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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Top Seed Herbert Saves Match Points in Boys 18s First Round Win; Deaf Boy Reaches Quarterfinals in 12s at Eddie Herr

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Bradenton, FL--

It's hard to know which of Monday's stories to lead with, the comeback of boys 18s top seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who needed a ruling from the assistant referee to avoid a Serena Williams-like ending to his 0-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) victory overy qualifer David Sofaer, or the remarkable run of 11-year-old Korean Duck Hee Lee, who is deaf. I'll start chronologically, with Lee's 6-4, 7-6(4) win over Tommy Paul, a No. 1 seed from the U.S.

I wandered over to court 15, one of the primary show courts at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy, when I heard that Paul had dropped the first set. I hadn't expected to stay for the entire match, but it was such high quality tennis from two evenly matched opponents that I couldn't break away. Sometime midway through the second set, another spectator told me that Lee was deaf, and once I had gotten over my shock, I watched the match with new appreciation for the challenges that would create.

He is unable to hear the sound of the ball on the racquet, or a let, and Lee needs his opponent's line calls to be visual, not aural. Against Paul, who is one of the most quiet and composed competitors of any age, let alone the usually volatile 12s, the match was simply about tennis, and it was Lee that had the slightest edge there.

At 5-5 in the second set, Paul was broken, when Lee's forehand began to take control. Although willing to go for broke on his shots, especially on a key point, Lee suffered some nerves in the next game, and Paul broke back to send it to a tiebreaker. Neither player came up with the same standard of tennis they had displayed earlier in the set, but Lee was able to force several errors from Paul, who usually makes few. When reporting his score to tournament officials, Lee writes it down on a piece of paper, and they respond by writing his next match time on that same sheet.

Lee has now beaten two No. 1 seeds in consecutive days, and joins two other Koreans, No. 1 seed Seongchan Hong and Jae Seok Han, in the quarterfinals. There are two Americans left in the boys 12s quarterfinals: 2008 finalist and No. 1 seed Stefan Kozlov, and unseeded Reilly Opelka, who could meet in the semifinals with wins Wednesday.

In the girls 12s, five girls from the U.S. have reached the quarterfinals: Rebecca Weissmann, Mariya Shishkina, Torando Ali Black, Diana Kussainova and Anastasia Nefedova, a No. 1 seed. Weissman and Shishkina and Black and Kussainova play each other on Wednesday.

The drama in the boys 18s began early, with a large crowd congregating around court 10 when Herbert, an 18-year-old from France, lost the first set to qualifer David Sofaer of Australia 6-0. I didn't see any of that set, but even in the second set, which he won, Herbert looked listless and tentative. He fell behind 3-0, and nearly 4-0 in the third set, but managed to break back with Sofaer serving at 4-2, and survived a couple of break points in the next game. Each boy held the rest of the way, and the large crowd, a great many of whom were friends of the Bollettieri-trained Sofaer, prepared for an always dramatic third-set tiebreaker.

At 2-1 in the tiebreaker, Herbert disputed a Sofaer out call, but the official standing on the court agreed with the 18-year-old Australian. It was 3-3 at the first change of ends, and on the next point, Herbert bravely served and volleyed on a second serve, which is about all he hit in the tiebreaker, to take the lead. Sofaer took it right back by winning both his service points, to take a 5-4 lead, and then the fireworks began. Herbert again missed his first serve, and the second, which Sofaer immediately called "no, double" was the source of the controversy. The roving official again agreed with Sofaer (I was in no position to see it) and Herbert disagreed with them both. He looked at the crowd of Sofaer friends and directed a sentence in French at them, which the official took to be profanity, and gave him a point penalty, which would have ended the match.

Herbert, who also spoke to both the official and Sofaer in English during the line disputes, although not abusively, more incredulously, then asked for the tournament referee. When the assistant referee arrived on the scene after several minutes and consulted with the roving official, he determined that a warning was required before Herbert could be penalized, since the official did not speak French, and therefore was unable to code him for a presumed obscenity (although she did have the option of warning him that an outburst in a foreign language would be considered an obscenity, but had to have done that before the transgression). Ironically, I later heard that many of Sofaer's friends had just come from French class, and they confirmed that although it was not particularly sportsman-like conversation from Herbert, it wouldn't be considered obscene had he conveyed his feelings about the double fault call in English.

So at 6-4, with Herbert serving, play resumed, and he hit an ace to punctuate that lengthy debate. Sofaer had his best chance at the match on his second match point, when he brought Herbert into the net, but was unable to execute the forehand pass that he had so perfectly set up. Herbert played aggressively on the next point and put away an overhead to earn his first match point, and when Sofaer netted a second serve return, Herbert had survived.

The mostly dejected crowd dispersed, but the match continued to be the talk of the tournament several hours later.

There were only two boys 18s seeds defeated in first round action Tuesday, No. 14 Chuhan Wang and No. 16 Ben McLachlan. The six seeded U.S. boys--Denis Kudla(4), Mitchell Frank(5), Raymond Sarmiento(9), Junior Ore(10), Sekou Bangoura(13) and Dennis Novikov(15)--advanced to the second round, as did wild cards Nick Chappell, Gonzales Austin and Bjorn Fratangelo.

The top seed in the boys 16s, William Kwon of Australia, lost to Thiago Monteiro of Brazil in a 3-6, 7-6(10), 7-5 marathon. Sachia Vickery, the top seed in girls 16s, drew quite a crowd to court 1 for her match with Emma Onila of Canada, who trains at Bollettieri's. It was a tight first set, but Vickery posted a 7-5, 6-1 decision.

Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com is providing free live streaming of the Eddie Herr this week from his location above court 1.

For complete draws, see the tennisinformation site. For more photos and stories, see eddieherr.com.


getreal said...

Am I missing something or is this a particularly weak boys 18s eddie Herr draw this year vs. prior ones? Wonder if fewer foreigners are traveling because of the economy?

Unknown said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing that story about Lee, Colette. That really is truly inspiring. I hope he kicks butt in the tourney.

Have fun,