Thursday, September 8, 2005

Tennis Beauty in The Eye of this Beholder

Tennis Beauty in The Eye of this Beholder
©Colette Lewis 2005
Flushing Meadows NY--

The buzz around the sun-splashed National Tennis Center on Thursday, even among junior aficionados, was the Agassi-Blake epic Wednesday night, or rather, Thursday morning. Tennis WAS the winner, as Agassi said, but not many juniors with 11 a.m. matches would have stayed up late enough to be inspired by it.

I had intended to check in on all the first-on junior matches, so I caught a few games at this court and that, then moved on, until I reached the Kuznetsov-Smyczek contest. The quality of tennis was so high, I took a seat and never left. In the first set, I was gasping every third point.

Kuznetsov was seeded fifth, based exclusively on his ATP ranking, as he had not played a junior ITF event since last year’s Open. Judging from the way he moved and struck the ball in the first set, his recovery from the broken leg he suffered in a car accident in May is nearly complete. The unseeded Smyczek, a junior Wimbledon semifinalist, matched him shot for shot. Those who disparage junior tennis should be required to watch a (sadly nonexistent) video of that first set, won by Smyczek 7-6 (3). A single viewing and they’d see that the beauty of the game is not confined to the top level.

Smyczek, who moved quickly to every ball and hit it smack in the center of the racquet, was the first to blink, losing his serve at 4-4, when he missed an easy putaway at the net. But it didn’t faze him, and he never gave Kuznetsov a sniff at a set point. Smyczek’s lunging crosscourt touch volley at 15-40, was Federer-like, so high was its place on the Wow scale.

The ensuing tiebreak belonged to Smyczek, where even Kuznetsov’s best serve rarely won him a point. Kuznetsov also went to the drop shot early and often and although it won him several key points in the first set, when he really needed it in the second it had lost that essential element of surprise critical with a player as speedy as Smyczek.

“I think that was a result of his lack of match play,” said the seventeen-year-old Wisconsin native. “We train a lot together at Saddlebrook, and I know he’s not 100%. I had to make believe it wasn’t Alex across the net.”

The second set was decidedly less scintillating.

“I have my highs and lows,” Smyczek admitted. “The tiebreak was my high and the start of the first set was my low.” Broken the first time he served, Smyczek again broke back immediately--the second of four straight breaks. Both then held, but at 4-4, Smyczek relocated his return game, broke Kuznetsov and held, finishing the match off with a 40-30 service winner.

In addition to Smyczek, another diminutive unseeded American advanced to the quarterfinals. Liz Plotkin has not yet lost a set in her three matches, and on Thursday battled past qualifier Ekaterina Kosminskaya of Russia 6-3, 6-4.

She joins seventh seed Alex Glatch, the only other American girl remaining, and they will meet in the semifinals if both win on Friday. Glatch defeated Russian Ekaterina Makarova, the ninth seed 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-3. Tenth seed Vania King clawed her way to a third set tiebreak, but fell to Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2).

Top seed Donald Young continued living on the edge, dropping, for the third straight match, the first set, and then finding himself in a second set tiebreak with Matt Bruch, who grew up playing Young when both lived in the Chicago area. But Young once again found the strokes and spots to take the second set tiebreak, and a cramping Bruch had little to give in the third set, falling 6-2.

Third seed Leonardo Mayer and thirteenth seed Sam Querrey put on a demonstration of power tennis, junior style, with Mayer squeaking out a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) win. There were only two breaks in the entire match, but Querrey held a set point at 3-5 in the second. The Argentine didn’t blink, however, and Querrey’s first serve deserted him during that crucial tenth game and in the tiebreak. Both players were routinely hitting serves in the 120s, (court 11 did feature a radar gun) and the pace off the ground looked very similar to what was going on inside Arthur Ashe in the Lleyton Hewitt-Jarkko Nieminen quarterfinal.

Querrey is traveling to Belgium with the U.S. Davis Cup team as a hitting partner, and then will spend his next few months studying for the SATs and making official college recruiting visits. There will be Futures and Challengers in his home state of California too, but he has played his last junior tournament, except, he hurriedly added, Kalamazoo in 2006.

Mayer will next face unseeded Ryan Sweeting of the Bahamas. Sweeting waltzed past his friend Holden Seguso 6-1, 6-2 in third round action Thursday.

Young will take on sixth seed Sun-Yong Kim of Korea and Smyczek meets fourth seed Santiago Giraldo of Columbia.

The most anticipated match on the boys side, however, finds French Jr. Open champion and second seed Marin Cilic of Croatia taking on Wimbledon champion Jeremy Chardy of France, the seventh seed.

In doubles, two American teams reached Friday’s semifinals. Young and partner Alex Clayton advanced over Smyczek and Kellen Damico 6-1, 7-6 (5). Wimbledon champions Jesse Levine and Michael Shabaz, shockingly unseeded here, grabbed another straight set victory over Pavol Cervenak and Lukas Lacko.

Glatch and King, the second seeds, are the only U.S. team remaining in girls doubles.

For complete draws, including doubles action, see usopen.org

For more photos see ustaboys.com