In any case, congratulations are in order to Rice, the only one of the four Brits in the final round of qualies to advance to the main draw of the Charlottesville Men's Pro Challenger. Rice is someone who tends to thrive on faster surfaces, with an aggressive style and a solid net game that has helped him win 33 pro doubles titles (all at the Futures level). This is only his second challenger main draw of the year (the other was a British tournament for which he received a wild card) and he seems like a nice guy so bully, as they say, for him!
Anyway you missed the only qualifying match of the day featuring no Americans, but you notice the match victor, Zimbabwe's Takanyi Garanganga, in the stands and so when you sense the time is right, you approach him to ask about his qualifying campaign that had just culminated in a 1 & 4 win over Daniel Smethurst. "Today I think ... by the day I was getting better, from the first day," he said. "I got my rhythm and my serve was on. I just stuck to my patterns that I'm comfortable playing. I won't say it was easy, but I was more locked in today than I was the first day." It turns into a wide-ranging conversation about his career and the state of African tennis, one you will look to transcribe in the coming days.
Then it was back to the live tennis, where two more American teens were taking on two more Brits. On the main court, 2014 Wimbledon junior champion Noah Rubin got a break in each set to beat dynamic serve and volleyer Joe Salisbury (University of Memphis) 6-4 6-4. It was pretty straightforward, but fun. What was happening 50 feet away was also fun, but anything but straightforward. What was happening there was 2014 Wimbledon junior runner-up Stefan Kozlov in a real tussle with what some may call a "junkballer," and others may call "delightfully creative," and still others will just call "Cartman." Yes, it was Marcus Willis. Koz won 6-2 in the third but really the match came down to two epic games: Willis saving 6 break points to hold from 0-40 for 2-2 in the third, and then Willis unable to hold at 2-3 in the third, wasting umpteen game points in a 14-minute epic.
|Marcus Willis. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise|
"He thrives indoors," said Kozlov. "I knew it was going to be tough but I didn't think it was going to be that tough. It took me a little bit of time to get used to his game." Referring, you imagine, to all those dang forehand slices. Not a common shot, to say the least. Plus he's a lefty, which ... and he was serving "bombs," per Kozlov. Next up for Kozlov is home-crowd hero, UVA's Collin Altamirano. It should be noted that the two last met at the 2014 USTA Boys National Championships in Kalamazoo. Altamirano crushed Kozlov then.
Main draw time! Six matches, featuring three all-American battles. Bjorn Fratangelo beat a game Kevin King 6-4 6-3. King can wallop the ball, but with little margin for error. He often got his balls called long or wide on game and break points. Fratangelo, meanwhile, is coming off a layoff after suffering a back injury a few weeks ago in California. "You never know how it's going to be with the lack of matches that I have under my belt right now," said Fratangelo. "But I felt good here." The Pennsylvanian played last week in Monterrey, Mexico, but ran into the buzz saw known as Taylor Fritz in the first round. "Hopefully I can make these last few weeks [of the season] count," he noted.
Fratangelo tells you that one of the biggest motivators he had this year was barely missing the cut for Australian Open qualifying in January. "I told myself I never wanted to have that happen again." It's not a coincidence that he won his first Challenger title Down Under soon after that.
In the feature match later in the day, UVA's Ryan Shane (the #2-ranked Ryan in the world) couldn't get it going for the crowd, double faulting 11 times and falling to Sekou Bangoura 6-3 6-2. "I definitely played well. It was good to just get the nerves out of the way," said Bangoura. "As the match wore on, I started serving a little bit better. A couple of serve-and-volley plays that worked well. And then after that, it was just putting balls back in the court. He definitely gave me a lot of free points today."
Simultaneously, the #1-ranked Ryan in the world, Ryan Harrison, was on his way to beating Tennys Sandgren in an entertaining two sets. "High quality match, really," you say. "Yeah, it was really high quality," he concurs. "Tennys was swinging well from the start." He goes on to credit his newfound aggression on the return for the win. "I have definitely been guilty of playing too far back," he notes. You forget to ask him whether he heard the "come on, Ryan!" yells (for Shane) at the other end of the tennis hall. You make a mental note to ask him tomorrow. (You'll likely forget again.)
#3 seed Tim Smyczek beat Dan Evans 6-4 6-4 and you imagine it could have easily gone the other way, but Evans - who at his best can play transcendent tennis - just didn't bring his best at the right time.
The other two singles matches saw Dimitar Kutrovsky beat Adrien Bossel in three sets and Henri Laaksonen beat Johsua Milton 6-3 6-2.
It was a good first-ever day in Charlottesville, Virginia, you think.
Tomorrow, you feel confident, will be even better.