Tag Archive: Bernard Tomic


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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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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So, it’s the sixth day of the 12 Days of Challenger Tennis Christmas, and it’s only just now starting to occur to me that deciding to do two “Player To Watch” profiles per day over the holiday season wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had. But I’m determined to follow through with it, even though I’m now stuffed with Christmas cookies and on the brink of passing out. I’ve already hedged my bets by reducing my responsibilities to a more manageable one-a-day profile schedule the past couple of days. But normal service should resume tomorrow, with a pair of profiles to fill up your newly-emptied Christmas stockings.

Now, you know what would really help me get these profiles done? If I were to shut up with my stupid introductory paragraphs and actually start, you know, writing the profile – that’s what!

So. Without further adon’t.  Today’s victim esteemed honoree is…  Tsung-Hua Yang of Taiwan!

That’s right! This power baseliner with the booming serve is a former #1 world junior who in 2008 made the boys final at the Australian Open (losing to Bernard Tomic), then won the Roland Garros boys singles title (beating Jerzy Janowicz in the final)…

…won the Wimbledon boys doubles title (with Cheng-Peng Hsieh and getting some revenge over Tomic in the final 6-4 2-6 12-10)…

…and then made the semis of the junior US Open tournament, losing to Grigor Dimitrov. Not a bad year, as junior Slam results go, no? In addition to all of that, just before that year’s USO, Yang made a run all the way into the semifinals of the New Delhi Challenger, an amazing feat for a junior. Thus, in the middle of August 2008, Tsung-Hua concurrently carried a ranking of #1 in the juniors and #470 in the pros – a tremendous accomplishment.

Alas, after that initial splash, things haven’t all gone Tsung-Hua Yang’s way – reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of what happened to Dimitrov after his junior slam success and his big Berdych-beating burst into the pros, taking Nadal to 3 sets, etc. before ultimately struggling on the pro tour for a while. In 2009, Yang put up a very respectable 42/22 W/L record, but most of his wins came on the Futures tour and his ranking only edged upward to #342 by the end of the year.

The new year started auspiciously for young man, though, as he made it through qualies at the Chennai ATP 250 before losing to Robin Haase 4-6 3-6 in the main draw. At the end of January, he put together a nice four-win run in Honolulu, straight-setting his way through qualifying and beating players like Filip Krajinovic and Jesse Levine before succumbing in R2 to Lester Cook.

I had the pleasure of watching Yang play the now-mysteriously-Swedish Nick Lindahl in the final qualifying round of the Delray Beach 250 in February. Here are some of the embarrassing notes I wrote down for that match:

“This sucks. Marinko Matosevic just came in on the first change to root for his buddy Lindahl. He’s sitting next to me but I’m rooting for Yang. Yang is super-impressive from the baseline. Getting the best of Lindy in almost all rallies. Nick’s serve keeping him afloat so far. Two df’s and 2 errors from lindy + two spectacular returns from the former #1 junior = Yang breaks to take the first set 6-4.

“Total role reversal in Set 2. Now Yang’s shots are wild while Lindy hitting w more power and control. Nick up a double break 4-1… Lindahl takes the 2nd set 6-2. If the Yang from the 1st set and the lindy from this set both show up in the 3rd, it will be a great match. Santiago Giraldo just sat right next to me on top bleacher faced in other direction to watch fellow Colombian Salamanca behind me.”

And my notes for that match pretty much end there. I see that Lindahl went on to win quite easily from there, but that’s only when I look up the score. Thank goodness I take notes, because I seriously don’t remember any of that. Actually, I do remember Santi sitting next to me, but that’s it.

So what did we learn from my notes? Not a hell of a lot, I’d say. Other than the fact I was there and for some reason rooting for Yang (probably to piss off my friends, who were all Lindahl fans at the time). So, clearly Yang left a big impression on me, yeah? Do you think I’m not doing enough by making him a “Player To Watch” this year and also need to make him a “Player To Remember” as well? Maybe so.

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2011 Challenger Tennis Players To Watch: Part III

*sings* On the third day of Christmas, Challenger Tennis brought to you: *unsings*

Two players playing, of course! It’s what we’re bringing to you on all twelve days of Christmas, in case you haven’t caught on yet (you’re a bit slow, aren’t you?).  Today is the third installment of our two-a-day, daily profiles of Players To Watch in the upcoming year. Let’s dive right in to today’s feast, shall we? I’m all for avoiding the usual pre(r)amble…

Well, I must say, I wasn’t planning on profiling this particular gentleman until later in the series, but the recent announcement that he’s received a wildcard into the ATP 250 Brisbane International pushed John Millman right onto today’s “2011 Players To Watch” docket. Might as well learn about the player you’ll be seeing (I hope) soon, no?

