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.
The first point of the second set gave an indication of what was to come: a Smethurst-smote forehand that left one patron exclaiming, “Jesus!” It was that good, people. He closed out the game with a nicely carved backhand volley at 15-15 and a cheeky forehand drop shot at 40-15 (with an assist by a Bogdanovic-missed forehand pass).
Smethurst About To Smote
Boggo had 40-15 serving at 0-1, but a Boghand into the net and a super Smethurst crosscourt backhand slice followed by a driven backhand down the line knotted the game at deuce. Bogdanovic pulled a forehand into the net to give his younger compatriot a break point, and Smetty took it with a deep return and an inside-out forehand winner to lead 2-0.
The Smethurst who played the second set was a Top 50 player at least. It wasn’t that Boggo was playing terribly in the second frame, it was that Dan was really damn good. He breezed through the third game with forehand and service winners. And then superb scrambling, biting slices, intelligent shot selection, deft volleys as well as the usual blunt trauma force helped him to another break in the fourth game. Bogdanovic had a game point in this service game as well, and was really fighting, but it just seemed Smethurst had an answer to anything the third seed could throw at him.
Smethurst Smoting In Progress
At 4-0, however, Boggo kind of checked out of the set. And who could blame him really? Dude was being bludgeoned. So, some more smoked Smethurst winners and a few limp-looking Bogdanovic errors passed by in a blur and before you knew it, Smethurst had served the Bog Monster a bagel of his very own to eat. Having been partially undressed already in that second frame, Alex trotted off to change clothes.
Appearing to pick up where he left off, Smethurst closed out the first game of the third set with an ace and then held break point in a second game that would prove very critical for one so early. But the young Brit netted three backhands and Bogdanovic was able to narrowly avoid losing his eighth straight game.
Serving at 1-all 40-30 in the next game, Smethurst served two consecutive double faults (the dreaded quadruple fault) and stroked a forehand just wide at break point to give Boggo the gift of breakage. Though my stat sheet logs “only” five total double faults for Smethurst during the match – certainly not an appalling number for 12 service games – they twice came in the same game and both times contributed to a break of serve.
On the first point of the fourth game, Dan struck a backhand that – to my unreliable eyes – appeared to catch Boggo’s baseline but was called out. A mark was circled and checked by the ch/ump, with Alex helpfully explaining to Smethy that the only ball mark there was an out one. Smethurst didn’t look convinced. Nor was I, for that matter. But it didn’t matter what either of us thought, and Boggo went on to consolidate his break at love for a 3-1 third set advantage.
Bogman On The Prowl
To his credit, Dan continued to really fight for the duration of the match. Though he was clearly perturbed by the call and trying to shake it out of his head, he also was efforting admirably each and every point and trying to pump himself up. The set scores of the final two frames try to indicate that one or another player went away, but neither was really the case. Despite Dan appearing to favour his left leg after striking a second serve substantially long at 15-30, he held thanks in part to two classically Smethurstian inside-in forehand winners.
Smethurst also came roaring back to deuce in the next game, with Boggo serving at 3-2 40-0, scrambling well on the fifth point and putting up another terrific Smetlob. But then a classic one-handed Boghand down the line gave him game point, and – wouldn’t you know? – a well-struck Smethurst return is called just long again, this time on the other baseline. More marks circled and pained faces made. But Bogdanovic ultimately consolidated for 4-2.
The Classic One-Handed Boghand
In the next game, I was distracted by Diego Ayala’s generous offer of free pizza, which is the quickest way to a paunchy reporter’s heart. To their everlasting credit, the club ordered pizza for all those in attendance. So not only was this fantastic match played free of charge to the public, but with free food too! An unbeatable deal, I say – and anyone who doesn’t come out if (hopefully when) the event comes back to Tamarac next year is just plain crazy, if I may make a sweeping value judgment (and I may).
Anyway, Dan was down 0-30 for reasons you nor I will ever truly understand. But Smetty forehand winnered, then volley winnered, then service winnered – a trifecta! – to 40-30. Alas, that’s where the winning ended and the losing began. A forehand just wide to deuce, a Boggo return near the line (yet another call that went his way), and another Smethurst groundie wide found the able challenger down two breaks. He drop kicked a ball into the fence, still very much wanting the win but beaten down by missed opportunities, close calls, and solid play from the veteran at the end, as Bogdanovic closed out his service game to take the title 6-4 0-6 6-2 in a match that was just high quality from start to finish.
Ladies And Gentleman: Your USA F2 Futures Tamarac Titleist
During the trophy presentation, both Damon and Alex rocked the mic and gave really nice speeches about the tournament.
Damon called Dan and Alex the “two nicest guys in the tournament” and Alex, likeable and sincere as ever, talked about coming back from his injury and how he wasn’t sure what the best course was for him to start the year, but that he was really glad he stayed and was able to play well in this tourney in Tamarac.
Damon then asked Boggo about his match vs. Mahut at Wimbledon (the infamous 24-22 “warm-up” to the 70-68 Isner clash) and took partial credit for the Tamarac tourneywin since he warmed Alex up on the final three days of the event. Heh.
Overall, it was a superb week at the ‘rac, and if the Weston USA F3 and Palm Coast F4 are even half as excellent as this week has been, I’ll count myself as lucky. It’s hard to imagine a better event.