Category: ATP 250

Delray Day Three: First Round and Final Qualifying

The days just keep getting hotter here in Delray, and so does the tennis action. /cheesy opening line

The 81 degree heat (27 Celsius) may have even claimed a victim or two, my wimpy relocated Northern self among them. I had just the tiniest bit of heat exhaustion, I think. I stayed away from the Andy Roddick common-cold-and-cough press conference (remember when he listed those 16 ailments in all the US Open Novak Djokovic verbal jousting a few years back? Hilarity.) and I still felt unwell afterwards! Lame, I know.

Anyway, at 11am play began, with top seed Blaz Kavcic trying to advance to the main draw over eighth seed Donald Young (who, not coincidentally, was also trying to advance to the main draw. Funny that.). I was expecting a tough contest, but it didn’t turn out that way. Kavcic got an early break at 1-all, when Young sandwiched a double fault between two missed forehands, and the 23-year-old Slovenian converted his first break point on a forced error from an angled Blaz backhand.

The crowd tried to get behind The Donald throughout the match, but to no avail. Young was a picture of anguish throughout the encounter, seeming ultimately frustrated, downcast and dejected. Serving at 1-3, he was broken again thanks in part to a couple of netted backhands and a missed forehand sitter. He tossed his racquet to the chair, down a 1-4* double break. Kavcic was just superior in every way on this day, especially with his trademark scrappy movement, running forehands and offensive backhands from defensive positions. The top seed closed out the first set 6-2.

Young started anew with serve in the second, but it was more of the same. A netted backhand, a Kavcic running-forehand-down-the-line passing shot, a Young racquet toss, and a couple of missed forehands. Broken again in the first game of the second frame. “I’m playing like a girl,” Young opined. Blaz was constantly catching Donald out with serves to his lefty forehand as leaned to anticipate the righty serve to his backhand, resulting in a lot of service winners for the Slovene. Kavcic extracted himself from a 0-30 hole serving at 3-1 with a couple of those. “That’s the fifth time now!” Young shouted after the second one in the game. Well, Donald, my notes show a few more times than that, but at least you’re onto him!

Of course, Kavcic heard Young shout that bit of revealing information, so what did he do next time he was in trouble on his serve? That’s right: service winners to the backhand. Keep your cards a little closer, Donald. Jeez. Kavcic saved two break points serving at 3-2 and held. Donald comported himself in a lengthy, thoughtful squat after that game.

Serving at 3-5, Young all but gave up: after a huge Kavcic crosscourt pass with extra gruntage and a follow-up fist, the 21-year-old American still-hopeful hopelessly shanked a forehand, double faulted, and then sayonara. Kavcic over Young 6-2 6-3.

A poor effort from Donald, but guess what? Due to three withdrawals (not only Roddick, but Julien Benneteau and Radek Stepanek also bailed), Young advanced to the main draw anyway. Last night he tweeted: “Sometimes God puts you in the same circumstances over and over again until you learn from it and change! Make the most of the nxt chance..” I hope for his sake he rights the ship in his second-chance first-round match against fifth seed Kevin Anderson in the first round. It’s a tough ask, but at least we’ll hope for a more positive effort.

I was able to run over and catch the final set of seventh seed Marinko Matosevic’s comeback 1-6 6-3 6-3 upset over second qualifying seed Igor Kunitsyn. It was an impressively mature effort from the heretofore (and probably still) combustible Aussie. Serving at 4-3 15-0 in the third, an overruled call went against him. But instead of losing his shiznit, as was his previous method of handling such situations, he just mildly made his case, visibly collected himself, and fired a service winner. “Ajde!” the transplanted Bosnian-Herzegovinian shouted, looking over at coach Mark Woodforde, who is no doubt a stabilizing influence. Or at least trying to be.

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Delraving In Delray – Day Two Qualifying Adventures

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.

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Delray Day One – aka Aussie Wildcard Playoff Redux

The day dawns warmly and beautifully at the ATP 250 Delray Beach for the first day of qualifying action. It’s so toasty, in fact, that this February day in South Florida offers a reasonable facsimile of what I’d imagine Australia was like around, say, the Tennis Australia Wildcard playoffs. Not content to merely imagine, I proceed to track down every Aussie on the grounds throughout the day, it seems.