Truth be told – scandalous confession time! – Millman (aka “The Mailman” or “The Milkman”), was unofficially on my “Players to Watch” list all last year as well. But I’ll be doing the environmentally responsible thing here by recycling him this year. His results and his position also justify such an act.  John first appeared on my radar at the ’09 WC Playoffs, when he made the semis and had a series of very entertaining guest commentator stints in the booth with Rob O’Gorman and friends. With his bubbly demeanor (and his love of crème brulee), my friends and I dubbed him “The Giggling Mailman” and fully embraced this player with the engaging personality.

But “The Giggling Mailman” is someone who achieved some serious results this year. The 21-year-old (and 5 months) Mr. Millman turned in a super 40/22 W/L season which saw him break into the Top 200 for the first time, to a career high of #179 in October. Most impressive of all was his torrid month-long span from mid-September to mid-October, during which he went 14-1, winning the Australia F6 Futures as well as the Sacramento Challenger. In his run to the Sacramento title, John beat Julian Reister in R2 and straight-setted Robert Kendrick in the final, providing evidence that top-hundred talent may lurk just beneath his affable exterior.  He lost his last two matches in the States in October, however, undercut by a revenge-minded Reister (the worst kind of Reister) in Tiburon and the deadly combination of Lester Cook and shin splints in Calabasas.

I was lucky enough to see Millman play against another of my 2010 Players to Watch, Peter Polansky, in the final qualifying round of the US Open this year (he had beaten Marinko Matosevic 2-6 6-1 7-5 in the previous round, which I was not lucky enough to watch in person or otherwise). Though John eventually petered out as the sun set on the National Tennis Center (losing 3-6 6-4 0-6), he picked himself up and went on a nine-match winning streak in Australia soon afterward. And during the Polansky match, John won the hearts of the many fans who had gathered at Court 12 to watch (as it was the last match of the entire qualifying session) with his determined fightback in the 2nd set – and high fiving a ballkid at the net after running down a drop shot was a nice touch, too.

Millman currently occupies the #204 spot in the ATP World Rankings list, which is 102 spots higher than the one he occupied at the start of this year. Though he had a less-than-impressive result at the AO Wildcard Playoff, losing to James Duckworth 4-6 6-7(1) in R2, that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for the extremely likeable Queenslander’s 2011 prospects. As Tennis Hall of Famer and Tennis Australia national selector Todd Woodbridge said yesterday, John “has a phenomenal attitude and commitment to the game of tennis.” I look forward to seeing what The Mailman can deliver in 2011.

For now, though, you should look at the following two videos. This first one is the only I could find of John actually hitting a tennis ball. Sorry about that. I scoured the internet, too – visited the very scariest corners of YouTube and lived to tell the tale. But next time I see him I should take some video, as I had no idea footage was such a scarce commodity. Jeesh.

And even though there is not a single tennis ball hit in the next vid, I urge you to make it through to his superb off-the-cuff analysis of the entire AO Wildcard draw as it unfolded (including some great Sam Groth and Bernard Tomic burns):

Conclusion: it’s just impossible not to support this guy. Go ahead and try.

Oh, and speaking of the scary corners of YouTube – look what I found! That’s right: bonus Andrey Kuznetsov footage (which is tagged “Andrey Kuznetcov”, thus banishing it to the dirty backstreets of YouTubetown).  The racquet toss at :52 is the funniest I have ever seen:

Good stuff!

The next selection from my Players To Watch menu may surprise you, as he’s English. And no one group of tennis players has taken more guff or come under more negative scrutiny than the English boys have. But even though I’m often roundly mocked for doing so, I have not given up in the Search for Great Britain’s Next Top Tim. To surprise (and/or tease) (and/or frustrate) you even more, my pick isn’t even British #2 James Ward. He would be on my list, but J.Ward doesn’t fit my strict “under 23 years old” criteria; poor James missed it by 10 months or so – do give him my condolences if you see him, and tell him that I still believe in him. Thanks.

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The event: Twenty-four of the most talented Aussies who didn’t get direct entry into the Australian Open main draw (aka everyone except for Lleyton Hewitt), fight it out in a 32-draw, single-elimination tournament in Melbourne Park. The winner receives a wildcard for entry into the main draw of the upcoming Australian Open.

The Forbidden:  aka Those Who Were Banned: aka Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly, all of whom were forbidden to participate due to unspecified behavioral transgressions.  Brydan’s woes (racial vilification, outburst in Kalgoorie) are well-documented, but the transgressions of the other two remain somewhat of a mystery.  Although no one’s gone on record as saying so, the fact the Nick Lindahl has chosen to play for Sweden has to be the primary reason for his sanction. As for Dayne Kelly, I have no idea. He’s a funny, boisterous guy, oftentimes not all there on court (similar to Marinko Matosevic in that respect), but I’ve yet to hear what specifically led to his wildcard playoff ban.

