Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Worst. Week. Ever.™ Part 1: When Hopes Were High

The Worst. Week. Ever.™began so promisingly. 

Following a solid, if not brilliant week in Winnetka, American men had a mixed week in Newport that was shaped by a weird draw featuring 7 Americans in the top quarter and 11 in the top half, with only two in the bottom half, both of whom lost in the first round to eventual semifinalists Groth and Karlovic. In a foreshadowing of this week, Ryan Harrison took the first set of his first round match against Lleyton Hewitt, only to crumble at the end despite being up a break in the third.  But three Americans reached the quarters and Jack Sock got to his first main-tour semifinal and then three Americans (Daniel Nguyen, Sekou Boungoura, and Raymond Sarmiento) qualified for the Binghamton Challenger stacked (if mostly on the top half) with solid Americans on their favorite surface. 

Intense tennis fandom is an odd phenomenon. Like many other pastimes it can engulf you, and yet you have no ability to affect the results. Unlike many other specific fandoms, it is at once a year-round series of events and a nearly 24-hour-a-day activity. One could (hypothetically, of course) wake up to catch the European matches, follow those while the East Coast scores start rolling in, which meld seamlessly into the West Coast tournaments, and then drift off to sleep as the Asian events are starting.  In this day of live scoring of events, one could literally spend all day every day watching zeroes turn to 15s, 15s to 30s, 30s to 40s, 40s to Ads or back to zeroes and feel a tiny thrill of excitement or tiny pang of disappointment based on whom that number turns for.

These tiny emotional shifts can happen even to those who do not place wagers on the outcomes of those turns. It can happen to those with no personal connection to either player, but who still manage to work out a rooting interest based on past viewings or encounters, playing styles or on- or off-court personalities, national or regional or collegiate affiliation, or a story you once heard tell about or by one or the other player.  That rooting interest can be a negative one fomented in reaction to excessive hype or a vaguely positive one connected to that player's age or prior results (if they're up and coming, say, or returning from a long injury) or a strongly positive one based on the tingly sensation a player's ass or breasts or eyes gives one when one gazes at them long enough.

In my case, as devoted followers of this blog will know, the rooting interest is predominantly based on national affiliation. I follow both men's and women's tennis from the majors to the very, very minors and before I memorialize the Worst. Week. Ever.™, I need to say that overall the USAmerican woman have had a solid week, with 3 of 4 semifinalists at the $10K ITF tournament in Evansville, Indiana; 2 of 4 at the $10K in Vancouver, B.C., and 4 of 4 at the $50K in Carson, California. Moreover, Grace Min (one of only three USAmericans playing WTA events this week) also beat #2 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round of Bastad.  But then she lost she lost 64 62 to unheralded Russian Alexandra Panova (following Irina Falconi's retirement in Bastad qualies and Anna Tatishvili's loss to #2 seed Roberta Vinci in Istanbul) which made it tougher to say that the women helped mitigate the Worst. Week. Ever.™.  Particularly once attentions began turning to the unfolding disaster that henceforth shall be known simply as ... Binghamton.

Day 1 (Monday, July 14, 2014): False Hope

So promising. Kevin King won a second round of qualifying match over Colombian Julio Cesar Campozano at the Bogota 250 event, then turned around the same day and played the final round of qualies, upsetting Carlos Salamanca in a dramatic 57 76(3) 62 win. He survived 9 double faults in that match to reach his second career ATP main draw. How great for the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket! While most of his success has come in doubles, he has a big game that deserves a shot in the big leagues. It's been a slow climb for him but he's knocking at the door of the Top 300, which will mean more direct entries - even seeds - at challengers. A first-round win would secure his spot in that tier.

Also in Bogota, world #155 Alex Kuznetsov upset #93 Adrian Mannarino to advance to the second round.  Many wondered why Kuznetsov was playing an ATP World Tour event when he had 80 championship points to defend in Binghamton but the win helped offset the damage with a solid 20 points.  It was a very nice win for a guy who was hoping to finally reach that coveted Top 100 after his performances in challengers last year, but  who wasn't able to build on his successes and remains stuck around 150. 

Up in Granby, Quebec, one of this blog's favorites Chase Buchanan took apart Canadian Philip Bester 4&0 to secure a second round appearance in a very nice looking (read pretty weak) draw. Excellent.

And in lovely Binghamton, New York, Americans got wins. Lots of them. Qualifiers Bangoura and Nguyen took out Facundo Mena and wildcard Ryan Shane (UVA) while in a battle of young guns, the younger (Ernesto Escobedo) defeated Winnetka hero Mackenzie McDonald in three sets. Another of this blog's favorites, Dennis Nevolo, went up a set and two breaks against Handsome Dan Smethurst. He served twice for the match only to see Dan up his game and take it to a tiebreak. There, Nevolo was the better man and won 7-3. A great result for the undersized Illinois alum who is fighting to make a career of this. 

Most remarkably, Jared Donaldson beat Marius Copil (ROM) 75 61. Copil had to qualify as he entered the tournament late, but at #160 in the world, he still was seeded #4. In all honestly, he gave the match away but Donaldson still showed composure and a hell of a lot of talent in getting his 16th consecutive win.

To end the day, Bradley Klahn took on his doubles partner for the week, Jared Thompson, a very promising young Aussie. Klahn was not at his best in the first set, and Jared was, taking it 7-5. In the second, Klahn righted the ship to take it 6-1 but it was getting dark and Klahn agreed to postpone the rest of the match until Tuesday even though Thompson was limping after having rolled an ankle.

In any case, USAmerican men were undefeated on the day and hopes were so high they could've been mistaken for a reveler at a Phish concert (or, let's face it, a Phil Collins concert. Bottom line: people like to smoke weed at concerts).

And as we went to sleep, way over in Hong Kong, where it was already Tuesday, July 15, Peter Kobelt had a decisive lead over his conqueror from last week, Wishaya Trongcharoenchaikul, up a set and a break and all was well in the world.

Or so we thought.

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