Once again over 1000 junior tennis players will descend on the IMG/Bollettieri Academy for the Eddie Herr International tournament, but the 128 competitors in the Grade 1 ITF event will head for a different part of the sprawling campus in Bradenton, Fla.
With the USTA moving the Grade A Orange Bowl to the clay courts of Plantation's Veltri Tennis Center this year, the desire for consistency in the back-to-back events has put the Eddie Herr 18s tournament on clay for the first time.
Defending champion Dominic Thiem is probably just fine with that change, as the 18-year-old Austrian, 9th in the ITF world junior rankings, reached the final of Roland Garros this year. Thiem also had an excellent showing recently in a Futures event, reaching the final of a $10,000 tournament in Turkey.
Wimbledon boys finalist Liam Broady of Great Britain has maintained a Top 10 ITF junior ranking while reaching 657 on the ATP computers. The 17-year-old lefthander was a finalist in the 12s division at the Eddie Herr in 2006.
Mitchell Krueger, who beat Broady for that 12s title, will be the highest seeded American. The 17-year-old Texan, who recently signed a National Letter of Intent with Texas A&M, won the ITF B1 Pan American Closed last month.
Robin Kern, a hard-hitting German who reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and won the US Open boys doubles title this year, is a contender, as is US Open semifinalist Kyle Edmund of Great Britain. Sixteen-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan reached the final of the Birmingham, Ala. Futures on the same green clay surface in October, and has won three titles on the ITF junior circuit this year.
Alexios Halebian, the reigning USTA Clay Court 18s champion, has enjoyed great success on the Har-Tru surface, and the 17-year-old Californian, who won the Eddie Herr 14s title in 2008, reached the quarterfinals of the US Open junior championships this year.
Other Americans in the boys draw include Connor Farren, William Kwok, and Trey Strobel, winner of this week's Bollettieri wild card tourney. Lauren Davis, the 2010 girls champion, is not defending her title, but the United States has an accomplished group aiming to retain the winner's trophy.
Fifteen-year-old Vicky Duval, who trains at the Bollettieri Academy and reached the quarterfinals in the 18s last year, made it to the final eight at both Wimbledon and the US Open juniors this year. Fourteen-year-old Gabby Andrews, the 2011 USTA Clay Court 18s champion, 16-year-old Allie Kiick, the 2010 16s Orange Bowl champion, and 15-year-old Taylor Townsend, the 2011 Pan American Closed champion, are also serious contenders for the title.
Yulia Putintseva of Russia, the 2010 finalist, is back for another crack at the championship, and ITF World No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who won the 16s title in 2008, is looking for a rare second Eddie Herr title. Both sport impressive WTA rankings, with Bouchard's at 302 and Putintseva's at 242. Another contender is Ukraine's Elizaveta Ianchuk, who has played no junior events since March but has a WTA ranking of 362.
Unlike the boys field, which features few Americans, the girls field features more than a dozen, even before the wild cards have been distributed.
Christina Makarova, Stephanie Nauta, Kyle McPhillips, 2010 16s champion Samantha Crawford, Chalena Scholl, Kelsey Laurente, Jennifer Brady, Catherine Harrison and Jamie Loeb all received entry based on their rankings. Add Krista Hardebeck, Julia Elbaba, Blair Shankle and Tristan Dewar, currently listed in the qualifying draw, and you have the makings of an exceptionally strong group.
With 2010 champion Roy Lederman moving up to the 18s, both the girls and boys will have a new champion.
Canada's Hugo Di Feo and Brayden Schnur have the highest ITF rankings in the boys field and Korea's Hyeon Chung, the 2008 boys 12s champion, has had enough success in ITF 18s tournaments throughout the year to suggest he could challenge the older players.
The US has claimed the boys 16s title the past three years, and could make it four this year. Thirteen-year-old Stefan Kozlov has proven himself ready for ITF competition with two titles and a final in his first year on the 18-and-under circuit. Nikko Madregallejo, a finalist at the International Spring Championship and a semifinalist in Kalamazoo in the 16s, could go deep in the draw, as could Easter Bowl champion Gage Brymer, 2010 Eddie Herr quarterfinalist Stephen Watson and Martin Redlicki. Fourteen-year-old Henrik Wiersholm, the reigning Les Petits As champion and currently listed in qualifying, is also a young player to watch. The favorite in the girls 16s is Mayar Sherif of Egypt, who is 101 in the ITF junior rankings. Anna-Maria Heil of Austria was a quarterfinalist last year, and Canada's Erin Routliffe has had success on the ITF women's circuit, earning a WTA ranking of 829.
