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Friday, January 16, 2009

Boca Pro Circuit Semis Set; Plaza Cup Coverage Starts Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Coral Gables, FL--

I'm a bit out of my element at Pro Circuit events, and regular readers of ZooTennis know that I rarely cover more than one a year, and never from beginning to end. This is our second year that Paul is directing a site at the Plaza Cup, the Level 3 USTA event for 12s, 14s, 16s, and 18s, and it is the main reason for this trip.

But with the first Pro Circuit event of the year taking place in Boca Raton, we escaped the Michigan winter a few days early to see some of the juniors and former college players in action. We had planned on being there only Wednesday and Thursday, but when Chase Buchanan made the quarterfinals, we decided to wait to leave for Miami until after his match was completed.

He was second up, so I watched some of 2006 USTA National 18s Champion Lauren Albanese's 6-3, 6-4 win over qualifier Darya Kustova of Belarus, and also watched former Florida star Greg Ouellette against Serbian Nikola Ciric. Ouellette, who was cheered on by former Gator teammates Nestor Briceno and Jesse Levine, got off to a very slow start against the big-serving left-hander, who alternated booming serves with delicate drop shots to take the first set 6-3. The unseeded Ciric was up 5-2 in the second set, when wild card Ouellette made his comeback, winning four straight games to take a 6-5 lead. Ciric, who had made error after error in that four game stretch, got back on track to force a tiebreaker, and it was Ouellette who began to miss routine shots, falling behind 5-1, and losing a chance at a third set when Circi cracked an ace to end it 7-6(3).

Tim Smyczek, the fourth seed, who has won seven matches since last Friday's qualifying began, was much steadier than the flashy qualifier Adriano Biasella of Italy, taking a 6-3, 5-2 ret. win. He will play No. 2 seed Jose De Armas of Venezuela, who downed No. 6 seed Jesse Witten, the former Kentucky Wildcat, 6-3, 6-4.

In the last quarterfinal match, top seeded Romanian Gabriel Moraru, who had somehow survived being down a set and 5-0 to Stefan Ianni of Italy in a three hour and forty minute second round match Thursday, showed no sign of fatigue against Buchanan, taking the first set 6-2. Buchanan wasn't finding the range on his backhand, with many of them hitting the net, while Moraru was missing infrequently and serving well.

The second set saw Buchanan raise his level and he stayed with the 26-year-old, who is ranked 294 by the ATP. Leading 5-4 in the second set, Buchanan got his only break points of the set when Moraru fell behind 15-40. The Romanian saved one by pinning Buchanan deep into the backhand corner and forcing an error, but he didn't get a first serve in at 30-40 and Buchanan pounced, blasting a backhand return winner to even the match.

Buchanan lost his serve to open the third set, and again had two break points on Moraru's opening serving game, but when he didn't convert either of those, he seemed to lose his edge. Serving at 1-3, Buchanan made four straight unforced errors, and after that, the result wasn't in doubt, with Moraru taking the third set 6-1.

In the women's semifinals, Albanese will meet qualifier Gabriela Paz of Venezuela, who disposed of Heidi El Tabakh of Canada 6-0, 6-1 in a match played after we left. The other semifinal will feature No. 5 seed Ahsha Rolle, a 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3 winner over No. 4 seed Tetiana Luzhanska of Ukraine, against unseeded Sharon Fichman of Canada. Fichman dismissed No. 8 seed Anna Floris of Italy 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.

I had an opportunity to sit in with Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com, who began his coverage of the event today. He will be there through the finals, so for free internet streaming of the play-by-play, go to radiotennis.com.

For complete results of the Champion Porsche Pro Circuit events, see the results page at usta.com.

For the Plaza Cup draws, see the TennisLink site.


floridafan said...

Speaking of Florida tennis, it was announced yesterday that Nestor Briceno was named Asst. for men's tennis at Princeton University.

scott said...

Good for Nestor.

I think the Florida men are going to be very good this year. They probably won't be as strong at the top as they have been recently, but I think they'll have incredible depth. Burkhardt and Cueto both played well in the fall and they are continuing to play well at SEC Indoors. Lacroix and Benneteau are playing well also. Throw in Hochwalt, Dadamo, Hamui, Corace, they haven't had quality depth like that in a while. There will be battles to break into the lineup. I think being ranked 10 is a good start, but I look for them to be a real factor come May.

Switching gears to the women, does anyone know what is up with their roster? They only have 5 players listed. Did they add anyone in the spring?

scott said...

Well, the Florida men looked very good today, beating 7th ranked Baylor 7-0. Gators are young, but very talented. They won the doubles point pretty easily, taking matches at 1 and 2. Leading 7-6 on court 3 when play was halted.

In singles, on paper at least, Baylor had the better squad, with 3 top 40 players, UF has none, but the Gators weren't to be denied. They came out strong on all 6 courts and really put the pressure on the Bears.

The match on court 1 was the weirdest match I've ever seen. Cueto, the UF freshman, taking on Lukacs. Cueto rolled to a 6-0 first set, then proceeded to lose the next 9 games, to fall down 0-3 in the 3rd. He won the final 6 games to take the match, which clinched the team match as well. Dadamo on 6 and Burkhardt on 4 had won their singles matches to get to that point. Once clinched, Hamui won 6-2 in the 3rd on court 5, Lacroix won a 12-10 tiebreaker on court 2 and Benneteau won a long, 2 set match on court 3.

I didn't think Florida would be strong at the top, I thought their strength would be doubles and 4-6, but it appears as if they may be strong 1-6, if not 1-8, as Corace and Hochwalt, 2 mainstays last year, didn't even play this weekend. Still early, but I was impressed by what I saw this weekend.