Monthly Archives: January 2013

Warming Up and Losing Out

This week’s pair of ATP warmups for the Australian Open provide quite the contrast.

In Sydney, only one seeded player (the hardly automatic Andreas Seppi) reached the semifinals, and only one other even made the quarters. Across the ditch in Auckland, three of the final four are among the top four seeds, and the fourth, Gael Monfils, would typically sport a ranking in the same range.

Sydney fits a conventional narrative, while Auckland confounds it. The week before a Grand Slam, many of the top players are out of action, while those who are in action … well, let’s just say warmups don’t always appear to be their top priority.

Winning in 250s

The ATP schedule gives us a convenient natural experiment in order to determine whether slam warmups really are different.

(For convenience, I’m using the term “warmups.” However, we’re only looking at tournaments the week before a slam starts. Sydney is included, but not Brisbane, even though events two weeks before Austrlian and Wimbledon are generally called “warmups.”)

Since 2009, all of the lowest rung of tour-level events have been worth 250 points to the winner. Conveniently, all tourneys the week before slams have fallen into this category.

To see if players seem to treat slam warmups differently from other events, we can simply compare results from warmups to those from other 250s. It isn’t perfect, since a few 250s have draws of more than 32 players and the field quality isn’t identical in all tourneys at this level, but by looking at a few different metrics, we can limit the impact of those quibbles.

Who cares?

Let’s start by simply counting wins and losses of seeded players. In slam warmups from 2009 through 2012, seeds won about 61% of matches against unseeded opponents (224 of 365), while in other 250s, seeds win over 70% of those matches (1499 of 2129). That’s a substantial difference.

To eliminate the quirks of the bigger 250 draw at Queen’s Club, and perhaps toss out some first-round retirements as well, let’s consider the records that seeds have posted in specific rounds.

In the round of 16 at slam warmups, seeds have gone 71-50, for a winning percentage of 58.7%. At other 250s, seeds have won 591 against 223 losses, a percentage of 72.6%.

In the quarterfinals of slam warmups, seeds have beaten unseeded players in 33 of 46 matches–71.7% of encounters. In other 250s, similar matchups have gone to the seeded player 200 of 275 times, or 72.7% of the time.

It seems that many top-ranked players show up at slam warmups with the intent of getting one or two matches under their belt. (Or perhaps fulfilling an obligation to a sponsor.) Those players don’t perform up to their usual standard. But as shown by the comparable records in quarterfinals, those who come to compete play at their usual level.

A few other looks

One issue that seems to have a particular impact in slam warmups is last-minute withdrawals, like that of second-seed Gilles Simon in Sydney this week. Those don’t show up in the won-loss records.

To consider the overall picture, including withdrawals, we can count the number of seeds who reach the semifinals in our different categories of ATP 250s.

In slam warmups, the semifinal fields in the last four years have consisted of 53 seeds and 43 nonseeds–about 55% top-ranked players. In other 250 semifinals, we’ve seen 365 seeds against 191 nonseeds–66% seeds.

Yet another angle is the performance of the top four seeds. In 250s, the 5 through 8 seeds are often barely distinguishable from the rest of the pack. For example, in Sydney this week, those last four seeds are Florian Mayer, Radek Stepanek, Jeremy Chardy, and Marcel Granollers. Not much difference between those guys and unseeded semifinalists Julien Benneteau, Kevin Anderson, and Bernard Tomic.

There’s no clear line between first-rank guys and the rest of the pack, but taking the top half of the seeds seems as good as any other option.

The results are similar to what we saw with the larger pool of seeds. Overall, when a top-four seed played a non-top-four opponent in a slam warmup, he won 65% of matches (129 of 199). In other 250s, he won 74% (978 of 1321).

In the round of 16, top-fours went 51-24 in slam warmups, for a record of 68%, compared to 76% (366-114) in other 250s.

