chance. I think the score was 6-2, 6-2. Jody played well and is hitting his backhand better than in past seasons (when he really didn't have a consistent topsin backhand).

Jason Cooney fought gamely, consistently returning powerful forehands from Don Rios and having his moments in the second set. Rios looked to be steamrolling Cooney at one point early on, but Jason hung in there and made Don work. Rios won a fairly long match, though I'm not sure if it was straight sets or went to three.

The first doubles match on was a good one: Benzon/Whitsett and Day/Burrmann. As has been mentioned here, Day and Burrmann are one of the top 4.5 teams in the city. Those who mentioned John Day has having one of the top kick serves in the city were on the mark. He consistently came up with service winners late in the second set and in the third set tiebreaker. Whitsett was having trouble with his backhand return. It was an even match but Day and Burrmann were just a little better in the clutch and pulled out the tiebreaker.

I left while the other two matches were just getting underway, but it's fairly safe to say that the Hangovers were heavy favorites to take at least one of them. Thach Ho and Tim Marco took on Tim Green and David Guy, who made a rare doubles appearance. Ken Douds and Stephen Epstein battled Andres Ballesteros and Peter Hansen.

I have to give some props to Green and Burkhart (assuming they pulled out one of those last two doubles matches) as they managed to work in several players who I thought might not get into the lineup this weekend. I have a feeling they'll use a stronger doubles lineup against Ssshhhwing on Saturday, though it wouldn't shock me if they went with the same singles duo. Both of those singles guys looked to be on their games last night.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thursday Night 4.0 Preview

There are four matches in 4.0 on Thursday night. With two round robin brackets of four teams each, the 4.0's must play 3 round robin matches while their 4.5 counterparts have just two.

The first match on the docket is Lakeside against Cinco Ranch Comets. The Comets are a very poor team with only 4 players rated 4.0 on their roster. It will be a blowout.

There's a nice matchup between the JCC Dudes and Rice. Rice is not nearly the team they were last year, and just barely snuck into the playoffs. The JCC Dudes were 9-1 on the season, but won fewer lines than second place Chancellor's. The Dudes have been relying on their singles and then taking a doubles line here and there. David Trevas is 8-1 on the year at #1 singles. Jeff Johnson played singles just once but beat a very good player in Jerry Pham on that occasion. Will he be used in singles or doubles on Thursday? He and John Blumenthal have been money at #1 doubles as well. I think the Dudes will stick with Paul Summers at 2 singles (his only loss is to Pham) and keep their top doubles team intact. Rice will go with Karel and Bui in singles. Expect a three setter or two in the singles matchups. I think Rice will have the edge at 2 and 3 doubles, but this matchup should be very tight. Too close for me to call.

The Hurricanes will take on Chancellor's. I expect the Hurricanes will have some of their out of towners here to make sure nothing goes awry in this tough first match. Some of the Chancellor's insiders are very confident in the abilities of Dimitri Ang, who has recently joined their squad. Despite having some quality players, I really can't see Chancellor's pulling off the upset. They will make the Hurricanes sweat at a couple of lines, but just don't have enough strenght throughout the lineup to be a real contender.

The last matchup features first place Sienna Plantation and runner up Lost Forest Hackers. Sienna has skated through a ridiculously easy group in the regular season and I suspect they will be overmatched in this one.

Thursday Night 4.5 Preview

Men's 4.5 playoffs kick off on Thursday night with one match being played in each of the two round robin groups.

In group I, Sugar Creek takes on the Hangovers. The Hangovers are the heavy favorites to win their group. With such a large roster of talented players, it will be interesting to see who gets "left out" in city playoffs or whether the Hangover captains will try to work some players into the lineup since there's not a huge dropoff when they put in their second string. On paper, the matchup with Sugar Creek may be the easier of their two scheduled matches, but I certainly don't think they're taking Ken Douds team lightly.

