Monday, July 11, 2011

Futures: Week 26

This week brought suspended tournaments, triumphant returns to the pros and plenty of 2011 first timers. Here’s a quick recap:

*ARMENIA F1: Interesting location for a 15k tournament, with Armenia being a country without much of a tennis tradition lately, short of Sargis Sargsian’s run in the late 90’s. Whatever the case it worked for Croatian Dino Marcan (’91), who earned the title after defeating Toni Androic (’91/CRO) in the final 46 62 63. The winner, a former ITF top 25, had been having an irregular season but broke through the barrier and won his first title in his second attempt.  It wasn’t a pretty run for his, as he was almost knocked out in R1 to an unranked qualifier, and then had to go through the No.2 and No.3 seeds, Russians Andrey Kumantsov and Alexander Rumyantsev (’92). Androic’s run to the final was smoother, not allowing anyone to take a set out of him and taking out the top seed, Russian Valery Rudnev in the QFs. The surprise of the tournament was unranked Georgian George Tsivadze (’93), who came from the qualifiers and advanced to the QFs, taking out No.8 seed Stanislav Poplavskyy (‘91/UKR).

*CHINESE TAIPEI F1: The much-heralded Tsung-Hua Yang took advantage of being the top seed and playing at home and won his first title of the season, defeating Japan’s Junn Mitsuhashi (’89) 60 63 in the final. Yang, the former Jr. Roland Garros winner and ITF No.1, broke a 4 match losing streak with this title. He was only taking to 3 sets in the QFs against Indian Sanam Singh, but then dismissed fellow Taiwanese Hsin-Han Lee in the semis, before crushing Mitsuhashi in the final. The diminutive Japanese, on the other hand, has been one of the hottest names in the futures tour, and improved to 24-8 in 2011 despite the loss. He defeated the No.2 seed Ti Chen in the semis and carried a 9-match winning streak into the final, but was no match for the more talented Yang.

*FRANCE F11: Miljan Zekic is yet another example of the great moment that Serbian tennis is going through right now. Despite not being that well known, the 23-year old won his third title of the season (all in different countries), this time defeating the younger and more hyped Alexandre Folie (’90/BEL) in the final. Zekic improved to 25-7 on the year, and will rise to a career high ranking very close to 300. To win the title, Zekic had a fairly smooth run, only having to go the extra mile in the semis, where it took him 3 sets to get rid of French starlet Gianni Mina (’92). Folie defeated Sami Renwein (‘92/GER) in the SFs. Another player who had a good run was young Frenchman Julien Obry (’91). The much-hyped prospect was poised for a breakout after advancing to the QFs and taking out No.2 seed veteran Olivier Patience. However, he failed to get past Folie and his run ended there. Among the youngest players in the draw, Frenchman Laurent Lokoli (’94) obtained his first ever ATP point with a R1 win over Romain Sichez. Fellow ’94-born prospect, Mathias Bourgue was eliminated by Obry in R1.

*ITALY F17: For a guy who lists grass as his favorite surface, James Ducksworth (’92/AUS) seems to do just fine on the red clay. The Australian is dominating the futures realm in 2011 (26-8) and is on a roll as of late, this time defeating No.2 seed Thomas Fabbiano (‘89/ITA) in straight sets in the final. It was the third title of the year for the former ITF No.7, who will move to a career high ranking somewhere inside the top 400 next week. The champion dropped exactly 0 sets throughout the week, and took out Federico Gaio (‘92/ITA) in the semis. Gaio improved to 21-9 and is also having a very successful first full season as a pro. Fabbiano, runner-up, has had a difficult year and has dropped 80 spots in the ranking after reaching his career high at the beginning of the year. Among the rest of the field, Marco Cecchinato upset 3 fellow Italians to make an improbable run to the semis, where he lost to Fabbiano. Also, Marco Bortolotti (’91) took advantage of a favorable draw to make it to the QFs before losing to the eventual champion.

