Category: Wildcard Playoffs

USTA AO Wildcard Playoffs Final Day Recap

Well it’s all over for us crazy tennis fans in 2010.  The Australian Open Wildcard play-offs have finally come to an end here in Atlanta and I must admit that I already miss my friends, the fans, and the players of this wonderful sport.

Personally, this was such an incredible event for me because I was able to meet so many new people who are actively involved in the tennis world in one form or another.  I got to know UVA Senior Michael Shabaz since I was the lucky one to pick him up from the airport, and what a terrific guy he is.  I found out so much about him (mainly because I can’t keep my big mouth shut and I like to ask a lot of questions).  This is what Italian people do by the way, they talk a lot. 

Anyway, Michael is a 23-year-old anthropology major and lives in Fairfax Virginia (a suburb of Washington DC).  As we conversed, and I subsequently bored him to tears, he proudly told me that his grandfather, who was a talented soccer player, went to high school with Andre Agassi ‘s dad in Iran (many decades ago).  As most of you know, Agassi’s father was an Olympic boxer. You can read more detail about that in Agassi’s autobiography “Open”, which I highly recommend by the way!  I learned to love Andre even more than I already did after I read his book, and of course his wife shares my name.  I just wish I could have a modicum of her tennis talents.  Dare to dream …

There is no better way to learn about tennis players then by spending time in the players lounge of any tournament, and the AO WC event was no exception.  I was able to talk to, and listen in on many conversations and it was truly so much fun for me as the huge tennis fan that I am.  I am a huge sports fan in general, but tennis is undoubtedly one of my faves.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I also play A LOT of tennis too. 

Anyway,  in the course of one day I met Ryan Harrison, Rhyne Williams, Jack Sock, Melanie Oudin, Coco Vandeweghe, Jamie Hampton, Denis Kudla, Jordan Cox and Tim Smyczek.  I learned so many neat things about these players.  For instance, did you know that Tim Smyczek  and John Isner are roommates?  They live in Tampa, Fla and train at Saddlebrook together.  And they also just played  in a charity event up at Marquette University in Milwaukee, where Tim is from. 

Coco has a mean game of table tennis, Melanie Oudin is such an absolute sweetheart, and Rhyne Williams is one BIG guy!  When he got up to play table tennis with Kudla, I was like, “Whooaa dude!”  He is very funny by the way.  Ryan Harrison on the other hand was a bit harder to get to know, which at first I took for pretention, but learned that this wasn’t the case at all.  He is a truly a very nice guy, just very serious about his profession I guess.  He was really cracking the jokes on the court and had me in stitches, really. 

So, I have to save one of new favorite players for last I guess and that couldn’t be anyone else but Jack Sock.  Not only is he one of the sweetest young men that you will ever meet, but his whole family and camp are this way.  His brother Eric, his aunts and uncles and his coach, Mike Wolf, were just so gracious and appreciative of everything you did for them. They all must have said “thank you” a thousand times and to be honest, I really didn’t think I did anything to help them, not enough anyway. 

Jack Sock serving one up at the Racquet Club of the South

I can’t wait to see all these young players go out and compete again in the near future.  The Australian Open cannot come soon enough for me, I can assure you, but we have Auckland (amongst others) to look forward to.  Smyczek, for one, will be going to Auckland by the way, and his “roomie” is the defending champion.  When I mentioned to Tim that several top 20 players are now competing in that tournament, he made it very clear that Isner was to have NO problem defending his title.  It was very, very cute.  I definitely backed off at that point and went and got myself a beer, to which Tim replied, “oh could you get me one as well?”  LOL!  To  which I replied, of course, “Regular or lite?”  No, I really didn’t say that; I just said that they all had to go out and play Team Tennis with Patrick McEnroe so it probably wasn’t a good idea. 

