Tag Archive: Benjamin Balleret


(continued from Part I, of course)

Semifinal day arrives quickly in Weston, and so does the end for the final seed left standing in the tournament, Benjamin Balleret. The fourth seed from Monaco wins the coin toss for his match against unseeded Jack Sock, but that’s about the only thing he wins on this day. Balleret, in the lime green highlighter shirt that seems all the rage of late, is not playing highlight reel stuff early – sluggish, lethargic and somewhat apathetic seeming.

Benjamin Balleret

By contrast, Sock is slugging away, hitting the ball crisply, and the 18-year-old races to a 3-0 first set lead. In the 4th game, there are some balls Balleret hardly moves for, but he acquits himself from no man’s land with a half-volley forehand flick, and Jack obliges with a few groundstroke errors. Benji is on the tote board! Alas, two easy Ballererrors from 30-all in the next game help Sock maintain his break advantage. At 1-4, the 4th seed forehand volleys wide then throws in two backhand errors for variety. Jack breaks for a second time with a running, flat forehand crosscourt pass from deep in the court, then serves out the set despite losing the point on another cheeky tweener (which is the same term I use for flatulence, by the way). First set Sock, 6-1.

Jack Sock

I’ll spare you the grizzly details of the second set. Suffice it to say that, 2 minutes after I tweet, “Balleret must have a plane to catch. Something’s up with him – either injury or disinterest or both. Playing so casually,” Balleret retires and Sock is through to the finals, 6-1 3-0 ret.

After the match, I ask Jack if he knew what was up with Balleret, but Benjamin didn’t tell him, I guess. I tell him he seemed sharp, even if he didn’t need to be. “I can only focus on the things I can control,” he says sagely. He’ll go far, that one. Certainly to the USA F3 finals. Possibly beyond.

“Jack Sock aka J Sizzle was sharp today advancing to the singles and doubles final in Weston, Florida,” Coach Mike Wolf later tweets. “Time to bring your best on the weekend.” Hmmm. About that last part, Coach…

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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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This first U.S. men’s pro tournament of 2011 is unfolding in a most unusual fashion; all of the second rounds have been played at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation Central Park, and not a single seed is left standing. There are no seeds even left leaning or squatting.  Remarkable.  Let’s take a look at some of the surprising results:

Luka Gregorc SLO #464 d [Q] Andrea Collarini USA #580 7-5 6-1. Even though the 26-year-old Slovenian had ranking and experience on his side, I’m somewhat surprised that the 18-year-old ex-Argie and current 2011 Challenger Tennis Player To Watch, Andrea Collarini, was handed his first loss of the year in this match. I mean, sure, occasionally Gregorc’s been known to string together some wins – such as when he beat Jose Acasuso, Ivo Karlovic and Andreas Seppi on his way to the semifinals of the Pilot Pen New Haven in 2008 – but the big guy hasn’t made it past the 2nd round of any event since the Ojai Challenger in early June of last year. He also had a sub-.500 record on clay the past five years. Meanwhile, Collarini usually does quite well on the dirt. So, yeah. Tennis. It’s a weird game sometimes.

[W] Wayne Odesnik USA d [Q] Thomas Cazes-Carrere FRA #582 6-3 6-2. I’m sure you’ll find enough coverage of this result at other sites and outlets. I’m here to chronicle and celebrated the unsung athletes, remember? And, at least for the moment, Mr. Odesnik is well-sung enough. Moving on.

Dan Smethurst GBR #497 d [Q] Christian Harrison USA 5-7 6-4 6-1. So end’s Christian’s comeback after a year-and-a-half layoff, but there’s a tremendous amount of upside for the 16-year-old’s efforts this tournament: four wins, his first ATP point, and a set off of a very underranked (in my opinion) main draw opponent. That’s a terrific foundation from which he can continue rebuilding.  Meanwhile, if Smethurst can just become more consistent in this new year, I expect him to be a Top 300 player and start moving up to Challengers later this year.

Smethurst, Doing His Best Gulbis Impersonation

[Q] Phillip Simmonds USA #570 d [6] Roman Borvanov MDA #431 6-3 6-2. Another upset on paper, but not in my mind (that said, hardly any matches ever play out properly in that particular venue). Heck, Simmonds once racked up junior dubs titles with World Team Tennis stalwart Scott Oudsema and was a two-time Coffee Bowl finalist, taking sets off the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray back in the day. Dude’s got more than a little bit of game.

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USA F1 Futures Update – Plantation Open First Round Results

All of the first round matches have now been played at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Florida, and the scores have finally been postedAnd there are lots of interesting results to chew on:

[Q] Andrea Collarini USA #580 d [1] Jesse Levine USA #289 4-3 ret. – A forearm injury for the top seed, here. But 2011 Challenger Tennis Player To Watch Andrea Collarini is now a perfect 4-0 for this season, having come through qualifying, so I’m feeling pretty good about that pick right now. Thanks, Andrea, for making me look good! The Americanized Argentine will play Slovenia’s Luka Gregorc (#464) in the next round. Gregorc beat qualifier Chris Kwon (#844) 6-4 6-0.

