2014/04/16

Americans Blake and Sock Gain Second Round at US Open

 

James Blake

FLUSHING MEADOWS –  American “elder statesman” James Blake and the “new kid on the block” Jack Sock advanced to the second  round of the US Open on Monday.

In a rain interrupted match on Louis Armstrong, 32-year-old Blake defeated Lukas Lacko Slovakia 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Blake of the win.  “You know, every time I come back here it’s still sort of the goosebumps walking out on Louis Armstrong or Arthur Ashe.  I’m excited, and I get a lot of ticket requests.  I get to see my fans and friends having a good time.  That definitely keeps my spirits up, keeps my head up throughout the whole match.

“I can’t believe that it’s been I think 12 years I have been playing here just about every year.  You know, it still doesn’t feel normal.  It’s still an incredible feeling to be here and to be doing what I dreamed of as a kid.”

Blake  who is playing the tournament as a wildcard was asked about what it will take for an American like himself or John Isner to break through and make a run against the top three players.

“ I need to worry about one match at a time,” the 32-year-old Blake said.  “I can’t worry about quarters or semis or finals right now.

“I’m still kind of scratching to get through these matches and get my confidence back and feel like I’m ready to compete.  I don’t think that will change if I’m playing someone that’s 1, 2, or 3 in the world.

“I have been fortunate enough.  I am an elder statesman.  I have been around and have won a lot of matches.  I have beaten guys 1 in the world, I’ve beaten guys that are top 3, top 4, top 5 plenty of times.  There is no reason for me to go out there and play one of players those guys and be scared.

“I think it will take an unbelievable effort.  I will have to play my best tennis.”

Jack Sock led 27th seed Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-2, 3-2 when the German retired with an illness. “I think today is definitely good for the confidence and good for the overall game and everything going into the next round,” said the young American in his second-ever win at the US Open.

“I think my serve was definitely pretty reliable when I was down.  I was down Love‑30 once or twice, down Love‑40 once.  Came up with some good serves, first‑ball combos.  I think that was definitely some turning points, not letting him get a break and not letting him get some momentum back.

The 19-year-old loves playing on the Grandstand court. “ You can’t ask for a better tournament, a better atmosphere, a better environment,” sock said.  “That grandstand court was awesome.  The fans were pretty close and really into it.  It was a great environment.  I’d love to play on there again sometime.”

Jack Sock paired with Melanie Oudin last year to win the US Open Mixed Doubles title.

Karen Pestaina is covering the US Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN.

 

http://youtu.be/mHdIs5yHOSM

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Delray Beach – Day 2 of “Qualies” Adventures

Kunitsyn (L) defeats Ebden

DELRAY BEACH – February, 20, 2011- Day two of qualifying at the Delray Beach ATP dawns as spiffily as the day before. Play starts at noon, so it’s already nice and toasty by the time this day’s matches begin. I start out watching last week’s San Jose doubles champ Rajeev Ram take on top seed Blaz Kavcic.

Kavcic plays some unbelievably good, scrambling backhands early. The 23-year-old Slovenian – who won his first round match at the Australian Open against Kevin Anderson in his coach’s shoes after his pair ripped and he didn’t have a spare – scurries all over the court, as ever (and presumably in his own shoes).  He hits some superb passing shots, ultimately breaking Ram in the fourth game with a low and reaching backhand crosscourt pass and a grunt of maximum effort.

Kavcic‘s court-blazing ways are on full display in the first set, and people around me are all checking their OOP sheets, saying “What’s this guy’s name again?” To Ram’s credit, he sticks and carves some nice-looking volleys and gets the break back when Kavcic suddenly can’t find his forehand while serving for the set at 5-3. Kavcic cracks his racquet to make it pay for its forehand-ular transgressions. But the scruffy Slovene breaks right back, as Ram cedes the next game thanks in part to a double fault and some forehand errors. First set to the top seed 6-4.

I’ve seen all I need to see of this match, as Kavcic seems unbeatable on this day, so I go check on Matty Ebden. Things are not going so well for the man from Perth – he’s down a set and a break to second seed Igor Kunitsyn and seems disheveled. The 23-year-old Western Aussie – who reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane beating Denis Istomin - is loaded with unforced errors off the ground in a way I don’t usually see from him.  Sure enough, Ebden calls for the trainer after the fifth game and gets his right knee tended to. Magic knee spray is applied (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term for it) as well as some tape, and Ebden gamely but forges forth.