Where the top four seeds differ from other seeds is in the quarterfinal round. In slam warmup QFs, top-fours went 31-20, winning 61% of matches. In other tourneys, they won 71% (261-105). Perhaps the first-round bye in many slam warmups means that top seeds want two warmup matches, but no more.

As mentioned, these experiments give us imprecise results, as they don’t take into account the exact field quality of the various 250s. While they may not be the final word on this question, these numbers do strongly indicate that higher-ranked players don’t view slam warmups as particularly important. Against a similar pool of opponents, they win far more matches in 250s at other times throughout the year.

Perhaps that’s one reason why winning an Aussie Open warmup doesn’t forecast any particular level of success in Melbourne–these are tournaments where some of your most highly-ranked opponents just aren’t trying as hard as usual.


Filed under Research

ATP Finalists in Qualifying Draws

Earlier this week, twitterer Double_Faute noted that 13 former ATP finalists were among the 128 men in the Australian Open qualifying draw.  Since the term “finalist” evokes names like James Blake and Tommy Haas, that sounds like quite the minefield for other qualifiers to navigate.

As it turns out, though, 13 is exactly what we should expect.  Since 2007, the average qualifying draw at a Grand Slam event has included 13.4 former finalists.  Of course, Blake and Haas aren’t typical.  The usual finalist-turned-qualifier is more likely to have a record like that of Jerome Haehnel or Wayne Odesnik.

If you missed Odesnik’s crazy week at the 2009 US Clay Courts, I don’t blame you.  The discovery here isn’t that qualifying draws are so strong, its that so many players have reached an ATP final at some point along the way.  The top four may have a stranglehold on the game’s highest honors, but like spots in the rest of the top ten, finalists at ATP berths seem awfully easy to come by.

Some records

There were plenty of former champions (or finalists, anyway) who hit hard times in the spring and summer of 2007.  The ’07 Wimbledon qualifying draw featured 19 former ATP finalists, while qualies at Roland Garros included 23.  To give you a flavor of what that meant for the week of qualifying matches, here’s the complete list of former finalists in that draw:

Davide Sanguinetti, Albert Portas, Bohdan Ulihrach, Adrian Voinea, Ivo Minar, Gilles Muller, Ricardo Mello, Rainer Schuettler, Santiago Ventura, Ramon Delgado, Alex Calatrava, Andrei Pavel, Wesley Moodie, Harel Levy, Wayne Arthurs, Fernando Vicente, Christophe Rochus, Younes El Aynaoui, Jerome Haehnel, Mariano Zabaleta, Michel Kratochvil, George Bastl, Kenneth Carlsen

Yep, I had forgotten about most of those guys, too.

Of the last 24 slams–my records of qualie draws only go back to 2007–every one has had at least 7 former finalists in qualifying.  All but five have had at least 10.  The large numbers in 2007 may have been due in part to the wider array of ATP events in 1998 and before, but by 1999, the number of ATP events had dwindled to 71, just six more than in 2012.  So the effect is likely minimal, and we might find more former finalists in slam qualifying draws if we were able to look another 10 years back.

Anyway, in the time span we do have to work with, the number of former finalists in slam qualie draws isn’t going down.  Last year, those draws at Wimbledon and the French both had 16 former finalists.

The next wave

A question that qualifying-watchers might find more interesting is, how many men in these draws go on to reach ATP finals?  We’d all like to catch the next del Potro or Raonic on court 14, so how many future finalists are there?

The 2007 French continues to impress and amaze, with 22 men in the qualifying draw who went on to play in an ATP final.  There were certainly some guys worth watching that week in Paris:

Horacio Zeballos, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Pablo Andujar, Jeremy Chardy, Robin Haase, Lukasz Kubot, Mischa Zverev, Rajeev Ram, Michael Berrer, Martin Klizan, Frederico Gil, Frank Dancevic, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Lukas Lacko, Viktor Troicki, Marcel Granollers, Dudi Sela, Wayne Odesnik, Fabio Fognini, Raemon Sluiter, Marin Cilic, Santiago Giraldo

(Yes, Zverev reached a final–after qualifying for the Metz event in 2010.  This post has taken an unusually long time to research and write because of the number of times I’ve felt the need to check.  I’m looking at you, Federico Gil.)

