Tag Archive: Alex Ward


Challenger Tennis Week Five In Review

Subtitled: Seriously – How Freaking Awesome Were My Previews? (A: Very.)

I know, I know. Challenger what now? For a site with “Challenger” in the name, I’ve sure written very little about them this week. I’ve been suffering from a bad case of Futurebrain (much worse than bed head, I’m afraid), but will be back to yammering daily about the challenger circuit soon. In the meantime, will you settle for this weekly summary instead? You have no choice, really. I’m just asking to be polite.

But seriously – how freaking awesome were my previews? (please see answer, above.) Let’s take a look at what actually transpired in this past week’s three events, and match it up to what I said would happen beforehand. This will be an exercise whose worth can be computed only on a scale of my own awesomeness. Ready? Doesn’t matter:

Courmayeur

I wrote:

“I’m pleased to see Lithuanian #2 (behind “Richard” Berankis, of course) Laurynas Grigelis has made it through qualifying…I would tell anyone who listened back then that Laury played well above his then-521 ranking. Less than 11 months later, my sentiment has been somewhat borne out as Grigelis will likely enter the Top 400 next week.”

So guess what? Turns out Grigelis made it all the way to the quarterfinals, and his ranking will be at a WATCH-worthy366 (or so) when the new rankings come out in about five minutes. You see? I’m smarter than even I thought I was! (Hard to imagine, I know, but it’s true.)

Grigelis, at right, with some other Lithuanian dude, laughing in awe re: my amazing intelligence

Then I wrote:

“A possible quarterfinal in the top section here pits Bolelli vs. fifth seed (and 2011 CT PtW) Benoit Paire… But Matthias Bachinger will probably beat them both anyway. Because that’s just the kind of thing he does.”

So what happened? Well, Bachinger did beat Paire, but couldn’t beat Bolelli because Grigelis had already done so. *feels doubly vindicated* He then beat Big Grig in the quarters for good measure, finally losing to Nicolas Mahut in the semis.

Matthias Bachinger, at left, with friend Daniel Brands, mocking you for doubting my prescience

All the seeds on the bottom half of the draw made the quarters, which is amazing because those are the only players I even mentioned in my preview. Never mind that I was short of time and mentioning the seeded entrants was the most obvious way to do the fastest preview possible. The important takeaway here is that I mentioned four players, and all four of them made the quarterfinals. Remark-a-balls. (Let the official record show those players were: Martin Klizan, Gilles Muller, Jerzy Janowicz and Olivier Rochus.)

Mahut went on to beat Muller 7-6(4) 6-4 in the final, which is fine because I mentioned him too.

All results!

Kazan

I wrote about top seed Conor Niland’s dodgy lunch. Then he withdru with the flew.  Coincidence?  I think not.

I wrote about there possibly being an upset in the Marius Copil vs. three seed Alexander Kudryavtsev match. And then he went on to win the whole damn tournament (he beat fourth-seeded Andi Beck 7-6(6) 6-4)! I mean, how’s that for an upset?! Nevermind that that’s not what I predicted, specifically. Or that I bunched his upset possibility with the fates of two other combatants, neither of whom came through as I’d insinuated they might. The point here is: I’m awesome. (Remember?)

Marius Copil, the Romanian Roddick, a long time ago in a completely different tournament

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As happens with every tennis event, the population of players dwindles as the week progresses. Thankfully, with a vibrant scene at the Midtown Athletic Club in Weston, the USA F3 Futures final weekend is conducted amidst hordes of regular racquet club attendees, who healthily pad the population of appreciative locals that come out to see the event. In fact, there is some kind of convention in the gym on this Friday that forces players to slalom their way through the throngs to the locker room.

