Former Pro Makes Improbable Run Into 2015 US Open Main Draw

Anda Perianu and Andrei Deascu in mixed doubles action at the 2015 US Open.

Anda Perianu and Andrei Deascu in mixed doubles action at the 2015 US Open.

A version of this story is featured on our class’ Multimedia Journalism website, Ithaca Week. You can find it here. This story has been edited for a slightly more “tennis nerd”-ish audience.

By: Joey Hanf and Lindsey Witmer

Court 14 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is a small, cozy and often overshadowed destination for early round matches at the US Open. To the outsider, a first round mixed doubles encounter featuring Anda Perianu fit perfectly into that stereotype. Her journey to get there, however, was nothing short of extraordinary.

In the third round of the Sectional Qualifying for the US Open National Playoffs in Princeton, New Jersey, Perianu and her mixed doubles partner, Andrei Deascu, faced match point in the third set tiebreak. Down 8–9, Perianu was serving to the male opponent, a tall order given the magnitude of the situation. She missed her first serve, and was forced to play in safe on her second delivery. He missed the return, and two points later, Perianu and Daescu had won the match and advanced to the next round.

“We could have been out [of the tournament] right there,” Perianu said.

From that moment on, the duo did not drop another set — let alone another match — en route to a remarkable US Open main draw berth. They won 9 matches in total to earn a wild card into the mixed doubles draw at the most prestigious tennis tournament in the United States.


Perianu, the facility manager and tennis director at the Reis Tennis Center, had not competed professionally since 2009. Born and raised in Romania, she achieved a career-high world ranking of #120 in singles during her time on the tour, but moved to Ithaca in 2011 to start a family with her husband Silviu Tanasiou. They have two daughters, Mia and Jess. Perianu gave birth to Jess in October 2014.

“My daughter begged me to stop playing because it was taking too much time from away her, and she had a full on tantrum, it was hilarious,” Perianu said.

Tanasiou, who is the head coach of the men’s tennis team at Cornell University, spoke about the surprising run his wife made.

“There was a combination of being shocked, and then extremely proud at the same time,” Tanasiou said. “I was stunned just because she had our baby girl about 11 months ago, and I never thought she would be able to play tennis at this level ever again considering she is 35.”

Perianu’s workload as a facility manager as well as her responsibilities of raising two daughters severely limited the amount of time she was able to put into training. Perianu had played only one practice match with Daescu before setting off into competition.

“Obviously my priorities have changed,” Perianu said. “We used to spend two times a day training and for this tournament I trained once every three days.”

While there have been more than a few mothers play professionally at a very high level, it is certainly not commonplace. Ben Rothenberg, a contributing writer for the New York Times, wrote an equally incredible story on Perianu’s mixed doubles partner Daescu back in September. Rothenberg spoke about the challenges mothers face when returning to tennis.

It’s significantly tougher to be a mother on tour because pregnancy and childbirth keeps women off court for months at a time,” Rothenberg said. “But Perianu did not look out of place at all, and she and Daescu were very competitive against one of the toughest teams in the tournament.”

As Rothenberg mentioned, Perianu and Daescu drew a strong opponent in their first round match at the US Open. They faced Max Mirnyi and Anastasia Rodionova. Both are accomplished doubles players, and Mirnyi has won 4 major titles in mixed doubles. The Romanian pairing held their own, but were ultimately outplayed on the big points. Mirnyi and Rodionova won the match 6–2, 6–4.

Shortly after the final handshake, Perianu’s oldest daughter Mia ran onto the court to see her mom. Tanasiou reflected on that experience, which he describes as amongst the most special in his life.

I think that moment was the most special one,” Tanasiou said, smiling. “Mia runs on the court and jumps in Anda’s arms and hugs her. For me as a father and as Anda’s husband it was the most special thing to see them at the US Open.”

Back in Ithaca, Perianu is recovering from a few bumps and bruises as well as resuming her duties at the Reis Tennis Center. She mentioned that if all goes well she plans to enter the Wildcard tournament with Daescu again next year. She said that her memories from this year were so satisfying that she would love to try to do it again.

“For me the whole experience of being there with two kids, strolling around in the locker rooms, changing diapers, it was completely different experience from when I was there seven years ago,” Perianu said. “It was amazing to have both kids with you watching from the stands.”