The 2007 Australian Open qualifying draw also featured 22 future finalists, and US Open qualies that year included 21.  Of course, many of those names overlap.

Here’s where the six years of data holds us back–I have no idea whether 22 is a historically high number.  Perhaps it’s typical once players’ careers have run their course.  Glancing at the full list of the 2007 Roland Garros qualifying draw, it does appear that we’ve seen all the finalists we’ll see, but of course the same doesn’t apply to qualies from 2009 or 2010.

Remarkably, though, we’ve already had two finalists from the 2012 US Open qualifying draw: Grega Zemlja and Roberto Bautista Agut.

Keep all of this in mind when you next watch a qualifying match.  The tennis might be messy and the players you’re watching may never be famous, but in a few years, you may see them again in the finals of your neighborhood ATP 250.

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Filed under French Open, Qualifiers, Records

Sao Paulo Challenger: Day Two

In Sao Paulo, Tuesday brought the second half of first-round singles, a scattering of interesting doubles matches, and inexplicable swarms of gnats.  The gnats were almost as aggravating as the singles matches.

Click here for my reports on day one matches.

Renzo Olivo (ARG) vs Julio Cesar Campozano (ECU)

The question of the day was, “Who knows how to play tennis on hard courts?”  The answers were not encouraging.

Olivo is one of only 18 players under the age of 21 inside the ATP top 300, and it only takes a few minutes to realize he got there based on clay-court results.  That’s the generous assumption, anyway, since he looked simply dreadful.

His groundstrokes and movement looked as if somehow told him to try playing closer to the baseline, and he was trying it for the first time.  He missed easy forehands in every direction, often misjudging the bounce.  As the situation grew increasingly bleak (he ultimately lost the match 6-2 6-0), he went for more and more drop shot/lob combinations.  This was particularly painful since he missed most of the drop shots and then, when he made one, managed to miss the lob.

Perhaps Olivo is a future star, but that future isn’t any time soon.

Campozano isn’t a future star either–he’ll turn 27 later this month and has yet to crack the top 200–but he looked much more comfortable on the surface.  In fact, he looked like a good doubles player trying his hand at singles, with a consistent, well-placed serve and aggressive, compact groundstrokes.  His movement to the backhand was particularly impressive.

Perhaps Campozano’s most notable achievement in this first-round match was to stay steady through Olivo’s barrage of random unforced errors.  A lesser players would have let his level slip after an easy 6-2 first set; the Ecuadorian simply kept up the same style, letting Olivo lose the second set the same way he lost the first.

Devin Britton (USA) vs Jorge Aguilar (COL)

This was the strangest match I saw at the tournament.  If such a thing is possible, Aguilar looked worse than Olivo.  Sure, Aguilar has much more experience on clay, but he has a winning record in challenger-level hard court matches.  Whether it was the beginning of the season or Britton’s game, the Colombian never found a rhythm.

For the American, let’s start with the positive.  Throughout the match, he served wonderfully, utilizing the slice out wide in the deuce court repeatedly, especially once he learned Aguilar was never going to get it back.

Beyond that, however, I don’t see the weapons that will make Britton a future top player.  Even his serve, well-placed as it was, didn’t look like a first-class weapon.  In build and game plan, he’s a bit like Sam Querrey, but without nearly as much power.  When it came time to get aggressive on the ground, he seemed even less sure of himself than some of the awkward clay-courters in the draw.  While I wasn’t able to watch the entire match (Olivo-Campozano started at the same time), I’m not sure I saw a single clean forehand winner from Britton.  To succeed, his game will need to be built around quick points that end that way, so that’s an enormous gap.