The question, really, is: Can Sugar Creek put out a lineup that is capable of taking three lines? Jason Cooney hasn't played much this season, and may not be in top form, but he is certainly a dangerous opponent and with the third set being decided on a tiebreaker he is more than capable of beating some of the Hangovers players. Likewise, Burmann and Day (if they play together) showed last year (when they took out Green and Armstrong) that they can hang with the best 4.5 teams in the city. The question, as I see it, for coach Douds is: Do I put Burmann with Marco and put Day at #2 singles and hope that I can somehow take two singles and one line of doubles? John Day has a nice tennis history, was a very good junior way back when, but has not performed well in singles this season and hasn't given anyone any reason to believe he's capable of beating any of the Hangovers players. But still it may be Sugar Creek's best chance. I don't see any of Sugar Creek's second tier doubles guys (Douds, Epstein, Ho, Matthews, Bedient, et al ) giving trouble to even the Hangovers fourth or fifth best doubles teams.

The other 4.5 matchup is between the Black Sheep and Jedi Knights. Again, lineup manipulation (stacking) may come into play here as I think the Black Sheep need to find a way to "manufacture" three wins. I think Jendek is the best singles player on the court and should find a way to handle Cooper or Dafel or whoever else the Knights trot out there. Alzate is 4-1 in singles this year, but his best wins are against David Heiland and Erik Bedient. He also lost to Heiland. Those players are all a notch below Dafel and Cooper, so Alzate will be an underdog, but still capable of pulling off the upset.

If the Knights bring anything close to their best doubles lineup, I don't see the Black Sheep being favored in any line no matter how they shift things around. Hansen, Shaw, Toung, Dimitrijevic, Honda and Ristau are just not in the same league as the Coursons, Moss, Park, Crawford, Sebesta and Caine. Traditionally the Knights have been lacking players come playoff time...that may be the Black Sheep's best hope.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Close shave

The makeup matches are just about completed, and thus far little has changed. Unless something crazy happens, the playoff lineup will remain pretty much as expected.

There was a very dramatic match in the 4.0 division last night. Last year's Sectional semifinalist Rice Saints faced the HTC Heat needing anything but a complete meltdown to secure the second spot in the city's toughest division. The Heat have underperformed this year. With two former 5.0's and several players who've made it to 4.5 sectionals they figured to make some noise this year, but injuries, travel and apathy had left them in desperate straits.

The Heat went into the match without their only real doubles player, Lee Joiner, and desperately needed to sweep the singles. John Biers edged Quack Bui and the city's slowest server, David Romero, had little trouble with Wade Karel. Reed/Dwyer easily dealt Hao Nguyen/Tran their first loss and Martinez/Delatorre upset Lemus/Gardner. Peter Strasser and Ron Rexilius easily got Rice on the scoreboard at line 2 doubles. So, it was a 4-1 win for the underdog heat and the teams ended up tied in lines won. Rice lost two fewer sets on the season and thus will battle Lakeside in citywides for that second slot at sectionals.

Cheryl groups the teams geographically and in 4.0 the third place team in the Hurricane/Rice division is often one of the stronger teams in the city. Last year's Gladiator team was probably the third strongest team in Houston yet missed out on the playoffs. While that may sound unfair to some, I think it makes for a much more interesting regular season where every line or even set can potentially be meaningful.

In other news, I've not heard anything about the defaults causing a realignment of the standings in the Hangovers/Kingwood 4.5 division. It looks as though the Hangovers may have ended up in the pool with the two other first place teams. A heavyweight division for sure.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Is the "grid" meaningless?

With the rash of protests recently, all of which have been either partially or totally unsuccessful, I'm left to wonder if I should just instruct my players to ignore the "grid" and/or lie on their self-rating questionaire in the future. This is NOT a commentary on whether Cuesta or Nanjappa or Guerrero should be playing at the 5.0 level or 5.5 level. When the self rating guidelines were in their infancy, we captains were led to believe that they were iron-clad. That is clearly not the case. There is obviously no penalty in trying to sneak someone in.

I tried today to protest some players in another city who I felt were obviously out of level and clearly violated the self rating guidelines. Quite blatantly, I might add. I was told "other considerations" affected the decision and that they would be allowed to play at their current rating. Huh????

I've changed my opinion on protests and self rating. Initially I was of the opinion that some leeway should be allowed for extenuating circumstances but I've changed my thinking on that. A strict adherence to the guidelines will take away any perception of impropriety. I must admit I'm now sitting here wondering WHY my protest was ignored. There is supposedly a committee which helps Tosha Smith with her protests. Why are these names not public? I can't help but get the feeling that these things are decided in smoky back rooms and are based, at least in part, on who knows who and not on players' playing history.