By winning the prestigious USTA Junior Spring National Easter Bowl in Indian Wells a year and a half ago, Gianni Ross quickly became known as one of the top junior tennis prospects in the United States.
He returned in the spring of 2017 to the desert, but still unsure whether or not he would turn professional or play college tennis. After qualifying for a $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit Futures event in Southern California in mid-September, the 18-year-old Ross still did not know his immediate future plans. Finally, three weeks later Ross announced his plans to enroll at the University of Virginia, the reigning three-time NCAA national champions.
On Wednesday in the first round of the Southern California Pro Futures Tournament, a $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament taking place on the campus of USC, Ross took advantage of a withdrawl by No. 2 seed Alexander Ward and was inserted into the draw as a “lucky loser,” the term in tennis for someone who loses in the final round of qualifying, but enters the draw after another main-draw player defaults before the first round is completed.
Ross, a Chicago-area native who has trained for the past two years in Florida with the USTA, beat qualifier Daniel Cukierman of Israel 7-6 (3), 6-1, on day where Ross’ USTA training partners and fellow teenagers Patrick Kypson and Sam Riffice suffered first-round losses. Both Kypson and Riffice each won three qualifying matches over the weekend to gain entry into the main draw.
Ross ranked as high as No. 13 in the ITF junior rankings, and advanced to the quarterfinals in singles at the French Open last spring, and made the semifinals in doubles with Riffice at Roland Garros.
Of the 12 matches played on the day at USC, only one split sets as Riffice suffered a tough three-set loss to rising ATP player and former Georgia Tech All-American Christopher Eubanks, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. Currently ranked No. 345 in the ATP World Tour rankings, the No. 5-seeded Eubanks advanced to the quarterfinals of the ATP BB&T Atlanta event in the summer of 2017 beating Taylor Fritz and Jared Donaldson along the way.
Standing 6-foot-7, Eubanks earned a wild card into the US Open in September and lost to Dudi Sela in the first round. He is being coached this week by the USTA’s Alex Funkhouser, who is in L.A. with several other top U.S. players.
“It was a tough day all around,” said Eubanks, who struggled with his serve and was broken by Riffice four times in the final set. “Just being the first match of the year and finding my legs and finding my strokes. My serve was fine, it was just what I was doing after I served where I got into trouble.”
In each of the eight first-round singles matches played Wednesday, a future, present or past college tennis player was represented.
Highlights included: University of Notre Dame junior Alexander Lebedev downing USC sophomore Brandon Holt; former UC-Berkeley star Florian Lakat taking out No. 3-seeded Ante Pavic of Croatia; and former and current UCLA Bruins Karue Sell and Martin Redlicki each getting straight-set wins in singles and then later partnering for a win in doubles.
The No. 6-seeded Kaichi Uchida of Japan before former University of Denver star Henry Craig, 6-3, 6-2. Now 23 years old, Uchida has a career high ITF junior ranking of No. 3 achieved in March 2012. Uchida was a semifinalist at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships boys’ singles and 2012 US Open boys’ singles events.
Wednesday’s First-Round Singles Results
wc: wild card; q: qualifying; ll: lucky loser
Florian Lakat, France (q), def. Ante Pavic, Croatia (3), 6-3, 6-2
Karue Sell, Brazil (q), def. Dzmitry Zhyrmont, Belarus (8), 6-3, 7-5
Martin Redlicki, U.S. (q), def. Patrick Kypson, U.S. (q), 6-2, 6-4
Alexander Lebedev, U.S. (q), def. Brandon Holt, U.S. (wc), 6-3, 6-2
Kaichi Uchida, Japan (6), def. Henry Craig, U.S. (wc), 6-3, 6-2
Ulises Blanch, U.S., def. Gage Brymer, U.S. (q), 6-2, 7-5
Gianni Ross, U.S. (ll), def. Daniel Cukierman, Israel (q), 7-6 (3), 6-1
Christopher Eubanks, U.S., def. Sam Riffice, U.S. (q), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5
Wednesday’s Quarterfinal Doubles Results
Deiton Baughman, U.S./Christopher Eubanks, U.S. (3), def. Henry Craig, U.S./Isaiah Strode, U.S., 6-4, 6-3
Luke Bambridge, Great Britain/Hans Hach Verdugo, Mexico (1), def. Sam Riffice, U.S./Ulises Blanch, U.S., 6-0, 6-0
Martin Redlicki, U.S./Karue Sell, Brazil, def. Jake Devine, U.S./Tanner Smith, U.S. (wc), 6-0, 6-1
Andre Goransson, Sweden/Florian Lakat, France (4), def. Eduardo Nava, U.S./Or Ram-Harel, Israel, 6-1, 6-3
The following are community events taking place during the tournament at USC.
Friday, Jan. 5: SoCal Community Trojan Tennis Person of the Year, Jan. 5 from 3 to 5 p.m., Fred Williams, with the doubles final beginning at 4 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 7: USPTA PTR Coaches Clinic open to players, coaches and parents, 9 to 10:30 a.m. light breakfast. Speaker USC Men’s Coach Peter Smith. Topic: Pathway to College — Raising a Jr Tennis Player.
For more information on these event, email tournament director Phil Siordia at email@example.com.