As far as Aguilar is concerned, the less said, the better.

Austin Krajicek (USA) vs Horacio Zeballos (ARG)

As noted yesterday, I’m not impressed by Krajicek’s game.  But his performance against the #1 seed (and the only top-100 player in the draw) gave me some reasons to reevaluate my opinion.

Even when every player in the draw is within a fairly narrow range of about #100 to #400 in the world, it’s remarkable how much the better players stand out.  Zeballos is in a class by himself, especially in the way he moves around the court.  He simply makes the game look easier than anyone else at this event.  And for all that, he barely squeaked past the American.

Against a better player than the day before, Krajicek’s forehand was a bigger weapon, even if he doesn’t yet have the tactical sense or net game to follow up some opportunities.  Most impressive, though, was his mental steadiness at a time when many–far superior–players would have wilted.

At 2-2 in the second set tiebreak, Zeballos hit an “ace” that dribbled off the net cord.  Krajicek had fought hard just to get to that tiebreak, and now luck turned against him.  On the next point, he hit an ace to even the score.  Then, after a couple of clunky points, he hit two more aces to save the first two match points at 6-3.  It wasn’t good enough, as Zeballos took the breaker 7-5, but it made for a good showing against a very talented top-100 player.

Guido Andreozzi (ARG) vs Rafael Camilo (BRA)

Two years ago, Camilo reached the finals of this event as a qualifier.  In this, his first match returning from an injury that kept him off tour for nearly 15 months, he showed no signs of the talent required to reach those heights.

Camilo has much in common with Adam Kellner, not even close to an appropriate fitness level for a pro tennis player, relying on one or two big (erratic) weapons to win points.  The Brazilian did collect his share of cheap points off the serve.  When forced to hit a second shot (or, heaven forbid, return a serve), the ball was more likely to end up in the hands of a fan than a ballboy.

As for Andreozzi, it was difficult to evaluate a player who was able to sit back and watch his opponent lose the match.  The Argentine’s motions are bit unorthodox–his forehand reminds me of Marsel Ilhan‘s, if not quite that unusual–and he wasn’t quite comfortable with the surface.  He also seemed a bit overwhelmed by the power of Camilo’s serve.

There must be more to Andreozzi, as he’s reached the top 200 at age 21, and is playing a tight quarterfinal match with Zeballos as I write this.  Alas, he didn’t have to play much tennis to reach the second round.

Assorted doubles notes

Simon Stadler and Rameez Junaid squeaked by Facundo Bagnis and Alejandro Gonzalez.  Junaid, who I’m embarrassed to admit I had never even heard of, is now a full-time doubles specialist, and appears to have the skills to reach the next level.  Stadler seemed less sure of himself on the doubles court, while Junaid took control of the net like a pro.

Rik De Voest, the record-holder for most career challenger doubles titles, was in action with Marcelo Demoliner, against Marco Trungelliti and Ariel Behar.  It was a rather mediocre match, with few entertaining points and a fair bit of sloppy play.  But what caught my eye was De Voest’s absolutely relentless efforts to keep his partner in the right frame of mind.  The veteran South African was joking and smiling throughout the entire match, redoubling (ahem) his efforts whenever Demoliner seemed the least bit frustrated.  De Voest and Demoliner ended  up losing in the second round to Britton and Krajicek, but I’ll bet they were smiling until the end.

Finally, the day ended with the top-ranked doubles team of James Cerretani and Adil Shamasdin against the Brazilians Julio Silva and Thiago Alves.  In this case, it was the Brazilians joking around and the North Americans showing intensity.  In fact, Cerretani may be the most intense player I have ever seen on a tennis court.  A few ballboys from that match are probably still suffering nightmares in which they simply can’t find his towel.

More relevant to the outcome of the match, Cerretani and Shamasdin were by far the most professional doubles team in the draw.  They moved forward like the Bryans, at the slightest opportunity and as an imposing unit.  Both–and especially Cerretani–are absolute magicians at net, making for several entertaining points against the loose and talented Brazilians.