He’s clearly off form in the next game, netting out-of-position backhands, as Kunitsyn holds to 4-2. The 29-year-old Russian is playing fairly well, and might be beating a fully up-to-snuff opponent as it is.  But Ebden’s snuff is clearly not up, and though he grittily saves a match point on his own serve – after double faulting at 30-all and coming up gingerly – Kunitsyn closes him out 6-3 6-4, and will meet seventh seed Marinko Matosevic in the final qualifying round.

Meanwhile, I look at my awesome ATP scoring app on my and see that eighth seed Donald Young has beaten Victor Estrella 6-3 6-4 and Kavcic finished off Ram 6-4 6-3.  The fact that these matches end simultaneously is awful for me, as it means the next matches will begin concurrently, and I’ll probably miss two more matches.

Say what you will about the big red-headed Australian, but Groth brings maximum entertainment for your tennis dollar. His on-court personality is as explosive as his serve, and he always lets you (and his opponent) know exactly what’s going on in his mind. I think it’s a detriment to his game, personally, but it’s always a spectacle to watch. Plus the Grothawk is still blazing in all its bleached-blonde glory.

Hajek wins the toss and chooses to receive, which seems fairly insane to me, but what do I know? Groth greets him with an ace out wide – how do you do! Jarmila Groth’s husband is making the people next to me crack up with his post-point requests for the towel. He’s using the word to both celebrate a good point – “Towel!” – and as a substitute epithet whenever he loses a point – “Towel!” It is pretty hilarious.

To add to this match’s spectacle there’s a growling dog behind the far baseline’s fence, making its displeasure known throughout the contest. Serving at 1-all and having missed an overhead and an easy forehand, Groth exclaims, “Two of the worst shots in the game ever – towel!” He holds anyway.  Hajek gets a break point at 3-all, but Groth erases it with a service winner. “C’mon! Towel!” he exhorts. All in all, Groth serves a staggering 13 aces in the first set – over three games worth. The 27-year-old from the Czeck Republic just smiles or shrugs after most of them fly by. What can you do?

Hajek finds himself down two set points after double faulting to 5-6 15-40, but Groth misses on two volleys and Hajek holds to force a tiebreak. “How many volleys can you miss?” Sam asks himself. “Too many, that’s how many,” he answers. Groth starts off the breaker with a service winner on the second delivery. “Towel! Focus, focus!” he yells. The Melbourne man gets a mini-break and aces to 4-1*. Hajek holds his two serves then gets the mini-breakback with a cracking off forehand return to 4-all. Groth bounces back with a tremendous one-handed backhand pass up the line. “C’MON!!!” he screams, and is so pumped he forgets about the towel. Hajek holds fast with a backhand volley and a service winner. Facing his first set point serving at 5-6, Groth double faults and hurls his racquet into the net.

The third seed starts the second set with one love hold, and Groth starts his first service game with a quadruple fault. Hajek’s cheering section applauds wildly, saying “Fight! Fight!” “Yeah, fight fight on my double faults,” Sam snipes back, understandably miffed. Groth is all agitated and aggro now. He’s disturbed by the ball kids standing in the wrong place and by their rolling the balls between first and second serves. He misses a forehand volley long and is broken, then he smacks a ball into a nearby palm tree with a surprisingly thunderous thud. That’s a code violation, right there. That ball has done been abused! The chair ump is not amused.

Hajek wrong-foots Groth at 30-all 2-0. “I’m too big for this sport,” the Aussie offers. But he breaks back anyway, as Hajek nets some forehands and the net cord steers another one wide. Serving at 15-all, Sam misses a swinging backhand drive volley and poses the following question, presumably to himself: “Are you crazy?” He quickly finds an answer: “You must be.”  Man. Sam is so talented but he gets in his way so often. He’s like the Phillip Simmonds of the ATP tour (and kudos to you if you understand that reference, loyal reader). Groth nets a forehand volley, strokes a backhand wide and is thusly rebroken.

