The U.S. team at the 2012 Master'U BNP Paribas Championships.
© Greg Patton
Team USA members chilling out at the tennis courts.
Ray Sarmiento (l) and Evan King in action against Belgium in men's doubles.
Greg Patton, Boise State head men’s tennis coach, and Amanda Augustus, Cal head women’s tennis coach, are coached a U.S. collegiate team of Lauren Embree, Jacqui Cako, Zoe Scandalis, Jarmere Jenkins, Evan King and Ray Sarmiento to the title at the 2012 Master'U BNP Paribas Championships in Aix-en-Provence, France, Dec. 5-9. The coaches and players wrote a blog for USTA.com of the team's adventures while they were in France.
Sunday, December 9
USA's finest collegiate stars repeated as the Master'U BNP Paribas Champions with our 5-2 victory over Germany today.
The fragrance of winning this international championship is so very sweet, but the greatest feeling is the power of the friendships that have been developed within our team as well as the wonderful new friendships with players from across the world. It is so exhilarating to experience an intense international tennis championship, especially in a team format representing your country and all of American collegiate tennis.
Our team may have been composed by players from USC, Virginia, Michigan, Florida, ASU, and coaches from Cal and Boise State, but this glorious week we were all one representing the USA and NCAA collegiate tennis.
I don't have time to recap the matches, but suffice it to say that our women’s singles set the bar high with exciting victories over the German women who play WTA pro events.
Lauren Embree won at No.1 in two intense sets, both times coming back to win, at No. 2 singles Zoe Scandalis was magical and a warrior in defeating her German opponent in a three-set thriller.
With the glorious two point lead, Jarmere Jenkins and Evan King overwhelmed the two German men in straight sets. It was breathtaking to see them play such superior tennis. The match was clinched in the singles, but we played an inspired German team in men's and women's doubles who won both matches in a close eight-game pro set. The closing match was a beautiful win by Ray Sarmiento and Jacqui Cako as they had the USA finish strong with a 8-1 victory.
As you can imagine, our entire team of Jarmere Jenkins (UVA), Ray Sarmiento (USC), Evan King (Michigan), Lauren Embree (Florida), Zoe Scandalis (USC) and Jacqui Cako (ASU) as well as Coach Amanda Augustus (Cal) and Coach Greg Patton (Boise State) are still flying high from repeating as champions and for our thrid championship in the past four years.
As we drove back to the hotel we were singing "I belong to you,You belong to me.....You are my Sweetheart." We are now off to the tournament dinner and party. Then we have a 3:30 a.m. bus pick-up to catch our flight to Paris and then home to the States.
In this state of mind, and this glorious heightened state of living, who needs sleep?
Go USA !
Coaches Amanda Augustus and Greg Patton
Saturday, December 8
Great news! For the fourth straight year, Team USA has reached the finals of the Master’s U BNP Paribas and will be competing for the title after our 6-1 victory over Russia today. Next we will be battling No. 4 seed Germany for the championship. Germany upset the host nation, France, 6-1.
Not much time to write, for it is getting late here in Aix en Provence (near Marseille in Southern France), and we have an early wake-up call for tomorrow (Sunday), but we definitely wanted to share our joy in reaching the finals.
The team match begins with the two women’s singles matches, and in our case, these matches are always like an action-packed thriller that begins with action-packed escapades from the very beginning. As you can imagine, the strength in the Russian team is the incredible powerful Russian women players. We knew that we would be in a cat fight from the very first ball that was struck.
No. 1 Lauren Embree (Florida) fought tooth and nail in her win over her Russian opponent, 6-2, 6-4. Don’t let the score mislead you, for every point was an epic, with the fierce and violent ferocity of the Russian's strokes matching up with the graceful finesse and steadiness of Lauren’s game. It looked like the Russian would take the second set when she grabbed a 3-0 lead, but Lauren’s composure and fortitude turned the tide to secure a 1-0 lead for the USA.
On the adjacent court, Zoe Scandalis (USC) was in another battle. Zoe is the epitome of an athletic backboard who doesn’t truly overpower her opponent but, through her will power, retrieving ability, mental strength and patience, will outlast you. Her Russian opponent hit the ball at the speed of light in an all-or-nothing assault. Zoe in every set found herself down in all three sets but somehow always managed to sneak back in both the second and third sets. In the second set, she came back when down 3-5 to get into a tiebreaker. Once again, she was down in the tiebreak (2-4) but was able to swing the tide and capture the second set. In the third set, Zoe was again down a break but fought back to get herself into a tiebreaker to decide the match. She fell in the tiebreak but not before she had sapped almost every bit of fuel from the gas tank of the Russian's resolve.
The tide swung with a Jarmere Jenkins (Virginia) men’s singles thrashing -- a 6-1, 6-1 victory. Evan King (Michigan) won his match when his opponent retired with an injury in the beginning games of the match. The USA now held a 3-1 lead going into the doubles.
