2014/04/18

On the Road with Challenger Tennis – More Tales From USA F4 Palm Coast

Odesnik defeats Craciun

PALM COAST, FL – February 4, 2011 – 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 Razvan Sabau, as well as Italian Nicola Ghedin against Arkansas standout and Harvard Law deferrer Blake Strode.

Sock 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 Sock struggles at times with errors off the ground, even while throwing some winners in the mix.

The points usually end with a Socked winner or error – by my incomplete tally (I was checking on other matches at times), Sock hits four forehand winners and two 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.  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 Sock. 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 Sock’s side, negating the first break chance. But Sock 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-mid-stroke 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.)

Meanwhile, Ghedin gets into the semis with a 6-4 6-1 win over Strode, and will play Sabau there, as the Romanian beats Collarini 6-3 6-3.

In the final frame of the Sock-Reid third set, things are definitely getting interesting. For one, Matt gets his foot caught in the fence in the corner after scrambling for a shot and is totally stuck there, snagged like an animal in a steel trap. He has to extract his foot from his shoe and then wrench his shoe out of fence. Luckily he’s not injured.

Drama on the court, too, as Sock makes three straight errors from 1-2 30-15 and is broken. Jack gets to deuce on Matt’s subsequent serve, but the Aussie consolidates to 4-1* in the third.

Down 1-4, Sock saves a break point that would have Reid serving for the match – he comes into net and smashes away the opportunity. He then holds, crucially, with an off forehand drop shot that skips off the net cord.

Though Reid seems comfortably up in this decider, more errors have crept into his game than were evident in the early stages. But this doesn’t hurt him until he serves at 4-2, when one forehand and two backhand errors lead to two back-breaking points for Sock. Jack almost crashes into a line judge, scrambling on the first, and makes a nice transition from defense to offense, only to pull an inside-in forehand wide. He atones for the error with a solid crosscourt forehand volley winner on the next, however, and we’re back on serve.

At 5-all, more backhand errors from Reid give Sock two chances to break and serve for the match. Jack misses them both with forehands into the net. “TWO forehands!” he shouts. Correct. That’s what I said, isn’t it? Reid blasts his way to a hold with some forehand and overhead winners. Then Jack blasts his way into a third set tiebreak with 3 first serves – an ace, service winner, and a setup groundie putaway before Reid forehands a passing shot long.

The decisive TB commences with a very high quality of play: Reid with a service winner to hold his service point, Sock with a forehand drop shot and a sneak-to-net forehand crosscourt volley to hold his two, then two successive service winners from the Ozzie, one on a good second delivery. “We’re sure getting our money’s worth,” says the guy next to me.

Two Reid groundstroke errors give Jack his two service points to 4-3*. Then Sock scurries to retrieve a ball, sending back a high defensive shot that lands right on the sideline, and the third seed misses to give Sock the first mini-break to 5-3*. “Ahhh, it just goes my way!” yells the Aussie, sarcastically. But he recovers with an ace to 4-5*.

With the match on his racquet, Jack nets an off forehand for 5-all. The crowd groans nearly in unison. A backhand long from the big Nebraskan, and suddenly it is going just Reid’s way. The third seed grabs the unexpected momentum shift and steels away with it, delivering a backhand volley knockout blow to seal the match 6-4 3-6 7-6(5).

I rush over to catch what looks like it might be a big upset in the making: another in the robust Romanian contingent, 30-year-old Teodor-Dacian Craciun, with what appears to be a spirited first set run against Wayne Odesnik, who pummeled the tournament’s top seed, Greg Ouellette, 6-3 6-0 in the previous round. As I get to the match, Odesnik is serving at 3-4 0-30. The 25-year-old had won their only previous meeting in three sets, so it looks like it might be another tight affair on this day. Odesnik pulls ahead to 40-30 but Craciun cracks a running forehand pass up the line to deuce it up. Wayne O. holds, but just barely.

