Category: Futures

On a gorgeous, 70 degree day with just the hint of a cooling breeze, the prospect of a final between one of tennis’s most touted up-and-comers and a wily, former Top 100 veteran promised much. And, for two-thirds of it anyway, 19-year-old Kyle Edmund and 31-year-old Victor Crivoi delivered on that promise.

The two had met almost exactly one year ago, with the pair splitting two tight sets before the elder Romanian cruised to victory in a lopsided final frame. So the question was: how much difference would a year make, with the younger Brit having risen about 200 spots in the rankings in that time? The answer, surprisingly, turned out to be: not much.

From an Edmundian perspective, the match unfolded in opposite fashion from his semifinal win against Isak Arvidsson — rather than having to work his fearsome forehand into a good groove, he started out firing on target early and often. And then it started going awry.

But at the outset, the Brit’s favorite shot was working well, and he claimed the first break of the match with an off forehand winner that was anything but off, eliciting a gasp from one of the patrons as he secured a *2-0 first set lead.

Orange Crush - An Edmundian Forehand Blast

Orange Crush – An Edmundian Forehand Blast

But he wasn’t done there. After saving a break point by forcing a Crivoi forehand error, the hulking English teen grabbed game point with an inside-in blast that caused a young father standing courtside to issue forth an impromptu, under-breath review: “wow!”

Wow indeed. He held for 3-0*. (Kyle, not the father.)

The fourth game featured a bit of a mild controversy, as the 31-year-old veteran pulled a 0-15 backhand crosscourt wide, only to walk up the sideline and point to a mark from Edmund’s previous shot that he claimed was wide.

After examining the mark, the chair umpire reversed his original call, giving the point to Crivoi instead. Kyle rightly pointed out that Crivoi had played on and hadn’t stopped the point to challenge where his opponent’s ball had landed. Nevertheless, the point was deemed in the Romanian’s favor, and he held to 30 to join Edmund on the scoreboard.

The next two games just seemed like the 6’4” Beverley boy was showing off; two aces and two forehand winners to hold for 4-1*, then another three forehand finishings to break for *5-1. This had all the makings of a rout, and Edmund had 10 outright forehand winners in the first five games in addition to the assorted times he’d forced his foe into errors from that wing.

But the top-seeded Crivoi, currently ranked #232 but with a career high of #75 in 2009, was not to be finished off so easily. A wily tactician, he began exploiting Kyle’s ad-court shading by deliberately playing backhands down-the-line into Edmund’s forehand corner, catching him out and stretching him wide, forcing errors. Two such rallies, as well as two forehand miscues from the Brit, contributed to Crivoi getting one of the breaks back.

With Edmund’s initially reliable forehand leaking errors, and Victor’s variance of the rally patterns (including a few drop shots creeping into the mix), the 31-year-old chiseled his way back to level in the 1st set at 5-all. Serves were held, and a tiebreak undertaken.

In the buster, the Brit ceded a mini-break with a netted backhand volley (a shot that plagued him the few times he attempted it), and went down 0-2*, only to reel off the final seven points for a — any guesses? That’s right! — 7-2 TB win. The last three points went: Edmund down-the-line forehand winner, Edmund service winner, Edmund forehand crosscourt winner. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

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It’s finals day at the USA F3 Futures in Weston, FL, where top-seeded Romanian Victor Crivoi is set to meet fourth-seeded British upstart, Kyle Edmund. 

Edmund comes in riding a nine match win streak, having taken the title at last weeks USA F2 event in Sunrise. The 31-year-old Crivoi has had almost as good a start to his year, posting a 7/1 record thus far for 2014, his only loss coming to another teenage up-and-comer, 18-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka from Japan.

The two have a history, with Crivoi coming through a 6-3 6-7(4) 6-1 encounter at last year’s USA F1 tournament in Plantation, Florida.

Both players downplayed the importance of last year’s meeting, however. “I can’t remember too much of the match,” the 19-year-old Edmund said, “But I don’t think it’s going to count for too much because it’s a year on, and a different venue.”

Crivoi added, “Yeah, we played last year. I won, but he was young. He improved a lot.”

Both players overcame scratchy patches in their semifinal matches yesterday, but they each finished strong. It’ll be interesting to see what difference, if any, is made one year on.