Our women’s doubles team of Embree and Jacqui Cako (Arizona State) played the match of the day to secure the victory and ensure the Americans a date in the final, with a 6-7, 7-6, 11-9 victory. As you can imagine, this was a see-saw battle that saw leads come and go like the tide on the beach. One second we thought that our gals were going to seal the deal, only to find them falling behind with no hope or cavalries in sight. Thanks to Lauren, whose game of relentless tenacity worked magic, and Jacqui coming up with miraculous volleys to win several pivotal points, our gals were able to pull off a great comeback victory and secure the team win and a date with our fourth straight appearance in the championship match.
Our doubles team of Jarmere Jenkins and Evan King put icing on the cake with an 8-2 win in their match.
Team USA (supported by the USTA and Intercollegiate Tennis Association) now has a four-year record of 10-1, and we are now looking to secure our third world championship in four years.
This team of Americans is truly exceptional! They represent our country with class, poise, humor and intensity. We are having the time of our lives. (And, remember, the matches last all day, starting with 7 a.m. wake-up calls, and the final matches are completed after 7 p.m.) In addition, the tournament is held in two indoor facilities -- one with heating, and the other which is an ice box (temperatures in the high 30s). We are so excited about tomorrow’s match because we will get to play in the heated facility and not in the "frozen tundra!"
Last not but not least, our six players not only have talent on the tennis court but also in singing and dancing as a group in the team van, in restaurants and at the tournament venue. We not only have won two big matches (over Belgium and Russia) but also have won numerous friends, captivated by our players' zest for life.
Friday, December 7
Coach Patton and Coach Augustus:
First day of the Master’s U, and we started off with a resounding bang by defeating a very strong Belgian squad by a 7-0 score. Tomorrow morning we square off against the No. 3-seeded team of Russia, which just won a Russian barnburner 4-3 against Great Britain.
We are playing at the Country Club in Aix en Provence, which has very temperamental weather moods. A few days ago, the weather was sunny and in the high 50s, and today there was a light snowfall and freezing temps. We play indoors on unheated courts, so it feels like we are playing in an igloo. Neverless, the tennis of our players from the Red, White and Blue heated up the facility and our spirits.
Our victory over Belgium was sweet, for they are very talented, and to be able to compete and win against a tough opponent in the first round of this eight-nation tournament has toughened us up and given us great confidence.
All the team matches begin with the two women singles. No. 1 Lauren Embree (Florida) kicked off the action with a display of consistency from the baseline against the Belgian player (who had a top-200 WTA ranking). She cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
No. 2 women’s singles player Zoe Scandalis (USC) must have felt like she had been hit by a snowstorm and avalanche in the beginning of her match, for she fell behind 1-4. In the first three games, the Belgian hit explosive winners on every point, and Zoe only won two points out of the first 14 points played. Her remarkable composure and mature adjustments in her tactics brought her back to win five straight games to win the first set 6-4, and then she switched gears even up in the second set to breeze to a 6-3 second-set win to take the match.
This is all that we needed for our men to step up with poise and determination. They never looked back, as No. 2 singles Ray Sarmiento (USC) won 6-3, 6-4 with his flashy and breath-taking skills (half-volley winners and the scrambling of a hungry cheetah chasing down his tasty prey.) Then the athleticism of No. 1 Jarmere Jenkins (Virginia) was awe-inspiring, as he defeated a gritty Belgian, 6-1, 7-6 (6).
After clinching the match, America’s pride dominated in the doubles. The women's team of Jacquline Cako (USC) and Lauren Embree won 6-1, 3-6, 10-4, and the men's duo of Evan King (Michigan) and Ray Sarmiento dominated 6-2, 6-2. Mixed doubles was the whipped cream on the sundae, with Jacqui Cako-Evan King winning 8-3.
The semis are tomorrow at 10 a.m. against the Russians, who brought an impressive squad to France.
The following observations are from our women (Lauren Embree, Jacqui Cako and Zoe Scandalis)
Lauren Embree, Jacqui Cako and Zoe Scandalis:
Team USA here from France! This is Lauren Embree writing you all after our first victory over Belgium today in the quarterfinals. We had a wake-up call at 7:15 this morning, ate some breakfast and headed outside to see ice on the windshield of our van. Being from Florida, I was not too happy to see that!
We started our matches at 10 a.m. against Belgium. We got off to a great start with two women’s singles wins, followed by five more wins throughout the day. We could not have played as well and had as much fun out there without the help of our crazy team cheering everyone on.
It is currently 9 p.m. here in France, and after a long day of matches, cheering on our team in the freezing cold, and a nice team dinner, we are playing the card game "President" in the hotel lobby. Most of us have been lucky and have gotten our homework done, which is good, since we’re all pretty tired after our matches.
It’s Jacqueline Cako here now and just want to say I got the best hand ever in the game and just dominated! It’s all in good fun, though. This trip has been pretty amazing so far, and it’s tough to find the words to describe it. We’re all in high spirits, bubbling with excitement for the coming days and the chance to play for the title again.