“The Romanians coming strong in Palm Coast,” I tweet, “with Sabau thru to semis & Craciun giving Odesnik all he can handle.” At which time, Odesnik immediately breaks and reels off nine of the last ten games for a 6-4 6-1 victory. Heh. Shows what I know. As in his win over Ouellette, Odesnik is relentless, moving well, and striking the ball superbly. He earns a date with the third seed, Matt Reid, in Saturday’s semis.

I later catch up with coach Mike Wolf as he watches his top-seeded charges, Sock and Kutrovsky, play their doubles semi against Nathaniel Gorham and Benjamin Rogers.

Which they do, wrapping up a comprehensive 6-3 6-1 win over Gorham and Rogers, extending their stay for two more days.

The next installment will cover the semis and finals.

JJ is covering the Florida swing, from the USTA Pro Circuit through the ATP  World Tour Delray Beach tournament for Tennis Panorama News. Be sure to follow him on twitter @Challenger10s and visit his website  Challenger Tennis which celebrates and chronicles the unsung heroes of the pro tennis world – the Challenger and Futures players who grind it out each day.

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On the Road with Challenger Tennis – Odesnik at USA F4 Palm Coast

Ouellette (L) falls to Odesnik (R)

PALM COAST, FL – February 3, 2011- 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 Florida winter swing.

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 No. 1676 in the world, 6-3 7-6(6). 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, Odesnik 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 Odesnik ‘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, game wise; 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 Odesnik 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, Odesnik 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 to the  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.

I join their match with Cho serving at 4-5 in the first set, and both players easily take care of their serves until the tiebreak. There things go to serve until the fifth point, when Sock comes into net on what would have been an excellent forehand approach up the line, only the net cord gets in the way and leaves him a sitting duck up there, and Cho chows down on the resultant easy pass for the mini-break. Cho forehands long to relinquish the mini-break at 4-2, but then Jack’s betrayed by the net cord again, as he’s dictating a point with his forehand and the tape catches the last one, pushing it long. Once again, Cho lets Sock back in with a backhand long at 5-4, but then Sock shanks a run-around forehand return in the breeze at 5-all and double faults at set point, earning a ball abuse warning as he smacks one out of the park.

Sock goes up an early break in the second, then has to save two break points serving at 2-1, playing a brave/foolish forehand drop shot that just clears the net for a clean winner on the penultimate point. Serving at 3-2 40-0, Sock frames a volley, misses a groundstroke and bounces a forehand into the net. “That did not bounce,” he says of Cho’s shot that led to his bouncy forehand, and he’s right. At deuce, Jack double faults and angrily whacks a ball that he inadvertently frames so it soars just over the fence and out of the court. I quickly look up to see if the chair ump is going to give a point penalty. It’s a tough call, and I see the umpire hesitate before making an “I have to do this but I don’t want to” face and announcing the point penalty for ball abuse. Game to Cho, Sock broken back. Sock argues that he didn’t mean to hit the ball over the fence, but to no avail. I later ask coach Mike Wolf what he thought about the call, and – no nonsense as ever – Wolf said Sock deserved it, and he shouldn’t have hit the ball in the first place.

Wolf’s attitude these weeks that I’ve been able to speak with him has been nothing short of refreshing. There’s no coddling of his players – he’s tough, but very fair, and also realistic about the growth curve and how this whole process is a learning experience for his guys. The more I talk to him, the more I feel that Sock is in good hands.

But back on court, Jack is in trouble again. Serving at 4-5, he double faults to start the game, then controls the entire point at 15-all with his forehand before missing a backhand volley wide. At 15-30, he hits a forehand wide, and Cho has two match points. Jack saves one with a forehand winner up the line, and Cho lets him off the hook on the other, netting a forehand. An ace out wide and an overhead later, and Sock’s snuffed out the threat. 5-all in the second.

Serves are held at love, and we’re  in a tiebreak again. I write the word “perfect” in my notes to describe each of Sock’s first two point-winning shots – one a scooped/almost-flat forehand crosscourt pass and another a drop shot for 2-0. Sock gets another handful of points with forcing forehands, an inside-in winner and serves up a little ace-T at 6-1 quintuple set point to nab the second set. An accomplished, assured and confident tie breaker from the 18-year-old.