Things proceed apace, as things often do, and the big Aussie finds himself down match point at 2-5, so he aces. Problem solved! “That’s how you save match point!” he sagely instructs. Hajek nails a backhand crosscourt pass to bring up another MP. Sam doesn’t take his own instruction and instead saves it with a drop shot. Groth serves and volleys on a second ball and the Czech mails an inside-in backhand return right past him. Match point number three. Groth responds with two aces.

Hajek is reading the returns a a lot better now, as he passes on another Groth second-serve-and-volley foray for match point number four. Saved with? An ace, of course. Groth drop shots into the net, probably just to see if he can ace away another match point. And he does he does. And then holds with another ace and a nifty backhand smash, though not in that order.

At this point there is a huge contingent of Aussies looking on – Matosevic, Ebden, Mark Woodforde among them – and the Oz man is now en fuego. He hits a perfect, scintillating backhand winner up the line for triple break point as Hajek tries to serve out the match. And that’s a no go for the 3 seed, as he nets a backhand and we’re back on serve.

Meanwhile, I look at my scoring app and see that Ryan Sweeting has beaten Jack Sock 6-4 6-0 and I am thus deprived of seeing Sock’s final singles point of the Florida swing I’ve followed him on all this time (he’s in the doubles with Donald Young though).

How’s that tennis going? Hajek’s contingent is trying to get under Sam’s skin by deliberately “Fight! Fight!”ing every time he double faults. As in this game. But he holds anyway to 5-all. But then the second seed holds and breaks and takes the match 7-6(5) 7-5. Yet another chapter in Groth’s long line of (possibly self-imposed) heartbreaking losses.

I run off to catch what turns out to be my last match of the day: Frank Dancevic against fourth seed Lukas Lacko. Fancy Dancer is in fine form, going up an early break with a couple of crowd-pleasing backhands. “Better than Federer,” I hear uttered in the crowd. Ha! Something seems lacking in Lacko’s play today, as he’s susceptible to a rash of forehand errors here and there. Better see someone about that rash, Lukas! Dancevic takes the first set 6-4.

In the second set, many serves are held. At 5-all 15-all, Dancevic serves and Lacko hits a backhand long. Only problem with that is it’s not called out. Oops. “That ball was 8 inches out,” the Canadian protests. The guy next to me is apoplectic – “That ball was way out!” he shouts at the chair ump’s back. The ump turns around and asks the crowd, “You wanna switch places?” “Yes!” someone in the crowd emphatically replies. Bad move, ump. Bad move.

Lacko tries to take advantage, lacing a forehand down the line to put Dancevic in a 15-30 pickle. But then he backhands long, and Frank serves and forehand volley winners, then aces to snuff out the threat. For a close match, there’s surprisingly little drama or intensity other than the above exchanges. The 26-year-old former World #65 player – still on his way back from an awful back injury – scores the only upset of the day, closing out the 4th seed 6-4 7-6(3).

I rush over to Court 4 to try and catch some of the match between Alejandro Falla and Alex Kuznetsov, but I only get there in time to see the sixth-seeded Falla win the match on a cruel, dribbling net cord, 6-3 6-3. So that’s the day done, then. Tune in tomorrow for more splendid tales of the final qualifying round, plus details of wildcard Ryan Harrison’s first round match against France’s Florent Serra.

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Delray Beach – First Day Qualifying Adventures

Raven Klaasen

DELRAY BEACH, FL, February 19, 2011- 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.

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 No. 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. 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 the 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.

Next stop? You guessed it. Another Aussie – the Thunder from Down Under, a certain Mr. Groth. The Grothawk is still in full effect, and he begins his match against Lester Cook on a nice roll, breaking for an early 3-0* lead, and serving out of his shoes, as he’s been known to do.  The wheels come off the Good Ship Groth a bit as he serves a few double faults up 4-2 and Cook gets the breakback. “How many doubles is that this set?” Sam wonders aloud. Three, by my count, Sam (just doin’ my job). Groth pounds a ball into the palm fronds across the street in frustration.

