Category Archives: Futures

Futures Report: Switzerland F1 in Frauenfeld

It’s not every day you can spend ten hours at an indoor tennis club in Frauenfeld, Switzerland, watching a $20k combined event amongst a small number of tennis-loving friends.

At the main venue, today’s action included 12 matches, seven of which made up the men’s second round in the Switzerland F1 Futures.  They featured everyone from top-200-ranked 29-year-old Bastian Knittel to unranked 17-year-old Swiss wildcard Daniel Valent.  Here are reports on some of the highlights and some of the rest.

George Von Massow (GER) d. (2)Peter Torebko (GER) 6-4 6-3

Torebko is a veteran of Challengers and ATP qualifiers; like many of the seeds this week, he’s not someone you’d expect to see in a Futures event.  Alas, he wasn’t rewarded for dropping down a level.

The 25-year-old is steady, with perhaps the best defensive game on display all day.  Alas, the conditions featured an explosive indoor hard court that rewarded huge weaponry, and Von Massow had more of that.  The final scoreline disguises how close the match felt, especially until Von Massow sealed the first set.  For several games, Torebko withstood the firepower with a nice combination of flat and slice backhands, waiting until his younger opponent made errors.

Then Von Massow stopped making so many errors.  While Torebko hit his share of service winners, especially slices wide, he could only watch while his countryman’s unforced errors turned into winners.  A smarter player–or any player on a slower or less predictable court–probably could have gotten Von Massow off track, as the German looked awkward whenever he had to strike a ball outside of his hitting zone.  But he took advantage of the indoor conditions and kept his form long enough to get through to the quarters.

(Q)Bastian Wagner (GER) d. (7)Adrian Bossel (SUI) 6-4 6-4

Wagner is a David Goffin-sized 18-year-old from Germany with a game to match.  He swings hard, with a two-handed backhand he’s willing to hit anywhere, but he doesn’t seem to be that strong.  Unless he found  a perfect angle, he rarely hit winners.  His saving grace was Bossel’s inconsistency and apparent indifference.

It’s unclear whether Bossel’s performance today was due to an injury–he knelt over in pain in mid-game early in the first set and took a medical time out.  In any event, plenty of errors came off his racquet when he failed to bend his knees for rallying shots, and he refused to play much defense.  The Swiss is a tall lefty who takes advantage of his height to hit flat groundstrokes, but even with that advantage, he netted plenty of shots he shouldn’t have.

He also didn’t seem to use his lefthandedness for positive effect.  Wagner’s backhand took time to get zoned in–the German made at least four errors off that wing in the first two games alone–but once it did, the result was a foregone conclusion.  Wagner won 6-4 6-4, a line that says more about Bossel’s weakness than Wagner’s skill.

(6)Antoine Benneteau (FRA) d. Riccardo Maiga (SUI) 6-2 6-4

Protip: If you’re at a Futures event and looking for Antoine Benneteau, try to find the guy who looks like Julien Benneteau.  If Antoine shaved his beard, you might not be able to tell them apart.

Alas, the difference is evident when Antoine steps on the court.  In a day of aggressive indoor play, the Frenchman may well have been the most aggressive of all.  His serves could probably be heard outside the complex, and on the return, he often stepped well inside the baseline to respond to Maiga’s offerings–which were hardly weak.

While Maiga adapted to the indoor conditions–he played the second set much better than he did the first–he seemed like someone who would be more comfortable on clay.  In the first set, he rarely took the offensive, settling for topspin groundstrokes that gave Benneteau openings to grab the initiative.  What’s odd about Antoine’s style of play is that, once he settles in for a rally, he can be quite passive, camping a few feet behind the baseline, oblivious to openings.  But if the slightest opportunity appears within his first two or three shots, it’s a guarantee that the Frenchman will end the point (one way or another) immediately.

(3)Martin Fischer (AUT) d. Hugo Nys (FRA) 6-4 6-4

Another protip: If you’re trying to find Martin Fischer, look for the spitting image of Alan Ruck, the guy who played Ferris Bueller’s sidekick.  It’s eerie.  Fischer’s impenetrable demeanor on the tennis court even matches what Cameron’s might be.

This match was a study in contrasts and the most interesting of the day.  Fischer knows how to play indoors, but can’t overpower anyone; Nys is the most dynamic player who showed up in Frauenfeld.

Like his countryman Benneteau, Nys can be hyper-aggressive, going for second-shot winners, even stepping in and taking a swing against a first serve.  Particularly against Fischer’s second offerings, Nys would refuse to play defense, aiming for corners and often hitting them.

