Tag Archive: Marinko Matosevic


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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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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It’s been a crazy, stormy ride this week, following Tennis Australia’s AO Wildcard Playoff tourney to today’s conclusion. So quite fittingly, I guess, there’s a crazy, stormy forecast for Melbourne today. “Isolated showers, becoming widespread around midday with small hail possible later.” Great.

Regardless of rain, hail or whatever the angry hellfire the weather gods can throw down on the Melburnians, the finals will take place. Only question is: if they’re played indoors (which is the remarkably innovative contingency plan), will they be streamed?

Here’s my hope: there’s some rain early, then a miraculous clearing, so that the towel brigade is once again called into action and I can see this kid again:

I guess there are no child labor laws in Australia?

But, rain or shine, this match will be played:

[1] Peter Luczak vs. [2] Marinko Matosevic: Australia’s number two vs. number three players, #137 and 138 in the world, respectively. The two have never played before, so this final is all about form coming in.

I’ve seen two Marinko matches in their entirety this week – the dicey-at-times 6-4 7-6 (6) win over Michael Look in Round Two and his more convincing 6-4 6-2 win over seventh seed Greg Jones – plus a few of the now-notorious 5.2-second “live look-ins” of his semifinal match, including a miraculous game-long look-in as he closed out Adam Feeney yesterday. And from what I’ve seen, it’s Marinko that has the most impressive form at the moment. He’s cut down on both errors and tantrums, and is hitting with alarming power and precision. It’s tempting to say he’ll just roll right over Luczak in this final.

But I think I’ve seen every ball Looch has hit this week, and though he’s been shaky at times – losing a set in his first match to 16 year-old Luke Saville, eking out a win over ninth seed James Lemke, and saving 4 match points before beating 4 seed Ebden in the semis – you just can never count him out. A dogged and determined competitor to the end, the ever-youthful 31 year-old has an amazing resilience that may end up frustrating Marinko, especially if the match is played outdoors in dodgy conditions.

So I’d say it’s nigh impossible to pick this one (and some fans are thankful for this, as my pick would surely doom the pickee). Heck, we don’t even know where it will be played at this point. What I do know is that I really want to watch this match. So I pray that either the weather holds and the match can be played on our regularly-streamed main court, or that there’s somehow a stream of the indoor court. And I hope that the tennis gods aren’t as angry as the weather gods, so they don’t rain hellfire on my prayer parade.

Update at 11 a.m. AEDST/7 p.m EST: The radar looks grim, but play is on for now. Sounds like they’ll be streaming indoors or out!  Watch here:

http://live.tennis.com.au/

The final weekend of Aussie Wildcard Mania is upon us! And what a wonderful ride it’s been, as ever. Four men remain, as is the case with most semifinals. Lets have a look at who’s playing who, with some whats and whens and wherefores thrown in at no extra cost (other than your patience). First, let me lay down some OOP action:

Melbourne Park – Crt 6
   1. Starting at 10:00 AM AO Women’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Knockout Draw 
Olivia Rogowska [5]
Sophie Ferguson [2]
       
   2. Followed by AO Women’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Knockout Draw
Alicia Molik [1]
Jelena Dokic [3]
       
   3. Not before 12:30 PM AO Men’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Peter Luczak [1]
Matthew Ebden [4]
       
   4. Followed by AO Men’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Adam Feeney
Marinko Matosevic [2]

Our first semifinal features top-seeded veteran Peter Luczak against the rising-star fourth seed Matt Ebden (yes, you can be 23 and still be a rising star in men’s tennis; I proclaim it to be so! Plus he just turned 23 so get off my case JEEZ!). Ahem. These two have only met once, in the bronze-medal match of the Commonwealth Games in October, which Ebden won 6-3 6-3.

I happen to have watched both of Luczak’s matches this week – an unconvincing 6-2 4-6 6-2 win over 16 year-old prodigy Luke Saville and a tight 6-3 7-6(5) victory over 9th seed James Lemke – as well as the light hit he had with his 4 year old-son, Sebastian.

In his first match, the 31 year old Melbourne resident looked shaky and inconsistent, as perhaps befitting of a man playing his first match in almost a month. So unimpressive was his opening round performance that some people were strongly convinced he’d go down to Lemke in the next round (of all things!). But the #2 Aussie tightened up his game just enough to take advantage of a nervous start from his quarterfinal foe, and though the match was even, had enough wiles to just squeak through. Luczak hasn’t had the most convincing of years, going 25/35 coming into this event and slipping 73 spots in the ATP rankings since attaining his career high of #64 in October of last year.

On the other hand, Matt Ebden broke into the Top 200 for the first time this year and hit a career high of #162 in September, and he came into the event with almost exactly the reverse W/L record to Luczak at 35/24. But “the other hand” turned out to be the main problem coming in, as the man from Perth took a training tumble last weekend and badly bruised his right hand to the point where he couldn’t pick up a racquet for days, which even put his playoff participation in doubt. Thankfully, he was able to play, and though I’ve only seen 60-second snatches of his matches this week, it seems as if he’s been working himself back into form. He recovered from huge deficits in both sets of his encounter with young Ben Mitchell and pulled out a 7-6(5) 7-6(3) win in a nifty escape act. In his QF match he also had some work to do, coming back from a set down against the red-hot Sam Groth – a man many were picking to win the entire playoff coming in – and advancing in 2-6 6-4 6-2 style.

Interestingly, Luczak and Ebden will be playing doubles together in next month’s Open. “I have so much respect for him as a role model and a mentor,” the unassuming Western Australian said about his semifinal foe. “It’s hard (playing a friend) but at the same time…you’ve just gotta go out there and try to get the best out of each other and the best out of yourself and put it on the park and try to win.” And how. While they may be friends off the court, it seems as if the tennistical trajectories for both men have been going in opposite directions on the court all year long. Will this be the match where the younger Perth man further asserts his ascendancy?

The second match features the combustible second seed Marinko Matosevic against unseeded New South Welshman Adam Feeney. This will be the sixth on court encounter for the two 25 year-olds, and the fiery Matosevic has won 4 of their 5 previous meetings. As Marinko pointed out in a hilarious interview with Rob O’Gorman…

The Legend, Rob O’Gorman, broadcasting from the Rob O’Gorman Memorial Scaffolding

…right after his comprehensive 6-4 6-2 quarterfinal win over Greg Jones, he hasn’t lost to Feeney “in five or six years.” Make that six, Marinko, as Adam won their first encounter in November of 2004 and hasn’t won one since.

On paper, this looks to be an easy affair for the 2nd seed. But on that same paper, Feeney wouldn’t have beaten Colin Ebelthite, third seed Carsten Ball or James Duckworth in successive rounds, which he did and did and did. So THE PAPER LIES, PEOPLE! Don’t believe a thing it says!

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