By Andrew Labowitz, special to USTA.com
Two months after Rafael Nadal was crowned 2010 US Open champion, top tennis talent once again returns to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for this weekend’s USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. The NIICs highlight on the fall collegiate tennis calendar attracts the country’s elite college athletes. This marks the first year the USTA has partnered with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association to put on the event, and the first year the event has been hosted at the new Indoor Training Center at the home of the US Open.
While the competition officially gets underway on Thursday, the festivities began early Wednesday as approximately 25 of the participants ventured into Manhattan to witness taping of the CBS Early Show. Later on Wednesday, all the participants will gather in the Player Dining Room in Arthur Ashe Stadium for the official kick-off banquet, where they will hear from USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith and USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe.
Come Thursday morning, however, the fun and games will cease and the focus will turn to the competition on the court, which is certain to be fierce.
On the men’s side, the top seed is 6’6 Alexander Domijan, a freshman at the University of Virginia. Domijan has long been one of the top American junior prospects, and he wasted little time in making an impression on college tennis scene, becoming just the third freshman to capture the 2010 ITA/D’Novo Men’s All-American Championships in the tournament’s 32-year history. The No. 2 seed is University of Kentucky junior Eric Quigley, who lost to Domijan in the final of the All-American and also reached the round of 16 of the 2010 US Open National Playoffs – Men’s Championship. Reigning NCAA champion Bradley Klahn, a junior at Stanford University who took a set off Sam Querrey in the first round of the 2010 US Open, is the No. 4 seed, and defending NIIC champion Steve Johnson, a junior at USC who has helped lead the Trojans to consecutive NCAA team titles, is seeded No. 7.
Other players to watch in the men’s field include a pair of former USTA Boys’ 18s National Champions who each earned main draw singles wild cards into the US Open – Texas A&M junior Austin Krajicek (2008) and Ohio State junior Chase Buchanan (2009) – along with 2008 USTA Boys’ 18s National Clay Court Champion Evan King, a sophomore at the University of Michigan.
The top seed in the women’s draw is Stanford University senior Hilary Barte, who likewise is coming off a victory at the 2010 ITA/Riviera Women’s All American Championships, and who helped lead Stanford to the 2010 NCAA title. She also captured the NCAA doubles title to earn a main draw doubles wild card into the 2010 US Open. Defending NIIC champion Jana Juricova, a junior at the University of California-Berkeley, is the No. 2 seed after becoming the first Golden Bear in school history to win the prestigious indoor title last year. University of Florida sophomore Allie Will, who reached her first professional final in July at the USTA Pro Circuit $10,000 event in Atlanta is the No. 6 seed, while USC senior Maria Sanchez, who entered this season as the No. 3 player in the ITA rankings, is seeded No. 7.
The women’s draw is also littered with a number of freshmen seeking to make names for themselves in collegiate tennis, including two highly touted recruits from Stanford – Kristie Ahn and Nicole Gibbs. Ahn is looking to make a triumphant return to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center after winning three matches to qualify for the main draw of the US Open in 2008. Gibbs won her first professional title at an ITF Pro Circuit event in Mexico City in 2007, and reached the final of the 2010 USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships. Another freshman, Connie Hsu of the University of Pennsylvania, won her first professional title last December at an ITF Pro Circuit event in Veracruz, Mexico, and has qualified for four USTA Pro Circuit $50,000 events this year.
With both fields stacked, the 2010 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships promises to be one of the most hotly contested collegiate events in years, and Sunday’s champions will join the elite ranks alongside James Blake, Todd Martin, MaliVai Washington, Laura Granville and Lisa Raymond with the hopes that they too will one day return to Flushing Meadows to compete at the US Open.
to follow the 2010 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships via live scoring.