The Californian Cook evens up the first set at 4-all as Groth forehands long. “YESSSSS, MATE!” Sam screams, nonsensically. Gotta love Grothy. This match is a battle of one-handed backhanders, incidentally, and at 4-5, the American puts the man from Narrandera’s one-hander to the test; but Groth passes with colors, some of which are flying. The Melburnian gets the break for the first set 6-4.

Slammin’ Samuel starts acing by the bucketload in the second set. “Nice serve,” says someone from the crowd, which to me is kinda redundant, in Groth’s case. He nails a couple of line judges and a ballgirl with a couple of firsties (saying “Sorry” each time, polite gent that he is), and then thanks the ballgirl for bringing his towel.

Cook holds serve at 1-4. “C’mon Les, let’s go – you go the mo!” says an onlooker. Questionable. Groth questions a call of let on another bomb, and the woman next to me says, “This guy is an a-hole.” OK, so he’s not for everyone, heh. Regardless, he hits three aces to hold to 5-2*, and Les just shrugs like, “What can I do?” Indeed. Groth finishes the match with a Day One high of 16 aces, 10 in the second set, and wins 6-4 6-3. Where’d that mo’ go?

Though I’d promised in my preview that I wouldn’t be stalking Jack Sock today, some retirements and withdrawals conspire to send me to Court 4, where the 18-year-old phenom is getting his latest test from the pro ranks, in the form of 30-year-old Austrian Alexander Peya, a former Top 100 playa. And I’m quite pleased I show up on this day. Either I have a terrible memory, or the wildcard puts in his most impressive performance off the ground that I’ve seen in the entirety of his Florida swing. Which is really saying something, as I’ve seen about a bazillion of his matches in the past month. Man, this kid can play.

Peya tries to scare the reigning US Open boys singles champ by coming to net on practically everything, but Sock is unfazed and takes to the forecourt many times himself, often successfully. He still struggles with serve, connecting on only 47% of his initial offerings. But he’s able to save all seven of the break points he faces, and he keeps the pressure on Peya’s serve, going deep into practically every one of his opponents service games. But just one break each set is all it takes. He advances 6-4 6-4 and will face fifth seed Ryan Sweeting in the next round, which should be corker.

Speaking of, the last match of the day (featuring – wait for it – an Aussie) promises to be just that: another 18-year-old phenom, Bernard Tomic, taking on the fourth seed, Lukas Lacko. The match proceeds quite predictably at first, with the Slovakian dictating and Tomic retrieving, floating, slicing and lulling. But then, the unpredictable: the teen starts pulling at his left hammy, and breaks for a lonnnng medical time-out. During which time, some schoolkids scoot by on scooters and bikes on the other side of the fence and toss little trinkets onto the court. Lacko looks up at the chu/mp (smiling, of course) like, “WTF?” The congenial ch/ump just rolls with it.

With Lacko serving at 4-5 deuce, he nails a short ball sitter that Tomic anticipates perfectly, rocketing back a backhand for a set point. The Slovak saves it with an off forehand winner. Two more set points come for the Australian, but go when he errs on his groundies. Lacko holds for 5-all with two service winners to Tomic’s forehand side, and then rattles off the next eight points for good measure, taking the first set 7-5. Actually, it’s Bernard who gives it to him, missing wildly off the ground and not even trying on some returns. Hmm.

The young Aussie takes an early break lead in the second set, but Lacko breaks back in the fifth game. An unusual sequence puts the cap on a long tennis day. Tomic serves at 3-all and seemingly wins the first point when Lacko smacks a forehand just long; but a ball comes into the court at the end of the point, and Lukas argues that he was distracted. Tomic joins the conversation and sportingly concedes the point should be replayed. Lacko claps his racquet to applaud the gesture of goodwill. But then Tomic loses that first point, and a subsequent would-be 40-30 point is now a break point against, and the 23-year-old takes advantage to indeed get the break.

From there, it’s a train wreck. Lacko holds to love in under a minute, and Tomic sextuple faults (six consecutive faults), then dumps a drop shot into the bottom of the net. Just like that, Lacko wins it 7-5 6-3. Was this thus the last sporting gesture we’ll ever see in Tomic’s young career? Tune in tomorrow, when I don’t answer that question at all, but instead bring you more ATP qualifying adventures!

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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