After the Jack Sock–Dennis Kudla match (as recounted here), I head on over to the incongruously-placed bleachers between Court 6 and Court 7, mostly because I developed an abiding appreciation for Dimitar Kutrovsky’s game while watching him play the day before against Dennis Zivkovic, and partially because it’s the only place I can park my lazy butt and lean back as I watch the tennis – the Court 7 fence providing spartan but adequate support, and since I’ve struggled with a herniated disc, any backing at all is a welcome one.
Kutrovsky, the 23-year-old University of Texas standout from Bulgaria, plays two-handed off both sides (though he can go one-handed off either) and has a nice-looking, compact game and an intuitive-seeming court sense. He had already come from way down against Zivkovic in the first round, saving match points before winning 0-6 7-6(3) 6-4, and I catch him extracting himself from a fairly deep hole against veteran 27-year-old Todd Widom, breaking Widom as he serves for the match up 6-4 5-4.
I had last seen Widom on a livestream two years before as he played David Ferrer on an outside court at Indian Wells, but against Kutrovsky he’s playing only his fifth match in the past year, and at times he seems a bit detached, a bit bemused by it all, although perhaps this is an intentional affect to keep from getting too wound up. And though there are way too many differences in their games for me to make an embarrassingly lazy comparison between Ferrer and Kutrovsky, allow me just this one contrivance: I think both of them get a lot of mileage out of their respective games for not being the tallest guys in the world.
Anyway, Kutrovsky holds at 5-all and then Widom serves to try and force a tiebreak. He quickly finds himself down two set points against the three-time ITA All-American, but staves off the first with an ace and the next with a measured-almost-guided backhand down the line into the corner. He double faults at deuce to give Dimi a third set point, but then aces that one away as well. He issues a deep, exaggerated sigh. “Gotta have a little fun,” he says. He finally holds after a six-deuce game. Fun!
At *1-2 in the tiebreak, Dimi double faults to give Widom the mini-break, and I’m beginning to suspect I’ve brought bad luck to all DK-initialed players on this day. Up 3-2, Todd inside-outs a run-around forehand winner. “Woo!” he says. But Kutrovsky gets the next four points to lead 6-4*, with two more opportunities to close the second set at hand. He foul tips a backhand return into the high hedge behind court six on the first, then nets an overhead for 6-all. I check the sun, and it’s certainly not in an optimal position for that particular shot. But Widom trades in any momentum he’d have from this turn of events for two forehands long – a very unwise trade, in my estimation. “How stupid is that?” he asks aloud, seeming to agree with me. Second set to The Bulgarian Nightmare (as Jack Sock refers to his dubs partner), 7-6(8).
Over the long break, Todd’s crew tries to gee him up for the long haul, likely knowing his fitness might be a bit suspect. When play resumes in the third set, Widom goes first strike, trying to end points early. A succession of errors put him in a 15-40 spot. “I can’t move that well anymore,” he explains to his sideline contingent. Then he double faults to give the gift of breakage. Certainly can’t end the point much quicker than that, so credit where credit is due.
Meanwhile, on Court 5, all hell breaks loose in the David Souto vs. Hyun-Joon Kim match. Souto’s pitching another fit again, much like he did at the ‘rac. “You’re telling me the ball this out is in,” he yells at the chair ump, holding his hands a foot apart to illustrate and emphasize the extent of the ball’s outness.
Widom, who had lost to Souto the week before, tries to give him some helpful direction from the court next door: “Shut up, already! Give me a break, dude – I’m playing right next to you.”
“You’re not playing the US Open,” the lanky Venezuelan snipes back, “It’s the Futures.” David Souto, I have officially disowned you as a Player to Watch selection, no matter how nice Alex Ward insists you are. Somehow I’m quite sure Souto will find a way to carry on, despite this potentially crippling career development, haha.
Kutrovsky, perhaps finding it difficult to concentrate in such circumstances (although one can’t imagine why that would be the case, haha), backhands wide at 2-1 30-40 to give the break back. At 3-all, Widom seems finally to be at the point of no return (which is not a good thing if you’re a tennis player, I’d say). He first-strikes a lasered groundie out: “Even the ones I hit good go out,” he woes. He cracks a crosscourt forehand for 30-15 but then volleys a backhand into the net. “I haven’t volleyed in years. Haven’t volleyed at all. Ahhhh,” he offers. I accept.
At deuce, Widom inside-outs a forehand wide to break point, but then hits a decent, low forehand volley – especially decent for having not volleyed in years, ahhhh – and Kutrovsky misses the pass. The Bulgarian Nightmare loads up on a nifty two-handed forehand crosscourt return winner of a second serce to create another BP chance, but Widom saves it with an inside-in forehand. Back on Court 5, the Kim-Souto affair has become the World’s Gruntiest Match of all-time. Put Ferrer and Gustavo Kuerten in an echo chamber/indoor court, and you still wouldn’t equal the decibels generated by these two.
