After a two-week hiatus during which my own body let me down, I decided to drive down to Weston, FL to see what all the healthy people were up to. Some of them, it turns out, were at the Midtown Athletic Club contesting the semifinals of the most prestigious* of the first four stops on the USTA Pro Circuit Futures tour.
The first guys to be thrown into able-bodied court combat were the top seed, 31-year-old Romanian Victor Crivoi, against his decade-younger opponent, the third-seeded Belgian Arthur De Greef. This would be a rematch of their only previous meeting, another semifinal encounter on these very courts last year, when Crivoi was the one on getting the grief, receiving a 2 & 1 thrashing at the hands of the youngster.
Crivoi, currently ranked at #232 but with a career high of #75 in 2009, entered the match with a 6 win, 1 loss record — that loss attributable to Yoshihito Nishioka — while this is the first tournament of the year for de Greef, the 21-year-old former Top 20 junior and Orange Bowl finalist.
There was not much to distinguish the two from the outset, scorewise — both guys saved a couple of break points early, and serves were held through the first seven games. Gamewise, De Greef flights the ball with more height over the net than Crivoi and an almost Nadal-like amount of topspin off his forehand side, while Crivoi’s shots penetrate a bit more zippily and the Romanian looks for opportunities to come forward often. And while the Belgian can smack his first serve a fair bit, it hardly ever seemed to trouble his veteran opponent, who put a lot of returns into play.
De Greef apparently thought the eighth game was as good a time as any to break himself, so he set about accomplishing the task with two backhand unforced errors sandwiching a forehand miscue from 15-all.
Crivoi subsequently served out the set.
The second set unfolded much as the first did, with both men saving a break point in the early stages, until the sixth game, when Crivoi lost control of his forehand to the tune of some shanking and smothering. De Greef hit a terrific inside-in forehand winner to set up three break points, but only needed the one, and the Belgian went on to take the second frame 6-3.
The third set was also decided by a single break, this one secured by Crivoi in the sixth game when his Belgian foe started forehanding a little too lengthily, yielding two break points. Crivoi cashed in the first with one of his many forecourt junkets, forcing his Belgian foe to miss his forehand pass attempt just wide.
Though he’s far from being a seeming relative of Oscar De Grouch, De Greef is quite a chattery fellow who’s prone to some bouts of self-berating shouts. To be fair though, both guys had their share of extended, impassioned soliloquies on this day as they battled on the Weston clay. But it would be Crivoi’s day in the end, fittingly closing out the match with an overhead for a 6-3 3-6 6-3 win.
I asked Victor why he seemed so hellbent on getting to net and he said, “I’m doing this with such players because it’s my only chance and the key to results. I have to save some energy because I had a tough week. I didn’t play good. This is the first day I could feel the ball. I tried to do my best because normally I got cramps in the end of the set so my only chance was to be very aggressive. I lost to [De Greef] last year 1 & 2 in the semifinal and I tried to make my revenge.”
The second semifinal was a somewhat more straightforward affair, this one between my third Player to Watch for 2014, Kyle Edmund, and Swedish qualifier Isak Arvidsson. Edmund, last week’s USA F2 Futures champ, entered the arena on an eight-match winning streak while his opponent had racked up seven straight wins in coming all the way from quallies to the semis. Something had to give in this, their first ever meeting.
And at first it was both of them doing the giving, as the initial set yielded four breaks in total. Break number one came with Arvidsson serving at 1-all, when the 21-year-old Swede sportingly scratched out a mark from a 30-all Edmund forehand that had been called out, conceding that the ball was in fact good. All parties agreed the point should be replayed.
Except for the chair umpire, that is; she was confused as hell. Eventually it was sorted, and the 19-year-old Brit claimed the replayed point with an inside-in forehand winner and then grabbed the break when Ardvidsson dumped a backhand into the net.
Serving at 3-2, Edmund dug himself a 0-30 hole with backhands wide and netted, and Arviddson broke to 15, getting the set back to even terms. But it was the Swede’s backhand that let him down from ad-in the very next game, widing and deeping before his teenage opponent forced him into a forehand miss. From there, the 6′ 4” Briton’s forehand started to click, as he forced more errors from his opponent, holding and breaking to close out the first stanza 6-3.
The second set was probably more to the liking of avowed F1** fanatic Edmund, as it was all one-way traffic. His way. From 1-all, the Brit reeled off five consecutive games to take the match 6-3 6-1. The unforced errors that littered the stat sheet in the first frame gave way to more controlled, effective aggression.
“I played pretty good, I think. I just kept focused, and I was just playing solid tennis, not going for anything too fancy, too risky, playing a high level but basic stuff. And then the second set was obviously an easy scoreline, but same focus,” said Edmund after the match. “And I served pretty good today, so yeah it was pleasing.”
Asked whether he felt his forehand coming into better focus as the match progressed, he said, “Yeah, definitely. I mean, you always sort of do that. You get a feel for conditions, and then you relax and settle down a bit more. When you start you’re always a little bit nervous, a little bit tense, but when you start to feel the ball then you’re right in a groove. And at the end I was playing very freely, so it was good.”
*my own designation, based on ranking cut-off and lavishness of facilities.
**Formula One racing, not the first Futures tournaments played in any given country