*AUSTRIA F1: 22-year old Austrian Nicolas Reissig continued with the trend of the week of winning their first title after subpar performances in 2011 up to this week. He claimed his first title of the season, defeating Marc Rath (‘89/AUT) in the final. Reissig, who is now 13-11, didn’t drop a set all week, and defeated Slovakian Norbert Gombos (’90) in the semis. In the other semi-final, Rath had to get rid of fellow Austrian Bastian Trinker (’90), who made a surprise appearance at that stage after knocking-out top seed Gerald Melzer (‘90/AUT) in R2. The tournament lacked any hyped prospects, with the possible exception of Robert Rumler (‘93/CZE) and Henri Laaksonen (‘92/SUI), both eliminated in R1 by the eventual finalists.

*BELGIUM F2: No major surprises here as top seeded veteran Nicolas Devilder took the title in only his second futures tournament of the year. The 31-year old Frenchman, who had spent most of the year playing challengers and ATP qualifiers, defeated the bright-yet-irregular Yannick Reuter (‘91/BEL) in the final. Devilder, who was once ranked as high as 60, had a fairly smooth run, except for his SF clash against 22-year old Germain Gigougnon of Belgium, who surrendered 75 in the third set. Reuter, for his part, advanced to the final after defeating fellow famous Belgian Arthur De Greef (’92) in another tough 3-setter. Both are former ITF top 20 players. All of the highest-rated local prospects were in the draw, including the ’94-born duo of Kimmer Coppejans (ITF No. 38) and Julien Cagnina (ITF No.25), both of whom earned their first ever ATP points. A third prospect, Joris De Loore (’93/ITF No.18) was also granted a WC but failed to advance to R2.

*BRAZIL F20: It was a successful return to the futures tour for top seed Ricardo Hocevar, as he won his second title of the year after a long absence. The 25-year old Brazilian defeated No.2 seed Daniel Silva (‘90/BRA) to lift the trophy. The former top 150 had been playing challengers and ATP qualifiers most of the year, and showed that his level of play is above the futures level. He was only challenged by Argentinean Christian Benedetti, who took him to a third set (64 46 61). Silva defeated Fernando Romboli (who should’ve been the top seed had he not forgotten to sign up for the tournament and was forced to play the qualy) in R2 and beat another Argentinean veteran (Juan Pablo Villar) in the semis, but was no match for Hocevar in the final. Alessandro Bega (’91/ITA) was the surprise of the week, advancing to the QFs before being taken care of by Hocevar. Moreover, 17-year old Felipe Assuncao Garla earned his first ATP point. The ’94-born Brazilian beat Henrique Tsukamoto in R1.

*CHILE F6: This tournament had to be suspended after the second round because of incessant rains in Antofagasta, Chile. However, there were still some interesting wrinkles to be mentioned. Argentineans Gaston Paz (’93) and Agustin Portis (’92), as well as Chileans Marcelo Plaza (’94) and Michel Vernier (’92) all obtained their first ATP points. Plaza took a step further, defeating Vernier and advancing into the QFs. ’92-born Argentineans Federico Coria (Guillermo’s little brother) and Facundo Mena confirmed their good momentum, both advancing to the QFs where they were set to play each other. Coria took out No.2 seed Cristobal Saavedra-Corvalan in R1. Ecuadorian Juan Sebastian Vivanco (’90) also made it to the QFs and was set to play top seed Chilean Guillermo Rivera. Patricio Heras vs. Rodrigo Perez and Plaza vs. Gaston Grimolizzi were the other 2 QFs clashes.

*GERMANY F8: Roman Jebavy (‘89/CZE) took the title after defeating Chilean Hans Podlipnik-Castillo (’88) 62 60 in the final. It was the first title of the season for Jebavy, another player who up until that point was going through a disappointing season (20-18). The Czech, a former ITF No.3, went the whole week without dropping a set, defeating German up and comer Florian Fallert (’92) in R2 and top seed Brydan Klein (‘89/AUS) along the way. Podlipnik-Castillo, the runner-up, only struggled in his SF clash against Adrian Mlendea of Romania, after crushing No.2 seed Juan Pablo Amado of Argentina in the QFs. Among the rest of the players, German George Von Massow (’90) earned his first ATP point, while Peter Gojowczyk, the 3rd seed, went out in R1 after having to come through the qualy.

