©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.
Friday, January 16, 2009