Meanwhile, Andrea Collarini’s in trouble with the same guy who took out Simmonds in round one, Jan Kuncik.

The 6’5” 17 year-old is up 4-1 in the first. I go have a look and see it’s another lefty-lefty matchup following Ouellette-Odesnik on Court 7. Kuncik plays some huge stuff on serve and off both wings to lock up the first set 6-3.

Back to Sock: I return to find the net being unkind to Cho this time as he serves at 3-4, 15-40, the cord catching one of his approach shots and hanging it up like a pinata. Sock whacks a backhand pass up the line to break. Serving for the match at 30-15, he inside-ins a forehand wide. “That’s not smart at all, Jack,” he says (presumably to himself). I’ve begun to really enjoy this kid’s sarcasm and sense of humor. At 40-30, he juuust misses a backhand pass. “A centimeter out again!” he anguishes. I also love that he kvetches in metric. But never mind all that, Sock finally holds to take the match 6-7(5) 7-6(1) 6-3.

I get back to the Collarini-Kuncik match just in time to see the 17-year-old Czech double fault at 1-2 30-40 in the third (Andrea had taken the second set 6-4). What follows is the best set I’ve seen Collarini play – some amazing lefty-crosscourt forehand exchanges, fantastic retrieving and much better depth of shot than I’d been seeing. He races through the final frame and wins the match 3-6 6-4 6-1.

JJ is covering the Florida swing, from the USTA Pro Circuit through the ATP  World Tour Delray Beach tournament for Tennis Panorama News. Be sure to follow him on twitter @Challenger10s and visit his website  Challenger Tennis which celebrates and chronicles the unsung heroes of the pro tennis world – the Challenger and Futures players who grind it out each day.

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On the Road with Challenger Tennis – This Week Tamarac and Weston

If you are tennis fan who is savvy about the Challengers and Futures circuits then you probably know him. Most know him as @Challenger10s on twitter. He also runs the Challenger Tennis website. “JJ ” is on the road covering the Challengers and Futures circuit in Florida for Tennis Panorama News in the coming weeks. His roadtrip begins in Tamarac, Florida.

Andrea Collarini

TAMARAC, FL – 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 strip malls to the oasis that is the Woodmont Country Club in Tamarac, FL – the site of the second annual 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 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 Dennis Kudla start his F2-ing against the tourney’s top seed, Victor Estrella. Estrella, the 30 year-old Dominican, had finished his 2010 season on quite a roll, winning three straight Dominican Republic 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 looked sharp early, hitting a heavy ball and knifing away the volleys he didn’t frame, while Denis struggled to find his range, 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.

I headed out then to see what was happening around the grounds, but I returned to find the young gun was up 4-2*.  Soon, the Ukraine-born Arlingtonian was serving for the second set at 5-4.  The first point of that tenth game had a bit of everything – drop shot, lob, overhead, scrambling, offense, defense, racquets, balls – and culminated with a cracking Kudla backhand down-the-line winner.  And then in the second point, he framed a backhand over the fence.  To be fair, the ball took a funny bounce off the line, but those two points well-illustrated the inconsistency with which Kudla struggled throughout the match.  Estrella ripped a forehand crosscourt return winner to put Denis in a 15-30 hole, but then a netted Estrella backhand and forcing down-the-line backhands from Kudla on consecutive points closed out the second set for the American upstart, 6-4.

In the deciding set’s fifth game, the Dominican quickly went south.  A few errant groundies, mostly unforced but one forced via an excellent inside-out Kudla forehand, found Estrella broken.  Possibly beyond repair.  Or rather, definitely beyond repair, as Victor was quickly vanquished, broken again and then retired.  Game set match to Kudla over the #1 seed, 3-6 6-4 5-2 ret.

