St. Leo's University, FL--
Last year's Pro Circuit Futures was held in Tampa at the Hillsborough Community College, the same site that hosted the Florida section's designated tournament, so I had an opportunity to watch the men and women as well as the boys and girls over the weekend.
This year, the Futures tournament moved north about 30 minutes, so today was the only opportunity I'd have to see any pro-level action. The campus at St. Leo University, which fields a men's and women's tennis team in Division II, is in the rural hills of Pasco County, a far cry from Raymond James stadium, which looms over the HCC campus.
The St. Leo courts are tucked behind the lush baseball diamond, where the team was furiously conducting a full-uniform practice in the afternoon. But this morning when we arrived, it was quiet except for the sound of the running RVs that served as office and player lounge. Those next on were hitting, but four matches were underway, and I sat down to watch the end of the first set between qualifiers Todd Paul and Somdev Devvarman, two college players I've watched often--Paul, who has now graduated from Wake Forest and Devvarman, who is in his final year at Virginia. I was told that Paul's forehand was hitting every line in the first five games, and he had a 4-1 lead when I arrived. With Devvarman serving at 2-5, it was 0-30, but he held, broke Paul for 4-5, saved a set point with a forehand winner in that game, then both players held easily to reach the tiebreaker.
Paul took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but Devvarman found another gear. A perfect lob winner at 5-5 gave him his first set point, which he won as a result of an outstanding return, and he went on to take the next 13 points. It was the second point of the second set's fourth game before Paul won another point, and by then Devvarman had assured himself a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victory. Another college standout, wild card Greg Ouellette, a senior at Florida, earned a semifinal clash with Devvarman, defeating Chris Lam 6-3, 6-4. The other semifinal features No. 1 seed Dusan Vemic of Serbia against unseeded Daniel Lustig of the Czech Republic.
I didn't see the second set, because I was watching the end of the match between Audra Cohen--like Devvarman, the reigning NCAA champion, but unlike Devvarman, no longer in school--and Kim Couts, who graduated from the junior ranks less than two weeks ago. Couts, a lucky loser, and Cohen, a qualifier, had played plenty of tennis since last Saturday, but Cohen looked sharper, defending well enough and long enough until Couts missed. Couts saved three match points serving at 1-5 in the second, but Cohen served out the match to set up a semifinal against fellow qualifier Petra Rampre of Slovenia. Russia's Anastasia Pivovarova, the sixth seed, and Corinna Dentoni of Italy, seeded seventh, who reached the doubles final as a team, will meet on opposite sides of the net in the other semifinal.
We took a break to visit Saddlebrook, a few miles down I-75, simply to see the resort and the tennis facility that serves as a training site for many pros, including Justine Henin, James Blake, the Bryan twins, and now, John Isner. Of course, with the Australian Open just a few days away, none of them were there, but we did see a few juniors drilling and playing practice matches, including Alex Domijan, Adam El Mihdawy, Gabriela Dabrowski and Kayla Rizzolo.
When we returned to St. Leo's, the men's doubles final was underway, with defending champions Devvarman and Treat Huey already leading the No. 2 seeded Czech team of Lustig and Ladislav Charamosta by a set. Devvarman and Huey, who won both the ITA's major doubles titles last fall and are the top-ranked team in the rankings, weren't seeded, but they had taken out the No. 1 seeds Ryler De Heart and Tim Smyczek on Thursday 6-2, 6-4, and were also playing at a level substantially above that of the Czechs in their 6-2, 6-2 win.
"In our second, third and fourth matches, we definitely got better as the tournament wore on," said Devvarman. "We needed to get used to the surface and the courts, the balls and the weather, and we haven't played since National Indoors together."
One of the additional things Devvarman and Huey needed to get used to was the no-ad scoring, which wasn't the format at the Tampa Futures they won last year.
"It's definitely different," Huey said. "We played like that I think one time in the fall with our coaches, practicing, fooling around. We didn't really know until the last week that the rule had changed. When we got to a deuce point, it's like, 'oh, Somdev will return, why not?' And he took every deuce return the whole tournament and did real well with it."
"It definitely favors the team that's most clutch and most focused," said Devvarman. "In this kind of tennis every single point matters."
The doubles was played Friday afternoon so that Huey could get to Miami for his qualifying match in the second of three Futures in Florida this month. Draws for St. Leo's and qualifying for North Miami Beach can be found at usta.com.
The information for the Florida 18s sectional that I'll be working at over the next three days is here.
Friday, January 11, 2008