Alas, Fischer was too smart.  Strangely enough, the Austrian isn’t particularly steady; my notes are filled with references to types of shots he missed that he should have made, especially mid-court.  But he was steadier than Nys, who came unhinged after losing the first set on a late break of serve.  The Frenchman took lower and lower percentage shots, and one could sense Fischer getting increasing patient, realizing that he could just wait for errors.

All that said, the 22-year-old Nys has plenty of potential.  He plays aggressive tennis all over the court, with a powerful serve to set up sharp angles from both his forehand and a flashy one-handed backhand.  As with anyone ranked outside of the top 600, the odds are against him, but the talent is there.

(1)Bastian Knittel (GER) d. (Q)Maximilian Abel (GER) 7-5 6-3

Knittel is ranked within the top 200 and the #1 seed in Frauenfeld.  Based on the power he displayed today, it’s surprising that he hasn’t strung together a few solid challenger results and snuck into the top 100.  Alas, his peak so far is 157, and at 29, his opportunities for bettering that mark are slipping.

I don’t have many notes on this match–it’s tough to remember a single point that went beyond four shots.  Both players are huge servers with huge groundstrokes, and Abel was sufficiently inconsistent to keep points very short.  Abel has also peaked in the top 200, but that was 10 years ago.  He’s now a 31-year-old outside of the top 1000 in the world rankings, a minor obstacle for Knittel en route to a title that should go to the #1 seed.

Edoardo Eremin (ITA) d. (5)Victor Galovic (ITA) 6-4 6-4

This battle of Italians was a noisy one, full of huge serves and almost-as-huge forehands.  It was also tough to keep track of, since most of it took place while the women’s doubles final was played between the crowd and their court.

Galovic, ranked in the 300′s to Eremin’s 500′s, is the paper favorite, but he played a bit like Bossel, not moving as well as one would expect of a top-level player and relying on obvious opportunities to hit winners.  Neither player was particularly imaginative, settling in for crosscourt forehand-to-forehand rallies that, while impressive, hardly served to separate the two.

Ultimately, Galovic made a few more errors.  Neither player showed any notable talents except for the typical big-serve/big-forehand combination that, alone, gets so many guys into the top 500.

(4)Sandro Ehrat (SUI) d. (WC)Daniel Valent (SUI) 6-1 6-1

The match of the day, between two Swiss players, was a dud.  Ehrat, a highly-touted 21-year-old ranked in the top 350, is the best home hope to win the event.  Valent, merely 17 years old, is a wildcard who managed to beat yet another native son, Alexander Sadecky, the first round.

Valent doesn’t yet quite belong at this level, and worse, he doesn’t appear to believe he belongs at this level.  He was quickly broken in the opening game of the match, looking like he was in awe of his older and more accomplished opponent.  Whenever he seemed to be getting into the match, he got tight.  After nearly every winner, he pumped his fist; after every error, he swung his racquet as if he was about to smash it.  It was exhausting to watch.

Valent has a big game. He looks like he has some growing yet to do; with another few inches, his game could be even bigger.  More important, though, is that he learns some defensive skills.  Ehrat is hardly a counterpuncher, but Valent made him look like one.  The older player hit only a few flashy shots, generally withstanding the occasional ace or winner from Valent’s racquet and watching the games pile up on the teenager’s errors.

It’s a shame–I had hoped to see what the fuss is about.  Ehrat did look rather smooth and his serve appeared to be a bit tricky to read.  Those two qualities, combined with his nationality, are enough to generate some dangerous Federer comparisons.  For the time being, though, Roger’s spot on the Swiss Davis Cup team is safe.

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Thursday Topspin: Twenty-Two and Counting

Another win: Novak Djokovic has now strung together 22 straight wins to start the season.  He’ll probably make it 23 tomorrow against Mardy Fish.

As usual, he made it look easy last night.  Kevin Anderson played reasonably well, particularly from the baseline, where he was often able to match Djokovic shot for shot … at least for a while.  He was aggressive, frequently forcing Novak to make an excellent shot to pass him at the net, though of course his opponent was usually up to the challenge.  Djokovic wasn’t perfect, but the outcome was never in doubt.

What caught me by surprise is how easy it seemed to be for Anderson to return many of Djokovic’s shots.  I’d never thought of Djokovic as someone defined by his topspin, but on groundstrokes and second serves, Novak’s balls often bounced right up into Anderson’s hitting zone–that is, above the hitting zone for anyone shorter than Anderson.  That makes me think that Djokovic might be vulnerable to a player like Tomas Berdych, who beat him at Wimbledon last year and challenged him in Dubai recently, or Juan Martin del Potro, who he hasn’t played for nearly two years.

