Friday begins as another lovely day for tennis in Palm Coast.  And by “lovely” I mean gray, overcast and cold. “Pity us, people up north,” I devilishly tweet, hoping to stir things up amongst the disgruntled folk living north of the 31st parallel. It doesn’t work. The people of the twitosphere are remarkably good at not taking my infantile bait. Either that or they’re all too buried under snow and/or their fingers are too frostbitten to text me angry but concise messages.

Anyway, it’s horrifically cold again. But we hearty folk in North Florida are undeterred, heroically playing tennis (or, even more heroically, watching it) despite the semi-frigid conditions. It’s quarterfinal day, and it’s thus time to play the quarterfinals. As sometimes happens on quarterfinal day.  And as is nearly my sworn duty at this point, I begin by chronicling the progress of Jack Sock.  Today he plays the third seed, 20 year-old Aussie Matt Reid. Also playing concurrently are Andrea Collarini against the 8th seed, 33-year-old Romanian “That’s So” Razvan Sabau, as well as Italian Nicola Ghedin against Arkansas standout and Harvard Law deferrer Blake Strode.

I don’t care how fair this is for the players – all this simultaneous action is hell on my spectating/reporting. How the heck am I supposed to keep careful track of three matches at once? Regardless, I try. It’s the least I can do for you, dear readers.

Jack begins serving to Reid on Court 4, but they must’ve switched the net over from Court 3, because – as with the one during his comeback win over Soong-Jae Cho the day before – this mesh is messing with his shots, too; it carries a forehand wide at 30-40 in his first service game, and he’s broken just like that.

Though both guys struggle through some deuce holds, serves are held throughout . The scruffy blonde from Oz displays a potent forehand – biggest I’ve seen in the tournament – while Jack struggles at times with errors off the ground, even while throwing some winners in the mix.

Third Seed Matt Reid

The points usually end with a Socked winner or error – by my incomplete tally (I was checking on other matches at times), Jack hits 4 forehand winners and 2 backhand winners in the first frame, but commits 5 forehand and 7 backhand unforced errors. He does try to press the issue a bit more, successfully venturing to net a number of times. But it’s the third seed Reid who displays better consistency in the opener, with almost as many winners but not nearly as many errors.  His one break holds up, and he takes the first set 6-4.

I duck out to check in on Collarini’s progress. Or lack thereof, as I find him down two breaks, 2-5* to the 8th seeded Sabau, who to my eyes resembles Andy Kaufman’s character Latka from the old TV series, Taxi.

Disingenuous Image Alert: This pic is from Sabau’s match the day before

Regardless, the Argentinian-American gets one break back with a backhand crosscourt winner, but then the Romanian breaks him right back to take the first set 6-3. I dart on over to see Ghedin serving for the set against Strode, which the Italian wraps up at love with a drop shot and a passing shot winner, 6-4.

Back to Jack. I return to find Reid serving at 2-3 15-40 in the second. A Sock return hangs on the net and decides to stay on Jack’s side, negating the first break chance. But Jack gets a Reid on his opponent’s drop shot on the next point, sliding a forehand up the line that Matt badly botches for the break.

Sock holds from 0-30, Reid holds to 15, and Jack serves out the second set despite faking himself out with a drop-shot-to chipped-forehand-morphed-midstroke monstrosity at 40-15. Started the game with an ace and a service winner. Closed it with two forcing forehands. 6-3, 1 set apiece. The high school senior shot for shot with a Top 400 guy two years his elder. (That might not sound like much, by the way, but there aren’t too many high school seniors out there playing Top 400 ball.)

Meanwhile, Ghedin gets into the semis with a 6-4 6-1 win over Strode, and will play Sabau there, as the Romanian beats Collarini 6-3 6-3.

I miss the first three games of the Sock-Reid third set as I’m interviewing Jack’s doubles partner, “The Bulgarian Nightmare” Dimitar Kutrovsky (tune in tomorrow for my profile), but as I pick things up in the final frame, it’s definitely getting interesting. For one, Matt gets his foot caught in the fence in the corner after scrambling for a shot and is totally stuck there, snagged like an animal in a steel trap. He has to extract his foot from his shoe and then wrench his shoe out of fence. Luckily he’s not injured.

For his part, Jack’s getting distracted by a cameraman who’s climbed up a ladder and is filming from up over the fence, directly behind his opponent. I take a picture of the offending lensman, and he points his camera right back and starts filming me. Heh. I appreciate his gumption and smirk accordingly.

