Tag Archive: Teodor-Dacian Craciun


The Palm Diggity – More Tales From The USA F4 Palm Coast

Friday begins as another lovely day for tennis in Palm Coast.  And by “lovely” I mean gray, overcast and cold. “Pity us, people up north,” I devilishly tweet, hoping to stir things up amongst the disgruntled folk living north of the 31st parallel. It doesn’t work. The people of the twitosphere are remarkably good at not taking my infantile bait. Either that or they’re all too buried under snow and/or their fingers are too frostbitten to text me angry but concise messages.

Anyway, it’s horrifically cold again. But we hearty folk in North Florida are undeterred, heroically playing tennis (or, even more heroically, watching it) despite the semi-frigid conditions. It’s quarterfinal day, and it’s thus time to play the quarterfinals. As sometimes happens on quarterfinal day.  And as is nearly my sworn duty at this point, I begin by chronicling the progress of Jack Sock.  Today he plays the third seed, 20 year-old Aussie Matt Reid. Also playing concurrently are Andrea Collarini against the 8th seed, 33-year-old Romanian “That’s So” Razvan Sabau, as well as Italian Nicola Ghedin against Arkansas standout and Harvard Law deferrer Blake Strode.

I don’t care how fair this is for the players – all this simultaneous action is hell on my spectating/reporting. How the heck am I supposed to keep careful track of three matches at once? Regardless, I try. It’s the least I can do for you, dear readers.

Jack begins serving to Reid on Court 4, but they must’ve switched the net over from Court 3, because – as with the one during his comeback win over Soong-Jae Cho the day before – this mesh is messing with his shots, too; it carries a forehand wide at 30-40 in his first service game, and he’s broken just like that.

Though both guys struggle through some deuce holds, serves are held throughout . The scruffy blonde from Oz displays a potent forehand – biggest I’ve seen in the tournament – while Jack struggles at times with errors off the ground, even while throwing some winners in the mix.

Third Seed Matt Reid

The points usually end with a Socked winner or error – by my incomplete tally (I was checking on other matches at times), Jack hits 4 forehand winners and 2 backhand winners in the first frame, but commits 5 forehand and 7 backhand unforced errors. He does try to press the issue a bit more, successfully venturing to net a number of times. But it’s the third seed Reid who displays better consistency in the opener, with almost as many winners but not nearly as many errors.  His one break holds up, and he takes the first set 6-4.

I duck out to check in on Collarini’s progress. Or lack thereof, as I find him down two breaks, 2-5* to the 8th seeded Sabau, who to my eyes resembles Andy Kaufman’s character Latka from the old TV series, Taxi.

Disingenuous Image Alert: This pic is from Sabau’s match the day before

Regardless, the Argentinian-American gets one break back with a backhand crosscourt winner, but then the Romanian breaks him right back to take the first set 6-3. I dart on over to see Ghedin serving for the set against Strode, which the Italian wraps up at love with a drop shot and a passing shot winner, 6-4.

Back to Jack. I return to find Reid serving at 2-3 15-40 in the second. A Sock return hangs on the net and decides to stay on Jack’s side, negating the first break chance. But Jack gets a Reid on his opponent’s drop shot on the next point, sliding a forehand up the line that Matt badly botches for the break.

Sock holds from 0-30, Reid holds to 15, and Jack serves out the second set despite faking himself out with a drop-shot-to chipped-forehand-morphed-midstroke monstrosity at 40-15. Started the game with an ace and a service winner. Closed it with two forcing forehands. 6-3, 1 set apiece. The high school senior shot for shot with a Top 400 guy two years his elder. (That might not sound like much, by the way, but there aren’t too many high school seniors out there playing Top 400 ball.)

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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 Futures Update!

And so it actually, finally, began. After braving blizzards, car trouble, and a mixed bag of calamities, our brave reporter (hint: that’s me) finally made it to see some actual tennis. What a concept. I slalomed around the various nefarious Floridumb strip malls to the oasis that is the Woodmont Country Club in Tamarac, FL – the site of the second annual *deep breath* Lawrence D. Share Company $10,000 Championships at Synergy Tennis Academy. Or, if you’re short of breath, the USA F2 Futures.

The site itself is top notch, and the organization seems superb. The twenty-court facility featured play on four of its “clay” courts on this Wednesday, having caught up on a backlogged schedule from a waterlogged Monday washout. The two main courts – the innovatively-named “Court 1” and “Court 2” – are separated by a raised, wide partition upon which random chairs and ceramic-y picnic tables are interspersed; a very spectator-friendly setup. Even better, the area between the featured back courts (Courts 9 and 10, if you’re scoring at home) has a shaded gazebo under which I could protect my blindingly pasty fresh-from-the-Northeast skin. Bonus!