The bad news for the North Americans is that apart from doubles tactics and net play, they don’t have much to fall back on.  Even accounting for the precision required from doubles groundstrokes, their unforced error rates from the baseline were outrageous.  Neither had a particularly strong serve, and Shamasdin mixed in too many double faults for comfort.  It’s perhaps indicative of their general level that, despite looking like the far superior team, they needed a match tiebreak to win–and in the tiebreak, the lost the first four match points at 9-3.

More on the rule changes

Despite the occasional lucky point, like Zeballos’s ace against Krajicek, the players seem completely unfazed by playing service lets.  It eliminates arguments, speeds up the game, and doesn’t strongly favor any particular kind of player.  I’m afraid the traditionalists may win this round and prevent wider use of no-let service rules, but I’m convinced the sport will be better off as soon as we get rid of lets altogether.

The 25-second warning is a different issue altogether.  It sounds fine on paper, giving chair umpires a way to draw attention to a player’s slow pace without immediately affecting the course of the match.  But in practice, it simply opens more doors to pointless arguments–that, incidentally, slow down the game.

On Tuesday, umpires gave time warnings to two players, Andreozzi and Cerretani.  Andreozzi hadn’t been playing particularly slowly, and he certainly wasn’t gaining any advantage from it.  When the warning was called, it took another minute for the player to talk it out with the umpire.  In the second set of an otherwise brisk, lopsided match, it was unnecessary and bizarre.

Cerretani’s warning came near the business end of the match and raised more difficult issues.  Cerretani and Shamasdin play at a very deliberate pace, and while it didn’t occur to me to clock them between points, there’s no doubt they were regularly exceeding 25 seconds.  Cerretani, in particular, asked for the towel after nearly every point, and the ballboys weren’t very quick about it.  That, in fact, was his complaint to the umpire when the warning was called–that the ballboy was slow.

More troubling, though, is that the umpire seemed to call that warning at the immediate behest of the opposing team.  I didn’t understand the Portuguese, but it seemed as if Silva felt he’d been waiting too long, asked the umpire if he was going to call a time violation, and the ump immediately did so.  So that’s what the official was waiting for?

And of course, Cerretani had to argue about it, giving him another 30 seconds or more to rest before the next point.

I understand the arguments against a shot clock, especially if the clock were to be prominently displayed and generate excitement as it crept down to zero.  But the problem with the current system, regardless of the penalty for a first or second violation, is that it is so discretionary.  Sure, there are reasons that more time is required before some points, like moving the balls to the correct end of the court, or distractions in the audience.  So let the umpire (or some other official) reset the clock when those delays occur.

If tennis needs a time limit between points, that limit needs to be enforced fairly and consistently.  Until it is, no minor rule tweak is going to stop officials from selectively applying it–or ignoring it altogether.


Filed under Challengers, Match reports, The Rules

Sao Paulo Challenger: Day One

Happy new year, fellow tennis geeks!

By chance, I found myself in Sao Paulo at the same time as the beginning of the first challenger of 2013.  Plenty of challengers these days are streamed online, so if you really want to see these guys play, you can swing it, but there’s still some magic to watching the action live.

Ok, well, “magic” might be a little strong for the first round of a South American challenger.  You know what I mean.

Before I dig into my notes on specific players, a couple of general issues:

Brazilian style. Brazil hasn’t had a major tennis star since the retirement of Gustavo Kuerten.  Many of the highest-ranked Brazilians are in Sao Paulo this week–on hard courts.  While Brazil, like the rest of South America, has traditionally been associated with clay courts, that is changing.  The 2016 Olympics event will be held on a hard surface, and Sao Paulo has hosted the challenger tour finals on indoor hard courts.