Drama on the court, too, as Sock makes three straight errors from 1-2 30-15 and is broken. Jack gets to deuce on Matt’s subsequent serve, but the Aussie consolidates to 4-1* in the third.

Down 1-4, Sock saves a break point that would have Reid serving for the match – he comes into net and smashes away the opportunity. He then holds, crucially, with an off forehand drop shot that skips off the net cord.

Though Reid seems comfortably up in this decider, more errors have crept into his game than were evident in the early stages. But this doesn’t hurt him until he serves at 4-2, when one forehand and two backhand errors lead to two back-breaking points for Sock. Jack almost crashes into a line judge, scrambling on the first, and makes a nice transition from defense to offense, only to pull an inside-in forehand wide. He atones for the error with a solid crosscourt forehand volley winner on the next, however, and we’re back on serve.

At 5-all, more backhand errors from Reid give Sock two chances to break and serve for the match. Jack misses them both with forehands into the net. “TWO forehands!” he shouts. Correct. That’s what I said, isn’t it? Reid blasts his way to a hold with some forehand and overhead winners. Then Jack blasts his way into a third set tiebreak with 3 first serves – an ace, service winner, and a setup groundie putaway before Reid forehands a passing shot long.

The decisive TB commences with a very high quality of play: Reid with a service winner to hold his service point, Sock with a forehand drop shot and a sneak-to-net forehand crosscourt volley to hold his two, then two successive service winners from the Ozzie, one on a good second delivery. “We’re sure getting our money’s worth,” says the guy next to me.

Two Reid groundstroke errors give Jack his two service points to 4-3*. Then Sock scurries to retrieve a ball, sending back a high defensive shot that lands right on the sideline, and the third seed misses to give Sock the first mini-break to 5-3*. “Ahhh, it just goes my way!” yells the Aussie, sarcastically. But he recovers with an ace to 4-5*.

With the match on his racquet, Jack nets an off forehand for 5-all. The crowd groans nearly in unison. A backhand long from the big Nebraskan, and suddenly it is going just Reid’s way. The third seed grabs the unexpected momentum shift and steels away with it, delivering a backhand volley knockout blow to seal the match 6-4 3-6 7-6(5).

I rush over to catch what looks like it might be a big upset in the making: another in the robust Romanian contingent, 30-year-old Teodor-Dacian Craciun, with what appears to be a spirited first set run against Wayne Odesnik, who pummeled the tournament’s top seed, Greg Ouellette, 6-3 6-0 in the previous round. As I get to the match, Odesnik is serving at 3-4 0-30. The 25-year-old had won their only previous meeting in three sets, so it looks like it might be another tight affair on this day. Odesnik pulls ahead to 40-30 but Craciun cracks a running forehand pass up the line to deuce it up. Wayne O. holds, but just barely.

Teodor-Dacian Craciun

“The Romanians coming strong in Palm Coast,” I tweet, “with Sabau thru to semis & Craciun giving Odesnik all he can handle.” At which time, Odesnik immediately breaks and reels off nine of the last ten games for a 6-4 6-1 victory. Heh. Shows what I know. As in his win over Ouellette, Odesnik is relentless, moving well, and striking the ball superbly. He earns a date with the third seed, Matt Reid, in Saturday’s semis.

I later catch up with coach Mike Wolf as he watches his top-seeded charges, Sock and Kutrovsky, play their doubles semi against Nathaniel Gorham and Benjamin Rogers. “I know I’m not supposed to root,” I tell him, “but I would’ve loved to see how Jack did against Odesnik tomorrow.”

“That’s OK,” Mike tells me, “You can root for my guy.” Ha. He goes on to say that while he, too, would’ve enjoyed that test for his guy, he’s proud of what he’s seen from Jack over their month-long journey throughout these Futures events. And proud of what he’s continuing to see, as Jack and Dimi are still giving their all on the doubles court, fighting to stay alive through the final weekend of their Florida swing. Which they do, wrapping up a comprehensive 6-3 6-1 win over Gorham and Rogers, extending their stay for two more days.

Tune in tomorrow for my final installments of this month-long Florida Futures swing, as I return with similarly riveting tales of the singles semis and final as well as the doubles final. Until then.

End note: in case you’re not hip to it by now, my reporting for this Florida swing is done in conjunction with Tennis Panorama News, which is just about the best tennis site on the web.  Go on over and check it out, OK? 

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