*GREAT BRITAIN F9: Local player Josh Goodall won his first title of 2011 after defeating fellow Brit David Rice (’89) 75 61 in the final. The winner, a top 200 player only 2 years back, had to labor his way to the final, as both Marcus Willis (‘90/GBR) and Albano Olivetti (‘91/FRA) made him go the distance. Rice had an easier path, getting rid of bright-yet-inexperienced ’93-born George Morgan (GBR) and Sean Berman (USA) in the early rounds. He then beat fellow Brit Sean Thornley in the semis. Among the younger prospects present, James Marsalek and Tom Farquharsson (both ‘92/GBR) plus Mate Pavic (‘93/CRO/current ITF No.8) advanced to R2 before being eliminated. Brits Oliver Golding (’93) and Kyle Edmund (’95) both failed to advance, being eliminated in R1.

*ROMANIA F5: 22-year old local hope Petru-Alexandru Luncanu took the title after Lebanese Bassam Beidas retired when the Romanian was up 64. It was the second futures title of the season for Luncanu, who has once an ITF No.3. Luncanu had to fight through a 3-setter in R1 against Frenchman Yannick Jankovits, but then had an easy weekend as first Jordi Samper-Montana (‘90/ESP), in the semis, and then Beidas were unable to finish their matches and were forced to retire. Luncanu improves to 26-8 in 2011 as he tries to finally jumpstart what has been so far an underwhelming pro career. Among the younger players in the draw, the Romanian duo of Lucian Gheorghe (’92) and Darius Florin Bragusi (’93) made it to R2, along with Libor Salaba (‘92/CZE).

*SPAIN F23: It was yet another player winning his first futures title of 2011, as top seed Claudio Grassi of Italy saved quite a few match points before defeating No.2 seed Rudy Coco of France in 3 long sets. The ambidextrous Grassi was 15-14 entering the tournament, but the points from the win will launch him into a new career high inside the top 350. Experience definitely came handy in the semis, as Grassi took out Enrique Lopez-Perez (‘91/ESP) and Coco defeated Nikala Scholtz (‘92/RSA). However, it was ’93-born Spaniard Axel Alvarez Llamas who surprised many by advancing to the QFs, defeating 6th seeded Simon Cauvard in R2. Another young Spanish prospect, David Perez-Sanz (’94), obtained his 4th ATP point by advancing to R2 before being edged out by the eventual champion.

*USA F17: Saving the best story for last, let me introduce you to American Brian Baker. The 26 year old was ITF No.2 back in 2003, the same year where he reached the final of the Jr. French Open, where he lost to some dude by the name of Stanislav Wawrinka. Throughout his junior career, he beat guys like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marcos Baghdatis and Tomas Berdych. In the pros, he beat Gaston Gaudio a year after the Argentine took the French Open. A few years back he was forced to retire because of a hip injury, and later on became an assistant coach at Belmont University. He was once the next great thing for American tennis, and we had all thought that injuries had claimed him for good. But wait, not so fast he seemed to scream. This week Baker went through 3 qualyfing matches and 5 more main draw ones to earn his first title of any kind in 7 years (Denver challenger in 2004). What made this tournament so interesting was that Baker defeated Bjorn Fratangelo (’93) in the final. Fratangelo is fresh of winning the Jr. French Open himself a couple of months ago, a feat Baker was very close to achieving in 2003. For Baker, it wasn’t an easy road to the final, but he managed to defeat some of the other current brightest American prospects like Mitchell Frank (’92) and Chase Buchanan (’91). The unseeded Fratangelo had to take out 3 seeded players just to reach the final (his first one in the pros), but couldn’t get past the comeback kid. Among the rest of the players in the draw, Baker wasn’t the only American to enter the rankings. Nicholas Meister (’89) and Harry Fowler (’91) won their R1 matches, with Fowler advancing to the QFs before being eliminated by Buchanan.  

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