I arrive early and scavenge the practice courts. First and best stop of interest is out on Court 6, where none other than International Tennis Hall of Famer Mark Woodforde is out with new charges Marinko Matosevic and Matt Ebden, helping them with their serves (note: they’re all Australian). “Use the same setup when you go down the ‘T’,” he advises Matosevic. “Gotta get that disguise.” Matosevic scolds himself for each little technical transgression but is very supportive of Ebden.

In the first match of the day, I see Ebden put that serve to good use, as he faces 2010 Easter Bowl champ, 17-year-old Bjorn Fratangelo, who received a wildcard into qualifying. Ebden serves five aces and just one double fault, connecting successfully on seventy percent of his first deliveries, and winning 79% of those.

Ebden serves vs. Fratangelo

Fratangelo is overmatched, sure, but it’s among the more impressive less-than-an-hour defeats I’ve seen in a while. If that sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, I don’t mean to be. He hits some terrific-looking backhands, displaying excellent footwork, balance and technique, outright catching the man from Perth flat-footed on a few. Good movement and the occasional ripping forehand, too (although he seems a bit more inconsistent off that wing).

Ultimately, though, the Western Australian is just that much stronger and steadier, on serve and otherwise. He advances 6-2 6-3 to the next round, where he’ll face second seed Igor Kunitsyn, a 7-5 4-6 6-2 winner over Tim Smyczek.

I watch a bit of Smyczek, who looks good in the set I see him play (I’ll let you guess which one that was), then move to catch top-seeded Blaz Kavcic against the popular Ecuadoran, the 28-year-old Giovanni Lapentti. From Smyczek to Kavcic – seems poetic enough to me. Oh, wait. Back up a bit. While watching Smyczek, I’m treated to the unintentional hilarity of well-meaning fans accosting poor Woodforde while he watches yet another Aussie, Mr. Samuel Groth, fire some first balls.

One gent tells Woody that he got his autograph at Disneyworld in 1999. Another quizzes him about long ago matches vs. the Bryan Bros. “Do you remember that match?” the beset upon coach is asked. “Yeah, we played them a few times,” Woodforde answers patiently, while trying to do his job. Good man.

OK. Kavcic. Lapentti. What can I say? Blaz blazed through the tired-looking younger Lapentti bro, taking some time to gripe along the way, as per. The 23-year-old Slovenian is one of those players whose venting just amuses me (though not in a Joe Pesci way). With others’ negativity, there’s a real sense of menace. With Blaz, it’s just what he does. The Courier-esque baseliner, currently on a career high of #83 in the rankings, displays his usual tenacity and scrambling – with bits of skill and volleying thrown in for good measure. The net result is all kinds of not bad – he advances 6-2 6-2 and will play Rajeev Ram in QR2, who won 7-5 6-2 over local fave and wildcard winner Eric Hechtman.

As today is turning into an Ozsome theme day, I check in on how Matosevic is faring against 28-year-old South African Raven Klaasen.

That’s So Raven

Under a watchful Wood(e)y(e), he’s playing haphazardly, as has been the case for 2011. At 3-all in the third set, he looks up at the chair umpire. “Score?” he inquires. Then he ma-tosses in three consecutive service winners from 15-0 and flashes a cheeky, little-boy smile to his coach, like, “Look what I just did!” He reels off the next eight points to win the match 7-6(1) 3-6 6-3. Amazing how he can just seem to click his game “on” sometimes and thereafter look unbeatable. He’s similar to Alex Bogdanovic, in that respect. When it’s all going right, you think, “How is this guy not Top 50? Top 25?” It seems so effortless. Sadly for them (and possibly for us as well), it hardly ever all goes right.