The next match upon which I focused the brunt of my attention featured Dan Smethurst against the plucky 17 year-old qualifier, Marcus Giron. The 20-year-old Brit had a decidedly mediocre 2010 season, going 29/24 and falling 66 rungs down the ranking ladder.  I had seen him play at the U.S. Open juniors and was duly impressed with his game in 2008, so I was anxious to see how he’d progressed in the 16 months or so since I’d last seen him.  First thing I noticed: he’s a heckuva lot bigger now.  Bulkier, and somewhat of an imposing guy – definitely not how I’d remembered him.

He certainly dwarfed Giron in both game and stature, but the smallish American had some fairly big results to qualify, beating (a surely exhausted USA F1 Plantation finalist) Olivier Sajous and winning four matches to get to his main draw encounter here.  However, it was clear that the incoming UCLA-freshman was over matched from the start, with Smethurst pummeling forehands away on three consecutive points to get an early break *2-1 in the first set.  Giron got to 30-all in the next game, but an unreturned serve followed by some terrific Smethurst scrambling and a punctuating forehand crosscourt consolidated the break for the Lancashire lad.

The next game wasn’t any better for Giron.  He watched another Smethurst forehand fly by on the first point, backhanded long on the second, fore-handed into net on the third, and was summarily broken a second time on a confident close-out at net from his opponent.  At this point, I stopped having to do my analyst job as Marcos started to do it for me, making loud and accurate pronouncements about his play to anyone within earshot: “I’m hitting it so short!” “So many unforced errors!”  Correct.  And correct.  First set to Smethurst 6-1.

The Englishman double faulted to give Giron an early break in the second set, but I really didn’t see the young American finding his way through the match (in fact, he had done a little arm-waving sarcastic celebration when he won the previous game), so I headed off to check out other action.  When I returned, I found the Marcos Giron World of Loud and Candid Self-Assessment show still going strong: “I can’t hit three balls in a row!”  Minor correction: he could, but not into the court.  I’m sure that was what he meant anyway.

Smethurst served for the match at 5-3 but got burned on a poorly conceived and executed 30-all drop shot and Giron fought back to 5-all, only to return the poorly-conceived-and-executed drop-shotting favor serving at 5-6 0-15.  Smethurst went on to break for the match 6-1 7-5.  Overall, I was still very impressed with his play – I thought his shot selection was mostly sound and his execution excellent.  The only area I saw him running into any consistent trouble was coming over the ball off the backhand wing, but other than that I can’t really see how he’s not a Top 250 player already.  He’s certainly got the ability.  And though Giron went down, he was a feisty and very entertaining character to watch.  I respected the heck out of his effort to both get in Smethurst’s way and get out of his own on the attempted path to the second round.  I think the USTA Pro Circuit experience he’s gaining will be invaluable to his development, and I’ll be looking out for him in the future(s).

The final match on my viewing slate featured the 18 year-old Americanizing Argie Andrea Collarini against yet another 30 year-old – this time it was the colorful Romanian Teodor-Dacian Craciun.    Collarini had already amassed an excellent body of work early in his 2011 campaign, carrying an 8/1 win/loss record into the encounter, with convincing wins over the hard-hitting UVA recruit Mitchell Frank and his US Open junior doubles partner Jack Sock in the final two rounds of qualies.  Craciun, however, carried the same record as his younger opponent and his previous two victories over Nick Chappell and Bjorn Fratangelo were nothing to be sneezed at.

I was initially surprised that Collarini wasn’t rolling over his opponent the way my heightened expectations anticipated he would.  Sure, he was rolling over his forehands in the usual-seeming fashion – I especially love the cracks he takes at high balls off that wing – and working the usual lefty-forehand-to-righty-backhand pattern of play, but something just seemed off.  For his part, Craciun was crashin’ the party early, as per his role in Wednesday’s elder competitor drama.

Though Collarini had break points in the sixth game, he couldn’t convert.  The seventh game proved crucial for Craciun; even though he wasn’t doing any real damage with his return, he managed get the ball in play enough to present Andrea with the opportunity to err.  And err he did.  Quite  off the forehand side to 0-40.  Though Collarini saved those three break points and another at ad-out, he then quadruple faulted to gift the break to the Romanian.

