Category Archives: Match reports

Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic: Recap and Detailed Stats

There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Novak Djokovic, but “sloppy” usually isn’t one of them.  Despite plenty of brilliance from the Serbian, he made far too many mistakes to win today.  Of course, the man on the other side of the net, Rafael Nadal, may be the best in game at forcing his opponent to attempt low-percentage shots out of pure desperation.

This morning, I predicted that, in order to win the match, Nadal would need to serve well, piling up more quick service points than usual, as Djokovic is a master of neutralizing the server’s advantage.  Give him a few shots, and it doesn’t matter who delivered the serve or how well they hit it.

That isn’t what happened.  Nadal won fewer than one in five service points on or before his second shot.  (Djokovic did a little better by that metric, but at 21%, not by much.)  Instead, Rafa won the way Novak usually does: by neutralizing his opponent’s serve.

Rafa won 45% of return points today, a mark he has never before reached against Djokovic on hard courts.  Even more importantly, he won return points at the same rate when Djokovic was serving at 30-30 or later.  Djokovic won what would normally be an impressive number of return points: 38%.  In recent years on hard courts, that was always enough to beat the Spaniard.

It was a different kind of hard-court match today, one that was decided in grueling rallies.  20% of points played today reached at least ten strokes, and Rafa won 59% of them.  Of points that finished more quickly, Djokovic simply gave away too many.  By my unofficial (and rather strict) count, he hit over 60 unforced errors, more than double Nadal’s total.

Too many of those sloppy shots came at crucial moments.  A bad forehand miss on a mid-court sitter gave Nadal set point in the third set, which Rafa converted on the first try.  Serving down a break in the fourth at 1-4, Djokovic quickly went up 30-30, then missed his second shot on three straight points to give Nadal another break point.  At 30-0 in that game, it was possible to imagine Novak clawing his way back.  Once the double break was sealed, the match was over.

Djokovic showed plenty of brilliance, especially in the second and third sets, and contributed to some incredible tennis moments, including ten rallies that exceeded 20 shots.  Indeed, Djokovic converted a break chance by claiming the best of those, a 54-stroke slugfest in the second set (video here).  He didn’t go quietly until that dreadful game at 1-4.

By beating Djokovic at his own game, Nadal solidified his status as the most dominant player on hard courts.  His undefeated record on the surface this year didn’t leave that in much doubt, but it had been three years since he won a hard-court Grand Slam.  Assuming he stays healthy, even Rafa might agree that he heads to Australia as the player to beat.

Here are the complete point-by-point stats from the match.

Here is a complete win-probability graph, as well.

1 Comment

Filed under Match charting, Match reports, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, U.S. Open

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Futures, Match reports

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.

8 Comments

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Challengers, Match reports, The Rules