Sunday, September 27, 2015

Young pros vs college stars in Costa Mesa semis

On Saturday, On the Rise (a tennis blog) contributor Parsa traveled to Costa Mesa (in Orange County, California) to check out the action at the Futures event there. Here's his report.

Ernesto Escobedo. (c) Parsa
I had the pleasure of attending yesterday’s three matches at the $10K Costa Mesa Pro Classic where there was a mixture of collegiate stars and young professionals in action. There were two singles semi-finals followed by the doubles final, and all eight players competing today either represented the United States or had college ties. Several had both attributes, including singles quarterfinalist and doubles finalist Jean-Yves Aubone, who described the courts as among the fastest courts he had ever played on.

To start off the day, 19-year-old American Ernesto Escobedo, who grew up in West Covina (about forty-five minutes northeast of the tournament), took on recent University of Mississippi graduate Nik Scholtz in a battle that lasted two hours and forty-seven minutes. Escobedo, 6 foot 2 inches, has one of the biggest games on tour as he absolutely pounds the fuzz off the poor innocent tennis ball. He has extremely strong legs which help him put incredible pace on his shots, especially when he is on balance and sets his feet. Escobedo has played 48 events at the pro level in his young career, but has competed in doubles or mixed doubles in only seven of those events; it was apparent that his net game definitely needs improvement. Meanwhile, Scholtz is 6 foot 5 inches with a fantastic serve and a good baseline game with soft hands at the net, no doubt as a result of playing doubles in college. With both guys possessing the ability to dictate from the baseline, fans were treated to some fantastic rallies.

Scholtz had four break points early in the first set, but Escobedo stayed strong to not allow his serve to get broken. Escobedo had been unable to get anything going on Scholtz’s serve before the big South African allowed the youngster some opportunities while serving to stay in the first set. At *4-5, Scholtz hit a double fault, followed by some unforced errors, and a couple points later Escobedo converted his second break point to take the opening set.

Escobedo held serve to start off the second set, then broke Scholtz to take a 2-0 lead as the former Ole Miss Rebel let a bad line call affect him a bit too much. It looked like Escobedo was cruising to victory as he was leading 5-2* in the second set. However, he let his foot off the gas pedal and allowed Scholtz, who never stopped fighting, to get back into the match. After Escobedo got broken easily serving for the match at *5-3, three more holds sent the match into a tiebreak. Ryan Shane and Deiton Baughman, who had eagerly been waiting to go on for their semifinal match, were now watching the tiebreak to see if they would get on the court in five minutes or possibly in another hour.

Escobedo had a mini-break lead in the tiebreak before Scholtz stepped up his game to get the mini-break back, and then earn his own mini-break for 6*-4 on his serve. Scholtz hit a bomb out wide, and Escobedo sent the ball back with an absolute nuclear missile that was so fast, Scholtz did not even have time to decide whether the ball was going out or not, so he stuck out his racquet and made contact, but it was to no avail. It looked like Escobedo was going to pull out the win in straight sets as the next point he hit a bomb down the T and was very amped up. After the players switched sides at 6-6, Escobedo hit a big serve and came up to the net to hit an easy forehand approach shot that he did not need to do too much with. However as he sometimes does, Escobedo tried to paint the lines and hit it wide. Scholtz had another chance to serve out the set, and this time he converted and bellowed a big roar. Shane and Baughman were now forced to wait even longer for their own match.

Neither player had any break points in the first nine games of the third set. With Escobedo serving at to stay in the match at 4*-5, Scholtz played a couple really good points and earned himself two match points at 15-40. However, Escobedo stuck to his guns and did not back down, winning two big rallies to get to deuce, and two points later he held to stay in the match. As a local and also as a young American player, Escobedo received almost all of the support crowd, which included many of his friends and family, which led to him after the match calling the atmosphere “like a little Davis Cup in the Futures.” Shortly after the big hold, the match was into a tiebreak where Escobedo really elevated his game and stayed level-headed, earning a 6-4 6-7(6) 7-6(3) victory and advancing to his 5th career futures final in singles. Escobedo fell in two finals in 2013 as well as two this year, so he will be looking to win his first pro singles title.

