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.