Widom double faults at deuce but saves break point number three with a nice backhand. He smiles wryly. Nets another first serve. “I can’t make a serve in the court,” he accurately assesses. He second-serves to Dimi’s backhand, and fires a forehand winner down the line. “C’MON TODD!” Todd says to Todd, encouragingly. Kutrovsky dumps a forehand into the net, and Widom holds for 4-3. All of which goes to prove: if you’re ever at the point of no return, it’s best to be serving.
I have to editorially interject here that this is all seriously good entertainment, these matches, and you just can’t beat the price (free). If there is a Futures event in your town – and you can find the schedule here– I highly encourage you to head out there and see for yourself. You’ll get a free, front row seat (guaranteed) to a terrific level of tennis, with colorful characters and super shotmaking on display. I’ve been covering the Florida Futures circuit for two weeks now, and there hasn’t been one day where I’d have felt shortchanged, even if there were an admission fee. /public service announcement
At 3-4 40-15, Kutrovsky second serves a ball that Widom backhands niftily away. “Yup,” says Dimi, sportingly acknowledging the good shot. He double faults and it’s deuce. But then Todd backhands long and subsequently cannot replicate the second serve return winner, inside-outing into the net instead.
4-all, 15-all, and there’s a dispute with a mark. Widom hits what initially appears to be an ace but is overruled by the chair ump, who comes down and points out the ball mark. “Here we can see the rim of ellipse,” is the verbatim quote. Dimitar frames a backhand second serve return for an anticlimactic resolution, as Todd gets the replayed point anyway. Kutrovsky gives himself a pep talk: “4-all. Third set. Focus. C’mon!”
And self-encouragement immediately pays off, as Dimi charges the net, hits a smash and then backhand volleys away the reply. On the next point, Kutrovsky wisely bounces an overhead off a defensive lob to give himself a break chance. Widom backhands into the net – the point of no return officially reached. The “Bulgarian Nightmare” (I have to ask him if he’s happy with that moniker) serves out the match with only meek resistance from Widom, 4-6 7-6(6) 6-4. The third-ranked Bulgarian in the world advances to face his doubles partner, Jack Sock, against whom he holds a commanding 3/0 head-to-head advantage.
Dimitar Kutrovsky, at right, defeats Todd Widom for another comeback victory
I lazily stay seated and wait for the next match, with the sole-remaining Brit – the inimitable, eighth-seeded Alex Ward – playing lefty qualifier Joseph Cadogan of Trinidad & Tobago.
Ward serves up a little ace-T on the second point, and thereafter races to a 3-0 lead, semi-jigging his way over to the changeover chair. But it’s Court 5 that courts my attention. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! David Souto goes whack-o on his racquet, breaking it in half. That’s a code violation, right there. (Has city hall been notified of this next door?) Ward, undeterred, breaks again, and – despite four double faults – takes the first set 6-1 as Cadogan smothers a forehand into the net at set point. “He’s playing like he’s afraid,” comments a courtside observer (possibly a family member). I talk to Alex the next day and he tells me, “I think he was more afraid of what was happening on the next court over than he was of me.” Understandable.
The inimitable Alex Ward, whom you must assist on his race to 500 followers
In the first game of the second set, Ward breaks again with a class inside-out forehand return to an inside-in forehand winner. Variety! But once again, Court 5 beckons, as Kim thinks he puts away a volley and screams to celebrate, except Souto gets to said volley as Kim celebrates – he couldn’t do anything with it, but he definitely got there. “I touch the ball! I touch the ball!” Souto explains to the ch/ump. And the chair agrees, saying Kim interefered and the point must be replayed. Kim whacks a ball all the way to city hall. Code violation! From Court 2, Phillip Simmonds yells, “Will you guys stop yelling, please?!” Gotta love Phil.
Ward consolidates his break, and I make a break for Court 5, where it’s 4-all in the third set.
Two consecutive holds to 5-all, but Souto ends the holding streak there: shanks a ball at 15-all then forehands into the net to give Kim two break chances. The muscle-shirted lefty takes the second on a passing shot that Souto frames. At 6-5 30-0, it looks like the Korean will cruise to victory, but then two forehand errors on successive points make it interesting. Parents are pacing. But then Kim gruntily nails an inside out forehand to force a Souto error for match point, and closes it out 6-2 1-6 7-5.
I go watch Simmonds finish his win over Romanian Razvan Sabau 6-4 6-4 and call it a day. Just another boisterous and action-packed outing at the Midtown Athletic Club. All in a day’s “work.” Tune in next time (soon, I promise!), for details of the remaining Westonian happenings, including the doubles-partner duel between Sock and Kutrovsky, and some words from our eventual champion. Then it on to the USA F4 Futures in Palm Coast! It’s a hard knock life.
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?