Paul, Fritz to Play in All-American Boys’ Final

Tommy Paul in action.  Photo Credit: USTA

Tommy Paul in action.  Photo Credit: USTA

By: Steve Pratt

FLUSHING, N.Y. – Two American boys will battle it out for a junior Grand Slam singles title for the second time this year at a major, and once again it’s Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul left standing.

The pair each won their respective semifinals on Saturday at the U.S. Open Junior Championships and will square off in Sunday’s final for a rematch of the French Open final the Lumberton, N.J., resident Paul won back in June.

Paul, an 18-year-old who is the No. 5 seed, dusted aside Australian qualifier Alex De Minaur with dropping a game, 6-0, 6-0, in his semifinal match played at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

“I think with Taylor it’s just about his power; he hits the ball so much harder than most people in the juniors,” said Paul, who was told once of Fritz’s serves was clocked at 138 miles per hour on Saturday. “You just have to be able to absorb that and play my game.”

Paul said he can only remember one other time during his junior career when he won without giving up a game. “It was my first match of 2015 in qualifying for a Futures event,” said Paul, who turned pro after he won the French Open instead of playing collegiately for the University of Georgia. “My coach once bet me I’d never do it because he joked I couldn’t focus long enough to win 6-0 6-0.

“I don’t think it was his best day,” Paul added. “I had an on day and didn’t miss too many balls. I’m not feeling bad for him because I want to win. It’s definitely tough to win 6-0 6-0.”


The top-seeded Fritz beat No. 11-seeded Yunseong Chung of Korea on Saturday in his semifinal match, 6-2, 6-3.

“It’s been a really good year,” said Fritz, who besides the final in Paris also made the semifinals at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. “I’d love to get the win. This is a better surface for me than the French Open (hard instead of red clay). Clay is my worst surface.”

Fritz said it is tougher to be the top seed. “There’s a target on your back and they have nothing to lose,” he said of his opponents. “They are going to play their best tennis against you. And you have to be focused and ready for that. They can come out dangerous.”

Fritz said he and Paul spoke before they played. “We both said let’s go out and get it done,” Fritz said. “We both wanted to play each other in the final. Wouldn’t want it any other way than two Americans in the final. We’ve been good friends for a long time.”

Paul has beaten Fritz the past two times they have played, but both on red clay and in three sets. Besides the French Open, Paul downed Fritz at a Futures event in Spain.

Recent U.S. Open champions on the boys’ side include current pros: Richard Gasquet (2002), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2003), Andy Murray (2004), and Grigor Dimitrov (2008).

The last time two American boys’ played each other in the U.S. Open Junior final was in 2010 when Jack Sock beat Denis Kudla. It also happened in 2000 when Andy Roddick beat Robby Ginepri.

Brandon Holt and Riley Smith Advance to U.S. Open Junior Doubles Final

Photo Credit: USTA

Photo Credit: USTA

By: Steve Pratt

FLUSHING, N.Y. – Brandon Holt and Riley Smith are making people forget who their tennis noteworthy parents are, and making names for themselves at this year’s U.S. Open.

The Southern California USTA wild-card team won their third straight super-tiebreakeron Friday in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Junior Championships, advancing toSunday’s final where they will face the Canadian team of Felix Auger Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov. They came back to beat the team of South African Lloyd George Harris and Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki in the semifinals, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8, at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Holt is the son of Scott Holt and former world No. 1 Tracy Austin, who actually was on the schedule Friday and played in the women’s legends championship match on the same court as her son immediately following Holt’s match.

“I think she’s really proud,” Holt, 17, said of his mom, who won the U.S. Open in 1979 as a 16-year-old and again in 1981. “She’s really supportive and following our matches when she has more important things to do like warm up for her match; She’s watching us.”

Being back-to-back on an order of play sheet with your mom does not happen very often, especially at a Grand Slam. Perhaps inspired by her son, Austin went out with partner Gigi Fernandez and posted a super tiebreaker win of her own over Martina Navratilova and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. The two play in the final on Saturdayagainst Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez.

Smith’s father is Peter Smith, the USC men’s coach who has won five NCAA team titles over the past seven years. Unfortunately, he head to return to Los Angeles for a USC team function and missed the match.

“It was strange because on his credential it said coach, and not dad, so that was a little different,” said Smith, who often plays doubles with his father. “He’s always just supporting us and wants us to do well. He’s taught me everything I know.”