The first match of the day is a compelling quarterfinal contest that pits touted 18-year-old talent Jack Sock against his doubles partner, 23-year-old Bulgarian All-American (a rare combo) Dimitar Kutrovsky. What may be surprising to some readers is that Kutrovsky had won all three of their previous matches – which may or may not have been what led Jack to start referring to Dimi as “The Bulgarian Nightmare” in the first place. I’d research the timing of that particular nickname, but I’m short of time myself. Heading into this 4th head-to-head of theirs, Jack had forged an impressive 6-4 6-2 win over Denis Kudla, while Kutrovsky had come back from way down in both of his previous matches.

It’s a remarkably un-Floridian-seeming day in the alleged Sunshine State. “Cool, overcast, breezy,” I write on Twitter. A friend tweets back: “Covergirl.” Heh. Sock holds serve from deuce to start, and then Kutrovsky backhands wide and short (aka in the net) but also hits a service winner to stand at 15-30. He comes in behind an ill-advised drop shot and Sock passes him with a backhand down-the-line slice for two break points. Paging Ken Rosewall. Kutrovsky throws all the weight in his 5’9” frame into a patented Bulgarian Nightmare-ish two-handed forehand to save one, and Sock then shanks a forehand, deucing it up. Dimi lets Jack off the hook, though, netting forehands on consecutive points to give up the break.

The Bulgarian has a bit of a ‘mare himself in the next three games, as Sock holds to 15, then breaks at 15 with a perfect drop shot, and holds again in a game that features a superb drop shot/passing shot retrieval. 5-0 to Jack Sock. On the Twitter, I pose the following question: “Will Dimi stage his 3rd straight amazing comeback or will Jack beat his 2nd straight DK-initialed opponent?” It’s a fascinating proposal, no? As I tweet it, I think, “I bet Kutrovsky has Sock right where he wants him, if his first two rounds are anything to go by.” I almost tweet that too, but I have notes to take.

Kutrovsky is struggling to get his tennis ball on the scoring toteboard, but two Kutrovsky aces from deuce get the job done. “Good serves,” says Jack magnanimously, still up a double break.

Kutrovsky Gets On The Board

In the seventh game, my mischievous suspicions are beginning to actually pan out, as “The Tar” (another J-Sizzle nickname) fires off forehand winners and deep returns, breaking Sock to *2-5. Alex Ward, who’s stretching for his upcoming match and watching parts of this contest with me, tips me to the fact that Dimi drinks from a tennis ball can during changeovers, which – if true – is one of the more awesome rituals I’ve yet heard of. I try to get a picture of it, but I think Kutrovsky’s on to me, as he never does it when I’ve got him in my Canon’s crosshairs.

Serving at 3-5 0-30, Jack’s starting to get agitated. “So while I’m serving he can run back and forth? That’s legal?” he asks the chair of Kutrovsky, seeking every edge as ever. He nets a forehand for 0-40. “Oh my God,” he says, and whacks a ball into the backstop. Dimi is once again becoming Jack’s Bulgarian Nightmare, as he breaks again to put the first set back on serve. “Just as I suspected,” I tweet, “the Kutrovsky comeback is on. He wins next 4 games and serves at 4-5. Typical.”

At 4-5 30-all, Sock slices a forehand into the net. “Are you serious?” he asks. Me? Not usually, no. Thanks for asking. Kutrovsky has a point for 5-all but Sock hits a serious smash for deuce. “C’mon!” Dimi crosscourts a forehand winner for another game point, and now we have dueling “C’mon!”s, only Kutrovsky doesn’t do it with quite as much gusto. The Tar smothers a backhand into the net, deucing things up again. The next point is a good one, both guys trying to find and work over the other’s backhand until Kutrovsky down-the-lines to the open court, with Jack favoring his ad side and scrambling to get to the forehand that he hits just long. The traditional clay-court mark-circling ritual ensues.

On his third game point to level the first set, Dimi hits a ball onto the tape that just hovers and hangs tortuously over the net before falling back on Kutrovsky’s side. “Two words:” I say to A.Ward, “Bru tal.” “Isn’t that one word?” he asks. “Don’t get technical with me,” I fake-snipe, “I’m the writer here!” Ward smirks and goes back to stretching.