In any event, Anderson’s stature wasn’t a problem last night, and barring the unlikely event of Berdych reaching the final, it won’t be an issue this week.

New #1: By beating David Ferrer yesterday, Fish cemented his position as the new top-ranked American.  He’ll also reach a new personal high of #12 (I think), and with a decent clay result or two, he’ll have a shot at breaking into the top 10.

I’m assuming he’ll only get semifinalist points for Miami, because he needs to beat Djokovic to get any farther.  Novak has won all five meetings, though Fish has taken a set on three occasions, including last year at Indian Wells.

Two more quarters: Today, Roger Federer plays Gilles Simon, while Rafael Nadal faces Berdych.  Neither match is projected to be close, but that’s no reason not to watch.

Both my system and the oddsmakers now give Federer an 82-83% chance of winning.  That’s surprising, since Simon has won two of three head-to-heads, and Federer’s one win was the five-setter in Australia.  Of course, there’s little doubt Roger is the better player, and Simon has hardly been impressive this week.  He barely got past Janko Tipsarevic, so he doesn’t seem to be close to his best form.

Sportsbooks favor Nadal to the tune of 87%, while my system gives Berdych a much better chance, cutting Rafa down to 71%.  Of course, my system hasn’t been watching as Berdych did anything but dominate Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, Carlos Berlocq, and Florian Mayer.

Federer plays the afternoon match, scheduled for 3:00 EST, while Nadal opens the night session.

In the minors: Wayne Odesnik’s comeback will have to wait at least one more week.  After qualifying for the challenger in Barranquilla, he lost in the first round to Juan Pablo Brzezicki.  He did take the first set.  At least he didn’t suffer the fate of Norweigan wild card Sander Brendmoe, who was double-bagelled by Martin Vasallo Arguello.

Speaking of wild cards, the folks at Barranquilla are awfully open-minded.  The majority of wild cards go to native sons, but none of the tourney’s four wild cards went to a Colombian.  However, there are four local boys in the draw, and three of them advanced to the second round.

At the challenger in St. Brieuc, France, two up-and-comers are among the first men into the quarterfinals.  Both Jerzy Janowicz and Benoit Paire got through three-setters to win their second-round matches yesterday.

Finally, we have another run of upsets to report, this time at USA F8 in Oklahoma City.  Six of the eight seeds, including the top three, fell in yesterday’s first round.  Most notably, top seed Chris Guccione lost a three-setter to Vladimir Obradovic, a Serbian ranked outside of the top 600.  The top-ranked player left in the draw is #300, the fourth-seeded American, Greg Ouellette.

See you tomorrow!

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Thursday Topspin: Delpo Rolling

Straight sets: For the second day in a row, eight men’s matches resulted in only one third set.  Thankfully, yesterday’s contests were generally much tighter than Tuesday’s.  Nobody felt that more keenly than Juan Martin del Potro.

Delpo, playing Philipp Kohlschreiber, was out of sorts for much of the first set, apparently dealing with a stomach issue.   He stayed on the defense, trading protracted holds with the German into a tiebreak.  A brilliant down-the-line backhand flick on the first point of the tiebreak seemed to be all he needed–his energy came back, and he only lost a single point in the breaker.

Kohlschreiber took his time recovering, dropping to 1-4 before breaking back and evening the score.  The German made it to another tiebreak, which in its way, had a chance of deciding the match.  Kohl was obviously in better shape for a third set after more than two hours of play.  He ran out to a 6-1 lead in the tiebreak, and proceeded to lose five match points before falling 9-7.  Ouch.

Today, del Potro draws Tommy Robredo, who had a surprisingly easy time with Sam Querrey, beating him 6-1, 6-3.  Here’s a shocker from the sportsbooks: Delpo is more heavily favored over Robredo than Rafael Nadal over Ivo Karlovic.  The difference is slight, as both are given a roughly 85% chance of winning.

The other half: Four quarterfinalists get the day off today.  Richard Gasquet pulled an upset, downing Andy Roddick in straight sets, and he’ll meet Novak Djokovic.  The tour should be terrified right now: Djokovic beat Viktor Troicki 6-0, 6-1.  A drubbing of Ernests Gulbis–that you can understand.  But while the Serbs are close friends, there’s no explanation for such a lopsided victory over Troicki except for the obvious one: Novak is playing unbelievable tennis right now.

