Day two of qualifying at the Delray Beach ATP dawns as spiffily as the day before. Play starts at noon, so it’s already nice and toasty by the time this day’s matches begin. I start out watching last week’s San Jose doubles champ Rajeev Ram take on top seed Blaz Kavcic, but none of my pens want to start the day with me – they all refuse to write and are seemingly out of ink. Crisis! Are all my pens protesting? Is my writing so awful that they just refuse to cooperate? (Don’t answer that.) Regardless, I find my friend Paul in the crowd and he gives me a nifty felt tip jobber, which I later exchange for some ball points with his lovely wife. So those two get all the credit/blame for the following report. Thanks you guys!
What? Tennis? Sure. Speaking of ball points… Kavcic plays some unbelievably good, scrambly backhands early. The 23-year-old Slovenian – who won his first round match at the Australian Open against Kevin Anderson in his coach’s shoes after his pair ripped and he didn’t have a spare – scurries all over the court, as ever (and presumably in his own shoes). He hits some superb passing shots, ultimately breaking Ram in the fourth game with a low and reaching backhand crosscourt pass and a grunt of maximum effort.
Blaz’s court-blazing ways are on full display in the first set, and people around me are all checking their OOP sheets, saying “What’s this guy’s name again?” To Ram’s credit, he sticks and carves some nice-looking volleys and gets the break back when Kavcic suddenly can’t find his forehand while serving for the set at 5-3.
Blaz cracks his racquet to make it pay for its forehandular transgressions. But the scruffy Slovene breaks right back, as Ram cedes the next game thanks in part to a double fault and some forehand errors. First set to the top seed 6-4.
I’ve seen all I need to see of this match, as Blaz seems unbeatable on this day, so I go check on Matty Ebden. Things are not going so well for the man from Perth – he’s down a set and a break to second seed Igor Kunitsyn and seems disheveled (TM Brad Gilbert). The 23-year-old Western Aussie – who reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane beating Denis Istomin– is unforced erroring off the ground in a way I don’t usually see from him.
Sure enough, Ebden calls for the trainer after the fifth game and gets his right knee tended to. Magic knee spray is applied (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term for it) as well as some tape, and Ebden gamely but gimpily forges forth.
He’s clearly off form in the next game, netting out-of-position backhands, as Kunitsyn holds to 4-2. The 29-year-old Russian is playing fairly well, and might be beating a fully up-to-snuff opponent as it is.
But Ebden’s snuff is clearly not up, and though he grittily saves a match point on his own serve – after double faulting at 30-all and coming up gingerly – Kunitsyn closes him out 6-3 6-4, and will meet seventh seed Marinko Matosevic in the final qualifying round.
Meanwhile, I look at my awesome ATP scoring app on my phone (thanks for the tip, @txcollege10s!) and see that eighth seed Donald Young has beaten Victor Estrella 6-3 6-4 and Kavcic finished off Ram 6-4 6-3. The fact that these matches end simultaneously is awful for me, as it means the next matches will begin concurrently, and I’ll probably miss two more matches. Bummer. I had put in a request earlier in the day to interview Sam Groth should he win his match against third seed Jan Hajek, so I stay out on Court 5 after Kunitsyn’s win to catch Grothy’s exploits.
Say what you will about the big red-headed Australian, but Groth brings maximum entertainment for your tennis dollar. His on-court personality is as explosive as his serve, and he always lets you (and his opponent) know exactly what’s going on in his mind. I think it’s a detriment to his game, personally, but it’s always a spectacle to watch. Plus the Grothawk is still blazing in all its bleached-blonde glory.
Hajek wins the toss and chooses to receive, which seems fairly insane to me, but what do I know? Groth greets him with an ace out wide – how do you do! Jarmila Groth’s husband is making the people next to me crack up with his post-point requests for the towel. He’s using the word to both celebrate a good point – “Towel!” – and as a substitute epithet whenever he loses a point – “Towel!” It is pretty hilarious.
To add to this match’s spectacle there’s a growling dog behind the far baseline’s fence, making its displeasure known throughout the contest. Awesome. Serving at 1-all and having missed an overhead and an easy forehand, Groth exclaims, “Two of the worst shots in the game ever – towel!” He holds anyway.
Hajek gets a break point at 3-all, but Groth erases it with a service winner. “C’mon! Towel!” he exhorts. (I’m not making this up, I swear.) All in all, Groth serves a staggering 13 aces in the first set – over three games worth. The 27-year-old from the Czeck Republic just smiles or shrugs after most of them fly by. What can you do?
Hajek finds himself down two set points after double faulting to 5-6 15-40, but Groth misses on two volleys and Hajek holds to force a tiebreak. “How many volleys can you miss?” Sam asks himself. “Too many, that’s how many,” he answers.
Groth starts off the breaker with a service winner on the second delivery. “Towel! Focus, focus!” he yells. The Melbourne man gets a mini-break and aces to 4-1*. Hajek holds his two serves then gets the mini-breakback with a cracking off forehand return to 4-all. Groth bounces back with a tremendous one-handed backhand pass up the line. “C’MON!!!” he screams, and is so pumped he forgets about the towel.