“He obviously came through a tough one [in his semifinal],” Edmund said, “which shows he’s playing some good tennis under pressure. So yeah it’ll be a good match. But I’m playing well, and hopefully I can go out there and try my best. That’s all I can do.”

“He won last week,” Crivoi countered, “so he’s in good shape.”

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.

Arthur De Greef Sets Up For a Forehand

Where’s De Greef? Here He Is, About To Connect on a Forehand

 Crivoi subsequently served out the set.

Put A Torque In It: Crivoi in the Midst of his Famous Two-Step Serve

Put A Torque In It: Crivoi in the Midst of his Famous Two-Step Serve

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.”

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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…

Cation v Plantation

Cation v Plantation

…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.

A Spirited Attempt At A Service Hold

A Spirited Attempt At A Service Hold

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.

And Hands Were Shaken

And Hands Were Shaken

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.”

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As the number of worldwide pro tournaments dwindles — last week there were just six Futures events, this week four, and next week (gasp) only one* — the number of point-gobbling opportunities likewise dwindles.

Those who are still playing this deep into the season and who go deep into tournaments are thusly rewarded with larger-than-usual ranking gains, as the rest of the tour largely stands put.

A lot of those players find themselves on this week’s W.A.T.C.H. List:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Mohamed Safwat EGY 23 200 Egypt F35 W
David Souto VEN 21 215 Venezuela F9 SF
Germain Gigounon BEL 24 238 others lost points
Jose Checa-Calvo ESP 28 240 Spain F42 W
Juan Ignacio Londero ARG 20 278 Venezuela F9 W
Yasutaka Uchiyama JPN 21 282 Thailand F5 SF
Adrian Sikora SVK 25 295 Spain F42 SF
Edward Corrie GBR 25 298 Turkey F48 F
Borna Coric CRO 17 332 Thailand F5 SF
Andrew Whittington AUS 20 372 others lost points
Pedja Krstin SRB 19 379 Egypt F35 F
Alexey Vatutin RUS 21 387 others lost points
Ivan Arenas-Gualda ESP 23 393 Spain F42 SF
Luis David Martinez VEN 24 396 Venezuela F9 F
Sam Barry IRL 21 410 Qatar F3 W
Liam Broady GBR 19 471 Qatar F3 F
Ramkumar Ramanathan IND 19 502 Cambodia F2 W
Karunuday Singh IND 23 509 Thailand F5 F
Martin Cuevas URU 21 523 Brazil F19 SF
Pedro Cachin ARG 18 545 Chile F10 SF

Tops on this week’s List is Mohamed Safwat. The 23-year-old Egyptian number one took home his tour-leading ninth title of the year at the Egypt F35 Futures, beating fellow Lister Pedja Krstin 6-4 7-6(1) in the final. Safwat is 77/25 in the 102 matches he’s played this season.

He was only 4/9 in the challenger events he played this year, however. It will be interesting to see if he can break through on a level other than Egyptian Futures next year.

Safwat Fare

Safwat Fare (pic courtesy of Game Set Match Egypt)

Our next winner on the List is Jose Checa-Calvo, as his Spain F42 Futures win bounced him up 16 rankings spots to #240 of this week’s dance card.

Bounced Checa (at left with finalist Andrea Basso)

Bounced Checa (at left with finalist Andrea Basso)

The 28-year-old Spaniard (now the Spanish #22), whose surname translates to “bald Czech” in English, has won six titles out of nine finals this year. He’s gone 74/30 in his 104 matches in 2013, but like Safwat has found difficulty at Challengers, going 3/9 at that level this season.

Our next winner on the list — and last to be featured, because I’m officially on vacation — is Juan Ignacio Londero. The 20-year-old Argentine beat three seeds on the way to his second title of the year at the 15K Venezuela F9 Futures event in Caracas.

Londero had a better time of it in Challengers than Safwat and Bald-Czech, going 15/8 at that level in 2013.

Londero Calling

Londero Calling

As such, he was a strong candidate for this year’s Challenger Tennis Player to Watch honors, but didn’t end up making the cut. Hopefully he is not too devastated by this egregious snub, and will continue with his up-and-comingness into the new season.

*Tennis got dangerously close to having an off-season here.

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