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The Australian Open Wildcard semis were nothing short of spectacular today.  The women’s matches were both over in straight sets with CoCo Vandeweghe defeating Beatrice Capra and Lauren Davis defeating Krista Hardebeck.  I watched more of Coco’s match than Davis’ and I’ll tell you what… that Coco is full of fire and spunk no doubt.  And boy is she tall!  She has a tremendous amount of power and Capra did not know how to retaliate against Vandeweghe’s weapons.  Should be a great final between Coco and Lauren Davis starting at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Now on to those fiery men who all brought their goods today for sure.  Jack Sock was unstoppable to say the very least and in such impressive form.  Even after rolling his ankle he managed to close it out in straights against Kudla, and Denis was not playing badly by any means.  I think that just says a lot about Sock; he has the talent, the spirit and the passion to become an elite player.  Mentally he is so stable.  And his touch at the net… beautiful.  He reminds me of someone so much older than an 18 year-old.  So sweet and humble.  One just hopes that he stays that way.

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It’s been a crazy, stormy ride this week, following Tennis Australia’s AO Wildcard Playoff tourney to today’s conclusion. So quite fittingly, I guess, there’s a crazy, stormy forecast for Melbourne today. “Isolated showers, becoming widespread around midday with small hail possible later.” Great.

Regardless of rain, hail or whatever the angry hellfire the weather gods can throw down on the Melburnians, the finals will take place. Only question is: if they’re played indoors (which is the remarkably innovative contingency plan), will they be streamed?

Here’s my hope: there’s some rain early, then a miraculous clearing, so that the towel brigade is once again called into action and I can see this kid again:

I guess there are no child labor laws in Australia?

But, rain or shine, this match will be played:

[1] Peter Luczak vs. [2] Marinko Matosevic: Australia’s number two vs. number three players, #137 and 138 in the world, respectively. The two have never played before, so this final is all about form coming in.

I’ve seen two Marinko matches in their entirety this week – the dicey-at-times 6-4 7-6 (6) win over Michael Look in Round Two and his more convincing 6-4 6-2 win over seventh seed Greg Jones – plus a few of the now-notorious 5.2-second “live look-ins” of his semifinal match, including a miraculous game-long look-in as he closed out Adam Feeney yesterday. And from what I’ve seen, it’s Marinko that has the most impressive form at the moment. He’s cut down on both errors and tantrums, and is hitting with alarming power and precision. It’s tempting to say he’ll just roll right over Luczak in this final.

But I think I’ve seen every ball Looch has hit this week, and though he’s been shaky at times – losing a set in his first match to 16 year-old Luke Saville, eking out a win over ninth seed James Lemke, and saving 4 match points before beating 4 seed Ebden in the semis – you just can never count him out. A dogged and determined competitor to the end, the ever-youthful 31 year-old has an amazing resilience that may end up frustrating Marinko, especially if the match is played outdoors in dodgy conditions.

So I’d say it’s nigh impossible to pick this one (and some fans are thankful for this, as my pick would surely doom the pickee). Heck, we don’t even know where it will be played at this point. What I do know is that I really want to watch this match. So I pray that either the weather holds and the match can be played on our regularly-streamed main court, or that there’s somehow a stream of the indoor court. And I hope that the tennis gods aren’t as angry as the weather gods, so they don’t rain hellfire on my prayer parade.

Update at 11 a.m. AEDST/7 p.m EST: The radar looks grim, but play is on for now. Sounds like they’ll be streaming indoors or out!  Watch here:

The USTA wildcard playoffs have traditionally* been a showcase of the American tennis “young guns”, but yesterday’s quarterfinal results saw the established order within the up-and-coming ranks get outgunned and, er, outyounged (with apologies to Donald); only one of the top four seeds advanced to today’s semifinals, and even he is merely 18 years of age (third seed Ryan Harrison). Indeed, of the remaining “men”, the oldest among them is 19 year-old University of Tennessee sophomore Rhyne Williams, with the other three just barely out of juniors.