Hajek holds fast with a backhand volley and a service winner. Facing his first set point serving at 5-6, Groth double faults and hurls his racquet into the net. Er.
The third seed starts the second set with one love hold, and Groth starts his first service game with a quadruple fault. Hajek’s cheering section applauds wildly, saying “Fight! Fight!” “Yeah, fight fight on my double faults,” Sam snipes back, understandably miffed. Groth is all agitated and aggro now. He’s disturbed by the ball kids standing in the wrong place and by their rolling the balls between first and second serves. He misses a forehand volley long and is broken, then he smacks a ball into a nearby palm tree with a surprisingly thunderous thud. That’s a code violation, right there. That ball has done been abused! The chair ump is not amused.
Hajek wrong-foots Groth at 30-all 2-0. “I’m too big for this sport,” the Aussie offers. But he breaks back anyway, as Hajek nets some forehands and the net cord steers another one wide. Serving at 15-all, Sam misses a swinging backhand drive volley and poses the following question, presumably to himself: “Are you crazy?” He quickly finds an answer: “You must be.” Man. Sam is so talented but he gets in his way so often. He’s like the Phillip Simmonds of the ATP tour (and kudos to you if you understand that reference, loyal reader). Groth nets a forehand volley, strokes a backhand wide and is thusly rebroken.
Things proceed apace, as things often do, and the big Aussie (I don’t have the metric measurement, sorry), finds himself down match point at 2-5, so he aces. Problem solved! “That’s how you save match point!” he sagely instructs. Hajek nails a backhand crosscourt pass to bring up another MP. Sam doesn’t take his own instruction and instead saves it with a drop shot. Groth serves and volleys on a second ball and the Czech mails an inside-in backhand return right past him. Match point number three. Groth responds with two aces.
Hajek is reading the returns a a lot better now, as he passes on another Groth second-serve-and-volley foray for match point number four. Saved with? An ace, of course of course. Groth drop shots into the net, probably just to see if he can ace away another match point. And he does he does. And then holds with another ace and a nifty backhand smash, though not in that order.
At this point there is a huge contingent of Aussies looking on – Matosevic, Ebden, Mark Woodforde among them – and the Oz man is now en fuego. He hits a perfect, scintillating backhand winner up the line for triple break point as Hajek tries to serve out the match. And that’s a no go for the 3 seed, as he nets a backhand and we’re back on serve. Ay yi yi.
Meanwhile, I look at my scoring app and see that Ryan Sweeting has beaten Jack Sock 6-4 6-0 and I am thus deprived of seeing Sock’s final singles point of the Florida swing I’ve followed him on all this time (he’s in the doubles with Donald Young though). Dumb, dumb, dumb decision on my part, but hey – I can’t be everywhere at once and I’d already put in the interview request.
But enough about me. How’s that tennis going? Hajek’s contingent is trying to get under Sam’s skin by deliberately “Fight! Fight!”ing every time he double faults. As in this game. But he holds anyway to 5-all. But then the second seed holds and breaks and takes the match 7-6(5) 7-5. Yet another in Groth’s long line of (possibly self-imposed) heartbreaking losses.
I run off to catch what turns out to be my last match of the day: Frank Dancevic against fourth seed Lukas Lacko. Fancy Dancer is in fine form, going up an early break with a couple of crowd-pleasing backhands. “Better than Federer,” I hear uttered in the crowd. Ha!
Something seems lacking in Lacko’s play today, as he’s susceptible to a rash of forehand errors here and there. Better see someone about that rash, Lukas! Dancevid takes the first set 6-4.
In the second set, many serves are held. At 5-all 15-all, Dancevic serves and Lacko hits a backhand long. Only problem with that is it’s not called out. Oops. “That ball was 8 inches out,” the Canadian protests. The guy next to me is apoplectic – “That ball was way out!” he shouts at the chair ump’s back. The ch/ump turns around and asks the crowd, “You wanna switch places?” “Yes!” some the the crowd emphatically replies. Bad move, ch/ump. Bad move.
Lacko tries to take advantage, lacing a forehand down the line to put Dancevic in a 15-30 pickle. But then he backhands long, and Frank serves and forehand volley winners, then aces to snuff out the threat. For a close match, there’s surprisingly little drama or intensity other than the above exchanges. The 26-year-old former World #65 player – still on his way back from an awful back injury – scores the only upset of the day, closing out the 4th seed 6-4 7-6(3).
I rush over to Court 4 to try and catch some of the match between Alejandro Falla and Alex Kuznetsov, but I only get there in time to see the sixth-seeded Falla win the match on a cruel, dribbling net cord, 6-3 6-3. So that’s the day done, then. Tune in tomorrow for more splendid tales of the final qualifying round, plus details of wildcard Ryan Harrison’s first round match against France’s Florent Serra. Should be good!
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?