In time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see hard-court specialists emerge from this country and make an impact at the top range of the ATP rankings.  Many of the Brazilians kicking around the 100-200 range (Joao Souza, Rogerio Dutra Silva, Ricardo Hocevar) have an unworkable combination of hard-court games and clay-court tactics.  These aren’t Argentinian-style dirtballers–they back up their booming serves with aggressive groundstrokes and are rarely spotted more than a few feet behind the baseline.  But they still aren’t as aggressive as their games merit.  While Thomaz Bellucci has had the most success of his generation, his game has some of the same limitations.

As we’ll see in a moment, the next generation of Brazilians might have more pure hard-court success.  The additional hard-court exposure they are getting at home these days can’t hurt.

No-let serving. Finally, the ATP is following the lead of World Team Tennis and the NCAA … at least a little bit.  For the first quarter of this year, Challenger tournaments will abandon the “let” rule on serves.  If the ball lands in, it’s good, regardless of whether it made contact with the net.

In seven hours of tennis yesterday, I expected to see plenty of awkwardness around the no-let rule, since players haven’t had much time to adjust.  But that wasn’t the case.  Only once did a serve dribble over the net cord for an easy ace.  One or two other times the server had a late reaction, hitting a weak defensive return that he might improve on in another few weeks.  For the most part, the no-let rule didn’t raise an eyebrow.

The advantages are minor but very real.  I don’t think any fans like to see players argue pointlessly with chair umpires, and lets (real and imagined) have always been a source of friction.  No-let serving gives us smoother matches with fewer of those sorts of hiccups.

Now, on to the matches.

Guilherme Clezar (BRA) vs Thiago Monteiro (BRA)

The future of Brazilian tennis got off to an early start this morning.  Clezar, 20, was the top-ranked teenager in the world until his birthday yesterday.  Monteiro, 18, is the third-ranked 18-year-old in the world.

Both players have monster games, with big serves and crushing groundstrokes.  Monteiro, in particular, is capable of doing violence to the ball on his first offering.  And in fact, frequently Monteiro looked like the superior player, comfortably running around forehands to hit winners on tight angles.  But in this match, Clezar was the wily veteran, somehow breaking twice for the 6-4 6-4 win.

For all of Monteiro’s potential, he was erratic.  His low service toss led to a few patches of missed first serves. He lost his temper and earned a ball abuse violation when failing to run down a drop shot on an unimportant point early in the second set.

By comparison, Clezar played the part of the wily veteran.  The ball didn’t make quite as much noise off of his racquet, but he still hits awfully hard.  While Monteiro is a pure hard-courter, Clezar comes closer to the mold I mentioned above, using hard-court weapons in an occasionally clay-court manner.

Clezar’s groundstrokes were surprisingly varied, often dropping two or three forehands in a row within inches of the baseball, then hitting a heavier topspin shot that dropped short.  For all of his capabilities, though, he missed a lot of opportunities to follow up a strong serve with an equally aggressive second or third shot.  In this match, it didn’t stop him; against better players, it’s a major area for improvement.

Clezar’s impressive ranking (for a just-turned 20-year-old) is no mirage–he has the highest ceiling of any player I saw yesterday.  He has the raw tools for a Nicolas Almagro type of game; the next few years will show us whether he can be that good.

Diego Sebastian Schwartzman (ARG) vs Marcelo Demoliner (BRA)

The 20-year-old Schwartzman had an epic season at the futures level last year, and finally made any impact at higher levels in winning the Buenos Aires Challenger late last year.  Seeing him on a hard court, it’s tough to imagine him stringing those wins together.

The Argentine is short–5’6″ on the high side.  And while he does a lot with the limited tools he’s been given, he has a long way to go to get to the level of a once-in-a-generation talent like Olivier Rochus.  Schwartzman has the weakest serve I’ve ever seen in professional tennis, not putting much on first serves, but still frequently missing them.  He doesn’t even use a great deal of spin.