Sock forehands into the net for a 4th ‘tar game point. Kutrovsky forehands into the net to deuce. Damn – who wants this thing? Answer: both of them, probably a bit too much. Tight game. Dimitar double faults to give Jack set point, but Sock backhands into the net to deuce. Dimi presses the reset button and double faults again, amidst more mark-circling contentiousness. On set point number two, the net cord is once again cruel to The Nightmare, propelling the Bulgarian’s forehand wide for a 6-4 Sock set.

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After the Jack SockDennis Kudla match (as recounted here), I head on over to the incongruously-placed bleachers between Court 6 and Court 7, mostly because I developed an abiding appreciation for Dimitar Kutrovsky’s game while watching him play the day before against Dennis Zivkovic, and partially because it’s the only place I can park my lazy butt and lean back as I watch the tennis – the Court 7 fence providing spartan but adequate support, and since I’ve struggled with a herniated disc, any backing at all is a welcome one.

Kutrovsky, the 23-year-old University of Texas standout from Bulgaria, plays two-handed off both sides (though he can go one-handed off either) and has a nice-looking, compact game and an intuitive-seeming court sense. He had already come from way down against Zivkovic in the first round, saving match points before winning 0-6 7-6(3) 6-4, and I catch him extracting himself from a fairly deep hole against veteran 27-year-old Todd Widom, breaking Widom as he serves for the match up 6-4 5-4.

I had last seen Widom on a livestream two years before as he played David Ferrer on an outside court at Indian Wells, but against Kutrovsky he’s playing only his fifth match in the past year, and at times he seems a bit detached, a bit bemused by it all, although perhaps this is an intentional affect to keep from getting too wound up. And though there are way too many differences in their games for me to make an embarrassingly lazy comparison between Ferrer and Kutrovsky, allow me just this one contrivance: I think both of them get a lot of mileage out of their respective games for not being the tallest guys in the world.

Anyway, Kutrovsky holds at 5-all and then Widom serves to try and force a tiebreak. He quickly finds himself down two set points against the three-time ITA All-American, but staves off the first with an ace and the next with a measured-almost-guided backhand down the line into the corner. He double faults at deuce to give Dimi a third set point, but then aces that one away as well. He issues a deep, exaggerated sigh. “Gotta have a little fun,”  he says.  He finally holds after a six-deuce game. Fun!

At *1-2 in the tiebreak, Dimi double faults to give Widom the mini-break, and I’m beginning to suspect I’ve brought bad luck to all DK-initialed players on this day. Up 3-2, Todd inside-outs a run-around forehand winner. “Woo!” he says. But Kutrovsky gets the next four points to lead 6-4*, with two more opportunities to close the second set at hand. He foul tips a backhand return into the high hedge behind court six on the first, then nets an overhead for 6-all. I check the sun, and it’s certainly not in an optimal position for that particular shot. But Widom trades in any momentum he’d have from this turn of events for two forehands long – a very unwise trade, in my estimation. “How stupid is that?” he asks aloud, seeming to agree with me. Second set to The Bulgarian Nightmare (as Jack Sock refers to his dubs partner), 7-6(8).

Over the long break, Todd’s crew tries to gee him up for the long haul, likely knowing his fitness might be a bit suspect. When play resumes in the third set, Widom goes first strike, trying to end points early. A succession of errors put him in a 15-40 spot. “I can’t move that well anymore,” he explains to his sideline contingent. Then he double faults to give the gift of breakage. Certainly can’t end the point much quicker than that, so credit where credit is due.

Meanwhile, on Court 5, all hell breaks loose in the David Souto vs. Hyun-Joon Kim match. Souto’s pitching another fit again, much like he did at the ‘rac. “You’re telling me the ball this out is in,” he yells at the chair ump, holding his hands a foot apart to illustrate and emphasize the extent of the ball’s outness.

Widom, who had lost to Souto the week before, tries to give him some helpful direction from the court next door: “Shut up, already! Give me a break, dude – I’m playing right next to you.”

