Tag Archive: Hyun-Joon Kim


(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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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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