Saturday, July 5, 2014

My next day at the AC Nielson/Winnetka Challenger (SF edition)

I know your breath was bated so here you go: part 2 of my coverage of the Nielson USTA Pro Tennis Championship 2014. Part 1 is here.

I tend to prefer to attend tournaments earlier in the week. You get more bang for your buck, and the chances are higher that you'll see a truly excellent match. I've probably seen one final in person ever, with dozens if not hundreds of matches earlier in tournaments. That is, I see parts of matches. My ADHD (diagnosed!) makes it tough for me to stay in one place at one time.

So Friday's venture to Winnetka was kind of nice, because I was able to see three full matches, including two very tight, entertaining ones, with nothing to compete for my attention other than my phone and a plane flying overhead with an odd "Hey stranger, will you marry me?" sign. Plus I was with my boyfriend, Adam, which always makes it better.

And again, all the matches featured Americans. :-)

First up was a second helping of Mackenzie "Mackie" McDonald. The somewhat small-framed Californian had his hands full all day with the large, powerful Farrukh Dustov. He was forced several feet behind the baseline and while his movement and anticipation were excellent, he couldn't really make an impression on the Uzbek. Chances are he was a bit worn from his 8 singles + doubles matches leading up to Friday. I gotta say, though, I love the kid's attitude on court. He's a positive guy who plays his heart out, with great racquet skills and a willingness to go for his shots. I expect him to excel next year at UCLA at #1 or #2 singles.

Then came the MOST SCANDALOUS MATCH OF THE YEAR. Let me set the stage.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had what I'd thought was the pleasure of meeting my tweep Patrick Rourke (@rourkeytennis) and we talked about our mutual support for American tennis players, and our shared annoyance at some US tennis fans who seem to go out of their way to root against US players. As if to prove a point or something. It's not just that their favorites happen to be non-American. Or that they don't like certain or even most non-American players. It's the reflexive rooting against, often without acknowledging that they're doing it, that gets to me.

SO IMAGINE MY SURPRISE when the man who consistently tweets his support for Americans turns out to be the sole person in the crowd supporting Australian J.P. Smith over American Denis Kudla! And not just supporting him. Vociferously supporting him. At one point OBNOXIOUSLY VOCIFEROUSLY SUPPORTING HIM. He explained something about the Aussie being "nice" to him. My hope for him is that someday he'll learn that you can't just be fans of everyone who's "nice." This is tennis, after all, not ... umm ... nice ball.

Anyway, it was an enthralling match. Smith was on fire in the first set, hitting through his backhand (and making his shots) to a degree I'd never seen in the previous times I'd encountered the former Tennessee Volunteer. He was all over the place, hustling and controlling play, and Denis started flat and frankly uninspired. He was broken twice in the set and never reached break point against the big-serving lefty. He then went down a break in the second and it looked like it was not going to happen for the 'merican on the Fourth of July. And then out of nowhere, errors started creeping into Smith's game. A long point at 30-30 featuring a textbook leaping backhand down the line got Kudla to break point, and he converted with a brilliant forehand pass on one of Smith's surprisingly few net approaches. From there, the two held to 5-5, at which point Kudla was able to break and then serve out the second set.

Approached Denis after his singles match.
Me: "Can I get a pic for my blog?"
Kudla: "How about a selfie??"
The third was a dogfight. Denis' game was finally clicking and he went up an early break for 2*-1 and had multiple chances to get another break at 1*-3. But Smith held and eventually broke Kudla to get things back on serve at 4-4. I believe that's when Mr. Rourke yelled "KAMAN AUSSIE!!!" louder than an actual Aussie ever would. (He immediately apologized on Twitter, I suppose I should add, helped no doubt by Kudla's giving him the evil eye.)  They traded holds for 5-5 and then Denis broke to love and served for the match. But Smith came right back to send the match to a third-set tiebreak, which I like to call a BUSTER!  They traded mini-breaks and it was 3-3 at the changeover. At 4-4, a 25-stroke rally ended in a Smith backhand error, at which point I may or may not have yelled "'MERICA!!!" (but not as loud as Patrick yelled). Two points later and it was all over. A great win for Kudla, who tonight consolidated his victory with a tournament title. He'll rise back to #120 next week, which won't be enough for US Open direct entry but will come in handy with seeding at upcoming challenger events.

Our final match on Center Court was also terrific. I won't dwell on it as this post already has gone on far too long. But it was two local guys facing each other: Evan King (of Chicago and University of Michigan), a terrific doubles player who was featured in this excellent profile of life on the Futures Circuit, teamed with Raymond Sarmiento (recent USC graduate) against Martin Redlicki (a northwest suburb of Chicago and rising UCLA freshman) and McDonald. The professionals (King & Sarmiento) were victorious in three entertaining sets, which gladdened me as they need the points and money as they continue their young careers, plus I love their talent (especially King's (lefty) doubles skills). But I want to say this about Redlicki: I adore this kid. I'd seen him on the Livestream replay but in person he was even more impressive. He was entertaining and personable, and full of energy and competitive fire.  And he has a HUGE (again, lefty) game.  It may not be fair based on such limited exposure, but I think this guy can have a great pro career. Clearly he needs seasoning, and hopefully the team at UCLA can help with that.  But if he keeps his nose to the grindstone and stays healthy (he's built like a linebacker, which doesn't always lend itself to tennis), I see happy days ahead for him. And for 'merica. :-)

Bruins prior to their big semifinal

The victorious Big 10/Pac 12 champions, King & Sarmiento
 Tomorrow: what I liked best about the tournament and what I think could be fixed.

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