The Top Competitors: let’s have a closer look at the top seeds competing for the wildcard prize.

Top seed Peter Luczak: the 31-year-old, 2nd-ranked Aussie behind Lleyton Hewitt, “Looch” has had a fairly rough year, going 25-35 on the season and dropping from his career high of 64 about a year ago to his current #137 in the world rankings. He has not advanced past the quarterfinals of any tourney this year, and lost in straight sets to Rafael Nadal in the 2010 Australian Open.

Second seed Marinko Matosevic: the combustible 25-year-old has had a pretty good year, going 37-24 for the year and achieving a career high ranking of #137 last month. He currently sits at #138 in the world rankings, just behind Peter Luczak.  Marinko qualified and made the 2nd round at Indian Wells (l. Tsonga), and won the Aptos and Calabasas Challengers. He lost in four sets to Marco Chiudinelli in this year’s Oz Open.

Third seed Carsten Ball: the big-serving 23-year-old lefty has had an up and down season, as is usual with the laid-back “American-Australian”. He won the Lexington Challenger in July, which led to a career high ranking of #108 in the world. Since then, however, he has gone 6-11 and dropped back down to #153.  He gave Fernando Verdasco a good fight for three good sets at this year’s Aussie Open before succumbing to the Spaniard in four.

Fourth Seed Matt Ebden: also 23 years old, Matt Ebden has had a fairly decent go of it this season, going 35-24 and breaking into the Top 200 for the first time, achieving a career high of #162 in September. He had a good run at Brisbane to start the year, qualifying and making the 2nd round with a win over Melzer before going down in straights to Gasquet. He made the finals of the Kyoto Challenger in March and won the Great Britain F16 Futures in October. He also made it through qualifying at the ’10 AO before losing three 4-6 sets to Gael Monfils in the first round.  Ebden incurred a training injury from an on-court tumble this weekend, but an MRI on his right hand showed bruising but no fracture and will hopefully have little effect on his game.

Fifth seed John Millman: aka The Mailman (or, as the bawdy Greg Jones calls him, “The Milkable Man”), the affable and determined 21 year old has delivered a super season that saw him break into the Top 200 for the first time as well.  40 wins and 22 losses on the season, Millman had a torrid month-long span from mid-September to mid-October, during which we went 14-1 in winning the Australia F6 Futures as well as the Sacramento Challenger before petering out in his last two matches in the States in October.  The Mailman hasn’t played in a couple of months, but has been training hard with the NA-Brisbane team and should hit the court raring to go, despite the lack of recent match play.

Sixth seed Bernard Tomic: WITHDRAWN. And wasn’t at the draw ceremony. And has played three matches since September. Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm.”

Seventh seed Greg Jones: funniest guy on tour, hands down, but the gregarious 21 year-old has had serious trouble kickstarting his year.  After a super start which saw finalist showings at the Burnie Challenger (l. Tomic) and the Aussie F2 Futures (l. Millman), he made the semis of the Leon Challenger in April and reached a career high of #179.  A series of injuries (including one from a New York City cab accident as he headed to the airport post-USO) have left him limping toward the finish line.  Jones started the year 16-9 but has gone 12-22 since.   One unexpected highlight, however, was his silver medalist showing at the Commonwealth Games, where he lost in the final to Somdev Devvarman.  The tall, big-serving righty had Juan Monaco on the ropes in New Haven, and I think has what it takes to be a Top 100 player.  He lost in the first round of qualies to Ivan Sergeyev at the year’s AO.

Eighth seed Sam Groth: almost the red-headed step-brother to Greg Jones in both game and mannerism (and grunting too, for that matter), the 23 year old has a HUGE serve and a lovely one-handed backhand (Greg has two, if you’re scoring at home) (or even if you’re alone).  Sam’s year is divided into to distinct parts: the first three quarters of the year was characterized by frustration and injury, and then the talented Mr. Groth found his game, going 30-5 for a scorching hot end to the season.  Let’s see if Sam can keep his form going through the playoff (which would mean more of his wife Jarka in the commentary booth all week, so everybody wins).

The entire draw breaks down as follows:

Peter Luczak [1]/Bye
Joel Lindner v. Luke Saville
Mark Verryth v. Jared Easton
James Lemke [9]/Bye

Matthew Ebden [4]/Bye
Maverick Banes v. Benjamin Mitchell
Dane Propoggia v. Andrew Whittington [A]
Samuel Groth [8]/Bye

John Millman [5]/Bye
James Duckworth v. Matthew Barton
Adam Feeney v. Colin Ebelthite
Carsten Ball [3]/Bye

Greg Jones [7]/Bye
Sean Berman v. Jason Kubler
Matt Reid v. Michael Look
Marinko Matosevic [2]/Bye

I’ll be taking a close look at the other matchups as each day progresses.

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