So, where were we? Oh yes:
After the Tamarac finals on Sunday, I make my way over to Weston for the continuing qualifying action, and things are wilder than ever. Most matches are in their end stages, and there are many quick spectating choices to be made. I hustle as best I can over to Court 24, where two guys I watched bits of the day before – Spencer Papa and Mark Oljaca – are locked in a contentious battle. If you’re ever at the Midtown Athletic Club, by the way, I highly recommend the water from the Court 24 fountain – I’ve sampled them all, practically, and C24 H2O seems the most magically restorative. Vintage pipes? Extra flouride and/or prozac in the mix? Dunno, but either way it’s worth the hike. (I’m only somewhat kidding about that bit of nonsense, sadly.)
Flashback: Oljaca, a 21-year-old, muscle-shirted battler who played for University of South Florida, had one of the more entertaining exchanges in his upset win over Czech 8th seed Martin Prikryl that I neglected to touch upon in my first update. I was a court away watching Nathaniel Gorham beat Alex Halebian, so I didn’t see what led up to the exchange, but a prickly argument with Prikryl was catching everyone’s attention. I heard Oljaca say, “After the ball hit the fence,” repeatedly, and it became relatively clear that Martin was trying to disallow one of Mark’s points, saying Mark had touched the net before the point ended (the ball hitting the fence effectively ends play, from a ruling standpoint, so he’d be allowed to touch the net once the ball either bounced twice or hit the fence).
A supervisor was summoned and both combatants pleaded their cases for what seemed like about five minutes, and was probably close to it. I have to say, I don’t envy the jobs of the officials at times like these – and they are many in Futures qualifying – when they show up after an event occurs and have to adjudicate on the spot (or, sometimes, the mark) using only the skewed assertions of each player’s (or player supporters’) arguments and reach a quick and fair conclusion. I have no idea how the ruling went down (I think that it went in Oljaca’s favor), but after Gorham’s victory I had made my way over to watch and was impressed by Oljaca’s resolve and fighting spirit.
Back to the present (in the Futures) (it’s confusing, I know): Papa and Oljaca split sets, and the mental warfare and aggressive passive-aggressive verbal jousting is running hot – lots of heated words spoken that aren’t specifically at the opponent but certainly are meant to be heard and get into the other’s head. Oljaca wins both the mental and physical battles, overcoming a crucially botched overhead and a couple of missed forehand sitters to pull out a 3-6 6-2 7-5 win, breaking in the penultimate game.
After match point, Papa turns and screams, “SHUT UP OVER THERE!” at a boisterous foursome having a club doubles (clubbles?) knockaround on a somewhat nearby court. One of the guys had cried out, seeming to cause Papa to lose concentration just a little bit. To the club’s credit, with so many matches to schedule, non-pro matches are kept away from the Futures play as much as is possible. But of course the noise can still inconveniently impose itself at a pivotal time in the match. That said, players at this level have long since learned to tune out anguished wails from other courts (usually from other players in the tournament), having acclimated to them in the juniors. And those who haven’t are probably doomed.
I’m pretty sure Spencer was just scapegoating the noise out of frustration over a tough loss, anyway. As any good chair ump will tell you, often they’re nothing more than a sounding board and/or lightning rod upon whom players can vent, and with all the tension of competitive tennis at any level – let alone the pros – a lot of player griping is just blowing off steam, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
I head out to watch GBR’s Jack Carpenter close out his 6-2 7-6(4) win over University of Alabama wildcard Ian Chadwell. And then I head out for good. I’m not able to make it to Weston on Monday, so I read with a bit of disappointment that Oljaca went down 2&3 to Italy’s 14th seeded Nicola Ghedin, who then lost 4&3 in the main draw first round to unseeded Thomas Cazes-Carrere. So much hard work, so many great stories at this level end without any glory or fanfare. I wish I could tell all the tales, but time-space-sleep limitations being what they are, I must move on.
On Tuesday I take in some main draw first round action, and all of the first-on matches are good: Jordan Cox vs. Phillip Simmonds,  Catalin-Ionut Gard vs. Andrea Collarini,  Benjamin Balleret vs. Dan Smethurst, and Dimitar Kutrovsky vs. Dennis Zivkovic. I’m especially keen to see how USA F2 Tamarac finalist Smethurst fares against one of the top four seeds. If he plays with the same level at which I saw him play at the ‘rac, I’m sure he can win this match and go deep in the tournament.
