His office substantially resembles the International Tennis Hall of Fame in miniature. The walls of his paper-piled workspace are adorned with posters and photos from tennis events from the last forty years. With all of his energy, it is difficult to believe he is 71. He still competes in senior tournaments “when my body’s working”, he said.
Benton is an Iowa native who moved to Washington in 1971. He started playing the game at 15 and “really took to it right away”. Later, he spent two years with the Iowa Hawkeye team in Big Ten play. While attending college, law school and a year of business school, he worked in the summer as the tennis pro at Dubuque Country Club in Dubuque, Iowa. He was brought in to start a tennis program at a “golf wacko club where tennis was a nuisance”. It had “two broken-down courts and 35 tennis playing club members”. He was up for the challenge, and within a few years, Benton had installed six lighted courts, attracted 500 players and even trained 20 state-ranked juniors there. ”That’s when I figured out maybe I should be in the business”.
Mark McCormick started IMG and based it around golf and Donald started ProServ around tennis. After all, he was the Davis Cup captain and Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe were on his team.As a law firm, we couldn’t solicit clients. We could write a letter to a company saying ‘I’m writing on behalf of Arthur Ashe to see if you might have interest’. We couldn’t put out a promotional brochure for Arthur, so we started the company Proserv. It was an affiliated marketing company to the law firm. When our firm split in ’83, Donald and I kept the name ProServ and made it the major identity.
It is, but it needs to regain the stature it once had, and not only Washington, but many other area of the country. Tennis is totally a bottom-up sport. The great majority of energy comes from the grassroots. And that’s what advances tournament play, pro play, collegiate play. Frankly, I think we got lazy in this sport. We had so much momentum, so much success and great stars and I think the leaders of tennis, everyone became deluded that tennis was driven by Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. And the fact of the matter is in the days of Connors, Borg and McEnroe, participation in tennis in the United States decreased. We didn’t develop the next generation of Nick Bollettieris, of Vic Bradens or Dennis Van Der Meer or Peter Burwash. Who are the biggest names of teaching pros these days? Still those guys. If I asked you that same question 35 years ago, you’d have the same answer.
Can you hear it in the distance?
It’s the Call of the Main Draw Roll Call Down Under. One lucky American man will win an automatic main draw entry into the 2012 Australian Open during the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Georgia on Sunday. Tennis Maryland will be there and wants to afford you a cursory advance briefing on the situation.
In comparison to the women’s field, the men’s field celebrates diversity. Diversity of age, that is. While the women at the 2011 USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs range in age from 16-21, the men range from 19-29. In a microcosm of player development, it seems that the future of the future of American men’s tennis at the Wild Card Playoffs is slightly longer in the tooth than the women’s field. The men’s field is also ranked lower than the women. In fact, #3 seed Denis Kudla, with a world ranking of 275, would be the #7 seed on the women’s side.
The men’s draw also reflects the lack of volatility and the more rigid hierarchy of the men’s professional game at this time. Just like the top few players in the world, a man in the top four ranked players in the men’s draw at the Playoffs will likely ‘win it all’. However, in this case, the winner will only be flying off to Australia for a berth in the main draw and not necessarily be raising the trophy at Melbourne Park.
Based on the rankings of December 4, 3 of the top 4 players are the oldest in the contest, with Reynolds and Ginepri at 29 and Levine at 24. Of the top 4 players based on rankings, only Denis Kudla can’t legally buy a beer.
#1 Bobby Reynolds (#127): At 29, Bobby Reynolds from Acworth, Georgia, is the oldest player in the field, but only by a few months over Robby Ginepri. Reynolds, known locally for his play for the Washington Kastles and their 2011 undefeated dream season, also impressed with his commanding performance at the US Open Wild Cards. Though beset by injuries in the last couple of years, he seems to be on top form for the last half of the year. He should meet Rhyne Williams in the first round, who he beat in straights at the Wild Card semifinals in College Park.
#2 Jesse Levine (#164): The Canadian-born Levine is the only left-hander in the draw. He is likely to face Daniel Kosakowski in the opener. He’s battled back from injuries since his third round appearance at Wimbledon in 2009 and has climbed from #526 in August to his current ranking of #126. Levine defeated Reynolds in the duo’s only main draw meeting, in the round of 32 at Los Angeles in 2009.
#3: Denis Kudla (#275): Kudla is called ’Dangerous Denis’ for a reason. He can knock out a more experienced player at any given moment, such as he did at Newport in July, when he successively stunned Ivo Karlovic and Grigor Dmitrov to reach the Quarters. He should see first-round action against Jack Sock, who defeated him in the semis of this same event last year.
#4 Robby Ginepri (#318): The 29 year old Kennessaw native and 2005 US Open semifinalist looks to capture the crowd’s hearts. He could see Steve Johnson in the first round.
#5 Steve Johnson (#369): The 21 year old Californian saw his rankings reach the highest point of his career last month, and he has broken into the top 200 in men’s doubles.