Holt said he spent his younger years playing video games and eating candy and drinking Coke in the players’ lounge while at the U.S. Open with his mom, a tennis commentator for many years. “I would just sit in the suites and not really care about watching the tennis. I really like tennis, playing it and not watching it, I guess.”

With one more win at the U.S. Open, Holt will join his mother as a Grand Slam champion. “I thought we had a chance to make the final,” Holt said. “We had a really good Kalamazoo and there are some very good teams that were in that tournament.”

After Turning Pro, Taylor Fritz Opens Junior Play at US Open

Photo Credit: David Kenas/ASICS Easter Bowl

Photo Credit: David Kenas/ASICS Easter Bowl


By: Steve Pratt

FLUSHING, N.Y. – Now that the decision has been made, Taylor Fritz feels like he can relax and get down to the business of becoming a successful professional tennis player.

The 17-year-old Fritz from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., two weeks ago decided to forgo a full-ride scholarship to play at USC, instead signing a professional contract with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) where he will be managed by agent Rick Montz.

Fritz is currently the No. 1-ranked junior player in the world and the top seed in the U.S. Open Junior Boys’ Singles tournament, which began on Sunday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Fritz won his first round with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Ugo Humbert of France and next faces Yusuke Takahashi of Japan in the second round.

“I played it pretty safe today and felt confident in winning the match without going for all the shots I usually go for,” said Fritz, who lost in the first round of main draw qualifying here two weeks ago, and was granted a wild card in both men’s and mixed doubles.

Fritz said he would like to finish the year as the No. 1 junior in the world, which may mean playing two more events closer to his home in Mexico.

“It would be nice to get the No. 1 ranking at year-end,” he said. “I’ve come all this way so I might as well go for it. But that will be it. I’ll play this and two more junior tournaments. But I’m not going to play Eddie Herr or Junior Orange Bowl or go back to Japan. It’s not worth it to me to do that.”

Fritz said he knew he wanted to turn pro, but his father and former pro player Guy Fritz wanted him to get stronger with one year of playing college tennis. “I’ve always been sure about turning pro,” he said. “Even when I was awful I still was saying I’m going to turn pro. I’ll take some time off just to train. That was the main reason my dad wanted me to go to college; to get stronger. But I think I can do it better doing it away from college than doing it in college because I won’t have the distraction of school.

“I’ll come out around January or February and be ready.”

Fritz said he is already making better decisions now that he is professional. “I’m doing better with training and dieting,” he said. “I’m now a pro and I have to act like it. I’m eating healthier. My diet has gotten a lot better.”

He said the thing he’ll miss most about his diet choices is “going to In and Out when I’m home.”

Fritz practiced with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in New York, and said his game has improved a lot since he’s been here. “Surprisingly I’ve gotten a lot of court time and been able to work on a lot of things,” he said. “Everything just really feels good right now.”

Fritz said he loves watching Del Potro play because he’s so strong from both sides, but that his favorite all-time player is Pete Sampras.

Tiafoe and Kozlov Star in Kalamazoo Classic

Frances Tiafoe and Stefan Kozlov have been friends and competitors for a hefty portion of their lives. Both 17, they’ve shouldered enormous pressure and expectation as the next American tennis greats. Tiafoe(1) and Kozlov(3) each reached the USTA Boys 18s final without dropping a set, and with a US Open Main Draw Wild Card on the line, literally everything was to play for.

Before we get into the match itself, let’s look at each players’ journey and current standing in the last 12 months.

For Tiafoe, his 2014 campaign was marred by inconsistency and doubt regarding his somewhat unorthodox strokes. It was always clear that his athleticism and natural ability were more than enough to make a name for himself, but many (including myself) were worried that he may struggle to make the transition to the pro game. Well, Big Foe has pretty much put everyone to bed with his play in 2015. After starting the year on an absolute tear in futures, the College Park native went on an astonishing run in the USTA Har-Tru Challengers in April. His best result was in Tallahassee, where he beat Facundo Bagnis in a third set tiebreak before going on to make his first challenger final. His results in Tallahassee and Savannah earned him a WC into the main draw of the French Open.

Tiafoe’s season has also been highlighted by his signing with Roc Nation, an American entertainment company founded and owned by rapper Jay Z. Tiafoe has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and He was the favorite going into Kalamazoo, on and off the court.