Although Andrea broke right back, he also called for the trainer and had treatment at *4-5, citing a recurring problem with his left elbow.  After a vigorous arm rub, he returned to the court and promptly relinquished his serve and the set on four successive points, seeming out of sorts and in trouble.

According to the physio, Collarini’s elbow had been bothering him for three days prior and was a recurring problem that the young lefty had to deal with about five times a year.  An interesting exchange occurred between officials (I don’t want to say whom) about whether the injury should have been treated at all: i.e. did a recurring injury count as a pre-existing condition or was it something sustained/aggravated during the match and thus did in fact merit treatment?  Definitely a gray area.  Different views were expressed, no conclusions reached, and on we moved into the second set.

Whether it’s merited or not, I have to hope that I see the same trainer for my next match, as Collarini came back out for the second set with his guns blazing (primarily his left).  He took it 6-0.  Craciun, no doubt unnerved by Collarini’s post-treatment play, couldn’t find the court with a GPS during his bageling.

In the third set, Craciun – who, with his capri pants and festive Nike head wraps, reminded me of a hybrid between Johnny Depp’s roles in Pirates of the Carribean and Chocolat – began exhibiting colorful displays of his own devising.  At 1-all deuce, he hit a forehand long.  Paused.  Screamed.  Resumed.  Then double faulted and hit himself in the head scarf with his racquet (strings portion – it wasn’t a full-on ab Youzhny moment).

But Collarini was determined to show he could compete well in the screaming game as well.  He emitted a particularly blood-curdling variety after volleying wide to 15-40 in his subsequent service game.  But then hit a service winner to 30-40 and scrambled superbly on the next point, putting up a high defensive lob that Craciun cracked long on a drive volley.  The Romanian, determined to not be out-emoted, threw his arms skyward and looked to the heavens, holding the pose and Voguing for the the cruel tennis gods.  Collarini held to 3-1.

In the next game, an Andrea mishit landed in over Craciun’s head, and the disbelieving drop of this stick pantomimed his displeasure quite serviceably.  And then, when Collarini hit over the baseline in the next rally, Craciun raised his arms overhead in a mock cheer and went on to hold.  I must say, though this was a spotty match, quality-of-playwise, it was quite engaging on a theatrical level.

That said, a particularly nifty FH flick off the baseline crosscourt from Collarini at 30-all in the next game was a noteworthy effort, helping him hold to 4-2.  The lefty went on to take the next three points on Craciun’s serve – including some terrific defensive work at 0-30.  Down triple break/virtual match points, the Romanian hit a second serve that ticked the top of the tape and landed in the service box.  He laughed.  Then, granted that reprieve, went on to save all three break points and hold to 3-4*.

In the ever-critical eighth game, Collarini got a rough call; he served a ball he thought was an ace, but Theodor-Dacian pointed to an out mark and the chair ump agreed.  An argument ensued, and Andrea went on to lose the point and the game.  I was impressed, however, at the way he very deliberately went around collecting all the balls on his side of the court (no ball kids in Futures), trying to collect himself in the process before serving at 0-30.

It may not have worked in the short term, but by the next game, Collarini had calmed down enough to rebreak to *5-4 with some inspired offensive hitting.  And then he served out the game, set and match to love.  Though not his most impressive tennistical display, I was impressed by his ability to overcome all the adversity in this match – his elbow, his emotive opponent, the line calls – and just persevere.

Well, I won’t be able to attend the Thursday slate of Tamarac matches – a shame, too, as there are some superb matchups on the OOP: Kudla v Souto, Bogdanovic v Collarini and Monroe v Cox among others – but I’ll be zipping back and forth all weekend, Friday through Sunday, providing dual coverage of the Tamarac quarters, semis and finals as well as the qualifying at the USA F3 in Weston.

JJ is covering the Florida swing, from the USTA Pro Circuit through the Delray Beach ATP  World Tour 250, as official media for Tennis Panorama News. Be sure to follow him on twitter @Challenger10s and visit his website  Challenger Tennis which celebrates and chronicles the unsung heroes of the pro tennis world – the Challenger and Futures players who grind it out each day.

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