Tag Archive: Phillip Simmonds


USA F4 Palm Coast – The Coast With The Most

On Thursday I pack up my Futuresmobile and head up from Vero Beach (where I’m currently stationed) to catch the USA F4 in Palm Coast, which is about a four hour drive north from where the previous three Florida Futures events have been played and is the last of the events on this FL winter swing. I know I’m getting in the right area when I see this marquee about two miles from the Palm Coast Tennis Center:

Simply swinging, eh? Do you think they chose that show as a promotional 10K tennis tie-in? Probably not, huh? Doesn’t stop me from stopping to take a picture of it, though. And boy, you can really feel that four hours of northitude in the air. And yes, I know – if there’s one thing that really iced my cream when I lived up North, it was people in Florida complaining about “the cold” where there’s no snow to contend with, no sub-freezing temps, no arctic wind chill, etc. But on this Thursday, people are wearing full on winter jackets (as opposed to half-on winter jackets), and in some cases are wandering around in what look suspiciously like Snuggies.

I head for the bathroom of the quaint Palm Coast Tennis Center and am immediately confronted by yet another sign:

You’ll no doubt be happy to know I rated a “3”. What? Tennis? OK. Lots of that around the facility. And I had already missed a lot as well. The first rounds played out over Tuesday and Wednesday with a few very surprising results. For one, USA F3 Weston champ Phillip Simmonds lost to 17-year-old Czech Jan Kuncik, ranked #1676 in the world, 6-3 7-6(6). Wowzers. Seventh seed Denis Kudla also lost a tough one, 4-6 6-4 6-7(3) to F3 dubs champ Soong-Jae Cho. All in all, it was a terrible tourney for the seeded, as only three of the top eight players advanced into the second round – (3) Matt Reid, (8) Razvan Sabau and top-seed Greg Ouellette.

It was the latter whose match I’m here to see first, as he’s paired up in a lefty battle against none other than Wayne Odesnik – making his comeback, of course, from a substance-related suspension. Wayne had lost one match to F1 eventual champion Luka Gregorc and had to retire against Nikko Madregallejo in Weston, but was otherwise undefeated on the year. I’m interested to hear how Wayne is received, and he gets a smattering of applause from the hearty assemblage of spectators. Ouellette, a bigger local fave, receives a much healthier hand for his intro, but Wayno doesn’t get shut out in that regard.

On court, however, it seems he might. Get shut out, that is. Appearing very nervous, Wayne double faults thrice and gives up his initial service game, while Ouellette holds from 0-30 with two service winners and an ace wide. Down 2-0, Odesnik gets on the board when the top seed nets two backhands from 30-all, and then gets even as Ouellette makes four unforced groundstroke errors in the next game. Already there’ve been three over-fifteen-stroke rallies in the match.  Greg gets it to deuce on Wayne’s service game at 2-all, but Odesnik is starting to settle in and rip the ball. He hits three outright forehand winners and forces two more errors off that wing to take his first lead of the set, 3-2* on serve. Ouellette is broken to 15 in the next game and gets a very strictly-enforced code violation for ball abuse – for whacking it into the net.

Though Ouellette plays a nice game to break back to 3-4, he doesn’t win another in the match. Odesnik is just in his own stratosphere, gamewise; it becomes quickly apparent that Ouellette can’t do anything to consistently trouble the 25 year-old, while Wayne is hitting the ball very deep, hard and heavy – it’s a level of tennis I’ve yet to see on the Florida clay these past few weeks, for all the good ball I’ve seen. Even acknowledging that Wayne was a Top 100 player, there was no guarantee that he’d come back match tough or be able to handle his nerve or be in this kind of form.

After the match, Wayne tells me that he hadn’t played Greg since they were about 13 or 14 years old (they grew up in Florida juniors) and though he didn’t remember the results, he remembers always having trouble with him. “He started out well today, and conditions were a little different, so I’m glad it went my way.” I asked him to compare coming through the Futures circuit again now as opposed to when he was first coming up. “When I started out I was 16 or 17 years old, so I was still learning and I was one of the new guys. Where now, hopefully I’ll just play a couple more Futures and that’s it for me, and then I’ll go back the a challengers and ATP events. But the court doesn’t change – there’s a court, there’s a ball and there’s an opponent, and that’s it. And that’s all I’m focused on right now.”