Demoliner, a big Brazilian who looks a bit like Juan Martin Del Potro, is hardly a top talent, but he didn’t have any trouble putting Schwartzman away.  To his credit, as the match progressed, he took a bit of gas off the serve and went for angles and spin, often leaving the Argentine to swing (and occasionally miss) at balls above his head.

The best comp for Schwartzman is probably Juan Ignacio Chela … with the caveat that Chela is tall.  Given the opportunity, I would imagine DSS sits back as far as he can go and outlasts his opponents.  It was clear yesterday that he’s very steady on the ground and is mentally strong for a 20-year-old, staying relatively focused under an attack he’s wasn’t going to overcome.  On slow clay, that’s a recipe for success, at least in challengers.  On any hard court, it’s barely worth showing up.  Indeed, it was only his fourth career pro match on hard, moving his record to 0-4.

Despite winning this match, Demoliner didn’t do much to impress.  As noted, he served intelligently, and often looked good coming forward, but he needed to be dragged to the net.  Again, we see a Brazilian with a big game who is reluctant to use it.

Martin Alund (ARG) vs Fabiano De Paula (BRA)

In pushing his ranking up to a career-high 119 last year, Alund played only two matches off of clay–first-round losses Wimbledon and US Open qualies.  For all that, he seemed surprisingly comfortable on hard courts.

That isn’t to say he was any more aggressive than the battalion of Brazilians I’ve commented on so far.  He has some of the tools for it, especially a big serve that he is able to effortlessly place in the wide corner.  His biggest advantage yesterday, though, was an opponent even less well-suited for the surface than he was.

De Paula occasionally looked great, stepping inside the baseline to hit one-handed backhand winners, and mixing in some impressive serving of his own.  More typically, you could see him four feet behind the baseline wondering what to do next.  Despite Alund’s passivity, De Paula proved he could play even more conservative tennis, squandering opportunities and trying to win 15-shot rallies that tended to end with an error on the 7th shot.

Alund, at 27, is unlikely to advance much further in the rankings, though he could easily hang around his current ranking by continuing his success in South American challengers.  De Paula has yet to break into the top 200, and he will need a new game plan if he’s going to help out his ranking with his hard-court performance.

Pedro Sousa (POR) vs Marco Trungelliti (ARG)

After watching so many players squander their firepower with poor tactics on Sao Paulo’s fast courts, it was refreshing to watch Trungelliti, a classic dirtballer who seemed happily unaware that he wasn’t playing on dirt.  Ultimately, he fell to Sousa in three sets, but by simply playing his game–unsuitable as it was–he looked more assured on the surface than the majority of others in the draw.

Sousa wasn’t comfortable at all.  He hit great shots, especially forehand winners from every position in every direction.  In trying, he sent balls sailing in every direction outside of the lines, as well.  He gave every evidence of mental instability as well, incessantly chattering at himself, and once standing at the net for 30 seconds trying to hit a ball to a ballboy with the grip of his racquet.

Both players, but especially Sousa, looked great when hitting groundstrokes in their strike zone; in less natural contact points, the results were less predictable.  Sousa’s forehand and Trungelliti’s two-hander could be particularly impressive.

Austin Krajicek (USA) vs Patricio Heras (ARG)

One final note, on a qualifying match that kicked off the day.  Three and a half years ago, I saw Krajicek in his first professional match, at US Open qualifying.  I left with a negative impression of an immature teenager with nothing like the game it would take to compete professionally, but then again, he was 18.

After a few years at Texas A&M, Krajicek is more mature, and has a few weapons that make him competitive at the challenger level.  But his game still seems awfully small for contemporary pro tennis.  Some first serves were strong, yet every second serve was weakly spun in.  He crushed some forehands, but almost every backhand was a defensive slice.  In a first-set tiebreak, he came to the net four times … only once behind a sufficiently good approach.

At 22, Krajicek has more time to develop, but for now, he’s far down the list of young Americans to watch.


Filed under Challengers, Match reports, The Rules