It was COLLLLLD when I woke up this morning. Like 5-“L” COLLLLLD. So, like a hopeful migratory bird, I decided to travel south from my Treasure Coast dwelling, seeking the greener (clay) pastures of the USA F1 Futures in Plantation, Florida. Alas, I still needed my winter jacket there.
Now, my Northernly Exposed friends probably don’t want to hear me whinge about windy, overcast 50-degree temperatures while their mercury hunts in vain for positive numerals (witness Exhibit A, directly below), but…
…my fingers were freezing up whilst trying to use the ETM*!
But enough about me. (Just know that I suffered for you, beloved readers.)
There were two round one matches I was keen to see on the day, and they both did not disappoint. The first featured 19-year-old*** American Mitchell Krueger following up a successful 2013 with his first match since early November versus the former Ramblin’ Wreck of a Georgia Tech standout, the 23-year-old Columbian Juan-Carlos Spir.
With both players ranked in the upper-400s, Spir’s penchant for slices and changes of pace, and Krueger’s attack-minded tennis, this first meeting between the two was certainly intriguing on paper.
Krueger won the toss and elected to receive, which seemed to work out well, as the tournament’s eighth seed broke Spir to 15 (actually, the Colombian helped with two double faults as well). Alas, it wasn’t the only break the first set was going to see, as the cold and wind combined for a scene-stealing cameo throughout the day, making first serves a rarity and holds of serve a dicey proposition.
After four breaks of serve in the first six games, the score was notted at 3-all, when Krueger broke to love with a couple of groundstruck winners combined with a Spir double fault and a backhand volley sliced wide. In the ever-so-crucial eighth game, the Dallas teen saved a break point with his nineteenth net approach of the set, forcing a diSpirited backhand error and consolidating his break with a roar.
Blistering winners off the ground from both wings and a perfect backhand dropper gave Krueger two set points. Spir saved them both, getting back to deuce, but Krueger took his third set point when Spir left a ball that ended up dropping in, the Colombian smiling ruefully. Six breaks of serve in all, with Mitch taking four of them. Advantage: wind. With a possible cold violation therein.
In the 2nd set, the Texan raced out to a 3-0* lead, Spir came back to tie it back up at 3-apiece, then Krueger untied it for good with a killer hold-break-hold combo to take the match 6-3 6-3. All in all, the American converted on six of his nine break point opportunities, while Spir was only able to reel in three of his seven.
Afterward, Krueger thought this match would rank pretty high on the Coldest Matches He’s Ever Played In Florida scale. “I think with the wind, too, it was not easy. The way [Spir] played, as well, kind of an orthodox game with a lot of slices and short bounces, along with the wind made it a lot tougher. In these conditions, it’s never going to be pretty.”
Asked about his large number of body serves on this day, Krueger said it’s something he’s been working on recently, mixing up the serve and making it less predictable. “Especially with the wind, it makes it tricky for the guy I’m playing. It’s also a higher percentage play — can’t miss it wide, can’t miss it long.”
The second match I saw featured a battle between highly touted teenage prospects — 17-year-old American Noah Rubin against the speedy Japanese lefty, 18-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka. Rubin had won their only previous match 1 & 4 at last year’s French Open Boys tourney, and indeed the American had a *3-0 two-break first set lead when I joined the match in progress.
Nishioka was able get one break back, but an initially relaxed-seeming Rubin (smiling and saying “Oh no!” at one point when he was wrong-footed to close a game) looked like he’d continue his winning ways with consistent, deep hitting and a lot of action on the ball, his forehand especially jumping off the clay. The John McEnroe Tennis Academy protege closed out the first frame 6-4.
Nishioka provided a surprising plot twist in the second stanza, however, racing out to an early lead and bageling the young American to force a deciding set.
The final frame was a lot closer than the scoreline would suggest, with the Japanese seventh seed saving a break point to hold in the 1st game, and Rubin evening the score by really leaning into consecutive forehand and backhand down-the-line winners from 30-all, with a big yell of “C’mon!”
After a Nishioka hold, the New Yorker saved one break point in the fourth game before the lefty unloaded on a forehand winner to nab his second BP chance.
Serving at 3-1, the Japanese-born player — who trains at IMG Academies (and has done since he was fourteen years of age) — fought through seven deuces and three break points against for a crucial consolidation, the first saved on a drop volley net cord winner, made complete with a tongue wag. To which Rubin responded, “You gotta love it! And in this weather too!”
The rain was pattering down at that point, and I’d switched to my winter jacket, hood (and shields) up. Rubin had game point to try to reduce the arrears, but ultimately netted and deeped a couple of forehands to cede a second break, and Nishioka served out the match to love, 4-6 6-0 6-1.
I’m in town for another go round tomorrow, so if you’re in the mood for another 1,000 words on Florida Futures tennis, I’m your guy****.
*Electrified Tweeting Machine**
***He turns 20 on Sunday, according to his mom. Whom I trust with such factoids.