W] Wayne Odesnik USA d [Q] Teodor-Dacian Cracian ROU #602 6-2 3-6 6-3. For some reason, people are paying a lot of attention to this unranked player. I won’t do that (for now). Odesnik will play the formerly Sideshow Bob-haired qualifier Thomas Cazes-Carrere #582 in R2.

Dan Smethurst GBR #497 d [4] Nicholas Monroe USA #348 7-5 7-6(5). The 20-year-old Brit is, I feel, much better than what he’s currently ranked. Coming off a fairly abysmal 29/24 season in 2010 that saw his ranking slide 160 spots from a high of #337 in May, this win sees the inconsistent former Top 30 world junior start the year in a direction more reflective of his promise.

Conversely, Nick Monroe is someone who ended his 2010 campaign with some promising results, winning 9 straight Futures matches in Canada in September and qualifying for the main draw of the Knoxville Challenger, making it all the way through to the semifinals before going down to Kei Nishikori. This obviously won’t be the start he was looking to have, but as I said, Smethy is a better player than his ranking and I don’t think this result is as much of an upset as it looks on paper.

[Q] Christian Harrison USA d [W] Jeremy Efferding USA 6-4 7-5. While older brother Ryan was off playing strip tennis with Michael Llodra, John McEnroe and Henri Leconte, Christian racked up his first ATP point here. Normally this would be a good achievement in its own right. But considering the 16-year-old is returning to competition here after being sidelined for 18 months, I’d say it’s a fantastic achievement.

[Q] Phillip Simmonds USA #570 d [Q] Andrei Daescu ROU #814 2-6 6-4 6-2. OK, this wasn’t a very interesting result. But that’s just because the 24 year-old Simmonds has been near the Top 200 in his career and is by far the more experienced campaigner. Hey – how many interesting results do you need in the first round of a 10K Futures, anyway? Tough crowd! Moving on…

[6] Roman Borvanov MDA #431 d Daniel Garza MEX #454 6-0 6-4. An unusually lopsided score, for two players ranked so close to one another (Garza just missed being seeded here). Sure, the 28 year-old Borvanov has now won the last 7 matches against his 25 year-old opponent, but 4 of those matches have been 6-4 in the third or closer. This one wasn’t.

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The final qualifying round of the $10K USA F1 Futures has been played, and here are your results:

Christian HARRISON (USA) defeated Thai-Son KWIATKOWSKI (USA) 6-3 6-1
Dennis ZIVKOVIC (USA) (2) defeated Jack CARPENTER (GBR) 6-3 7-6(5)
Andrei DAESCU (ROU) (11) defeated Olivier SAJOUS (HAI) (3) 7-6(9) 2-6 6-3
Phillip SIMMONDS (USA) (4) defeated Alexander RITSCHARD (SUI) 7-6(5) 6-2
Andrea COLLARINI (USA) (5) defeated Daniel KOSAKOWSKI (USA) (9) 6-4 6-2
Thomas CAZES-CARRERE (FRA) (6) defeated Devin MULLINGS (BAH) 6-2 6-3
Teodor-Dacian CRACIUN (ROU) (7) defeated Jan KUNCIK (CZE) 6-3 6-7(2) 7-6(2)
Chris KWON (USA) (12) defeated Marcos GIRON (USA) 4-6 6-3 6-3

Ryan’s little bro making a name for himself, getting through over the precocious 15-year-old KwiatkowskiZivkovic continues the kind of play that saw him reach the semis of four Futures events last year, again at the expense of a game, young British competitor (he beat Oliver Golding in a tough first round on his way to the Mexico F8 semis this past November).  Sajous, the Plantation-based local fave who lost to Wayne Odesnik in the wildcard tourney, takes a tough loss at the hands of erstwhile Oklahoma Sooner Andrei Daescu.  Challenger Tennis 2011 Player To Watch Andrea Collarini with a decisive victory over UCLA freshman Kosakowski. 

Collarini has now drawn top seed Jesse Levine in the main draw.  I’m excited to see how Andrea fares in that one.  Zivkovic goes from second seed in quals to facing the main draw second seed in the form of Mr. Alex Bogdanovic.  Daescu slated to meet Simmonds in the main, in a Q v Q clash.  Harrison gets to test his mettle against fellow promising junior Jeremy Efferding.  Craciun gets a crack at Odesnik in the first round.  And Kwon gets the big Slovenian Luka Gregorc.

Other notable main draw Round One matches:

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