We did some team bonding last night, which brought us closer and got us feeling like a "family." Being so far away from home and not having phones or Internet most of the day forces us to rely on each other, which is sometimes the biggest blessing. With such a variety of people, there isn’t ever a dull moment.
We’ve got Zoe, who is the queen of random, unintentional death glares, and Lauren, who is always smiling and is a rock on the court. Then there’s Evan, who is always dancing a little shuffle, Raymond, who just has a ton of swag, and Jarmere, who is definitely one of a kind.
Hey everyone! This is Zoe Scandalis writing from our hotel in the beautiful (but freezing!) city of Marseille. This was the very first day I got the chance to compete with Team USA, and it was so awesome!
Getting to spend time with Lauren, Jacqueline, Jarmere, Ray, Evan, the coaches Greg and Amanda, and Greg’s beyond sweet daughter Chelsea has been so wonderful. With all the time we have spent together in the last few days, I am starting to find out what genuinely awesome people they all are, and today going out to battle against Belgium as a team, with "USA" written on our backs and wearing red, white and blue, was a feeling that felt so good! I can’t wait to get back on the court with these guys tomorrow.
The cheering, yelling, dancing, continuous sarcasm, and jumping around will only continue with the team, and I am so looking forward to taking on another country with them. Like Coach Patton said from the start, "We are a family," and now I am really starting to feel the love. Anyone we face will be in trouble because we have something great going.
Let’s go USA!!!
Thursday, December 6
Coach Patton and Coach Augustus:
Time is flying. It seems like we got here a month ago, and in the same sense, it seems like it was only seconds ago that our USA Collegiate team landed in Marseille, France, for the 7th Annual Master’ U BNP Paribas Championships.
The name of this tournament is sneaky, for it is hard to figure out, but basically it is the World Team Intercollegiate Championships. Over the past seven years, many countries have participated with talent-loaded teams. We bring some of our best and most promising American collegiate players (three men and three women) to represent the Red, White, and Blue.
At first I was going to write about the greatest aspect of this tournament, and then I realized that there are so many greatest aspects of this tournament. Let me list the glorious advantages of playing here:
Our American players are exposed to great players and teams from around the world, including France, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, China and Russia. Not only do we compete against them, but we establish lifelong friendships with our competitors, and thus this trip truly becomes a great learning experience. The tournament is a wonderful cultural experience and is run like a professional event. In fact, the tournament referee is the world-famous Pascual Maria, who chairs the finals of Wimbledon, French Open, US Open and Australian Open, as well as Davis Cup ties.
We have the ability to bring our great young collegiate stars together in a team aspect, and it is truly glorious to see them raise each other as players and people and, in effect, be lifted to greater heights. Even the car rides to the tennis facility and site seeing are wonderful events of singing, dancing and laughter. Texting and phones are not allowed at meal time, so they are laughter-filled, with team members swapping tales of football dominance at their respective schools (among many topics).
After flights all day Monday and Monday night, the team arrived in Marseille Tuesday morning. We checked in and went to the courts at the beautiful Ligue Country Club in Aix De Provence on the French Riviera. Our team consists of three women -- Lauren Embree (University of Florida), Jacqui Cako (Arizona State) and Zoe Scandalis (USC). The men on the team are Jarmere Jenkins (Unversity of Virginia), Evan King (Michigan) and Ray Sarmiento (USC). What a Christmas gift to have such great collegiate players representing our country during the holidays.
The practices have been intense, focused and fun. We have drilled, played various group games (dingles), as well as played singles and doubles games for the past three days. We are extremely blessed to have Amanda Augustus, the women’s tennis coach at Cal-Berkeley, helping run the ship with me. Her expertise as a renowned collegiate coach and talented player uplifts the team. The practices are intense, focused and especially exhilarating. No wonder that these are some of our best and brightest.
We still took time to walk the streets of Marseille on a beautifully sunny, yet chilly day along the coast line of southern France. We are together as a tennis family with the common purpose to propel us to defend our titles as World Champions from 2009 and 2011. With three veterans in Jamere, Lauren and Jacqui, we are ready to repeat as champions. Our team is together every waking minute. If we are not training, hitting and stretching on the court, then we are together eating, sightseeing, meeting and even studying together. The main goal is to become more than a team but a family preparing to play for each other.
Tonight was especially sweet, for the tournament conducted a parade through the beautiful streets of Aix en Provence. We followed an exquisite French brass band under the colorful lights of the tight streets of this sparkling French town with the seven other countries. After marching over a mile to the City Hall, we had the draw ceremony in which our U.S. team was named the No. 1 seed (due to winning the 2011 Master’s U tournament). We play our quarterfinal match tomorrow against a tough Belgium team, which we defeated last year in the semifinals. We are in the same half with No. 3 seed Russia and an always dangerous team from Great Britain.
The format of the tournament is two women’s singles matches, two men’s singles, followed by a women’s doubles match, a men’s doubles match and, finally, the mixed doubles match, which has clinched the world title in both 2009 and 2011 as the deciding match in the finals against France. Time to say goodnight now, for our match with Belgium begins tomorrow with a 7 a.m. wake up call.