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ATP-reaching: Delray Beach

Yeah, I know this is a Challenger and Futures-oriented site. But one of the many things I’m interested in regarding the players who compete at those levels is how they do as they try to break through into the top tier (believe it or don’t, I continue following players’ careers even after they break into the Top 100). The place for them to start doing this, obviously, is the ATP 250 tourneys.  And unless they’ve scored a wildcard, they start reaching for that next level, usually, in the qualies. Ah, how I live for the quals – to me, it’s almost more interesting to see who can fight through to the main draw of an ATP event than it is to see who wins that actual event (yes, I know I’m strange).

This weekend (and all throughout the upcoming week), I’ll be covering the ATP Delray Beach event for both this site and for Tennis Panorama News, with an eye on the guys trying to ascend to the ATP Tour. To whet my appetite for the hi-falutin’ ATP 250 life, I thought I’d peek in tonight and get my bearings, having recharged my batteries all week (sorry, kids, but Meknes just put me right to sleep) (well, that and a cold/cold medicine).

For those who don’t know, Delray is the only event at which the pros and the old guys Champions converge: John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Todd Martin, Mark Phillippoussis, Aaron Krickstein, Jimmy Arias, and Mikael Pernfors all going at it, round robin-style, from Friday (i.e. tonight) through Tuesday, while the whippersnappers battle it out in a more straightforward kind of way all the livelong week. And for those who do know, feel free to skip this paragraph. Oops – too late. Psyche.

And if you resent me for making you read about the Champions Tour on a Challenger website, feel free to also skip the following pictures of a Mardy Fish-besocked Mats Wilander hitting tennis balls on Atlantic Avenue with two peeps from the crowd. (Please note: I left before John McEnroe showed up; I’m still smarting from his over the top tirades from last year’s event – I mean, I know that’s his shtick these days, but he was much worse than he ever was in his pro career.)

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Hey guys?  Remember when I quoted Conor Niland in this post, the one with the terrific article about the Irish #1?  Well, allow me to do it once more, with feeling:

People just don’t understand the depth of talent out there. They see a guy ranked 100 and think ‘oh he can’t be very good. He must be a part-timer’. But there are guys in the 700s and they’re seriously good players. I’m not just saying that. It sounds a big number but there are hundreds of good tennis players. It’s a bottleneck. Everybody’s trying to beat each other. Everybody’s looking for the same thing.

Conor Niland, Seriously Good Tennis Player

I believe his point has been proven once more, in the form of the talented and hard-working Australian Matt Ebden, 23, ranked #196 in the world.  Matty, you see, just took out the 8th seed (and world #40) Denis Istomin to advance to the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International ATP 250.

Check out the highlights here.  Some spectacular play from both men.  Keep in mind, though, that Mr. Ebden is ranked just inside the Top 200 as you watch:

Now, I confess: I think Ebden is currently ranked beneath where his true talent and potential will eventually take him.  But allow me to claim (t)his success in two ways: 1) yet another illustration that Challenger Tour players are seriously good. And ii) men’s players are peaking at much older ages than ever before.

When I made my Challenger Tennis Players To Watch series (which, btw, is still in progress and shall resume after this week’s challenger events are completed), one of my selection criteria was that a player had to be under 22 years of age.  So, while I think there are loads of Top 250 Aussies who have Top 100 potential (and went with John Millmanwhom Ebden edged 4-6 6-2 6-4 in the 1st round), I was not allowed by my own arbitrary criterion to chose Matt as a PTW.  I know this sounds like opportunistic hindsight and/or Thursday morning quarterbacking on my part, but – I really wanted Ebden on my list, but he was “too old” at age 23 (and 4 months).

Well, the joke’s on me.  My feeling is, ATP players do not have to be in the Top 200 by age 22 in order to have Top 50 or Top 20 potential, even.  I’ve seen Ebden play a ton, and I know what he’s capable of.  And I also know that what you saw in that video above, you can see in Heilbronn, or Charlottesville, or Noumea, or wherever the challenger circuit may lead. 

Sorry if I’m sounding preachy.  Suffice it to say that Ebden’s win is a nice, concise symbol of everything I blather about so lengthily here. And of what Conor said above.  Don’t sleep on these guys in the Top 200.  In fact, go out to a Challenger or Futures event and see them for yourselves.

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