“You’re not playing the US Open,” the lanky Venezuelan snipes back, “It’s the Futures.” David Souto, I have officially disowned you as a Player to Watch selection, no matter how nice Alex Ward insists you are.  Somehow I’m quite sure Souto will find a way to carry on, despite this potentially crippling career development, haha.

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USA F3 Futures Update – What The Hell Is Going On In Weston?

“So, what the hell is going on in Weston?” you may be wondering, if you’re a particularly curious type. After all, I’ve been going there almost every day since last Friday and have yet to write a damn word about it. But keeping my Westonian insight and experience from the world only increases it as a commodity by making it scarce and in demand, don’tcha know?* And yet here I go cheapening things again by pressing fingers to keyboard.

Well, after witnessing the madness that was the Jesse Witten vs. Daniel Garza USA F2 Tamarac semi on Friday, I hightailed it over to the Midtown Athletic Club in Weston, a gorgeous and sprawling 25-court establishment located off the same lot as the Weston City Hall (which is decidedly less gorgeous and sprawling); the sign on the street literally directs you to the “City Hall/Midtown Athletic Club.” Which is a pretty convenient setup when it comes to enforcing code violations, I suppose. I thought it was strange at first, but after five days I’m starting to kind of like it. If I ever run for office now, it’ll be on a “racquet club for every city hall” platform, I think.

So tennis? Of course. A ridiculous amount of it. Sickening, even. Or maybe that was just the smell of the wet clay – hard to say. The 128 qualifying draw format employed on these USTA Pro Circuit Futures events ensures an orgy of frenzied activity in the early going. On the first days, with 64 matches, no posted court assignments, and no on-court officials, it’s as close to athletic anarchy as one could hope to find at a combination tennis club/city hall.

On the way past one of my favorite signs on the grounds…

…I catch my first recognizable player sighting, and it’s none other than Wayne Odesnik, walking back to the clubhouse, sweaty, towel around his neck. Since it’s only about 45 minutes after his match was scheduled to begin, I just assume that Wayno took Nikki Madregallejo to the cleaners. Turned out, however, that Odesnik retired in the first set tiebreak. Some spectators I spoke with later told me they saw Odesnik actually win that breaker (which wouldn’t be the first time the ITF, the USTA, the spectators and/or the players haven’t been in agreement on the score or even outcome of a particular match). Hard to say for sure either way, and I haven’t yet been able to determine what exactly happened in that one.

I wander out near Court 23-ish to the player check-in and ask annoying questions about court assignments. Then I complete my trek over the spacious layout and plop my ass in the comfy grass near Court 22, where Austin Smith takes on 7th seed Joel Kielbowicz. For those who don’t remember (or never knew in the first place), it was Austin who’s credited with coming up with that infamous B-word on then-girlfriend Melanie Oudin’s sneakers during her spirited US Open run (“Believe”, by the way – I have no idea what you’re thinking). Kielbowicz is a 27 year-old four-year UNLV product with a monster serve. As there are no chair umps and players only sometimes call the score (or call it loudly enough when they do), the only way to determine where one is in a match is by checking the tennis ball scoring devices or by paying very close attention.

I’m not doing a good job of either, but it seems like Smith is handling the heat from Kielbowicz, so I amble away to the opposite corner of the grounds; there, 18-year-old, 12th-seeded 1,068th-ranked Brit Jack Carpenter, semifinalist of the 2009 Eddie Herr International junior championships, is taking on unranked 19-year-old American Kurt Thein. The only other people watching the match are each player’s coach. That is, until the affable Alex Ward comes round the corner.  The 8th seed in the main draw and the funniest sub-250-followed tennisser on the twitter had seen me skulking about Tamarac for the better part of the week, and now here I am in the furthermost corner of the complex at the other place, watching his roommate play quallies. What else was there to do but point and laugh? (Amiably, of course.)