Even though there are now chair umpires officiating the match – the day’s events still have somewhat of an anarchic feel. Zivkovic is cruising over Kutrovsky 5-0, and I see Collarini get broken at 3-all in the first set with a double fault and a run of forehand errors. Smethurst is up an early break 4-3 but down double break point. He saves one with a backhand down the line winner, but Balleret breaks back when Smethurst backhands wide on the next point.
Balleret gets burned by a perfectly struck Smetlob at 4-all and then misses off both wings and is ultimately rebroken. Smethurst serves out the first set 6-4. A great tennis enthusiast and reliable source of mine comes up to me and tells me that Smetty has broken the strings on all three of his racquets and is now playing with compatriot Ashley Hewitt’s racquet as the stringer didn’t/doesn’t arrive until 11am. Wow. I later ask Carpenter about it and he tells me, “It’s a lonnnnnng story.” Alex Ward, eating an orange, smiles politely but reveals nothing. These Brit boys know how to circle the wagons, haha.
Regardless, Smethurst struggles in the second set. He has no feel at the outset, is hesitant to pull the trigger and misfiring when he does. He’s down 2-3 15-40 and hits a nice lob reply to a drop shot to save one but nets a forehand on the next. Balleret, the player representative for this tourney (aside), holds to lead 5-2 in the second.
Meanwhile, Gard is serves for the first set against Collarini at 40-15. Collarini’s in a winning position with a deep return when a ball falls out of Gard’s pocket (doesn’t he have a pocket guard?) and they have to play a let. Next time he’ll lose the point, the ch/ump warns. Andrea recovers and gets it to deuce, but a nice serve and backhand volley off the baseline from the Romanian and a Collarini backhand lob wide results in a 6-4 first frame for the third seed.
I go check on Smethurst, expecting a third set, but he’s surprisingly fought back to level the second at five apiece. Balleret holds, and Smethurst serves at 5-6. He starts with a double fault. Not recommended. But understandable in the circumstances. Another double at 30-all gives the player rep a set point, but Smethy forehand winners, as he does, to save it. He holds with an ace to force a second set breaker. Can he win with a different racquet?
Well, no. A forehand wide at *2-3 and backhand/forehand returns long at 3-4*/3-5* give Balleret three set points. Amazingly, the man from Monte Carlo breaks a string of his own as Smethurst saves one to *4-6, but then Ben closes it out on the next.
I take a look at Simmonds and Cox, who’s serving in the first set at 5-6* (warning: temporal order of this report is skewed, despite present tense case – pretend it’s like The Time Traveler’s Wife guy reporting and you’ll have no trouble with it at all). At set point for Simmonds, he smashes a bounced defensive lob from Jordan, but JC is there and chips a forehand low; Simmonds misses the volley, and Cox hits a service winner to ad-in. Cox hits a couple of dumb drop shots, though, and he’s the first one to realize this. “STUPID!” he says. “HIT THE FREAKING BALL!” Presumably to himself, since that wouldn’t be a very nice thing to say to Phillip. Cox does hit the freaking ball on another set point for Simmonds, but he hits the freaking ball long and Simmonds takes the set 7-5. Cox doesn’t win another game.
I go to take a peek at the ‘hurst and Dan is down an early break 1-2*. The player rep, meanwhile, is taking a bathroom break. “Tweet that!” says Ash Hewitt, ever the cheeky bastard. I don’t tweet it just to spite him. /illusions of empowerment
Balleret comes back and glides through the third set, and the fourth seed takes the match 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2. Dan smashes Ash’s racquet as he walks resignedly to his chair. A terrible way to end the Florida swing for someone who was swinging so well.
I go for a last look at my Player to Watch, Collarini, and he’s down 1-4* to the third seed, seeming very addled indeed. Gard goes on to close out the match 6-4 4-6 6-2. Kutrovsky, meanwhile, comes back from way down, saving match points, to win 0-6 7-6(4) 6-2. It’s not the last of these kinds of antics from the Bulgarian Hammer (as doubles partner Jack Sock refers to him) (I think).
Speaking of… tune in next time for similarly stunning details of such matches as: Jack Sock vs. Denis Kudla, Hyun-Joon Kim vs. David Souto (talk about a wild one), Alexander Ward vs. Joseph Cadogan and the comeback kid Dimitar Kutrovsky vs. Todd Widom (which was quite an engaging affair).