The second semifinal, which started two hours later than scheduled, was much more straightforward than the first match as 2015 NCAA champion Ryan Shane took out red-hot 19-year-old American Deiton Baughman, who was coming off a title last week in Claremont. Shane, 6 foot 4 inches, has a big first serve and does not take too much speed off for his second serve, but rather he adds some wicked spin on it. The University of Virginia senior complements his serve well with a huge forehand and he also possesses a pretty good one-handed backhand, demonstrating why his nice all-around game makes him the #2-ranked college player right now in both singles and doubles. Meanwhile, Baughman turned down a scholarship offer from USC to turn pro a year and a half ago and he resides in Carson (30 minutes north of the tournament). Much like Escobedo, as a local, Baughman also had the opportunity to play a match in front of his friends and family.

Shane got the early break in the first set and got another break as well to take the first set 6-2 in just 23 minutes, firing eight aces and winning 13 of his 15 service points. Midway through the second set, Shane got another break of serve which was all he needed since he was serving so great, and stormed his way into his first career singles final at the professional level with a 6-2 6-4 win.

Immediately after the match was finished, I was very impressed with Shane taking a box of balls and just practicing his serve. After the match, he said that was one reason he was serving so well: he has hit a ton of serves in practice this week and it certainly paid off in his win.

In the doubles final, it was UCLA against Florida State as Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA junior) and Martin Redlicki (UCLA sophomore) beat Benjamin Lock (Florida State senior) and Jean-Yves Aubone (Florida State ’10) 6-2 3-6 10-5. It was the UCLA duo’s second doubles title at the professional level as they had also won together last year in Oklahoma City.

College coaches on-site:

Long-time UCLA head coach Billy Martin, one of the most respected college coaches in the nation, was in attendance to watch his two Bruins play in the doubles final.

Dustin Taylor, a former all-American at the University of Tulsa who previously was a USTA national coach working with professionals as well as college players, was recently named an assistant coach for the University of Virginia. Taylor has been working with Shane this whole week in Costa Mesa.

Florida State University associate head coach Nick Crowell was in attendance supporting his number one singles player Lock, as well as former Seminole Aubone.

Interesting tidbits:
  • Escobedo is one of the few Americans who yells “Vamos,” keeping alive his Mexican heritage. 
  • Shane was pleading with Coach Taylor to book either a window or aisle seat on the flight home on Sunday since he’s really big and his knees would hurt (I think the majority of all tennis players hate sitting in the middle seat of an airplane). 
  • Steve Johnson’s former coach Peter Lucassen has been working with Escobedo the past couple of weeks. 
  • Escobedo has been homeschooled since the age of five, and his former academic tutor and hitting partner was there to cheer him on. As was Papa Escobedo, who was yelling “Vamos” a lot. 
  • Baughman’s dad is his coach, contrary to what it says on Baughman’s ITF profile (Drake). 
  • Baughman is no doubt a bigger fan of Drake than is Serena Williams. Yes that is possible. 
  • Redlicki and McDonald are an interesting doubles duo. Redlicki is always talking on the court and having fun, while Mackie is focused and quiet. Florida State coach Crowell described it well as he called them “fire and ice.” 
  • Doubles partners contrary to popular belief do NOT do everything together. Aubone decided to go eat at Chipotle a few hours before their match, and Lock chose to go to Corner Bakery CafĂ© instead. 
  • Shane majors in foreign affairs, and just like his older brother Justin Shane, he hopes to turn pro after his senior year.
  • Brazilian Thales Turini lost in the first round of singles and doubles, but still came out to practice. Qualifying at next week’s tournament Laguna Niguel was going on, so there were probably no courts available for him to practice on. 
  • It was apparent why Coach Martin is so respected. Very sharp guy. 
  • I felt a little bad for Scholtz since after his loss, he went and stood on this grassy area for about five minutes just staring out into the distance. The big fella had battled hard. 
  • Lock was not allowed in Aubone’s fantasy football league this year since last year, Lock failed to update his lineup on multiple occasions. The Zimbabwean obviously needs to step up his level of dedication to football. 

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