I hear Jack Sock “C’mon!”ing in the distance, and – since I am now officially his shadow – that cry is kind of my bat signal in the sky to go check on the 18 year-old prodigy’s progress. He’s up against a guy who’s quickly becoming something of a nemesis – the very same Soong-Jae Cho who beat Kudla in the first round here also teamed up with Hyun-Joon Kim to beat Sock and his partner Dimitar Kutrovsky in the finals of F3 doubles. And those same two teams would be meeting for a rematch later on this very day.

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(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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Tamarac USA F2 Semifinals – Now With Ballkids!

The day started off overcast, blustery and chilly as the USA F2 Tamarac 10K semifinals kicked off in the form of unseeded American qualifier Phillip Simmonds, a former Australian Open junior doubles champ, meeting the third-seeded Alex Bogdanovic, the only seed remaining in the tournament. The first semi was played, counter-intuitively enough, on Court 2, where gusts of wind blew little showers of leaves all over the court. In addition to the leaves, linespeople and ballkids also dotted the court – in some cases just as randomly – for the first time all week.

Mr. Simmonds won the toss and elected to receive. Which didn’t work out so well for the 24 year-old, as the British Boggo (not to be confused with the American Boggo, Alex Bogomolov Jr.) only paused for a few chairs to blow over on his way to a quick four-winner (three forehand, one service) hold. Boggo was rocking the inside-out forehand early, as he knocked off his third of the match on Simmonds’ first service point.

The Bogman Unleashed

At 15-all, some elderly country club yokel started shouting “HELLO! HELLLO!” to tournament director Damon Henkel mid-point, resulting in a netted Simmonds backhand and a sour Philface, the American as distracted at the outset as the Brit was plugged in. Three points later, Bogdanovic had broken to 2-0 on a forehand down-the-line passer.

The 26-year-old ball-striker par excellance was not leaving a single shot in his bag in the first set, throwing in an ace, a couple of successful net ventures and a nifty half-volley drop shot winner on his way to a quick 3-0 lead. Simmonds made it all the way to deuce in his next service game before he was passed by another forehand from the Bog Monster and then unceremoniously dumped a forehand into the bottom of the net (I find it’s always better to do one’s forehand dumping in a ceremonious fashion, but that’s just me).

The Sky Is Falling – Simmonds Shields Himself From A Collapsing Universe

The American deuced it up again in the next game but then netted a backhand after a 20-shot rally and promptly self-flagellated with his ball cap (and here, Phil gets it right: if you’re going to self-flagellate, by all means be prompt about it). More shots were hit, as sometimes happens in tennis matches, and before you knew it, Bogdanovic had the first set in his posession, 6-1, with no intention of ever giving it back.

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Friday’s Tamarac USA F2 Quarterfinal Report

OK. So. For the USA F2 Tamarac quarterfinals, I’ll be doing my match reports a bit differently. Instead of my usual 7,912-word treatise on who hit what shot on which point and the expression on their faces when they hit them, I’ll be giving you more of a big picture sense of how things unfolded on the day. You know, a sense of the larger drama and the overall context within which today’s tennis was framed (and sometimes even stringed). The devil is in the details, after all, and I’ve heard that distance can add perspective.

All of which is another way of saying: I spent most of the day socializing my fool head off, and blithely ignored most of the day’s details. But I regret nothing! The socializing, it was good.

Some snapshots from today’s play, which we’ll say is indicative of the larger whole:

Phillip Simmonds USA d David Souto VEN 7-6(3) 6-3: The 18-year-old Venezuelan is a big, lefty beast, more growling than grunting with every viciously topspun shot.

Beast Mode: Engaged

Unfortunately for me, my 2011 Player To Watch prospect exhibits behavior this match that is fairly beastly as well. Serving at 2-3 15-30, he ambles in to retrieve a poor Simmonds drop shot but dumps the ball into the middle of the net once he gets there. Then, for good measure, he throws his racquet into the middle of the net as well. He gets a code violation for racquet abuse, after which he mockingly intones “Warning, warning.” Simmonds closes out the break a few points later with a forehand crosscourt volley.

After the match, Souto self-destructs even more, slamming water bottles and coolers and chairs, saying “Warning, Warning, Warning” all the while and sounding like that annoying robot from Lost In Space. Perhaps the chair umpire’s name was Will Robinson too, as he gave Souto a wide buffer/berth as he warily left the court. “Danger, Will Robinson!”

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