#6 Jack Sock (#380): Sock drew an automatic berth into the US Open by virtue of his triumph at Kalamazoo last summer. He made the quarters in Sacramento before losing to James Blake and the second round of the 2011 US Open before being defeated by Andy Roddick. The 2010 US Open Junior Champion, he continues to move up the rankings and should be a joy to watch in an anticipated first rounder against Kudla.
#7 Daniel Kosakowski (#410): In his inaugural year as a pro, the 2011 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year was just one win away from the US Open Wild Card Playoffs in August. He has beaten Kudla and Johnson and lost to Rhyne Williams.
#8: Rhyne Williams (#511): Another freshly-minted pro, he left the University of Tennessee over the summer. He’s lost to Levine twice this year, and has beaten Ginepri and Kosakowski. He should face Reynolds for starters.
No surprises here. Bobby Reynolds dominance at the US Open Wild Card Playoffs in College Park, Maryland in August reflects his “one to beat” status and an overwhelming favorite to punch his ticket into the main draw at Racquet Club of the South next weekend. Or, it could go another way. Look at the draw posted above this entry. You’ve got Bobby/Robby on one side, and Levine/Kudla/Sock on the other. Consider Denis Kudla the Wild Card at the Wild Cards. That expected first round match against Sock could be Friday’s best action and possibly produce a finalist. Kudla and Sock are hungry to run the table. But, like Tulane Coach Taylor Fogleman told Tennis Maryland about Bobby Reynolds chances before the US Open Wild Card Playoffs just a few months back, “It’s his to lose.” That prediction still rings true and the title of our videos below from the US Open Playoffs sum it all up. If you don’t feel like clicking, the point is: Reynolds dominates Kosakowski and Williams. If Kudla or Sock get a chance to face Reynolds, anything can happen. Otherwise, it’s Bobby Time.
Don’t forget. Tennis Maryland will provide coverage of every match. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @TennisMaryland for the very latest in tennis ephemera. We’ll also have video and lots of it. Let us know who you want interviewed!
The Knoxville News Sentinel has reported that former University of Tennessee standout Tennys Sandgren will attend the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia this weekend. The article, by Jimmy Hyams of the News Sentinel, notes that Rhyne Wiliams ”will be joined by another former UT All-American, Tennys Sandgren”. Sandgren lost to Rhyne Williams in the quarterfinals of the US Open Wild Card Playoffs in College Park in August.
So, is Tennys looking for a spot in the main draw Down Under and a rematch with Williams while in Georgia? The answer is no. It appears that Sandgren will be a hitting partner and provide support for former roommate Williams. According to Wild Card Playoffs communications czar Steve Pratt, the player list has not changed.
This might give us a chance to check in with Sandgren, who is an engaging player with a sense of humor.
One month ago, Irina Falconi had her first press conference with the tennis media in her pro career. Scroll down to the next post if you want to watch it. It’s pretty good. Shockingly, Tennis Maryland had the only video camera in the room and got to ask her several questions. We were honored to be 1/7 th of that presser. On her blog, this is what she said at the time:
As for media? Yeah, only American in the semis of this tournament, which is cool. I was able to sit in the comfy chair with the Citi Open backdrop and that awesome mic in front of me. I had like seven people asking questions and taking pictures. Oh, so THAT’S what it feels like? http://www.usta.com/irina_falconi_blogs_from_washington_dc_entry_no_2/We bet that tonight’s press conference felt a little bit different. Wish we could have been there. We’re glad that we were able to meet you in the minors, kid. Respect!
No, her dad doesn’t own a professional sports team and her mother isn’t related to a Kennedy. Her father was a cabinet-maker, her mother a teacher. The NYC immigrants from Ecuador scrimped and saved to make their daughter’s dream come true. And what a dream it is! Here’s Irina at her very first press conference after advancing to the CitiOpen Semifinals last month. She’s gone from #378 to #79 and is going even higher than that, having reached the final 32 of the US Open on this very night. This GA Tech Yellowjacket is going places fast, especially after her victory on Arthur Ashe tonight over Dominika Cibulkova. This is her story.
Tennis Maryland has some Tennessee DNA in us and there are lots of folks in the Greater Knoxville area we’re proud to call family.
Naturally, we enjoyed the Tennyssee Williams Brothers when they were in town over the weekend. Here they are relaxing with DC’s Denis Kudla and super-agent Sam Duvall of Lagardere on Saturday. We count at least four play on words with the use of the term Tennyssee Williams Brothers. Did we miss any?
Maryland’s Trice Capra is a competitor and a winner. The very talented Ellicott City resident suffered a heart-breaking three-set loss to Madison Keys yesterday at the US Open Wild Card Playoffs. Jim Magee, Steve Fogleman and other media members asked her about her upcoming plans at Duke University. At Tennis Maryland, we will always be big fans, and we can’t wait until she turns pro.
This was the entire highlight reel for Denis Kudla’s loss against Daniel Kosakowski in the US Open Wild Card Playoffs semi-final in College Park, Maryland, on August 20, 2011. It consists of exactly one game. But what a game it was!