I pick myself up out of my comfy chair to have a chat. I plead guilty to their suspicion that, yes, I am the idiot who’s been tweeting every last bit of nonsense from Tamarac the past few days (although they phrase their accusation in a much friendlier fashion). I, in turn, ask Alex whether Katie O’Brien is still kicking his ass in fantasy footy, but he insists he’s had a good week. He tells me about a race to 500 Twitter followers he’s having with another British player and I promise to aid him in his quest. Later, I send out an urgent plea to my loyal minions (or so I thought) to start following him immediately, but his numbers don’t budge. Come on, disloyal minions – do what I tell you, damn it! You’re making me look bad. The next day, I see him again (the entire Brit crew must be convinced I’m stalking them at this point, but it’s not my fault they’re always at the damn tennis) and I ask, “Ya hit 500 followers yet?” “Not quite,” he says, diplomatically. Anyway, here’s you’re last chance to get in on the ground floor of the next Tennis/Twitter superstar. Follow him, you fools.

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USA F1 Futures Recap – (Ab)normal Service Is Restored

Apologies for my MIA-ness of late – I ran into a little bit of trouble down south (and no, that’s not a euphemism). Nothing big – just logistical snags for the most part. I see that gauloises and Christina Marie did a fantastic job of taking up the “toiling in semi-obscurity” torch I passed to them and running headlong with it into the enveloping darkness. Your checks are in the mail, ladies, but I’ll take it from here!

Well, I know that a few days ago I announced my impending absence/scarcity due to upcoming travel, moving and re-situating, and I know there are no challenger tournaments for the next two weeks… so why do I feel so guilty having been off the internet radar for 2 days? Who knows (and, probably more to the point, who cares)? All I know is, I’m here in Florida, I’m somewhat situated, and I’m ready to type things at you again. Look out, world!

So what have I missed? Tons. Tennis, it turns out, did not have the common decency to cease and desist whilst I was in transit. There may be no challenger events, but I am supposed to be covering the futures these next few weeks, after all. Plus, Australian Open qualifying holds no small amount of interest to Challenger Tennis fans – I’ll be typing more about the men’s qualifiers and what that achievement means later on, I premise.

For now – and finally, in the fourth paragraph (and possibly beyond) – let’s look at the past few days of futures, OK? We’ll start with The Plantation Open aka the USA F1 Futures in Plantation, Florida. Remember that one? It’s the one I was ostensibly supposed to cover for you in person. Well, that ship has sailed now. But let me tell you what went down while I wasn’t around. When I last left you, the Quarterfinals Were Set (actual article headline) – which means that you had to survive without me chaperoning you through the QF’s, semis and finals! I don’t know how you survived, really, but I applaud your courage.

In the quarterfinals, Slovenian Lukas Gregorc put an end to the oft-alleged scourge Wayne Odesnik’s run, 2-6 6-7(5) 6-4. So Big Wayne leaves Plantation $290 richer and with 2 brand spanking new ATP points to call his very own, and I’m not sure where he went after that, as he’s not playing in the USA F2 in Tamarac this week. What I am sure is that an anagram for “Wayne Odesnik” is “Disown Yankee.” Draw your own conclusions about that.

Meanwhile, one of the many Top 500 Dans of British Tennis (Smethurst variety), continued his fine play for the week into the QF’s, upending Phillip Simmonds in a decidedly trouncy fashion 6-2 6-2. Matej Bocko of the Slovak Rep continued his stellar comeback from an 8-month layoff, beating the previously unstoppable-seeming Alexander Domijan in straight sets, 6-4 6-4. And lucky loser Olivier Sajous continued his cinderella story of lucky loserdom with an improbably easy 6-1 6-2 romp over Venezuelan David Souto to round out the final four.

Incidentally, during his stay at the F1 tourney, the 18-year-old Souto wrote one of my favorite tweets of 2011 so far. To friend and player Jose De Armas, he typed: “jose estoy aqui en el imperio! Tu donde estas?” Or: “Jose, I’m here in The Empire! Where are you?” That made me giggle.

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