Hoping to keep the girls title in US hands for the third straight year are Camila Fuentes, Johnnise Renaud, Josie Kuhlman, Dasha Ivanova and Rasheeda McAdoo, daughter of former NBA star and current Miami Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo. Reigning 16s Easter Bowl champion Caroline Doyle is back after a wrist injury kept her out of the summer tournaments, and 2009 14s champion Spencer Liang is also in the field.
The top-ranked players from Europe head the 14s field with Romania's Bogdan Borza and Croatia's Anna Konjuh, the reigning European 14s champions, expected to challenge for the titles. Borza, who was a finalist at Les Petits As this year, has plenty of competition however, with three other highly ranked Tennis Europe players also competing. Russians Andrey Rublev, ranked third, and Roman Safiullin, ranked fourth, will challenge Borza, as will Alex Zverev of Germany, ranked No. 5 in Europe.
And the pressure won't come only from Europe, if Seong Chan Hong, who led Korea to its first ITF under-14 World Junior Tennis team championship and reached the final of the Evert ITF earlier this month, can continue his recent form. Duck Hee Lee, last year's Eddie Herr 12s champion, was also a member of the world champion team, and will give Korea another strong entry. Sahil Deshmukh of India has an ITF title to his credit this fall and a semifinal showing in the Asian Closed in May that has helped elevate his ITF ranking to 264.
The US contenders include Les Petits As semifinalist Francis Tiafoe, USTA 14s Clay Court champion Reilly Opelka, 14s Hard Court finalist Jake Devine, Tommy Paul, and Catalin Mateas.
Michael Mmoh, the 2010 Eddie Herr 12s finalist and Junior Orange Bowl champion, is another American to watch as he moves into the 14s division. The girls field includes the top-ranked Konjuh and No. 2 Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus, but Serbia also will have a say in the tournament's outcome.
Surprise winners of the girls ITF under-14 World Junior Tennis team championship, Serbia has all three team members competing in Bradenton: Ivana Jorovic, Nikolina Jovic and Tamara Tomic. Jorovic was particularly impressive in the ITF World Junior Tenns championships, going 5-0 at No. 1 singles, including a three-set win over Konjuh in the semifinals.
Renata Zarazua of Mexico, a semifinalist at last month's Pan American Closed, and Naiktha Bains, a highly touted Australian recently signed by IMG, are other contenders for the title, as is 2010 semifinalist Qiu Yu Ye of China.
Thirteen-year-old Maria Shishkina, the 14s Easter Bowl champion who trains at the IMG Academy, is hoping to add a second Eddie Herr title to the 2009 championship she won in the 12s division. Others representing the USA in the 14s include Nicole Frenkel, the 2010 Junior Orange Bowl champion, Katerina Stewart, the 14s Easter Bowl and Clay Court finalist, Madison Bourguignon, the 14s Clay Court champion and Mia Horvit, the 14s Hard Court finalist.
The girls 12s field features two quarterfinalists from 2010, Katherine Sebov of Canada and Jaeda Daniel of the US, as well as 2010 doubles champion Sofia Zhuk of Russia. Zhuk has played nine tournaments this year in Europe and has won singles titles in five of them. Olga Ogut of Turkey is not far behind, with three titles to her credit.
Other names to look for are Nika Shytkouskaya of Belarus, Polina Golubovskaya of Russia, Sangwan Shweta of India and 10-year-old Constanza Rios, daughter of former ATP World No. 1 Marcelo Rios of Chile.
Americans Anna Bright, Nicole Conard, Maria Ross and 10-year-old Abigail Desiatnikov are among the top hopes for a US title. Katarina Jokic of Bosnia won the 12s championship in 2010. Last year Michael Mmoh came all the way through the qualifying to reach the boys final, and additional surprises are always possible in the youngest age group.
Korea has had a boys finalist in each of the past three years and this year Jaewoo Kim heads the large Korean contingent.
Alexei Popryin of Australia and Artem Dubrivnyy of Russia have already established a rivalry, with Popryin outlasting Dubrivnyy 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(10) in the final of tournament in Portugal this summer. Patrick Rikl of the Czech Republic and Ergi Kirkin of Turkey have also collected titles in Europe, but the most imposing resume belongs to American Alex del Corral.
In addition to winning both the USTA 12s Spring Nationals and the Hard Courts in August, del Corral also collected a title in Europe in April. Clay Court finalist Patrick Kypson and Nike Masters finalist Noah Makarome are other accomplished Americans to watch.