The final quarter will be all Swiss, between Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.  (First, they play their quarterfinal doubles match, for a chance to face–of all people–Nadal and Marc Lopez.)  Wawrinka snuck through against Tomas Berdych in the one three-setter of the day, while Federer was pushed to a first-set breaker by Ryan Harrison.

Clearly, a Djokovic-Federer semi is very much in the cards, and for the first time in my life, I might have to pick the Serb.

Also in doubles: The pairing of Alexandr Dolgopolov and Xavier Malisse recorded another win yesterday, this time over the Murray brothers.  Today, they face Bopanna/Qureshi.  Dolgo and Malisse have won all three of their matches in a champion’s tiebreak: 10-8, 10-7, and 10-8.

Up and coming: Watch out for the 20-year-old Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.  Quick recap: He started the year winning two consecutive futures events in Turkey, then qualified for the Kyoto challenger last week.  In Kyoto, he reached the final before losing to Dominik Meffert.

That effort got him into the main draw of the Guangzhou challenger, where he recorded a big win over Lucas Lacko in the second round and then a revenge victory over Meffert in the quarters.  Today, Stebe plays Uladzamir Ignatik for a spot in a second consecutive final.  Since the Kyoto results haven’t gone on the computer yet and Stebe has few points to defend, look for him to make a massive leap in the rankings next week.

Pim Pim’s brief return: After Joachim Johansson‘s impressive performance in Davis Cup, it was exciting to see him in the draw at Switzerland F1.  He beat Mate Pavic in the first round, but has withdrawn, presumably with injury.  Too bad.

Another comeback: Here’s another name you might know: Crazy Dani, Daniel Koellerer.  The Austrian has also struggled with injury, and he’s the third seed this week at Turkey F9.  He’s through to the second round, and perhaps more remarkably, he’s through to the semifinals in doubles with his countryman Michael Linzer.

See you tomorrow!

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Tuesday Topspin: Back in the USSR

This is what we in the tennis blogging world call a “slow news day.” Davis Cup is over, and the Indian Wells main draw hasn’t been released. Oh well, we’ll make do.

Star maps: Indian Wells has done a great job ensuring that the game’s young stars are in the main draw, granting wild cards to Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Ryan Harrison, and Richard Berankis.  Any tournament that gives more than half of its wild cards to foreign players gets a thumbs up from me.

Missing from the draw, however, is Grigor Dimitrov.  The Bulgarian followed the European challenger circuit to Sarajevo, where he will again be the top seed.  Also following the circuit is Nicholas Mahut, Dimitrov’s opponent in last week’s final.  The more interesting potential opponent for the Bulgarian, though, is in his half of the draw: fourth-seeded Russian Dmitri Tursunov.

Others to watch: Like I said, slow news day, so let’s glance through the futures draws.  Bizarrely, Marc Gicquel is playing France F4 in Lille.  His stock has fallen in the last couple of years, but one would hope that (a) he’s getting a nice appearance fee, and (b) he wins easily.

In McAllen, Texas, at USA F7, here’s an unlikely pair of wild cards: 16-year-old Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and drug cheat Wayne Odesnik.  Odesnik has been on entry lists the last couple of weeks but hasn’t played; I wonder if he decided he wouldn’t play qualifying and has waited for his next wild card.  It’s an interesting draw beyond those two, as well.  Joining the Texas futures swing are two American 19-year-olds, Jordan Cox and Andrea Collarini.

That Russian Davis Cup team: Without Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youhzny, Russia’s Davis Cup team last weekend was the weakest it has put forth in a long time.  While Russia lost to Sweden, Kazakhstan triumphed over the Czechs and moved into the quarterfinals.

Of course, Kazahstan (among many other countries in Europe and Asia) used to be part of the USSR.  The Soviets were generally not much of a factor, spending only five years in the World Group.  But my oh my, what a team they would have right now.

Of course, the Russian contingent isn’t that bad.  You have the Kazakhs.  There are two Ukrainians in the top 40.  Belarus sports one of the best doubles players in the world in Max Mirnyi.  Even Latvia and Lithuania each have a player in the top 100.

Which got me wondering: What would Russian tennis look like if it still spanned the entire USSR?  Here are the singles rankings:

13   Mikhail Youzhny         RUS  
23   Alexander Dolgopolov    UKR  
34   Ernests Gulbis          LAT  
38   Sergey Stakhovsky       UKR  
39   Andrei Goloubev         KAZ  
42   Nikolay Davydenko       RUS  
55   Denis Istomin           UZB  
62   Mikhail Kukushkin       KAZ  
74   Richard Berankis        LTU  
77   Teimuraz Gabashvili     RUS  
96   Igor Andreev            RUS  
99   Ilia Marchenko          UKR  
103  Igor Kunitsyn           RUS  
104  Dmitry Tursunov         RUS  
125  Yuri Schukin            KAZ  
144  Alexandre Koudriavtsev  RUS  
153  Konstantin Kravchuk     RUS  
197  Jurgen Zopp             EST  
200  Vladimir Ignatik        BLR

Pretty impressive, huh?  With a potential doubles team of Mirnyi/Stakhovsky, you could come with a Davis Cup team on par with anyone except for a healthy Spain or France.