Stefan Kozlov’s story is very much the opposite. Kozlov had been the top ranked American boy in his age group for nearly his entire junior career. And early on in their professional career, Kozlov had more success. In October of 2014, Kozlov reached the final of the Sacramento Challenger, beating Tim Smyczek and Ryan Harrison among others.

However, Kozlov plays a much different game than Tiafoe. While Frances possesses massive weapons from nearly every position on the court, Stefan’s natural game relies much more on court positioning and general tennis IQ. Kozlov, like Tiafoe, has had his fair share of critics. Many argue that he does not have the weapons to damage top pros. Kozlov has struggled in 2015. After making a QF in Maui, Kozlov’s only main draw wins have come at the futures level. He lost to Taylor Fritz, another incredibly talented young American in January. With Tommy Paul and Reilly Opelka winning the French Open and Wimbledon Junior Titles respectively, Kozlov has fallen through the shuffle a bit and was going relatively under the radar in Kalamazoo.

He even admitted before his KZoo semifinal clash against Fritz that he felt he was the underdog. Many, including those with influential voices, have placed others in front of Kozlov in terms of potential career ceiling.

So, if you buy my line of thinking, Tiafoe vs Kozlov had much, much, more meaning than just a US Open Wild Card. This was about pride, confidence, mental strength and the battle within.

Tiafoe and Kozlov are very good friends, but have noticeably different personalities. I think they each represent the gradual rise of American tennis incredibly well–in significantly different ways.

Tiafoe is a streaky, massively talented young man. For the first two sets Sunday, he looked a league above Kozlov. Tiafoe’s forehand is one of the most explosive you will see, and his flat backhand as well as an increasingly powerful serve put him in aggressive positions in nearly every point. And Foe has filled out his body nicely in the last 12 months; he’s worked much harder off the court to get stronger and fitter, and the results have been clear.

Still, you can  get a different Frances Tiafoe every time he steps on the court. As Bjorn Fratangelo told The Tennis Nerds in Binghamton, sometimes it doesn’t even seem like Frances knows what he wants to do on court. And that often times plays to his advantage. His ability to disrupt opponents rhythm and tempo is extremely underrated.

Kozlov, again, represents a different trait in the rise of American tennis. Every time he steps on the court, Stefan is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Nothing is ever good enough for him, and he will fight every day until he gets to where he wants to be. This was never the more evident than today in Stowe Stadium. Down 6-2 6-4 4-2, nearly all juniors and even most pros are mentally checking out from the match. But Kozlov, who has the utmost confidence in himself, never let those thoughts creep in. Yes, Tiafoe missed opportunities to close out the match, but Kozlov’s relentless attack *mentally* made the finish line look so much further away than it actually was. I swear it felt like Kozlov saved upwards of 40 break points in the final 3 sets.

Kozlov, who was playing A LOT of defense in rallies, was getting worn down physically by Tiafoe, and began to cramp starting very early in the fourth set. His ability to fight that off repeatedly and push the match to five sets speaks volumes to his mental resilience. When he broke early in the fifth set, it really did look like he was going to pull off one of the greatest comebacks of all time. (He became the first player in Kalamazoo since 1971 to go from 2 sets to love down and push the match to 5 sets)

Which makes Frances Tiafoe’s victory 6-4 in the fifth so much more impressive. If he had won in straights it would have been great, but not nearly as significant. The quality of tennis in the 5-4 game was INSANE, with both guys fighting for their lives. The resolve Tiafoe showed was amazing, and his ability to stick to an aggressive game plan amid a bit of a mental breakdown shows how much he has matured as a player and as a person. Frances has earned his way into two Grand Slams this years, and it will be very fun to see how fares in the main draw.

Kozlov’s fight was truly inspirational, and it’s clear that he is headed in the right direction. His serve looked much better this week, and he seemed to get a fair amount of his swagger back. That being said, this is an absolutely brutal loss for Kozlov. To come back that far and then fall short is one of the toughest things to recover from in sports. Knowing the kid, I can tell you that this will motivate him even more.

Tiafoe and Kozlov each represent a wider emergence of American tennis. Their final at Kalamazoo should not soon be forgotten, and it is not the last time these two will battle in best of 5 set matches.

Update: TTN is Back!

Hello fellow tennis nerds!