I arrived just in time to see one of my 2011 Challenger Tennis Player To Watch selections, Dennis Kudla start his F2-ing against the tourney’s top seed, Victor Estrella. Estrella, the 30 year-old Dominican Republican (or perhaps he’s a Dominican Democrat – I didn’t ask), had finished his 2010 season on quite a roll, winning three straight Dom Rep Futures events (15 matches in all) before losing his final match of the year. All of which was good enough to land him a career high world ranking of 211 – not a bad achievement for someone entering his fourth decade. So I was eager to see how the rising star would fare against the established vet.

Turned out, not so well. At least to begin with. Two backhands into the net and a forehand long saw the 18-year-old Virginian broken in the first game of the match. Kudla then had two breakback points straightaway in the second game (after Estrella shot himself in the foot with the dreaded mediocre-drop-shot-to-awful-lob combo), but Victor found his way out of trouble with a framed volley and an ace erase to deuce and held from there.

The top seed – who the chair umpire seemed to call “Australia” (to my ears), in an obvious fit of Grand Slam fever – looked sharp early, hitting a heavy ball and knifing away the volleys he didn’t frame, while Denis struggled to find his range and/or mojo, seeming initially uncomfortable with conditions and his game on the day. The fleet-footed Dominican prefers to favor the ad court and load up on the forehand side whenever possible, but his heavily-sliced one-handed backhand is suitable to the Tamarac court, staying nice and low. Kudla is less averse to play off both wings, and he started to settle into the match midway through the first set. Though he had a few back-breaking opportunities throughout the set, in the end he was broken a second time as Estrella took the first 6-3.

Ever the supporter of my PTW’s in distress, I bailed and decided to see what else was going on around the grounds. I wanted to see how one of my almost-PTW’s, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, was faring against Phil Simm(ond)s (I myself have a touch of NFL playoff fever – deal). Turns out, not so well. The gangly 19 year-old showed some cliched French flair (drop-shotting four times in one game, venturing to net behind cheekily sliced forehands – you know the drill), but lost the first set to the 24 year-old American, who offered up my favorite bit of vocal self-coaching: “Really? REALLY?? RELAX!!!” It worked: Simmonds took the first set 6-4.

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The final qualifying round of the $10K USA F1 Futures has been played, and here are your results:

Christian HARRISON (USA) defeated Thai-Son KWIATKOWSKI (USA) 6-3 6-1
Dennis ZIVKOVIC (USA) (2) defeated Jack CARPENTER (GBR) 6-3 7-6(5)
Andrei DAESCU (ROU) (11) defeated Olivier SAJOUS (HAI) (3) 7-6(9) 2-6 6-3
Phillip SIMMONDS (USA) (4) defeated Alexander RITSCHARD (SUI) 7-6(5) 6-2
Andrea COLLARINI (USA) (5) defeated Daniel KOSAKOWSKI (USA) (9) 6-4 6-2
Thomas CAZES-CARRERE (FRA) (6) defeated Devin MULLINGS (BAH) 6-2 6-3
Teodor-Dacian CRACIUN (ROU) (7) defeated Jan KUNCIK (CZE) 6-3 6-7(2) 7-6(2)
Chris KWON (USA) (12) defeated Marcos GIRON (USA) 4-6 6-3 6-3

Ryan’s little bro making a name for himself, getting through over the precocious 15-year-old KwiatkowskiZivkovic continues the kind of play that saw him reach the semis of four Futures events last year, again at the expense of a game, young British competitor (he beat Oliver Golding in a tough first round on his way to the Mexico F8 semis this past November).  Sajous, the Plantation-based local fave who lost to Wayne Odesnik in the wildcard tourney, takes a tough loss at the hands of erstwhile Oklahoma Sooner Andrei Daescu.  Challenger Tennis 2011 Player To Watch Andrea Collarini with a decisive victory over UCLA freshman Kosakowski. 

Collarini has now drawn top seed Jesse Levine in the main draw.  I’m excited to see how Andrea fares in that one.  Zivkovic goes from second seed in quals to facing the main draw second seed in the form of Mr. Alex Bogdanovic.  Daescu slated to meet Simmonds in the main, in a Q v Q clash.  Harrison gets to test his mettle against fellow promising junior Jeremy Efferding.  Craciun gets a crack at Odesnik in the first round.  And Kwon gets the big Slovenian Luka Gregorc.

Other notable main draw Round One matches:

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