Rubin and Aragone save match point(s) to advance to Chicago quarterfinals
(September 6, 2018) CHICAGO – They may be shorter than the average tennis professional but Americans Noah Rubin (listed at 5’9”) and J.C. Aragone (5’10”) showed plenty of stature on Thursday as they each saved match point – in Rubin’s case, three of them – to win their second round matches at the Oracle Challenger Series Chicago.
The two former ACC rivals – Rubin’s year at Wake Forest coincided with Aragone’s first of three consecutive team National Championship at the University of Virginia – both came back from a set down, and they both relied on their serves to get out of their match points, although for the most part they relied on their speed to stay in contention.
Like all the players on a wet morning in Chicago, Aragone and Rubin found themselves having to adjust to play indoors. Fortunately for the tournament, the XS Tennis Village has 12 indoor courts, all in a row, and the ATP and WTA were able to put six matches on at a time.
“It was a little bit of a struggle,” said Rubin about the move indoors. “The eyesight’s different, you’re hearing everything, the ballboys are everything, there’s no division between the courts so you’re getting lets when you don’t want them, lets when you do want them.” Aragone credited the relative slowness of the indoor courts for the longer rally lengths in many of the matches.
Aragone beat friend and fellow Californian Alexander Sarkissian 2-6 7-6(4) 7-6(3). His match point save came at 5-6 in the third, a set in which the two players had saved a combined seven break points. He saved it with an ace, in response to which Sarkissian yelled, “Every time!”
“That was just a weird game,” Aragone noted. “I was up 40-0 and he kind of just slapped a couple of shots that went in. I felt like I was down match point but I should have won that game. So was a little bit irritated, but at the same I was like, ‘Whatever, I’m just going to do what he did and just swing away.’ And it went in! So maybe I should do it more often.”
Sarkissian had served for the match at 6-5 in the second set, only to be broken as he had been when serving for the match in the first round against top seed Andreas Seppi.
The final set tiebreak was highlighted by a long nail-biting rally at 5-3 that Aragone sealed with a hard-hit, sharply-angled running crosscourt forehand winner to reach his own match point, which he converted when Sarkissian missed a backhand return wide.
“I’ve had a lot of success at 7-6 in the third,” said Aragone, who is 7-1 in final set tiebreaks in 2018. “Maybe I got some lucky guardian on my shoulder that’s helping.”
For his part, Rubin beat 19-year-old Alexei Popyrin 5-7 6-2 7-5. After dropping the first set, Rubin seemed to get a bead on the 6’5” Australian’s serve. He failed to convert three break points in Popyrin’s first two service games, but he finally converted his fifth of the set for a 3-2 lead and, after saving a break point of his own in the next game, got the insurance break at 4-2 with a slice lob off a Popyrin overhead. “I would have put it on Instagram if it had been on Livestream,” noted Rubin.
The third set started out as a cakewalk, as Popyrin saw the trainer for his back and Rubin broke at 15 to start the set. The New Yorker stayed in front until 4-3, when he threw in an untidy service game and Popyrin leveled the match at 4-4. At 4-5, Rubin found himself down 30-40, then twice ad-out, but each time, rescued himself. After the third match point, he yelled “FOCUS!” and won ten of the final twelve points to seal the victory.
“I think I was just going for shots I would not normally go for,” Rubin said of his struggles in the middle of the third set. “But at least I have this match under my belt just in case we play indoors again” on Friday.
Both players will leave Chicago with new career high rankings. In addition to their shared goals of doing well in Chicago, the two players have set ranking goals for the rest of 2018. Rubin is looking to break into the Top 100, and he has calculated how many points he needs to accumulate in order to get there (approximately 200). Aragone is aiming to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals and, depending on where the cut-off is, he could already be there, as he’ll be near the Top 250 on Monday regardless of how well he does in Chicago and will not be defending any points for the rest of the year.
Three other US men reached the quarterfinals on Thursday: Reilly Opelka (who beat Michael Mmoh in two sets), Bjorn Fratangelo (who won a tough three-set battle over qualifier Sekou Bangoura), and Chicago native Donald Young. Two Americans are guaranteed spots in the semifinals, as Fratangelo will face Rubin and Opelka gets Young. Aragone will face Dominik Koepfer (GER) while Rubin Bemelmans (BEL) meets #2 seed Denis Istomin (UZB).
In the women’s $125K, top seed Danielle Collins was upset by Russian teen Anna Blinkova, whose searing down the line backhand returns overcame the American’s shaky serve. Blinkova will next face American Sachia Vickery, who raced out to a 5-1 lead against Allie Kiick and held on to take the first set 6-4. Vickery then delivered a bagel to Kiick in the second set. Also advancing: German Mona Barthel, Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastramska, Croatian #2 seed Petra Martic, and Canadian qualifier Françoise Abanda. The final player to move into the last eight was American Varvara Lepchenko, who won a break-filled match against Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4 6-7(2) 6-4 in three hours and fourteen minutes.
Jonathan Kelley is in Chicago covering the Oracle Challenger Series tournament for Tennis Panorama News.