Regardless of what happens in today’s matches, if I were General Manager of USTA Player Development Patrick McEnroe I’d be very pleased with this particular quartet. For one thing, Williams’ presence shows that PMac’s pushing the college game more to the fore is by no means a foolhardy endeavor. Moreover, the fact that UVA’s Michael Shabaz fell just short of making it two wins in two matches vs. Harrison shows that college tennis is becoming an increasingly viable option when it comes to helping shape the future of the American professional game. John Isner’s success might not be as anomalous and outlying as the big man’s height is after all.

And the ever-more-youthful demarcation even within the up-and-coming demographic here goes some way toward showing that American NextGen is coming up fast. Not to get too carried away on the results of four matches and four individuals, but I’m just saying: as portents go, it’s not half bad.

So, pre(r)amble aside, let’s have a look at the Final Four and their semifinal matches:

Jack Sock vs. Denis Kudla: Sharp-brained readers and tennis enthusiasts will recall that this is a rematch of the US Open Junior final, which Sock won 3-6 6-2 6-2, but did you know: they’ve already met one more time since then? Of course you didn’t; that’s why you come here to read my wildly informative words!  You see, Jack also beat Denis about five weeks ago on clay 7-5 6-4 in the first round of the USA F30 Futures, which is as different a setting from his previous win as can be imagined (this is especially true for people with terrible imaginations).

Despite Sock’s recent dominance, Denis is is actually the higher-ranked junior (#21 to Jack’s #32) and professional (#493 to #872). He’s also also older by five weeks, in case you’re wondering. What does this all mean? I have no idea. Suffice it to say that the Kudla, who beat 4th seed Jordan Cox 6-4 6-3 in the previous round, is not going to be a pushover. However – and this is not a prediction in any way – I would not be surprised in the least if the big boy from Lincoln, Nebraska, who upset top-seed Donald Young 7-6(3) 3-6 6-4 in the first round, continued his winning ways here. Either way, should be a heckuva match.

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What an amazing day of tennis at the Racquet Club of the South today!  I was not able to see the ladies play, but I was able to go around the club and see all four of the men’s matches. Rhyne Williams really brought his A game but to be honest I really wasn’t expecting anything less from him.  He is fresh off his win from the Intercollegiate Championships in N.Y. and honestly when I saw him in person, I was a little taken aback.  He’s very tall and very quick on his feet.  He is going places for sure and is someone to keep your eye on.  Williams beat the second seed Tim Smyczek 6-4, 6-0. Wow!

Williams with Coach Chris Woodruff after his win. (photo courtesy of Volstennis twitter)

The match that I saw the least of was Denis Kudla and Jordan Cox, but I sat and watched them play table tennis in the players lounge after their match.  Such unpretentious guys and very eager to answer any questions that I put to them.  Cox is now living in Florida at Bollettieri’s Academy and Kudla is training in Boca right now, but still calls his home Northern Virginia and loves it here.  Kudla will next play Jack Sock in the semifinals.

Speaking of Sock, Jack was on fire today.  He was up 4-0 in the first set and then hurt his hip somehow and I could tell it caused him some discomfort.  Young came back after that, and the match ended up going three sets.  Young lost the match with a double fault and then smashed his racquet into the ground not once, not twice, but three times to really make certain it was broken.  What was so inspiring to me during that match was Sock’s passion. The fist pumping, the C’mon’s!  I absolutely loved it and it was so much fun to watch.  What a cute, cute kid he is, and boy does he really have some talent.  America should be so proud to call him our own.

The final of the four matches was the Ryan Harrison and Michael Shabaz battle. Those two went head to head and Harrison had match point in the second set, but Shabaz refused to surrender and killed the ball to take it to a tiebreak. It was such a fun match to watch.  Harrison is as passionate as Sock but probably has a little more arrogance about him than Jack.  It was good though… all good.  Harrison is very sure of himself and that confidence is going to take him far, no doubt.

So, the semi’s start tomorrow at 1 p.m. EST on Sat.  I am so excited to see these matches so stay tuned for more fun and awesomeness to come!

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