2014/04/21

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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Bernard Tomic, Carsten Ball, Sally Peers and Sophie Ferguson Awarded Australian Open Wildcards

Bernard Tomic,Carsten Ball, Sally Peers and Sophie Ferguson have been granted the final wildcards into the main draw of Australian Open 2011.

Eighteen-year-old Tomic put his precocious talent on display this week, winning three tough rounds to qualify for the Medibank Sydney International.

Tomic, ranked world No. 209, defeated the No.101 Russian Igor Kunitsyn in the first round and went on to win in straight sets over two top 100 players – No.2 seed and world No.60 Michael Berrer from Germany, and finally the fifth seed Lukasz Kubot, ranked No.72.

Carsten Ball achieved some solid results during 2010, including winning a Challenger in Lexington, reaching the final in Dallas and the semis in both Aptos and Tiburon. Ball qualified for Wimbledon and won first rounds at both the French Open and US Open. He and regular doubles partner Chris Guccione also won their first ATP doubles title in Newport.

Ball has become a Davis Cup regular, winning six of the eight matches he’s played since making his debut in 2008.

“These [wildcards] are always difficult decisions,” Tennis Australia’s head of men’s tennis Todd  Woodbridge said today.

“We wanted to see players achieve some results, and Carsten has certainly done that throughout the year.

“Bernard is a talent but cannot be rewarded with a wildcard on that along, nor should he ever expect that. He has not had much tennis and he missed the AO Play-off so the pressure was on him to perform, particularly after he did not play well in Brisbane.

“He had not done enough. He needed to produce something in Sydney and he has done that with three good wins. His tennis has now earned this wildcard.”

Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter added “In making these decisions we are also looking at creating a culture that will help us build a strong Davis Cup team.”

“I want to see a real work ethic, attitude and sense of camaraderie that reflects our proud tennis history. That’s always stood out as being a point of difference with the Aussie players.”

Nineteen year-old Victorian Sally Peers enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2010, qualifying and winning through to the second round at the US Open, where she made a memorable centre court debut against Kim Clijsters. Peers also won gold with Anastasia Rodionova in doubles at the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Sophie Ferguson (NSW) reached a career-high ranking of 119 in June after an impressive run at Roland Garros, qualifying for the main draw and winning in the first round before falling to No.17 seed and eventual champion Francesca Schiavone. Ferguson was runner-up at two ITF events, at Fort Walton (USA) and Biarritz (FRA), and qualified for WTA events in Ponte Vedra Beach and Charleston in the US, and Birmingham in the UK.

“Congratulations to both Sally and Sophie on their Australian Open wildcards,” Tennis Australia’s head of women’s tennis Craig Morris said today.

“They are both well deserved. Sally has had a great year, with the highlight qualifying for the US Open and her first round win, as well having the chance to represent Australia and win gold in Delhi.

“Sophie has really improved throughout 2010 and I hope this will be a springboard into the top 100 in 2011.”

The following players have been awarded wildcards into Australian Open qualifying:

Winner of Optus 18s Australian Championships:

Sean Berman                                             Isabella Holland

Winner of Australian Open Junior Championships 2010:

Tiago Fernandes                                       Irina Khromacheva

Discretionary – men’s draw:

Chris Guccione , Matt Reid , James Lemke , Luke Saville, Ben Mitchell , James Duckworth and Maverick Banes.

Discretionary – women’s draw:

Jessica Moore, Sophie Letcher,Tammi Patterson , Viktorija Rajicic and Monika Wejnert.

The men’s qualifying draw will be done after 6pm on Tuesday 11 January, and the women’s draw will be completed after 4pm on Wednesday 12 January. Both draws and schedules will be available on www.australianopen.com. Qualifying commences at 10:00am on Wednesday 12 January and matches will be streamed live on www.australianopen.com/live.

Australian Open wildcards have been allocated as follows:

Reciprocal US:   Ryan Harrison (USA)                 Lauren Davies (USA)

Reciprocal French: Benoit Paire (FRA)                 Virginie Razzano (FRA)

Asia Pacific:          Somdev Devvarman (IND)      Kei-chen Chang (TPE)

AO Play-off winners: Marinko Matosevic (Vic)       Olivia Rogowska (Vic)

Discretionary:

Peter Luczak, Jelena Dokic, Matt Ebden, Alicia Molik, Carsten Ball, Sally Peers, Bernard Tomic, Sophie Ferguson

Australian Open 2011, presented by Kia Motors in association with ANZ, Jacob’s Creek and Rolex, will take place at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, from 17 to 30 January.


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