Alas, the Russians will have to settle for watching their former compatriots.

See you tomorrow!

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Wednesday Topspin: Counterpunchers and Clay Specialists

Counterpunching to the top: I watched parts of two matches yesterday, first Roger Federer (mostly) cruising through his first rounder with Somdev Devvarman, then Gilles Simon finally defeating Mikhail Youhzny.

During the Federer match, the commentators got to talking about how high Devvarman could climb in the rankings.  One guys suggested he could break the top 40, implying he would have a hard time getting any higher.  Based on what we’ve seen so far, that seems like a fair assessment.

Given the state of the top 10 in men’s tennis right now, it would be easy to conclude that to reach that level, you need at least one major weapon, especially if most of your success comes on hard courts.  That’s something Devvarman will probably never have, which is part of the reason that we watch guys like that and assume they will only climb so far.

Then there’s Simon.  He has broken into the top 10, and has spent a lot of time in the top 20.  Yet, where’s the weapon?  Like Andy Murray, he succeeds by getting one more ball back, but unlike Murray, he doesn’t have a big serve.  If Simon has a world-class weapon, it’s his speed.  That has been enough for him to take down the top players in the world, at least when healthy.

A world of clay: Since Milos Raonic withdrew from Acupulco, that meant Carlos Berlocq‘s first-round matchup was another clay-focused player, Daniel Munoz de la Nava.  It took three sets, but Berlocq took the victory.  He’ll face Alexander Dolgopolov today.

In looking at some numbers yesterday, I happened to notice that Berlocq played 85 matches last year–84 of which were on clay.  Yes, he spent an entire season playing tournaments on clay, only pausing once when his ranking was sufficient to get him into the main draw of the US Open.

He has already played a couple more matches on hard court this year.  His ranking crept into the 60s, meaning it’s probably smarter for him to take direct entry into 250s (and, of course, grand slams) than to keep playing challengers.  What amazed me what that it is even possible to play so much on clay.

Many players around #100 in the world manage to put together a similar season, but no one’s 2010 was as extreme as Berlocq’s.  In fact, Munoz de la Nava played 40 of his 46 matches last year on clay.  Another extreme example is Pere Riba.  71 of his 77 matches last year, including all 49 of his victories, came on the red stuff.

Yesterday: The big upset of the day was Thomaz Bellucci over Fernando Verdasco.  Also in Acupulco, Nicholas Almagro and Stanislas Wawrinka advanced to the second round.

In Delray Beach, Janko Tipsarevic needed to win a first-set tiebreak 16-14 to get past Ivo Karlovic.  Dudi Sela took advantage of Andy Roddick‘s withdrawal and got past Marinko Matosevic in three.

Viktor Troicki was the only seed who struggled in Dubai, losing at the hands of Phillip Kohlschreiber.

Today: Kohlschreiber is already gone, losing today to countryman Phillip Petzschner.  The most compelling match on the schedule in Mexico is Wawrinka against Fabio Fognini.

In Florida, the organizers have to be disappointed with Sela versus Ivan Dodig, as that was supposed to be Roddick’s second rounder.  But as some consolation, we have Kei Nishikori up against James Blake, a nice contrast of youth and age, speed and power.  ESPN had a nice feature on Blake yesterday.  It would be nice to see him play more consistently; he’s not a top ten guy anymore, but if he stays healthy, I could see him in the top 40 or 50.

Futures: If all goes according to plan here at HeavyTopspin, I’m going to do a little commentary even on the lowest rung of professional tennis, the Futures circuit.  By Wednesday, the draws are in place, so I can pass along what I find.

Most notable this week is Croatia F2, which has a surprisingly strong field–the cut was barely above 500, and recognizable names such as David Guez and Michael Lammer are playing.

In Brownsville, Texas, USA F5 has a typical smattering of notable players.  Among the seeds are Moldovan hero Roman Bormanov and young Indian hope Yuki Bhambri.  Former NCAA champ Devin Britton is in the draw as well.  Wayne Odesnik was on the entry list for qualifying, but it seems that he didn’t play.

See you tomorrow!

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