Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Krueger shocks Marchenko to advance to the Winnetka quarters

Mitchell Krueger, (c) Jonathan Kelley,
On the Rise
Times were tough for Mitchell Krueger.

The 21-year-old Texan had been broken early in the third set against #2 seed Illya Marchenko and was serving at 3*-5 to stay in the 2015 Nielsen Pro Tennis Championship. Down 15-30, he hit a big first serve that set up a nice drop volley, and the next two points hit a big - and unreturned - second serves to force Marchenko to try to serve out the match. Which Marchenko failed to do - bookending the next game with dual ugly double faults, and throwing in two additional unforced errors.

"The whole third set I was struggling to hold serve," said Krueger. "Even my first two service games, I saved break points, and he was able to break me in the third one. I was missing too many first serves. I felt like I was guiding it. After I got broken, I just told myself, 'You gotta go after it.' So I started swinging faster and hitting a bigger serve, and thankfully started making some first serves, and putting pressure on him on return and as you saw, he cracked a little bit under the pressure."

At 5*-5, there was still plenty of work to be done, however.  On the first point, Krueger hit a big serve that elicited a short return - a little too short, it turned out, as Krueger's approach shot was returned by a spectacular forehand down the line pass. Two points later, nearly the exact same thing happened: big serve, short return, scramble to hit an approach shot, and a huge forehand pass, although this time the shot went cross court.

That gave Marchenko two break points that felt like match points (and indeed, I erroneously tweeted as much). On the first, Krueger hit another big first serve that got another very short reply. This time, however, Krueger approached to the Ukrainian's backhand, and Marchenko netted the pass. On the second, Krueger hit ANOTHER big first serve that got YET ANOTHER short reply. Again, Krueger approached to the backhand. This time, Marchenko got the passing shot over the net, but Krueger was ready, and hit a perfect drop volley to get to deuce. Four points later, Krueger held and the pressure was squarely on Marchenko to try to take the match to a final set tiebreak.

And again, Marchenko flinched. Four errors later, Krueger gave the crowd a huge yell and moved into the quarterfinals.

The upset of the #2 seed came one day after a similar three-set upset took place on Center court, when Nicolas Meister took out Tatsuma Ito. Today in the second round, Meister took on a fellow qualifier, local hero Dennis Nevolo. In a two-hour, two-set match, Meister survived a thrilling second set tiebreak, saving six set points on the way to a 6-3 7-6(12) win.

"I just kept telling myself to play the right way, go for my shots, keep swinging fast because I knew he wouldn't give it to me. I knew I'd have to hit through him or at least match pace to pace with him. Because as soon as he gets a rhythm, you can see, he can hit 30-40 balls in a row."

When asked how he prepared for the match today, Meister mentioned that he played lots of Boggle with his host family and ate some Cheez-Its.

It worked.

A few minutes after Meister's win, his fellow former UCLA Bruin, Marcos Giron, dropped a tough, seesaw match against world #107 Blaz Kavcic, 3-6 6-2 7-5. Down 1*-4 in the third set, Giron won a string of points to even the match at 4-4. After players traded holds, Giron was serving at 5*-6 30-15 when he threw in a killer double fault. Two points later, the Slovenian escaped with the win.

Kavcic will next take on the highest profile player in the draw, Ryan Harrison. Harrison won the best match of the tournament this far - a 6-7(2) 7-5 7-6(5) extremely tense affair with Canadian Frank Dancevic. The quality of the match varied, with some remarkable defense and shotmaking from both players balanced by 12 double faults, including one by Dancevic down set point in the second set.

If nothing else, the match will be memorable for this from Fancy Frank:

Afterward, Harrison gave a long, thoughtful interview, which I will try to post later this week.

Three other second-round singles matches took place during the day session:

  • Swiss Adrian Bossel d. #4 seed Austin Krajicek 7-6(6) 6-3
  • #7 seed Somdev Devvarman (UVA) d. Matija Pecotic (Princeton)
  • Daniel Nguyen d. qualifier Andrew Whittington 3-6 6-1 6-2
"I guess I'm a slow starter," Nguyen joked, having also come back from a set down in his first round match.  "He was playing solid in the first set. He was dictating, moving me around the court. I was getting a bit frustrated.  But I turned it around in the second set. I started serving better, made him play one more ball, and the focus level was a lot better."

After his match, Nguyen headed over to Centre Court to check out his next round opponent. Given the score, he thought he was scoping out Marchenko. Turns out, he was scoping out Krueger.

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