I’m not sure what Paul Revere would’ve made of the USA F2 Futures finals in Tamarac, FL, were he alive today. If he had shouted, “The British are coming!” he’d have likely been shushed ’cause – dude, you gotta be quiet at the tennis. Also: duh. We know, Paul – they’re already here in the final, in the form of Dan Smethurst and third seed Alex Bogdanovic.
The last time these two had met, in the second round of Queens Club qualies (“AEGON Championships” what now?), the Bog Monster prowled the grass and ate his younger foe up to the tune of a 6-1 6-0 drubbing. But for this final, we’d have much different circumstances: a different year, a different surface, a different country and a different Smethurst and Bogdanovic. Coming into the final, Smethurst had been hitting the cover off the ball and was the player who’d impressed me the most all week, while Bogdanovic was still making somewhat nascent strides back following a back injury. So I suspected we’d be in for a much more competitive encounter this time around and, for once, I was actually right.
An impressive crowd of over fifty people gathered on a sunny, if cool, day to watch the Brit-on-Brit action unfold. As one who champions the events and players I feel never get enough attention for their efforts, this was very nice to see. Oftentimes the locals can’t be bothered to come out and see top-tier pro tennis, even if the price is right (i.e. free) and they live within walking distance. But it was clear that tournament director Damon Henkel, club pro Diego Ayala and office manager/press liaison extraordinaire Kristen Lake had done a superb job of getting the word out, and as a result I heard more appreciative applause for points in this match than I’ve heard during countless matches featuring Top Hundred players at ATP events or the US Open.
The Assembled Masses
Happily, we were all treated to some terrific tennis. And thankfully, the match even went on at all as I almost ran over Boggo in the men’s room as I was walking briskly in and he was heading out just before warm-ups. In keeping with one of the week’s trends, the player who won the toss (Bogdanovic) elected to receive. Usually this hasn’t worked out well for the elector. But Boggo came up with two good, deep returns on the first points; and after a Smethurst-smothered forehand into net on the initial exchange, I feared that maybe lingering thoughts of Queens were still in the unseeded challenger’s head. A calm and confident point from the 20-year-old at love-15 showed me how stupid I am to conjure conclusions from just one point of tennis. Smetty closed the second point with a well-struck forehand volley, and held from there with two service winners and a missed-but-makeable forehand return from the Bogman. Smethurst, while a powerful guy, doesn’t necessarily have a serve that will blow an opponent off the court with a humongous ace count, but his delivery is strong enough to generate a decent amount of free points from service winners and short replies from which he can dictate with his forehand.
Initially, all of Bogdanovic’s serves went to Dan’s backhand. And after an almost-whiffed first return and three more misses off that wing, one certainly couldn’t argue with the strategy, as Boggo held to love for 1-all and didn’t lose a point in his first two service games.
Bog Monster Serve
In Smethy’s second service game, a stone-handed high forehand volley into the net had me again thinking of that damned Queens score (when would I learn?), but clearly I was more affected by it than Smethurst was. He pumped in an unreturned serve on the second point and then Boggo took over with his usual maddening mix of brilliant winners and head-scratching errors – one of the former, three of the latter – to help the ‘hurst get to double his total games won from their previous contest.
At 2-all, Smethurst played his best game to date, with two forehand winners and an ace up the T, and I finally (FINALLY!) stopped thinking about Queens. Go me.
At 2-3, Bogdanovic serving, Alex hit a forehand into net and a backhand wide to 0-30, then Dan decided to change things up completely with a backhand into net and a forehand wide. I still can’t decide which point-losing one-two punch I prefer. Either way: 30-all. A frankly Mr. Shankly Bogdanovic-framed forehand into orbit put the Bogman down break point. But some solid hitting yielded a Smethurst-sliced backhand long to deuce. Smethurst lucked out with a forehand net cord winner for another BP, but Boggo erased it with a nice serve out wide. They deuced it out a bit from there before two Smetted backhand errors made it 3-all. “C’mon Alec!” the woman next to me shouted encouragingly.
I don’t know if Alec was encouraged, but Alex did fairly well for the rest of the set. At 4-all, with Smethurst serving, Boggo served up a perfect drop shot/lob combo meal. I’m not sure if Smetty tweaked something running for those balls, but he came up a bit gimpy and wincy off a 0-15 double fault, appearing to favour (note: English spelling conventions will be observed for the duration of this Brit-focused article) his left leg and perhaps not able to push off on his delivery as well as he liked. Another second serve ticked long off the tape at 30-all. “30-15,” said the umpire. “Are you sure? That’s 30-40,” said Bogdanovic. “30-40,” said the umpire. And one Smetted netted backhand later, we had our first break of the match.
With Boggo serving for the set at 30-all, Smethurst was set up to crank a mid-courtish forehand into some undetermined corner of the court but dumped it into the net instead. “Fucking footwork,” he self-admonished and followed it up with little dance-like manoeuvre that I swear recalled Michael Jackson’s move by the pool table in the “Beat It” video. His leg may have been tweaked a tad, but his self-mocking movement parodies were still right up there with the legends.
On Boggo’s first set point, the 26 year-old showed catlike quickness at net, reflexing a Smethursted pass off the net cord, only to be passed overhead with a nifty Smethoisted lob. But the third seed closed out the set 6-4 with an inside-out forehand winner and an ace out wide.