You’ve probably noticed by now the extreme lack of posts in recent months. I just finished my Junior year in college, and this semester was probably the busiest school year in my life. Along with a lot of upper level classes, I was working with Cornell Tennis and had very little free time on my hands. I’m really loving college tennis these days, and to experience that atmosphere first hand was a very rewarding experience.

BUT. I have still been watching an incredible amount of pro tennis, and if you follow me on twitter(you should) you’ll know that I’ve been very active on that platform.

That being said, I’m very excited to announce that I will be back to posting (excellent) content on a regular basis this summer. I’m not sure how many tournaments I’ll be able to get to, but I can tell you that I will be at the US Open for an extended period of time, and would like to cover at least one other North American hard court event.

So get excited, because TTN is back! I’m really looking forward to the action at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the summer hard court series. These next 3-4 months are truly the best time to be a tennis fan, and I’m happy to be back writing and discussing the greatest sport in the world with you guys.

What are you guys, the readers, looking forward to the most during this summer tennis season?

Fratangelo Wins Launceston Challenger, Breaks Top 200

Fratangelo watching from the stands in Melbourne. Photo via; Ben Rothenberg

Fratangelo watching from the stands in Melbourne.  Photo via: Ben Rothenberg

Bjorn Fratangelo had a strong 2014 season. He won five futures titles and reached the quarterfinals of two challengers. The 21 year old finished the year with a career high ranking of 261. Fratangelo’s ranking was just on the border of making the Australian Open Qualifying cut, and when The Tennis Nerds spoke to Fratangelo back in November, the Pittsburgh native seemed pretty confident he would make that cut.

Fast forward to January. Fratangelo flew to Melbourne after a decent week at the challenger in New Caledonia. He practiced with many fellow Americans, including his friend Bradley Klahn. As the days wound down, some players began to withdrawal and Bjorn was getting closer. Finally, the qualifying draw had come out; Fratangelo missed the cut by a mere two spots.

“It was brutal to be two out. It hurt, but in a way it motivated me. I tried to take positives and make it a good training week. To just be around that atmosphere is unbelievable,” Fratangelo told The Tennis Nerds Monday.

Despite missing the cut, Fratangelo stayed in Australia for three more weeks and played two $50,000 Challengers; Burnie and Launceston. He won two matches in Burnie before falling to Alex Bolt in the quarterfinals.

However, Fratangelo’s trip down under was capped by the biggest accomplishment of his professional career, as he won his maiden challenger title in Launceston, defeating a promising 18 year old, Hyeon Chung, 4-6 6-2 7-5.

“This win makes it all worth it. I put in a lot of work in Melbourne and it paid off,” Fratangelo said. “I thought (the final) was a good match from both of us. The ball striking was great. I think the crowd enjoyed it as well.”

Chung is already nearing the top 10o, and had just won the title in Burnie the week prior. The level of play from both, especially in the third set, was incredibly solid. Fratangelo had many chances in the third set, and finally broke serve after a marathon game at 5-5. On one deuce point, the two engaged in a very long exchange that ended with the American receiving some good fortune.

“That crazy drop shot I hit at 5 all got under his skin a bit. That was the luckiest shot I’ve ever hit,” Fratangelo said.

The title earned Fratangelo 80 ranking points, and he soared up the ATP rankings to a career high of #172 Monday. By comparison, in June of 2014, the American was as low at #535. The new ranking gives the American more opportunities to play higher level events.

“The ranking is definitely higher than I thought it would be,” Fratangelo said. “I’m gonna try to ride the wave out where I basically have no points coming off. Im gonna play Indian wells qualifying and then Irving(challenger). Now that I’m up there a bit I wanna keep testing myself against guys close to the top 100.”

Fratangelo’s roommate in Florida is fellow young American Mitchell Krueger, who himself has had a nice start to 2015. You can read our Q&A with Krueger here. Krueger won the doubles title in Launceston with Radu Albot, taking out the team of Hubble/Statham 11-9 in the third set super-tiebreak.

Fratangelo and Krueger have spent a lot of time together through juniors and now professionally.

“We’re like brothers. We’re sarcastic towards each together, and we have fun together,” Fratangelo said. “He’s an easy guy to get along with and live with. He’s helped me a lot as far as traveling goes. He can go for months, where I start to lose it a bit after a few weeks, but traveling with him has made me calm down a lot.”

Full match replay of Launceston Final: